Funny about Money

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

January 14, 2017
by funny
7 Comments

Emptying Out the Nest

nest thermostatSometimes I feel like I’m swimming backwards: searching for retrograde items to replace commonplace tools that were once so functional  you barely noticed they were there but that have been replaced with computerized junk so complicated you can’t even begin to figure out how to make it work — or even if it does work. Current case in point: the Nest.

My son kindly bought me one of these formerly extremely kewl thermostats as a birthday present. And at the time it was awesomely kewl, the product of a band of ambitious young Turks. You could tell it what time you wanted to jack up or down the house’s temperature; or you could tell it to watch for you and to turn off when you’re not around. So, say, you could set it for 80 degrees on a 110-degree day, and it would keep the temperature around there while you were in the house, but if you went out for a few hours, it would shut itself off until you came back, saving you large amounts of money.

Then Google bought Nest.

Yeah.

thermostat honeywellWell, even if you didn’t mind the presumption that here’s another way for Google to spy on you, the problem is that Google decided to break the Nest. A year or so ago Google force-fed programming into the thing (you have no choice in the matter: the software downloads automatically and unbidden), and that program is just simply incomprehensible. You can NOT figure out how to make it work.

Lately I’ve been waking up every morning at 2:00 a.m. sharp, in a fit of discomfort: thinking I’m having hot flashes!

Hot flashes? At 71? Really?

Through the wee-hours stupor, I realize the heater’s running. In a daze, I climb out of bed, stumble down the hall, and turn the damn thermostat back off. And I wonder: is this a senile error? Did I not turn it off last night? I’m SURE I turned it off. The house was colder than a bigawd when the dogs and I huddled together in the bed at 10 p.m. How can it be back on?

Well, of course, “back on” unbidden is the Nest’s nature. And there seems to be no way to tell it off, OFF, goddammit STAY OFF! The Nest will turn itself back on when it deems proper: at about 65 degrees. Thank you very much for arrogating my decisions unto Thyself, dear Google.

Peeved after I see this month’s power bill — about $30 more than it should be, even though it’s effin’ freezing in here when I’m not having the 2 a.m. “hot flash” — I google “nonprogrammable thermostat.”

What should come up but a simulacrum of the good old Honeywell round thermostat!

Unfortunately it’s not the real good old thermostat, because it’s not a mercury thermostat. That was the reason they took real thermostats — the ones that used to…you know, function? — off the market. We might hurt ourselves with that mercury. And God knows we’re all too stupid to figure out how to recycle it properly.

User reviews are middling. At Home Depot, the Honeywell racks up a 4 out 5 possible stars, with 14% hating it. At Amazon, though, a full 20% bash it with one-star reviews.  Since on average you can expect to see 9% negative, this comes under the heading of bad reviews. By and large the main complaint (except for the guy who got an empty box in the mail) is inaccuracy, but as I recall the old real Honeywell mercury thermostat left something to be desired in that department…it’s pretty easy to adapt to, though. Only 59% of Amazon reviewers love it up with 5 stars; most of those folk seem to be the nostalgic type, pining for gear that has escaped digitization.

On the other hand…i prob’ly fall into that category… 😀

So, what we have here, so far, are four tools so laden with electronic frou-frou that they barely operate:

A shiny double oven, about $2,500 worth, whose highest and best use is to store pots and pans.

A thermostat that thinks it knows your mind better than you do, and will not brook any argument.

A car whose steering wheel is so packed with buttons to operate doo-dads that you have to take your hands off the wheel to honk the horn. Makes sense, eh? No one would ever think of honking a horn when some emergency was under way… A car bearing 28 computers, which working in concert will track your every move, operate your telephone, tell you which way to turn (not always correctly), and god only knows what else. But it’ll cost you $1,000 to fix a door that quits operating.

A clothes washer that will not wash, but that will explode. 😀

Hilariously, a few days ago Samsung sent me an urgent message with instructions about what can and cannot be washed in the washer — your comforter, for example, topmost among the NOTs… And with a new dial stick-on emphasizing that you cannot wash sheets in any cycle other than the “bedding” cycle. Which is just as well, one figures, since that’s the only cycle that releases enough water to launder so much as a pair of nylon panties…

Well, now we have a very fine wash machine, a throwback to the 1970s, whose agitator actually sloshes the laundry around in a whole tubful of water.

