March 29th, 2009 — , , ,
Some readers have said that I should write more about personal finance, and less about the politics of the United States, but I think the two topics are inherently related because the government is a very large part of our everyday lives and it affects financial decisions we make in so many ways. Some commenters have said that they were surprised I am so much of a “conservative” considering that I am from such a liberal part of the country and seem to be fairly intelligent. I thought about this, and I realized that most frugal personal finance writers would be politically conservatives whether they realize it or not.
First of all, being frugal is all about being fiscally conservative with your own finances. So if you are pinching pennies by using coupons and sales, then why would you want your government to spend your tax dollars without any concern to the pricetag of things? I imagine that most frugal people want a frugal government that looks for the best price in every purchase. Unfortunately, this is not happening at all under the current regime, and that is disconcerting.
Second, being frugal is about being responsible for what you have been given in terms of income. Nearly every personal finance blog I have read do not support the housing bailout and other bailouts that have been happening lately because these bloggers including myself think of the bailouts as rewarding the irresponsible. So logically, these frugal bloggers would have voted with the Republicans against the new stimulus bills and bailouts and be labeled as “conservatives”.
Next, a lot of frugal bloggers write about getting rid of debt. This is once again another fiscally conservative ideal. Right now the United States is in $11 trillion dollars of debt, and the . Granted, and many people believe that George Bush is not a true conservative. For the most part I think most frugal people want the government to get rid of its mounting debt, and again, being frugal is the same as being conservative.
I think it is sad that people think of conservatism as a bad word, but I guess just a few years ago frugality was not very popular, either. Hopefully as frugality and fiscal responsibility becomes more accepted Americans will realize that they cannot afford to have big spenders in their government. After all, more taxes means less savings, and letting the government take more of your own ability to be financially independent is equivalent to giving up your life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
January 27th, 2009 — , , , ,
My life is for the most part pretty boring, but sometimes whacky things happen. Yesterday was one of those days.
I left work last night and realized that I left my purse at my cube. So I drove back to retrieve it. I usually don’t park in the underground garage because it is always full, but at that time many people already left work so I figured I would park there since it is the closest parking lot to my building. It has one of those arm gates that raises up after you swipe a keycard. Then after the arm gate there is another metal sliding gate.
I have always had a problem with these gates because my arms are very short and oftentimes I have to stretch out pretty far to activate the keycard. Yesterday this happened again and stretched out just a bit too far and my foot went off the brake for a second. Unfortunately, the lane to the gate is on a downward incline so gravity took my car straight into the gate arm and made contact with the metal gate and then stopped. The distance from the keycard station to the gate is less than ten feet so it wasn’t a huge impact, but the car still managed to break off the wooden gate arm and made a dent in the metal gate.
Amazingly enough the car just had a few scratches in the front bumper and was not damaged at all, but the metal gate to the garage stopped opening. So I called building security and a pretty nice old security guard came out and took my information. Today the property management called me and said that they have repair people out there and if the damages are not extensive I don’t have to file a claim. They were actually quite nice about it and thanked me for informing security quickly and giving my information. They also said they will keep me updated on the repair costs and possible claim.
In case you work in the former Siebel buildings in San Mateo and you were inconvenienced by the south garage gate closing today, I’m really sorry! I felt pretty dumb after the incident so I went home and Googled garage arm gate accidents, and what do you know, other people have the short arm problem too.
After watching these videos I actually felt a bit better. Then I started sorting a bag of mail I got from my parents’ house this weekend, and I found a check for $200.13 from a class action settlement. Apparently a law student named in the 2002-2003 school year and after five years of legal battles the students won and the Regents paid out a $33.8 million settlement. It is kind of sad because I completely understand why the Universities of California had to raise fees at that time. The economy was in the ruts, and the fees were really quite cheap. I entered Berkeley in 2001 and I think I paid less than $2000 for tuition for each semester, and then the next year they increased the fees dramatically for international students, but the resident tuition did not change all that much. Here are the webpages from and . The real fee hikes actually started from the 2003 to 2004 school year where the fees went from $2100 to $2900. Now it costs over $4400 for resident tuition. I actually feel bad for receiving this money because I don’t feel cheated by my Berkeley education. I’ve already earned my all four years of my tuition money back in less than a year after college. I also found out that the University of California barely raised its fees from the late 80′s until 2002 after I met an alumni that graduated in 1988. He told me that he paid around $1500 a semester in 1988. Basically, it is a public school system that tried to keep its fees down for many years but just couldn’t do it any longer and it is understandable. I am just going to donate this $200 back to UC Berkeley’s engineering program and I encourage other UC grads who are comfortably employed to do the same because our alma maters probably need the money more than we do now. I really want the UC system to remain the best public universities in the world for generations to come.
