FPU Week 9: Of Mice and Mutual Funds

For this week's class, we had to think back to when we were in FPU and learing this stuff for the first time. There is so much information to absorb and implement. And this lesson is where it's easy to say, "I don't need to hear this now, maybe in a couple years when I'm on Baby Step 3...".

Well, no matter where you are in your financial walk, you need to hear this lesson, and here is why.
  1. The Week 9,Of Mice and Mutual Funds, lesson is really the ABCs of investing. You need to have a basic working knowledge of how these things work to know what to do, as much as what not to do.
  2. Maybe you already have some investments and think that you are ahead of the game. You may be, but are you diversified? Have you invested in some bad investments? Did you understand what you bought?
  3. "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest" -Ben Franklin

Investing is something we rarely dive into on Not the Jet Set. So I'll take this opportunity to cover off on a few of the trends I'm seeing today.

  • Single Stocks / Day Trading - There seems to be no shortage, no matter where I work, of co-workers playing the stock market. Did you see XYZ today? Yeah, I bought in at $34. Didn't think it would hit $23. ABC was up, though.... It goes on and on and on. This really amounts to little more than gambling. Just for fun, I once used the online stock trackers on MSN to 'buy' stocks. With $10,000 fake dollars, I invested in companies that (I thought) I knew a lot about. I got into it, and 'bought' and 'sold' as I thought I would if I were really day trading. It was a huge bust. Now don't get me wrong. There are guys who are very very good at trading. they know when to buy, when to sell, and when to hold. They're called Mutual Fund Managers. It's their job to know when GM is about to crumble and when AMD is about to double. Things that you and I don't know until CNN is covering the story.
  • Gold - This was funny at first, but now it just won't go away. There is no shortage of ads for buying / selling / trading gold. Gold, gold, gold. So what is your first clue to stay away from it? Heavy advertising (kinda like something else we've seen before...)? Yeah, that's a sign. First, these jokers who want to pay you 'top dollar' for your gold jewelry? The ones with MC Hammer and on the commercials? Scam. Scam, scam, scam. When you think of these guys, don't think about Hammer, think of your local scrap yard opperator. That is basically what they are doing. Buying your gold at scrap price (likely less), melting it down to sell wholesale, so it can be made into jewelry for retail. It's not magic. As for the bozos pushing it as an investment? You can look at the historically low rate of return (barely keeping up with inflation). You can look at the fact that it has no intrisic value. But the best reason not to buy gold as an investment right now - it's at an all time high. It's an order of magnatude higher than it was 40 years ago. Why would you buy it now?
  • ForEx Trading - Yeah, you didn't know what it was either. Reason enough to stay away. But knowledge being power and all that.... ForEx is Foreign Exchange, or Currency Trading. It's meant to facilitate trade and investment - not be an investment. Yet speculators make up the vast majority of the market. Just remember, economic speculators exist to make weather speculators look good.
So what do we do? What exciting investment method are we getting rich on? We're not the jet set. We follow Dave's principle on page one of this lesson - Keep It Simple, Stupid. We only buy what we understand, and build wealth slowly. I'll also tell you what we haven't done - bailed out of the stock market. We invest for the long term in mutual funds with long track records. 5 years down the road, this downturn will be a distant memory. In 10 years, a blip on the radar. Stocks are on sale these days - some deeply discounted. We buy when they're low, not sell. And that's what we'll continue to do.

How are you invested? What have you done lately?

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Is The Progressive Consumption Tax Really The Way to Go?

I recently read an article in Forbes about "A Tax Even Libertarians Can Love". Just the title made me curious as to what kind of a tax my close libertarian friend supposedly would like. The tax they discuss is a progressive consumption tax. Robert Frank proposes getting rid of our current income tax system and going to a progressive consumption tax. They discuss how this would be beneficial because it promotes saving and taxes those who spend lavishly. I'm not going to go into all the details of how is kind of a tax would work but feel free to do some more research on it if you are not already familiar with it.

After reading the article I was disappointed in this tax that would promote thrift. I do agree that our current system is broken and we do need to change to a tax system that favors saving and good behavior. I just don't feel like this tax is it.

