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An Opportunity

July 21st, 2015 at 10:56 am

Most of you know that we adopted two boys, both of whom fall into the autism spectrum. They've been getting ABA treatment most of the time for the past 1.5 years. ABA is "Applied Behavioral Analysis", which is the gold standard in autism treatment. We started out with our local community mental health, which is 25 miles away. About 10 months ago, a local ABA treatment facility (6 miles away) opened up. We were able to get DS1 started in January, and DS2 about a month ago.

The CMH option was free - both boys are Medicaid eligible since they were adopted from foster care. The "costs" were the time and expense of driving them 25 miles, and the quality of treatment was inferior to the local clinic. Plus, DS1 aged out of Medicaid ABA when he turned 6 last year. Although the policy has changed since then, and he would be covered through age 18 now.

The local clinic is covered by my insurance. But, there is a $20 co-pay - each visit. We did not do our due diligence, and we were not aware of the $20 co-pay until recently. We did get a bill about a month ago. We called the billing service, and asked that they submit the bill to DS1's Medicaid coverage. We've not heard back about that, but we have since found out that on our own that Medicaid will not cover the co-pay. So, now with both boys enrolled, we owe the local clinic about $3,000.

Last week DW and I had a meeting with the tow directors of the ABA center. They asked us if we would consider pulling DS2 out of his special ed. preschool program, and start him 35 hours a week at with the ABA program. He's 5, so not yet at mandatory school age. During the conversation, DW and I brought up the possibility of doing the same thing with DS1 - pull him out of his special ed. program, declare that he would be home schooled, and enroll him 35 hours a week in ABA treatment.

The benefits of ABA are clear, and undeniable. The benefits of the special ed. program, not so much. ABA offers one-on-one interaction with a specialist trained in working with autistic kids. The special ed. program might include kids with Downs Syndrome, and other conditions. DS1 is (usually) quiet, and will melt into the back ground. DW and I have both observed the special ed. class room, and we both noticed the teacher and her assistants would sort of let DS1 alone, and attend to the other children. The squeaky wheel gets the grease! The ABA techs force interaction from the child. ABA is clearly doing more good for both boys, and the local clinic is clearly superior to the community mental health option.

And, I suppose it follows that it would be the more expensive option.

We verified that it is our responsibility to pay the $20 co-pay (whether they are getting 20 hours of service over 5 days or 35 hours of service over 5 days, $20 per boy per visit) while we were researching the reality of pulling them out of school.

So, we owe $3,000 for prior treatment, and we will owe for any future treatment.

It comes out to about $12,000 per year.

The boys need this treatment. It improves their lives. It improves our lives. It improves our daughters lives.

But, it's going to be expensive.

There is a possibility. There is another supplemental medical coverage that both received when they were adopted. We've not had to use it yet, because all of their medical expenses have been covered through my private insurance or Medicaid or a combination of both. This supplemental coverage covers anything that is not covered by insurance or Medicaid, as long as the condition was present prior to adoption. Their autism was present prior to the adoptions.

DS2 is probably all set. DS1 is not. We dropped that supplemental coverage for him a couple months ago.

Why would we do that???

The state of Michigan offers a monthly $220 autism supplement. He was not eligible for the autism supplement if he was enrolled in the other supplemental medical coverage. Our thinking was "We've had this supplemental coverage for three years. We've not used it once. Monthly payments of $220 will almost certainly come out ahead, right?"

I guess not.

DW is now figuring out how to get DS2's supplemental coverage to cover the $20 co-pay, and is figuring out how to stop the $220 monthly autism supplement, and how to get DS1 back on to the supplemental coverage.

I'm fairly confident that at some point in the not so distant future that both boys will be covered, and we won't have to pay the $12,000 per year.

I also know that we do owe the $3,000 for previous treatment. And, prior experience tells us it will be three, four, or five months before both boys are covered by the supplemental medical coverage. So, we'll owe for treatment for at least one boy during that time.

But, we are pulling them out of their special ed. programs, and starting 35 hours weekly of ABA for each boy. That was the best decision.

Meating the Need

July 10th, 2015 at 08:00 am

As many of you know, my oldest daughter is in FFA. She and her friends (and parents) met with their chapter advisor last fall, and filled out an FFA "Food for All" grant application. The grant was funded for $2,500.

The idea behind the grant is that FFA kids use the money to buy inputs to raise food - either vegetable or meat. Our local chapter used the funds to produce meat, and named the project "Meating the Need".

DD1 and one of her friends just finished raising 80 broiler chickens. They were processed yesterday, and delivered to our local food pantry. That's about 400 pounds of meat.

The community is getting involved as well. A local feed mill supplied about 75% of the feed for the chickens. The local Rotary and Gavel clubs have donated some money, one of the Gavel club members donated two of his own hogs for the project.

My brother-in-law donated a cow. That meat was all ground into hamburger, and donated to the food bank.

When we bought fair pigs in April, we bought one extra pig that will be processed with the other two donated pigs.

Our state Pork Producers association donated 100 meat thermometers that will be handed out during food distribution. The grant and donations will pay for aluminum roasting pans that will be distributed at the food pantry.

The kids are also producing a video that will be shown during distribution that will help the clients better understand safe food storage and preparation techniques, and the kids will all be there during distribution.

This project is particularly timely, as our local grocery store closed last September. Indeed, our community meets the definition of a Food Desert. The clients that use the food pantry can least afford to travel to the closest grocery stores.

Independence Day Ramblings

July 6th, 2015 at 11:52 am

This may read like I'm complaining, or pointing fingers. I'm not really trying to do either of those. It's more like curiosity about life choices...

To start things off on completely positive note, we had a great holiday. One of DW's friends has a nearby beach house, and we spent a lot of Friday there. My small town has its annual village festival over the Fourth. Our girls were in the parade representing the Historical Society. And, we spent a lot of the rest of the weekend at DW's parent's place. So it was a fairly low-spend holiday weekend, in addition to being fun!

It's our time at my in-law's that brings me back to the beginning of my post.

My in-laws own a 160 cow dairy. Many, many years ago they bought a neighboring farm, and kept the small house as a rental. The current tenant began living there either shortly before or shortly after we got married, so about 20 years. I don't think he's paid rent in 15 years. He's a mason. He lays concrete when he's working. Sometime about 15 years ago, he was laid off for most of a summer. That's around the same time my father-in-law was starting to slow down physically. My father-in-law turns 84 this week. So the tenant started mowing the lawn, and doing other yard work. He does a very good job. No one ever has to ask him to do a thing. He starts mowing in April, and through October, not a blade of grass is out of place.

And, we're not just talking about a postage stamp yard. The mowed area includes all the lawn around the house, plus the barn yard, plus my brother-in-law's yard across the road, plus his own rental house, plus a camp next door to the farm that my other brother-in-law bought several years ago plus the tenant's rental. The tenant mows probably 30 acres of lawn, in exchange for rent.

The tenant has had a Fourth of July party at his house each year for a few years now. About four years ago, Michigan lifted the ban on citizens buying large-scale fire works. The tenant has gotten into the habit of putting on a fire works display that would rival many of the near by small-village shows.

My in-laws have, again, been vey happy with how he has maintained the grass. As far as that goes, he has, other than not paying rent, been a model tenant. He does all his own repairs, and has asked for nothing from them as far as improvements, etc.

But, it just boggles my mind how he can spend heaven only knows how much money each July on these fire works.

In the end, I think everyone is happy, although my mother-in-law does shake her head a little and mutter under her breath about the fire works. The rental house sits right next to the milking cow barn, and the fire works can startle the cows.

