Income/Expenses – June 2014

From my recurring income series: Our net savings numbers for June 2014:

A notably good month in June; spent less than we have for at least two years.  Our savings rate was up at 77%, which is about as high as it gets for us.

Housing related expenses accounted for 37% of our spending and food accounted for 29%.  Bills and Taxes were each 12%, transportation accounted for 5% of spending, which even that low is a bit deceiving because we filled with gas three time, but probably drove less than 500 miles total and now have two full tanks of gas.

I’ll set a goal for July of 80% again because we should get one extra pay check, the Ms is working lots of OT, and I don’t expect much spending, again, unless we finally buy those international airline tickets…

And to note, all of that savings and more was invested, and our net worth is growing nicely as you’d expect.  If we could keep our spending at this level we’re something like 1/3 of the way to financial independence :)

Biking to Work – June 2014

trek12Today’s the last day of June.  I biked in 14 of the 18 days I worked, for a biking percentage of 78%, not quite at my goal, but setting a new PR!  That comes to about 175 miles not driven.  The Ms also biked in just about as often.  Aside from out commuting trips we made one long trip (20 miles each way) to meet friends for lunch.

There were much fewer popped tires this month; I did replace my back tube with a slime tube, so far so goo.

Goal for July: bike 16 of 21 days of work, or 76%.

Income/Expenses – May 2014

From my recurring income series: Our net savings numbers for May 2014:

A very average month here, spending right on the 12 month average, and only two paychecks each squeezed into this month.  Our savings rate was 69%, that’s right about on our target of 70%, although I seems to have forgotten to set a goal last month.

Housing related expenses accounted for 27% of our spending and food accounted for 24%.  Charity was 16%, which is well above our norm, transportation accounted for 12% of spending, between car maintenance, gas, some bike commuting investments, and bus fares.  8% of our spending was property taxes, and 7% went to bills of all sorts (phones, trash, etc).

I’ll set a goal for June of 70%, unless we finally buy our international airline tickets, which would probably cut that saving rate in half.

Biking to Work – May 2014

trek12Today’s the last day of May which was Bike to Work Month.  I biked in 15 of the 20 days I worked, for a biking percentage of 75%, beating my 60% goal and setting a new PR!  That comes to about 190 miles not driven.  The Ms also biked in 14 times saving another 75 or so miles of driving.  The days are consistently long and beautiful.  Aside from out commuting trips we’ve also gone on at least four long rides (long for us at 15-30 miles) and we are certainly starting to notice the physical benefits.

There have also been about 4 punctured tubes, all patched up for re-use.  In addition we’ve spend about $100 to get a rack, seat bag, and panniers for the wife’s commute.  The backpack I used to use has been causing her just as much back pain as it caused me.  Plus the new system will help with keeping the sweat to a minimum, which is good as her office has no showers.

Goal for June: bike 16 of 19 days of work, or 84%.

(Mostly) Don’t Try to Time the Market

Any wise investor knows that trying to time the market is a fools game, and is bound to lose in the long run to the overall market.  I am not going to challenge the conventional wisdom, but I would like to create a bit of a caveat.  Hands on, time-the-market investing can be fun.  That is part of the reason so many people do it. We want to feel special, to hit it big, to gamble just a little bit.  And if done with a bit of discipline, something like a $5 daily investment in the stock market is a lot better “gamble” than the lottery.

Sure it would be ideal if we could all harness our zen, let the automatic investments plug away, and ignore them aside from the periodic re-balancing.  But speaking for myself, that’s mostly a no-go, I’m still in overly aggressive check my accounts daily mode.  So I propose some market “play money”.  Instead of mentally budgeting excess money in my checking account as playful spending money, I use it as playful investing money.

In place of the adrenaline hit compulsive shoppers get when they buy new clothes with that money burning a hole in their pocket, I get a hit from buying investments.  Now I know some financial savvy folks on the web might say I am wandering towards a slippery slope, so I try to stay within a pretty rigid set of conditions:

1.  I very rarely trade or sell investments I’ve already made, once the investment is made its there for the long haul

2.  I only* invest in the investment funds/accounts I already have in my portfolio.  This is where a somewhat overly wide-spread portfolio is helpful, giving me a variety of investment choices depending on what I feel about the market timing ;)

3.  *On rare occasion I will buy individual stocks through Sharebuilder, only on the automatic $4 plan or for one of our free birthday investments, but even then, only name brand stocks, no penny stocks or excessive speculation.

4. Ignore the co-workers the next cube over talking about heads and shoulder and elbows and knees… forget trying to spot some daily market trend/imbalance.  I’ll leave that to people much smarter than me and invest in something I do know; that the market goes up in the long run, as do good stable companies.  I’ll just try to find a broad sector or company that isn’t overly expensive and has long term prospects.

