Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for the 'Marriage' Category

Pregnant Silhouette

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: mahalie

ScrapperMom and I are happy to announce that we are expecting our second child in January.  We feel thrilled, scared, excited, and many other emotions all at once.  I wanted to bring this up in an official post on the subject since I plan to explore how this will affect our finances in some future posts.  The topic will likely also slip into a number of other posts, so I wanted to be very clear about this.  It’s actually been difficult not mentioning it all over the last few months. S/he will be just about two years behind big sister, and we’re not going to find out whether we’re having a boy or a girl, just like last time.

Now that we got that out of the way, I wanted to say a few words about the State of the Blog.

I started Don’t Feed the Alligators just over 6 months ago.  At the end of the first week, I had 17 subscribers and now am up to 74.  While I wish I had more, I am exceedingly thrilled that there are that many people out there interested in what I have to say on a semi-weekly basis.  I know my mother-in-law enjoys reading because as she puts it, “I learn more about the two of you by reading what (MITBeta) writes than any other way…”

Here are some more numbers:

  • ScrapperMom and I have combined to write a total of 71 articles
  • We have 10 articles pending in some stage of draft
  • We’ve created 34 different sorting categories
  • There are nearly 500 keywords
  • There have been 1,137 SPAM comments (blocked by Akismet)

In the last 30 days, the top referring domains have been (in order):

Thanks to all of my blogging peers for the traffic.  Be sure to check out those sites for some great articles.

The real question in all of this, however, is, “So what?”  The “So What” is you, the reader.  While there would certainly be some therapeutic value in writing what we do without an audience, there’s no way we would have kept it up for so long.  I recognize that I am here to provide you with information, entertainment, a new point of view, or whatever, and it is with this in mind that I once again ask the question:

How are we doing?

Are the posts too long or too short?  Are the articles too in-depth or not in-depth enough?  Am I glossing over too many of the basics or is the information here no different than what can be had elsewhere?  How’s the frequency of posting?  Are there specific topics you’d like to discuss or see addressed?

It’s easy to tell when a post is good, since it usually generates a lot of Comments, but most posts still go uncommented.  I like to have the feedback, good or bad, as well as any additions or counterpoints.  So let me know what kind of a job we’re doing here at Don’t Feed the Alligators, and if you really enjoy the content, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends, family, and coworkers.

This past weekend I attended a party given by friends of ours who are also subscribers and met a young woman who upon being introduced asked, “You’re the Alligators guy, right?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “I love reading your stuff,” she said (my emphasis added ;P).  I really didn’t know what to say at the time — I’ve never been good at receiving compliments.  But I know what to say now:

Thank you!

Without you and readers like you, this blog would long ago have been relegated to the cache archive at Google.

07.26.2008
Feeding the Firefoxes

Feeding the Firefoxes
Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Glutnix

It’s been another busy week in the MITBeta and ScrapperMom household. But I’m feeling like things are a little more under control since I started reading the now well known but still great book Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming post, but in the mean time I wanted to share some of the best articles that I read this week:

In National News:

With this week’s hike in the minimum wage, Nickel examines the historical minimum wage level relative to the value of a dollar and finds that those on minimum wage have been seeing the value of their salaries fall for the last 25 years.

The Freakonomics blog wonders are we a nation of financial illiterates?  I’ll reserve judgement for now, but what do you think?  Did you answer the quiz questions correctly?

Personal Finance

Shilpan at successsoul.com reposts Warren Buffett’s 7 Secrets for Living a Happy and Simple Life.  There’s some great advice here that really forms the basis for most personal finance: don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, be happy with who you are, not what you have, etc.

Mrs. Micah writes about an error in her paycheck and how thankful she is that she is not living paycheck to paycheck.  This reminded me of something similar that happened to ScrapperMom a couple of months ago.  Mrs. Micah also has some great tips for breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

Home Economics:

EconomistMom writes about “a big family infrastructure day” that took a serious bite out of her bank account.  She makes a couple of great points in this article, especially in explaining why the health care problem is such a difficult nut to crack.

J.D. asks readers to help a fellow reader who asks “how can I get my wife to talk about money?“  Chronic disagreements about money are cited as a leading cause of divorce.  However many astute readers rightly point out that it’s never just about money.  As near as I can tell, open communication is the only way to truly make a marriage work.  In fact, that’s the best way to make nearly any interpersonal relationship work.

