Funny about Money

Simple Living = Frugality = Peace of Mind: Personal Finance and Stress Control

December 9, 2016
by funny
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Didn’t b’lieve me, didja?

Think I’m kidding about my fellow homicidal drivers? Check out this story: some nitwit taking potshots at a man and his son, on a busy freeway passing through crowded suburbs. The vic’ was a former cop and so had the wherewithal to follow the broad — she must’ve been surprised! Wonder how many other people she’s shot at and gotten away with it.

This kind of thing goes on here all the time — only usually the weapon of choice is not a BB gun…it’s an automatic of one variety or another.

That’s why I generally stay off the freeways. Especially the I-10. They’re not safe.

interstate_17_southern_terminus_in_phoenix

Scenic drive in lovely downtown Phoenix…

Image: Interstate-10 terminus in Phoenix. By Patriarca12.  BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10873679

December 9, 2016
by funny
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And a few more rustic sights…

Or sites… SDXB send over a few of his pictures, taken during yesterday’s wanderings.

Team ropers in action…

ropingcroppedThis horse looks a lot like my beloved mare Babe, who herself was a cattle horse. The things an animal like this can do defy belief. That rider shortly threw his lasso around the rear feet of a fast-moving calf.

ropingcropped2Think you could stay aboard this critter?

Peace & quiet…

congresscemeteryOne nice thing about coming to rest in the middle of the desert: you don’t have to spend eternity working at pushing up grass, ’cause there ain’t no grass.

Here’s Roger, the rustic carpenter.

rogerWe didn’t get a good picture of his table, which is shown in part here, overexposed. The top of that thing is amazing.

Representatives of SDXB’s harem…

patYes. There are quite a few more of us. Why do you ask? 😀

December 7, 2016
by funny
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A Junket to Yarnell!

SDXB at work...

SDXB at work…

And waypoints…  Yesterday SDXB and NG wanted to take a day trip up to Wickenberg and then, via the back road through Yarnell, up to Prescott.

Well, given that SDXB had a whole slew of “sights” he wanted us to see, reaching Prescott was a forlorn hope. But we did make it up to Yarnell eventually.

We were waylaid at Wickenburg when we came across a place with two big arenas where people — mostly guys — were practicing calf-roping. Like LOTS of people. It seems to be the home of the National Team Ropers Tour.

And is it a hoot! An army of big, expensive horse trailers — some with living quarters, like RVs with attached stables (!) — were crowded into the huge parking lot. These people were working their horses and then, along about 10 a.m., they had a competition. Two riders would work together to lasso a calf.

calf_roping_szmurloDon’t get excited, animal-lovers: the calves had these headpieces on to protect their noggins, and they were never yanked to the ground. About half the time, the little pistols got away.

No one seemed to object to our watching, so we stopped there for quite awhile to view the show. That is definitely something I’d go back to see.

SDXB wanted to explore Congress, a desolate wide spot in the road if ever there was one. So nothing would do but what we had to stop at one of the “antique” shops by the side of the road. In desert-rat lingo, the word “antique” means “junk.”

There in amongst the junk, we found a one-eyed man, a classic old Arizona codger if there ever was one, with a scraggly white beard and scraggly white hair and a blacked-out lens in his glasses and baggy old dirty jeans. Roger, his name was.

Roger, as it developed, is a master carpenter in the vernacular tradition. There in his workshop he had this HUGE table, in its finishing stages, built of old, recycled timber. Its legs were made from a thick viga, cut to size and measured carefully (and with what must have been considerable skill) to make the rustic top level. The top was easily three inches thick. How you would move it escapes me: presumably with a crane.

The thing was beautifully finished. Its untamed-looking grain, which from a distance looked like it must be rough to the touch, was perfectly smooth. The wood had two or three short cracks that he had either cut himself or had enhanced (don’t know which) and filled with chrysocolla, a copper mineral that resembles turquoise. These, with some difficulty, he had sanded smooth with the tabletop and edges. The effect was just stunning.

A copper mine executive had ordered it for his office. Roger was also making a backbar to match. The top, still in its early stages, was a good ten or twelve feet long. Roger said some file cabinets would go under it.