They could be collecting somewhere around $10,000 in rent each year. And nobody really asked him to mow all the lawns quite as frequently as he does. So, I think he comes out ahead with the mowing.

But, everyone seems to be happy. Except for a couple days in July.

Net Worth Update, and Cleaning Person

July 2nd, 2015 at 11:11 am

My net worth took a small hit this month. I'm guessing that's the same for most people who track it on a monthly basis? I haven't been paying attention to the DJIA, or markets in general.

We have a cleaning person come to our house every other Monday. It's been two years, and we are on our second person. She started last July. Our first cleaning person moved away almost exactly one year after she started.

When our first person started, she charges us $15 per hour, and she provided the cleaning supplies. We had her clean for 3 hours each visit. On her one-year anniversary, we gave her a raise. That visit she left a note that she would be moving away. So, we found another person.

This new person grew up down the road from me. She graduated a year ahead of me. She quoted us $13 per hour, and we provide the cleaning supplies. It didn't take long for us to realize that it cost us much less to provide supplies than to pay $15 per hour.

Now that she's been with us a year, it's time to give her a raise. The cheapskate in me says that the raise should be $1 per hour, which is more than 7%, which is more than the raise (on a percentage basis) that I got this year.

The compassionate person in me says that after a year, she should be paid at least where we started our previous cleaning person out two years ago.

The newer person does a fine job cleaning. She's always been flexible if a Monday doesn't work for us. She'll find time to re-schedule us. She's lived in the area her whole life, and I know there's not a lot of extra cash in her household. A also assume that she'd be very happy with the $1 per hour raise, but even happier with a $2 per hour raise.

The previous person also did a fine job. She worked cleaning houses in a larger town, and she had a couple tricks to make the hose look a little "sparkly" when she was done. There was a scent that she sprayed before she left, that made you know as soon as you walked in the door that she had been there. She did things like shine up the dining room furniture. Those things were nice, but they didn't get the house cleaner. Our newer person does a good, basic deep clean.

So, what we could do is give the $1 per hour raise, and a nice Christmas gift. That's probably what we'll do.

Loose Ends

June 30th, 2015 at 09:01 am

First I'll respond to a couple comments from previous entries ...

When I mentioned I was growing a beard in my Cemetery Walk post, Secretary Saving wondered how long it would have took for the Duck Dynasty guys to grow their beards out. Well, I've been cutting my own hair for about the past four or five years. I've come to determine that the hair on my head grows at about 1/8 inch per week. I've also been trimming my beard for the past month. I'm not sure how fast it grows, but definitely slower than the hair on my head. But, not at half the rate of the hair on my head. So, maybe 0.10 inches per week? And, let's say that to have a "Duck Dynasty worthy beard" one would need 10 inches of beard? So, I'd estimate about two years to have a duck dynasty worthy beard. I thought you should know.

I appreciate yesterday's responses about my Barn post. We will definitely look in to selling lumber from the barn. My guess is that there will be a supply/demand problem. We have a huge supply of old barn lumber in my rural neck of the woods, and relatively little demand, because there are so few people in the area. But, we will look in to it.

As far as the girls kicking in some money. I think they would have about $3,000 saved between them. Clearly that get's us very close to where we need to be. The problem is that for both me and DW, we had an agreement with our parents: we would buy the animals, feed and water them, our parent would house them, we would sell them at the fair, and keep the difference in a bank account, saved for only one thing: college.

Maybe we could work out a deal where we share in the cost. Maybe even DW and I could take out a low interest "loan" from our daughters. But the biggest problem I have with draining most of their accounts to refurbish our barn is that in the end, the money for college will have to come from somewhere.

I have no illusions that funds from 4-H animal sales will ever pay for all of college. Nor do I have the illusion that we will have to cover 100% of their college costs. Part time work and/or loans will certainly be part of the package. But, I would like to see where a good chunk of the first year or two of college costs are covered by 4-H animal savings. That's the way it was for me. That's the way it was for DW.

Speaking of 4-H animals - we're about to run out of straw for the animals. I'm guessing that not all of you know what straw is. I know many non-farm types call the bales of yellow plant matter "hay". Hay is green, and is fed to animals. Straw is yellow, it's what's left over when a wheat or oat crop is harvested, and it's used to provide bedding for barnyard animals.

When we moved into our house six years ago, I saw that there was a lot of straw left upstairs in our barn. I found out that it was put there by our Amish neighbor, Ray. My grandpa had let him store some straw in the barn. So, I visited Ray, and asked him about the straw. Ray had apparently forgotten about it, and told me it was mine to keep. It was, for us, apparently a six year supply, and we are about to run out.

It normally wouldn't be a problem to go out and buy straw. There's usually an abundance of straw on the market around here about the second week of July, when wheat is harvested. The problem is, last fall was vey wet. Locally, winter wheat is planted in the fall, and harvested in July. But, because of all the rain in the fall, relatively little wheat was planted. Most all of the local straw is already spoken for by the nearby dairy farms. It seems that no matter what small timers like me might be willing to pay, there will be little straw available.

My neighbor across the road has some large round bales of straw left over from last year. I could get them from him, no problem. But, we are set up to use small square bales best. I'm thinking that we'll need to figure out pretty quickly how to fit big round bales into our system.

Boy, it seems like there was something else I wanted to include in this entry, but it's not coming to me. I'll have to remember it, and include it later.

The Barn

June 29th, 2015 at 06:53 am

I am at a loss as to what we should do.

As anyone who has followed my blog for any amount of time knows, raising animals to show at the local 4-H fair is a big part of my family's life. I raised and showed hogs and beef steers. DW raised and showed dairy heifers, sheep, and goats. Our kids raise and show dairy heifers, hogs, goats, and chickens.

Caring for and showing animals is a learning experience, the kids can make some money for college, and it keeps them busy. All good stuff.

Some of you may also remember that we raise these animals on my family's original farmstead that was settled in 1882. The animals are raised in a hog barn that was built in the 1950s. I'm not sure which year in the 1950s, but '52 or '54 seems right. Either way, it is an old building that has outlived its useful life by about 30 years, and it is falling apart.

If we want our kids to continue to raise and show animals, which we do, we need to do something with the building.

We could do anything from spending 80-100K to tear down, and completely rebuild a barn, to spending 40-50K for completely gutting, tearing down to the studs and rafters, and rebuilding, to spending 2.5-10K to put on a new roof, and gut the inside, and build new pens.

Clearly, we will choose something in the 2.5-10K range, but to do anything that will get us to where we need to be, we will probably need to be closer to the 10K end than the 2.5K end.

The pen doors are too narrow for the dairy animals. And even hogs are bigger than they used to be. A fair hog finishes out (is ready for slaughter) at 240-270 pounds now, and was more like 230-250 pounds when I showed in the 1980s.

The roof is original, with one layer of shingles. It must have been made with a quality shingle. It hasn't leaked yet, but it has outlived its useful life. To do anything to improve the guts of the building would be folly without putting on a new roof.

The pen walls and doors are falling apart. Fewer than half of the pens are useful at all. My dad and I have done some patchwork fixing along the way, but our patchwork is falling apart, because the wall and door foundations are not strong. We need to remove all of the old lumber that makes the pens and doors, and replace them with probably tube steel gates.

The original barn had a gutter system for manure removal. The gutter system has not worked for a very long time, and now only serves as a channel between the pens and central alley that is a danger for a broken leg on a $2,000 dairy heifer borrowed from my brother-in-law. The gutters should be filled in with concrete.