Here is what I didn't like about the progressive consumption tax:

  • There is a difference between saving and hording. This type of a tax would incourage people to hord their money and discourage good Christian behavior.
  • What about giving to charities/ tithing? There is more to your budget then spending and saving. There is a third componient of giving. It doesn't seem right to be taxing me on my giving as if I was blowing that money on a new tv or car.
  • One of the current issues with today's tax system is reporting incoming. This would not be addressed. Meaning that those who get paid cash under the table (day labors, drug dealers, prostitutes, etc) would still not have to pay their share of taxes.
  • The system is supposed to incourage higher income and savings. However, if their is a sliding scale for the taxing rate as proposed then it still doesn't incourage you to increase your reportable income.
  • The last major flaw is that you still have a large government oversite and over barring tax system to mess with.
At the Not the Jet Set household we are true believers in the "Less is More" saying. For us a Fair Tax system seems to be by far the best option that is truly fair and involves less government oversight/ control.

Do you think I'm totally off base with the progressive consumption tax? What are your thoughts?

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PF BS: A New Feature on Not the Jet Set

Spring is in full swing here in Michigan, and April showers bring.... mosquitoes. And there's something particularly annoying about mosquito bites. They aren't deadly, debilitating, or really even that painful (short of Lyme disease).

But they itch. And swell. And bleed.

Kinda like some of the personal finance advice you'll find being spewed out on the internet these days. But don't blame it all on the internet - TV, print, and radio can be just as bad. You try to be an adult and ignore it. Sometimes it gets the best of you. You try not to, but sometimes you just gotta scratch that itch.

Well, I'm scratchin'. I'm callin' BS on some of these myths being spread. I'm callin' you out on these crutches some of you rely on. I'm callin' shenanigans on these populist views aimed more at driving traffic than teaching sound principles. No-one's safe on this one. Like usual, we're gonna call it like we see it.

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FPU Week 8: That's Not Good Enough!

We've passed the half-way point in the class and better than 3/4 are set to graduate. All in all, we've had very good attendance. Looking forward, we're planning a class in the fall. We have to look at the calendar, but the goal is to get a class in before the holiday season, then start again in 2010 with a 'New Year's Resolution" class.

The wild card is the teen class, Generation Change. As the folks in our class see more and more progress, we get more and more questions about facilitation the teen class in our church. We may have a plan to get it going, but still have to work out some details before announcing anything.

The week 8 class is all about Buying. Big. Bargains. So much talk about personal finance these days talks about spending less, buy less, save more, stop shopping..... which is fine. All valid discussions. But Dave Ramsey knows that sooner or later, you'll be buying something - furniture, electronics, appliances, clothing, food, lawn and garden products - and you need to know how to get a deal on that purchase. Be it large or small.

In the lesson, Dave gives three keys to getting a big bargain. Now he also gives lots of other information on this subject for which I recommend you find a class near you. But for now, here are the three keys.

  1. Learn to negotiate everything - In other cultures, negotiating is assumed. Here, it is nearly taboo. Stop assuming that you are going to pay retail for everything and start looking for deals - They're out there. Sometimes you just have to ask.
  2. You must have patience - If this were easy, then everyone would do it. Sometimes finding a place willing to work on the price or the negotiation itself will take time. That's ok. Take your time - take the salesman's time. One of you is going to fold.
  3. You must know where to find deals - Dave gives the example of hunting for crawdads in a creek. Given a little experience, you'll know which rocks are setting just right to have one underneath, and which ones won't.
Now a quick example of this in action. The Mrs. has been overhauling her garden which has meant lots of projects for me. We've leveled and measured the garden. Added raised beds and walking paths in between. Lots of info for another post. Those beds, btw, don't fill themselves. And though I've been waiting for that dead tree out front to burst into mulch, it hasn't happened yet. So we needed truckloads of soil, aged manure, and compost. Not to mention the truckloads of mulch for the paths in between. Did I mention that our garden is over 3000 square feet?

The Mrs. started with Craigslist and Freecycle, eventually finding someone looking to move large amounts of aged horse manure, as well as someone willing to load it. Several calls and a few days later, she did. 20 bucks and a day of shoveling and we were well on our way.

The Mrs. had also heard that home improvement stores discount torn bags in the garden center. Could this be true? With the two big dogs in town and another not far away, we were going to find out.
  • Home Depot - After being somewhat mislead by one associate, another who clearly knew what she was talking about, informed us that they "used to do that, but quit." Now they won't discount them unless there are no 'good' bags left. They had enough 'good' bags to last all summer. We took our cash and promptly left.
  • Lowes - Lowes absolutely does this. Not only will they discount the damaged bags that you collect from the garden center, but the also have palates of them outside the garden center. All 50% off! We've hit it twice with plans to return.
  • Menards - We have a guy at Menards that we typically work with. He was overjoyed when we asked about discounted bags. The 'bargain bin' is the bain of his existance his responsibility, and willing to slash prices to get it to move. We bought a pickup truck load - well below half-price.
So what did we really do here? We wanted/needed a deal, so we ASKED. We had the patience to hunt for the deals and wait while clerks confirmed store policies with their managers. Now, with a bit of experience, we know where to go and who to talk to.

