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Archive for November, 2009

Considering my options

November 30th, 2009 at 01:20 pm

Stock trading talk.

Even though I've effectively frozen all stock trading right now, it would seem that I don't want to stop delving deeper and deeper into it either.

So, anyways, I'm mulling over whether to stay with Scottrade, or switch over to either WellsTrade or OptionsHouse.

Scottrade is perfectly fine, but for me, it's also the middle-of-the-road option for discount retailer brokerages, and I think there might be something cheaper and better out there?

For example, WellsTrade will give me up to 100 free trades per year. If I had maxed that out with Scottrade, it would be up to $700 per year in trading fees.

OptionsHouse has one of the lowest rates in the industry, and like Scottrade, they work on flat fees. At the very least, while Scottrade's $7 per trade fee is pretty good, OptionsHouse is even better at only $3 per trade. And as the name implies, OptionsHouse is geared towards option trading, so I can continue to trade stocks if I wish, but have plenty of room to grow into options as well. Best of all, OptionsHouse also has a flat fee for options contracts, $10, which is actually kind of high unless you write relatively big lots. But to me, that also means the orders can be scalable while the price remains the same!

OH also lets you set up with a virtual account, so that's what I am currently tinkering with.

So anyways, that's what I'm thinking. WellsTrade if I just want to stick with casual stocks, and OH if I want to get into options. I could stay with Scottrade and even use their OptionsFirst program, but their tickets are $7, followed by $1.25 per contract! That's pretty expensive!

But don't worry. I'm taking my sweet old time on this because it will be a while before I can get my money together to open a real account. Two years maybe? It will probably take at least that long for me to get the hang of using basic options anyways, let alone try anything fancy.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

I know I'm crazy

November 30th, 2009 at 11:12 am

Soooo, you guys know how worried I am about losing my job and not having money.

Soooo, I guess it won't make a whole lot of sense to anyone then that I've bought and built a new computer for my middle son.

Why am I doing it? Because there's this new game that my oldest son and I are playing together that my middle son wants to play as well. He's 12 and is starting to know more about games than I do.

But that's not really the reason why I did it. That's only the reason why I've decided to do it now. We have a chance to play together with something we all enjoy, and considering that I don't see my children that often, I don't want to pass up the opportunity....

But the real reason why I did it is because he's a lot like me. He's that kid that likes to sit quietly in the corner, tinkering with something. I know the ups and downs of being that kid, how people may view you, but also the great potential that can come out of it with the right tools and incentives.

My first computer was an Apple II, and it opened up a whole new world that I didn't even know existed! It was my mad scientist lab and private world all to my own, where the only limitation was my imagination... and technical knowledge. Big Grin

With it, I explored digital music, digital art, and with internet later, my world expanded that much further, connecting with like minded people. I've been programming on my own since I was 8 or 9 years old.

Now, I don't know if my middle son will be as inspired by a computer as I have been, but he has a similar personality as I do, and I believe that it will do him a world of good.

Oh, and although it placed a nice little dent on my savings, I am still on track overall. I wouldn't have even thought of doing it if I didn't think I could pull it off. It's probably my last great purchase for a very, very long time though.

Nov09 net worth

November 29th, 2009 at 08:09 am

I'm a little surprised that my net worth went up this month because, knowing that I'm going to be out of a job soon, I've effectively frozen all my stock trading, and instead, have been focusing on nothing but just building up my emergency fund. The only thing I'm still contributing to are passive investments such as my 401(k).

I'm probably over-reacting to my impending job loss. It's only a job, and so long as I can find another one and keep the income rolling in, I should be OK. I also realize that there are people out there dealing with much worse issues than this.

Still, this isn't something I can brush off.

Black Friday preps

November 26th, 2009 at 07:30 pm

What are you doing for Black Friday?

As for me, I plan to avoid the crowded traffic and the general hassles of the shopping frenzy at all cost. Although I may run out real quick, mostly, I'm just going to stay home.

I... don't think I will ever understand the point of being out on Black Friday. If there's actually a benefit to this, please clue me in.

In the meantime, I've already prepared a crockpot for tomorrow. I'm experimenting (again) with a variation of the Italian chicken recipe. Crossing my fingers, I hope it will turn out well.

Speaking of experimental cooking, anybody ever seen caviar parfait before? It's one of the most visually stunning food creations I've ever seen! I don't think I'll ever actually try it, but for those who may be interested, ThinkGeek sells a small DIY kit.

Kitties!

