Jan 19

Condo assessments right after Christmas = Annoyed owners

Student Debt Survivor BrownstoneToday I wrote a check for $500 to our condo association. The item I’m receiving in return? a fan to vent the dryer’s exhaust (hot air) to the front of our building. Am I super excited about it? No!

But that’s part of the, “deal” when you buy a condo. Unfortunately, the needs of the building come before your own personal needs or wants, and if you’re in the minority, your opinion may not count. If the other owners decide that something is necessary, you’re stuck footing part of the bill, whether you want to to spend the money or not.

Sometimes condo associations have a cash reserve to pay for unexpected expenses (the building’s emergency fund). Our association chose to keep our condo fees as low as possible, which means there’s no reserve and I have to cut a check every time there’s an emergency.

While that’s not personally the way I prefer to do business, it’s what we had to accept when we bought a unit in the building.

While folks in expensive cities accept that condo living is their only buying option (unless you have a cool million *or more* to buy a single family home), it’s something that’s sort of a foreign concept to country dwellers like my parents.

Here’s what I’ve learned about money and condo living over the past 2 1/2 years:

  1. If you’re fiercely independent don’t buy a condo. and hate not having control of every aspect of your financial life, don’t buy a condo. You’re better off renting or moving somewhere cheaper where you can afford a single family home.
  2. If you want something done right, do it yourself! The other owners may be too busy or to lazy to look for bids and wait around for contractors. If you’re not made of money (I’m not) and you care about the quality of the work (or service) being delivered, offer to be the person who sets everything up.
  3. Do your own due diligence. Make sure your neighbors aren’t hooking up their contractor buddies with kickbacks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a probably good thing if your neighbor knows a, “great contractor” who does good work. But make sure the association gets multiple bids before you sign a contract so you know you’re not padding somebody’s pockets.
  4. Shut up and write the check. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and give in your neighbors. You don’t want to be the, “difficult” neighbor who’s always causing a fight when the rest of the neighbors want to buy something. Pick and chose your battles wisely. In this case, the repair was necessary, so I’m not complaining. I do however, wish the timing was a little different. We knew that we were going to have to make the repair. Why we waited to make a $2,500 repair right after Christmas, I don’t completely understand!? Biting my tongue…

Do you live in a condo? What do you like/dislike about your association? If you own a single family home, do you enjoy having complete control over your house repairs? I think I would!

Image: Jay Wentworth

Jan 12

Save money: Repair it, don’t replace it!

I’m a little ashamed to say how quick I used to be to to throw away perfectly good, “stuff”. If a button popped off a pair of my jeans, or a sweater started to get pilled, I’d toss it in the goodwill bin and buy a new one.

The past couple of years I’ve been a lot more conscious of how much stuff I have and how much money I paid for it. If I worked half a day to pay for a pair of boots, you bet I’m going to try to make them last as long as possible.

The internet has really been a game changer when it comes to advice about how to repair just about anything. Many of the items I would have previously thrown away, I’ve been able to repair and continue using. That saves me money and saves a lot of, “stuff” from ending up in the landfill.

Stuff I’ve refurbished/repaired
(a little, “elbow grease” and ingenuity can save you big green)

Leather goods

I have a great pair of fossil boots that the dog was convinced he could ruin. If you see the photo on the left, he had scratched the leather pretty badly. I mentioned this to a friend and she suggested buying some FRYE Leather Conditioning Cream. Thank goodness I listened to her Instead of throwing them away. I spent about 20 minutes rubbing in the cream and now they look as good as new. One $9 tub of cream and 20 minutes saved a $120 pair of boots.
scratched bootboot


I recently, “saved” a sweatshirt destined for the donations bin with this tip for getting paint off your clothing (Why I was painting in a brand new sweatshirt is purely my own stupidity). If you can’t mend or repair something yourself, splurge to have someone else make the repair for you. It’s almost always cheaper to mend a decent piece of clothing then to buy a new one.

