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Archive for March, 2012

The fence guys are here

March 31st, 2012 at 08:22 am

I guess the title says it all.

He ended up renting the auger. Just as well, because he's running into tree roots. The posts should be set today, let the concrete set for a couple of days, and erect the panels on Monday.

Pretty good for just deciding on the project a week ago.

Somitimes things have a way of working out

March 30th, 2012 at 05:28 am

I stopped by mom and dad's house last night. They live less than a mile away. They gave me a $550 check. It was a payment for labor at the maple woods. That was on top of a $2,100 check they gave me last summer. They said that the two checks added together was 1/2 of profit from 2011 syrup sales. They really didn't have to do that. When I protested, mom said that was how Grandpa and Grandma used to do it.

So, that $550 is very extremely close to the cost of materials for the fence that will be going up this weekend. Wow.

Quote of the Day

March 29th, 2012 at 05:41 am

I'm guessing most of you have heard about the Mega Millions jack pot - $500 million. I don't play the lottery, so I'm not familiar with Mega Millions. I have no idea how many numbers you play out of how many numbers total, but I'm guessing there are a lot of numbers to choose from.

So this "historic" jack pot has been on the news a lot over the past couple of days. It was being discussed on the morning show I listen to on the way into work. I was listening to the segment where the financial guy comes on and updates world wide market activities. His quote on the Mega Millions jackpot - (okay so maybe I'm not quoting him verbatim, this is from memory, but it's close: "The lottery is the world's most punitive tax. Fortunately, it's only levied on those who aren't very good at math."

Sums up my opinion pretty well.

Fence Continued

March 28th, 2012 at 08:32 am

So the fence we picked out was a special order. We would receive it three weeks after order. We initially went with it, but changed our minds to one that is in stock. It's a good fence too, but maybe not quite as attractive. Our contractor will pick it up today, and start on it either Thursday, or early next week. He has another job lined up that he may or may not start this week, depending on his client's needs.

The fence that we went with is cedar. We'll need to get on a schedule to stain it. I would guess every two or three years. We might not need it beyond three years, or we might need it for the next eight. We'll see.

The fence is $760. The contractor is charging $500 to construct. So that's on the outer limits of our budget. Too bad. But, as I've already discussed, it is a need. So far we've met my goals - attractive as is possible, and it doesn't appear that it will break the bank. Only time will tell if it's sturdy enough to withstand the strength and persistence of our boys.

Fence Progress

March 27th, 2012 at 05:43 am

The fence guy stopped by yesterday. He's actually the same guy who put in our basement windows. We picked out the style of fence we wanted. We'll order from Menard's. It's nearly impossible to discern the cost of the fence, because they publish the cost of the sections, but you need to figure in posts, hardware, gates, etc. And the cost for those items are not as easy to find. We're figuring it will be $1,200 for an 18X24 fence (those dimensions will be expanded a bit by the posts). Our front porch will act as one of the fence "sides".

I'll probably dig the holes for the posts myself. We'll rent a gas powered auger. Hope to have it completed in a couple of weeks. We have real March weather again, so a couple of weeks is OK.

A need to spend some money

March 24th, 2012 at 04:30 am

I've blogged about a couple major themes: debt reduction and the need to build cash reserves. One of my minor themes is that of a foster/adoptive parent. Both of our adoptive sons have special needs. You can read that as "they are difficult to parent."

Spring has sprung in Michigan. We like to go outside and job around, and do yard work, and generally enjoy ourselves. That is difficult with two boys with special needs when your yard has no fence. they tend to run away, In fact, I felt like a prisoner in my own home last summer because we couldn't take them out.

So, DW and I have decided that we will need to purchase and erect a fence for a play yard this spring. Of course, that will necessitate a side track from other goals. But, we need this fence for our own mental health. And, of course, we receive payments for care, and I think this fits nicely.

So, we begin researching fencing options. Something sturdy, and as attractive as is reasonable, and something that will not break the bank.

As always, I will keep you all posted on our progress.

I'm a Green. What color are you?

March 22nd, 2012 at 07:05 am

Have any of you done the True Colors/Real Colors personality sorter? It's a new twist one the Keirsey-Bates temperment sorter.

