Sunday, April 22, 2012


We are going through the process of getting our house ready to sell. This was the first house we ever owned. Here are some reflections and advice for those young folk who may be pondering purchasing a house:

  1. The house you live in is not a very good investment. You might get lucky and buy when the market is down and sell when it is up, but not many people are that lucky. Also, owning a house requires a lot of money in maintenance, upkeep, and upgrades. Real estate investing is a great way to make money, but I would recommend doing so with homes/land that are not your primary residence.

  2. Never, ever buy a house in the suburbs. It sounds like a good idea, but I don't know of anyone who doesn't want to live either closer in to town or farther away in the country after living in suburbia for a few years. Suburbs are soul-sucking. You have to drive to do anything and you are still surrounded by people and their annoying chihuahuas.

  3. Get one less bedroom than you think you need. There is no reason to have a guest bedroom. With the money you save on less square footage (in the price of the house, taxes, heating/cooling, and upkeep) you can put your family up in a nice hotel when they come to visit.

  4. Don't buy stuff to fill your space. It is hard to have a lot of empty space when you first purchase a home. Learn to love the empty space. Acquire decorations from your travels and create art that pleases you. Save for furniture you really want and only get enough for you and those who live with you to use. Get rid of seldom used or unwanted items periodically.

  5. Check the maximum height of foundation shrubs. If it is taller than your window sills, dig them up and plant them on the edge of of your property. Otherwise you will be stuck pruning shrubs every two weeks during growing season to keep them from blocking out the sunlight. You will also get a lot of blisters.

  6. Plant trees and shrubs within the first year or two of owning the property. Pick the ideal locations based on what they will look like full grown. The faster you get them in the ground, the better the chance you will get to enjoy their shade and beauty instead of the next owner.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I have been doing our taxes by hand for several years. Our federal income taxes are fairly straightforward. Aside from itemizing deductions, we are pretty textbook: normal jobs, own one house, typical investments. However, I am surprised that we always seem to owe money especially when we give away 10% of our income to a non-profit. In a way I guess it is a blessing to make enough to be in a position to owe money. Also, we own a lot less house than we could technically afford, so I'm sure the smaller property taxes and mortgage interest are a big part of why others who make similar money seem to always get a refund. That and the fact that when it comes to taxes children are little cash cows!

This year I took the plunge and purchased TurboTax Deluxe software to see if perhaps I was missing something. It turned out to be worth the $30 investment. Using TurboTax I reduced the amount we owed by $733. I had missed a reduction in income from stock losses (one company we had invested in went belly up so the stock was worthless) and a deduction from the sales tax we paid when we bought a car with cash last year.

For previous years, I doubt the software would have been worthwhile. This year it paid off. Overall, I would say that it is worth the money to buy tax software if you feel like you might be overpaying. Worst case, you are only out $30 (less if you choose TaxAct or H&R Block software).

Even without the financial benefit, it was nice to not have to read through the 1040 instructions and fill out the bizarre forms to calculate things like what amount of tuition I could deduct. Those forms are maddening (multiply by a percentage, subtract row 3 from 5, take the lesser of row 6 and 7, if row 4b is more than $80,000 use form X, and so on)!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I had an eye exam back in January. My vision has been fine, but my glasses are two and a half years old and pretty well shot (I wear them every waking hour). The prescription changed only slightly. My eye exam was on a work day, so I came straight back to work without buying glasses. The following week I went to the mall to shop for frames. I was really disappointed. None were made in the US. None were particularly special. All were pretty pricey (I’ve noticed that the plastic frames that used to be the economy frames are now popular and cost as much as the metal frames). So, I decided to purchase online.

I had never purchased glasses online. I was extremely trepidatious. Part of my concern is due to my dislike of the hassle of returning products. I have a few co-workers who regularly purchase glasses online, but I think their prescription is weaker and therefore easier to fill.

I discovered there are two US manufacturers of a complete line of eyeglasses:
A few others manufacturer a few frames or non-prescription sunglasses domestically.

I ordered one pair of sunglasses and one pair of regular glasses. They cost a lot more than Zenni Optical or other online discount sources. It remains to be seen if they are worth the cost. I have only ever purchased high quality frames. They last about 2 years of regular use with lots of outdoor activities. My current frames are technically still perfectly fine. I have never had loose screws or other problems. They are only “worn out” in terms of surface scratches.
The expression kind of captures my uncertainty

But, I am digging the shades!

I am still up in the air about the regular glasses. The nose bridge extends into my field of vision and is about to drive me batty. Glasses are Shuron Regis I and shades are Shuron Freeway.