Saturday, August 8, 2009

Colorado Springs – Best City in the Nation

Well, according to the August 2009 edition of Outside magazine, that’s exactly what we are. Here is the rank order of the contestants (city, population, median cost of a home in thousands of dollars, funny commentary by me):

(1) Colorado Springs
, .617M, $180, Oh, yeah!

Palmer Park
(2) Seattle, 3.3M, $315, Ooh… Just a few too many cloudy days.
(3) Atlanta, 5.3M, $115, Too hot.
(4) Austin, 1.6M, $182, Same reason.
(5) Boston, 4.5M, $290, Sorry Anthony, but it looks like your town is just too expensive.
(6) Albuquerque, .845M, $182, No one can spell your town anyway…
(7) Portland, 2.2M, $248, Who lives in Oregon?
(8) Minneapolis, 3.2M, $174, I’ve had quite enough of the frozen north already, thank you very much.
(9) Cincinnati, 2.1M, $106, Well, my parents don’t live too far away from here, so I guess I could visit.
(10) Charlotte, 1.7M, $171, Nice name, but it reminds me of a spider for some reason. That’s bad for image.

Wow. I have friends that live in Seattle and Boston… Sorry, guys. Looks like CS has got you beat.
Park at Uintah

I admit, I never thought someone would rate CS over these big cities. Then again, I have never been to these big cities either. Colorado Springs definitely has a lot going for it, but I think this article hits on one really important factor…

Sure, we have mountains and access to nearly 4 million acres of wilderness… And world-class ski resorts... and a heavily tech-based economy…

Garden of the Gods

But if you ask me, all that means nothing without a reasonable cost of living.

It is rather ironic (in two ways), that I happened upon this article. The first irony is that I just posted an article about being separated from family, but being at least partially satisfied with the comforts of CS. Second, I have been having this “discussion” with Anne about the cost of living in CS. She keeps telling me how expensive the housing market is in comparison with Omaha. I keep telling her that a lot of the reason for difference in price is location. I told her that location is probably one of the biggest factors in home prices and that CS seems to be universally considered a great place to live. She wasn’t buying this. In perhaps the biggest I-told-you-so scenario in recent history, I have the pleasure of supporting my position with this fine literary example (the article).

On that note, I must point out that not only is the cost of living considered reasonable, but “extremely low” according to the article. Additionally, it is the main reason cited for “edging out” our big brother to the north, Denver. Who needs Broncos anyway? Not when I can afford to actually live with a gigantic view of Pikes Peak from my front yard.

OK, so here’s the part where I get to back-pedal a bit… See I was all happy with my argument until I found this article by that rates Papillion, Nebraska as #3 (which is basically Omaha, in case you didn’t know) on their list of the top 100 Best Places To Live!

Papillion, .022M, $151, This is why your wife is always right in the end... Thanks a lot CNN.

Rats. Well, I guess this could only mean one thing… No matter which place we end up, it’ll be great. Although, Colorado Springs was still number one…

Related Link:

Best Towns 2009

Relatively Speaking

Soon, our relatives will be visiting us in the Springs. They will be the first set to visit since we have lived here, and we are looking forward to it. Usually, we stay with them when we visit Omaha. Now, we finally get a chance to host them. Thank goodness there will finally be something to show them besides snowdrifts or sunflowers…

Let’s face it, Minot just does not have the same appeal as Colorado Springs. For one thing, I never have to describe to people where CS is on the map… And most people even seem to know there is a mountain here (I.e. Pikes Peak).

So, instead of telling you about all the great outdoor/scenic things we will do while they are here, I will talk about the importance of good family. It seems like good family is not always easy to come by. I have talked to so many people that would dread having anything to do with their families, much less the family of their spouse. I have lived a sheltered life, I suppose, as I would have no problem spending time with members of my wife’s family, or either side of my own. If there was a study done, I’m sure this would be a very rare phenomenon.

Park On Uintah

Unfortunately, we are geographically separated from both sides of our family. This has made things difficult at times, especially for Anne. She had never lived anywhere besides Omaha until she met me.