The hydrant has failed. Mid April through mid October, we hook up three hoses from the house to deliver water to the animals. The hoses are subject to leaking. In the winter time, we haul buckets from the house out to the barn. We need a frost-free hydrant in the barn.

The girls do have some money saved up from raising and selling animals in the past. It just seems wrong to say to them "Congratulations on all your hard work. Now buy yourself a new barn."

I've also thought that maybe we need to abandon this barn, and build something smaller from scratch in a different spot.

I'm not particularly handy with building things, and we have the boys with special needs that doesn't lend itself well to spending a lot of time outside near a construction zone.

So, there you go SA community. This is my conundrum. What say you?

The Cemetery Walk

June 8th, 2015 at 11:56 am

I'm struggling to figure out how to tie this in any way to personal finance. I'm not coming up with any thing. This is something interesting in my life, and I guess they don't all have to be financial...

For the past two years my local library has sponsored a cemetery walk. Local townspeople dress up like locally important/historic figures from my home town, and stand by their grave stone, and tell their story dressed as that person. For example, an MLB executive, and baseball hall of fame inductee was born, and is now buried in my home town. I didn't know that before two years ago. A retired astronaut is from my home town. I did know that. He's living, but his mother is buried in our cemetery, so her life story was told. Others include early physicians, the first news paper publisher, the founder of the bank, etc.

My wife and girls are pretty well known at the library. For the past two years, our girls were asked to dress in historic clothing, and collect tickets during the event. Both have been enjoyable autumn Sunday afternoons for our family.

This year, one of the local pioneering farmers will be featured on the walk. He is my g-g-g grandfather on my paternal grandmother's side. I've been asked to play him. I'm told that this will be the first time that a descendant has played a person featured in the walk.

I'm fairly familiar with the genealogy on my paternal grand father's side, but not as much on my grandmother's side. Maybe it's because we live on the farm settled by my g-g-g grandfather on my Grandpa's side, and I share his last name, or maybe it's genealogic sexism. But, I'm becoming much more familiar with my Grandma's side now.

This man (and his wife) emigrated to the US from Germany in 1851. They settled in Michigan in 1866, sixteen years before my grandfather's family did. He was a farmer and a cooper - a maker of barrels, kegs, butter churns, and buckets. The house that he and his wife built still stands prominently one mile north of town, and is owned and used as a summer home by one of his descendants.

This is the really cool part - My dad learned that the tools that he brought with him from Germany to make barrels are on display at the house. We have a maple sap bucket that he made on display at our maple woods. I'll use them as props during the cemetery walk.

I'm growing a beard for the first time in my life. I have a 1200 word script that I need to memorize. I've not yet figured out my wardrobe. And I need to figure out just how far I want to go with a faux German accent.

The event is the last Sunday in September, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Braces II

June 5th, 2015 at 09:59 am

I blogged a couple months ago - it might have even been February - about DD1 and braces.

I looked a little more closely at her teeth, and so did DW. We both agreed that braces would help.

I'm not sure what all I included in my previous post, so I'll start at the beginning.

We've known for a while that our younger daughter, DD2, would need braces. She has an overbite, and a gap between her upper front teeth. A couple years ago we scheduled an appointment with an orthodontist to get an early professional opinion. He agreed that she would need braces, he agreed that we should wait. He asked us to schedule another appointment in one year. While we were there, we figured we might as well have the ortho look at DD1 as well. His opinion at that time was that he could do some cosmetic work if we were concerned, but there was no pressing need for braces.

We never did schedule a one year follow up DD2 still has too many baby teeth. But, early this year DD1 saw our regular dentist. He recommended an ortho consult, and that get's us at least to my previous post.

So, DD1 got her braces on the last Friday in April. And, we have a $160 per month payment for 18 months.

We put $800 down, and my dental insurance covered a bit more than $700. I've spent down my current year Flexible Spending Account, so we're caught up on payments until October.

I'll max out my FSA election next year, so from a cash flow stand point this shouldn't hurt too much.

Hopefully we can stagger it so that DD2 doesn't start with her braces until DD1 is out of them!

Some random things

June 4th, 2015 at 01:09 pm

My busy spring season is over at work, so I can get back to my infrequent blog updates.

Our 19th wedding anniversary was Monday. I gave DW a flowering cherry tree for our yard. It's the same type of flowering cherry that so famously grows in Washington D.C. She gave me a Garmin Vivofit that counts my steps, and calories burned. I've set my daily goal at 10,000 steps, and have hit my goal each of the past two days. I'm 40% toward my goal today.

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I was listening to the radio while driving the other day. There was an ad for one of those Payday Loan/Quick Cash places. The ad highlighted a promo they are running that includes - A $200 LOAN THAT COSTS YOU NOTHING! THAT'S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! except the $0.45 processing fee that the state requires us to charge. The ad piqued my curiosity, so I ran a calculation. I figured that a $0.45 charge on a $200 loan was about equivalent to a 2.7% APR. That's not a bad interest rate. That's slightly less than what we're paying on our van loan. But, it seems a far cry from A LOAN THAT COSTS YOU ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

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I ran a calculation on our own vehicle loans. We have two loans spread across two vehicles, and the amount of the loans divided by the KBB values of the vehicles is 0.40, or we own 60% of our vehicles. Not bad, not great either. My truck will be fully paid off in December, then we'll start throwing some extra toward the Van.

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I applied for a job with the USDA Farm Service agency. I'm not particularly looking, but it seemed like an opportunity that I couldn't pass by. The Federal government works on a vastly different time scale than nearly any other entity I can think of. I first heard about the possibility of the job being posted in early February. It's hard to remember, but I think it was posted in early March, and applications were due around the third week of March. I applied, and waited. And waited. It seems like it was a full month later that I received word that my application earned me an interview. It had been so long since I had applied that when I received the email, I was sure that it was a "Thanks, but no thanks" message. As it turned out, applications are ranked into one of three categories, and my application was ranked in the highest category. About a week after I learned that I would get an interview, I received an email from the state office that my interview would be 11:00 AM Thursday, May 22. Another three or four week wait. But, that gave me some time to prep. I also got busy with work, so that took my mind off things for a while, too. Fortunately, The day before the interview was a rain day, so that gave me one day for some serious preparation. The interview was in East Lansing, which I've driven to many, many times, so I was really comfortable with how much time I would need. I printed out directions, and a Google Earth satellite view, because I wasn't very familiar with the part of town where the state office is. I'm glad I left myself 20 extra minutes, because I spent 10 of them looking for the office, even with the printed direction, and satellite view.

The interview went really well. I felt very good during and afterward. I was interviewed by four people - the state FSA director, the director of the program that I'd be working for, the local supervisor, and an HR person. I learned that I was one of five candidates. I asked how long I could expect to wait to learn if I was the successful candidate, and the state director told me 10 days. Today is day 14, or business day 9. If I don't hear anything tomorrow, I won't be concerned or disappointed. Yet. It is the Federal government, and they do work on a vastly different time scale than nearly any other entity I can think of.

The job posting did include a range in salary. The highest salary is about $3,000 per year more than I make right now. So, if I'm offered the job, and if I take the job, I wouldn't be taking it for a big pay bump. A federal job, if nothing else, is a secure job. But, it would be more about a change in scenery, and different challenge from where I am. I'd just really like to hear something soon.

I have an uncle who works for the FAA, and he wasn't the least bit surprised when I outlined the timeframe for him.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading.

