March Stats

INTEREST RATE REMAINING BASE PAYMENT EXTRA PAYMENTS
Student Loans 3.76% $23,625.74 $180.74 $0.00
Mortgage 3.50% $313,321.38 $2,259.03 $0.00
Total $336,947.12 $2,439.77 $0.00

This month, AES, my student loan servicer, offered me a deal:  sign up for their new automatic payments solution and they’ll knock 0.25% interest off my student loans.  That’s an obvious choice, so I did it; however, it’ll take a couple months to kick in, so still making manual payments at 3.76% for now.

I also have almost all I need to file taxes, so I’ll hopefully be doing that this coming weekend.

In house news, we’re rethinking the concept of owning a single-family home.  Now, obviously we’re in the middle of a terrible situation with this reno (which is taking almost twice as long as forecast and sucking up more money than we had hoped as well), so this is not the best time to make decisions.  And we’re not, exactly – we’re not picking up and moving or anything.  In fact, we’re guaranteed to be here through 2017, because we’ve agreed to stay here for a minimum of a year but we want to avoid the tax questions of selling before two years.

When we moved here, we made decisions based on the criteria we had – but it seems to be another life and money suck, like our wedding was.  If this were a brand new house, it may have been easier, but we may just not be cut out for this much responsibility.  Not everyone is meant to own a home.  There are many reasons that renting is easier and less stressful.  Besides, even if we want to own a home, we could go for a townhouse,* which would provide a small yard but remove a lot of the maintenance – plus, having shared walls has its perks in terms of electricity usage.  (Though it’s important to include HOA fees in your retirement calculations.)

Having more money in the bank** and living closer to where things are happening is very appealing.  Not only does it sound like a better life, it’s also a less stressful one.  We should be spending our money on experiences rather than stuff, and dropping the house (that we just got into, yeah, yeah) would free up at least say $1,600 pcm.***  That’s a lot of money, and a lot of peace of mind.

 

* Today, while we were at a local eatery for three hours discussing our future possibilities and making our backup plan in case this place continues to blow, DW let me know that she might actually prefer a townhouse to a single-family home.  This is a change of direction, but I think a good one.

** In this case, I mean more money in our pockets, in our budgets, in our savings account, and in our investment accounts.

*** We’re paying $2,600 pcm for the mortgage and escrow (and now I wish we’d gotten the 30-year), plus we’re spending $400 pcm on house projects, eventually to cover saving for replacements of big-ticket items like the roof or the water heater.  If we get an apartment for $1,200 pcm in Orlando, that leaves $1,800 pcm on the table – great for paying off debt, spending on experiences, and saving and investing for the future.

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Sick notes

I’ve been sick since Monday, so I’ve not been at work yet this week.  I’m on the mend, so I’ll be in tomorrow; however, today, my office demanded a doctor’s note for the time I’ve been off.

I did go to the doctor, who confirmed what DW and I already knew:  that I have a viral infection and need to rest and let my body fight it.  I now have a note that lets me to stay home* until Friday; however, it’s pretty clear that work has been more worried about me being signed in than me getting healthy again.  It’s important to rest and let your body mend itself when you’re sick; you should be able to tell when it’s using your energy for fighting the infection, since you’ll have less energy for your usual activities.

I feel pretty strongly that getting doctors’ notes for short absences like this is ridiculous:**

  1. From the doctor’s perspective, now they need to waste time seeing people who don’t need to be seen, just to send a note to employers that employees need time to heal when they are sick.  This time could be much better spent seeing patients that actually need their services rather than just adding additional busywork burden on our medical system.
  2. Now the sick individual needs to get out of bed, become presentable, and travel, all of which take energy and prolong the healing process.
  3. This shows a level of distrust from the employer of the employee, which typically won’t make the employee like their place of work any more.
  4. There’s also a financial aspect to all of this:  since walking would have taken significantly more energy and time, I spent $25 to cab to and from the doctor.  I also spent $30 out of pocket and an additional $178 of insurance money on this pointless trip.

You already know how I feel about this whole sick-note, must-be-at-work-as-much-as-possible, better-work-at-least-40-hours-per-week culture, but it just keeps getting reinforced as time goes on.

 

* Figuratively speaking, of course:  I work from home.

** Especially since my company gives 40 days a year of sick leave, so – theoretically – the message is to take care of ourselves.

A promise of a better life

Our house came with a giant pellet stove that takes up about half of the room in which it sits:

terrible_pellet_stove
Ignore that we’re using it as a table.

We desperately want to get rid of it* and replace it with a lower-profile wood-burning fireplace.  We can’t do it right away because we just don’t have the money to do it, and we need to space out our improvements to make sure we can afford them.  However, when I was working outside yesterday, I started clearing the backyard a bit by gathering fallen and seasoned sticks and branches, and I set up wood piles against the back of the house.  Every project you do yourself brings your house one step closer to being a home, and this project is a promise both to my wife that we will have a wood-burning fireplace one day and to both of us that life will get better.

 

* Not just because it takes up so much space (and isn’t particularly attractive), but because we actually have to pay more for our home insurance while it’s in our house.