Holy  mackerel! What a phenomenon to find out in the middle of the godforsaken desert, sandwiched between a train line and a highway.

I didn’t get a photo because when we walked in there I’d left my purse and camera in the car, not expecting to find anything of interest. But SDXB got a few pix. Whenever he sends them over (he got mad at his carrier and canceled his Internet, so has to go to the library to email photos taken with an actual camera), I’ll post them.

This part of Arizona is crawling with eccentrics and their eccentricities. There’s not a lot to do in the middle of the desert, you understand. So one indulges one’s eccentric artistic impulses.

Never to be missed, for example, is the venerable Yarnell Frog.

frogFolklore has it that this 60-ton boulder was painted by whimsical locals around 1928. It became such an attraction that people in Congress and Yarnell took to keeping it up. I’ve heard crews go out once a year to refresh the paint job.

That frog looks a lot crankier than it used to when I was driving up that hill to go to our ranch on the Kirkland Junction road. Back in the day, the frog was pretty mellow. Too many tourists will curdle your personality, I guess.

Boulder art is a local specialty, come to think of it. On the dirt road that parallels the train tracks up to Hillside and Baghdad, you come across this masterpiece:

skull-rockSkull Rock, we’re told, was the brainchild of some very, very bored Santa Fe employees. Story has it that they got the bright idea of telling passengers that angry Apaches had picked off a tourist and left his skull on the desert. Then the train would come across…this.

 Once we hit Yarnell, nothing would do but what we had to visit the Shrine of St. Joseph, a remarkable outdoor tour of the Stations of the Cross built into the boulders above the town. Even though it was badly damaged by the Yarnell Hill fire — they lost their gift shop and many of the sculptures were damaged — they soldier on. Supposedly the stark white statues depicting Christ’s last hours were built in 1939 by Felix Lucero, a native American artist who at the time was living under a bridge in Tucson. It’s a beautiful and strangely restful installation —  not to be missed if you’re ever in this part of the world.

crucifixion

pietaMoving on from the sublime to…yeah. We couldn’t leave town without visiting my favorite landmark, the Yarnell Emporium, home to all things arty and kitschy.

yarnell-emporiumNG and I did our best to convince SDXB that his yard needs — needs, we say! — a flying pig…

kuhn-yarnell

…but he was having none of it. No accounting, eh?

The Emporium carries a collection of hand-made, artisan crucifixes (because of the Shrine being a tourist attraction…get it? heh…), which I’ve taken to collecting. They’re not very expensive, and some of them are very cool. Picked up two of them yesterday.

crosses

No matter what I try to do here, my camera refuses to do these things justice. They’re really very handsome artifacts… The one on the left is stoneware with a yellow-gold and red glaze; the inset cross is a deep bluish-green. The other one is an iron cross with a stoneware inset cross, blue-glazed with a stone that looks convincingly like turquoise but that, given the price, almost certainly is not.

Moving on, we visited a couple of historic cemeteries SDXB had heard of, way out in the desert. The ones that date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries remind you of how hard life must have been out on the frontier, way to hell and gone out in the middle of nowhere: the babies, the young man dead at 22. Heaven help them. One was a veteran’s cemetery, filled with men and women who had served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

It’s so beautifully quiet out there. In one of the graveyards, I saw javelina tracks, where a herd of the critters had strolled through at some point. So wonderfully quiet.

When I wake up in my bedroom here in lovely uptown Phoenix, I awaken to a distant roar — every morning — that sounds like jet aircraft flying over, maybe two or three miles off. After awhile, you figure out it’s traffic noise: it’s the ungodly roar of rush-hour traffic passing almost a mile away.

If I could be buried in the place of my choice, it would be out in the desert among the boulders and the hills and the javelina. Failing that…

Calf roping: CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11066091

December 6, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

PF Notecard #5: Save Early and Often

advice-on-a-card-1My first job paid $300 a month. Out of that I paid rent, food, clothing, parking, and everything else. Luckily, I didn’t have a car payment — my father had given me a Ford Fairlane for graduation. The thing proved the old jibe about Ford: F-O-R-D stands for Fix Or Repair Daily. But at least it was paid for.