This may seem small, but we've saved hundreds already. We're dying to know: What was the last big bargain you negotiated?

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Full Disclosure: Car vs. Roof

You may have noticed that when we overhauled the site, we also revamped some of the content. Our 'Full Disclosure' section got a much needed update, including the addition of our 2009 financial goals.

You may have also noticed that the 'Car Replacement Fund' got robbed.

No, no - don't call the police!

Nothing sinister occurred. It's tough to aggressively save for two large goals at the same time, especially with no raise and a paltry bonus. Well, the good Lord told us to replace the boiler and the roof. And now He's told us, "the cars are fine, get the roof done!", in His own special way - another leak!

For those of you keeping track at home, that comes to a total of 4 leaks. One is definitely under control, another is questionable, another is in need of more help, and this latest one still needs a patch. We're planning to replace the roof in June or July as that is when we can get the help. I know it's a bad idea to try and do this now as the rain is so unpredictable and plentiful here in the Spring. Plus our help is busy in the fields. It's just so tough to wait.

So why not pay a pro? We're still living like no-one else, so that later we can live like no-one else. When we put a request our for bids, they came in between 11 and 14 thousand dollars! For shingles! It's a single-story, low pitch, fairly simple roof. Two valleys, a chimney and 4 or 5 vents. Yet roofers in this area act like everyone's last name is Trump. So that's out.

A couple of weeks ago, we bought our shingles as they we on a great discount. It's a great product with an excellent warranty and we saved $990. But we were still a little disappointed. With all of our other expenses, we couldn't swing the bat at a steel roof. We know it's the way to go and have had our hearts set on it for years. Maybe on the next house - we're not going into debt because our feelings got in the way of reality.

So there you have it. The cars will have to wait and continue to put up with our kids, dogs, and lax cleaning schedules.

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Cloth Diapers: Fact vs. Fiction

Jillian's Drawer's if one of my favorite places to buy cloth diapers. Recently when I was browsing her website for information to share with a friend I found this wonderful fact vs. fiction sheet.

I'm always surprised by the number of people who say they could not use cloth diapers with their little ones because of X. I always find that X is not even true. Some say they are scared of safety pins. So am I! I could never use a pin on my wiggly baby. But they make velcro and snappi's. They say that they couldn't stomach the stinky smells or the messy poop. Trust me, it is no worse and maybe even better then disposables when it comes to smells.

Hop on over to Jillian's Drawer to see the rest of the facts and fictions list.

What is keeping you from using cloth diapers? Do you use cloth diapers? If so share your favorite part of using cloth.

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Used or New? Consider Both and Go with the Best Deal

In the past, conventional wisdom has always held that buying a two-year old, low-mileage, previously-owned vehicle represented the best value in a car purchase. Now, however, the auto industry -- especially as represented by the Detroit Big Three -- is feeling a world of hurt, hoping to sell 9 million units for the year when 15 million used to be a good number. What does this mean for the consumer?

  • The return of zero percent financing.
  • Sales and excise taxes on new vehicles bought in 2009 are tax deductible.
  • Government backed warranties on GM and Chrysler vehicles.
  • Retail prices slashed to their lowest level in years -- some as much as 30%.

By the end of 2009, prices are likely to stabilize, but right now, with dealerships going out of business and moving inventory key to automakers' long-term survival, deal-making is the word of the day.

Does this mean, then, that buying new cars is the best way to go? Yes and no. As always, there are multiple factors that go into any purchase:

  • The buyer's individual financial picture.
  • The ability to get needed financing.
  • Vehicle form factor as weighed against needs.
  • Fuel economy and long-term cost to maintain the vehicle purchased.

