Funny about Money

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

September 22, 2016
by funny
8 Comments

Buying a Car: Worse than buying a house?

It’s HERE! The new vehicle has taken up residence in the garage.

venza

Click for a link to more images: QUICK before they take it down…

Having decided the time had come to replace the beloved Dog Chariot., I went over to Bell Road Toyota, a large dealership where a friend of a friend is fleet manager. There I spent the entire afternoon wrestling with Toyota staff and ninnies at the credit union’s lender and on and on. It was amazingly awful. The piles of incomprehensible papers they make you sign rival the stacks of contracts you have to sign to get a mortgage.

So which is worse? Getting a mortgage or buying a car?

My own money is on the car transaction. Mortgage officers don’t try to pressure you to buy things you don’t need or want.

The car is a so-called “Certified Pre-Owned” (CPO) number, which means the dealer has refurbished it from front to back and provides an extended, fairly comprehensive warranty: 100,000 miles or seven years. They’re very proud of this and happily tell you all about it, over and over…until you get to the financial guy to whom you’re supposed to pay up.

He spent the better part of an hour trying to persuade me that I had to buy additional warranty coverage, lest God Only Knows WHAT might happen — liberally emphasizing the cost of replacing a fuel filter installed inside a gas tank. Much of this threat was laid to the federal government’s unreasonable demands for lowered emissions.

Ultimately I passed on the expensive extra warranty: it looked like a scam, sort of like those extended warranties peddled by appliance stores and Best Buy and the like. He finally gave up.

It really is a nice car.

September 20, 2016
by funny
20 Comments

Cartastrophe

So the bad news is, the car’s alternator crapped out in Tolleson, an alarming little burg where the term “low rent” means “gentrified.” The good news is, I just replaced the alternator in June, so it’s still on the warranty. The bad news redux is that you can’t buy a new alternator in the aftermarket. All aftermarket alternators, even if you buy one from a car dealership, are rebuilt. And, Chuck remarked as he was chauffeuring me home from his shop, “they crap out.”

Yeah. Well. Dude! It woulda been nice if you’d clued me to that before you charged me for a piece of junk that lasted all of four months and stranded me for five interminable hours in a QT parking lot inhabited by drug addicts!

Not wanting to repeat that adventure, I’m now actively in the car market. After much study of Edmunds, Car & Driver, Carfax, and Car Guru, the choices are narrowed down to a Toyota Venza or a Honda Santa Fe, 2012 – 2015.

The Venza is a kewl little crossover, unfortunately discontinued in 2015. My friend KJG and her DH own one, and they love it. I test-drove the Venza the last time I fell into a car-driving frenzy and really liked it, too. With a V-6, it’s quite the little rocket, and it has plenty of room for dogs, estate sale finds, and friends.

The Santa Fe is a larger vehicle but it has much to recommend it.  The regular Santa Fe is a full-sized SUV, but there’s a “Sport” model that’s shorter, with only five seats. Edmunds calls the Santa Fe the “true winner” in its class. You can’t get a six-banger in the Sport, but you can get a turbo-charged four-banger, which is almost as good.

Also much admired by Edmunds — and given a higher “grade” — is the Honda Odyssey. But I have the same problem with it now that I did when I got the Sienna: it seems like WAY too much truck than I need.

WhatEVER. We’ll see what the broker comes up with. He said he knew someone who was trying to unload a Santa Fe, and he thinks there’ll be a selection of Venzas. I didn’t find the latter to be true on Car Guru or Edmunds — to the contrary, availability of the Venza is limited. It was discontinued in 2015, so I expect a lot of owners don’t want to part with theirs. Or something.

I’m prequalified for $22,000 at 1.9% through the credit union. It will cover certified “pre-owned” cars between 2012 and 2015. Looks like a Santa Fe dated 2013 or 2014 is likely to run $17,000 to $18,000. I think the Sienna is worth about $1200 on trade-in (can no longer see Kelly Blue Book, because they now demand that you disable your AdBlocker, which I ain’t a-gonna do). If I don’t resurface the pool this year, I should be able to disgorge about $4,000 as a cash down payment. Let’s say I can get the loan amount down to 15 grand (holy sh!t): over five years, that’s $262.26 a month.

That would be precisely $262 more than I can afford.

