Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Image by leff via Flickr
Two things are bugging me right now. 1) Our house has a water leak somewhere, and it may cost a lot of money to fix it. There will be digging in our yard, and when there's digging, that usually means $$$. Ick. 2) Will wants to rent a Mini Cooper S for our trip to England, and I'm having difficulty locating a "car hire" location who will rent one to us because we're doing an open-jaw flight. (Open-jaw means we're flying into one city and back out of another.) Why does he want to rent a Mini? In short, Minis used to be produced and owned by a British company but are now German-owned with BMW as the parent company. He wants the British experience, and a Mini is about as British as it gets.
The water leak should be a relatively easy fix even if it's an expensive one. So obviously, I'll be able to let this one go as soon as it's done. But the car rental is another story. Because the trip is still relatively far away (and given my near-obsessive tendencies to find the best possible deal when I'm trip planning), I can see me searching and searching and searching and...well, you get the idea. I'll search until I find exactly what we're looking for.
"Why not get a regular car?" you ask. The answer is really quite simple. Will likes to drive. In particular, he likes to drive specialty cars that you may or may not be able to drive here in the States. Because it's a vacation and because he's a car man, we typically make a little splurge on a vehicle so that he can get the driving bit out of his system. This makes him happy and it makes me happy. In other words, we both get what we want out of the deal. He's pretty much willing to go along with anything else I ask if he gets to do some driving
Tonight, I expect I'll be scouring the Internet searching for the perfect car and the perfect deal. It's too much pressure, I tell you!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
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The title of this post says it all. It's a little surreal since he was such a larger-than-life figure. This afternoon, when TMZ.com announced his death, I didn't believe it. TMZ is not known for being the most reliable source. They're more akin to the National Enquirer than the New York Times. But despite their questionable credibility, they were the first to break the story. When the Los Angeles Times confirmed his death, I knew it was true.
While I was never a fan of Jackon's, I do feel as if I lost a bit of my childhood today. I grew up as a child of the '80s and '90s, so his presence was always in the background of my musical history. His influence was everywhere.
Today, I find myself so sad for him and the way he died. I saw a photo of him tonight on TV taking one of his last breaths as paramedics worked to save him. Even in his last moments, he couldn't have peace. MJ was a troubled man, one accused of vile crimes like pedophilia and child molestation. While he was acquitted of child molestation, that stigma haunted him for the rest of his life. None of us but those involved will probably ever know if he actually committed those crimes, but regardless, forever after, he was broke, in debt, his reputation ruined, and homeless. As an American cultural and musical icon, what a hard fall that must have been.
I will never forget where I was when I heard of Princess Diana's death in 1997. Just a few hours later, Mother Teresa was also dead. Today, with the closeness in time of death between Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, I am again reminded of that day. I'm sure we'll learn so much about both of these figures within the next few days.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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This topic comes up every now and then, and every time I hear the details, I shake my head in wonder.
American Express has an exclusive card called the Centurion. Apparently, it's this obscure, black AmEx card which requires you to pay a $2,500 annual fee plus a one-time $5,000 initiation fee. Now, as I understand it, Visa has introduced their own Visa Black with a $495 annual fee. In both instances, the fees are outrageous. Yes, AmEx and Visa add on some nice little "perks" for the cardholders, but when you're paying $2,500 a year just to say you have a card, it is at that point, my friends, that most would concur you have more money than sense.
And what I find even more astounding about the annual fees is that there is actually a blog devoted to following the people who have them--a sort of virtual fan club for the ridiculously wealthy and in-debt among us. Sheesh. We are certainly a society of sheep when it comes to this.
Monday, June 22, 2009
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This weekend, I took the plunge and booked the airfare. If I had booked a week and a half ago, I could have saved $200. How?
On Twitter, I follow several travel websites and experts. Among those is Rick Seaney of FareCompare. Rick reports daily on dropping or increasing airfares. Since this comes in real time, it's easier to catch the deals. Last week, the bottom of airfare prices approached among the airlines, and I missed it. For me, this is a rare event, and I'm kicking myself because when I saw a fare last week that wasn't bad, I should've jumped on it. Now, the $200 savings I lost doesn't bother me as much as the fact that I lost the game...and I pride myself on being good at the airfare game.
In frustration at the $773 roundtrip fare I'd won, I asked Rick if he thought I made the right call. He did because oil prices are rising again and airlines have stopped discounting so deeply. Last week, if I had made my purchase, I could have gotten a roundtrip ticket for $681. In his opinion, the bottom was dropping out of prices, and it is difficult to gauge exactly when you should jump on a fare. Like him, I am a bit of a risk taker and believed that I would see fares drop further. They didn't and instead climbed higher. The lesson learned from this is that you shouldn't be greedy even when it comes to getting a great deal. It could come back and bite you in the behind.
