Suddenly Buying A House Wasn’t Such A Bad Idea

One of the elements of my adult life that has traditionally been unstable is housing. Sure, I’ve always had a place to live and no, I’ve never wanted for a roof over my head. However, having stable housing was always something that evaded me no matter what situation I was in at the moment. I’ve rented a single room in a large boarding house and I’ve rented a room in a house with a group of fellow college graduates who were just out of school. I’ve rented apartments with two other roommates and I’ve rented a townhouse with one other roommate. The one aspect in all of these housing situations is that there was a time limit on how long I’d be living in any of those units because they were rentals. And, frankly, that time limit was exactly what my roommates and I wanted over the years. The limit gave each of us a chance to get out of a lease if we needed to and it also gave us a chance to negotiate better terms on an annual basis. Let me be clear – I have no complaints about my housing situation leading up to my decision to buy a house.

This isn't the actual "sold" sign from my townhouse, but you get the point

This isn’t the actual “sold” sign from my new townhouse, but you get the point

The common theme, though, was the unstable relationship between my finances and my housing situation. What I mean by this is that by not owning the different locations where I’ve lived over the years I was at the mercy of externalities that could (and did) have a direct impact on both my housing stability and my personal finances. For example, if one of my roommates decided to (or had to) leave in the middle of a lease, then their leaving would increase my monthly expenses by a factor based on how many other roommates I had at the time. In other words, an expense that should have been “fixed” in my personal budget was always at risk of increasing based on externalities that were outside of my control.

As a guy who works in finance and who is a maniacal manager of my personal finances, I don’t like it when I’m not in control of my long-term fixed costs and, by consequence, other financial stability-related issues.

At the end of February 2014, my now-former roommate told me that he was finally hired by a group that he had been hoping to get a job with for the past few years. This was a tremendous success for him and a really good, positive moment. This was also a good moment for me because I had been searching the “for sale” listings for a few months at the time that this news came around. In a different scenario, I would have been at my wits’ end trying to find a way to piece together a new living situation. However, after paying off my student loans and feeling financially free since August 2013, I was ready to purchase a home.

The stability that I received in my personal finances from paying off those student loans was great. Yet, it also made it abundantly apparent that I needed to stop renting and buy a home sooner rather than later. Given the high cost of owning a home in New Jersey (if you’re reading this from a state other than New Jersey, you don’t want me to start going into our property taxes), it was always a smarter move for me to live with at least one roommate instead of buying a home of my own. Over the years, though, certain things change. One example of the things that changed is that I’ve gotten older over the years and with that age has come a certain rigidness in what I want in my home. I like what I like and don’t want to be bothered with whatever annoys me! When you live with a roommate, you have to share space and sometimes you can get annoyed by what your roommate does without even thinking about it. Maybe you don’t want to watch the same show on the television or maybe you don’t want to wait for your roommate to finish making breakfast/lunch/dinner so you can get into the kitchen to fix yourself some food. Perhaps you’re not a fan of the state that your roommate leaves the kitchen in when they’re done making their food. The list can go on and on.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t had a wonderful group of roommates over the years. Rather, this is all to reiterate the point that as you get older you change. And as I got older I slowly segregated myself from the entire townhouse that I lived in to just living out of my bedroom. Imagine a very dorm-like situation – I would wake up, shower, and prepare for work all in the same room. When I got home from work, I grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and then headed to my room to catch up on the day’s news, do some work for my small businesses, and then eventually go to bed… just to perform a very similar routine the next day.

I won’t get too deep into the process of buying a house here, but suffice to say that I found a place nearby where I live now that I felt was priced right. I struck a deal with the owner for a few thousand less than the townhouse was on the market for and we’ve were out of attorney review quickly. The home inspection was done and came back stellar, the appraisal was completed and the value is right where I thought it would be and my mortgage company was lined up and ready to fund me. In the space of about a month, I was able to go through the entire searching and closing process. Not too bad.

For the few weeks that I worked through this process, I had a chance to consider how I want to arrange the 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse that I bought. I had a chance to consider what I want to do with the garage that is attached to it, what I want to do with the living room, dining room, and eat-in kitchen. I also had a chance to think about which family events I want to host on an annual basis and which events I want to host for my friends in the area. Another aspect that I considered is how I wanted to furnish the place and that’s another aspect of the townhouse that I thought about during the closing process. Luckily, my sister-in-law’s twin sister is an interior designer and she came in to help me choose colors, textures, furniture, and more!

