Thursday, April 24, 2008

Financial Snapshot III

Want to know how much you're worth? Calculating your net worth on a yearly or even monthly basis is an excellent way to track your financial growth (or lack there of) over time. One of the personal finance blogs that I frequent is Consumerism Commentary, written by "Flexo". Aside from worthwhile information about staying financially afloat, one unique feature of his blog is that he publishes his financial reports at the end of each month in gruesome detail in order to keep himself accountable to his financial goals. In all, his blog is a good read, and I recommend it as a bookmark to anyone interested in personal wealth building.

With that said, here are a few excerpts from his entry from May, 2007, on calculating your net worth (see full entry here):

… your net worth is one thing only: the value of all your assets reduced by the value of all your liabilities.

Figuring out the liability part is easy, as most people are well aware of who they owe money to. However, the asset part of that is where we tend to overlook important items. An asset is any item you own that is convertible into cash. So truly calculating your net worth would be like having a huge yard sale and assigning a value to your every possession… from your home, cars, and mutual funds... down to your furniture, dishes, socks, and underwear (good luck finding a buyer!). For more details, see Flexo's other entry, "Are Clothes a Part of Net Worth?". As he points out in the original post,’re unlikely to liquidate clothing, so (including such things in) the number may be meaningless for you. In the same respect, your car is not a financial asset the same way money in the bank is, so there may be no reason for you to track its value from month to month.

And in general...

While it’s a great idea to treat your personal finances somewhat like a business, it shouldn’t have to be an excessive chore. Since the purpose of the calculation isn’t to compare yourself with others, it doesn’t matter what you choose to include as long as you’re consistent each month, and the numbers are meaningful to you.

So with that said, in continuing to track our financial progress, I’ve decided to use two different pseudo-net worth figures. I’ll call the first one our liquid worth, which is simply our on-hand cash minus our outstanding non-mortgage/auto debts. There are no large assets (e.g., rental properties & autos) included in this calculation since that’s not money that we can usually get to quickly or reliably if we had to. This figure will give us a better idea of how much money would we have on hand immediately if financial hardship struck TODAY.

I'll call the second pseudo net worth figure our extended worth. This is more of a long term measure and takes into account the liabilities and wealth building tools that I left out the first time (cars, primary residence, & rental properties). And without further ado, here is our first net worth snapshots:

Obviously, we'd have to sell 3 houses and a 2 cars in order to get a hold of our extended worth, so that's not all that helpful of a short-term measure. And unfortunately our liquid worth is still negative... which is a big problem since owning two rental properties and a primary residence means that for any given month we can be on the hook for $3700 of mortgage payments between the three... and that expense would be before we tack on an additional $3600 per month (on average) for food, electricity, water, diapers, car insurance, internet service, medical co-pays, child care, home security, cell phones, debt payments, gas, etc. (And suddenly I understand why Dave Ramsey said don't buy investment property if you're broke). So, needless to say, we've got some work to do in order to reduce our overhead and build a sturdy buffer (i.e., emergency fund) between peace of mind and a financial tragedy waiting to happen.

And hey, at least now when we become debt-free, climb to a positive liquid worth, and eventually skyrocket past the 6 figure net worth mark, you can look back and say "Wow... I remember them when they were in the hole like a prairie dog on a rainy day. But look at them now." ... and hopefully you'll be right there with us. Not asking to borrow anything, but instead reminding us of how you did the same exact thing, got on board from the beginning, and achieved your own personal financial goals; whatever they are.

See you at the finish line.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring is Here

For me, Spring means baseball, outdoor photography and a handful of hiking trails... and so I'm excited to be back into the swing of things with 80 degree weather and Major League Baseball. With all of the rain that we've had this month, this may have been the first nice weekend we've had in 3 or 4 weeks. As a family we managed to take full advantage of it before we had to welcome back the rain today (and tomorrow... and the next day, according to the forecast). Thursday was the movie shoot. Friday and Saturday we picnicked in our own front yard and just loafed around the house. On Saturday night V surprised me and Justin with tickets to his first baseball game. Good fun. Good weather. And hopefully a good prelude of lots of family fun this Spring and Summer. 

90 bucks gets me online access to every MLB baseball game of 
the season. Unfortunately, watching the games online had 
the same affect on Justin as it did last year.

Justin and Mom tee it up in the front lawn.

"Now this is baseball!!!"
... don't let him fool you. He was still asleep after 2 innings.