So that’s the entire story of my stupid accident, and the $200 of found money. Hopefully my car insurance will not be adjusted and the owners of the building will fix the gate. In the future, I will always park my car in front of those keycard swipers first so there is no chance of sliding down into a gate.
January 3rd, 2009 — , , , , ,
Happy new year everyone! I have been away from my blogs for a while since I spent the last couple weeks in our new home down in Southern California. My inlaws are moving to the Philippines in about 10 days and this may be the last Christmas we will spend with them in California. This year we do plan to go to the Philippines to visit them for Christmas. The last two weeks was filled with a flurry activity. We saw my sister in law get married in Temecula to her Navy seaman and then my parents made a drive down for a couple days. We took them to the San Diego Zoo and also Hollywood Blvd. My husband also had the chance to see quite a few friends and have dinner with them.
Christmas was lean last year because everyone is trying to save money. The only shopping trip we went on was after Christmas at the local mall. I lounged a bit in the Bath & Body Works since they were having a sale, but ultimately did not buy anything. In the end, we went to TJ Maxx with my parents since my mom is a big fan of that store, but I have never been in one. TJ Maxx is kind of like Ross where brand name goods are heavily discounted for consumers. I was surprised that they had a huge selection of beauty products including AHAVA brand moisturizers that my hubby got me from Israel one year. My mother often buys the cosmetics there as gifts for friends in China because they are really into brands in China. Anyway, this was the place I did the bulk of Christmas shopping. I bought two large bottles of shampoo, a camera case for my dad, a shirt for my mom, and a pair of PJs for myself. Everything came under $45 since the store is so discounted. You do have to dig a bit through the many multicolored shelves, but there are plenty of heavily discounted goods to be found.
For my inlaws we waived their rent payment on the house for these last few days and didn’t really buy anything new for them because they are trying to get rid of everything in the house right now. They actually gave us one of the presents we got them last year for Christmas because they can’t bring it to the Philippines. Every single day we were doing some packing and sorting because a lot of things had to go.
On New Year’s day we drove a caravan back up here to Northern California with quite a bit of furniture and kitchen goods. My inlaws also sold one of their cars to an aunt so they’re going home with less stuff. It took us another half day to sort everything into our closets and storage spaces. So basically we have been quite busy.
We also found a family that agreed to be caretakers for our house after my inlaws leave. We reserved the right to use the downstairs guest room at anytime and they will be taking care of the gardening, pool, and utilities. It is really an awesome deal for them, but we’re hoping it will not be long term. The hubby is really contemplating moving down south, but we would need to secure employment there and that seems to be a lot tougher than getting jobs in the Silicon Valley. Also, the hubby is waiting for his company’s games to be published this year so that he could say on his resume that he has shipped a couple games. So basically we won’t be moving for at least one year. Honestly speaking, if we both had jobs with comparable pay the quality of life is a lot higher there because the cost of living is quite a bit lower. We could actually just live on one income if we moved into our house because it’s cheaper than renting a two bedroom apartment here. The public elementary and middle schools there also have pretty high ratings so my hubby says that it’s more likely we’d move after we have kids. As my friend Michael jokingly (or maybe seriously) said once, “the Bay Area is where you work really hard for a crappier life”.
Even though this year has just begun, I already have a list of things I’m planning to do. First, I am seriously looking into a refinance even though we just bought the home a few months ago. The reason is that interest rates have come down significantly in the last month because of the Fed’s plan to buy mortgage backed securities. If you have significant equity in your home, good credit, and good income then it may be a good time to refinance, also. I’m specifically looking into a no-cost refinance and right now I’m watching the rates at IndyMac and Technology Credit Union. IndyMac quoted me a no-cost refinance rate of 4.75% a couple weeks ago but it was impossible for me to get all the paperwork through and their phonelines are always busy. They’ve also been sold to a bunch of private investors so I’m not sure the rates will ever get that low again. is a local Silicon Valley credit union and they have a pretty straightforward online application so I’m watching the rates there. They also answered phone calls pretty quickly when I called so I may do the no-cost refinance with them when the rate drops a little lower. Their rate is currently at 5.25% for the no cost and lower than 5% with costs. This credit union is for people who work or live in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Alameda, so pretty much most Bay Area folks can qualify for membership.