4-H Camp

May 12th, 2015 at 12:50 pm

DD1 has attended our local three-day 4-H camp for the past four years. She's always enjoyed herself at camp, and the camp includes activities and learning opportunities. But, the camp doesn't really stretch or challenge the kids. It's more fun and games than learning.

She learned of an opportunity to attend a natural resources 4-H camp this summer. It appears as if the emphasis is much more on learning, with plenty of fun thrown in. She was excited about this opportunity, and we told her that she would have to decide which one of the two camps she would prefer to attend. She decided to attend the natural resources camp.

She was required to fill out an application for the nat. resources camp. I have no idea how competitive it might have been, but she was required to have had previous experience in natural resources, and she used her experience in maple syrup production.

She found out last week that she was accepted to attend the nat. resources camp. This camp is about twice as expensive as the local 4-H camp - $400 vs. (I think) $180 or so. DD1 applied for a couple scholarships to attend. The first scholarship was through the camp itself. She found out when she was accepted for the camp that she was also awarded the $50 scholarship. She also applied for a scholarship through our local 4-H council. We found out today that she was awarded a $150 scholarship from the council.

With the two scholarships, the cost to attend the natural resources camp is very similar to attending the local camp, with a much more enriching experience.

The natural resources camp is almost 200 miles away, as opposed to 30 miles for the local camp. But, we all think the experience is worth the extra time and expense. And, I believe there is a bus that she can ride with other camp attendees from the east side of the state, and we'll have to drive her about 45 miles to catch that.

Old Iron

April 27th, 2015 at 06:32 am

Much of my summer in 2008 was spent cleaning up the old farmstead where we now like. I've mentioned many times about just how much iron we've dug up, and sold at the local junk yard.

We were using my in-law's front-end loading tractor, and a borrowed flat bed wagon to load a lot of the stuff. I set the chains around an old plow that had been sitting in the barnyard, rusting and sinking into the ground for probably 35 years. I was about to set it onto the flat bed when my dad stopped me. He told me that the plow was still good, and shouldn't be scrapped. So, I set the plow down behind the barn, out of sight, so it could continue to rust, and sink into the ground in a different spot. I also set an old harrow, which is used to smooth the ground after it is plowed, and a snow plow blade behind the barn as well. That was 2008, and they are still sitting there.

About a week ago, I was talking with a friend of mine. He mentioned that he was going to an auction sale the next day. This particular auction sale is a fund raiser for one of the local township volunteer fire fighting crews. It's a huge annual event, where old farm machinery, and other assorted junk is donated and sold. He mentioned that he was looking for a two-bottom plow. I told him about the two-bottom plow behind our barn. He seemed interested, but I could tell that he also wanted to attend the auction, just to see it and take part in it. His wife, on the other hand was not at all excited about the idea of him buying our plow.

The next day I snapped a picture of the plow and sent it to my friend, and later he replied that he was interested, and asked about price.

I asked may dad about it, and he said that I could sell it for whatever I wanted to sell it for. I did a bit of research on the internet to get an idea of the plow's value. I'm probably under valuing it, but I decided $90 for the plow, and $60 for the harrow. If he's interested in the snow blade, I'll throw that in for $50, to make then entire transaction $200.

Of course, mom and dad will get all the money, I'll lose some junk for which I have no use, and my friend will pick up some equipment he wants (but his wife doesn't) for a low price.

I guess that makes that a win-win-win-(lose).

Finding a babysitter

April 16th, 2015 at 06:41 am

As most of you know, we have two special needs sons. They can be very difficult to care for.

Outside of family (my mom, dad and sister), we have three regular baby sitters.

Long story short, we need a baby sitter for tomorrow night. DD1 is in a play, performed with her home school group. Two of our regular sitters are busy, and the other is in the play.

I'd really like for my mom and dad to be able to watch the play. We've torn them away from enough of our girl's activities to watch our boys in the past. My sister has taken a job where she works in the evenings, and even if she wasn't working, I'd like for her to be able to choose to watch the play.

We pay our sitters $7 per hour. It's tough work.

The three teenage girls might be burnt out from watching them. I'm sure they have legitimate commitments for tomorrow night, but I get the sense from them that regardless of what we pay, they are getting burnt out.

There is another neighborhood girl that might work out. She's pretty heavily involved with high school sports, and is often not available. I didn't think about her until I started writing this post.

We'll probably find someone for tomorrow, but a lot of times we need to scramble until the last minute to find a sitter. Or, we get my parents to do it. Or DW or I stay home.

This is strange territory for us. We always brought our girls with us to things. When we didn't live in the area (close to family), there was a neighbor family with small children about the same age as our girls. When DW and I wanted to go out alone (which was rare), we left the girls with our neighbor family, and they would do the same. It was infrequent, and money never changed hands. We just took turns, and it seemed to work out.

DS1 is getting much more manageable in public. But, his younger brother is still very difficult to take out into public.

I would imagine that in the next year or two, he will mature out of his present behaviors. Until then we will scramble, and pay accordingly.


My Budget

April 9th, 2015 at 06:19 am

I went through our family budget, and assigned percentages to each expense item.

Some comments:

Gasoline is very high. A lot of that has to do with all the running around we do with our boys. I have made a category called "special needs", and that is all the other expenses related to caring for children with special needs. So, really some of that gasoline line item should go into the special needs line item.

Retirement Savings is too small. It was more than that a year ago, but I decreased savings a bit for cash flow reasons.

Housing and vehicle loans, added together, are probably smaller than most.

You'll notice that I have a line for Credit Card. And, yes we have put on more credit card debt. Current balance is about $550. I hope to have it all paid off by September, at that rate of payment.

The Eat Out line is way too high, but it is what it is. Again, some of that could be tucked into the Special Needs line.


The end of an era

April 7th, 2015 at 05:56 am

Those of you who are new to the blogs may not know that my wife and I adopted our two youngest sons from foster care. One of the benefits of foster adopting is that we've been participating in the WIC program, even though we don't meet the income requirements.

DS2 turned five last month, and he has aged out of WIC.

WIC is a very good program. Of course, for the first year, the benefit is exclusively baby formula. Since DW couldn't breastfeed DS2 like she did our girls, that was a tremendous benefit for us. DS1 was two years old before he came to our family, so we didn't use the formula benefit for him.

After they are a year, the benefit includes milk, whole wheat bread or tortillas, dry beans or peanut butter, cereal, fresh fruits or vegetables, and eggs.

We figured the monthly benefit at between $60 and $70 per month, for each child. DS1 aged out about a year and a half ago.

WIC is not simply a hand out. We were required to visit the WIC office each quarter. The child receiving the benefit was required to be there three times a year so the WIC nurse could weigh him, and record his height. We were required to review some nutritional information, and complete a quiz about the information each quarter as well.

In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that my office is located very near the county health department where WIC is housed, I'm not sure we would have kept up with it.

So, WIC has been a great help to us, but we're done with it now. And I know that when someone in line in front of me uses a government benefit card to buy some of their groceries, I don't judge quite like I used to.

Net Worth update, and other stuff

April 3rd, 2015 at 10:13 am

April net worth is $235,542.

The sickness that was working its way around my family finally hit me Wednesday PM. DS2 is the only one who has escaped. It didn't hit me as hard as it did the others, but I was pretty worn out yesterday. Feeling much better today, but not 100% yet.