So…needless to say, I am not pleased at the prospect of being chained to an auto loan for the next five years. However, the credit union will let you pay down principal, so once again — as happened the last time I had to get a car loan — I’ll throw every windfall large and small at the thing, and it will probably go away in a lot less than five years.

When I bought a Camry on time — back when I had a job…remember those? — that strategy paid off a five-year loan in 18 months.

We just deposited the current Required Minimum Withdrawal from Fidelity into my checking account. I believe I’m about $5,000 the good this year. So I could probably come up with as much as 5 grand in cash — though I’d rather not.  There’s a certified pre-owned Santa Fe with 30,300 miles on it on sale right now for $17,400. If my car is worth around a thousand bucks and I paid down $5,000 in cash, then I’d only have to finance about $11,400 (plus, plus, plus…). That’d be $200 a month.

Marginally affordable.

Car Guru shows only three 2012-2015 Toyota Venzas for sale in the Phoenix area. Two of them are graded as not good buys; the one they think is a pretty good deal is $18,598, for a 2013 vehicle with a V-6 engine and 46,364 miles on it. Holy mackerel.

LOL! Here’s a Santa Fe that looks like it’s orange! I’d have to paint yellow and black flames on the sides….

Ugh. I’ve never bought a used car before. This doesn’t look like a very safe prospect. But I sure can’t afford new-car prices.

Damn George Bush and his handlers for wrecking the economy and putting me (and everyone else) out of a job! I’d have  bought a new car six years ago if it weren’t for those shenanigans…and would easily be able to afford another new car right about now. That’s “new” new, not “new to me.”

September 20, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

All Loans Are Not Created Equally

The New Ride of Funny's Dreams. ca 2013: $17,500

The New Ride of Funny’s Dreams. ca. 2013: $17,500…plus interest

It doesn’t matter if you’re Donald Trump, all of us have to borrow money sooner or later. There are a bunch of online personal finance gurus out there who might tell you different, but there just isn’t a way to get through life without borrowing, unless you keep your ambitions well beneath your earnings. That may sound like something that is very possible, but is it really? We’re talking about putting off a home or auto loan, potentially even going without higher education. Not many people can afford to pay for those things out of pocket, so borrowing would be necessary. Are you really able to skip out on those things, just so you don’t have to borrow money?

I’m going to guess not. If you’ve accepted borrowing as a part of life, at this point, it’s important not to just start borrowing willy nilly. Not all loans are created equally. There are multiple aspects to consider for each loan, even beyond the main details that we always think about. Here are some things to consider.

Price. There are people who have loans who don’t even understand what an APR is. An APR is Annual Percentage Rate. That’s the kind of name that doesn’t tell you anything about the thing it represents, so we’ll dig a little deeper. The APR of your loan is, basically, the price that you pay for borrowing that money. It’s a combination of interest and fees. Interest is a specific percentage rate that you’ll pay each year, based on the base amount of money you are borrowing. There will also be fees associated with each loan, for originating the loan, for processing, for whatever the lender dreams up.

These loans can have APR of anywhere between 1% to 35%, sometimes more. The latter is extremely high, but there are other loans that are meant to have extremely short duration, and carry WAY higher interest and fees to compensate. Verymerryloans.com has a bunch of examples you can check out, and you can get a quote if you like. It’s best not to take on loans that have high interest, as these will be more expensive in the long run, and will give you a higher chance of defaulting. If you default, you’ll likely incur way more interest and fees in the long term. You should also not take on loans that penalize you for early repayment. This sometimes happens, when a shady company wants to lock their customers in for the long (Expensive) haul.

Duration. This is the other major factor when considering a loan. How long will you have to pay off the loan? As mentioned above, is there any penalty for early repayment? There are tons of loan terms, from a week to thirty or sixty years. Some businesses take on loans which go farther than that, and world governments can pay in near perpetuity.

These are the two factors to consider when taking on a loan. All terms associated with your loan will pertain to either Price or Time, so if you’re having trouble understanding said terms, figure out which category each belongs to, then work out what it’s talking about from there.

—JB
Image: OSX – Public Domain

September 18, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

The Least of God’s Creatures

Ever wonder where God is, and why She isn’t taking care of the least of Her creatures?

There are people out there, my friends, who are the least of God’s creatures. The “least” are not amoebae or viruses or organic molecules dwelling on comets floating around in space. The least of God’s creatures are human beings who should be cared for and should if cared for properly be able to care for themselves. Maybe.