The bright spot in all of this? I booked my tickets through Orbitz.com after Delta couldn't verify my debit card for whatever reason. And Orbitz, as luck would have it, offers a price guarantee. If I find a lower fare on another site, I can get a refund for the amount over $5 and under $250. So...you can believe I'll be looking for that fare.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
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I've been fantasizing about this trip to England for several months now. This week, I finally booked the London hotel room in the area of Kensington. At this point, it's starting to feel more like a reality than it did before. I still have to book the flight, but I'm going to watch airfare prices for a while before I jump on one. At this point, the trend seems to be that they're going up. I've had my best luck purchasing tickets about three months out, so I'm hedging on actually purchasing until I'm sure I'm getting the best fare possible. I'm actually a bit of a bloodhound when it comes to getting the best price, so this is not an unusual tactic for me.
We're going to try something different this time around. We'll spend three days in London, celebrating my birthday there. Then, we'll rent a car and drive the English countryside. I don't plan to make any reservations for food or hotels outside of London. This should be an interesting experiment. We're going to stop at B&Bs as we travel and hope they have a room available for the evening. This is how things used to be done but not so much anymore with the advent of the Internet and Uncle Google (as my friend Kim calls it).
Right now, Will is searching for car rental deals and mapping out our driving route. It's looking like we will cross over into Wales at some point and definitely Scotland so that I can visit Gretna Green. That's a big one for me. I'd also like to hit Stratford-upon-Avon and see the Shakespeare stuff.
Anyway, this is all pretty exciting. But one thing that I do recommend is that if you're able, always travel in the off-season. Deals are so much better after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. And if you can travel in March or October as we are often wont to do, you'll get an even better bargain.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Image by circulating via Flickr
Growing up, we lived in a very rural area on top of a hill in southern Kentucky. All of our neighbors were at least 1/4 mile away. We had no basement. So when a tornado blew through the area, the most likely target--should the tornado swirl our way--was our house perched on top of its makeshift watchtower. Terrifying, no?
Finally, three years ago, Will and I uprooted ourselves and moved to Chicago. Now there was a place we didn't need to worry about tornadoes. Right?
Wrong. While we lived in Chicago (about two years), I can recall at least one tornado warning for the city. A little scary but not nearly the terrifying encounters I experienced in Kentucky. In Chicago, I was more concerned about someone grabbing my purse--or my leg (yes, it actually happened on the El but I'll tell that story another time)--than I was about the weather. Well, that's not entirely true. Three feet of snow on the ground does tend to concern one in a way that a tornado can't.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Now, I'm back in Tennessee, and once again, I'm in Tornado Alley. It's actually so commonplace here that when you hear about a tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning, you learn not to pay much attention to it. Chances are it's not going to affect you and will die out before it gets to you. This afternoon was yet another example of that as I sat at my desk working while the clouds swirled into a gray mass outside my window.
But I do think it's time I purchased that weather radio for my house. You know. Just as a precaution.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I think the answer is relatively simple. It was more trouble than I wanted to deal with to list them and sell them. Or maybe I was hanging onto them thinking that these were things we might need to use someday. I think people often form emotional attachments to stuff. And really, that's all it amounts to: stuff. In my case, it was random, useless stuff. It's amazing that people will actually buy this stuff that I can no longer use. It does two things: 1) Rids my life of clutter and 2) provides me with a little extra money.
So...what do you have lying around that you could stand to remove from your life?
Friday, June 12, 2009
Image by nickpix2009 via Flickr
There are two recent events in my life that caused me to reevaluate what would happen in the event of my death or Will's death. First, we're planning another vacation--specifically, an international vacation. With the recent Air France Flight 447 crash, I realize that my chances of being involved in a plane crash are quite slim, but it did make me think about what would be left behind if we were to die in such a tragic accident. Would our family have the information they need to take care of our final business? The other event happened today. A new widow wrote to us to let us know that she was unsubscribing from MyTotalMoneyMakeover.com because her husband had been killed in an automobile accident recently and her income had become nonexistent. (We took care of her, by the way.)
Will and I began the term life insurance process back in March when we bought our first home. A big motivating factor for this was us not wanting to leave behind a mortgage for our parents to worry about paying off as quickly as they could by selling a home that might not sell right away. We don't have children, so this and our desire to take care of one another were our motivations for the life insurance. It was just finalized this month.
Yesterday, we signed and notarized our final wills and testaments. While we seem young and healthy and don't have children, every person over the age of 18 should have a will. Should one of us die prematurely, the other would have a will to execute quickly and easily. It would relieve much of the burden of a sudden death. Should we die at the same time, those instructions are just as clear.
If you were to die tomorrow, would your family know what to do? It's not pleasant to think about your eventual death, but it does need to be dealt with. Dave Ramsey recommends leaving behind a so-called Love Drawer. It should include all of the elements one would need to wrap up the final details like life insurance policies, a final will and testament, or account usernames and passwords. In the midst of extreme grief, it makes it easier for your loved one(s) to grieve instead of worrying about how they're going to pay for the funeral.