The dishwasher, a Bosch, has started to make ominous growling noises. I suppose that will be the next to go, soon to be replaced by yet another over-engineered device that doesn’t work. Kitchen appliances, including the Bosch models, are now engineered to crap out in 7 years. The other day SDXB reflected that he’s been in Sun City for 13 years now. He moved out there shortly after I moved into this house, in the wake of a dispute with a nefarious neighbor. So…that dishwasher is well into its dotage.

Just like its human…which also growls a lot.

January 13, 2017
by funny
5 Comments

What to Do, Financially, to Weather the Coming Disaster?

Our country — and by extension, your finances and mine — is in deep trouble. We are about to inaugurate as President a man whose mental stability is questionable; who announces his petulance in wee-hours tweets; who gropes women and brags about it; who exploits hatred and fear to gain power; who is at odds with the country’s intelligence agencies; who denigrates the disabled, the female, and the brown-skinned; and who “owes one” to the corrupt, thuggish leader of a nation that has been our enemy since shortly after the end of World War II. He is backed by a phalanx of extremists who want to reverse not just the ACA but the entire New Deal, which has been in place for almost 80 years.

The New Deal, we might point out, came into being in response to the Great Depression. Part of its purpose was to prevent a repeat performance of the Depression.

I believe that, in the near future, we are going to see a recession that will make the Bush Recession look like a cakewalk. The reason is that the dominant economic thinking among the doctrinaire right wing riding Mr. Trump’s coat-tails is simply wrong. It was proven wrong by the Great Recession, as it was proven wrong in earlier recessions.

Since 1948, this country has seen 11 recessions. Seven of them — 63.6% — were presided over by Republicans (Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush the Elder, Bush the Younger). Some of the economic downturns were precipitated by factors over which we had little control, such as rises in oil prices. Others correspond with rises in interest rates by the Federal Reserve or with monetary tightening in pursuit of a balanced national budget. Most egregious, from a political point of view, was the Great Recession, which was brought about by deregulation of financial institutions (a mainstay of voodoo economics). The Great Depression of 1929-33 was largely aggravated by “extensive new tariffs and other factors [that] contributed to an extremely deep depression.”

The pendulum swings. As we all know, things go one way for awhile, and then they turn around and go back in the other direction. For the past few years, we’ve seen a roaring economy. We can expect that it, like any hot economic period, will cool down. But I think the pendulum is going to swing, all right: waaayyyy in the opposite direction.

It would be good to position your investments in a balanced portfolio to include variable rate bonds and variable rate preferred stocks that pay decent income and aren’t as sensitive as stocks are in a downturn. In addition, some financial planners make it a policy to sell certain exposure to the market should it turn down below a certain level. This doesn’t protect from losses should the market sell-off, but should help cushion further losses in a market meltdown. Now is the time for you to speak with a financial planner about steps to take in managing your savings.

Additionally, you should be prepared for a period of unemployment. During the Great Recession, 10% of Americans were put out of work, a rate beat only by the Reagan recession (10.8%), the Great Depression (24.9%) and the subsequent 1937/38 recession (19%). That means having at least six months’ worth of living expenses in cash savings and possibly taking on a side gig now, not later, so that you’ll have something to fall back on should you lose your main livelihood.

Remember that many of us were never able to get jobs comparable to the ones we had before the Bush recession — large numbers of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed. After you become discouraged enough to give up seeking full-time work, you no longer register in the government’s unemployment figures, and so most of us in that category are simply not counted.

In addition to building cash savings, pay down debt and avoid racking up new debt, especially on credit cards.

Now more than ever is the time to live not just within your means but below your means. Good luck to you, folks. We’re all gonna need it.

 

January 12, 2017
by funny
0 comments

5 Tips for Making your Rental Property More Profitable

Looking to turn a higher profit from your rental this year? There are many ways to do this, if you implement your plans strategically and you are willing to invest. Below are five tips for making your rental profitable.