The next beast on my list is taxes for the year of 2008. I may hire a professional this year to do it because I exercised some stock options last year and bought the house with the hubby. Seriously, I really hate taxes.
I think the rest of 2009 should be quite interesting since Barack Obama will be the new president. Will the United States be revitalized or go down the tubes? No one knows yet, but we will be okay as long as we trust God and be responsible with our own actions. This is a year that will be filled with challenges for everyone around the world, and hopefully these events make us stronger and more prudent in the years to come.
October 6th, 2008 — , , ,
Today police in Southern California in a upscale gated community. Apparently the father of the household lost his job a few months ago and decided to kill his three children, wife, and mother in law. He wrote a suicide note detailing his recent financial difficulties and also killed himself. This tragic story isn’t the first in the current financial climate. Last year a North Berkeley family also died in a similar manner when and shot his wife, two children, and himself in Tilden Park. I would really hate to see this happen again so I want to reiterate that life is so much more important than money.
Now, people who are on the edge of suicide or murder probably need more than a blog article to persuade them from carrying through with their plans. However, family members of those recently unemployed should take care to notice depression and homicidal tendencies. In both of these cases it is a head of the household that felt like they had to kill their families due to failing household finances. They probably felt that their families were just as powerless and miserable as them, and they extended their own suicides. So I think those in families that are in financial trouble now due to a sudden change in employment status should pay attention to the mental health of their family members. Someone has to have a clear head and say that money is not the most important thing in the world, and that it is possible to get through these trying times. I think the most tragic thing about these cases is that the children are also murdered because they have their whole lives ahead of them. So perhaps it is safer to send the kids away for a while if things feel desperate.
If you have a family member who is in financial trouble, it is important to offer words of encouragement now. Ask them how they are doing, and don’t take “good” for an answer. Dig down a bit deeper and see how they are really doing, and perhaps more tragedies can be prevented if people just realize that losing money is not a death sentence.
October 4th, 2008 — , , ,
Lately I haven’t been blogging very much due to a variety of factors, and one big thing that is happening right now is that we are buying a house. Yes, I know this sounds crazy considering that I have written extensively about why buying a house is more expensive than renting, but there is a good reason why we’re buying this particular house.
To make a long story short, we are in the midst of purchasing my husband’s parents’ home at a significant discount. They are leaving the country to do long term missionary work in the Philippines in January 2009 and their income will no longer support the mortgage they have on the home. So they were planning to put the house on the open market and sell it, but as you know, the current real estate market is pretty much in the pits and they are not guaranteed to sell the house by the time they leave. So we decided that it is probably best to keep the house in the family somehow. My husband really loves the house because he grew up in it and his parents has lovingly put in many improvements over the years. His parents expressed that they wanted us to live in the house when they leave, but the one problem is that the house is in Southern California and our jobs are here in Northern California.
At first, we were just worried that we couldn’t afford the home, but since his parents agreed to give us a large gift of equity the mortgage will turn out to be about 15% of our gross income and that is pretty affordable. The price we are getting is basically 30% off market value so it is a fairly good deal. We also found that California has a law called Proposition 58 which allows the present tax value to pass from parent to child so the property taxes will not be reassessed to the current value. So after crunching the numbers several times, we found that by renting the home out for the current market value for similar homes we are able to pretty much break even. We plan to keep the house long term as a hedge against inflation, and if his parents decide to return to the United States they could move back to the house they are familiar with and rent it from us. The house is located in a very good upper middle class neighborhood with median household income of $103,000 per year and elementary school API scores of above 900 so we are pretty confident that we can get some willing renters.
We just entered escrow right now and plan to close by the end of October. It is sort of sad that we can’t live in the house because we both like it very much, and it is really weird to be a landlord and renter at the same time, but it will definitely be interesting. For now we are going to rent the home to my husband’s parents, but at the same time we will need to find a renter for the future. I am learning quite a bit through this experience, and I will certainly write about it later.