November 25th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Not financially-related, but I thought these were so cute and funny that I just HAD to share it.

Kitty on the slide.

Begging kitty.

Snapshots

November 25th, 2009 at 02:00 pm

Dishes
So, someone requested that I take pictures of the dishware, as if to imply that I don't have the stones to use my gift card to buy dishes! Well, I'm going to prove you wrong! I think! I'm strong! I can do this! Baby step to open the wallet. Baby step to touch the gift card. It's OK, it's OK! Take a deep breath and try again.... Baby steps to touch the gift card.... Big Grin

Anyway, here's the floral pattern:


Yeah, I must be getting old or something to think that this is a nice design on plates.... The bowls are straight lines though.... And the cups are actually Chinese stoneware, not American Vitrelle like the dishes. I wonder if they're microwaveable? Or do they still leech lead or something? Anybody know?

Bed
While I had the camera out, I thought I'd take a snapshot of something crazy I came up with late last night. I was trying to sleep and couldn't help but notice that it was much colder than usual. Even my face, ears, and especially my nose was cold enough to be uncomfortable.

Rather than turning up the heat some more, I thought that if there was only some way to just create a much smaller space, I could use just my own body heat to stay warm.

So *cough* this is what I came up with:


Well, it seemed like a good idea last night! Of course, lots of things seem like a good idea when I'm half asleep. It's a good thing people don't try to sell me volcano insurance during late nights.

Yeah, I know. I'm too old to be building forts with mom's furniture. But you want to know something crazy? I think it actually worked well! It was just enough to take the bite out of the cold air and let me sleep comfortably....

I'm planning to put it back and try something else though, but before I do, I thought you guys might get a kick out of a picture of it first.

Random thought

November 25th, 2009 at 07:20 am

I was just thinking about how this guy I know, who knows this guy, who is getting married to a woman whose parents have died in an accident of some kind. They both had something like a million dollar policy, so she is at least going to be financially OK....

Or is she? The guy she is getting married to is already talking about how he plans to quit his job, chill for a while, and use her money to start up a new business for himself.

Although I may be presumptuous, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, here is a young woman who has suffered a tragic loss, and all he can think about is how he is going to spend her money.

So, the first thing I blurbed out is, "Pre-nup". This guy I know replied, "That would be the smart thing to do. Problem is, she is really young and not thinking straight right now. So, I don't think she has a pre-nup, and knowing this guy, he would never allow her to have one or agree to it."

I can't do anything for this woman. I don't even have a clue as to who she is. But perhaps this will serve as a warning for others. Somewhere out there, a woman lost her parents, and a guy is marrying to his lottery ticket.

Holiday freebie

November 23rd, 2009 at 12:25 pm

So my employer decided to give us all a $25 gift card to Wal-mart, as he puts it, to help take the sting out of the holiday season.

It's a bit unexpected, but I am very grateful for it.

Now, I have to figure out what it is that I should use it on that would give the most bang for the buck? The first thought was the dishware set, but I am not sure if there isn't something better out there? Perhaps something related to job hunting or at least more TP?

I don't know. Can you guys think of anything?

My turn

November 20th, 2009 at 06:15 am

Soooo, how about this recession eh? I recently found out that my entire work site is shutting down. I had suspected that it might happen for a while, but now, it's been made official.

Since the time of the announcement, they said we've got about six months. I guess I took a little bit of time for it all to sink in, sort out my thoughts, and decide on a plan of action.

Well, the second I heard, all non-essential spending stopped. On the spot.

Also, I've already reviewed my budget. For better or worse, I've been largely frugal, so there isn't much to cut back. I suppose I can decrease the internet, eliminate Netflix, and cook more at home. But beyond that, bills like gas, electricity, and phone are already running at its bare minimum. Overall, I'm pleased to have been able to run a tight ship on my budget.

I've got between now and then to find another job. Given this economic climate, it won't be easy, but hopefully, I'll find something and it won't interrupt the income flow.

If it does, as you know, I've been plugging away at my emergency fund this entire time. Right now, I'm probably good for 6 to 8 months, but I want to be 1 year ready by the time shutdown completes.

Worst case, there's always unemployment benefits.

Overall though, I think I'm actually in a good shape to absorb the impact of potential unemployment. It's nothing like going through my financial situation during the divorce. Wow, looking back at it, I'm shocked that I even managed to get through that with any semblance of a financial picture....

But I did, and this time, I am much better prepared for any financial bumps that may lie ahead....