I had planned on taking yesterday off anyway, because we had our maple syrup woods opened up to local homeschooling families, as we do each year. I wasn't very useful in helping to set up, but I did my part in talking to the morning session about sap collection. I went home to sleep during the afternoon session. Oddly enough, only one family attended to afternoon session, because heavy rain was in the forecast.

We're on pace for a record maple syrup year. In fact, I think we're a gallon or two over our record of 202 gallons right now, and the weather forecast shows another solid week of production. That should make our planned replacement of tubing that I blogged about last week more feasible.

DD1 and DD2 might buy their fair pigs tomorrow. We're going to check out a new hog farm tomorrow. He's a local guy, and his pigs are about $30 apiece cheaper than where we have been buying them, but we're not sure about quality.

Repurposed Chest Freezer

April 1st, 2015 at 09:07 am

I've blogged before about the junk yard that's about four miles from my house. Over the past six years, we've probably delivered nearly seven tons of scrap there.

Today it was my turn to buy some scrap from the junk yard. I bought a chest freezer for $20, and it will be repurposed for feed storage.

My dad picked up an abandoned chest freezer for feed storage for us a few years ago. It provides all the storage we need August - March. But, when we start getting 4-H fair animals this time of year, and especially late June through July when they get big and start eating a lot, we run out of storage.

We've been on the lookout for a chest freezer for most of the winter. DW found one on craigslist. But as anyone with any experience on craigslist knows, those transactions can be flaky, or downright dangerous. So, that never came through.

DW was driving past the junkyard earlier this week, and spotted it. They work great to store bags of feed, and keep them out of reach of raccoons and opossums. They are about the right height to stand a 50# bag of feed upright for easy scooping.

There were two freezers at the junk yard. The one I didn't get was bigger (longer), but it had a big dent in the side, and wouldn't seal shut, so I bought the smaller one. A buyer more savvy than I would probably have offered $15, but $20 sounded good to me, and we'll get more than that in use out of it.

Low Spend Weekend

March 30th, 2015 at 10:37 am

This was a low spend weekend for us. Mostly because almost everyone was sick at some point of it. Actually the way it went was DD2 was sick mid to late last week, DW, late Friday through about noon yesterday, DD1 late Saturday through this morning, and DS1 just this morning. So far I've escaped it, as has DS2.

Thankfully we didn't have much planned, and the weather was too cold for the sap in the maple trees to run.

DW did get paid for her freelance work. I still can't remember for sure how much the check is, but it's more than $6,000, and less than $7,000. We may have come up with a solid plan of how to best use it, but the sickness took precedence.

Something kind of funny happened Saturday. As I mentioned, thinks were shut down in the woods, because of the cold weather. But, a gentleman did stop by our house to buy a half gallon of syrup. In-season, out inventory is kept in the woods. So, I met him down there, and in the course of our transaction, I asked if he was from the area. He said no, I'm from "between to towns that are six, and fifteen miles from here, respectively".

It made me chuckle, because about eight years ago, before DW and I moved back here, we were at my Grandma's for a garage sale. DW asked one of the visitors if they were from around here, and DW got a very similar answer, "No I'm from a town about 20 miles away".

Any of you who have followed my blog for any period of time know that I'm from a rural area. And, I moved away to college in 1991, and moved back here in 2008. So, I removed myself from the local culture for a while. But, I don't know what it is about the area that makes people think that a town 20 miles away is "out of their area". Is that true for a lot of other parts of the country? Would I think the same thing if I had never moved away? It's just one of those things that makes me scratch my head.

"Business" Planning

March 23rd, 2015 at 08:00 am

I've mentioned several times during the past that my family operates a maple syrup "business". I use the quotes because it sometimes seems morel like a family hobby than a business. But, it is a business in every technical sense of the word. My mom and dad file schedule F farm income with their 1040. The business is registered as an LLC, and we purchase and sell goods in an attempt to make a profit.

Mind you, the most we've ever grossed is about $14,0000. And production is limited to about March 1 through April 10 or 11 usually at the latest. That's why it seems more like a hobby. Maple syrup production doesn't consume every waking moment of my life.

The business is profitable. I've not looked at a profit/loss statement in about five years, but my mom and dad have handed DW and me a check for anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 each year since we returned to the business eight years ago. That money doesn't come close to paying for the time we invest. it's well below minimum wage. But it always comes in handy from a personal finance stand point. I'll always look at our maple syrup pursuit as a business/hobby.

As a business, there's very little depreciation. The arch - the structure that holds the fire and the boiling pans, center of where the sap is boiled down to syrup, was installed 50 or 60 years ago. There are two pans that sit on top of the arch. One of them was replaced 5 or 6 years ago, and the other, the "back pan" is at least 25 years old.

We have five old stainless steel dairy bulk tanks that hold our sap prior to boiling. They are the size that would have been used on a commercial dairy farm in the '70s or '80s. The cooling units don't work anymore, but the physical structures are in fine shape, and they do a great job for us. My dad says he's never given more than a gallon of syrup ($52 current value) for any of the tanks.

There have been some major, and expensive upgrades made in the past 10 years. We've had tubing installed. What that means is that all of the trees are now connected by hollow plastic tubes that are connected to a vacuum pump. Now we don't have to drive a tractor all around the 9 acres of woods, and walk from tree to tree to collect the sap. We flip a switch, and the sap is collected for us. Of course the tubes and vacuum require their own maintenance.

We bought a filter press. The filter press does a great job of filtering and polishing the final product before it's canned. And the most recent addition is the reverse osmosis unit. The RO removes 40% of the water prior to boiling. The concentrated sap boils down much more quickly, and requires a lot less fire wood.

These three upgrades have allowed for labor efficiency. The current labor force is strictly family - my mom and dad, DW and me. And, increasingly my 12 year old is helping out.

This brings me to my point of my post. The tubing was installed 10 years ago. The expected life of tubing is 10-15 years. It's starting to need to be replaced.

There are four tubing mains, or branches in our woods. A main is its own stand-alone tubing unit. My question is, do we replace them all at the same time, or do we replace them one at a time over the course of four years? The mains aren't equally sized. One of them services more trees, or really more tap holes than the other three. One of them services relatively few tap holes, and two are somewhere in the middle.

My thought is that we replace the biggest main this year, and replace one each year largest to smallest. That seems to me the most efficient and effective way to allocate our sparse resources. There's also a lot of credence to getting the job done in one year, and being done with it.

Either way, I thing that this year it's time for DW and me to forego our $1,000 - $2,000 annual draw, and start putting some of our own skin in the game.

15%

March 18th, 2015 at 05:49 am

We filed our income tax return several weeks ago. In fact we've already received both our state and federal refunds.

But, I was looking through our Turbo Tax documents again yesterday and I noticed that this year we fell into the 15% tax bracket for the first time in many years.

I got a small raise last year, I think it was 2.1%, and DW was paid for half her freelance project, I think around $5,900. That was enough to push us into the 15% tax bracket. We still didn't pay any federal income tax - with 4 child tax credits, and carry-over adoption credit, our effective tax rate was still -7.19%.

In fact, this might be the first time we've ever been in the 15% tax bracket as a married couple. Back in the dual income, no kids days we were in the 28% tax bracket, and DD1 was born (DW quite full-time out-of-the-house work) at around the same time as the Bush II tax cuts, and the introduction of the 10% tax bracket.

DW will be getting the other half of her freelance project income in the next few weeks. That probably means that we'll slip into the 15% tax bracket again this year. It sure doesn't seem to have made a difference in monthly cash flow.

