Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shopping For a Videocamera

Well, my in-laws bought us a videocamera for our first daughter and I contemplated us returning it and using the money for other things (like her education IRA), but out of seeking peace with the family, we decided to keep the videocamera. After we decided to keep a videocamera, I looked at the model they had picked and it didn't meet our wants for it to easily transfer to the computer (so the grandparents can see their granddaughter 5 states away), so I did some shopping...
  1. Waited until Memorial Day weekend, when everyone was running a sale.
  2. They had bought from Best Buy. I went to Best Buy's web site and checked out the models available that took DVD's. I got the model #'s for their lowest price DVD videocameras (only wanted ability to transfer to computer at a cheap price).
  3. Checked out Circuit City's web site for matching models, printed out the price information from the site (which was lower). The plan was if I found one of the models from Circuit City at Best Buy, was going to use it to negotiate a lower price.
  4. Visited local Best Buy with the return, only able to refund in-law's CC due to it being an online purchase.
  5. Checked out models that store had, they had one model we were OK with, but they had none in stock. The rest of their models were way beyond the price range we were looking for. It also was $20 more expensive than the lowest-price Circuit City model.
  6. Drove down the block to Circuit City and found one of the models I had printed out available. My wife also noticed that one of the "beyond the price range" models we saw at Best Buy was actually over $100 cheaper at Circuit City. The model though I had printed out took the external memory cards we had at home and was $20 cheaper.
  7. Quickly bought and took home to videotape my daughter.
  8. Checked out Walmart's price for the camera locally, which was the same.
Items worth noting: We could have gotten a better price online by about $36 (not paying sales tax and lower price) but the trade-off would have been longer delay in receiving and we have been having issues with our postal service. In-laws covered entire price for camera, they're just happy we are recording for them. We could have also gone the route of used/refurbished but time to receive was important, as well as quality of the camera.

New-To-Us Car Received

Well, yesterday we received our "new-to-us" car, a 1999 Ford Taurus with 91K miles on it. They've taken so good care of it, it still has that "new car" smell to it. This week we'll have to get insurance on it and new plates, but that will be a whole lot cheaper than us buying another car.

This one will be for my wife to use 1-2 times/week for doctor appointments, bible studies, grocery shopping, random errand or two in the neighborhood. It will be also there for when my beater goes and we need to replace it. It has also helped bump up our net worth by $2.5K.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

6 Months Advance Rental Income

Tomorrow night we are having a couple come over to the house to rent one of our rooms out and they want to pay 6 months in advance. That would be $2,400. My first thinking when someone wants to pay me large amounts of money, I think scam, but so far he's been pretty legit:
  1. Called us based upon our ad instead of e-mail.
  2. Phone # is within the US. He lives in San Francisco right now, moving to Illinois.
  3. Works for a well-known company and willing to have me call his HR department to verify employment.
  4. Willing to offer multiple forms of identification.
  5. Bringing payment with them instead of mailing fake checks.
My current plan is to put the money into a high-yield savings account with our emergency fund, withdrawing each month the $400 needed to cover bills. I'm tempted to use it in one lump sum to pay off debts, but I'm concerned in a month they may want to leave and then I've got to find a way to get them $2K immediately.

Last night and tonight we're getting things ready for them to move (vacuum the house, scrubbed the kitchen, dispose of junk around the house). I'm picking up a bed frame this evening for $10 so that we have a bed ready for them.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Goodbye Natural Gas Bill?

This year's home projects in order to save money on our heating bills in the winter is to insulate the home. We're running right now an average of $145/month (budget plan by our provider), which comes out to $1740/yr. During the winter though our home is drafty, so that's why we're focusing on insulating.

Besides insulating, my wife has been wanting to uncover the fireplace that is behind one of our walls. With that in mind, I've been looking at getting a used wood stove for $200-300 and we have plenty of wood available in our area for free, so it could warm up our home a bit. As I've been looking for wood stoves, I came across the idea of a wood furnace.

For those of you that don't know, the way it works is there's a feeding opening at the top where you can slide in huge chunks of wood, allowing you to only feed it once a day. I've seen some that work with hooking directly up to your existing heating system, sending warm air into your heating system. There's also some that utilize water that it heats up and then works along the radiator concept, but within your existing heating system's ductwork. The water can also be used as hot water in your home.

I'm really interested in the ones that utilize water, for one good reason. The reason is being able to call my natural gas company and say "Can you come out and turn off the gas. We don't need you anymore." Due to being in debt right now, we're probably going to take this in stages:
  1. This year, insulate and hopefully get a wood stove for dirt cheap. I suspect this will shave off a few hundred dollars a year from our gas bill.
  2. The money we save from the wood stove and insulation will go into a "wood furnace" fund.
  3. 2 years from now when we have no more credit card debt, we will use our wood furnace fund, a bit extra cash, and buy a mid-range furnace for $3K.
  4. Call the gas company and say we don't need you any more.
I figure the wood furnace will pay for itself in less than a 2 year time period, which I'm planning (God willing) on staying at our current home for a LONG time. I'm estimating it will take about 10 min/day of my time (loading and getting additional wood), which comes out to about 5 hours/month. At current price of $145/month, it's looking like I'd have to be making $29/hr after taxes to not make it worthwhile. That's not including the free upper body workout of lifting wood every day. And that's assuming prices don't go up.

