Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I'm Thankful For...

Well. I'm sitting here as a gimp, not able to use my right hand, because of an accident while re-finishing some cabinets. More on that later (with pictures & video). For today, I wanted to share what we're thankful for.

  • First, I'm thankful for my iPhone. I can do all sorts of things on it one handed, including type a blog post.
  • My job. I love being able to work from home and complete projects at my own pace.
  • My family. Jessi has been a particularly big blessing in my gimp-like state. And she's willing to do construction projects and discuss business ideas. Vinnie is wonderful too. I'm so thankful that he loves to cuddle.

  • A warm, dry place to sleep in. Her eyes were recently opened to how hard it can be to live homeless. With our recent rain storm she kept thinking about how thankful she is to have a dry place to sleep in.
  • Family. Me, because I show her how to be positive and am constantly looking for ways to improve. Vinnie, because he makes her laugh and shows her how to enjoy life & not stress out.
  • Capable of being able to work. Seeing my frustration of not being able do much of anything and knowing there are some people who are physically incapacitated their whole lives. Jessi is so thankful to be able to do anything, physically, she wants.
  • Thankful for our duplexes. It's an opportunity to serve others & earn some extra income.

  • For parents who love him. We know this because he waggles his tail whenever he sees us.
  • Heaters. When I push the heater buttons he comes running.
  • Dog treats & peanut butter. We can get him to do all sorts of tricks if food is the reward.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Google Updates Blogger iPhone App

Well... I was looking for something to talk about today. And Google throws me a bone with an app update.

So, I'm writing this post on my iPhone. Typing seems to be fine, but I'm a little weary about not being able to include inline images. I "attached" one, but what does that mean on a blog? I guess I'll hit publish and find out.

I would also like the ability to see previous tags/categories I've made. Being able to post my location is cool, but I think I'd prefer the ability to schedule when it's published instead.

Ah man, listen to me. All I want is the desktop experience on my phone. How sad is that! Perhaps I'll stick to Twitter & Instagram while on the road and reserve posts for when I'm at home. What does that say about the post-PC era?

And for the fun of it, I've now "attached" two images. Crazy

Friday, November 09, 2012

Buy Assets That Put Money In Your Pocket

Robert Kiyosaki recently tweeted out a couple thoughts I felt were worth repeating. The first one said this:
It's a little extreme to say it's "only helpful", but I tend to agree that buying assets is the best use of your money after you take care of your basic living needs. I'm sure we all have different definitions of basic living needs, but that's not the point. The question is what should you do with your extra money at the end of the month? Kiyosaki's recommendation is to purchase assets.

Note: If you still have consumer debt you're paying off, you don't have any extra money because it should all be going towards that. That's our current situation with student loans, though not technically consumer debt, the interest rates are now high enough it makes sense to tackle them.

So what is an asset?
Got it. Assets are anything that puts money in your pocket. Here are some examples:

Businesses (via stocks or wholly owned): Assets
Royalties (such as from a book): Assets
Rental Property: Assets

Your home: not an asset
A car: not an asset
Video games: not an asset

I want to be clear: I'm not saying non-assets, also called liabilities, are bad. Believe me, we love our dog despite his financial liability. The goal should be to purchase these liabilities with assets. That's what we did with our dog. You're probably doing it too.

If you think about it, that's what you're doing when you save for retirement: buying assets in the form of stocks so that one day you can live off that asset. Unfortunately, many people save so little that it takes them until they're 65 or older to accumulate enough assets to pay for their level of living.

If we could learn to enjoy life on less, it would create a double benefit: We would be able to save more because we're spending less, and we wouldn't need to accumulate as many assets because the costs it needs to cover would be less.

Kiyosaki's plea is to stop buying liabilities and personal effects that you don't really need. You don't need to get radical and make huge changes. Instead, he wants you to simply be more purposeful with your spending and focus on buying assets. He says so in a Facebook update:
The good news is that you don't have to start your own business to find success. Keep your job, but start buying real assets, not liabilities or personal effects that have no real value once you get them home.
So that's my encouragement today. Try some experiments on living with less. Keep it fun. And then invest the money you saved into assets. Start with funding your retirement account and then expand from there.


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Old Shirt, New Shirt, Red Shirt, Blue Shirt...

The Idea

James isn't much of a collector, in fact he loves getting rid of things. We even just took another load of stuff to St. Vinnie's yesterday!

That being said, he was going through his clothes one afternoon and had a HUGE stack of shirts he was going to get rid of. I, in my most pack-rattish tone, said "What are you doing with those? You can't just toss them! I could use them for something!" So, I of course put them in my craft room and held onto them for about two years waiting for just the right opportunity.

The Opportunity

I don't exactly remember how the opportunity came up to turn that pile of old sports, clubs, business, mission trips and souvenir shirts into a quilt...but what I do remember was thinking..."oh yeah, that's a great will be easy."

