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So Mint has made some good progress lately

March 30th, 2014 at 08:58 am

I am playing around with it for the first time in quite a while, and they seem to have made some very nice improvements as far as automagically categorizing transactions. And that was one of my main impediments - it was so frustrating to have to make the same corrections every month. Now it does "rules", similar to Outlook, that will go back and adjust categories and descriptions, etc. So now I am close to seeing a reasonable breakdown of my monthly spending.

It is very nice to be able to cut through the noise and see spending patterns. Now my next big challenge is unusual items always upset the pattern - big payments, yearly bonus, etc.

So maybe now I can get back to better monitoring and therefore adjustment of the old cash outpouring!

So are there any other users of Mint out there? The usability is getting close to the old Windows 3.1 Quicken that was very slick.

Ahhh, working down the fridge inventory feels good

October 14th, 2010 at 03:30 am

It was bursting at the seams for way too long, so it is taking a looong time to get it closer to empty. And we haven't had much of a grocery bill in a few weeks now, which is nice.

Next is the pantry and basement food stockpile - I need to make a sweep to find items that are ready to expire - not much is worse than finding unopened expired items. Eating cheaply can be a great source of pleasure!

Are shortcuts really inherently bad? Why do they have such a bad reputation?

August 29th, 2010 at 05:28 am

What do you think of when you hear the word "shortcut"? Is it a negative or positive thought?

I think I most often hear it in business situations like this: "he tried to shortcut it, and now it's all messed up". I guess there is some merit in that way of looking at it since business needs to be pretty proceduralized and we can't have people just winging it because they think they know better than the official procedure. But the flip side of that is good procedures evolve from good input, and my thought is that when that doesn't happen people get frustrated and try to "shortcut" it. But if you take "shotcut it" to mean "improve" it, and they go about it the right way by providing useful feedback to the procedure owner, and the owner then adds it and gets it properly reviewed and approved to assure that there are no unintended ill-effects, the net result should without fail be positive.

So all that said, I am a BIG fan of shortcuts. So in an effort to improve them so we can make greater use of them, shouldn't we take a look at their failings? I'll use the common computer example of browser shortcuts since that is easy for all of us to relate to which makes it very illustrative.

Some common failings of browser shortcuts:
1. Too many to quickly read through to find what you want.
2. Out of date or dead links.
3. Forgotten.
4. No longer of interest.
5. Other? Let's hear 'em!

So what tips or tricks do you have for maintaining good browser Bookmarks/Favorites, Whatever?

At work, I have a pretty deeply nested and hierarchical list that serves me well. It is pretty darn big list that has developed over the years, so of course it benefits greatly from a periodic (and it can be infrequent, like once a year or so) cleanup to remove dead links, defragment, repack, etc. I just recently did that and now it works MUCH better for me. The main thing was to re-alphabetize, where the need results from my bad habit of ad-hoc addition of new ones at the bottom of the list instead of taking the few seconds to find the proper category. Just the act of thinking about it how it fits in helps keep me organized.

I have yet to have a similar success at home. But one trick I use everywhere that has also helped at home is to create digital "junk drawers" or "Little Used" folders to hold stuff that I might have looked at once and then didn't have a regular need for. Of course it is good to sift through them once in a while also to make sure something doesn't get forgotten.

So what are you tips and tricks? Something elaborate like Del.ico.ocious (what ever the heck that is)?

Or something more simple? In the extreme case, I recently heard of someone who simply deleted ALL of his shortcuts because what the heck, everything is just a quick Google away anyway, so why not? Although I doubt many of us would go that far, I think that keeping them well organized would go a long way in preventing the urge to nuke your shortcuts like that.

So FINALLY, I have stopped my verbose outpouring and it is your turn to comment, dear readers, if any of you have persevered this far. Smile

OK, I am now an official David Allen Getting Things Done fanboy!