  1. Invest in Curb Appeal. The amenities within and outside of your property are an immediate turn on or turn off for potential renters. It’s simple—you just can’t raise rent unless the property appears worth it. For example, your building’s walls may need a fresh coat of paint. You could lose money and turn off candidates if they see that your walls are bright pink. Remember: what looks good to you does not look good to everyone. Always be safe with neutral colors because it allows the tenant to imagine their space without distraction. You want them to easily picture how they want to arrange their furniture and belongings. What’s more, potential renters will recognize if you are cheap. Do yourself a favor and invest in where it counts, whether it be the walls, flooring, kitchen and bathroom amenities, or cleanliness.
  2. Minimize Turnover Time. There are many ways to your properties occupied. The easiest way is to extend the length of your lease. Turning your property into a one-year lease instead of month-to-month will decrease the time and money it takes to advertise and show the property. Another way to do this, is to match the price of your area. If you do not have any features to offer that make your building unique and incredibly tempting—such as a prime location, or state-of-the-art kitchen—it will not be easy to draw in higher-paying tenants. Rental properties are always in demand it they come at the right price. Feel like you’ve gone too long without a single viable potential tenant? It may be time to lower your prices. Most landlords lower their rent to just below the market price in situations like these, and this could be the tactic to get your vacancy filled.
  3. Raise Rent. Contrary to the option above, there may be ways you can also raise the rent. In order to do this, you have to be strategic. One tactic is to raise the rent as the lease ends. If your current tenants are loyal and want to stay, they will pay slightly more. They may consider that the time it takes to look for a new rental is not worth it, or they may realize that moving may be too expensive. Over time, for instance, the fees of the Home Owner’s Association may force your hand to raise rent. You can also time the replacement or updating of certain features around the end of the lease. Doing so will encourage your tenants to stay, and persuade them to stay in their subtly renovated rental.
  4. Enforce Leasing Policies. This is especially true of late fees. This is important for two reasons: first, your tenants need to respect you as a landlord in order to keep your property protected; and second, you need to make sure you maintain your revenue stream so you do not find yourself in big financial trouble. One way to prevent this is to charge a late fee. Your tenants need to know that they are your landlord, not your friend. Be sure the tenants understand that they will be charged a fee if they do not pay on time. After all, they signed a contract that said they were financially able and responsible enough to pay, and they are bound to that contract. They need to know that this is a business, and they have a job to follow through on. The best way to prevent issues is to check if a tenant has ever been evicted. Past instances will be indicative of the behavior you can expect in the future.
  5. Offer services. If you own a single unit rental with a garden, offer a gardener at a higher rental price. Not only does it keep your rental looking nice, but it will appeal to tenants who want to live in a nice home. Or, if you own a multi-unit property, install washers and dryers—either stackable or coin-operated—and they will pay for themselves. Many tenants do not want to spend all of their time at a laundromat on a Saturday, so having washers and dryers on the premises or in the unit will be considered a luxury especially if these services are rare in the area.

January 10, 2017
by funny
9 Comments

Do You Really NEED a Car?

lightrail-Phoenix_Exterior_7417.2008If you live in the big city that is: how much, really, do you need a car? And if you didn’t need one…how much would not having a car not cost you?

Yesterday I realized there’s no way I can make ends meet with a $385 car payment, not on Social Security and an RMD…even with the market thundering along like a high-speed freight train.

Sure, I could take more out of the stock market to make up the shortfall, over each of the next five years. But that will take a bite out of my long-term retirement savings…and the bite is likely to be a great deal bigger as time passes, since in my opinion we will be seeing a pretty drastic recession in the not too distant future. The Trump recession is likely to make the Bush recession look like small potatoes.

Just IMHO…

At any rate, I do not want to let a car — and not a particularly good one — suck away my retirement.

Applied for a job a friend told me about, one that needs to be filled within two weeks. Department chair said I’m not qualified.