The Bath Tub

When we moved into our condo, there was a good deal of mold on the grout in-between the tub and tiles. I tried everything I could think of to eliminate the mold, but nothing worked. Not baking soda, not peroxide, not shower bleach cleaner… nothing. So when a friend told me about her, “magic trick” for cleaning grout (bleach soaked paper towel rolled into long tubes that you sit directly on the mold) I was skeptical. I was convinced we were going to have to bring in a contractor and rip out all the tile (which would cost a fortune). Here’s the before and after:
moldmold gone


New furniture, isn’t something we want to spend money on right now (doesn’t make sense with a dog who likes to dig). I recently thought I was going to have to buy a new cushion for our IKEA poang chair. It’s white (well it used to be) and was getting pretty dingy. With a quick google search, I found that the covers are actually removable and machine washable (why I never thought to look, I don’t know). One quick wash and tumble dry saved me from spending $59 to buy a new cushion.

Jan 08

Important Traits to Look for Before Investing in a Business

If you have some extra money either because of careful savings or from an inheritance, you may be thinking about how you can make the money earn an income. You may be considering investing in a good start-up or other excellent business with the hope that it will become another billion dollar company. There are some traits you should look for in a business before you put your money there, and following the advice of financial veterans like Richard Schaden can help to give you the information needed to make these important decisions.

Value Investing
Value investing is buying stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other assets that are selling for much less that you determine they are really worth. To make this work, you must sell the investment when it reaches intrinsic value. The only reason not to sell at that time is if it is an excellent business that has potential for long-term high rate of return.

Durable Competitive Advantage
A durable competitive advantage is something a business has the other companies can’t reproduce. Companies like Coca-Cola offer products that are recognized all over the world. When you want to invest in a company, look for durable competitive advantages that won’t be compromised by outsourcing, attacks from competitors and other market forces such as globalization.

Look for a company that can reproduce their products or services very fast. These companies make it easy for franchises to open and be successful because their product is basically the same in Hong Kong or Seattle. Examples of this type of business are Microsoft, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Price Matters
You may have found a company with brilliant management and excellent financials but this is not enough to ensure a good return on your investment. Even though these things are essential, the price you pay for your asset will determine how much you earn. This means you shouldn’t pay high prices for stock even in excellent businesses such as Microsoft or Gillette. If you can get a fair price, then they are good investments, but these companies often have inflated stock prices that will not give you a good return. You need to do research or get a good financial advisor.

How to Know?
When you research a business to see if it is worth investing your money, you need to look at its financial statements. Every business needs to spend, or invest, money to make money. This is its return on invested capital. If one company spends $50 for a return of $5 and another company spends $50 for a return of $25, the second company will generate more cash. There are exceptions to this rule. If a good company that has a small return on investment and is selling stock for a fraction of its intrinsic value, there is a good chance it will weather any financial storms and its share prices will dramatically go up. For this, you may need to have patience and wait for three to five years.

The bottom line on investing in existing businesses is knowledge. If you’re new to investing, you may need the help of someone who has the knowledge. Your first step will be to research financial advisors until you find someone who can explain everything you need to know in simple language. Once you have an idea about what’s going on, you can use your own judgment for investing your money.

This post was contributed by Derick Saunders

Jan 05

Why I’m making 30-day commitments instead of resolutions

Happy New YearHappy New Year! I don’t know about you, but 2014 was a pretty crappy year for us. We came home to a smoke filled house, lost my uncle Steve and lost our two sweet kitties to Kidney Disease. Eric tells me that the number 4 is generally considered bad luck in East Asian culture, so we’re both happy to welcome 2015.

The past few years I’ve made New Year’s Resolutions and not completely followed through OK, I failed miserably. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I’m not alone. According to StatisticBrain.com:

48 Percent of Americans usually make a New Year’s Resolution and only 8 Percent of people are successful in achieving their resolution.

Top 10 Resolutions for 2014:

Lose Weight
Getting Organized
Spend Less, Save More
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
Staying Fit and Healthy
Learn Something Exciting
Quit Smoking
Help Others in Their Dreams
Fall in Love
Spend More Time with Family

So this year I’m making 30-Day Commitments instead of year long resolutions.

Why? Truthfully, I’ve never been that good at following through with a full year resolution and nobody likes to feel like they’re a, “failure”, right?

In past years, I’ve generally done one of two things when making resolutions:

  1. I make lofty resolutions that inevitably get pushed to the back burner when I get busy and, “life gets in the way”. Things like, “I’m going to read 5 books a month, lose 25 pounds, exercise 45 minutes everyday, make all homemade Christmas gifts for everyone in the family, etc.” They might be realistic for some people (if so you’re, awesome!), but for me, they weren’t and I quickly fell behind, got frustrated and gave up. OR
  2. I make resolutions that are too easily achieved and I don’t challenge myself. This usually means making vague goals that aren’t really measurable. Goals that can’t be measured = no chance for failure (or success!). In the past, I’ve made resolutions to, “eat better and exercise more.” Last year I made a resolution to, “focus more on family.” What the heck does that mean and how did I plan on achieving it?

