Garage wars

2014.02 mirrorDear roommate,

in what world does it make sense that all of us have our cars parked outside overnight in 35-degree weather just because you had to park in the driveway in such a way that not only could no one park in the garage (which was empty overnight) but no one else could park in the drive way either?

And, of course, the spots to the left and the right of the house on this side of the street were taken with your “spare” truck and our other roommate’s car. I can’t park in front of a neighbor’s house because you have yelled at some, and threatened to poison the pets of others.

That is why I parked half on the driveway and half on the grass, ruining your lawn. Maybe next time you won’t be so selfish.

That is all.

Yours truly, Paloma.

Did I mention that my weekend was awful?

Streeter Seidell, ComedianI had to work Saturday, which isn’t that bad. But it means that I got caught in the deluge Saturday late afternoon. I had to abandon the freeway into a neighborhood I didn’t know, and kept having to take detours due to high water. On more than one occasion I pulled over into a parking lot and thought seriously about waiting out the storm, even if it meant spending the night in my car. After careful consideration I decided to take a risk and drive the last half of the way home… and I made it. Hours of travel in water-hazard roads, but I made it in one piece.

Sunday, when we were having an impromptu family meeting about buying a block of tickets to the Blue Man Group performances in June, I found out that my business account was overdrawn. I was checking my bank accounts to make sure I had enough in my “spending account” to cover the cost of the tickets when I saw that the business account was literally in the red. Some research showed that a recent “sponsored” conference trip ended up with the hotel charged to my account. I’d given them my card for incidentals (of which there weren’t any). This was a few weeks ago. Apparently the sponsor didn’t include my room in the block they paid for when settling up. So, weeks later, I got charged for a week’s stay. Yikes! It’s been resolved and the hotel is supposed to be refunding me my money within 3-5 business days, but the overdrafts have happened.

Late Sunday I found out that the cooling system at the house needs repairs. Looks like my half of the bill is going to come to $350.

Things could have been worse. I could have been stuck somewhere overnight, or flooded out my truck. The sponsor or hotel could have refused to resolve the issue. The cooling system repairs could have been more…

But the cumulative effect was that I started the week feeling wrung out and exhausted. How was your weekend?

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Photo by Zach Klein at

Home Buying rules

houses for sale signMint has a good post with some guidelines on things to do and to avoid when buying a house. “The Ten Commandments of Home Buying” covers a few things that are important to note. The things that resonated with me:

  • Don’t bite off more mortgage than you can chew.
  • Carry few or no other debts.
  • Keep a big buffer.
  • Have an emergency fund.
  • Have good life, disability, and health insurance.
  • Bring a 20% down payment.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that buying a house is in my long-term plans. Articles like this make my radar. And they make me sad, because I know, really know, that my house isn’t going to become reality this year… or any time soon.

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Economic Myths

There’s a really good article I’m sharing because it illustrates something that no one ever wants to admit: not everyone gets “the American Dream.” The article is “3 Lies That May Bring Down Our Economy” and the lies are:

  1. Everyone can afford to and should own their own home.
  2. Every kid in America needs and is entitled to a four-year college education.
  3. Classroom education is one size fits all.

My sister and I have this conversation at intervals, that society is not set up to survive if everyone has the same education level. We need executives, technicians, customer service, and a variety of other jobs filled. The truth is that if everyone had a college education, what we’d have is a lot of over-educated people doing low-paying jobs… so she tells me. And I tell her that that’s what we have now, mostly because we had a lot of people getting degrees in areas that had no jobs. And I also tell her that there are industries where there are plenty of jobs and not enough people, so much so that we’re importing qualified people… and the “discussion” goes on for a while. 

The one that I’m looking at is the first one, stating that not everyone should own their own home. Does that apply to me? Maybe I’m just a renter at heart. 

Facing realities about money, AKA why I’m not buying a house this year

Money is not my friend.Last year I did something that’s both dumb and smart. Last year I moved into the house my brother bought. This was done mostly to be helpful, but also to save money. But I’m barely being helpful and I only saved the minimum amount of money.

Let me explain.

My baby brother is a military man. (BTW, “baby brother” is a six-foot, linebacker-looking 27-year-old.) Over the last 18 months he spent 15 months in Afghanistan, got engaged, bought a house he’d never seen, convinced me to move into said house with his now fiancée, and took a job in Virginia. (This whole paragraph equals approximately a dozen separate posts, so I’m not going to go into the details here. I’m just setting the stage.)

“You can save money for a down payment,” he told me when he was talking me into moving into the house he was about to purchase. And that made sense. As I’ve pointed out before, I seem to be incapable to save money, so the help helps.

I estimated that I could save $12,000 in a year by not having to pay rent and economizing a little. Even with the increases in my monthly gas budget I knew I could probably hit that (my commute went from 10 minutes to 45, in “good” traffic).

I made an excel spreadsheet and put in where I needed to be at each payday so I could meet my goal. And I tracked it. Some months I did better than others, but I met my yearly goal.


I could have done better.

I saved my money. I did. I really did.

But I had all those out-of-pocket expenses for the surgery and the preparation. My wonderful insurance covered almost everything, but I still had about $1,500 in surgery-related expenses that I paid for myself. (Did you note that I wasn’t being sarcastic when I typed “wonderful”?)

And I had a root canal plus new crown, which equalled nearly another $1,000 over three visits.

My truck broke down at least twice, with repairs at nearly $1,000 each time. And that doesn’t take into account regular maintenance and the new tires.

I went with my family to New Orleans over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m estimating that I spent about $800-$900 for those four days.

I bought an iPad. Yes, the deluxe version, with mobile internet access and a monthly bill. I’ll let you fill in amounts for that.

And I have no idea how much money I overspent on gifts, lunches out, celebratory dinners and other “special”-day related expenses. I have found that this is a big money drain, since I have no restraint.

I could have saved much more.

Now I am looking at having to buy a new car this year. My truck has reached that point where I’m almost paying as much to keep it running as I would to pay off another vehicle. It’s time. Which means that I need at least $5,000 for a down payment, and I need to budget to pay $12,000-$15,000 overall for a decent used vehicle. Even with a good loan, I will be paying this down the next two years or so.

So that wipes out nearly half what I saved over the last year, and makes it nearly impossible for me to save money in the next few years.

Median home prices in Houston have new homes at $127,000. If I need to save 20% for a down payment, that means I need approximatly $25,000. I have $12,000 saved up, so if I don’t have to use that money for the new car, I almost have half what I need.

I need to make more money. I need to spend a lot less.

It will be another three years before I can buy a house, if everything I’m anticipating happens as planned. And by then home prices will have gone up, home loan interest rates will have increased, and my situation will have changed at least a dozen times.