What the current situation does demand is better research and forethought from the prospective car buyer. All options should be considered, including used car purchases. Whereas two-year old previously-owned vehicles were once considered the sweet spot, cars that are only a few months old are finding their way back on to the market in both sales lots and via private transaction scenarios. If you are considering buying used, remember:

  • If the car you are considering will be purchased through the previous owner, have the vehicle checked out by a mechanic of your choice.
  • The best case scenario with any used car purchase is the presence of a complete and verifiable service record.
  • Odometer fraud results in about $1 billion in consumer losses annually. The dash should be examined minutely for damage. Also look at the age of the title. A new title may have been obtained to hide mileage fraud.
  • Whether working with a dealership or an individual, negotiate for a warranty of 60 to 90 days duration. Most issues will show up in that time, and you need recourse in the event of a problem.
  • On fairly recent models, some amount of the original manufacturer's warranty may still apply. Be sure that warranty transfers with the sale.
  • On all used car purchases, have the exact amount determined in writing before putting any money down. It is illegal for a used car salesman to increase the price of the vehicle at closing, but it does happen and many buyers don't realize the law is on their side.
  • Before making any purchase, investigate and understand the "lemon laws" in your state. They may or may not apply to the purchase of a used car, but if they do, know what documentation you will need to seek a legal remedy.

Regardless of the route chosen -- used or new -- consumers are looking for the highest quality vehicle they can find at the best price point. In the presence of a good warranty, a used car can still offer as much value as a new purchase but tempting incentives are out there for the taking. Bottom line. Do your homework. Compare all aspects of total purchase price. And don't be afraid to negotiate.

Guest post by Sean C

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Book Review: 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free

I recently received the book 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free by Phil Lenahan from the Catholic Company. I was not sure what I would think about this book since I have read so many personal finance books. Could I really learn something new? Could it really be an interesting read?

This book is easy to read for someone just getting started and also adds a new perspective for those of us already down the road to personal finance success. Unlike any other personal finance book I have ever read it was heavily based on the Catholic faith (including quoting scripture) and spent the first half of the book talking about your life. Yes, your personal life.

Phil does a great job walking you though how you will find peace in your life. It's not about earning more money. It's about your priorities and choices. I loved how he took the time to explain setting your priorities. Setting aside time for God and your family. The seven steps are not even introduced into page 90!

When I first got this book I was worried that it would be like Dave Ramsey's materials. I mean seriously: seven steps to financial freedom vs 7 baby steps to financial peace. The seven steps are different but it is because they are using different scopes. Lenahan is taking a much broader look and not specific small goals. The financial advice did seem sound and wise. It all sounded like it came from your wise grandfather or priest.

I would recommend this book to any Catholic or Christian who struggles with the questions of how God wants you to handle His money. At least one of the bible passages will help to answer your question.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free.

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Getting a Credit Card in College - Dumb, dumb, dumb

We were featured the other day on the Carnival of College and Finance. I have no idea how long ago I submitted our post on College Kids and Credit Cards, but it's been a while. What was more interesting was that there were only two posts under the 'Credit Cards' category - ours and one by CreditShout on The Best Student Credit Cards. I know, as if there is such a thing.

I know that the best credit card for me in college was the one I never signed up for - which was a lot of them.

Out of curiosity, I had to look... what exactly were the best credit cards for students?? What I found nearly made me LOL. For realz.

Now I'm not hatin' on Kevin and his post, but wow, check this out.
The Discover® Student Card is our top pick for student credit cards
because it has an excellent rewards program, a fairly low APR (for a student
card) 14.99% variable, and no annual fee. The Discover Student Card allows you
to earn up to 5% cash back on groceries, gas, travel and at restaurants. You can
then double your points if you cash them in for gift certificates at selected
merchants, effectively earning 10% back on your purchases. If your looking for a student credit card that allows you to earn great rewards, and build your credit without hitting you with an annual fee - this is the best card out there.

What's wrong with this picture? A lot. Lets take a look at the Discover Stupid Student Card.
  1. If 14.99% is a low rate, I'd hate to see a high one. For a kid who likely has no job and no personal finance knowledge, the odds of keeping a zero balance are.... not good.
  2. 5% cash back? Oh sure, I'm sure Junior is going to need all kinds of encouragement to spend money on this thing. Even when Mr. Instant-financial-Savvy doubles it to 10%, that 14.99% from above likely isn't too far behind. Who do you think is winning this one? Not Junior.
  3. What credit card pitch would be complete without the ultimate myth of needing to build your credit. That only works, by the way, if you don't get behind on the stinkin' thing! Even then it's really not worth much.
I think we've Discovered Stupid.

How about this, Junior - You go to school, get your education, and see if you can't finish with no debt and no credit cards. Chances are, you'll be far more financially smart than all the goobers lined up to get that super-cool Frisbee they were giving away with this piece of crap.

image from the situationist who also has a great post on this topic.

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How many shredded credit cards!?!

So we had one guess - you guys are no fun. Ya ya's Mom guessed 50 shredded credit cards in the jar.

At the time of this picture, our half-gallon mason jar held 150 shredded credit cards.

One hundred fifty!