3 Degrees of Separation

Ironically, it was partly her idea for me to take a job that caused us to move. Now, I sometimes still feel a little guilty about that, but also realize our decisions were made with the best interest of our family in mind. We have grown as a family and learned to be much more independent than we probably would have otherwise. As a penalty though, we only get to see our families once or twice a year at best. And, of course, the usual negatives exist, like the fact that our kids don’t get to grow up around their grandparents or cousins. I know Anne does not always believe this, but I wish this did not have to be the case either. However, to complicate things, my side of the family lives in Ohio. So, there really is no perfect solution.

Palmer Park

Our most difficult challenge has been learning to live apart from our relatives, but we are trying to find joy in our present situation. CS has been a help, as it is a much more welcoming environment. Also, my plans to change career fields will, hopefully, allow us to settle down a bit. We found a church that our whole family seems to like (even the kids!), and that would definitely be difficult to replace. In fact, for the first time we feel like there is a chance that we could be satisfied living somewhere besides Omaha. There is a lot of pressure (not directly or purposely) to move back home… But I think it is evident to everyone that just dropping everything to move back home would be unwise. I am still open to finding a job there, but the prospects are significantly less abundant than in our current local area… At least for the time being.

Having the right attitude and priorities, we are better able to deal with things when they are not as picture perfect as we would like them to be. We are so blessed to have family that understands our situation and supports us. Even better, they still come to visit. I am also blessed to have a wife that still loves me, even though our situation is not our ideal. So, relatively speaking, we are happy to be just where we are, for now.

Sunset in the Springs

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Tale of Two Mindsets Continued...

Continued from "A Tale of Two Mindsets"

Part II - The Light

One of the first major steps to freedom was getting hold of our grocery bill. We had four young children, all hungry as ever. Anne became very interested in saving money in this department and began researching coupons and many other money saving methods (these methods will be discussed in future posts). After much hard work and time we began to see our grocery bill get smaller and smaller, yet the food we ate seemed to be getting better and better. Next we learned about things like smart shopping. CVS, Walgreens and Target all became resources for saving, instead of drains that led to the abyss. After a while, we started to see positive trends and notice that we still had money left over at the end of the month. The debt was still there, but the checking account was at least in the green. We decided it was time to start pouring every little extra cent into debt. First the cars, then the cards. We used nearly all of our tax returns for the last several years to melt the debt snowball. With “gazelle intensity” we started running down the path to financial freedom.

The most important lesson to learn is that no method will be successful without the proper mindset to back it up!

It is never easy. Waiting on the winning lottery ticket never works. Quick fixes never work. We began to view credit as almost an evil entity and delighted in slicing up old cards and cancelling credit accounts. My favorite cancellation experience was when a customer care representative, after having tried for a while to convince me of the great benefits of credit and why I shouldn’t cancel, asked me,

“Well, how are you planning on paying for things?”

“Aahh… With money,” I replied.

That may have been the epiphany for me. …The moment when I realized just how deluded our society has become in regard to credit. How will I pay for things? The answer should be so simple. Maybe the question should be, how should I pay for things? Or, how will I pay off things I never had the money to purchase in the first place? Unfortunately, the answers are usually found in painful lessons and in hind-sight.

FACT: Significant credit card debt can put you at a markedly higher risk of bankruptcy. (reference)

Here’s a scenario that puts things into perspective:

The Benefits of Freedom

Hypothetically speaking, if one makes $35,000 after taxes, they have approximately $2,916 per month to spend (no savings available or extra sources of income). Let’s say we have a house payment of $1,166, $150 in utilities, $700 in groceries, a $300 car payment ($7,500 left), a $75 cell phone bill, a $150 cable bill, $200 eating out and entertainment, and $150 in other misc bills/subscriptions, etc. That’s a total of $2,891. That should leave us with an excess of $25. Not much room to spare, but often the scenario many people face. Obviously, sudden extra expenses will be a problem, especially if they are sizeable.

Now let’s say we decide to get frugal and use less A/C, spend $150 less on groceries, cancel cable, stop eating out and cancel all of our subscriptions.

We should now have approximately $625 that we never seemed to have before.

We’ll take that $625 and apply it toward our car for one year (12 x $625 = $7,500 = Paid Off). Oh, look, no more car payment.

Now we have $925 more per month.

Take it to the next level. Take your extra $925 and put it in savings every month for 1 year.

You just saved $11,100 in only one year!