What do you think? Am I nuts?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Keep A Gift?

Well, we're trying to get out of debt over here and our daughter was born this week, so the gifts are starting to roll in. In addition, we're trying to limit the amount of stuff we have collecting at the house, so we're having to make some hard choices.
  • Diapers: We're going to be using cloth diapers for our daughter, someone from our church went out and bought us a boatload of diapers. We're going to be returning them and using them for sheets instead for our bed (1 set right now and my wife is dirtying them with breast milk leakage).
  • Videocamera: My in-laws have given a videocamera to each of their children as a gift for their first child. We received one in the mail this week from them. Some people think I'm nuts when I'm even considering returning it, but the issue is that we have had a digital camera for years and we've probably used it more for work than for pictures of us.
  • Clothes: Before our daughter was born, we received carloads worth of baby stuff from people trying to get rid of their stuff. We got so much that we took some of it to a baby resale shop, get $45 from it and used it to buy special material for the cloth diapers. The ones they didn't accept, we gave away via Freecycle to a lady starting a day-care in her home.
  • Food: We've gotten a few meals so far, though I know more will be coming next week. Right now we're graciously taking them and freezing about half of them to eat later. One person that brought us food is not the best of cook though (and knows it), so we're going to have to do some work on her pasta and meatballs to make it edible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

2 Roommates Currently, Looking for 2 More

Well, we have one roommate moving out next week, which will leave us with just 2 roommates. We posted last week on Craigslist for 2 more roommates, reposted today as well. We've had a bunch of people interested, but none to come and see the place. My hope is that we fluctuate between 3 and 4 roommates for the next 6 months until our daughter is too big to be in our bedroom. For those that don't know, we rent out bedrooms for $400/month everything included for them. Our total housing expenses including utilities is right at $1300, so having 3 roommates takes care of $1200, 4 roommates at $1600. We have a total of 5 bedrooms, with us using one of them right now. If you know anyone in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago looking for a cheap place to live, send them my way.

Got an emergency fund!

We've finally got our $1K emergency fund!!! It has been a hard road over the past 2 months trying to get here, but we're there. We hit a little roadbump near the beginning of the month with our car dying. Last month we hit a roadbump with paying a lot in taxes. We'll be needing it in the coming month with one roommate moving out next week and we'll be searching for 2 to replace them.

Say No To American Financial Card

My sister came over to check out our newborn daughter and asked to use our Internet access. She went to check out American Financial Card on our computer. My sister is not the wisest with financial decisions (several cruises in one year and then couldn't pay for school). She was looking at digital cameras and for the price they were selling them, I could buy 3 or 4 digital cameras. The way they work is the following:
  1. Send them $200 as a deposit. You get 4 $50 payment vouchers to use in the future.
  2. They charge $10/month for an inactive account.
  3. They required 35% down on any purchase.
  4. After you have purchased from them for a while, you can get 20% cash advance loans.
This is wrong in so many ways. The biggest one of course being that the 35% down is pretty much what you could pay for the product in full by doing a little searching on the Internet for new or used. Next, the $10/month for an inactive account makes you needing to shop there for items you really don't need. Third, if you don't have the ability to get a credit card, you should probably be putting the $200 into an emergency fund instead.

I tried my best to talk my sister into going with other options, such as showing how she can get a used one for $50 instead of buying one from them for $300. And explaining that digital cameras don't last for long and need to get replaced.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Bought $400 Car

Yesterday we picked up a $400 car, a '93 Ford Escort hatchback. It runs, it had a little scrape-up and needs a tune-up and new brakes, but a few hundred dollars more and it should last us some time. We used Craigslist to find it, had one car I was hoping we would get (64K miles for $700), but the person had sold it before our 9 AM appt. Another one we checked out and it was a van missing most of it's seats.

This one will be probably my car and we're getting another one in a month that will be the family car. I was looking for a V4 like this in order to save on gas. Hopefully it will last a while.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Murphy Biting Hard This Week

For us, "Murphy" is biting hard this week. Earlier this week my wife was trying to pay a speeding ticket that she got from thinking about our baby to come instead of driving. Well, life got in the way and we were trying to pay it before the court date, but they require payment 3 days before the court date. She went to court and the cost went from $95 to $200.

Yesterday I was driving home from work and was about 15 minutes away from home and the car starts billowing under the hood. We had heard something a couple days ago, but suspected the noise was from low amounts of oil, which disappeared when we added more oil. I was able to get home safely and my wife was able to fill up the radiator fluid back up (was leaking) and she took it to the shop this morning.

The problem is the water pump has gone and that would cost us $580 to have it replaced, plus another $270 of other parts (tubes, thermostat, etc) to get it back to "normal". The car has 195K miles on it and there is the chance we damaged the engine. We are looking at junking it probably but we're going to pray about it this weekend. Tomorrow I was hoping to work on the house, but we'll be needing to do car shopping instead.

The positives: One of my co-workers lives nearby me, so I was able to carpool with him today. We have a car to borrow tomorrow to do our shopping. We have about $800 in cash available to buy the car and more money coming in next week on Tuesday. My job for Sunday afternoon canceled so I don't need to find a ride for that. Our pastor gave my wife a ride back from the auto shop.