As crazy as that number is, it now holds 170. All shredded during the first 9 weeks of our FPU course. There are 37 families enrolled in the course plus 3 couples coordinating the course. Some of them had no debt or credit cards coming into the class. Others did and have since made the choice to change their behavior - permanently.

Other blogs may spout about getting the best rewards cards, or justify their home-equity loan, or why they just had to buy a new car. We're not here to participate in stupidity. We're here to get you to think a little differently than everyone else when it comes to your money. We're not the jet set.

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Carnivals / Festivals

This week we were included on three carnivals and festivals. It has been AGES since we participated in the blog carnival circuit. I thought we'd get back into it, but likely not on a weekly basis.

We are pleased to welcome all new readers, as well as new carnivals to Not the Jet Set. To find out more about us, click here. We are a personal finance blog focused on frugal living, green living, and our opinion, while also telling our story as a family and the personal finance decisions we have made. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out our NtJS Cafepress shop!

On with the round up...

Carnival of College and Finance: Hosted by College and Finance, you'll find us under the 'Credit Card' heading with an oldie, but a goodie - did your son or daughter get a credit card once on campus? Did you tell them it was a good idea? You might want to rethink that one....

Festival of Frugality: Always the Planner hosts this week's edition as we the Mrs. asks, "How expensive is a child?"

Carnival of Personal Finance: The granddaddy of them all - the CoPF is hosted by the Weakonomist and features our Tale of Two Businesses. Forget finances, what's your plan?!

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Feedback Friday: Backyard Chickens

As you could tell from our previous post we so far we are enjoying our new chickens. I do have lots of questions about what I'm doing. So maybe some of you could help out. This week I actually have two questions for you.

Q 1: Do you have chickens?

Q2: What do you wish you knew about chickens before you got yours?

Please answer the first question in the poll on the sidebar. Question 2 can be answered down below. If you have a post on your blog about raising your chickens that you feel would be helpful feel free to leave a link to the post.

I hope that everyone enjoys their weekend!

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Our New Arrivals!

Everyone in our house is extremely excited about our four new babies. They are so cute and fun. I'm feeling like a mama hen and so are our two daughters. Why? Because we just added 4, one month old hens to our household!

There are so many benefits to having chickens. But they are not free. You do have to spend some money on them. So are they worth the expense? We will find out. Over the next year we will be tracking what we spend on them vs what we save by having them. And try to factor in the intangible attributes as well.

In the meantime, here's our flock.

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How to Avoid Wedding Budget Busters

The wedding season is upon us. Feel the love in the air? Hear the church bells ringing? See the rice being tossed so carefree? Hear the bride fighting with her parents over the cost of the cake?

I already covered some great ways we kept our wedding budget under control. Now we'll share some great ideas that some friends have used to keep from breaking the bank.

I’m sure my friends and I are not the only ones who had to watch what they spent on their weddings. There are lots of ways to save money on your wedding day. The first one is to create a budget based on the total amount you have to spend. Then decide what is the most important things to you. From that point you can then decide where you can save without compromising on your wedding day dreams.

If the cake is not on the top of your important list then look into having a local grocery store make your cakes. A friend of mine did just that. She purchased a small plain round white cake with white icing and just put a little topper on it she bought. The rest of the cakes where large white sheet cakes. She even got the grocery store to deliver it for free to the wedding! What a deal.

Another great way to save money is on the DJ. Instead of paying a DJ have your Ipod loaded and ready with all the songs you like. Then just ask a friend or family member to play DJ for the night as your wedding present. Same thing goes for during the wedding. We had burnt a CD before hand with the music for the wedding and one of the ushers was in charge of it. It worked out great!

What about invitations? That cost can add up fast! If this is a smaller affair with email savvy guest ditch the paper and send e-vites!

The last but best way to save money is to keep the guest list small. Most of your wedding costs are based on the number of guests. The food, cake, invitations, guest gifts, drinks, size of venue costs are all based on the number of people who will be at your wedding. So when your soon to be in-laws ask to add one more person to the list just say “Sorry, but it’s not in the budget!”.

Do you have other great wedding day budgeting ideas?

Photo from Publix.com

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FPU Week 7: Clause and Effect

Halfway there! Probably my biggest fear about teaching FPU in this economy was the possibility of having families struggle to make measurable progress. Not because this stuff doesn't work - it absolutely does. More because of pay cuts and layoffs clobbering people's incomes. I'm please to say that without fail, every single week we have had multiple 'victory stories'. We don't ask for much, but tell us where you are winning. Boy have they produced:

  • We have families knocking out debts.
  • We have families that have paid off cars.
  • We have families that are out of debt and working on their emergency fund
  • And this week, we had 4 families sign and notarize their wills (including us!)
People are seeing and feeling the progress and that makes all the effort in coordinating this course absolutely worth it.