Yesterday I had the privilege and the sorrow of  encountering one of the Least, God help her…if only God would be bothered.

I’d had to drive halfway to Yuma to attend a meeting on the far west side of the Valley. On the way out there, apparently I had a reaction to an allergy medicine I’d swallowed after swilling an entire pot of very strong coffee. After nearly passing out while cruising across a surface street at 50 mph, I’d taken refuge in a parking lot where some construction workers were holding forth. When I recovered enough to move the car, I moved it closer to where the men were working, thinking I might need someone else’s help, and when I did that, I drove over the curb around an empty planter bed, hitting both wheels on the right side fairly hard. But the car seemed OK, and the guy I ended up talking to thought it would be fine.

The phenomenon subsided, and since I was more than halfway to my destination, I figured I could get there faster than I could by going home, and there would be people there who could help if need be.

After the emergency flashers had been going so melodramatically, the turn signals stopped working. At least, I put it down to something having to do with the emergency flashers — it wasn’t the first time a turn signal failed, although both of them had never gone out at once. Oh well.

Park, go in, spend three hours in the meeting, and feel OK except for a slight headache and a couple of mild dizzy spells. The meeting breaks up, and I jump into my car and start the long drive home.

About a mile down the road, my car stops dead in the left turn lane of a major intersection. It’s DEAD dead. No response at all from the ignition switch.

The police come and two burly cops push my car out of the traffic and park it in a bus pull-out. I cannot for the life of me make my cell phone thingie work well enough to reach the insurance company’s roadside assistance feature, so one of the cops calls on his much fancier cell.

We’re told a tow truck will arrive in 30 minutes. He arranges for them to meet me in a QT across the road, since it’s over 100 in the sun and he’s very skeptical about the 30-minute promise. He says it usually takes about an hour for a tow truck to show up.

An hour later…two hours later…

My son gets wind of this and drives all the way out to the west side to babysit me — it’s twenty miles. He’s an insurance guy himself, so he attempts to negotiate their roadside service by phone.

Long story short: we end up waiting FIVE HOURS for the tow truck to show up. Hilariously enough, the towing company calls itself “About Time” Towing.

There’s no seating in the QT, and it’s nonstop crowded and hectic. So he decides we should wait in his car, despite the heat — he will run the AC for a few minutes at a time. He backs the vehicle, a crossover type Ford, into a space in a row of empty spaces on far border of the lot, where we can see my car across the gigantic intersection, lest the tow guy go there instead of the QT and lest the city come and try to impound it.

We sit there for quite a while, the only car in this empty row of parking. The sun goes down.

After dark, along comes an old junker of a pickup with a camper shell on the back, jam-packed with junk. The occupants park it right next to us, even though the entire row is empty.

They sit there for about 20 minutes. Eventually, they both climb out of the truck through the passenger door — on my side of our car.

When they get out, we can see these two people are in pretty bad shape. The woman in particular is a wreck: she looks like she hasn’t bathed in two weeks. Her hair is filthy, and her threadbare clothes barely hang on her scrawny body. She’s listless and looks exhausted.

I wonder if they’re homeless, living out of their truck — though with all the stuff crammed in the back, it doesn’t look like there’s  room to sleep in it. He thinks it’s possible, and remarks that Walmart allows the homeless to sleep in their parking lots: maybe QT does, too. Besides, the guy has on a workman’s uniform. I think the Walmart thing applies just to RVs; he points out that their truck could sort of qualify for that. And the guy could have found the “uniform” (it doesn’t look like that to me) at Goodwill. Besides, in Arizona plenty of working-class jobs don’t pay enough to keep a roof over your head.

They walk off into the field behind us and disappear into the darkness.

My son figures they’ve gone off to do some drugs. I think they’ve gone to meet a dealer and score some dope, because they seemed to be waiting for the right time to set out.

When they get back, it’s clear my son is right — maybe both of us are right.

Now they sit on the ground, hiding between the two cars. It’s like we’re in a bathysphere, looking out on some strange creatures in an alien environment. The guy is speeding, babbling on and on in a loud voice. The woman is wilted. She just sits there curled in a ball, her head down and her stringy, dingy hair flopped over her face.

It’s impossible to put that abject woman out of one’s mind. I can’t even describe how destroyed she seemed to be.