FFA State Convention

March 13th, 2015 at 10:35 am

DD1 competed in Jr. High public speaking at the FFA state convention yesterday. She competed against eight other students from around the state, and placed fifth. We are very proud, and happy for her. She did the absolute best job that she could have done. Considering all the students who started out at the district level five weeks ago, she ended up doing better than about 95% of them.

I wouldn't be truthful, though, if I didn't say that I was hoping she would have placed higher. I watched the competition, and I honestly had her placed higher. Of course, I'm her very biased father. Of the eight, six did a very good job. The 7th and 8th placed kids did a good job, too, but there was a clear delineation between their performance, and the other six.

Of the top-finishing six, they can be put into two broad categories - those who were highly polished, with exaggerated gestures, etc. I'd call their presentation more of a "sales" type presentation. The others, including DD1 spoke in more of a conversational tone, and I would call their style more "educational". The judges clearly preferred the polished, sales type of presentation. Either way, we are proud of her accomplishment, and from the pic DW sent me after placements were announced, DD1 is very happy.

The Dean of the college of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State addressed the convention. He made a very exciting announcement. What the Dean said was that FFA high school seniors who complete a curriculum in agri-science and win an FFA state degree will receive six general credits from MSU - six free credits before they even start college!

I wasn't able to participate in FFA, so I'm not exacly sure what a state degree is, but according to DW, our kids would be very likely to earn an FFA state degree if they participate fully in FFA. About 150-200 high school seniors earn a state degree each year.

That's great news! Six credits is about 1/3-1/2 of a semester. At the 2015 price of $440 a credit, that's a $2,640 value, not including the savings in time. We'll definitely be adding that to the long list of goals as it relates to our kids.

Now for the not so great news related to the FFA convention. DW and DD2 were headed out to do some pre-convention shopping. Read that as DW had nothing to wear to convention. She was driving through town, on her way to another town that has a mall. A lady driving beside her was switching lanes, and didn't look, and smacked right in to our van. No one was injured, but there is quite a bit of damage to the van, including a bent axle, which of course leaves the van completely unable to be driven.

The insurance adjustor looked at the van yesterday, and we hope to get his report today, or hopefully by Monday.

This could only happen in a town the size of our small town, but the accident happened kitty corner from, and about 200 feet from the police station. They were also 300 feet from, and equidistant in opposite directions from our insurance agency, and the other driver's insurance agency.

Cashed in coins

March 11th, 2015 at 06:16 am

I cashed in my coins yesterday. If I'm remembering correctly, I last cashed coins in sometime during the first week of November, so about 17 weeks ago. The total came to $46.98, so about $2.76 per week.

I kept $40 out as cash, and applied the $6.98 toward my pickup loan. The previous loan balance was $901.01, $0.81 went toward interest (last paid March 1), and the remaining $6.17 went toward principal.

I must have cashed coins in a little more frequently 4,5, and 6 years ago, because it seems like I'd get $20-$25 each time I cashed them in. Lately I've been cashing them in, and getting between $30-40 each time, and +$45 this time. I'm a little bit less desperate for cash now, and that's a good thing.

Since the credit union where I cash in the coins is also the same place where we have our vehicle loans, I've always applied the change to a vehicle loan. In the past, I had always applied just the change to the loan - or if I had cashed in $23.68, I applied only the 68 cent to the loan. Now, I'm only taking the multiple of $10, and applying the rest to the loan. Another sign that I'm a little less desperate for cash.

What I really should start doing is to try to accumulate less change. $2.76 per week isn't really that much, but when it accumulates to almost $47, it kind of is a lot.

My (depression-era-raised) grandfather used to carry a change purse in his pocket. I was always horribly embarrassed when he would, at a snail's pace, count out the exact change for a bill at a parts dealer or gas station.

But, as far as that goes, I do a lot more transactions with a debit card or credit card than Grandpa did, so I have fewer opportunities to accumulate change.

Really, a few bucks a week change accumulation is not a big deal. At all. But, it just seems that it would be better if I didn't accumulate much change.

A glimpse

March 3rd, 2015 at 01:10 pm

Any of us who have spent very much time in the SA forums have seen the back end results of someone over-extending themselves on a new car purchase and loan. Today I got a glimpse at the front end.

I have a cousin. He is very different from me in many ways. He is married. Some things I can tell you about him and his wife include:

He has declared bankruptcy at least once. I'm pretty sure he has declared bankruptcy at least one other time.

Before they were married, his wife lost a house in foreclosure. His dad pulled a little switcheroo where he bought the house after foreclosure, for a very reduced price, and sold the house back to them on a land contract. I'm pretty sure they're behind in paying dad back.

Between the two of them, they have five kids at home, and one out of the house.

Today, in just the last hour or so, his wife posted the following on FB, that my cousin bought her (her words) a 2015 Mazda 3 s Grand Touring. I looked. The base price for the car is $28,385. I've never owned a brand new car in my life.

Apparently the car she had been driving had no heat. I don't begrudge her having a car with heat. It's just that you can but lots of cars for well less than half that that are very reliable, and have heat.

I also don't want to make it sound as if I'm Mr. Financial Perfect. Obviously I've made financial mistakes in the past. Clearly I continue to stumble. But, I try to learn from my mistakes. I like financial security. I don't even know what I'd do with a 28K car. I doubt I could pay the insurance.

I've been shaking my head at my cousin for years. And, I really shouldn't give two toots how he spends his money. It's just that I know how this story is going to end, and it's not going to be good.

In the past hour, 61 people have "liked" her post, and 26 people have commented on it, all congratulatory in some form.

I won't "like" it, and I'll keep my comments to myself (and the SA community) (and my wife, later).

Good Grief!

March net worth update, and other stuff

March 2nd, 2015 at 06:32 am

March net worth is $231,991.

We received our federal tax refund on Friday. It was funny, because Friday was also pay day. I logged in to our bank account just to make sure that my paycheck had been deposited, and the balance was a lot bigger than ought to have been. Surprises are nice sometimes.

The net worth figure doesn't reflect the refund at this point, except for the extra I paid against my pickup.

Do you remember that freelance project DW has been working on? The one that she wasn't paid for so long? The final report is due this Friday, so she's working this week to complete it. She put it off when she wasn't getting paid, and the winter has been busy enough, especially with snow days thrown in, that she has kind of waited til the last minute. But, I'm sure it will be finished on time, and done well.

This time, we'll know that it will take a long time to receive the final payment, and we'll plan accordingly. We're both reasonably confident that the payment will be made, and if I remember correctly, it will be somewhere between 5.8 and 5.9K.

DD1's results from her public speaking contest

February 20th, 2015 at 06:58 am

She won it.

She'll move on to the state contest three weeks from yesterday. There are six regions in the state, plus all of the second place regional winners compete against each other the day before the final competition, and the winner of that competes against all of the first place winners. So, there are a total of seven contestants in the finals.

We were very proud of her, of course, but honestly DW and I both expected she could win. However, we hold no illusions about the state level. The competition will be very stiff. Contestants are placed, and receive either a gold or silver award. We would be happy with a gold award.

Her contest is Thursday March 12, beginning at 8 a.m. Regions rotate speaking positions from year to year, and Region III (her region) speaks first this year. So, she'll get a bright and early opportunity to compete. We'll be there, the only question is whether we will drive early in the morning, or stay over the night before. DW has a sister who lives in the area, so we wouldn't have to get a hotel room. DD1 will be there as a participant in the convention, otherwise we would definitely drive the night before. The question in my mind is childcare for the boys, which we'll have to find someone to get them on the bus, because we'll be on the road when they get on the bus at 7:20 either way. I'm sure we'll figure this all out.