This better be the best sausage biscuit I've ever had in my life...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And... Action!!

Justin had his television debut today!

Thanks to his mom, he has been signed up with a talent agency for about 5 months now and finally got his first call for work earlier this week. Apparently they needed a baby for a scene in a television series called "Wicked Attractions" that is being filmed for the Discovery Channel's Fall line-up. It was a very short scene that only required him to sit in his high chair and munch on his strawberry-apple Puffs... but I promise you, he was the Denzel Washington of toothless highchair Puff-munching babies. 

They did quite a number of takes to capture him and his screen mom from different angles, with different event sequences, etc., but in all his scene probably lasted no more than 10 seconds. And of course, there's the real possibility that none of his sequences will make it pass the cutting room floor (can you say "DVD deleted scenes"?). But either way it was a hoot to be on location for a television show; watching our little rugrat get so much attention like he was really a movie star or something. Tight crops, audio boom, and all.

Overall it was a worthwhile experience, and all 3 of us appreciated it for what it was: possibly the first of many gigs to come... and possibly the first and last gig he'll ever do. Either way it was a fun little addition to the Justin Alexander scrapbook and we look forward to checking out the show in the Fall to see if our little crumb snatcher indeed ends up on the telly.

Um... that's assuming that we can find someone with cable television that will invite us non-cable-having folk over for dinner to see it.

An hour before his scene, Doogie learns to drive a tractor... 
you know, just in case they need him for another role.

Director calls the shots while V (way in the background) sets up
Justin in the highchair.

I watched from the monitor just behind the director & crew.

"Let's shoot it again... but this time with oatmeal."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oh Happy Day

My recent trips to our South Carolina rental properties have mostly been of the good news / bad news / worse news variety. But for a change I got much needed dose of good news, great news, and even better news...

The Good News...
Part of why I went down was to check on our tenant in Rental #1. She paid first month's rent and deposit prior to her March move-in. So April was scheduled to be her first "by mail" rent payment. Well, it was late. And by the 10th of the month I was starting to have flashbacks of our previous tenant from the same property. The one time he was late with his rent, it turns out that he was making plans to leave without notice and beat us out of the remaining 3 months of his lease agreement. And so here I am, 436 miles away thinking that I'm about to get yet another lesson in the fallacies of out-of-state property management. And as I pull up to the property I'm half expecting to peek into the back window and see the place cleared out just like back in December. But long story short, after a 6am stake-out and lots of back and forth, I finally caught up with the current tenant and got things straightened out. Apparently she wrote the check late, and to add insult to injury she left her teenage daughter in charge of mailing it. And while she wrote me a new check to be sure of delivery, the original did find it's way to Virginia by the 11th of the month. I wish I could say the late fee (which I really need to think about increasing) was worth the trouble and heartache I suffered for 10 days... but at least I can rest a little easier now since it looks like she will in fact be around for a while.

The Great News...
My primary order of business in SC was actually to check on the status of the repairs of Rental #2, which we closed on just about a month ago. In short, the place looks great and we are down to just a handful of things on the punch list to address... all of which should be completed by the end of this week. This was especially sweet since this home was purchased as a HUD foreclosure with no home inspection. With no running water or electricity at the time of purchase, we obviously rolled the dice and just kept our fingers crossed that no major issues would pop up as we went about the business of renovating. We also apparently dodged some potential plumbing issues that were cited in the HUD report, so that saved us another $800 or so; most of which we put towards upgraded window treatments to dress up the place a bit. In the end, the total number of major unexpected issues was a big fat zero* and we are officially sitting pretty, ready to install a few window screens, a closet door, a garage door panel, and call it a day. Our General Contractor for this project is not the fastest guy in the world... but he does have a boat load of personality, pays sharp attention to detail, and turns out a great product. So I'm feeling pretty good about the end product that we're about to turn out.

* well maybe not a BIG FAT zero... we still haven't figured out if we have to replace the entire garage door or just a panel or two. But if that's the worse of the unexpected, then I'll take it everyday of the week and twice on Sundays.

Pressure wash, painted shutters and front door
all made a world of difference.

New carpet and neutral colors throughout.

A bum kitchen faucet was one of the few minor surprises that
were easily remedied.

And last but not least...

