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Net Worth Update

I haven’t calculated my net worth since August of 2010.   That was a long time ago.  Before I bought my house, even.  So things have probably changed.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any files after March of 2009.  I have no idea what happened there, and it’s a little embarrassing that I have managed to (most likely) inadvertently delete all of that data.

However! I do have a new net worth calculation!  This time, it includes my house and my car, things I didn’t include before.  And fun things like my mortgage.

And the good news is that my net worth has increased since March of 2009.  I’m up about 10%.  That is awesome news!

I’ve decided to start tracking slightly differently than in the past.  I’m tracking the big things, not the little things.  Gift cards, cash, the change jar, none of those things are being calculated.  I don’t carry much cash, so that’s no big deal.  Gift cards have value, but it’s not worth spending the time calculating that information.  And I still can’t believe I would count the money in my change jar every month.

I don’t plan to calculate my net worth every month.  I don’t think that’s all that telling in the first place.  I think the tiny shifts here and there aren’t as important as the big picture.  I’m not a person who does regular trading in the stock market.  My theory on savings is “set it and forget it.”  With some key exceptions, of course.  I have a 401K plan through work and a Roth IRA that I automatically invest in.  I have some money in mutual funds that is being managed by a broker, though with his upcoming retirement, I’ll have to decide what to do there.  He is a friend of the family who I trust and who doesn’t treat me any differently due to my age or due to the small amount of money that I have invested.  I hope his successor does the same. However, he’s in my hometown and got licensed in Maryland for me so he could continue to manage my portfolio.  I may have to move to a new broker here anyway.

As compared to my pre-house calculations, there are some estimates here – my car and my house.  For ease of pulling data, I’m using Zillow to pull my home estimate.  I honestly think (and hope) that it’s a little low, based on other sales in the neighborhood, but it’s the easiest way to pull and it’s at least a realistic estimate.  I would much rather estimate low than estimate high.  As to the car, I’m using the Kelley Blue Book trade-in calculation, because if I do get rid of it, that’s going to be the route I take, again for ease.  Sure, I might get more money from selling it privately, but trade-ins are just so much simpler.  Plus my car is 10 years old.  It’s not worth that much and I plan to drive it into the ground anyway.

So that’s that.  I really had no idea what my net worth was going to look like.  I do need to work harder.  I’m not saving as much as I would like.  My retirement contributions are good, but I should just be socking away cash in general.  Time to start paying more attention to the day-to-day expenses.

Couponing? Maybe Not

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I had big plans for this post.  I was going to finally update my net worth after many, many years.  Alas, my computer is at the spa, aka the Genius Bar.  My left shift key decided to retire early and so my computer is in the shop being repaired.  Thankfully, I bought the extended warranty when I bought the laptop, so it should cost me exactly zero dollars.  My favorite price.  Let’s hope that’s still true when I go to pick it up.

Instead, I will be talking about something that gets a lot of attention in the personal finance and frugality world – couponing.

I am TERRIBLE at couponing.   I’ve considered going all extreme couponer and trying to pair good coupons with good sales and create a stockpile of things.  And instead of stockpiling, I would be able to donate a lot of it to the local food banks.  Everyone wins, right?

That plan lasted approximately three days.  Couponing is not for the weak of heart.  I am impressed with anyone who manages to do it.  I cannot do it.

No, instead, I try to use coupons like mere mortals do.  I clip coupons for items I use and then put them in an envelope in my planner to use when I grocery shop.  I have a cool coupon organizer that I fail to use. I put coupons in it and then forget to check it before shopping.  That’s not how coupons work.  In fact, I can see it sitting on my desk and it’s probably filled with coupons from last year.

My coupons all live mashed together in a single paperclip.  The goal is to use the good ones before they expire.  To me, a good coupon is for something I regularly use, be it canned soup or cleaning items.  Preferably for things that I can stock up on without them going bad quickly.  And yet, 90% of the time, my coupons end up expiring before I use them.  Every so often, I plan properly and the coupons get used.  But it’s just not something I’m good at.

I’m sure part of it is that I’m cooking for myself, so I don’t really meal plan.  I cook maybe once a week and then eat or freeze leftovers.  Other meals are created from previously frozen leftovers.  It’s a system that works well for me, but it means that I don’t do a ton of grocery shopping.  Maybe one big shop a month.  And that’s when the coupons get used.

I’m going to try to be better about it though.  I may not be able to always match up coupons and sales, but I should make a point to use my coupons when I do that monthly shop.  They do add up.

Now I’m off to clip this weekend’s coupons.

Being Prepared for Anything

Last week, a coworker was checking her bank statement and discovered that her most recent paycheck was short.  Significantly short.  As she had worked the full pay period and hadn’t made any changes to her withholdings, this didn’t make sense.  So she immediately pulled up her paystub (ours are all available online).

Somehow, her exemptions (both state and federal) had been reduced to zero.

Obviously, it was none of my business, so I didn’t ask how many allowances she normally claimed, but this change was enough to put a huge dent in her paycheck.

No one can explain to her why this change was made.  She had just filed her taxes, but got a refund, so there was no reason that her exemptions would need to be changed, at least from the government’s point of view.  She hadn’t gone into the system to make any changes.  It sounds like it may have just been a glitch somewhere.  On the positive side, she will get this money back.  On the negative side, she won’t get it back until she files her 2014 taxes next year.

