Monday, September 30, 2013

My Quarter End: Q3 2013

As of September 30th, 2013 our net worth stands at $326,989.01

Now this is shaping up to be some kind of year! For this quarter end piece I’ll jump right into my technical analysis and leave the personal stuff for the end, because yes this past quarter was just that fascinating to me. Typically Q3 is mundane, if not a losing season. Traditionally trading volume thins down and M&A news barely makes headlines as the market takes a sleep off before the start of Q4.

This year’s version of Q3 was nothing short of remarkable to me. Not only did the overall market stay above its July 1st figure of 14,976.96, but the market also stood strong against negative domestic and international news.

The most noteworthy of these was/is the weapons standoff between Syria and the Western world. Now I’m not going to get into the international politics of this touchy issue, for that you can go to just about any major news outlet, but I am genuinely astonished that this world event during the summer quarter did not significantly impact the stock market in a negative way. Sure, commodities bounced around like they always do but the confidence in the market place to sustain through this world event is a testament that, as a group, our businesses are regaining their footing from the market fall out that was 5 years ago.

In addition our brilliant elected leaders in D.C. are at it again with another debt ceiling debate. Government shutdown looms around the corner (to which I vote an enthusiastic YES!!!) and the elephants and jackasses are standing in their respective extreme corners refusing to compromise. Yet in the midst of all of this the fear of these events are not negatively impacting the overall market. Even gold surprised me as at the start of the quarter it hovered slightly above $1,550 an ounce, only to drop in price amidst all of this negative news to fall to below $1,350 an ounce.

Now if you were to tell me at the start of the July that the US government would be facing another debt ceiling crisis, another mass shooting would occur on US soil, a weapons standoff would occur between the US, Syria and Russia and gold would plummet $200 and the DOW would be up from July 1st, I would have laughed at the absurdity of your assertion. Instead I am taking this all in and seeing it as proof that the market is gaining strength and stability.

I whole heartedly expect Q4 to go off without a hitch and for 2013 to be looked back on as one of the best years in the stock market’s history. Forward looking though I do expect averages to come back in line and I do see a retraction on the horizon for 2014. Mainly I expect this retraction to single handedly be due to the ongoing implementation of Obamacare. This piece of legislation, whether you love it or hate it, is bringing a wide range of uncertainty to the market place and is single handedly a prime example of government stepping into a private industry and telling companies how to run their businesses. For better or worse I believe this will have a negative impact on the market that will rein in the market rise of 2013.

On a personal level I’m also pretty surprised that our net worth number stands where it is. In retrospect I felt like we took a pretty expensive vacation to Europe, but the lift of the equities market just offset and helped raise our overall financial picture. I was surprised that over this last quarter my sliver of real estate took about a $3,000 appraised value nosedive. But I guess that just means that sooner rather than later our equity holdings will surpass the value of my sliver of real estate. And I’m perfectly okay with that :) It’s a pivotal moment that I’m looking forward to crossing and of course share with all of you.

During this past quarter I also reached a bit of a hinge moment. With our European vacation being a catalyst, I am now starting to enjoy the fruits our labor and am enjoying saving, giving AND spending on levels that I have not reached before. Our household has re-evaluated the size of our spending cups, we are pushing on with the long term saving goals of paying cash for our first house and having a healthy retirement, and we have increased our resources to do more spontaneous giving throughout the year.

Needless to say I learned a lot this summer and am slowly starting to thoroughly enjoy every aspect of life. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this year shakes out and what 2014 has in store for our household J!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Lovable Losers

I have learned to appreciate and enjoy late September. Typically in Chicago late September means that summer is a distant memory and the temperature begins to drop. For me, I have come to appreciate (and dare I say, even love) late September thanks to the hapless North side baseball team affectionately known as the Chicago Cubs.

During the regular season’s summer months Wrigley Field is packed to maximum capacity. Wrigleyville is occupied by Wrigleyvillians whom I would argue enjoy their Old Style brew more than the product the Cubs organization places on the field for 162 games a year. Needless to say it is nearly impossible to purchase a pair of tickets at face value even for bleacher seats.

So I wait patiently, happily and with glee as the Cubs season inevitably turns sour. Sure it’s cute in early summer when the North siders are 10 or so games out of first place of their division, but by this time of year, when they are flirting with being 30 games out of first and warm weather has dissipated, Chicago fans for the most part finally shrug a careless shoulder when it comes to venturing out to Addison and Clark to catch a game.

I use this as an opportunity to capitalize on this city’s indifference and purchase major league baseball tickets, in a major metropolis for below face value. For $20 through my wife and I were able to take in last night’s game from the 3rd base side with this view.