You now have a 3 month emergency fund. Do the same thing for the next 5 years and now you have saved or invested $55,500!! I won’t get into the math or philosophies of investment and savings in this post, but the basic math speaks for itself. Keep in mind; these numbers do not even take into account tax returns or other sources of income. (Disclaimer: I’m not too good with a calculator, but you get the idea.)

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that finally being debt free is not as fun as you might think it would be (at least initially). In some ways it is a great feeling and a relief, but it can be somewhat humbling and intimidating as well. That’s because it takes a lot of hard work and determination to get there and the very last thing you want is to go back into debt.

We are considering buying a house at some point (considered an acceptable debt by most financial advisors if done properly, even Dave Ramsey), but are apprehensive about even that form of credit. Currently, we rent our home, so we are literally free of debt in every way. We never want to use credit again or worship the FICO score, but the temptations don’t just go away. They are everywhere, and sometimes it becomes very easy to justify certain expenses. So far, we have been able to keep those desires within our cash budget, but every day we must remind ourselves how far we’ve come and just how much work and sacrifice it took to get here. We want to keep our freedom.

We have a lot of decisions ahead of us, but the most important will be to remain focused, continue on the path to financial freedom and to pass along what we have learned to our children. Hopefully, they will be much more prepared to face the wide world of credit and fend off debt wolves in sheep’s clothing than we ever were.

More Info You Need To Know:

10 Things Your Credit Card Company Won’t Tell You (

What You Don’t Know About Credit Cards Can Hurt You (

Credit Card Company Secrets (CBS News)

The Dirty Secrets of Credit Cards (

A Tale of Two Mindsets

Continued from "Debt Free in a World of Credit"

Part I - The Dark Side

When my wife and I got married we were both free of credit card debt. Getting rid of it had seemed like a good idea. Our pastor and pre-marital counselor seemed to think so too. Since we had lived at home (our parent’s homes, that is) during college and had no college loans, paying off our cards wasn’t really that difficult of a task. We even had about $10,000 saved up, but trips to Europe and other things that seemed really important at the time began to chip into our nest egg. We still had a couple of car payments too and used a lot of our reserve money to pay for our wedding. Things had started off so well, but our income was very low and no longer sufficient to sustain our new lifestyle. It wasn’t long before we began to fall into the dark abyss of debt.

FACT: There is no limit on the amount a credit card company can charge a cardholder for being even an hour late with a payment. (reference)

What happened? Life.

One of the most common reasons for going into debt is spending more money than you have.

It’s simple math that even my 2nd grader can accomplish, yet so many people get caught in this trap. The problem is greatly exacerbated by low income. We were making minimum wage and then we decided to have a kid. I stepped up the job search and increased my income to something a little more reasonable, but now only one of us had an income. When we wanted or needed something, it was simply charged. Things came to a point where virtually everything seemed to end up on a credit card and then we got even more credit cards. They all came with great deals like deferred payments, 0% interest and cash back. Cash back? Yeah, we were making money on the money we were spending that we didn’t have and were paying interest on. What a deal!

FACT: There is no federal limit on the interest rate a credit card company can charge. (reference)

Our minimum payments began to grow faster than the weeds behind our newly built, expensive apartment. We had two car payments on top of utilities. Food bills added up and who really has time to eat at home. Restaurants are just so much more convenient, and you can’t live without TV or cable… We were poised to experience one of the great features of credit cards that you don’t get to hear about on the commercials. MASSIVE PENALTIES.

Think credit cards are cool? Try missing a payment.

We had never missed a payment. In fact, I’m not sure we’d even had a late payment. But none of that mattered when they slapped us with a $750+ penalty. Why did we miss it? We had the money; we just got so bogged down in life (I.e. our son being born) that we simply forgot to pay it. I don’t know if it was because we lost the bill or we never got one. You always feel a little paranoid and confused. Years later, we learned that credit card companies have committees that sit around and think of ways to earn more money. One of those methods involves sending a random group of people a bill late on purpose. Credit card companies were (until very recently*) not required to send you a bill in a reasonable amount of time, but you were required to pay it, including penalties. Enough people would pay the late fees thinking they lost the bill that it is worth it to credit companies. I was personally given a first-hand account from someone who worked in the industry confirming this exact same method and many other dirty tactics. Here’s an excerpt from an example from an ex-credit card customer service rep. Click Here for the full article.