Buying a house was a fun time and not such a bad idea. Plus, I now get to write these blog entries from the comfort of my personal home office – which is fully separate and apart from my bedroom and living space!

Are You The Victim Or The Victor? The Choice Is Yours!

About two weeks ago I was at an auction with a few friends of mine – one of whom I haven’t seen in two years. During our general catching up with one another, I mentioned that I was in the process of buying a house (which is true and I have yet to cover on the blog yet – in due time). He was a bit shocked and wondered how I could buy a house when I still owed so much on my student loans. When I told him that I fully paid off my students loans this past August, he nearly fell out of his seat!

Remember when I paid off my student loans?

Remember when I paid off my student loans?

Now I’m not going to go into another discussion here about how I paid off my student loans and you can, too. Lord knows I’ve written enough about that stuff that if you really wanted to learn how I was able to pay off those loans and pay them off quickly, then you can find that information on the blog.

And yet, I was struck by my buddy’s utter shock at my having paid off my student loans. And this had me thinking about something for the rest of that night and for the days since the auction ended. Namely, there are some people in life who are victims and there are other people in life who are victors. I’m not suggesting that my buddy is a victim. In fact, he’s the furthest thing from a victim.

There are people out there, though, who look at the hand they were dealt and hang their shoulders in defeat; they essentially turn into Droopy. They may as well turn around and ask everyone to go ahead and kick them in the ass. That’s the victim mindset. That’s the mindset that takes whatever the world gives you and says, “Oh, I was hoping for something better. But okay. I guess this will do.”

It won’t do, damn it! Be a victor! Be someone who makes their own way on this planet. If you don’t like the hand that you’re dealt, then get a new hand. If you don’t like the new hand, then stop playing that game and get up and make something else of your life! We are all the end result of the various choices that we make – choose to be a victor. Choose to be the person with their hand raised at the end of the fight. Choose to win!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made many mistakes and I’ve not always made the choices that led me to be the victor at the end of a particular fight. But when it came to student loans I made a conscious decision that I was winning this fight. In fact, I made the decision that I wasn’t just going to be the victor, I was going to be the conqueror! And I was…

Throw your excuses to the side and make this world your own. Be a victor – the choice is yours!

State Farm Insurance Miserably Failed Customer Service 101

Even though this entry is short, it really is a remarkable display of how an insurance company can completely miss the point when dealing with its long-time customers. As I’m sure you figured out from the title of this entry, I recently had an issue with my now-former automobile insurance provider: State Farm. You know State Farm – they’re the ones with the discount daaa-ble check:

Do you know who I’m talking about now? Good!

I received my biannual billing statement from State Farm and the cost of my insurance jumped about $150 per year. As you might imagine, I was shocked by the jump considering that I don’t get into any accidents, I don’t get any tickets, I’m a good driver, I haven’t purchased a new car in a couple of years, etc. The only thought that came to my mind after reading that bill was, “What gives?!”

After reviewing the bill to make sure that there weren’t any weird or one-time charges included, I called my local State Farm agent. This is the agent that I’ve been using since I first received my driver’s license back in the late 1990s, so we have a generally good history together. I’ve never had a claim or any other problem with my insurance during the entire time that I’ve used State Farm. When the woman answered the phone at the agent’s office, I explained my concern and asked why my rate was increased such a large amount. She responded that she had to check with one of the senior folks, but that I should wait on hold – so I did. To their credit, I was only on hold for a few seconds before they transferred me to one of the more senior associates (who I’ve sat down with and discussed insurance with one-on-one in the past).

The senior associate told me that State Farm just changed their rates and my rate went up. I responded that I was aware of this change, but I wanted to know why my rate would go up after I’ve done nothing but pay my bill every 6 months like a good, faithful customer. They said that there was nothing they could do about it – the rates just went up and that was the cause of the increase. I said that if my rate didn’t return to what it used to be, then instead of gaining my original rate plus this nearly 20% increase, they were going to lose 100% of my payment because I was going to cancel.