Famous last words. It is all about perspective when quilting. To an experienced quilter, someone who has spent numerous hours measuring, pinning, cutting, re-pinning, sewing, cutting some more and loosing track of time because they are so  into their project, a t-shirt quilt is easy. However, I learned very quickly that deciding to use all 108 shirts to make the grand-daddy of all t-shirt quilts was just a bit more than I could handle as a novice, no, as a non-quilter.

The Process

Sewing together t-shirt material is an art form. T-shirts are stretchy, which is great when you're wearing them and horrible when you're sewing them. So, step one is to fuse (iron on) a stabilizer to the back of each piece you will be using.
All of the designs cut out and placed
Had I read the directions that my awesome experienced-quilter-mother-in-law had shared with me I would have known that fusing THEN cutting makes your life easier. I however, in all my quilting wisdom cut each piece and then proceeded to fuse each piece and yes, RE-CUT every piece again. At this point I was thinking, "This is step 1?"

Well, I made it through the hard part, so I thought. I was super excited to start sewing things together so I called my mother-in-law and said I was bringing down the pieces on my next visit to put it together. Of course I was very
surprised to find out that you had to have things like "precise measurements" and "same sized blocks" and in order to get there you had to use a "fabric ruler" and "rotary cutter" neither of which I had.
The back laid out and ready to sew

Thank goodness for Dawn, she helped me make a plan and cut and get things in order and she gave me all the tools I would need to be successful.

So, I went back home with a mission. I was going to get all the blocks pieced together for the front and back (Oh, yeah, I added that little step of quilting the backside as well as the I nuts?!) before the next visit so we really could start sewing that time.

The back sewn together
I put in a lot of man hours sewing small pieces together to make the larger blocks. I did math in my head and math on the white board and cut and re-cut, so many times that I needed a vacation from my craft time. But, I did it. I got every block finished and packed for our trip down during Christmas last year.

Exhausted after a long sewing session
My mother-in-law was so excited to finally get started on the sewing she did what she always does and double checked  the measurements. Much to my horror each piece was off by about 1/4-1/2 of an inch. Come to find out one of the rulers I had been using was warped and off by about 1/4-1/2 of an inch.

At this point I was pretty sure the quilt was a goner. Had it been up to me I probably would have forced the issue and just started sewing the thing and hoped and prayed that when I got finished no one would notice the crooked seams or lopsided edges. Dawn, the experienced quilter, said..."That's ok, we can just trim them all to match." Oh, such a simple statement. She proceeded to trim each block...all 149 of them to be exactly the right size. Without her help I never would have made it past this step! Thank you, Mom!

Vinnie "helping" me tie the quilt
Once they were all the right size the sewing actually was pretty fast. We got most of the strips put together that week. I finished putting the strips together once I got home. Then on her next visit up Dawn helped me spray the top and bottom with fabric  glue and stick them to the batting to hold them in place for tying. I decided to tie my quilt since I don't have a big enough machine to do any actual quilting through all the layers.

I turned on some CSI and tied until my finger tips couldn't tie anymore. Then (I know the mind reals that there could be more!) I watched a couple you-tube videos about binding the edge. It took about four 2 hour sessions of Olympic highlight videos to get around the whole thing but I remember that last stitch... I felt like one of the athletes I had been watching...accomplished, trained, practiced, I had put my mind to it and finished and I had gotten the gold, well at least I had gotten a finished quilt and had gotten to be poured into by my mother-in-law about a skill and passion that she adored. That was reward enough.

We love our t-shirt quilt. I think Vinnie loves it most of all. And we will have the memories both from the shirts and making the quilt for a very long time.

The Finished Product

Vinnie Enjoying "his" quilt


Editor and Guest Contributor
James and I were chatting the other day about our blog and how he is the main contributor. I do play an editing role on most of the posts but every once in a while I like to make a contribution that is all my own. Today is just the day for such a post.

I have had the past few days off from work since it was time for teacher conferences. I am very blessed to work just less than full time as a reading assistant and I get to enjoy the freedom from other full time teaching responsibilities such as conferences, parent phone calls, maintaining a classroom (complete with cleaning, decorating and prepping for lessons).

That being said, I have still had to transition back into the working life after my summer vacation, I know, I know rough life, so I really do appreciate the days off when they come.

I love to do many artistic and craft related things in my free time and one of those things is sewing.

This summer I finished a t-shirt quilt, which was my first and maybe only BIG sewing project. More on that later perhaps.  For now I wanted to share about two up-cycle projects I just did this week.

Think of up-cycling as taking something old and discarded and turning it into something new and exciting.

My first project was made out of an old sweater. I really liked the sweater when I bought it but it was one of those purchases that looked great in the store and then when you got it home and put it on the next day you had no idea why you would ever buy something so ridiculous looking.

 Well, needless to say as much as I loved the design on the sweater I never once wore it in public. I cut it up one day to use the pieces for something else and then it just got shoved into the scrap box. I re-discovered it and decided to turn the sleeves into a scarf. I sadly did not take any pictures of the sweater beforehand but below is the finished product.