I'm a Green - the analytical type. We analyze things to death, and usually need a yellow (my DW, for instance) to take action, and actually get things finished.

My pesonality shows through on this blog, how I am always posting different personal financial calculations. Well, to ring true with my Green personality, I compared my current daily interest cost with my daily interest cost last April.

Current daily interest cost - $19.95
Daily interest cost last April - $24.46

Or, each day I'm paying 82% of the interest that I was last April. I'm such a Green.

March Daily Interest Expense

March 20th, 2012 at 09:21 am

This month, I will spend each day:

$1.55 in interest on credit card debt.

$2.21 in interest on credit card debt plus auto loan debt.

$19.95 in interest on credit card debt plus auto loan debt plus mortgage debt.

That total is now less than $20 per day! Of course $19.95 is still a wretched abomination. But, as I always say, I'm moving in the right direction.

More on maple syrup

March 19th, 2012 at 01:21 pm

A couple people asked me to expand a bit on my maple syrup entry – so here we go.

My great-great-great grandparents settled what the family farm in 1882. The original farm was 80 acres, including 8 ˝ acres of sugar maple. GGG Grandpa George produced syrup from about 30 trees – enough for family use, and a bit for trading for household goods. George’s three sons expanded the operation to include all 8 ˝ acres. My grandfather farmed from the mid 40’s to the 80’s, expanded the farm to 200 acres, and continued maple production. My dad continued the maple operation, but all of the farm land is now rented out.

The current operation consists of about 350 trees, and 700 “taps”. A tap is the individual hole drilled into the tree. Some of the bigger trees are tapped three times, and the smaller trees are tapped once. The average tree is tapped twice. Each tree needs to be tapped new each season. The hole in the tree heals over, and cannot be used again. We start the season at the beginning of March. We’ve tapped as early as about Feb. 26, and as late as about Mar. 5. We have a gas powered drill, with a 7/16 bit. It takes 7-8 hours, with two people working to tap our woods.

Until 8 years ago, each of the taps had an individual bucket that needed to be collected by hand every day that the sap would run. Then we took a great step forward, and put in a plastic tubing system. Now, all but about 15 trees are on the tubing system. This saves a tremendous amount of labor. It has also increased yield by about 15-20%. Very little sap is now lost to spillage, or rain contamination.

The sap comes out of the tree at a sugar concentration of about 2-2.5%. The sap needs to be boiled down to a 67% sugar content. We have a specially manufactured maple evaporator that is fueled by wood. Others use fuel oil or propane. On average, it takes 40 gallons of raw sap to make 1 gallon of finished syrup. This amount varies throughout the season. At the beginning of the season, it takes about 35 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, and at the end of the season to ratio is closer to 50:1. A way to visualize that is that a 5 gallon bucket of sap will boil down to a pint of syrup.

Last season, we took another technological step forward, and purchased a reverse osmosis (RO) system. The RO removes about 40% of the water from the raw sap, before we begin the boiling process. The RO concentrate boils down much more quickly, and saves a lot of fuel.

A season may last anywhere from two to seven weeks. The end of the season is driven by weather. When the trees start to bud new leaves, the season is over.

This season was a short one, because of the unseasonably warm temperatures. An average year will yield 160-175 gallons of finished syrup. In 2011 we produced 230 gallons, and this year 120 gallons.
We sell some of the syrup to friends and neighbors who have purchased nearly every year. I mentioned in my previous blog about opening the woods to the community. DW has begun marketing on the internet. Mom and dad still travel to flea markets and community festivals. It’s our hope that by time DW and I take over completely that we will not need to sell at festivals and flea markets.

We gross anywhere between $7K and $10K, and expenses run at about $6K. So, not a lot of money. Plus, once you figure in our time, we work for peanuts. It’s a labor of love, really. A hobby that doesn’t cause us to go broke. We sold $2,500 of product this past weekend at the home school tour and community open house.

If I can figure out how to upload some pictures, I will.

Home School Tour at the Sugar Bush Today

March 16th, 2012 at 04:08 am

My family produces maple syrup. I don't think I've ever blogged about that before, probably because we don't make very much money at it.