August 3rd, 2010 at 04:29 pm

This post is dedicated to Homebody. Smile

After reading GTD about twelvedy-fifteen times, I think it FINALLY sunk in! I think the defining moment was when I realized that I could use my cell phone's Notepad to jot down notes of things that flit across my mind. (previously they just flitted right on through!) An age old principle, to write things down, but one I was never able to fully follow until now. It's hard to carry a pen or pencil and paper everywhere, but it sure is easy to carry a cell phone!

I have been keeping lists at work for years with pretty good results, but I only recently dumped out my work email inbox and it feels great! So I also dumped out my personal email inbox, although I did just stuff it all in a big folder called "limbo". The defining moment for that one was when I missed an ebay sale because my inbox was so full of crap that I avoided it like the plague and missed multiple mails. But I went in and unsubscribed to all the junk mail lists I was on (I think my ISP screwed up and has multiple people with my email address, hard as that is to believe). That one is a lot harder to keep empty even than work because it still gets so much junk, but so far I am stemming the tide.

So anyway, I also use a very cool Linux program at home called Tomboy Notes for my monthly log of things to do, things done, etc. I love it because it works just like Wikipedia or the WWW with hypertext. If you type a word that you already have a page for, it automagically creates a link. The resultant web very nicely mirrors the way I think. Smile For both of these simple new tools, it helps a lot that I enjoy using them, since if it is fun I will stick with it.

So anyway, I am flush with success after finally checking a few things off. It is especially satisfying to fit something fairly major into a small time window. For instance, I was able to change oil in our car in an hour between events because I had everything ready, and I was tired of looking at it on my list. Another example - I finally remembered to get a USB stick to back up those Tomboy notes and I actually did it - something that I had been putting off for months. A lot of the magic is in breaking tasks up into their smallest element, that is making sure the "next action" is really a doable action and not more of a project, which is a series of next actions.

I am excited because this is the closest I have come to breaking the procrastination and slovenly practices habit in ages! Yes, I still have a LOOONG way to go, but even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I FINALLY got my snail mail inbox to zero

July 25th, 2010 at 07:04 pm

What a relief! I may as well go ahead and admit this - I found $1000 of Flexible Spending checks in there. I guess I thought they were just EOB forms. BAD Ralph! I am such a dweeb! Anyway, it took almost all day, but it was a good way to hang out in the AC and get some long overdue work done.

So now I am ready for the long haul, to KEEP the darn thing at zero. I do of course still have a "hold" bin, but at least now I know there is nothing but filing and low priority stuff in there. Of course my files also filled up again, so I expanded into another plastic container, and man, is it ever nice to have a working file system again. Up until today, I stacked the overflow on TOP of the main set of folders, so it was too painful to move the stuff to file. Now it is all clear and ready to use.

I got in the mood because I cleaned up at work Friday and that also felt great. And that was prompted by my memory of a guy at work asking for something, and as I pulled it out of one of my slovenly desk stacks, he asked - "I wonder what else is in there?".

A word to the wise... Smile

Shelf life - it is important!

July 5th, 2010 at 11:13 am

I had sort of an epiphany today as I was cleaning up some old grapes after being away for a while. Just about everything has a shelf life, and it can be very costly to ignore that fact. In an ideal world, we would review everything at an appropriate interval to ensure that it is still good. Sounds easy, right? But as refrigerators everywhere can attest, it certainly isn't!

The problem for me is that it can get quite tedious. Checking the garden for the need for watering, for instance.

I'm guessing there is no easy answer! But I suspect it is like exercise - you need discipline, and it has to be fun. Any ideas?

Oh, and here is a good example where knowledge is power in this area.
http://www.stilltasty.com/questions/index/7/page:1

And that site also makes a very good point - on some products, even a use by date is just for taste reasons, seldom safety. But sometimes it is! This area needs work. My suggestion (and I am serious here) is a "use by or get sick or die date". But realistically, if we just standardized on "Best By" dates for non-safety, we could restrict "Use by" strictly to safety issues, like milk. etc.

What chunk of work works best for you? Baby steps? Blitzes?