Could I afford to head to the friendly confines during July and pack myself in with the roar of the North side crowds? Sure, but between you and I, I really don’t see an incentive. Long lines, drunk crowds, overpriced tickets and being crammed into a stadium with tens of thousands of others just doesn’t sound like fun to me.

What does sound like fun? Buying pro sports tickets below face value and making a date night out of it. Before the game my wife and I had dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in our neighborhood before venturing to the game. We ate great food, had excellent service, had a few margaritas and were not pressed for time.

I recall in my pre-Ramsey days how stressed out I would get when paying and going to a professional sporting event. I stubbornly (while dragging my wife along) made sure to get to the arena early to take in batting practice/shoot around/warm ups, buy all of my food ahead of time to ensure I wouldn’t wait in a concession line and miss any action during the game. And even if my team were getting blown out I would stay until the bitter end to “maximize” the dollars spent.

Last night my wife and I had a lovely dinner while talking and catching up on life, leisurely made our way to the friendly confines by the 4th inning, and when a loss for our home team was imminent (plus it was past my bed time J) we left before the bottom of the ninth, and had plenty of budgeted money left over to splurge and take a cab home from the game. Perhaps the funniest moment of the night was talking myself out of buying a beer at the game. I was excited to get into the stadium and take in what might be the last views of Wrigley Field as we have known it to be while drinking an Old Style. But I just could not shell out the $7.75 to do it. The money was in my pocket, budgeted and well within our parameters for the night’s expenses, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger and order it. Call me a snob, you might be right, but I just can’t justify paying $10 for crappy beer, hell, I can’t even justify spending that much on good beer. But I’ll rant on outrageous concession prices at sporting events another day.

So I guess this is a roundabout way of saying this, but to the front office management of the Chicago Cubs, please, don’t ever change a thing, I absolutely love your team and the way you are running it!

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Disposable Income Reevaluation

Now while I still have France and Spain to report on, I wanted to take a second to share with you our recent re-evaluation of our disposable income. We are currently going through the home study of Dave Ramsey’s “The Legacy Journey” (review on the way shortly) and a lot of what Dave talks about in this series has lead us to take a re-examination of our household’s disposable income.

Now without going into too much into detail as I’ll save the in depth look for an upcoming review, but “The Legacy Journey” is geared towards those in between baby steps 4-7. Essentially the audience is out of debt for everything except their house, investing for retirement, savings for their kids’ college, paying off their home mortgage and building wealth while giving.

In one of the lessons there’s a fascinating concept presented that covers the size of one’s cup (cost of living), filling that cup up and creating an overflow. This particular imagery really made my wife and I take a careful look and re-examination of our cost of living, what we want our normal expenses to look like and challenged us to be more intentional with our disposable income. Up to this point we have been in a debt free marriage for over a year, are steadily saving for retirement and are saving to pay cash for our first home together. And we’ve taken this as an opportunity to take a second look at how we would want to change our monthly cash flow and savings goals.

For starters, during our search for a new apartment, we’ve decided to raise our rent ceiling by a few hundred dollars as we look for more elbow room in a more family friendly Chicago ‘hood. We have also decided to use a sinking fund to buy a used car. On this particular note our savings goal is a little shy of $5,000 by the end of the year and I am going to lobby that we buy a used car that costs no more than $3,000. With the arrival of a vehicle I personally will have gone 10 years living without a car, a feat that I am particularly proud of. But also we are ready to take on the added costs of car insurance, maintenance, parking and gasoline. While we will still not surrender our bus passes, it will be nice to have options and the luxury of using a vehicle to go grocery shopping, thus rendering our portable grocery cart useless.

But the largest of all issues was what to do with our disposable income after all of our expenses were met. Believe it or not but the largest piece of that puzzle was easy to answer. Nearly 60% of our disposable income will be allotted to long term investing through our taxable brokerage account. This account that holds some of our superstar mutual funds, is more than just our house savings account. One day we will redeem shares from this account to adopt a child or two, give on large scale projects such as building schools and clean water projects overseas, use as a piece of our retirement income, maybe make a large gift to our kids for their weddings and for general spontaneity to give and spend in the future.

We also decided to send just a bit more money to our regular give account to give ourselves the opportunity to do more spontaneous giving throughout the year. But that still left us with almost 40% of our disposable income to decide what to do with. So we went to the drawing board and started adding “wish list” items. Between my wife and I, we listed out some items, ideas, vacations and general grab items that we would enjoy purchasing in the future. For me this list includes a spiffy looking watch, a portable dishwasher if we move to an apartment that does not have one included, dance lessons, a bike pump, some books and a carafe – because in France I learned that I drink more water when a carafe is readily accessible.