And yet, you know, it's a funny thing. Despite all the readiness and being healthy on the numbers, the very prospect of not having income fills me with utter fear. Isn't it funny? I think it is. I guess the difference is that I just didn't know better back then, but I do now.

By the way, to my ex and those related to her, I highly recommend that you do not gloat over this under the guise of "concern" for the children or even me. This sort of thing will make me a lot more adversarial than accommodating, I assure you. The children will be fine when they are with me. (She did that to me once, and I don't want to put up with that a second time.)

Uh, I don't want to end this with such a downbeat note. All-in-all, I am grateful for the job because it provided the much-needed stability during my transition through divorce. But the truth is, my current job is also getting a bit long in the tooth anyway, and it's time to move on. I just wish it wasn't forced, but that's life sometimes.

Now, for something completely unrelated, does anyone know if you can crockpot wild rice for 8 hours? I've been wanting to try an Italian chicken recipe, but it'd be great if I could somehow cook the rice along with it. Or is it still better to cook it separately?

Sweet freebies

November 19th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Considering how easily things can go wrong in life, it's always good to count your blessings.

For example, my employer will cover a pair of shoes per year, and when my current shoes fell apart, I got a new pair for free! Well, that is, when the employer refund comes back. Oh yeah, I picked up a sweet pair of Timberlands.

Plus, I'll be able to do this again next year! I'm no shoe person, but I've read it's always good to have two pairs to alternate so that they will last longer.

A co-worker also asked if I wanted to have lunch. Free food? I was all over that! In fact, we went to a great steak place. Did I mention it was free? Woohoo!

Curious case

November 16th, 2009 at 07:04 am

When it comes to movies, I'm a typical guy with typical tastes. However, once in a while, I would step outside my comfort zone and try something new. So, that's how I ended up renting "The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons" on Redbox for $1.

Although it had some awkward moments, overall, the movie is quite touching and even captivating. How or why it is, I am still not sure. Big Grin But it was a good movie.

One of the main themes in that movie is the value of time, and how important it is to spend it well. I completely agree. If there should ever be one asset in our lives to obsess over, it might as well be time.

(Warning: Potential spoilers ahead.)

But, with my financial cap on now, I have to say that the movie is also slightly mistakened in a few ways. In this case, while time is the most valuable asset we may have, it still doesn't mean money isn't important. If his late father wasn't wealthy and left everything to him, Ben, the protagonist, would not have been able to live so care-free. And when their daughter was born, he would not have had a dime to leave behind for her future.

(Spoilers over.)

In other words, in order to live life to the fullest, you must also have money. Many people tend to ruminate over money on its own. But to me, it's only one ingredient in a list of many to make a good crockpot soup. Big Grin But it's an important one. To me, it's something basic and vital, like salt.

Now, I know it's a fictional movie, but the message is very real: Live life the best you can, while you still can. But I would also add that in order to do so, you also have to save ahead and plan ahead. I don't disagree that life isn't important. I'm just surprised at how many people would say that, but then, do nothing about it in terms of preparations towards that goal. You know what I mean?

To me, it's not always about money versus life. Rather, it's about money towards life.

Fennel

November 15th, 2009 at 05:16 pm

When I decided to cook soup with a crockpot, rather than the usual onions, I decided to take a chance on something called a fennel?



Truth to tell, I didn't even know what it was when I saw it. The grocery store didn't have a name printed for it or anything. All I knew was that it looked like a cross between a celery and an onion, and it had a particularly distinct aroma, similar to onion but not really.

The scary part is that they turned out to be $2 a piece, but I figure that it was worth trying anyways. (The price wasn't printed, so I didn't know until it was rung up.)

When I got home and looked it up on the internet, it mentioned that it was not only nutritious, but was also medicinal in some way. Interesting.

Unfortunately, 12 hours in the crockpot made the fennel give off a strong, bitter smell, and it did not do much to soften up the vegetable. Overall though, the soup still ended up fine.

So, even though I won't use fennel again, it was a new and interesting experience just the same. And for that, it was worth $2.

Fantasies

November 13th, 2009 at 06:06 am

Through a co-worker, I found out yet another fantastic-looking hotel in Thailand. This one is called the Sarojin. Just look at these pictures!

Of course, I still love the way the Buri Rasa looks. Woot!

Considering the level of quality, the cost of these hotels are actually not that bad! Even now, it would seem the US dollar can still go a long way in Thailand.

Although I would love to go to one of these hotels some day, I would love it even more if I can bring some of that styling home... to an actual home... some day.