March 28th, 2010 at 07:08 am

I guess the real answer lies somewhere in between. I use both baby steps and blitzes, and they both seem to have their place. So as long as we do at least one, that's most of the battle.

Building momentum is definitely cool, so starting with baby steps and ramping up as you can see a deadline become doable. I guess this is the logic behind paying off the smallest debts first, to build some confidence. I'd be willing to bet that there is a pretty significant flood of feel-good chemicals released into your bloodstream upon completion of a task, and the more arduous and difficult the more released. On the flip side, there is nothing more demoralizing than feeling overwhelmed and like you can't make progress.

This seems to be all I post about, so you can tell it weighs heavily on my mind, which is just about always groaning under the weight of something or other. Smile

Anyway, on a related note, kudos to the people who keep this site running - it truly is a wealth of good financial info and I'm quite glad I found it 2 years or so ago.

I'm TRYING to get more organized!

January 30th, 2010 at 01:30 pm

I admit it - email and postal mail have had me overwhelmed for far too long. The problems are remarkably similar. A constant steady flow pours in, and I always left it in the inbox, while attempting to pull out and deal with the important stuff. Slack off a few days though...

So there mixed with spam and junk mail in an ever expanding mountain lay very important notices about important financial matters with close deadlines.

At work I have been quite happy with keeping a clean inbox for about a week now. I have read David Allen's Getting Things Done book quite a few times now, and probably one of the most important things he says is to trust your filing system enough to depend on it, and the only way that happens is with regular reviews. To that end, there is a very nice program for my Linux PC called Tomboy Notes. It is hyper text based so it is pretty easy to review. I have had a huge Word file at work for years now where I keep notes on day to day things in as organized fashion as I know how. So when I use it, I review it. So I hope to do the same at home with Tomboy Notes now.

Anyway, thanks for listening. I like to document things as I go along, since it helps me think. Of course it MAY also be a form of procrastination, eh?

Procrastination...is making me wait.

January 10th, 2010 at 08:51 am

I REALLY need to lick my procrastination problem this year. So how about some good suggestions from you people?

It is so true - the payoff from procrastination is immediate and always good. But the payoff for hard work is delayed and not quite as certain. I do get immediate payoff from simple but critical tasks completed, ESPECIALLY when completed early, but still I find myself avoiding them. And as for the hard tasks...don't ask!

I came here because I realized by far my favorite mode of procrastination was the Internet, and at least here I can hopefully use the Internet productively.

OK, off to do some work for a while! Smile

Year end cleanup

December 13th, 2009 at 03:06 pm

I am finally getting a little discipline and attending to things that I've been neglecting. The main one is tackling my paperwork/filing mountain of stuff! I think my problem is an overflowing and undisciplined file system. So how is yours? A place for everything and everything in its place?

So are colleges exempt from the law of supply and demand?

September 27th, 2009 at 08:02 am

I guess we'll see, but I suspect that they are exempt - they certainly seem to have been so far. I know that state colleges are bursting at the seams as kids and parents shun the high priced private colleges (and very rightfully so). And I would imagine Community Colleges are booming also.

So how will the high priced private colleges deal with declining enrollments? And I'm not really sure if they have that or not - I guess all I know for sure is that state colleges are very full.

I guess the only real economical choice a student and parent have in the short term is to move down from state to community colleges for at least the first two years. There are just a handful of reasonably priced private colleges that I know of. There should be a thriving bunch of them. But maybe it takes real work (and a healthy endowment) to keep costs down and only a handful of colleges have that. A problem for me is that if my kid prefers the large university, the affordable private choices are about nil. There are a few small colleges that hold costs down, but they are pretty boring places!

As you may be able to tell, this drives me crazy! To have my life savings evaporated in a few short college years exasperates me to no end.

What's your biggest financial lesson? Mine is today is tomorrow.