And then there's this week's lesson!

Clause and Effect is a snappy title on a snoozer of a subject - insurance. Yeah, you're super excited to read the rest of this post, BUT people were surprisingly engaged and interested in this lesson. The video is, of course, not a snoozer - Dave, as usual, takes a bland topic and teaches it with great enthusiasm. And once you realize how important this information is, you'll be awake and alert.

Insurance is like credit - in the sense that everyone will tell you that you need it, but almost none of them really knows anything about it. When we first bought life insurance (pre-FPU), we screwed it up. Well, half of it. We bought term-life for me, and for whatever reason, bought whole-life for the Mrs. After taking FPU, we found out what a terrible (and expensive) product we'd bought. It wasn't long before we bought new policies (that were MUCH less expensive) and the old ones were gone. That was a mistake we'd never make again.

The big thing you need to understand about insurance is that it is a 'transfer of risk'. The insurance company is taking on the risk of you getting injured in the form of paying your bills, or the risk of your home burning down in the form of guaranteeing it's replacement.

That said, there comes a time when you no longer need certain types or levels of coverage. Once you have a 3-6 month emergency fund, you can raise your car insurance deductible (and lower your premiums dramatically) and self-insure yourself through the smaller stuff. If you do this stuff now and are sitting pretty in 30 years when your term life insurance expires, then you don't have to renew. You can self-insure from then on - it will likely be a whole lot more expensive then anyways.

You can do those things because you have MONEY. When you have no debt, when you're saving for retirement, and the kids college funds are funded... when you pay off your house early, you don't need Visa or the insurance company to catch your slack.

What about insurance confuses you? Scares you? Do you have coverage that you don't need?

Need a will?

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Our Bathroom Remodeling Project

It has taken us a long time to get a before and after post ready from our bathroom remodeling project. I think that it was just such a huge undertaking that it hard to try to get it all in one post. But I'm going to try to do just that.

We really did not want to remodel our bathroom. Of all the house projects we could have tackled it was one of the last ones on the list. However, we had a leak. A bad leak. We tried to fix the problem before but it just kept coming back. With the leak came mold. In the end we realized that taking the bathroom down to the studs was no longer a want but an actual need. So that is what we did.

We started by taking lots of measurements and making a detailed list of what we needed. Then the search was on. We did our best to get the best prices on the items we needed for the bathroom but unlike most of our projects buying gently used high end products was not going to cut it. Our bathroom is very small and it's our only full bath. This means that the standard sized items don't fit and there is no option but to buy the more custom pieces to fit our needs. We did find some great deals and found a few tricks to save money as well.

The original pink cast iron tub had to go. It was part of the leak issue. It was actually the first thing to go in our bathroom. The tub was smaller then today's standard tub. With the Mr. and I both being tall it made taking a relaxing bath not so relaxing. We really didn't have any room to spare so we were torn on what to do for the tub. In the end we found a tub that was extra deep and had the most space on the interior vs. thicker sides. Mr. NtJS also was able to notch out the studs to set the tub back into the wall farther. This allowed us to use a standard sized tub in our existing alcove. We did however lose the rim space to set on the edge. It was a trade off that has been well worth it.

The tiled shower walls were the number one issue with the leaks (and flooding basement). We had went from liking the tile to despising it. We could not stand the look of it and never EVER wanted tile in our bathroom again. Just the thought of all the possible leaks made us 100% against tiled shower walls. We have owned two homes and both had the same issues. Never again... After doing research we decided to go with a local Michigan company called US Marble. They make faux granite slabs for use as shower and bath walls - like cultured marble. It was reasonably priced, easy to install, and most importantly, there were very few seams. The walls look beautiful and we get lots of compliments on them.

After dealing with the water leaks for about a year we had notice that the original 60's flooring was starting to bubble. Once we removed the tub we could also see we had water damage on the subflooring as well. The subflooring and linoleum had to go. We replaced with flooring with Marmolium. We did the work ourselves and it was work. After it was finished we both agreed that we liked this non-toxic flooring but next time we will pay the high price to have it professionally installed. Marmolium is an all-natural linoleum and the adhesives have no VOCs. We would recommend it to anyone looking to replace their bathroom floors.