 This wish list is also where our car is listed out. I feel that this re-evaluation of our disposable income is helping me to enjoy spending, giving and saving even more than I have before. Truth be told I am just now starting to come out of “gazelle intense” mode after personally being debt free for 4 years, and my wife for one year. I was in attack mode and did not want to take my foot off the pedal, and my wife would merrily agree, that for quite a while I had not been enjoying my spending, saving or giving as much as God calls us to. So now I actually physically feel like we are taking our foot off the fiscal pedal and are starting to see the world around us. Our financial future is on cruise control and now we are starting to see the world around us. So we are left asking ourselves some important questions that in a roundabout way define our family values. What does a reasonable increase in lifestyle look like in our family? What kind of spontaneous gifts do we want to make throughout the year? How do we want to spend our investment income 20 years from now? Thankfully these are questions that we get to define for ourselves and you get to define for yourself. I used to think that getting out of debt and the adrenaline that came along with it was a ton of fun, and now I’m thinking that learning how to balance giving, saving and spending in a post credit apocalyptic life might just be even more fun! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Adventures Along the Rhine

The good times and overall love fest just kept rolling for us as we flew into Germany. For this leg of the trip we flew into Frankfurt rented a car and drove to our “home” base in Koblenz. In route we got a taste of the beautiful German countryside. Perhaps it is because I live in the Mid-West of the US, but I am a sucker for rolling hills and the small German villages that are planted along them. I think I must have said, “Wow” to my wife at least a couple of dozen times in the first half hour.

This was a notable trip for my better half though. One of these small German country towns is called Dillhausen, and it is the genuine “Motherland” of my wife. Before immigrating and finding their way to the US, this is the very town that one side of my wife’s family used to call home. Here’s a lovely picture of my wife with Dillhausen in the background. Honestly this is one of my favorite pictures from the trip because it’s the past meeting the present and coming full circle.

When finally reaching Koblenz we were greeted with an unexpected, unbelievable and blessed surprise. We had found out upon checking into our hotel that our accommodations while we were in Germany had been taken care of. So here we were with our expenses planned out and our budget set, and God and our friends are screaming at me to HAVE FUN. The message was clearly received. My wife and I were (and still very much are) incredible grateful at the generosity of these friends in particular, and words alone cannot express our thanks and love.

With that set we met up with a family friend of my wife’s. This particular gentleman worked with my father-in-law and served during his working years as a senior executive for a company that is a leading global supplier of technology and services. If I said the company name here, trust me, you would know it. This particular family friend and his wife lovingly took on the roles of tour guide and showed us some incredible places along the Rhine.

Our first day was highlighted with a cable car ride up a mountain for some awesome photo ops. Since I feel that I’ve been typing for a bit, here’s some eye candy ;)

Our second day was just as incredible. We drove along the Rhine for castle and church hunting, as well as taking a ferry boat across this wonderful German river. The sights, sounds, food and wine were all absolutely incredible. I mean we just don’t have sights like this here in the States and I feel privileged to have been able to take these sights in with my own eyes. And the beer I think I can sum up in three hopefully non-sacrilege words: OH…MY…GOD!! The local pilsners out in Germany are soooooo much better than any microbrew I have tasted state side. I mean wow, those Germans know damn well what they are doing :) Here’s a few of my favorite pictures we took along the way.

I definitely loved Germany a lot more than I anticipated. And apart from the beauty and history of the area, the biggest piece of that was the company that we were with along the way. My wife’s family friend and his wife are the sweetest, most intelligent and incredible couple I think I have ever met in my life. I mean I want to be this guy when I grow up. He speaks several languages fluently, was (and in my opinion still very much IS) a leader, innovator and visionary in the field that he planted his career in. And to top it off this couple has a heart of gold. I mean this guy, in addition to his career, served as a speaker and lecturer at universities and GAVE his salary away for charitable causes. That my friends, is why God calls us as believers to take dominion over money and finances, so that we can do our part to bless and change the world with God’s resources.

We wined, we dined, we shared laughs and took in the best of the best together of what Germany has to offer. And when we said goodbye it was heartfelt and genuine. I felt a flood of emotions come upon me and found myself wiping away tears as if I was saying Auf Wiedersehen to my very own beloved grandparents. And I looked over to my wife and say just as many, if not more, tears streaming down her face. We loved our visit to Germany, and we loved the company we shared it with even more. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

My Trip Across the Pond

So after four years of living on Dave Ramsey’s plan we are at the point where we are completely debt free, retirement savings is in cruise control, we are saving steadily for our future house, we make giving a regular part of our monthly budgets and we have all of the right kinds of insurances in place. So what comes next?