Hee heeee! Nothing like a Ph.D. issued in 1979 and 72 years under your belt to do that for you, is there? 😀

So I’m walking the dog and a thought crosses my mind…

Y’know, when I took the junk in to have its struts replaced, the Toyota service dept. rented me a car for $50. Had the thing for two days, drove it around; topped up the gas tank for $6.25 and turned it back in, no hassle.

I don’t do what you’d call a helluva lot of driving. And in theory I could do a whole helluva lot less: the new lightrail goes right past the end of the street, and an Albertson’s, a Safeway, and a Walgreen’s occupy corners about half a mile away. Even the Walmart is only about a mile and a half from here.

Could one, as a big-city girl and resident of a burg with designs on urban sophistication, could one do without a car? And if one could, then what?

This car is costing me almost $400 a month, and that doesn’t include the gasoline (it gets a munificent 20 mpg) or Arizona’s astonishing registration fees on newer vehicles. Or the insurance, to the tune of $700+ a year.

Registration in Arizona is $2.89 for every $100 the state thinks your car is worth. Since I’m paying $22,0000 for it, I expect they’ll charge me for about 20 grand worth: that will be $576 thankyouverymuch, along about the end of next summer when the utility bills are sky high.

So let’s see: $576 registration + $700 + ($385 x 12) = $5898. That’s $492 a month. Not counting gasoline, maintenance, and repairs.

Uhm… Y’know, you could rent a car for a reasonable number of days at $50/day. Almost 10 days as a matter of fact: 9.84 days.

I don’t think I actually drive 9 days a month. It’s probably more like 6 or 8 days a month.

And how many Uber rides could you rent for that? Uber costs 9 cents a mile here, plus a 40-cent booking fee. According to their website, it’s $8 to $10 to the Safeway: $20 plus tip round-trip. Plenty more than that to get to the doctor…but how often does one go to the doc? The train, which will drop you off in front of the AJ’s, goes right by the dentist, and stops across the street from the Target and Costco: $5 a day.

But it wouldn’t take that many Uber rides to get where you wanted to go.

Usually I run my routine boring errands on the way home from the weekly business networking group meetings. A Sprouts, two Trader Joe’s, three Walgreen’s, a Whole Foods, and a Safeway are right on that beaten path. A Costco and the AJ’s are in the general vicinity. So in theory, I could rent a car the night before, schlep to Scottsdale, and then do all my errands on the way home. Return the car: repeat seven days later.

Incidentals could, in theory, be bought at the neighborhood Albertson’s and Sprouts. It’s not very safe to walk down there, Conduit of Blight Boulevard being the garden spot that it is. But as long as you didn’t carry a purse — I’d pin a credit card inside my jeans pocket so it couldn’t fall out or be pickpocketed — it wouldn’t be too bad. It’s only about a half-mile, part of the way through the residential area.

How would I get to church?

In theory I could ride a bike down there on Sunday mornings. On Wednesday nights, of course, that would be unsafe: you’d have to traverse main drags in the dark, where it would be really hard for car drivers to see you.

For choir rehearsals, I pick up a friend who doesn’t like to drive at night. He lives just about a mile away — an easy enough walk. I could walk over there and we could drive down and back in his car. As long as I had a can of mace, it would be reasonably safe to walk back and forth between their house and mine.

So then all you’d have to cope with would be light emergencies: sick dog, quick trip to the doctor, the trip to FedEx for the last-minute photocopy job, whatEVER. For that: Uber.

Four short car rentals a month would cost me $200. That’s less than half what I’m paying for the pile of metal and plastic adorned with 28 computers sitting in the garage. Not counting the gasoline. At 20 bucks a hit, that would leave enough for 10 Uber rides or 50 days’ worth of train rides.

Soooo…there we have a question.

Why do I have this car at all?

 

January 9, 2017
by funny
6 Comments

A Gray Day…Sky-wise and Financial-wise

California’s rainstorms are making their way over here. Every time a significant storm blows into California, eventually it crosses the mountains and the desert and arrives here. The sky has been threatening to dump on us all day. And…speaking of “dump,” naturally I pick today to work on the financial books.