August 22nd, 2009 at 10:11 am

I am a born procrastinator, and it has and is costing me dearly. The bad part is it is a progressive disease. Fall a little behind, no big deal, you can set aside some time and work extra hard to catch up. The all nighter syndrome a few of us may remember from our school daze. And it actually feels good to work hard and complete something. But fall behind big time, and you start to lose hope. THEN it starts to get REAL bad. Little things turn big and snowball, another term and concept that we debt-troubled people are all too familiar with.

In contrast, I know a guy, a former Boy Scout, who always does things as soon as he can. And he is a financial rock of Gibralter, I'm sure largely due to that and other good habits. He says he grew up poor, but I think it is also due to the Boy Scout experience, probably along with genes. My nature, in contrast, is a laid back "thinker", an absent minded professor who is interested in concepts rather than details. Needless to say, that ain't good in the anal world of finance. I try to concentrate and focus and I succeed for a while, but it's always a struggle and I then backslide big time.

It is an interesting paradox. The payoff for procrastination is obvious and I am hooked on it. But the payoff for hard work is also obvious, and I also love that. But it takes hard work! And actually, I'm more a fan of easy but satisfying work - you know - doing the laundry, etc. So a lot of financial chores actually do fall in that category - paying the bills, keeping track of a budget, etc. But I tend to put it off too long even though it is relatively easy. After thinking about it a while it is the feeling of being overwhelmed that snowballs on me. So now, since I have LOTS of saved up "staycation" (a vacation that isn't dirt cheap is, in my current financial situation, absolutely unthinkable). So cheer for me as I try to work hard to bail out the sinking financial ship.

By the way, what is your biggest financial lesson?

A quick entry amid the tax frenzy

April 11th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I'm finding a few nice things that are combining to give me a decent refund this year. We were able to get a decent education deduction, and at least a piece of the child tax credit for my daughter's last year of eligibility. And we're finally getting the $300 recovery rebate for her that I missed last year because of the careless mistake of omitting her SS number on the return. And next year I'll have to pay some college loan interest to take advantage of the deduction up to $2500.

My bottom financial line is still way too much debt and expenses. Argghhh!!!

The Winter Savings Effect

February 19th, 2009 at 02:03 pm

Has anyone else noticed that it is MUCH easier to save in the winter than in the other seasons? I think it is because cocooning is so darn cheap. I know with my wife and kids, if they are out somewhere, they are spending money. So the only time I ever come close to catching up is January through April - unfortunately a very short season.

So what is the Ideal Budget?

February 16th, 2009 at 04:20 pm

Does it look like this, the top Google hit?

http://7million7years.com/2008/08/29/ideal-budget-allocation/

In lieu of anything else, it looks pretty close to me. I'd like to post my actual numbers next to it for a critique from you people, hopefully I'll have that ready in a few days. What I do know is mine is far from that! Oh, housing is dead on, but debt service is a TAD higher. Arghh.

So the numbers in descending order are :
Housing 30%
Transportation 14%
Food 12%
Entertainment/Recreation 7%
Clothing 6%
Misc. 6%
Debt 5%
Savings 5%
Investments 5%
Insurance 5%
Medical/Dental 5%
Total 100%

Some difficulties with quicken online are slowing me down, but luckily I found the help forums, and a fix for the problem I am having is due in February. In the meantime I'll probably just resort to Excel.

OK, I'm building a budget using Quickenonline

January 25th, 2009 at 10:20 am

Does anyone else here us that? We need to form a user's group if so! I signed up for it last year when it was $3 per month, intending to most likely cancel after the free trial, and then thankfully before I did they made it free! Nice! But it is pretty basic, and I see they've recently made some changes. I remember the old Windows 3.1 version was awesome, everywhere you clicked you could get a subtotal or a graph - really cool! So this online version is not so good in comparison, but I don't want to spring for the regular version just quite yet. So anyway...

It does well with the checking account from my CU. But it can't deal with the Mastercard account from that same CU. I've emailed problem reports to Quicken to no avail, so for now I am stuck with just the checking account, but that's ok, it's the lion's share of transactions anyway.