We already have over 60% of our net income auto-investing in various safe, cheap, broad, mostly index funds, but on occasion when we’re good enough to live on  less than 40% of our income it leaves some play money.  Maybe if I tire of the manual investing, or have a change of heart, I’ll up those auto investments.  But for the time being I have some fun trying to time the market; what do you think this month? Are foreign stocks undervalued?

DIY Project Double Success! Replaced Brake Rotors & Pads

Volvo RotorsSo, about a year ago I acquired a 2004 Volvo XC90.  The tires needed replacing, and almost $800 later I had four new tires.  As a matter of course the shop tried to sell me every maintenance task under the sun.  Of all the items listed I knew the front brake rotors (and pads) actually needed to be replaced.  They were original (110k miles) and the previous owner was pretty aggressive with them.  Quote for replacing front rotors:  $600.  I could tell this had to be a relatively easy standard maintenance job, and it wasn’t in the engine bay where everything is like a puzzle; just pop the wheels off, pop off the calipers and then the rotors.  I watched a youtube video where someone did the exact job I wanted to do, but still I pushed it off.  I have never done any real maintenance work on my cars.  Sure I’ve replaced air filters, lights, wiper, the really easy stuff.  But even oil changes were for Jiffy Lube.

Now, a year later, I had moved slowly towards doing it myself.  I went to Autozone and picked up the parts.  Rotors:  $70 each, and pads: $50 for the set, total: about $200 in parts.  They sat in the garage for a couple months.  This last weekend I finally got down to business, with my roommate’s help we jacked the car onto jack stands and were able to do the whole front end at once.  We pulled the tired off, pulled out a couple pins to remove the calipers, compressed the piston to get the pads over the rotor lip and removed a couple bolts to get the brake housing off, removed a set screw holding the rotor in place and popped off the rotor.  Repeated in reverse with a little lube and we were done.  The first wheel took about an two hours, including a trip back to the Autozone because my car actually used the 2003 sized 316mm rotors, not the 2004 336mm rotors they had originally sold me.  They second wheel was done in 30 minutes or less.  Total time:  maybe 3 hours conservatively, cost: $210 if you include miscellaneous items.  Savings:  about $400, or $133 an hour for my time.  I’m sure the shop would have sold me “nicer” rotors, but I wouldn’t have learned a valuable skill.  While the rotors may never be replaced again while I have the car (hopefully another 100k miles), I will certainly replace the pads myself.

Then, for good measure, we replaced the rotors on my wife’s 2007 Toyota Corolla.  Despite having only 75k miles, the rotors showed clear signs of warpage (severe shaking when braking.  According to service records, the previous owner had had them turned only a year before we bought the car.  A local shop could turn them again for $15 apiece, but new rotors were only $30 each and the old one’s probably would’ve needed replacing in 25k miles anyhow.  There was also a chance the old rotors were compromised and we could have turned them for nothing.  So, despite being significantly easier to remove the calipers, the old rotors took a beating before finally falling off (due to a poorly designed overly tight tolerance).  My wife actually did most of the work putting these back together, and now the car brakes as smoothly as we could want.  Double Success!

Financial To-Do List Success! Rolled Over Our 401k’s

401kToDoIn March we finally completed one of the biggest financial to-do’s  on our list, which we’ve had hanging over us for two and a half years!  We rolled over the 401k’s we had sitting around from the jobs we quit in 2011.  Part of the hesitation was to do with all the paper work, and then ensuring they completed as proper direct rollovers, and avoid paying any taxes as the result of some miscommunication.  Not to mention the rollovers were not very pressing, as our previous employer’s 401k provided very low fees and good investing options.  The primary driver was to consolidate our accounts and clean house a bit; having so many accounts is just a bit stressing.

The 401k provider had some somewhat strange requirements, that the rollover could not be requested through the 3rd party receiving the funds, and had to be sent to our home address.  The checks could be made out to the new account funds (a requirement of direct rollovers) but required a new IRA account number.  Without “available funds” or even exact fund amounts we had to set up empty traditional IRAs, although we both did already have Roth IRAs to rollover a portion of our Roth 401k’s (our employer did offer the Roth 401k option).  Setting up empty IRAs to get account numbers was easy enough with a phone call and letter of instruction, but is not within the standard account set-up process.

Now with account numbers we could request our rollovers be distributed to our IRA, via us.  Repackaged and forwarded on to our IRA providers at Vanguard and Dodge & Cox, and the transactions went through smoothly.  Two less accounts to keep track of and manage :)  We even got belated dividend rollover checks for something like 5 and 15 dollars which our IRA providers were nice enough to process (even through these don’t really fall into the additional contribution limit categories I’m still sure they cost more to process than they were worth).

What a relief :)