I'll bet it can be done, but of course, the pre-requisite would be to have a home in the first place. Speaking of homes, check out these spectacular Hakka houses from China.

Of course, something like that is entirely way, way too big for me (and it was meant for a different time period). I could be perfectly content with a small dwelling, perhaps even something as small as a tool shed if it looked like this:



Well, provided that it has water, electricity, and a bathroom and all that. By the way, that parasol is not attached to the building. Big Grin

Fall quickies

November 12th, 2009 at 08:11 am

Dentist
I just got back from a dentist appointment. My teeth would have slight shooting pains whenever I drink something very cold, so I thought it wouldn't hurt to go have a check up. It's fully covered by insurance anyway.

But when I got there, they were also talking about how maybe I should have a bite guard ($400), a crown ($2600), and have my wisdom teeth removed (cost unknown; another specialist). Say, is it normal for me to only have lower wisdom teeth, but not upper?

But anyways, although I didn't say anything, I'm thinking to myself what an insane amount of money they want. To tell you the truth, I don't want them to do any of that. I mean, is there anything in there that is truly necessary?

Plates
I finally checked out Walmart's Corelle plates. I saw a really nice set that is mostly white, but also had a nice, subtle leafy trim on it. Very nice, and also $30. I probably should have picked it up, but for some reason, I just couldn't pull the trigger.

I kept thinking that maybe I won't use it all that much after all. But what made me change my mind was that at least I know what's out there and where to get it. So, whenever I do change my mind again, I'll know exactly where to go to pick it up.

Comfort food
The weather has been rather dreary and, you know, it's funny how the weather can really cost you money if you're not careful. For example, because it's been cold and rainy, I've been having an overwhelming desire for warm comfort food, even when I am not hungry. And that's the problem. I would crave it when I'm not hungry. Not only is there a risk to cost, but I may also over-eat, which I don't want to do.

Besides sheer willpower, I don't know how to fight this though, and I'm open for suggestions if anyone has any.

Gas bill
Finally, I just got my gas bill, and I was very pleasantly surprised that it only costed me $18.75. Considering that the weather has cooled down, I would have expected a lot more.

For the most part though, I've been keeping my temperatures very low (when the kids are not with me). Like 55. I think that's good enough, especially when I am running my computer.

Overall though, I'm enjoying the fall, and I hope you do too.

Big Wins need a reality check

November 6th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

You may or may not be aware of a growing camp or group or movement called the "Big Wins".

Their idea is that it's best to focus on the big stuff. The low-hanging fruit. The stuff that will make the biggest financial difference with the least amount of effort. Like your mortgage, or your insurance, or your career. Stuff like that.

I don't have a problem with that, but the Big Win camp's critique usually takes it a step further and claim, "Some people spend so much time sweating the small stuff that they don't bother to do the same on the big stuff. They're penny wise and pound foolish, negating their daily scrimping and saving by making poor financial decisions that burden them for years."

SAY WHAT?

How many readers here are so busy clipping coupons that they actually forget to re-finance their mortgage? Raise your hand. What about cars? Has couponing caused you to forget to look at affordable cars? And how many here are so busy clipping away that they've completely forgotten to work on getting a raise? Raise your hand high please, so I can count them.

What? No hands? Why? Because the Big Wins are wrong! Why is there an automatic assumption that we are so caught up in the little things that we've become incapable of noticing the big things?

Look, Big Wins. Some people enjoy doing these little things in life. Why? Because it brings us comfort and joy. It also gets us closer to our financial goals, because yes, little things can and do add up.

Now, if you don't want to do the little things, that's fine. Nobody says you have to do them. Nobody says you have to do anything. However, to claim that people who do little things are completely ignorant of the big things? I'm sorry, but that is completely absurd.

Besides, even the little things can be automated. For example, I don't think people cut a ton of coupons anymore. Many of the discounts come straight off of grocery store memberships. I simply carry it on my key chain, swipe it when I check out, and I get discounts. What's so hard about that?

With some automation and pre-planning, I think there's plenty of time to do both the big things and the little things, AND still have time to enjoy life. Be both penny wise and pound wise... or just be financially wise in general. Why not?

Finally, I just want to add that Get Rich Slowly isn't the main culprits on this kind of thinking, and although I linked them, I don't entirely blame them. JD, the author, has also been very good about focusing on the little things as well, and it's likely that this idea originated from elsewhere.