But, my daughter has made it to state level competition her first year out. Her mom did the same thing. There was no Jr. High FFA in 1992 (in Michigan, anyway). So DW started in FFA in 9th grade. She participated in what is called Green Hand Public speaking (for 9th and 10th graders in their first year of FFA), and she won it at the state level. So, there is precedent here in the family!

Update from last post

February 18th, 2015 at 11:19 am

In my last post, I guessed my federal refund at $3,000. It's actually $3,395. I guessed my state refund at $1,000. It's actually $199. Added together, I was fairly close, but I was way off on the state amount.

I was submitting some expenses for my flexible spending account on Monday, and I thought about DD 1's possible braces. It occurred to me that at a minimum we might want to wait another year so I can max out my flexible spending account election, and at least get the full tax benefit if we do decide for the braces.

Speaking of DD1, she has made it to regional competition for Jr. High public speaking in FFA. The district competition was two weeks ago, and she took first place. If she takes first or second place tonight, she would move on to state level competition in three weeks. I'm clearly biased, but I think she stands a decent chance of placing at least second. I say that because I have judged Jr. High public speaking before, and as long as she performs to her ability, she is doing a better job than most in Jr. High.

Our Free Pig

January 27th, 2015 at 07:29 am

My oldest daughter is now a member of our local FFA chapter. This weekend she will be showing a pig as a member of the FFA at a state-wide hog show.

She's been stopping by the FFA barn at least once a week since about mid November to work with the pig, clean its stall, and to do her part with chores in the barn.

DW and I have seen this as an opportunity to learn about responsibility, learn more about the raising hogs, to interact with some of the older members, and to all-around have a good time with good people.

DW met with the FFA advisor/local agri-science teacher on a completely different topic yesterday. The FFA advisor mentioned to her that, oh yeah, the kids get to keep the hog that they show. The FFA chapter bought the hog, housed the hog, and bought the feed for the hog. Our family gets to keep the hog, and pay only the fee to slaughter and process the hog into the different cuts and sausages. That sounds good to me!

I'm not sure about the cost of processing. We had an extra fair hog processed about a year and a half ago, and I don't remember what we paid. And, it really depends on how much you have processed into, for example, sausage as opposed to fresh cuts, or how much of it you have smoked. We'll have more processed into sausage this time, because we use more sausage than we do fresh pork butt, for example.

But, it seems that we paid right around $200 last time, so maybe $250 this time? So that will be right around 175 pounds of meat for around $250.

And, DD1 still gets an outstanding educational experience!

Physical Fitness

January 6th, 2015 at 07:05 am

Is there a relationship between physical fitness and financial fitness? I suspect there is.

I tried a little experiment this holiday season. I weighed myself a day or two before Thanksgiving. My weight was 203.8 pounds. I weighed myself again yesterday. I didn't weigh myself a single time in between. My weight yesterday was 204.0 pounds. I joked that I probably grew 0.2 pounds of hair during that time. Actually, I fully realize that our bodies can fluctuate in weight just during the day, so the two weights are essentially identical. But, I met my goal of not gaining weight during the holidays.

For reference, I'm 6'1" tall, and my BMI is 26.9, which still puts me solidly in the "overweight" category, but not in the "obese" category.

I've had a goal of 185 pounds for several years. I weigh less in the summer time, when I'm more active, But I don't think I've weighed less than 195 pounds for a long time. I was 165 pounds when I graduated high school in 1991, and 175 pounds when I was married, five years later. I've probably been +190 pounds for 15 years.

So, back to my original question - is there a relationship between physical fitness and financial fitness? It would seem that at a minimum, one would be spending less on high cost junk foods if one were trying to lose weight. And, as long as one weren't buying high dollar equipment and gym memberships that one cannot afford, one would save money while trying to lose weight.

But, really it seems to me that the discipline related to keeping weight off would flow right into your financial decisions as well.

I've never been one to make New Year resolutions. It's always seemed silly to me to decide on lifestyle changes just because the calendar shows a bigger number. But, here I am, at the beginning of the New Year, and I'd like to commit to becoming more physically fit, as well as more financially fit. I've got no specific weight goal, other than that elusive 185 pounds that I've had for five or six years. But, let's put this down as a goal for now - that I weigh something less than 200 pounds at the end of winter.

Our new-to-us mini van

December 19th, 2014 at 07:04 am

We bought a new-to-us mini van this week - a 2012 Chrysler Town & Country. Before we did that I paid of my CC in full.

To start the story at the beginning, a week ago we had a list of about a dozen and a half local T&C's, and two dealers set themselves apart as having the best deals. The first was in local town A, about 30 miles to the south east of us, and the second was at local town B, about 25 miles to the west of us.

I was in local town A last Friday AM for work, and was able to take the afternoon off. DW joined me in the town for lunch, then we stopped by the dealership. There were three T&C's that drew our attention. One of them was a model year older, and was near the top of the number of miles we were interested in. Of the other two, both 2012's, one had a pinch more miles, but was $600 more expensive. Turns out it had heated seats, and we assume that's the reason it was more expensive. So, we sat down with the sales person to strike a deal. We made an offer, and she presented it to her manager. The woman we were working with was OK as far as used car sales people go, but she told us it was just her third week on the job, so she had to run everything through her manager. Our offer was low-ball, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Her manager was your classic over aggressive, slimy, talking through both sides of his mouth sales person types. He was thoroughly offended by our offer, and proceeded to show us vehicles "more in our budget range". No, we know which van we are interested in, let's strike a deal on that one. We told him (truthfully) that there was another dealer we needed to visit first, and (truthfully) that we couldn't make a deal until at least Monday next week, because it wouldn't be until then that our credit union would have our financing ready. We walked out with a purchase agreement with the dollar value that they had quoted.

We drove to local town B to look at the next van (this was a GM dealer that only had one T&C). The van at this dealership had quite a few more miles, and was priced accordingly. We were able to talk that dealer down a bit, but we found out through Car Fax that this vehicle had started out as a fleet rental, which right or wrong made me uncomfortable. Also, we felt that the price of this van was still more than the van in town A, even after our negotiated price in town B when adjusted for mileage. After looking at all the local vans, we came to the conclusion that slimy dealer in town A had the van priced right.

We weren't able to go back to the dealership in town A until Tuesday. Guess what - the dealer had raised the price of the vehicle by $1,001 over the weekend. We already knew that, because DW had been following the vehicle on the dealer's web site. But, we were ready to settle on the price they had it listed for on Friday, because we had determined it was a fair price. THE DEALER WOULD NOT BUDGE FROM THE NEW LISTED PRICE. We had a purchase order written three days previously. The slimy dude told us that purchase orders expire after 36 hours. We told him that we were not made aware of that verbally, and that fact appeared nowhere on the purchase order. He said that the 36 hour expiration is "all over our web site". We invited him to pull up his web site, and show us. He declined. We have since looked at the web site and that 36 hour policy appears nowhere. So, we walked out.

DW entered all our desired parameters back into autotrader.com, except this time we widened the search to 100 miles. She found one additional dealership that had three T&C's that fit our parameters. That dealership was in Oakland County, near Detroit. We drove there.