HERE'S THE CATCH...knowing that it will take 7-10 days for your mailed payment to post (2-3 days postal & 5-6 days to process), the credit card company will wait and mail your bill 10 days before it's due, knowing that the odds of you mailing in your payment immediately the day you receive it is slim to none. That way, they get their late fee (MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!). I was told on break-time one day by a senior co-worker that legally a credit card company (I believe for those card companies based in Delaware) can hold sending your bill up until the 5th DAY before your payment is due--and don't think that they don't do that!!!!! Now you've got a late fee and finance charges being assessed on that daily!!!! When customers complain of this causal type of late fee, we couldn't justify with our withholding of sending your bill at the last minute or our lengthy sorting process, so we would just say it was a post-office issue and not our fault because "we don't have control over the postal system".

*Note: The federal government has been stepping in on this particular issue recently. Click Here to check out some of the upcoming changes.

Most revealing of credit card companies’ attitudes toward people is their reference to those who pay-off their accounts each month without incurring interest as deadbeats!

An excerpt from, The Dirty Secrets of Credit Cards:

Dirty Secret 9 – Good payers are called deadbeats!
Deadbeat – it’s what credit card companies call those folks who are responsible and pay off the balance each month. They don’t like those people, not one bit. That’s because they make little to no money off of them. No, credit card companies like you to carry a nice hefty balance and pay only the minimum each month. If you’re one of those people, known as ‘revolvers’, you’re part of the crowd that contributes roughly 90% of the credit card company’s income. What a crazy upside-down world credit is.

That’s pretty pathetic. What’s more pathetic is that we started off with no debt, had savings and still ended up with over $30,000 in debt. This noose would remain around our necks for nearly 11 years! Sometimes, we were able to chip away at the debt, but something always happened… Like a broken down car or a trip. It always seemed to hover around the same amount, even when my pay at work increased. It was hopeless. At times, we would just give up and buy stuff anyway. We tried tracking tools and books, but our hearts were never really into it.

Knowledge is key, but attitude is paramount.

Good attitudes can sometimes be like good intentions. The road to failure is often paved with them. A couple years ago, our mindsets finally began to change. We realized that we wanted to look at a different career path, but found ourselves stuck in the so-called “financial-draft”. It wasn’t until we started doing tons of research and following the advice of people like Dave Ramsey that we began to see the light.

To be continued...

Debt-Free in a World of Credit

Many people think being debt-free is impossible. I always did too. I mean, so many expenses, so many things you want. …So much debt already. How could being debt-free ever become a reality? Well, before we talk about the how, let’s talk about what it’s like to be free from the tyranny of the credit giants.

It’s not the feeling that I expected. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty amazing and exciting, but I thought I wouldn’t be able to wait even a minute to call up Dave Ramsey and shout, “We’re debt free!” Not only have we not called, I actually got a bit anxious thinking about all the next steps and things that we’ll have to save up for in the future. There’s college, a home, cars, emergency funds, savings, investments and even job transitions to plan for. You see, we are still at the beginning of our journey down “the path to financial freedom.” And it still seems like a long road ahead.

So, if I don’t have enough money, should I buy it anyway?

If you’ve never seen this video, you need to watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again.

In a way, having debt can feel pretty liberating. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say I want to go out and buy a new computer. It can be justified. I’m a student, my laptop is getting old and I’m gonna have to upgrade sometime. But I don’t have the money, not quite all of it anyway. I can just put it on my credit card. It’s just a few bucks a month and I’ll hardly notice the interest. Right? The problem with this is, of course, that a lot of things start to become small justifiable purchases… And before you know it, you’ve got thousands of dollars in debt. I don’t just mean a few thousand, I mean $30, $40, $50,000 or more. Rent Confessions of a Shopaholic to get a good idea of where this kind of mindset can get you.

Wait a minute. That stuff only happens to people who are irresponsible with money.

First, I believe that most people are irresponsible with money in some way. There can be many different reasons: Lack of experience or advice. Bad habits or bad “luck.” Bad investments. Big college loans. Naivety. The list goes on. Yet, our culture and our advertisement unabashedly proclaim credit as a form of freedom. It is a lot like surrendering to the enemy in order to preserve your life. You may live, but you will still be a prisoner.