How to compost

Today, I set up our very first compost pile.  Here’s all you need to do to get started:

1)  Choose a location for your compost pile:

Compost1
Back center of the yard; unlikely to get much use for anything else.

Compost isn’t supposed to smell bad unless you throw gross shit into it like meat or dog poo, but be a good neighbor and keep your compost projects away from your other neighbors’ yards.  If you have a pet that goes outside, you may also want to enclose your compost piles; more details on that below.

2)  Clear the location so you don’t have to deal with trees growing out of it:

Compost2
Couldn’t get all the roots up, since I don’t have any yard-work implements, but I did the best I could with the tools at hand.*

3)  Add your food waste:

Compost3
We lost power to the mini fridge due to all the electrical work, so here are the former contents of that fridge.

4)  Add your yard waste:

Compost4
This is like half the over-the-years buildup from in front of our house.  Apparently part of being a good neighbor is not allowing your front yard to overtake the entire cul-de-sac; who knew?  Some of this already decomposed and was supporting a root network, so that’s cool.

Ta-da!  You’re composting!**  Well done.  Between composting, recycling, cooking your own food***, and selling or donating items you no longer need, you should really now be producing very little actual trash.

There’s a lot of information out there about composting, and I encourage you to read up some more.  You’re supposed to maintain a ratio of “greens” and “browns,” but, really, anything you’re composting will be better than what’s in your yard naturally.  I eventually plan to set up three pallet compost bins:  one for new additions, one for seasoning, and one for the finished product.  I’ll move everything over a bin once every maybe six months?  Haven’t really done that much reading yet.

One thing I do know, and that you should know even if you don’t dig in beyond this post, is that you need to turn your compost frequently.  Get a pitchfork and turn it daily.  This does three things:  1) It prevents your compost from catching on fire.  Turns out, decomposition produces a lot of heat, and that heat builds up pretty quickly inside your compost pile.  2) It prevents seeds from taking root and growing into plants in your compost pile.  3) It prevents insect eggs from being able to sit still long enough to hatch.  Don’t want to be breeding bugs in your wonderful growing materials.

That’s what I’ve got so far.  Check back in for occasional updates, and happy composting!

 

* Get it?  At hand?  Because I did it all by hand.

** Well, not you; hopefully you’re not composting.  But you’re setting up your food and yard waste to compost!

*** Alas, we’re coming up a little short on this one, what with no kitchen.

Categories

So far, I’ve been using categories much the way I’ve been using tags, and so the number of categories has grown pretty quickly.  While I would reuse many of the categories over time, I’ve still decided to organize a bit better now, while there are only a few posts to recategorize.  Here are the new categories I’ve established:

  • Home
  • Work
  • Finance
  • Philosophy
  • Cooking
  • Blogging
  • Exercise

I may add others as needed, but I’m hoping to keep the categories pretty broad.  I split Cooking off of Home, despite their being related, because I think Cooking deserves its own space.

If you have better organizational suggestions, let me know in the comments below.  This is my first foray into blogging for public consumption.*

 

* Not strictly true; I’ve had a couple technical blogs (one of which I still reference but no longer update), but I’ve never been able to stick with blogging before now.  I also still have my LiveJournal, but I mostly just use that for OpenID into StackOverflow.

It’s more important to be happy than successful

I am a generation 1.5 immigrant to the US, having come when I was just shy of four years old; as such, I grew up surrounded by immigrant culture, with the  requisite drive to succeed.  “Success,” here, being defined as monetary and consumer success:  work hard, go to college, make lots of money (preferably as a doctor), have the physical trappings of consumerist success.  It’s taken me a long time to start looking for happiness first, but I now firmly believe that the most important thing is happiness, not material success – and that striving for material success gets in the way of happiness.

However, that’s not to say that lazing about all day is the goal.  In fact, it turns out that happy people produce more and better.  If you haven’t seen this TEDTalk, I highly recommend taking 12 minutes to watch it:

A society full of happy people, working enough to meet their needs (both material and emotional), may not produce more than this go-go-go society we have in the US, but it’s certainly a more fulfilling one.  But, even if you don’t subscribe to my theory, it turns out that focusing on becoming happy first and successful second will make you more successful in the long run, anyway.

Bonus day!

On Friday, my yearly bonus hit our checking account:  $5,109.79.  Couldn’t be better timing, either!*  Today, we joyfully took all that money out of checking and..

..moved it into savings.

What?  That’s it?

Yep; that’s it.  Assuming you make enough to cover your needs (and basic wants), there’s no reason for additional income to affect your spending.  Once you’ve got your money settled, all additional income beyond that point (bonuses, raises, windfalls) goes to increasing your savings rate and bringing financial independence that much closer.  While I would love to put the bonus directly toward my student loans, we need it to cover taxes; however, next year’s will go straight into student loans, and future bonuses will go toward investments.

Happiness doesn’t come from money; it comes from friends, fun, challenge, and fulfillment.  Find what drives you and pursue it.  Leave money alone to do what it does best**.

 

* It actually comes at the same time every year.

** See Step 4.