DW also home schools the kids. I don't think I've blogged about that either.

For the past four years, on the third Friday in March we open up our woods to local home school kids and offer an educational tour. I use the term local loosely because we usually have families from up to 80-100 miles away participating.

So, today is the day. We run two sessions, the AM session from 10 to noon, and the PM session from 2 to 4. We have 175 parents and kids scheduled for the morning and 45 scheduled for the afternoon. We'll have 5 stations this year, hosted by me, DW, my mom, my dad, and 9 yo DD1 will give it a shot by hosting her own station for the first time today. We've got about 107 gallons canned, and ready to be sold, and these home school families sure do buy the syrup.

Tomorrow we open up the woods to the community. Four years ago when we tried the open house for the first time, we had 700 people trudge through the woods. Each year since that number has dwindled, but we have a lot of fun with it. We'll see how successful we can be on St. Patty's day. We always serve pancakes with fresh maple syrup during the open house. My aunt makes Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids. Tomorrow, she'll make 4 leaf clovers.

The open house usually leads to good sales too. Last year, the trees didn't run well until the second half of March, and we sold out of our entire inventory by time the weekend was over.

DW had the ideas for the home school tour and open house. Prior to that, my parents (and grand parents before) sold the syrup chiefly at local festivals and flea markets. We've found it to be much more efficient and effective to bring people to the woods and sell directly to them.

This is the 130th year that my family has produced syrup from the woods. I represent the 5th generation. We tap about 350 trees in 8 1/2 acres. Small potatoes compared to larger operations that tap thousands of trees, but it's a great family tradition.

New Tires

March 15th, 2012 at 05:30 am

I don't know how much snow you got this winter, but we got barely any, until the last couple of weeks of February. And, when the snow finally came, we learned quickly that we needed new tires on the van.

DW bought them yesterday. They were $85 each.

I sure am glad that we ended up getting our rent check this month, because we seem to be going through cash like water.

My 100th Blog Post!

March 14th, 2012 at 07:25 am

I started blogging here about 11 months ago, and it's taken this long to hit 100 posts.

For my 100th blog post, I'd first like to thank everyone who has offered advice and words of encouragement to me over the past 11 months. I've come a long way since I began posting here. With that, I'd like to offer what I've found to be the benefits of posting in the SA blogs.

1 - Accountability. I've never met any of you personally, and I wouldn't recognize a single one of you if I met you on the street. But I feel accountable to you. Of course, I'm first accountable to my family, and second to my debt holders, but each month when I post my debt progress, I'm looking to hold up my end of the "bargain" that I've made with you as a group to make good progress in paying down my debts.

2 - Advice. You are full of good advice. I've found 97.5% of it to be very good advice. The SA forums are very good for advice as well, but it seems to be offered at a more personal level here in the blogs.

3 - Organization of thought. Just typing things out helps me organize my thoughts, and set my priorities.

4 - Perspective of others. Following other blogs helps me set goals, and also shows that others are struggling, or have struggled in the past with debt similar to mine.

That's it for now. Thanks for following as many of my other 99 posts as you have. Hoping to report more progress over the next 100 posts.

New "Minimum Payment Due"

March 13th, 2012 at 10:04 am

I've been targeting CC1 - my biggest CC balance and also greatest interest rate card.

A year ago, when we owed a bunch of money, the minimum payment due was always about $100 plus interest charged for that month. As I've been making progress on it, that formula seemed to change, the minumum amount due was something less than $100 plus interest charged. In February it was just about $90 plus interest charged.

In February, through a combination of a balance transfer and a hefty payment, the balance decreasd from mid $7,000s to mis $3,000s. Now the minimum due is about $42 plus interest due.

I'll keep throwing as much money as I can toward this card. It's funny the mental games CC companies play depending on if you're paying the account slowly or quickly.

Update on Tax Refund Situation

March 12th, 2012 at 07:34 am

I know some of you have been following my tax refund situation. In January we adopted a special needs child, whom we had been caring for since last April. Someone else illegally claimed him as a dependent.

You also may remember that we filed our 1040 without claiming him as a dependent, and once we received our partial refund, we filed an amended 1040 claiming both him as an dependent, and also caliming our adoption tax credit.