Strangely Creepy 2009

November 5th, 2009 at 07:34 am

Hello! Welcome to the 2009 edition of Strangely Creepy! I'm your host, BA, here for yet another round of lively talks with... myself regarding matters of the strange and creepy kind.

So BA, temperatures are dropping now. Are you ready for Jack Frost to come a'knocking?
Ugh, no. As you know, I'm reluctant to just turn up the heat. I do turn it up when the kids are with me, but it seems like a colossal waste when it's just myself.

Righty ho! So, making plans to bunker up in Fort Closet?
Returning to the closet has crossed my mind, and it's still a serious option on the table. But there's a reason why I didn't do it last year and why I am hesitant to do it anymore at all.

Really! Do go on....
Mostly, it has to do with the technical issues of good air circulation, because you know, the last thing I need is to kill any more brain cells. The confined space also leads to the issue of my body sweat collecting with nowhere to go. I would wake up drenched. That and there's the potential hazard of having a radiator in a room full of clothes that would have to be addressed....

Oh, boo hoo I have poo in my pants, why not just tough it up, man? Show them lovely ladies out there the hairs on your backside by hibernating in the closet with macho gusto.
Don't you mean hair on the chest? Or do you mean spine on the backside?

Whichever.
OK... again, the closet option isn't off the table yet. In fact, I still think it's worth serious consideration. All I am saying is that there may be better options out there.

Such as?
Well, what about just a sleeping bag or even pitching a tent or something? That way, I can still reduce the amount of space that needs to be heated, but still be in a room where there is good air circulation?

Well, I don't know. It certainly sounds strangely creepy, but I'm just the interviewer, and you're suppose to have all the answers. Don't you have the answers?
Well, I've thought long and hard about it, and I do think it can work. With some effort, it may even be affordable and not even look tacky!

But...
But what?

Well, you seemed like you were about to add a "But..."
Ah, yes. But... the catch is this would require more money. In fact, it would require that I set up a separate savings fund to get all the gear in place. Of course, I wouldn't consider any expensive options, and I would consider something that could and would be used year after year.

Of course. So, anything in particular in mind?
I would just love to pull off a stylish looking yurt. I know, crazy right?

Strangely creepy!
But take a look at this!

I know it's a picture of a permanent dwelling, but yurts by nature are small portable tents. The trick is just to find a way to build one that's both affordable, stylish, and can be taken down and put back up year after year.


So, that's what you've decided?
Well, no. I'm still in the brain-storming stage, so all this is just.. you know... brainstorming.

So, you have no earthly clue what you want to do.
Ok, no, I really don't know. I'm still deciding. I do know one thing is for sure: I don't want to have to turn on the heat too high just to keep myself warm. I think that's just nuts.

Alright, any ideas on how you plan to resolve this?
Well, whenever I'm not sure about something, I would ask around for outside input. What about asking the readers on what they think I should do about it?

Smashing! Kind of like that internet 2.0 thing that we keep hearing about. The wave of the 21st century and all that jazz.
Yes indeed!

So, there you have it! Thank you for listening in on another exciting episode Strangely Creepy. And this time, we would love to hear from you dear readers. Please. Help out our hapless, hairless chump (Hey!) I mean chum and his winter predicament. Until then, this is BA, signing out!

Podcasts

November 3rd, 2009 at 09:25 pm

A nice list of financial podcasts.

Yep. That's all I've got right now. Big Grin

Bought Walmart bonds

November 2nd, 2009 at 02:06 pm

This isn't exactly exciting or anything, but I decided to go ahead and buy a batch of Walmart bonds. I needed a certain amount of bond position anyways, and Scottrade will buy them for you for free. Plus, there's no expense ratios involved, and I think Walmart bonds are pretty solid.

The "downside", if you want to call it that, is that you can't pull them out until they mature, which will be two years from now for mine. The interest for the 2 year is 5% per year, and this is done through the Roth so no capital gains tax.

While I've bought stocks for a little while now, I confess this is the first time I've bought individual bonds. Sure, I've had bond funds before, and still do in 401(k), just not individual bonds.

Also, I've noticed that some bonds are more expensive than others. I thought the Walmart bonds were relatively pricey at $108 a piece, but I guess that's also what happens when you buy something that seems to be in demand....

The final thing I'm hoping to do for 2009 is to shift some of my rollover money into the Roth as well. Of course, I'll have to pay taxes for it, and truth is, I'm not sure if I have the spare cash to pay for the amount I want to convert. We shall see though.

Anybody ever bought bonds? If so, how did that work out for you?