Good money management. No debt. True freedom and happiness… Priceless. There are some things money can't buy. For Everything Else, There's MasterCard.

It’s no wonder the world has a debt centered mind-set. Take a look these other credit card company slogans:

American Express:

My life. My card.
Long Live Dreams
American Express. Do More.
Make life rewarding
Do you know me?
Don't Leave Home Without It
(American Express Charge Card)
The businessman's passport

Discover Card:

It pays to Discover


Visa. Love every day. (Europe)
Visa. All it takes
(Asia-Pacific campaign)
Visa. All you need.
It's Everywhere You Want To Be
Wherever it takes you, the future takes Visa
(European ad campaign)
Could be cheap. Could be expensive. Visa. All you need.

Long Live Dreams? Make Life Rewarding? Love Every Day?! Who are they kidding? Creditors are clearly trying to make their products sound like a solution to all of your problems.

This is why having the right mindset toward credit is critical to your financial survival.

To better illustrate this point, I will share with you a story about how credit works in real life, not in the credit industry’s fantasy land of plastic bliss. But you'll have to wait until my next post!

To be continued...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ghost Town Condo and Money Mistakes

One subject Dave and I want to tackle on this blog is the area of personal finance, including debt. Ah, the good old "d"-word. Debt has caused most of the economic problems that our country finds itself in. Debt has also caused many a financial headache for Dave and I over the years until we finally turned things around and paid it all off! (More on that to come.)

A story I just ran across about a guy who went into great debt holds some good lessons for us all. The poor sucker and his family made several mistakes including:

-buying a condo in a building that has few tenant/owners
-going into huge debt for a vacation home (not a good idea for your primary home either)
-putting all his financial eggs in one basket

Read his fascinating story about living in a building that seems like something "in a scary movie."

Story here.

I also found some fascinating insights into these people's state of minds and decision-making process. The wife states that "We wanted to believe... we were looking for what we were offered."

"We wanted to believe." They also wanted a vacation home they couldn't afford. Just like WE ALL want that certain car or house or whatever. It's easy to slip into that wishful thinking mode that leads to giving in to our wants and dreams without pragmatically facing our realities.

Just today I was faced with a big want. Dave and I want to buy a house with a little bit of land (like 1/2 to 1 acre or so) in the city so we can have gardens, chickens and rabbits. We recently found out that such a neighborhood exists in our city in just the area we want to stay in! I've been doing some research on Zillow and found a house in pre-foreclosure that we could potentially get a bargain on.

(this could be me... blissfully tending my garden on my little slice of country in the city... *sigh*)

But we weren't planning on buying a house for 2 or 3 years until we had a 3-6 month emergency fund and hefty down payment saved up. Oh yeah, and first we need to get through a job transition to know if we are even going to live in this state in 2 more years.

Yet I started thinking about that $8000 dollar tax credit the government is offering for first-time buyers. I found myself thinking that it could be okay if the payment was comparable to our rent and we got a bargain.

I started worrying about what would happen if the home prices climb back up and we are priced out. And what about those good interest rates right now? Aaagh!! It's so maddening how easy it is to justify this! I'm back to convincing myself it could be a good idea!

Must.Stay.Strong! Help! :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rearranging Furniture

Yesterday we took on a new project. Anne and I have decided to move all of our family room furniture, to include the TV and couch, downstairs. This will accomplish several things:

1. It will help eliminate the kids' constant video and video game watching/playing.

2. It will free up the family room space for use as a "play" room.

3. It will allow us to designate the main level as a living/family area and dedicate the basement to more recreational/educational pursuits.

We hope these changes will bring about a more active, more easily maintained lifestyle. This change will also encourage us to be more interactive as a family, since we will be less distracted. Anne has to take the credit on this one. The whole thing was her idea... And I hope it's permanent, because there is no way I am hauling all that furniture back upstairs! Not to mention, I think I broke the entertainment center!

Like many changes, this one will incur a little cost. We just purchased a little computer desk online from Walmart ($129) and we may need some storage for the toys, etc. But it will all be worth it in the end when we live in perfect harmony. OK, it may not be that dramatic, but I think it is a step in the right direction.

Here's the desk we chose:

Here are some that we eliminated for, hopefully, obvious reasons...