Now, I’m not a big believer in the customer always being right. However, I think I made a decent case. Here I was paying nearly $1,000 per year to this insurance company and I wasn’t even using their services. They wanted even more money from me and I said no… and they opted to lose all of my business instead of saving my already exorbitant annual payments.

In a remarkable display of poor customer service, the folks at my State Farm office stood their ground and I canceled my coverage. How a company can happily accept losing all of my business – after 15+ years of being a good, paying customer – and not even try to fight to keep my business is beyond me. This was one of the poorest examples of customer service that I’ve ever seen.

But hey, I saved more than 15% in less than 15 minutes by switching to Geico!

Another Update on What Your Old DVDs Will Get You at F.Y.E.

Some of my long-time readers may remember that on three occasions I traded in some of my old, dusty DVDs at F.Y.E. for store credit. After I traded in the DVDs, I reported right here on the blog what they earned me in store credit and as I recall many of you appreciated that information. Well, I’ve done it again. Last week I traded in just a few, old DVD box sets to my local F.Y.E. and this is what I managed to earn in store credit:

Family Guy Box Set, Volume 1 – $1.88
Family Guy Box Set, Volume 2 – $1.25
Family Guy Box Set, Volume 3 – $1.88
Family Guy – The Stewie Griffin Story – $1.25
The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring Box Set Extended Edition, Standard Definition – $6.26
The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers Box Set Extended Edition, Standard Definition – $3.75
The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King Box Set Extended Edition, Standard Definition – $3.75

In addition to the dollar amounts noted above, I also received $4.01 in bonus store credit for choosing store credit over cash. In total, those DVD box sets brought me $20.02 in store credit to use at F.Y.E. Overall, not so bad.

After 17 Days Off From Work In A Row, I Learned…

After 17 days in a row without having to go to the office during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays I learned that I don’t “vacation” well. For most of those days, I spent my time catching up on random projects that have been outstanding on my To Do List for the last several months. However, those projects were not the most pressing items that I should have been addressing. Some of the more immediate demands on my time that I should have addressed included preparing materials for the two classes I’m teaching at the local college this spring semester, completing my annual performance review of my work during the last year at my company, updating my accounting software with the two small businesses that I own, etc.

Might need to pull back on the "stay" portion of these vacations

Might need to pull back on the “stay” portion of these vacations

Instead of hitting on those items, I focused on rest and relaxation – almost to an extreme. In fact, early in my vacation there were some days that I didn’t roll out of bed until after 12 o’clock noon. Talk about a waste of a day!

One of the most disappointing parts of my vacation, though, was that I didn’t reach the point of renewal and energy growth that I reached several years ago when I took a similarly long hiatus from the office. During that prior vacation, I distinctly remember some time around the 13th or 14th day that I was out of the office I began to truly feel relaxed. I was on a great sleeping schedule, I was active during the day, I was active during the night, and things were going so well that I actually felt relaxed enough to have my metaphorical batteries feel recharged. When that vacation ended, I remember going back into the office like a ball of fire. Even the commute didn’t bother me after that vacation! Okay, well the commute not bothering me was short-lived for sure, but I was still charged up and ready to go after that staycation.

In addition to using my vacation to take care of many of the long-term items on my To Do List, I believe that one of the reasons why I was not able to achieve that zen-like relaxation was because I – again – opted for a staycation versus a true vacation. So in the future, I’m going to actually consider going on a real vacation when I take time off from the office. In fact, if you don’t count the different places that I travel to for work or the fraternity, then the last time I was truly on vacation was a trip to Orlando with my family when I was in sixth grade. And if I’m not mistaken, that would have been during the 1992 – 1993 academic year.

Scary, right?

For years now, my older brother has been asking me to consider going on a cruise with the entire family. That might be an option to consider in the coming year. Also, I’ve wanted to visit the true northeast of the United States since I was young – to check out Vermont and New Hampshire during the fall months and see the rolling forests change color. That might be fun for a weekend trip. And I have to admit – I did have a good time when I visited both New Orleans and San Antonio for fraternity events. They would both be great places to visit during a regular vacation where I’m just getting away to get away.

Anyway, that’s what I learned after spending 17 days out of the office during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve season.