Back in the day, there was no such thing as direct deposit. So as soon as I got my paycheck, I’d walk across the street to the bank and deposit it, in the process putting $10 in a savings account. Those were the days (!) when $10 would buy a nice office dress and $20 a good pair of leather heels. So even though $10 wasn’t 10 or 15 percent of net pay, it wasn’t nothing, either. At the end of the month, there was usually something left over, and I’d move that into savings, too.

So that brings us to item #5 in the personal finance principles that can fit on a notecard.

SAVE EARLY. Start saving the minute you start drawing a paycheck. And set aside a portion of every paycheck in some kind of savings instrument. Preferably more than one of them…

Obviously, as you reach the point where start to earn a living wage, you need to begin saving toward retirement. I’d never heard of retirement when I was working as a receptionist (nor was there any such thing as a 401(k) in those days), but I did want to have something in hand for indulgences and emergencies.

SAVE EARLY also means save a portion of each paycheck before the money hits your checking account. Most employers who direct-deposit your salary can deposit some of it in a savings account and some in a checking account. If you can arrange that, do it. Otherwise, get into your online account with the bank or credit union and arrange a monthly or semi-monthly automatic transfer that will move X percent of your pay to savings every payday.

Another way to SAVE EARLY is to contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan. A 401(k) is highly desirable if the employer is matching your contributions. If not, you may be better off to set aside a specific amount from each paycheck to deposit in your own Roth IRA and regular brokerage account, since investment options in a company retirement plan may be limited.

Here’s the thing: A 401(k) defers taxes until after you reach retirement age (59½ if you choose of your own free will to take distributions; 70½ when the government forces you to take a required minimum distribution). The theory is that when you retire your taxes will be lower because you’re not earning anything.

R-i-i-g-h-t…

Well, in the first place, you can’t live on Social Security (well…you can, but not well), and so you’ll probably continue to work, even if at much reduced pay. Any such income can easily push you into a higher tax bracket, maybe even into the bracket you occupied before you retired.

In the second place…have you ever heard of taxes going down? Not bloody likely. You will still pay taxes on those withdrawals from the 401(k) — and because the rates may be higher, there’s a good chance you won’t pay any less than you would have, had you paid up-front and deposited the net in a Roth IRA.

And in the third place, when you croak over and your kids inherit your vast wealth, they will have to pay the taxes on the money in tax-deferred your investments. They also will face a required minimum drawdown, starting they minute the inherit the funds. Thus they will inherit only a fraction of the money you worked long and hard to accrue.

Unless your net worth is well over a million dollars, they will not have to pay taxes on non-deferred savings and assets. But they will have to pay the taxes on your deferred savings funds. So if your wish is to leave your kids an estate, they may be better off if you use some other instrument to build retirement savings.

There’s a limit to how much you can put in a Roth IRA. Max it out each year, and then start contributing to a good low-cost mutual fund, such as one at Vanguard or Fidelity. Received wisdom these days: select an index fund, whose goal is to keep pace with the market. Leave the money there and forget about it until you retire.

SAVE OFTEN. You should be setting aside some portion of every paycheck, ideally about 15 percent, and investing it in retirement funds. And then you should put a little more into a bank account for emergencies and indulgences. While I was working, I had two savings accounts: one to cover property taxes, auto and homeowner’s insurance, and emergencies, and another to diddle away on vacations or damnfool things I chose to buy.

And then if anything is left in checking at the end of a pay period, after all the bills are paid, move that amount over to savings, too.

And then do the same with every windfall: every income tax refund, every credit-card rebate, every cash gift of any kind…straight to savings.

Once you’ve accomplished Notecard Item 4, Get Out of Debt, all this is d0-able. You’ll be surprised how fast savings accrue when you set things up to move money into savings instruments automatically.

Speaking of Notecard Item 4, here’s another useful SAVE OFTEN trick: once you’ve paid off your car loan, keep on paying that amount to yourself. Stash the equivalent of a car payment in a special savings account, and don’t touch it. In four or five years, you will have accrued enough to buy your next car in cash.

In summary then: First pay off debt. Then put an established amount into savings on a regular basis.