For us the answer to that question was to take our feet off the gazelle intensity pedal and start using our money as a tool to have fun. As Dave says, there are three things to do with money: save, give and spend. And we were plenty overdue spending on a large scale vacation. While working our first three baby steps we gave ourselves small pats on the backs along the way with smaller scaled trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Charlotte, Nashville and Charleston. That may be a mouthful within a single sentence, but believe me, over a period of 4 years they were plenty spaced out :) We did splurge towards the end of 2012 with a vacation to Hawaii, but this time we were thinking a little bit bigger.

My wife and I both love to travel. And getting our financial acts together over the last 4 years was done so that we could say yes to opportunities like this trip we just took to Europe. Freeing up our monthly income, becoming debt free and living on a monthly budget made it easy for us to pay for flights, accommodations, train fares, car rentals and have spending money on hand to eat and sight-see. Needless to say our 4 years of living “Ramsey” prepped us pretty darn well for putting this trip together. And as usual our frugal ways definitely stayed with us as flew across the Atlantic Ocean and changed time zones as well as currencies.

To help prep for the trip we held a loose itinerary, stayed with friends when we could and had our spending budget saved for well ahead of time. We also gave notice to our banks the dates and cities we would be visiting so that our debit cards (and my wife’s credit card) would not be shut down as we traveled. Just in case one of our cards did get shut down, we allocated our spending money between 2 debit card accounts, cash withdrawals made along the way with one debit card and my wife utilized her credit card. To spare you the drama yes we came under budget on this trip. And we maximized avoiding baggage fees by packing our clothes into 2 carry on bags and 1 small checked suitcase. Now, onto the fun stuff!

The first stop in our adventure was London. Now London has a reputation for being a very expensive city. To help offset this I was able to reach out and contact my old college roommate whom lives in Stratford, 8 miles away from London’s center, and couch surf with him. Here’s a picture of us standing merrily in the rain with probably my favorite umbrella of all time.

 And I have to be honest that I was extremely happy with the arrangement, and this had nothing to do with saving money on a hotel. I had not seen the old chap in the 7 years since I had graduated from college. So having the time to catch up in each other’s lives and get to know each other all over again, well words can’t describe how incredible that feeling was.

In addition my wife was able to meet up and introduce me to a college friend of hers as well. During her time in college my wife spent a semester studying abroad in Scandinavia and I had heard tons of great stories about this friend in particular who also was living in London and whom had been such a great friend to my wife before I even met her.

So with two friends on the ground in London as locals we got a true 5 star treatment seeing all of the best London has to offer. It was great to catch up with an old friend, meet a new one and in retrospect have it flow so well that it felt like we were all childhood friends whom picked up right where we had left off. As proof, here we are happily crammed into a phone booth for a photo-op.

One of my favorite things about visiting Europe is the rich history and seeing/touching buildings that are older than my country. And this trip in particular struck me in a different way than I have been in previous trips. Typically I lose myself in admiration of my surroundings. Like being in front of Buckingham Palace or walking the streets near Piccadilly Circus, and like a typical tourist I walk slowly with my head towards the sky in awe of the historic majesty that is iconic architecture. But instead I was lost in several moments of conversation and being present. Whether walking hand in hand with my wife and catching up on life, or talking with my old roommate and sharing about how the last 7 years have treated us, or having the privilege to meet my wife’s friend who shares her strength, courage and savvy business mind, in all of these scenarios I was aware that I was in the midst of brilliant historical monuments and settings, and I found myself getting lost in moments of conversations with great friends talking about life and everything in between.

Needless to say the start of our vacation went off without a hitch. So here’s just a few more pictures to hold you over until I post about Germany!

Monday, September 9, 2013

My End of Summer Sabbatical

To all of the faithful readers out there I do sincerely apologize for not giving fair warning for this prolonged absence. Please be rest assured that my droll musings will pick up full steam ahead as we begin to settle into the fall season. I’ve taken a few weeks to rest, recharge and bask in what I feel was a topsy-turvy summer writing season. There’s lots to look forward to here at from 0 to one million, including my 2 week vacation to Europe, my jet lagged grocery shopping experience, a quarter end market assessment at the end of this month, and much…so much more! So stay tuned and I’m looking forward to piecing together an exciting and fun filled fall blogging season!