Job one is to clean up the categories. It is now doing better it seems on automatically categorizing transactions that clear electronically, but the smaller payees like doctors and so forth still need to be manually entered. And bafflingly, it guessed wrong on a few electronically cleared ones, so I wound up with a newspaper bill for $165 this month, but it was really Macy's. Weird! It is consistent though, always calling Macy's the newspaper, so it's easily manually fixed.

What I need to figure out is it says we are overspending by about 20% per month. We may be, but only on one CC, not the bank account, that stays positive with no infusions of cash, so I have to get to the bottom of that right after I finish categorizing to give me more clues.

This is sort of fun in a tedious way. But I can see right now that the four month trend of category spending should be very helpful. November and December spending is off the charts as usual. Frown

How do you stay focused on saving money?

January 4th, 2009 at 08:40 am

As in most things, I tend to run hot and cold - I'll go whole hog on an effort only to burn out and ignore it for months at a time. One thing I MUST do better this year is to keep up with the mail and related financial commitments. But my situation is so depressing that can be difficult.

I think the answer is to be disciplined and segment each day into chores that must be done, i.e don't ignore things and let them pile up. Pretty simple plan, right? But not too easy to maintain.

I guess it is directly analogous to weight maintenance, another area I am falling down on. So unlike thin and rich, you CAN be too poor and fat!

Overall I have all the tools in my arsenal - I have a hobby that I love and that keeps me sane and is my main form of exercise - cycling. My weakness is that I tend to waste time on the Internet while ignoring household work, so this year I have renewed focus on ensuring that at least some of that time is here, where there is much comraderie and help to be found, so thanks! As far as the neglecting household work, I guess I may have a true Internet addiction. As they say, procrastination pays off NOW, and hard work only pays off over time, so...

Anyway, thanks for listening. I think I may have to reclassify this post as a rant! Smile Which brings up a fascinating question to me - how to classify posts - it seems to be a real art, a lot of it in picking useful minimally overlapping categories in the first place! For now, I put this one in all categories!

Question on credit score and balance transfers

January 22nd, 2008 at 03:08 pm

Here's about the best online info I could find on the individual components of a credit rating:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FICO_score

It is an unfortunate fact of life that I have to keep shuffling while I try to pay down balances. But when I shuffle to a new 0% or low rate, how much of the available credit line should I use? I'm thinking maybe 90% to maximize the amount of cheap money, but trying to stay under the triggers for ratio of debt to available credit. But I have no idea what the triggers are, or even if they are on an account by account basis or a cumulative basis.

Boy, if this one from the Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_history#How_credit_ratin... article is true, I am REALLY in big trouble! It brings up a very interesting point though, since I am looking at transferring OUT of a CC with a high APR but a low minimum payment to one with a very low 2% APR and most likely a much higher minimum payment.
# Control of debt - Lenders want to see that borrowers are not living beyond their means. Experts estimate that non-mortgage credit payments each month should not exceed more than 15 percent of the borrower's after tax income.[citation needed]

One more bit of info - the Credit section of my wamu CC account (which is very nice, BTW) implies that maybe it's 50% of an individual credit line that they look at. My score did go back up last month and looks pretty good right now.

Eating the elephant one bite at a time

January 19th, 2008 at 06:07 am

It seems like almost every task I get lately is so monumental that is it discouraging. But what I need to do is always the same, slog through it one step at a time. And the obvious key is you can't give up, no matter how tedious or discouraging it gets. OK, this was a pretty simplistic entry, but something that's good to keep in mind. As an example, my wife takes down the Christmas decorations and I have to jam them into storage, and that's definitely better done a little at a time, mainly to avoid overworking the old back.

But another facet of being relentless in pursuit of a task is that you need to take some breaks. I just got done sweating over making the Spring college tuition payment, so I need to take a short break before hitting taxes and FAFSA, but not so much that I lose my momentum and fall behind. This is a major goal I have, to stay the course without losing focus or burning out. So I need to be tenacious, something that comes easily to me only if it's something I am very interested in, so it only makes sense that I HAVE to be very interested in my own and my family's financial well-being.