Of course, she has the option to make a change in her withholdings again so that her next paycheck is high, then change the withholdings back to her normal level.  And if she were in dire straits, I’m sure that’s exactly what she would do.  But that requires more than a little bit of work.  So it sounds like she’s just going to deal with it.

Thankfully, her financial situation is such that this isn’t going to mean she won’t be able to pay her bills.  Ultimately, it means that for this pay period, instead of putting her standard amount into her savings account, she will be pulling a bit of money out of her savings to cover the loss.  But she’s lucky that she has that ability.

I take two lessons from this experience.

Number one, always check your paycheck.  Is it high or low?  Look into that.  Find out why.  I think that we all would immediately do some investigating if our paychecks came back low, but would we research if they came back high?  I know I would, but I think a lot of people would just consider it some sort of windfall and leave it at that.  But what if that windfall is actually because your withholdings got messed up and while you get the money now, you’re going to have to pay it back to the government come tax time?  Probably something you should know now before you go spending all of your money on plane tickets and fireworks.

And of course, the second is to make sure that you have an emergency fund or some sort of savings to cover you if something like this happens.  This isn’t the normal sort of emergency you would think about when considering uses for your emergency fund.  No one got sick or lost their job or had their house fall down around them.  No, there was just a simple computer glitch that meant the government kept more of her paycheck than anticipated.  If she lived paycheck to paycheck, this could cause some huge problems.

Remember, of course, that your emergency fund doesn’t have to be huge.  Of course, the goal is to get enough money to have a number of months of expenses set aside (a quick survey of the internet says this should be anywhere from 3 months to one year’s worth of expenses).  But that’s a lot of money.  I don’t even want to think about what one year’s worth of expenses actually calculates out to be for me.  But we can all try to set a little bit aside every paycheck.  Even if it’s only a few dollars.  It’s better than nothing.  Try to get to one month’s worth of expenses.  Or try to get to $1000.  And then go from there.  Save yourself from an emergency caused by a computer glitch.

Housing Prices

As I have mentioned before, my immediate family is all still out in my hometown in Smalltown, Midwest USA.  This past week, my sister bought a house in my hometown.  Well, she put in an offer and it was accepted.  Closing isn’t for another few weeks, but the deal looks good.

I haven’t seen the house yet, obviously, but from the listing, it looks pretty fabulous.  A little bigger than mine, with way more property.   It’s also about 40 years newer and looks amazing.  (Of course, all houses look amazing from a listing.)

And the price?  Less than half of what I paid for my house.

Ouch.

Yes, that’s the joy of living in an expensive part of the country like the Washington, DC area.  Of course, it is true that my salary is higher here than it would be living in Smalltown.  But it’s not twice as high.  So I am a little bit jealous of what money buys there.   I can’t help but think what I would do with the extra money.  Travel, home improvements, the list is endless.

It’s funny, when I am visiting my family and accompany someone to the grocery store, I can’t help but marvel at how cheap the groceries are.  And suddenly, it makes so much more sense that I find myself spending more on groceries than other bloggers no matter how hard I try.  Things are just more expensive here.

But that’s something I accepted when I chose to move here.  I knew that life was going to be more expensive, from housing to utilities to groceries.  And it’s been a good choice.  Sure, it would be nice to be closer to my family, but I like where I live.  I like my job and I like my friends and I like the house I bought, even though it cost me a pretty penny.  And there are perks to living in an area like this.  Where else can you regularly get stuck in traffic due to a Presidential motorcade?

Oh, wait, maybe that’s not a perk.  But it’s a fun fact, I suppose.  And seeing the Capitol every morning on my way to work is pretty darn cool.

And hey, if I ever decide to move, the money I get for my house, even if it’s less than what I paid for the house, will go a whole lot further in a cheaper part of the country.    Maybe when I’m old enough to retire.  In 50 years or so.

The Many Benefits Of An Online Casino

[This is a guest article]

When the first online casinos opened a decade ago, many people were skeptical about the fairness of the games that were available. Now that the industry is regulated by entities like The Nevada Gaming Control Board and there are major casinos with both physical and online presences, people have become more comfortable with using online casinos to gamble. Currently, more than five million people worldwide use online casinos on a regular basis, spending roughly $11 billion each year.

Online casinos have a wide variety of different games to play, often more than what can be found at a physical casino. For example, the online casino at http://www.norskespilleautomater.com has hundreds of different types of slots machines available, including those based on popular shows like South Park and old favorites like monsters and pirates. Most games are dressed up with fancy graphics and sound effects, much like real slot machines. These slot machines are created by some of the biggest names in online gaming and work the same way as the ones found in physical casinos, so you can jump right in and begin playing.

You do not have to worry about your personal safety with an online casino. In my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, a man who spent the evening gambling at our new local casino had his winnings stolen by a group of criminals that followed him home from the casino. He was held at gunpoint as his home was ransacked and his possessions were destroyed. While he lost his money and had his home violated, he luckily escaped with his life. Using an online casino means that your winnings are safe and can be electronically transferred to your bank account when you are ready to cash out.

The convenience of being able to play the games from the comfort of your own home may be the biggest appeal of playing at an online casino. You can be seated in a comfortable chair at your computer, lounging on the couch with a laptop, or entertaining yourself in a coffee shop with a tablet. If you want to stop playing to get a drink or go to the bathroom, you do not have to worry about someone snagging your machine before you get back. Playing at an online casino means no driving, no parking, no walking, and no dealing with annoying people. Sounds great, doesn’t it?