Why 30-day commitments make more sense (to me at least):

When I make a full year resolution, life can (and will) get in the way. The things that are important to me in January, might not be important to me 2 or 11 months later. I don’t like feeling, “locked” into goals, so a 30-day commitment gives me enough time to figure out if it’s a goal that’s worth pursuing for another 30 days. If it’s not, I can move on to a new goal without feeling guilty that I made a commitment that I didn’t carry out.

 My 30-Day commitments for January 2015:

  • Personal- I will call my grandparents every week on Wednesday evening, I will knit this hat for myself.
  • Health- I will eat an apple daily, floss daily, and exercise (25 minutes or more) 3 times per week.
  • Blog- I will create and post content 2 times per week (I haven’t been writing/reading much lately and I miss it).
  • Money- I will save $1500, I will cancel 2 cell phone lines on my family plan, I will keep grocery spending under $400

Are you committing to 30 days instead of 365? Tell me about your resolutions for this month and/or this year.

Image: CoolHDWallpaper

Dec 23

If at first you don’t succeed, Frye, Frye again!

frye Almost everyone has heard of re-gifting, and probably many of us have received a, “re-gifted” gift (I know I have). But have you ever, “me gifted?” You know, the act of buying yourself a gift during the holiday season.

Here’s how I “justify”, me gifting 😉

I’m pretty conservative with my clothing budget for most of the year. By the time Christmas rolls around, I usually have a good idea of the, “basics” that I need and want. So when good quality, classic pieces go on sale I buy myself a few.

I’m certainly no fashion maven, but I do have an appreciation (and love) for long lasting, high quality fashion pieces. The, “classics” so to speak, are less trendy, better made and more stylish over time. When I buy a good quality piece of clothing, or shoe, I can wear it for many seasons (and hopefully many years).

A few weeks ago Eric and I went out to dinner and I wore a pair of boat shoes. Don’t ask me what I was thinking (I clearly wasn’t), because my feet were freezing. When I complained about how cold my feet were, Eric basically told me I was nuts to wear boot shoes with no socks in December and asked why I didn’t just wear riding boots like, “all the other girls?”

“Why? because I don’t have any!” Fortunately, I’ve since solved that, “problem!”
That night found a pair of cute Lucky boots at Macy’s (above). After sales and additional discounts I paid $125. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a pair of boots, but they looked well constructed and had good reviews so I bought them. When they arrived they were cute, but weren’t nearly the quality I was hoping for. They probably would have last a winter or two, but I wasn’t super excited about them (and for $125 I wanted to be at least a little excited).

So I did a little more research about good quality boots and came across the Frye website. That’s where I fell in love (dramatic, right?) with a pair of Frye “Melissa button boots”. They were not only adorable, but well-made and seemingly comfortable (that’s what the reviews said).

The only problem? They were $348! Gulp! $348 for a pair of boots? I think not.

I love a high quality pair of shoes as much as the next gal, but I can’t justify spending $350 on a pair of shoes right now (even if they are adorable). So I checked eBay and the department stores and decided to wait it out to see if I could get a better deal.

Long story short, I bought two pair from Macy’s when they went on sale for $250 (one size 8 and one size 7.5, because I wasn’t sure which would fit better). Then I saw them go on sale at Nordstrom for $200. So I bought two  additional pairs and returned the first set to Macy’s. Then… I found them on sale on Amazon with an additional promo code for $158!! So I bought two more pair and called it quits.

My FedEx guy must have thought I was running an impromptu shoe store out of my apartment. By the time it was all over I’d purchased 9 pair of boots (I ended up purchasing an additional two pair on Amazon to sell on eBay).

I kept 3 pair and paid $246 out of pocket (total cost of the boots, minus the money I made selling the other 2 pair on eBay). Not too shabby for 3 pair of Frye boots (one black, one brown and one black bootie-the exact boots I wrote about wanting in this post over a year ago!) that retail for over $300 a pair and will last me (hopefully) a lifetime.

Did you do any, “me gifting” this year?

treeMerry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Boxing Day and a Joyous Festivus from my family to yours!