Not too bright. As it were…

So one thing — the one thing — that appears immanently obvious is that the current amazing budgetary triumph is a fluke.

And: even if said fluke continues indefinitely, as long as I have to make car payments on top of helping my son pay the mortgage on a house he can’t afford on the salary he earns, I cannot make make ends meet. Said salary of my son’s ranks slightly above Arizona’s paltry median household income (and his 66-year-old virtually uninsulatable house is valued right at the Greater Phoenix median cost for a single-family home) — Yes. Well. The one obvious factoid: my RMD and Social Security are not going to support me unless I get rid of the car and the dogs.

That’s even if I were able to keep monthly expenses at the flukish minimum. Which ain’t bloody likely.

Uck-fay.

Because I hate the recurring budgetary data-entry job, I tend to put it off. So today had to spend two or three hours ripping open envelopes, poring over statements, and entering number after number after tedious number into spreadsheets. And, of course, paying bills.

Engaged in this fun project, I happen to notice that this month’s water bill is exactly the same as last month’s bill, right down to the penny: $99.69.

Say what?

Last month it did not rain every day or two. Last month the watering system was running — it came on every third day. This month the watering system has been off for at least two weeks (could be longer), and the ground and pots are still soggy from the unending rain. Not once have I had to pour tap water into the swimming pool. And because it’s colder than Billy-Be-Damned, I put off bathing as long as I possibly can.

Soooo…there’s no reason the current bill should be anywhere near as much as last month’s bill. That it would be identical makes no sense at all.

I called the water department to inquire about this anomaly — a hundred bucks being high for this time of year, especially after all the rain we’ve had. I was told the meters are still manually read in our neighborhood. This seemed contrary to the notice we got a couple years ago saying our meters would henceforth be read electronically…but who knows? Anything’s possible. The woman I spoke with, Linda, said I should go outside and check the meter to see if it registered the same as or less than the figure shown on the statement. If it didn’t register more, in order to get the Water Dept to investigate, I would be charged a $23 gouge for the privilege.

meter2So I went out this afternoon, in the rain, to check as advised. What I saw was a gauge encrusted in dried-on dust, leaves, and old bougainvillea blossoms.

The statement says the meter was read on January 3. Today is January 9. Obviously, no one could have read the meter without pushing aside the crusted-on dirt. That much mud and crap would not have weaseled its way in to the covered meter box in six days.

Curious about the condition of the irrigation system, I turned the valves on and then traipsed back through the rain and checked to see if any change registered with the meter. None: it didn’t budge. Evidently there’s no leak in the system, even when the system’s valves are open.

I called back and reached Mario.

He said, in direct contradiction to his agency’s first representative, that the meters are read electronically.

He further said I must have used that much water, and it must have been just an AMAZING coincidence that the two readings were the same despite the fact that I happen to know the irrigation system was turned off, no water was added to the pool (thanks to this month’s rain), and (because it’s colder than a witch’s t**** in December in this house when you can’t afford to run the heating system) I haven’t bathed excessively.

After I hung up from this run-around, I sent a complaint to my city councilperson. An exercise in futility, I expect. WTF.

I’m going to have to find a way to get more money. I simply cannot bear the thought of teaching freshman comp again. Honestly. I’d rather starve.

Which at this unemployable age, I probably will.

Wonder-Accountant has said, in passing, that it’s about time to draw down a “salary” from the S-corp. Well. Yeah: actually, it’s probably way past time.

An extra ten thousand dollars would do the trick. But…there’s only nine grand in the S-corp’s account. Most of its income goes to cover its expenses. It just about breaks even. So obviously, it’s not going to keep any wolves from the door.

 

 

January 7, 2017
by funny
9 Comments

Weekend Frenzies

It’s gonna be a very busy weekend. And a lot of fun, one expects.

Down at the church, a lively and much beloved minister is getting married this weekend…to one of the choir members. With a beautiful tenor voice and a noticeable understanding of classical singing, he’s on the chamber choir. (Yes, Virginia: Episcopalians, despite being a dime short of RC, do ordain women priests!) Well, naturally we’re all excited about singing at their wedding…which will take place during the beautiful Evensong service…complete with bagpipes and kilts!