Why was the quoted loan rate so high for a college student?

January 9th, 2008 at 06:44 pm

I was pretty shocked when applying for a college private student loan for my daughter that even with me as a co-signer, they wanted to charge 10%, with a 3% origination fee!! Does anyone have any idea if it could have been because my credit rating is only about 722, down from 745, or was it just because of my daughter being a college student with no job?

In any case, I'm trying to improve my credit rating by not having any charges with a balance near the limit. I'm thinking that this will be essential to get student loans at a decent rate. I guess I'll put in for my free credit report right now to get the story on why it recently decreased by 20 points (according to the Wamu website). I haven't really done anything recently that would have caused that that I know of.

Later addendum: I am happy to say that Discover came through with an excellent rate, about half of Chase's!!! It sure pays to shop around - too often I think "they're all the same" - definitely not true.

Is there anything as satisfying and comfortable as a fully depreciated asset?

January 5th, 2008 at 04:33 am

You know - old shoes, old cars, old clothes. The top of the list for me is my good old car, a 1995 Honda. I'm totally comfortable and familiar with it - everything falls to hand immediately. It's familiar like an old friend. But the best part is no car payments! I just can't see tying all that money up, even though I truly love cars and would be in heaven with a nice new high tech, responsive machine. But that's just not in the cards for me right now, even though for most people my age it is. Does it bother me sometimes? YES! It sometimes seems like everyone on the road is driving a BMW except me! And I know most of them don't drive it because it's "the ultimate driving machine", they just drive it for the status (not that there's anything wrong with that, although I'm guessing there may not be THAT many of you here to offendSmile) I would appreciate the superb handling and road feel, etc., but I could not tolerate the high maintenance costs. But that jealous feeling doesn't last long. I look around on the roads and see my kindred spirits, all the people driving comfy old cars, usually young college age kids. My favorite car of the genre is the 90-93 Honda Accord - man, most of those things still look new! What an investment! They just keep on going and going, and still look pretty stylish to my eye. So, every time I drive my car I smile inside thinking of the money I am not spending on interest and depreciation.

From there the scale goes down pretty quickly. There is the Dell computer from 2000 that is still cranking away. Before that I think I had the same computer during about all of the 90s. Then there is my 1988 bicycle that has given me more pleasure per dollar than seems possible. So then we get to the poster child for this subject, the old shoe! Now perfectly molded to my feet, it just feels so good! And the same for old clothes, both much to the chagrin of my wife. I love that patina of age, I wear it like a badge of frugality, within reason of course, I don't think I look like a bum, I just look comfortable. So anyway, depreciation is the silent killer!

Energy saving lightbulbs

January 3rd, 2008 at 03:25 pm

I've only got a few in the house, definitely all the lights that are on the most often, but I haven't done the ones that are used very infrequently. I guess I should watch for good sales. I wonder what the story is on duty cycles, i.e. which can take more off-on-off transitions?

Here's a good reference on that - they don't like short cycles.
http://biz.yahoo.com/usnews/071219/19_faq_the_end_of_the_lig...

And a general reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_fluorescent_lamp

Do you know the car insurance rules?

January 1st, 2008 at 04:29 pm

I am pretty livid with my car insurance company. I now have the privilege of paying $3000 per year for 3 cars and 3 drivers.

The rates went up when my daughter had an at-fault accident. OK, can't argue that. But then she was rear-ended by some one who wound up leaving the scene. We filed a police report after the fact, and it appears that this is why our insurance got raised AGAIN, even though we made no claim since the damage to the rear bumper was cosmetic and was $500, the deductible. They say that ANY activity such as a police report of an accident counts as "activity", and they can raise our rates. So I told them that this will cause me to shop around, even though previously I had wanted to just stay with them since things had always gone well before.