Because we took the tile down in the shower area, we also had to remove all the tile from the walls and vanity. This was by far the longest had hardest part of the project. It didn't take to long to remove the tiles themselves. The time consuming part was patching all the walls smooth one thin layer of mud at a time. It did take us literally months to do this.
However, the results where worth it. Having un-tiled walls really helped to make the room feel bigger. We used the FreshAire no-VOC paint for the walls. That really helped since we had to paint in the winter and the bathroom is right next to our girl's room.

In our small bathroom the front of the vanity is angled to give you the most room on the vanity top and it becomes really narrow at the bottom to save space. The vanity literally cuts into the door's trim work. There is no space to spare. We spent months searching for a new vanity to meet our needs. No luck. Then we searched for a new top to go with our vanity. No luck. The lucky part for us is that the Mr. is good with woodworking. We removed the half wall and spindles that divided the vanity from the toilet. Then we extended the vanity to the space were the half wall was by adding cubbies for towels and other goodies. This also allowed for more counter space which was desperately needed. For the counter top, we ended up going with a natural stone. We choose to go with small tiles because it would mean less cutting and make the space look larger then it was. This was a cost effective solution to our odd sized counter top space. We also decided to go with a vessel style sink to help give us more space. Our cabinet was so narrow that today's standard-sized, self-rimming sinks were to big. This raised sink gave us much more flexibility on the placement. It could even hang over the front if we wanted it too, and not look out of place. The faucet is off to the side to save space and the kids can reach it.

We also changed out the mirror since the old one was antiquing. The new mirror is smaller which helps to make the space feel bigger. We also removed the medicine cabinet and added a ledge instead for small items. In my opinion the cabinet was just an eye sore and was not big enough to really hold anything anyways.

In the end the bathroom was a huge undertaking for us to do by ourselves. It did cost a lot of money as well. We, of course, paid cash for everything and worked hard to stick with our budget. Was it worth it? It was worth every penny we spent. We have been living with the new bathroom for about 3 months now. I still walk in and feel wowed by it. Our 5 year old still tells her dad how much she loves the new wall color.

Have you remodeled your bathroom? Share your story or a link to your before and after photos.

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Guest Post at Moneywise Moms

Today Gina at Moneywise Moms graciously posted a guest post written by our own Mrs. Not the Jet Set. The post is called Saving Your Marriage One Date at a Time. If you want to some great ideas for free or close to free date nights head on over and check it out.

While you are there check out some of the other great posts Gina has written. She stays true to her blog's name if a variety of ideas to shop smarter and balance the budget.

Thanks Gina and happy wedding anniversary!

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Friday Feedback: Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Friday everyone! I hope that you were able to enjoy your week. We had a great week at our house. It has been a very productive one for us. I'm sure we will be sharing lots of it with you next week once we get the photos off the camera.

Sunday is Mothers day. I hope that all you mom's enjoy you day. Our question this week is:

What special thing are you doing to celebrate the moms in your life?

I was just informed that we are going to spend a relaxing day at the beach. I'm excited about the work free day.

Happy Mother's Day!

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Opportunity Cost

"Opportunity cost is the value of the next best alternative foregone as the result of making a decision." as defined by wikipedia.org

Do you ever think about your own personal finances with an opportunity cost mindset? Even if you did now what the term was called I'm guessing you did. If you create a budget at the beginning of every month you decide what you will do and not do with your money for the month. This is the same thing. If you go to make a purchase and you say to yourself "If I buy X then I will not have the funds to pay for Y". That my friend is analyzing the opportunity cost of your purchase.

We have had to do a lot more opportunity cost analyzing lately because of buying a fixer upper house two years ago. All of the funds we have put into the house has meant that some other want or need has been sacrificed. By installing a new well, boiler, remodeling the kitchen and bathroom, updating electrical and phone along with gearing up for a new roof we have had to make a lot of tough decisions and sacrifices. There are lots of things we would love to do with our money other then spend it on our houses mechanical needs however we had to make a decision. Which was more important, a house with running water, heat and no roof leaks or a trip to France, cool paint colors on the walls along with a new couch? I know that we gave up a lot of wants over the past two years because of our needs. This was tough and we sometimes whine about our plight in life. However, we are grown ups. We made the decision to buy a fixer upper really cheap and then over time spend the money we saved fixing it. I know we made a very wise investment that will pay off for us in the end, but right now I really love to be in the south of France to see it's spring beauty. So for now I just keep reminding myself that it was worth the opportunity cost of running water to miss out on a spring time trip to the south of France.