I looped the sleeves together and then ran a strip of elastic down the center to make it bunchy. I attached the ends together to make it a loop and infinity scarf.

I am excited to finally get some use out of that sweater I bought about 5 years ago.

My next project was converting an old pair of pants into a crochet hook organizer. I made a different hook organizer about a year ago when I became inspired to get organized in the craft department. I'm pretty sure that venture will be a life-long process, but in the meantime I did, at the very least, get my crochet hooks organized.

From This...
To This!

There were a few things I didn't like about my first attempt. There were not enough pockets, the hook spaces were the wrong size and the sewing was less than an amateur attempt.

So, when I found the old pair of pants in the scrap bin I knew exactly what I would make.

I also made a plan this time...utilizing the amazing sewing skills my mother-in-law had shared with me during the t-shirt quilting.

After about four and a half hours of stitching, ironing, folding, un-stitching, re-ironing, staring into space thinking about which way different seams should line up...I had a new crochet hook organizer!

The best thing about both of these projects is that they are custom made and they were essentially free since I used materials I already owned.

I hope this inspires you to find that old sweater, bookshelf, flower pot, or pair of pants and turn it into something new and exciting!

Thanks for reading!


Friday, November 02, 2012

Snowball Loan Payments Furlo Style

Let's suppose you have a lot of debt. Some as personal loans, some as student loans, some credit card balances, a car loan, and a mortgage.

Let's just say... theoretically of course... that you and your wife have 4 student loans and 1 car loan totaling about $80,000.

What's the best way to pay off those loans?

All financial gurus agree that the best way to attack the debt is to use the snowball method: pay the minimums on all your debt, EXCEPT ONE. Put as much as you can towards that one. Really focus on getting rid of it. Once it's paid, take the amount you were paying and roll it into the next debt. As you pay off loans, the amount being paid to an individual loan will get bigger and bigger like a snowball rolling down a hill (the total paid across all loans will remain the same).

Now, there is a little contention around the order to pay off your loans. Do you start with the highest interest rate? Or the lowest balance?

It depends.

In our case interest rates are irrelevant because the difference between the highest and lowest rate is 2%. Which, turns out to be less than $100 in an accelerated payment plan. Actually, I tried all the different permutations and they all land within $300 and 6 months of each other. The real take away is this: figure out a way to pay more than required, pick a loan, and get after it. The more you pay, the less order matters.

If you care about saving money...
The technical answer is to start with the loan with the highest interest rate, probably a credit card. Then proceed to the next highest rate. Loop.

But psychologically...
It might make sense to start with the lowest balance. You get to experience paying something off sooner, and that excitement will carry you onto the next one. Plus, if life happens, you can temporarily go back to paying minimums, and because hopefully at least one loan has been paid off, you have more cash flexibility. That flexibility might be worth a few hundred dollars in lost savings compared to the other methods.

Just pick one...
I say go after the loan which bothers you the most. Who cares where it is on the list. Get rid of it. Let that excitement carry you onto the next loan. And maybe you'll get lucky: Your credit card, a really annoying debt because you can't even remember how it got that high, happens to be the lowest balance with a ridiculously high interest rate.

In our case, the biggest balance has the highest interest rate. Plus, it's actually significantly bigger than all the others. By the time we paid it off, 4.5 years later, all the other loans would get paid off within 6 months. That offered us zero flexibility, which is valuable since we're still young and prone to making drastic life changes. Plus, as you'll see, it hampers the Furlo style rewards system.

So, last January we decided to attack our lowest balance first. And yesterday, 11 months later, we paid it off fully.


Now we're on to the next loan which is scheduled to take another year. The next 2 will take about 6 months each, the 4th will take another year, and the final loan will take 2 years (that's the big one).

But wait! There's more!

Paying Loans Off Furlo Style
Paying off loans is exciting to me, but not as much for Jessi. I mean, she gets it, but doesn't get giddy about it like I do. So, we've added rewards to the snowball method. Instead of rolling that payment over to the next loan right away, we're going to wait one month, and go do something fun with the lump sum. As we pay off more loans, the amounts are going to get bigger.

Now Jessi and I find ourselves excited to pay off the loans because it means we get to do something fun. We're even trying to find ways to tie the fun in with the loan. For example, after we pay off our car loan, we might do something fun for our cars. Jessi wants to get new carpet for the Jeep. I want to get the Jeep fully worked over so we know it'll run great for more years to come. Or we'll just take a road trip. I don't know! But I want to pay it off sooner because all of those sound like fun!

When our last loan is paid off, we're going to go crazy. I think (we're still dreaming), we'll save a month for every year it takes to pay off our loans. Right now it's scheduled to take 5 years. In our case that'll be around $6,500 (Quick! Grab your calculator and do some math!). I'm pretty sure we can think of something fun to do for that amount.

It's going to be pretty exciting over the next 4 years. We've already decided what we're going to do for this first one: A day at the spa. I'm personally looking forward to getting a massage.