Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 Savings Goal - August Update

(1) Max out 401k(s) -        $23,633 (68%)  (goal is $35,000)
(2) Max out IRA(s) -         $9,125 (83%)    (goal is $11,000)
(3) Add to e/r fund -          $6,400 (64%)    (goal is $10,000)
(4) Pay down mortgage -   $2,075 (42%)    (goal is $5,000)
(5) Trading account fund - $50  (1%)           (goal is $5,000)
(6) House projects -          $1,600 (43%)     (goal is $3,000)

Total:  $42,883 (62%)

At present, we are about $2,200 behind on our 2013 savings goal.  While I continue to contribute to my 401k and I continue to add to our emergency fund and our house project fund, I've otherwise mostly ceased efforts on our other 2013 goals due to Mr. Sam's lay off.

I did add a $100 to our 2013 IRA fund to make myself feel like we were still making some forward progress, but that money sits in cash so we could still use it if necessary.  We won't make our 2013 IRA contribution until we see what happens with Mr. Sam's job search and we have until April 15, 2014 to do so.  Our emergency fund and our hose project fund are both liquid as well, so we can draw on them if we need to.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

FitBit Data - Update # 1

Earlier I posted about my new FitBit and improving my fitness through data.

A week or so into using the FitBit, I've determined the following.  I am averaging about 5,400 steps a day which is well below my goal of 10,000 steps per day.  On exercise days, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I obviously do better and approach 8,000 to 8,500 steps on average.  On non-exercise days (Tuesday and Thursday) I've improved a bit by watching my FitBit data, and I've moved my average step count from about 3,500 to 4,000 steps on average. Certain guidance I've found suggests a reasonable goal of improving week over week step numbers by 20%

Most surprising is my weekend step count which is dismal.  On days I have the most free time, it appears that I am stepping/moving the least.  I do know what happens, I get up and I go out to run errands (Saturday) which doesn't involve that much walking since I'm in my car.  On Sunday, I tend to either be at the office or relaxing at home.

Analyzing the tracking data from my FitBit also reveals that my activity level is color coded.  My exercise steps are coded as green, less active is orange and sedentary is red.  I can't find any information as to whqt the colors are supposed to mean, but I can guess.

I am working on setting up a TV/DVD player in the garage and I have a plan to do Zumba, which involves lots of steps, twice a week.  But, so far, I've been having technology problems.  Yesterday I had the video working but not the sound, then in trying to get the sound working I lost the video.  Mr. Sam said he would work on these issues for me today (I hope he does).

Otherwise, I need to walk Snarfle the dog when I get home each night.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Unemployment Compensation - Follow Up # 2

Earlier I posted regarding Mr. Sam's Florida unemployment compensation adventures, and the fact that his application was denied because he received severance.  Well, now Florida has changed their minds and determined that he is entitled to benefits because he is not receiving ongoing severance.

As a result, yesterday he received a payment representing two weeks of benefits ($550).  Somehow I expect the State to change its mind and ask for the money back so we will be prepared to repay it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Improvement Through Data - Fitness

As someone who has improved their finances by utilizing data, I am a fan of tracking data.  For our personal finances, we use Quicken to track our spending, easily downloaded from the Wells Fargo web site.  We also utilize an Excel spreadsheet to track our annual savings goals (when we were killing our $55,000 in unsecured debt we also used Excel to track our progress).

My employer has a fitness/health initiative (designed to reduce health insurance costs) and they recently offered use of a FitBit Zip which keeps track of steps, distance and calories burned through exercise.  I recently set mine up and it is illuminating to see how little I move even though I exercise regularly and make an effort to walk during my day.  On the days I exercise, walk 45 minutes three times a week, I accumulate about 7,500 steps which is considered light active. My goal is 10,000 steps per day which would push me into the active status

On days I don't exercise I only get about 3,500 steps although I do, already, take breaks during the day to get out from behind my desk and I try to take the stairs into and out of my office.  Under 5000 steps per day can indicate a sedentary lifestyle sedentary lifestyle and the associated risk factors related to same.

I think the idea of tracking my activities will make me more accountable, to myself, and is likely to increase my activity.  I know that I respond well to tracking my data and I'm interested in seeing how utilizing the FitBit can help me in this regard.

How about you, do you use any of these methods to track activity?  Does tracking work for you?  

Refinance of Rental # 3

Gosh, I am so glad we got refinanced our primary home last year (into a 15 year loan at 2.75% rate) before Mr. Sam was laid off from his job.  Since we knew that the lay off was likely coming that was one of the reasons we pushed to get that REFI done, obviously better to have two stable salaries to show the bank.