The man, a big, tough-looking guy with a shaved head, at least looked reasonably clean and healthy.  On one occasion he appeared to try to help her — eventually they climbed back in the truck, and since she got in first he had to try to settle her into the driver’s seat. But in fact, his definition of helping her entailed keeping her company in getting high.

Finally, a little after 8 p.m., along comes the tow truck driver: another of God’s neglected creatures. We decide to have him tow the car to my house, since I don’t know whether Chuck the Wonder-Mechanic has space to park vehicles after hours. I don’t think so, though.

This shifty little guy is one of those folks who’s so dumb you wonder how they learned to tie their shoe laces. But cheerful. Cheerfully dumb.  He manages to haul the Dog Chariot the twenty miles back to my house without breaking anything obvious. Once we got back here, I have a chance to chat with him and realize that he’s not only child-like but also behaves as though he’s high.

That, I suppose, explains something about why he was 4½ hours late.

By the side of the road, Tow Dude has found one of those ball-point pens that have a tiny flashlight in one end.  So tickled is he with this prize that he shows it off like a proud little boy, waving it around and clicking it on and off. But he’s not a child: he’s a man in his mid- to late twenties. But this one at least has a job: average pay $26,000; median pay $30,000. Not enough to put much of a roof over your head…but a roof.

Welp, tomorrow is going to be another Day from Hell, especially if I have to go out and buy a car. And so, to bed…

Some “vacation”…

 

 

September 18, 2016
by funny
0 comments

Important Steps to Improve your Finances

The level of credit card debt in the USA is worrying to say the least. It is at its highest for years and remembering the misery of the years of recession it is quite surprising that people are apparently comfortable to carry such debt, especially when real estate values have lost some years of growth. Cards are convenient and when used properly also provide rewards to encourage loyalty but the level of interest charged on balances that remain outstanding at the month end questions how sensible consumers are with their use.

Worrying Figures

As the recession was coming to an end the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston suggested that over 70% of adults had at least one credit card. In 2014 figures show that the average American has 2.6 credit cards which is actually down from the pre-recession average. Almost a third have 5 cards or more. Even though the average number of cards has dropped that does not mean that debt has fallen as well. In the final quarter of 2015 the average card debt per household was creeping towards $8,000, the highest level since 2009 when the effects of recession had cut people’s access to other forms of credit.

If you read this and see your situation as being out of control or reaching that point,  you need to give your position some thought. The first quarter of any year when tax refunds are available often paints a better picture, but then through the next three quarters debt tends to rise. Mid-year holidays and Christmas spending are just two of the reasons card debt rises in the third and fourth quarter. The overall total debt in the final quarter of 2015 incidentally was $52.4 billion. If there is any good news, it is that high as the interest rate charged is at least general interest rates remain low. Indeed, those keen to sort out their debt can get very competitive personal loans to pay off their card debt and merely pay back the installments for the full term of the loan.

Take Action

If you are beginning to worry, then you need to curb your spending in order that you are not overspending. If you clear your card debt with a loan you cannot immediately begin to build up your debt once again. You should only spend when you can pay the full statement amount in full each month. That requires self-discipline and a budget that ensures your finances show a surplus each month, the larger the better.

You need a budget written down that shows all your financial activity. That means even your small dollar spending each day, because over a month that adds up. You can anticipate when your regular bills are going to arrive and therefore aim to get your cash flow in order so that you can meet them. Your budget needs to be under review constantly so it always reflects what is actually happening.

  • Your credit score should be important to you. It is something that potential employers may even refer to if you are applying for a job. Your score reflects your history as well as the available credit you have and of course your existing debt.
  • Covering your monthly expenses must be your aim as a minimum. Even if at this stage you have no emergency fund you cannot avoid financial problems if you are overspending. You should look to see if there are some obvious savings that you can make such as cheaper utilities or insurance. Those savings may help towards an emergency fund.
  • If you need and want a loan then look at interest rates and apply accordingly.

Debt does not disappear if you ignore it. In some cases you can negotiate some relief; creditors may feel that the fact that you are prepared to talk means you are taking your finances seriously. The only time that a credit card can help your finances is if it is used sensibly. That means not spending on something you cannot afford even if it appears a bargain. By the time you have paid for it in full the interest that will have been applied is actually the true picture.

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