Social Psychology:

Steven Levitt at Freakonomics shares a great anecdote about performing a blind taste test to see if his colleagues could tell the difference between expensive and more frugal wines.  Can you guess what the results were?  Apparently there is now scientific evidence to support the idea that taste can be influence by pre-conceived notions about something.  I wonder if this means I can think my way into liking onions…

Giveaways:

Frugal Babe is giving away a $100 jewelry gift card to Diamond Nexus Labs in the spirit of switching away from mined diamond based bling.

Baby Cheapskate is giving away $200 worth of BumGenius cloth diapers.  As you may know, using cloth diapers is a great way to save money and save the environment.

07.02.2008
Mission Statement

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Karen Apricot New Orleans

Last summer I read Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. This book, like many that I have read in my life, was profoundly inspiring. After reading it I was determined to follow all of the great advice in it, but somehow in our overly busy world I have just not found the time.

One of the first tangible suggestions in this book is to create a series of mission statements: first one for yourself, and then one for every major relationship in your life. Examples would include a marriage mission statement and a family mission statement. ScrapperMom and I scribbled some notes down during our vacation last September, but I have no idea where that paper is.

Lately I have been thinking about the things that I value, and about how I seem to be running on the treadmill of life, but not sure that I’m making any progress. I remembered the idea about creating a mission statement. Such a statement should serve as a target for where I want to go. As Covey points out, pilots are off course for 90% of every flight, but because they have a clear endpoint in mind, and tools in the form of equipment and ground support to keep them pointing in the right direction, they almost always arrive where they set out to go.

I started thinking about what I would include in a personal mission statement, and the first (and so far only) thought that immediately popped into my head was:

Live a purposeful life: Make every action you take count towards getting you to where you want to go and who you want to be. You simply don’t have the time or the energy to waste on things that do not contribute to your goals.

This statement really begs the question: Where do I want to go and who do I want to be? This is a difficult question, and probably a large part of the reason that ScrapperMom and I did not follow through on completing our marriage and family mission statements. What I do know is this: The most important “things” in the world to me are the members of my family, both nuclear and extended. The second most important “things” to me are the friendships that I share. Happiness to me is having a get together with friends penciled in on my calendar for the end of the week. So at least I know who I want to be: a great partner with my wife, a great father to our daughter, and a great friend to all the rest.

How does this relate to personal finance? Well in thinking about the above, we all find that we’re a bit off course a lot of the time. We spend much of our time, energy, and money doing things we don’t necessarily enjoy: We get up and go to work, we pay taxes and insurance, we vacuum floors and mow lawns. Most of these actions are simply necessary, and there are few ways around them. But we have to always keep in mind why we’re doing these things. If it’s not something that contributes to our goals, we should ask ourselves why we are doing them. I work to provide food, shelter, entertainment, etc. for my family. I pay taxes and insurance to keep my family safe (and for other reasons). I mow the lawn so that my daughter has a place to play.

Here are a few examples of things that I’ve heard recently that reinforce the idea that we have to remember what we value and not forget to actually enjoy those things every now and then:

  • I was in New York City on business last week and had dinner with an old friend with whom I used to be very close, but who I had not seen in over 3 years. Said friend suggested that I would like the beer at a certain bar because it was cheap. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “Well,” came the reply, “I figured that since you write about personal finance, you are always looking for ways to save money.” That may be true, but life’s too short to drink cheap beer.
  • J.D. at Get Rich Slowly wrote an article that concluded: “Remember: There’s nothing inherently wrong with purchasing things that bring you joy. But problems come when you finance these purchases with debt. If you’re meeting your other financial goals and have money left over, it’s good to indulge your interests and passions.”
  • About 6 months ago I started a personal finance discussion group with some of my friends (more on that later…). While trying to get a group of friends together, one friend told me: “I like this “good life” of expensive shoes and handbags, going out for pricey dinners and expensive drinks and don’t really want to think about things like retirement planning and emergency funds.” This particular friend and I had already discussed our philosophies about retirement planning, life and disability insurance, etc., so I knew that she was already in pretty good shape. It looked to me like she could afford to indulge on the things she liked, and I applauded her for that power.

So I have the first couple of lines of my personal mission statement down now. It’s time to try to fill it out with more of the specific things I value, then move on to the relationship mission statements as well.

I’d love to hear about some of the things that you value and how you act to support those values. Feel free to comment below.

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06.04.2008
Jumping in with both feet

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Felipe Skronski

This week I have had little time for writing since I have been getting our yard in shape to host a graduation party for a good friend of mine. My friend is graduating from MIT on Friday — ten years after most of his classmates. I am thrilled to be hosting this party, and thrilled that my friend is graduating. I think it must have taken an enormous amount of courage, and clearly a great deal of effort, to go back to school after being away for 9 years, to finish an undergraduate degree. I think this is, in many ways, far more difficult than graduating on time.