Yesterday, I turned my attention to Rental #3 which is the only property/loan that we have not refinanced. And I did so because the mortgage company keeps sending my notices that this property qualifies for the HARP program or some other program and that they can do a cheap and quick REFI for us.  While we need to refinance this property since this is our only non-conventional loan, its on an ARM that resets on an annual basis, it really has not made sense to do so because (1) the current rate is 3.125% and (2) I really don't think it qualifies for a REFI.

I had a lovely chat, seriously, with a mortgage broker at my current loan servicing company.  She indicated that in fact the property is eligible regardless of the fact that it is not a primary dwelling.  It is eligible because its backed by Fannie Mae, it originated prior to 6/1/09, no late payments in the last year (no late payments ever) and we haven't used the HARP program before on this loan.

But, the rates she could offer me for an investment property were in the 5% range.  And, further we would likely be forced to refinance into another 30 year term, even though we would prefer a 15 year term, because under the HARP program the REFI cannot increase the mortgage payment by more than 20%.  It makes no sense to me to impose a 20% limit on an investment property when we have several good years of rental income well above that level.

As for the LTV ratio they keep citing in the advertisements, she indicated that is simply based on the original loan amount and the amount we currently owe.  She further agreed that the LTV ration quoted in the documents  likely has nothing to do with appraisal value (I seriously doubt this home would appraise for what we currently owe).  But, even if we are underwater we can still REFI.

Right now it really doesn't make sense to refinance this property, but I'm going to start watching rates again.  I'd like to lock in a rate under 5% with a decent term before the ARM adjusts above that level.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Low Can You Limbo

In addition to our primary home mortgage, we have three other mortgages on our investment properties.  In working on updating our net worth numbers today  I realized that one of our investment property mortgages is now under $100,000 (specifically $97,061).  Something about getting that loan number under $100,000 makes me very happy!!

We are also just a month away from getting our investment mortgage totals under $300,000.  Which I will similarly celebrate next month.  Gotta look for those silver linings.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unemployment Compensation - Follow Up

Earlier, I posted about how difficult the State of Florida makes it to obtain unemployment compensation.  Well, after Mr. Sam worked on this task for a few weeks, jumped through all the hoops, spent hours completing forms and making his way through the mice trap the State of Florida has set up (in order to deny benefits) he learned he is not eligible since he received a severance package.

Ugh times a hundred.  Such a huge waste of time and red tape.  Assuming Mr. Sam is still unemployed when his severance package expires he can reapply and the severance doesn't reduce the number of weeks of payments.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tossing and Turning

I found myself unable to sleep last night and as a result ended up reading several great articles on which is one of my favorite cites for in-depth, well written articles.

Since the Powerball jack pot is up to $425 million I found this article from Nautilus on why we keep playing the lottery extremely insightful.  I use the term "we" loosely as I'm not a fan of the lottery and I have often pondered why so many people play and why so many people who play are poor.

I have a personal objection to lotteries in they act as a regressive tax on the poor.  As such it was interesting, and depressing, to think about the analysis of the lottery is more popular among the poor.

For many poor people, he adds, there is “no scenario they can come up with in which they are suddenly going to get very rich.” To them, the lottery may be a low probability event—but so is getting a job that pays six figures.

The last time I played the lottery was the last really big Powerball jackpot.  Now, I really had no interest in playing, but everyone in my office was chipping in for a pool and I didn't want to be left out (I also didn't want to be viewed as a "stick in the mud").  The article notes, that indeed, some people are motivated to opt in not because they think they will win, but they don't want to miss an opportunity.

In a 2003 study, researchers in the Departments of Economic and Social Psychology, and Marketing at Tilbrug University in the Netherlands, noted fear of regret played a significantly larger role in the Postcode Lottery than in a regular lottery. It was not the chance of winning that drove the players to buy tickets, the researchers found, it was the idea that they might be forced to sit on the sidelines contemplating missed opportunity. 
So how about you, are you buying a Powerball ticket today?

Friday, August 2, 2013

It is Expensive to be Poor

If you have never read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, I highly recommend it.  At this point, the book is probably a bit dated since the events written about took place around 2000.  But in it Ms. Ehrenreich takes a series of low paying jobs and tries to make ends meet.  If my recollection is correct, she actually starts her journey with enough money to find an apartment and she has a car (which she notes puts her well ahead of many of the folks in her travels).  

Today, I read an article that highlighted many of these issues. Yolanda Williams, the woman featured in this article, is trying to support an adult daughter, her disabled husband on less than $300 every two weeks.  She spends 28 hours a week commuting by bus to work and to school.  She also struggles to afford medication and treatment for her and her husband's diabetes treatment (which likely means more expensive treatment down the road). 

It is distressing to hear about this woman, who is working so very hard, but doesn't seem to be making much progress.