December 3, 2016
by funny
7 Comments

Cultivating the Funny Farm

Sacred Fig Tree leaves against white background, Pipal Tree, Bohhi Tree, Bo Tree, Peepul, Ficus religiosa

So it’s past the time to cultiver notre jardin here at the Funny Farm. I’ve put off a lot of those little chores I like to call don’wannas: all the dopey little tasks I don’t want to do because they’re ditzy or messy or nuisancey or…just can be put off until another day.

The pool, which ideally should be tended daily, has been neglected for at least a couple of weeks. Fortunately nothing much is going on: a pile of leaves had collected in the lee of the circulation system; a little mustard algae clung to life despite the water’s excruciating chill. Sweeping up the pickled leaves with the hose bonnet was easy, as was dumping out the leaves that had floated into the skimmer and the pump pot filter in the absence of Harvey, who was disconnected after the first big rainstorm.

My invention for power-cleaning the pool walls without having to screw around with endlessly annoying and inefficient brushes — let’s call it the Algae Machete! — really does work. It works big-time. Only took a few minutes to blast the green scum off the plaster and the dust off the steps.

Threw in another chlorine tab. In this weather, the things dissolve very slowly, so the pair I’d put in a week ago were barely eroded. But I’m almost out, so soon will have to order some more. Costco doesn’t seem to carry them in the winter, but they are available online at both Costco and Amazon. Costco much underprices the Amazon vendors, and so within the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sending away for some of that stuff.

compostThe cute little composter I bought last summer also is working quite nicely. By this morning it was pretty well full of composted leaves, litter, and kitchen scraps. And after a summer and a fall of 100-degree-plus heat, it breaks stuff down quickly and well.

So I finally got around to unloading some of that and packing it in around the potted rose, palm, and ficus who so need a plant pick-me-up.

It’s colder than a bygod out there right now, and so as a practical matter a pick-me-up is not what a potted plant should be getting just this moment. Probably a plant sleeping pill would be better. Oh well. If we don’t get a hard freeze — and truly I doubt if we ever will again, not here, not in my lifetime or in your kids’ lifetimes — they’ll be fine.

The roses need to be pruned. That didn’t get done. Oh well.

That potted ficus is quite the elder among the backyard plants. It came over here from the old house, where it had already been around for quite awhile. Since I moved a dozen years ago, that makes the ficus about 14 or 16 years old. All of which should tell you that it’s very hard to kill a ficus…

A day or two ago I cooked up a defrosted package of pork for the dogs. But in the “oh well” department, didn’t feel like fooling with converting it into dog food. In the first place I overcooked it and probably drained it of most of its nutritional value — so had to think over whether I wanted to throw it (i.e., to throw $$$) in the garbage. And in the second place, I had a lot of other things to do, what with wrestling with the car headache. So I stuck it, still in its cooking pan, into the refrigerator.

Decided to defrost a half-package of Costco chicken today, cook that, combine it with the pork, and come up with a larger portion of dog food that would last longer.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, the chicken was still frozen! It’s so damn cold in here, meat left out on the counter won’t defrost!

So I wrenched the pieces apart as best as I could, tossed it in a pan, and put it over the heat. It’s about cooked now. Whenever I get off my duff, I need to grind it up with the pork and mix it all in with some veggies and some sort of starch…probably oatmeal.

It looks like a large new assignment is coming in, one that will keep me and my associate editor busy between now and the end of January.

Said associate editor, sometimes known famously as The Kid, is taking the LSAT today. She’s decided to knock of some off the full-time jobs she holds down (no, that is not an exaggeration) and go to law school.

Since she’s frighteningly smart and has at least one extremely interesting job, admission to GDU’s nationally prominent law school is pretty much a given. She would make a killer lawyer, she being a bit of a bulldog…the type that doesn’t let go easily. And IMHO she would be extremely good as an education lawyer.

Well, we shall see.

Now I have to get on with one of my own projects so as to get that as close to done as possible before said “large new assignment” shows up…but before that must concoct the dog food. And so, away!

 

December 2, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

Do you need an extended auto warranty?

venza2Okay, so our conversation turned, briefly, toward extended car service warranties offered by various third-party dealers. For a time, Costco offered such a warranty, but canceled the program because (says Costco) they couldn’t sell enough of them to make it worthwhile. This may be attributable to the fact that at least some of them were serviced by Century Warranty, which has a fine mob of angry consumers bellyaching about it.