It is going to be a grand party. Over 400 people are expected.

As for me: I have nothing to wear. My only decent skirt is black, not something one can wear to a wedding. This would be the disadvantage of living in Costco jeans… 😉

I dropped by Nordstrom’s Rack yesterday. They had exactly NOTHING. Far as I could tell, the only skirt in the entire store was an ugly straight, short burgundy-red corduroy item. Better the jeans than that thing…

This afternoon I’ll be on the far west side for the monthly meeting of our writers’ group. It should break up early enough that I could go by my favorite shop in Old Glendale, the Garden Shop. It has wonderful, unique clothes — some of them made in the US. They’re kind of expensive, but you really can’t lose with that place.

But…except…yeah: what you lose is a ton of cash out of your budget…

So I tried on a very old, once very pretty hippy-dippy outfit that I got long, long ago in Tucson, while I was still married. I think it may even have been before my son was born.

It’s still pretty enough. But it wants to highlight the paunch. That’s the first thing you see when you look at me in said outfit. The elastic in the waist — which I believe I’ve changed out once or twice — is shot, so I have to pin the skirt on both sides to make it stay up. That would be OK, because the long, flowing top covers the waist…but…not the paunch.

Lo! What should I find in the closet but a shirtwaist-style dress with a loose, billowy skirt that does disguise the paunch. It looks OK with the flat chest, and it looks just fine with a pair of knitted knockers pinned into a cami.

Trouble is, it’s Army green. Not exactly festive. So I’m standing there thinking…well…if I put enough jewelry on, I could get away with it. Fortunately I’m old, so most people can’t see me. Old people by and large are invisible, unless we’re making some kind of a fuss.

Then I remembered that a year or so ago I’d bought a hand-screened silk scarf at the Garden Shop, and it has a lot of green in it. Dig it out of the closet, swing it around my neck Isadora Duncan-style, and voila! It works.

The dress is sleeveless, which means I’ll be cold walking in from the car (it’s about to rain today and probably will be chilly all day tomorrow). But that’s good, because with 400 people in the church, it is going to be freaking hot in the choir loft. Especially under a robe and surplice.

In 20 minutes I have to drive across the Valley to the monthly meeting of the writer’s group I took up with.

I’ve developed quite the flinch reflex about that. It was on the way out there — a 40-minute drive — that I had the fainting spell that scared me back to the cardiologist’s precincts…and that could’ve killed me and one of my fellow lunatic drivers. And it was on the way back — same trip — that the Dog Chariot died in the middle of the intersection and I spent 5 hours waiting for the tow truck to show up…about three of them in the company of a pair of tweaking drug addicts.

Really, the meeting place is just on the far a very bad part of town — everything west of 19th Avenue out to Sun City and Waddell is questionable. And I don’t like to drive through those districts. New car and automatically locking doors notwithstanding. Now that it’s been brought forcefully to my attention that I could get stuck for hours in unpleasant circumstances, I like driving out there even less.

BUT… I do enjoy those people. They’re very nice, and it’s an exceptionally good amateur scribblers’ groups (most are pretty ludicrous). And one of my friends shows up to every meeting, so I do enjoy seeing him.

test-2-smoking-cover-lo-resAnd…this next book I’m about to emit is something that WILL sell to that audience. It’s a natural for them.

In fact, today they’re critiquing cover copy of members’ books. So I’m taking something I tossed together yesterday to get their feedback. Whilst having it copied, it occurred to me to put the table of contents on the back side of the copy: Instant ad!

What I really should do is join a group here in town or in Scottsdale. It would be closer and probably would have a larger membership.

But then what? Am I going to abandon all my new pals out on the West Side?

Likely not. Then I’d have yet another meeting to have to go to.

Which probably would be a good thing. Really. I need to get out of the garret. I spend way, way, way too much time in the company of dogs. And myself.

Four minutes to blast-off. No time to proofread this thing: my apologies for the usual flood of typos! And a happy, well-dressed, entertaining weekend to you!

🙂