This friend of mine has been very successful in a pretty decent job for the last 9 years, and that’s what makes this all the more courageous: he didn’t really need to do it. Clearly, having a degree from MIT will certainly help his chances for future employment, but nearly 10 years of experience as a circuit designer and programmer will also count for a lot all by itself.

So KUDOS to you, friend! (You know who you are) and best of luck to you and yours with whatever comes next!

Courage does not seem to be in short supply this week, and I would like to highlight a couple of other cases:

  • Some friends of ours confessed this week that they are selling their house. Their house is for sale because they can no longer afford to make the payments. I do not know the details of their inability to make the payments, but I do know that they assessed their situation and made a hard decision — a VERY hard decision. Clearly this is the right choice for them, and I applaud it. I believe that this gives them a new lease on life. Starting over is hard, but without the baggage of a downward spiral of debt and possibly a bankruptcy looming, this family has a great chance of succeeding in the end.

    Owning can be significantly more expensive than renting in our market, and if I had it to do over again, I might have looked a bit harder for places to rent rather than buying our current house. It is clear that in many cases, even with the decline in the housing market, that renting is still quite a bit cheaper than buying in our market. I hope that this family will be able to save quite a bit of money to use to buy their next home when the time is right.

    Our friends have expressed embarrassment over their situation. I don’t think that they have any reason to be embarrassed. We, as a society, are constantly bombarded with advertising and mass media suggesting how we should live, what we should own, drive, etc. Yet most of us learn no more in public schools about money than perhaps how to write a check and balance a checkbook. Who still writes checks as the basis of their finances? This training certainly does not translate into our credit driven economy and as such, it’s no wonder that failures like this occur — in fact it’s surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. I hope our friends make the best of this experience to wipe the slate clean and use this as a great learning opportunity.

  • Lastly, my dear wife showed a lot of courage this week in realizing that she was wrong to spend our money without consulting me. I actually did not even say much to her about how I felt about this, and the next thing I knew she had written a blog to expose her transgression to the world. The 10% that we may have to forfeit for backing out of the agreement she signed is still a lot of money, but I think that it was money well spent if it does nothing but serve as a reminder to both of us that we care for, respect, and love each other enough to consider our partner’s feelings. This is truly a case of “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” (not that this was at all close to “killing” us…)

Have you witnessed any random acts of courage this week? Have done something courageous yourself?

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05.31.2008
Breaking the Rules

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: P. C. Loadletter

Well this is basically going to be a confessional post….

I did a bad thing the other day…

I broke almost every financial rule we have….

I bought something over $200 without the other person’s consent…

I bought something without thinking about it for at least 24 hrs…

I applied for and used credit without my spouse’s knowledge….

In my defense we have talked about this purchase and had decided that it should be put on the radar as something to start thinking about. Of course in a perfect world I would be able to pay as I go and save along the way. Unfortunately at the company I went to the product is offered as a package deal with a deep discount for prepaying. That is why I should have done my due diligence and realized that this is a huge red flag and reputable companies don’t make you prepay for services.

I broke the unwritten contract we have concerning money and I feel awful about it. This is what I have done to remedy the situation.

After doing a little research (that I should have done prior to signing on the dotted line) I have realized that:

A) Although the woman I spoke with said they do not give refunds, the paper I signed clearly states they do.

B) I have written a letter to the company requesting a refund and have copied the credit card and the Company’s main customer service department.

C) I will wait to see if the company makes good on the refund. I will give them 30 days or until I get the credit card bill. If they do not, I will send the letter to the credit card company and dispute it with them.

I can’t believe I fell for such a scam. I just finished reading Predictably Irrational… I didn’t learn anything, clearly. I have learned my lesson now. This is why we have the 24 hr waiting period, this is why we talk to our spouses before making big purchases, this is why when it looks like it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

I’m not proud of myself but this is something that is very important to me. In the heat of the moment I got excited. I forgot everything I have learned about finances and purchases. I know now that I did not approach the purchase correctly or fiscally responsibly, and I may end up eating a 10% administrative fee because of it. After the matter is resolved I will make an appointment with a reputable, local, licensed practitioner and see if I can save up the money to start the process the proper way, the way we agreed to do so. I hope Mr. MITBeta can forgive my financial transgression. I will try to make it right.

Update: I have heard from the company and I believe they will be issuing a refund minus the 10%. Cross your fingers for me.

Editor’s note: MITBeta forgives ScrapperMom… but is still not happy about having to pay 10% for nothing…

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