One of the three was not available. I think it was because it was being driven by one of the car dealers, or because it was sold. I don't really remember. So, we drove another one of the vans. It was nice, but it had been in a minor accident, and had a minor amount of rear-end damage still visible. I'll call it honeycombing on the rear bumper. The van had not yet been detailed, and it was evident that the previous owner had a dog. Us to the sales person - "Let's see the third van". The sales person to us "let's see if I can find it". That van was at another location, just eight miles from the city limits of Detroit. This van had a pinch fewer miles, but was offered for a few less dollars. It had been on the lot since September, and we assume it was priced such as it was because they wanted it to move before it got stale. We drove the 15 minutes to the other location. The van was black, and we would have preferred the color of the white one we had just driven. But, this black one had after-market heated seats installed. The car fax checked out, and we offered to buy the van. This van had fewer miles than any of the others we looked at, and was offered for fewer dollars than the van in local town A.

The dealer would not budge on the price, and offered us less than half for our trade than the local dealers($300 as opposed to $750 at the other two dealers). Yes, we drove it until the wheels were ready to fall off. But the "administrative fee" was well less than the other two dealers - I think $94 instead of $200 and $180 at the other dealers.

The bottom line is that we knew this deal was better than the other two we had struck, so we took it.

We made a $6,000 down payment, and financed $11,800 over three years through our credit union. We still have enough money to pay off my truck, so we will only be paying on one vehicle.

Now, for the rest of the story...DW created a small stink on FB about how we were treated at the dealership in town A. She tagged the dealership so that they saw the post. The dealership proceeded to argue back and forth on social media - if you read what they posted you would recognize it as a bad decision. They could have taken a high road and handled it differently, but they did not.

Additionally, between my MIL and FIL and two BIL's, they have purchased three new vehicles from that dealership over the past three years. I guess they didn't recognize DW's maiden name on FB. One of my BIL's called his salesperson, who is an old friend of his, and let him know about the situation.

DW ended up getting a call from our original sales person, who asked us to come back, because they had found a way to sweeten the deal on the van. Sadly, it was too late.

We are very happy with our new-to-us van.

Update

December 9th, 2014 at 11:18 am

1: DW was paid for her freelance work. I can't remember the exact dollar value, but it was substantially more than the $2,000 i mentioned last post.

2: DW received a generous cash gift from her parents for Christmas.

3: The payment for the freelance project plus the cash gift is enough to pay off our credit card, plus quite a bit left over. I made the payment on the CC last night, and it should be posted at 5:00 this afternoon.

4: We are looking for a new to us mini-van. You may have seen my thread in the forums side.

5: We will probably pay off my truck first. I'm not sure how much we'll have left for a down payment for the new to us van.

6: I'm hoping that the new payment on the mini van will be very similar to the current payment on the truck. We have to get bills paid, decide what we want to spend on the new van, etc.

Will update more later once we get a clearer picture of what's going on.

The Edge of the Cliff

October 24th, 2014 at 07:09 am

We've walked over it. Our current credit card debt is $4,361.46, at 19.99% int. It’s been building since the end of July. Right now I’m not motivated to get this turned around. I've blogged several times about the situation with our family, but as a reminder, we adopted two boys from foster care about three years ago. The older boy (A) has classic autism. The younger boy (E) has a milder form of autism, but is also affected by fetal alcohol syndrome and has cerebral palsy. To say that they are a challenge to raise puts it mildly. They are extremely difficult to raise, and we are worn out.

Of course, we've gone into credit card debt before, when the boys weren't a factor. So, maybe I’m making excuses, or passing blame. I don’t know. Our Achilles heel has always been eating out. Before we had kids, and we were both working, we were “too busy” to eat in, so we ate out. When we had only one child, and she was three, and we were getting the hang of parenting her, we still ate out. When we had two neuro-typical kids, and they were both out of the toddler age, and getting reasonably easy to parent, we ate out.
Now with four kids, the trend continues. Let me tell you about last night. I left work, and rushed the 20 miles to our home town, and met DW at the rehabilitation center to take E to physical therapy for his cerebral palsy. DW had just picked both boys up from the autism center which is in a town 20 miles in the opposite direction from where I work. E has twice weekly PT. And, last night’s session went as well as any of his sessions have ever gone. He was relatively cooperative for most of it, and we were both happy when we left.

DW had taken the other three kids to a Halloween party that was put on by the local AAUW chapter. We decided that we would try E at the party. That was a big mistake. I should have just taken him home. His alcohol affected brain does not allow him to enjoy social situations like other four year olds. He acts like an 18 month old in a four year old body. There were tables with treats and toys, and he wanted all of them. When we try to disallow his behavior he throws an absolute screaming fit. So, I carried him out, and back to my pick up, and before I went home, I spent $11 on a pizza, some bread sticks and a 20 oz. Mountain Dew.

That’s just one example of things that happen much too often. DW and I are always exhausted, her physically, and me mentally.

It wouldn't be fair if I didn't acknowledge that A’s has made vast improvements, although there are times when the autism completely overpowers him, and he regresses back to the exact behaviors as when he first came to our house. But, those times are becoming less frequent. And it seems as if E takes every single inch that A gives us.

The other side of this equation is our girls. Our wonderfully behaved, mature beyond their years, put up with much more than should be expected of them girls. We don’t buy them stuff, but we do have them involved in a lot of activities. We try to get them out of the house, so they can enjoy life. And those activities cost money, even if it is just gas for travel.
We do get respite care for our boys through our County behavioral health system. It amounts to about four hours per week. There are four people in a twenty mile radius who have gone through the training to be accepted as respite care providers, three of them are my mother, father, and sister. The other is the mother of another special needs child. Her husband is currently incarcerated for multiple DWI convictions. Respite care income seems to be an important part of her cash flow. We call her on a very last choice basis. She’s watched the boys three times in the past three months.

One of our problems with this respite care is that DW and I are too forward thinking. We are aware of the total number of hours allocated to us, and we meter them out accordingly. If the average comes out to 4.22 hours per week, that’s what we use. It has come to our attention that most other people who receive respite care, or similar services through behavioral health, use hours up with reckless abandon, then cry and scream at their case worker that they need more hours. So, we’re being much less calculating about the respite hours, and when they run out, we’ll see what happens. The bottom line, of course, is that my folks will watch the boys with our without respite payment, unless it’s January or February, when they’re in Florida.

We do have a neighbor girl who is absolutely great with the boys, and she is almost always willing to help us out, but, of course we pay for her directly. She’s not yet 18, so she’s not eligible to provide respite care.

I’ll go back to the bigger picture. We are broke. We have gone back into credit card debt. And, as much as it may sound like I’m trying to place all the blame on our current family situation, I completely recognize that we got ourselves into the same problem before any of our children were born.

19.99% int. is a high rate. At the current balance, it’s costing around $72 per month. So, the first and most obvious choice is to look for a low or no transfer cost card with a 0.0% introductory rate. In my current state of mind, I think that’s a bad idea. It will just give me another card to charge up.
DW is expecting a $2,000 freelance check sometime in the next couple of weeks, and certainly a lot of that payment can go toward debt reduction, and she’ll be getting four more of those checks during the next 12 months, so, I honestly expect that the card will be all paid off within six months. But, that doesn't change the fact that we've slipped back into the same behaviors that put us 24K in the hole five years ago.

My ability to concentrate on this subject any longer has just slipped away, so it’s time to publish. Thanks for reading.

I will add one more thought. Someone my offer the very sound advice that DW and I get some counseling. Been there, done that. And, we both found the counseling sessions to be very helpful. The nearest counselor is 20 miles away, in the same town where we take the boys for their autism center, and a couple other things. We have to line up a baby sitter for at least two hours, and really, when we have to line up a baby sitter, we'd really rather do something more fun.


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