The Even Better News...
We have officially secured a tenant for Rental #2. I think that allowing us to do so before the repairs were even done was God's way of making up for the rental roller coaster that we went through for Rental #1 just a couple of months ago. With the gub'ment taking 3 months to close the deal (ahh.. the virtues of purchasing a HUD home) we actually started marketing this home before we even owned it; essentially taking advantage of Rental 1 being on the market for a new tenant at the same time. There were a couple of families that showed interest in Rental 1 as far back as February but they couldn't move in soon enough. I mentioned the upcoming home to them, but didn't dare let them see it in the pre-renovation stage. And as soon as we got close to the finish line, I gave one family a call, and Bingo. Application Fee. Deposit. First month's rent. And a signed lease agreement. All without having to drop a dime on advertisement.

We landed a tenant despite having a few
odds and ends left on the repair list.

And with things going so smoothly, my only frustration is that we are too doggone broke to jump right in and do it all over again (can you say rental property 3?). But I guess that's all fine and dandy since the top priorities now are saving money (goal: 40K in cash), retooling our careers (photography anyone?), and getting rid of our 4 jillion dollars of debt.

Rental #3 will be here in due time... which V will gladly tell you is probably "no time soon".

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Branching Out

The internet never ceases to amaze. A google search and a few clicks later, my mother came across the following photo from 1942. Apparently it's the wedding of Maude Elaine Holder & Charles Errick Batson.

I have no clue who they are... but the photo is of particular interest because, if you count the leftmost guy as number one and work your way to the right, persons number five and six are my great grandmother Amy G. Lyall Wilson (b. 1898) and grandmother Mabel Rosalind Wilson (b. 1919), respectively. As for the kids, the leftmost boy sitting down is my uncle Edgar, and the kid second from the right is my uncle Earl. To say the least, my mother was blown away to come across this photo of her mom and grandmom.

I'm not sure if it was Grandma Rose's funeral, or that of Granddaddy Eddie... but I do remember meeting a somewhat distant relative some years ago who was totally obsessed with our family's genealogy. He was frantically running around the funeral trying to connect the dots, hoping to corner someone who could provide new leads for his endeavor. Well, some ten years later it looks like he has made some serious headway in piecing together my maternal family tree. Here's a link to the full internet tree.

Impressive. Needless to say, I'll have to bookmark that page and thumb through it when I find more time to do so. But in glancing through it, one little fun fact I've already noticed is that according to the tree, I've got 32 (THIRTY TWO!!) first cousins... 27 who I remember meeting, 4 that I don't think I've met, and one I'm not sure I've ever heard of. But I guess I've never stopped to count them all. And that's just from the maternal side (add 9 more from my dad's side of the family for a total of 41). Wow! Someone took that "be fruitful and multiply" verse pretty seriously. Looks like I've got some serious catching up to do.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Solar Powered

The soggy sentiments of April as seen through the windshield this afternoon

And just like that it has been 2 weeks since the last blog entry. To my faithful readers, I'm sorry to disappoint and keep you clicking back here for no good reason. But things have been so slow that I simply haven't had much to write about. Funny how in the midst of those hectic days, we wish for days and weeks like these... but once they come we're often bored out of our minds and left wondering when the tide will turn.

And in addition to my usual week 12 why-isn't-the-semester-over! blues, the weather hasn't exactly been helpful in my efforts to shake the melons from the melancholy tree. The month of April has certainly lived up to it's reputation of frequent rain and overcast skies. It has rained every day since the start of the month and only now is looking to dry up for at least a day or two. And so the great outdoors haven't exactly been inviting during what was supposed to be the debut of Spring. Like the past few days, this weekend just came and went as we kicked around the house and did nothing in particular. I think we ventured outdoors only twice as a family (dinner last night and church today) and today I ventured alone to the gym for a workout and a much needed change of scenery. And now here I am, back in front of the computer, taking three whole paragraphs just to say that I don't really have anything to say. What a woeful waste of keystrokes and bandwidth. I guess I should at least include a photo of Justin to make this entry worth your while. Because these, my friends, are 5 minutes of your life that you will never get back.

Oh by the way, the photo archive has been updated this weekend. So if nothing else you can click here to view the month of March and revisit a time when this author wasn't feeling so blah. And check back with us when the sun comes out. My writing skills are obviously solar powered and therefore guaranteed to be more interesting once the clouds break and the sun rays hit this avid photographer's face. See you then!

This robin was nice enough to pay us a visit despite the rain.
If nothing else, she gave me an injection of optimism as I look forward
to getting back to nature and the great outdoors once Spring
declares itself here for good.