Well, we received the remainder of our State of Michigan refund last week. That's god news. We're still waiting for our federal refund (plus adoption credit). But we've heard that we could wait until Jume or July for that.

Now I'm working on an assumption here. Please correct me if I am not thinking correctly. But, I would guess that the state would not send their refund until after they got some sort of green light from the Feds. That is, is our state refund good evidence that the feds have found us worthy of claiming our son as a dependent? And now it's just a waiting game for the balance of our fed refund and adotption credit?

I know this is waaay off topic...

March 11th, 2012 at 08:57 pm

...but I just need to mention ... about the NCAA tournament bracket... GO MICHIGAN STATE! I'm grad, and no fair weather fan. We're a #1 seed!

And the Big 10 as a whole has a really nice presence in the tournament.

I'll make this financial by mentioning that I don't plan to bet on any of the games. OK that works.

GO GREEN!

Final "Basement Windows" Entry

March 10th, 2012 at 10:47 am

OK, remember how we had $1,200 set aside for replacing basement windows? And the contractor bid $800. And I was happy that it came $400 under bid?

Well... the new windows necessitated that we re-route our sump pump line. We hired a plumber to do that job, and a couple other odd jobs around the house that we had been putting off. The plumber bill came to $467. So, we actually ended up being $67 over budget. Not too bad, and the re-route of the sump pump line is a great improvement.

Our rent check showed up.

March 9th, 2012 at 01:55 pm

I don't think I've ever posted twice in one day, but this just couldn't wait.

Our rent check showed up in the mail today.

Actually, renter called at around noon to explain her situation. She said the check was returned due to insufficient postage. Whatever. DW called at around 2:00 to say that it was in the mailbox.

It still has to clear, but we are much more optimistic than 24 hours ago.

Really shows the need for an EF.

We probably would have begun the eviction process Monday.

My vehicle situation will change

March 9th, 2012 at 05:36 am

I drive a 1994 Chevy Lumina. It has 143,000 miles. Nearly all the miles I put on the car are back and forth to work - about 30 miles per day. The car has always been fairly reliable. But its days are certainly numbered.

I got a call out of the blue from my aunt yesterday. It seems that the Mazda that their son drives had a transmission blow out. This is the car that my aunt and uncle drove about 10-15 years ago. Their son has been driving it for about 5 years or so. Anyway, my aunt made the following proposal to me: They would put anew transmission in it, and simply give it to me. WOW! She also suggested that I take the Lumina off insurance and park it, as she cannot guarantee the reliability of the Mazda.

My uncle is meticulous about car care, and I know that this car has been well cared for. I don't feel as if I need the charity, but the deal is too good to turn down.

A change in outlook

March 8th, 2012 at 04:30 am

I called our renter yesterday. She (of course) didn't pick up. We want to give them all the chances in the worl to make payment, or at least contact us about a plan before beginning the eviction process. But I did stop by the courthouse yesterday to pick up the needed paper to begin the eviction process.

It's amazing how quickly my outlook has changed. For those of you who have been following my blog lately, you have probably noticed how much more upbeat I have been about my financial outlook. That has quickly changed. Now I'm wondering how we're going to keep up on bills with the loss of rental income.

No Rent Yet

March 7th, 2012 at 04:46 am

We haven't received our rent check yet. It's due on the first of the month.

I've been out of town for a couple of days. When I left, I told myself that if the check wasn't here by time I got back, I would have to do something.

I guess I'll start with a phone call.

I hope this doesn't get nasty.

Our previous renters were chronically late with rent, but they always ended up paying. These renters have been so good.

Until now.

Ugh, I really hope this doesn't end up going bad.

It probably won't.

But it might.

March Debt Update

March 1st, 2012 at 08:44 am

Mort 1 $103,373
Mort 2 $69,580
CC1 $3,317
CC2 $2,190
CC3 $1,340
CC4 $2,606
Van Loan $5,794

Difference as compared to last month: $3,739

BAM!

I transferred a big chunk of money ($1,290) from CC 1 to the now interest free CC4. The rest of the reduction is due to our tax refund.