What are some of the hard opportunity cost decisions that you have had to make lately?

photo from about.com

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FPU Week 6: Buyer Beware

Wanna take a guess? C'mon, what do ya think?

How many credit cards are in there?

We continue to be amazed at not only the number of credit cards our class members had, but also their willingness to put them through the shredder. These guys are awesome!

If you haven't taken FPU, then you might not understand. Shredding your credit cards in not mandatory. We're not going to make you do anything you're not comfortable with (but we will strongly suggest!). In fact, you shouldn't be shredding them before completing Baby Step 1 - the starter emergency fund. It's not required to shred your cards, but after watching the week 5 lesson, it's pretty tough to hang on to them knowing the tactics the credit card companies use and the sub-industry they support... that and the fact that you really don't need them when you have money and have a plan!

The Buyer Beware lesson, week 6, is a real wake-up call. We are the most marketed-to culture in the world. We have so many advertisements flashed in front of us per day that we don't even realize most of them are there. Product placements are everywhere. None of it is left to chance and it is all done for a reason - it works!

The way a store is laid out, right down to the iced beverages by the counter. The catchy jingle and the way it is repeated, day after day, year after year. The offers of pre-approved credit, 0% APR and no payments until 2012! It's all out there, in a certain way, at a certain time, and in a certain color, because statistically enough people will react and the company will make money off of it. These are multi-billion dollar companies spending millions upon millions on research and advertising, and you think you just got a good deal on that new car?

The buyer absolutely must be aware.

As someone who spent many years of his professional career in sales, Dave is able to give some amazing insights into everything going into the other side of the deal. This class and week 5 are both good food-for-thought classes. For the most part, the students in the class are still busy trying to make their budget work and start paying down their debt.

And we've also had some great discussion in the small groups around budgets and the nuts and bolts of making this stuff work. I can tell that some of these folks are really getting in gear on this stuff. We've also seen some previously truculent folks start to let their guard down a bit and listen. It's a process, and I know it's not easy, but I really have high hopes for this class.

What advertising annoys you the most?

BTW- I may tell you how many cards are in the jar, but not before I see a few guesses! For reference - It's a 1/2 gallon jar, with a tad bit of airspace.

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NtJS Household Budget Update: May 2009

I think that Murphy is finally moved out! Yay! We do have some more clean up from when he moved in (like the roof still needs replaced) but for the most things are back to normal. For the most part April was calm and there was no large budget busters. It was the break we needed for our sanity.

April's Budget Recap:

  • We did awesome sticking with our budget
  • We had extra funds left in the home repair and babysitter envelopes
  • Garage sale make us just over $450 which was divided equally between the kids clothes envelope and the garden remodeling fund
  • One last straggler medical bill came in and will be added to the May budget

May Budget:

  • Doubled the amount we are saving for the roof this month (moved over the energy bill savings)
  • Girls need tons of summer clothes but didn't add it to the budget since we have the money from the garage sale
  • Budgeted for a vet visit
  • Budgeted extra for a Mother Day's surprise and the Mr.'s birthday

2009 Financial Goals:
  • Save for new roof (100% of funds by June) (Purchased shingles on sale and continuing to save for the rest)
  • Start putting money in Roth again after roof is fully funded (Starting in July)
  • Continue to save for kids' college in 529s (Started)
  • Continue to do company matching 401k (Started)
  • Fully fund Roth and 529s by late summer (Hard to achieve on current income)
  • Start aggressively saving for a new car (Put on hold b/c of boiler & medical bills)
How did your month go financially speaking? Better or worse then expected?

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Free Kitchen Garden Planner

Yesterday I received the latest Gardener's Supply Company catalog. I have to admit that I love getting this catalog. They have the neatest stuff. I'm usually end up dog earring every page. This time I noticed something new. They now have a free online kitchen garden planner. It is for doing square foot gardening in a raised bed. It is so cool! I've been playing with it all day laying out my new beds. The great thing is that I can lay out my plans and then print them. I can then take them out to the garden while planting and keep them for next year.

Check out the garden planner and let me know what you think!

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Feedback Friday: Spider Help!


Our Friday would be much better if our two daughters and I didn't have spider bites that itch like crazy. Our youngest daughter's neck is so bad that her neck is swollen and the huge bits look like they are almost raw. The doctor confirmed that they are insect bites and most likely spiders.

Since we live on a wooden ravine we are constantly fighting bugs that come in the house, mainly spiders that do bite us. I refuse to use harsh chemicals to kill spiders so I need your help to come up with a better way.

My question for you:

What do you use for natural indoor pest control?

Thanks for your help!

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