Chuck and Pete, down at the shop, felt an extended warranty can be a good buy — especially if something goes wrong with your junker.

However, the operative word there is IF. Not just “if,” but also “how much.” Some of their customers’ warranties, which they trotted out for me to inspect, were very pricey — in the range of $1,500. The men felt these customers had gotten their money’s worth, though, because repairs on their cars also ranged around $1,500 to $2,000.

But…but…waitaminit. What kind of car do you drive? When did you last have a one-time hit of $2,000 on your Toyota or your Honda? The Dog Chariot — A Toyota Sienna — ran for 16 years and never once had a $1500 bill, to say nothing of two grand. I thought $500 was staggering…and that was for major upkeep.

Let’s go on over to Consumer Reports. Even though we’ve grown skeptical of their specific product recommendations (this is the outfit that thought Samsung top-loading washers were just grand…), when they dispense general information they’re still pretty credible.

CR calls the extended car warranty “an expensive gamble.” That very term drifted into my clouded brain as Chuck and Pete were talking about the things. The median price of these policies is about $1,200, but, says a  CR membership survey, “55 percent of owners who purchased an extended warranty hadn’t used it for repairs during the lifetime of the policy.” Sooo….that was twelve hundred buckolas down the drain, for each one of those owners!

Doesn’t get much better for the people who did get some payback: “Among survey participants who used their policy, the median out-of-pocket savings on repairs covered by extended warranties for all brands was $837. Based on a $1,214 average initial cost, that works out to a net loss of more than $375.”

Whether you’ll get any use out of this pricey instrument depends on the brand of car you buy. If the maker has a reputation for high reliability, then (duh!) you’re a lot less likely to use the coverage; if the clunk starts life as a clunk, then a warranty might pay for itself. Less-reliable brands include BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, and Mercedes-Benz; not surprisingly, the cost of warranties for these vehicles is high. Meanwhile, Honda, Subaru, and Toyota owners are far less likely ever to use their warranty coverage, and so tend to be the least satisfied with their gamble.

What the heck. If you’ve got $1,500 to bet on the come, you could have a heck of a lot more fun with it in Vegas than down at the car repair shop!

Edmunds is more measured in its remarks about extended warranties. It doesn’t exactly inveigh against them. As a matter of fact, Edmunds apparently hasn’t published an article on the subject since 2012. But when it did, the article was a good one. Go through the piece and answer, for yourself, the hypothetical questions they suggest you consider. Dave Ramsey, having read the CR piece, suggests you “just say no” to the things and instead set aside 50% of the warranty’s cost as a car-repair fund.

Since your car dealership’s “financial manager” salesman will try to get you to roll the warranty’s cost into the loan, any such purchase will mean you’ll be paying interest on this insurance policy.

Thus you’d be far better off to take the amount of the policy’s cost and stash it in a savings account. If you don’t have it on hand, figure out what the monthly payment plus interest would be and simply arrange an automatic monthly transfer from checking to savings. Before long you’ll have enough to cover repairs — especially if you’ve bought a reasonably reliable vehicle.

Here’s a guy who, way back in 2011, paid $2,380 (!!!) for a five-year Costco policy through Century. So…how much would you have to set aside to pay $2,380+2.2% interest, the rate tacked onto the Toyota loan Bell Road’s guy tried (for over an hour) to corral me into buying?

That would be $41.92 a month. Not an outrageous figure — most of us could afford that much. A $2,380 repair bill for your car would be a surprising chunk, especially if you’ve bought one of the “reliable” brands, and especially if the car comes with a new-car or “certified used” warranty that covers the drive train. The drive train is where you’re likely to have the big expenses — though of course who knows how much the computerized stuff will cost to fix. In the course of a year, you would have put aside over $500, which would cover at least one substantial repair.

That Sienna would run for an entire year, often, without any repair bills other than the ordinary maintenance: oil changes, windshield wiper replacement, and the like. These most surely did not add up to $500 a year. Assuming you lucked into a decent car (and chances are higher with newer vehicles) and assuming you used your car-repair stash only for really large bills, in five years you could have $2,500 set aside.

And…really…if you’re ever faced with a $2,500 car repair bill, isn’t it time to trade the thing in?