Life is short. It can end on a moment's notice. The topic may seem morbid, but it is absolutely vital to your family to take care of these things. Do it today--especially if you have children.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
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Most people--because they have children or just like the sunny weather--choose to take their vacations during the summer. While summer is certainly a great time to travel, I'd suggest you wait until an off-season time, particularly if you're going to a popular destination. Will and I prefer to travel in March or October. These months are not too cold, not too warm, and rates are still low just about everywhere we'd want to go. Compare the airfare rates, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
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I've been thinking about doing a home exchange for quite some time now...for at least the last two or three years--certainly long before we bought our house. The advantage of doing a home exchange is that you place your name on a list (commonly a site like HomeExchange.com or HomeLink.org), pay a yearly fee, and you're able to view home listings around the world where you can stay...for free. There are some catches but not many.
First, you must be willing to trust someone else to live in your home for a long weekend, a week, or for whatever period of time you agree upon with this person. Ideally, you will be living their home for the same period of time. Sometimes, this exchange includes usage of a car, care of pets, etc. The terms of agreement can vary. Basically, you're swapping lives with someone and you need to be comfortable with the idea that someone else will be using your things. The fee that the home exchange websites charge typically gets rid of a lot of the riffraff, so chances are that the person staying in your home is just like you and looking for an economical way to take a vacation.
Second, your desired locations don't always match up with someone else's desired locations, making it difficult to find a home to exchange. If you live in, say, Knob Lick, Kentucky, you might have a hard time finding someone in Bordeaux, France to exchange a home with you.
Home exchange travel is something I'm really curious about,and now that I have a home, I'm a little closer to convincing Will that we need to do this. We would essentially have a free place to stay instead of paying for a hotel at $200 or more per night. When I asked my co-workers about it, they said they wouldn't do it. They didn't seem entirely comfortable with the concept. And I can imagine that most people wouldn't be. But I've always considered myself a bit of an adventurer when it comes to travel, so among my own circle of friends, family, and co-workers, perhaps I'll become a pioneer and blaze the trail. After all, an apartment on the Seine in Paris sounds pretty appealing, don't you think?
For more information, you can visit the Home Exchange Travels blog.
Friday, June 5, 2009
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This morning, Ben sent me a link to an article with some intriguing stem cell research possibilities. As it turns out, some scientists in Australia have been reversing blindness with stem cell cultured contact lenses. You can read more about it here.
While this current research won't really help my own particular vision issues at this time since the research applies to corneal blindness and not retinal conditions, it does give me some hope. The scientists aren't sure at this point how stable the reversal of blindness will remain, but even still, this would be a simple, cost-effective, and relatively easy treatment. The patients' own stem cells were used, which makes the research even less controversial than other forms of stem cell research.
I can't wait to see where this takes us. No more eye injections for me? Reversing blindness in infants at birth? And it might not apply to just eyes. This research may very well be applicable to other major organs such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, and on and on.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
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Here's a revelation: crunchberries are not an actual fruit.
It would seem that plaintiff Janine Sugawara sued PepsiCo because she was deceived into believing that crunchberries in Cap'n Crunch with Crunchberries were an actual berry variety. A federal judge promptly dismissed the claim.
You can read more about the lawsuit here.
Some balk at the cost of a passport ($100) or passport card ($45), but being in possession of one actually gives you a lot of freedom. A passport itself is good for 10 years, which comes out to only $10/year. The beauty of them is that your entire citizenship is documented in one tiny book. Rather than hauling in a birth certificate, driver's license, and/or a Social Security identification card to verify citizenship for jobs, you can just use your passport as an all-in-one. It can be used domestically for flights as well as border crossings into Canada or Mexico by car.
While this is an inconvenient rule change for some, I do think it will increase security at our borders. And increasing security in our country is never a bad thing.
Monday, June 1, 2009
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If you thought your state would forgive your student loans if you work in public service for a number of years, think again.
A New York Times article published on May 29th reveals a state financial crisis looming just beneath the surface. Another article published on May 26th reveals Kentucky's budgetary crisis. Apparently, many teachers were promised guaranteed student loan forgiveness, and Kentucky is rescinding that offer by reducing the state repayment amount to nearly nothing.
This is just one of the many reasons why Dave Ramsey tells people not to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. I mean, really. Let me get this straight. You signed the loan, you're responsible for the payments if something happens to remove your loan forgiveness, and now you're complaining that the loans won't be repaid by the state government?
I hail from Kentucky originally, and this state's had financial problems for years. This is not a shocker. But suddenly, these 26-year old college graduates are actually surprised that someone isn't going to pay off their student loans for them? When it comes to relying on taxpayers to take care of your education, I do not agree. The Times said in one of the articles that education is a fundamental right. I disagree. It is a privilege--one that we take for granted all too often here in the States.
While I can understand the plight and frustration of these former students, I do not empathize. I worked 40 hours/week all the way through college. And I paid off my student loan debt with no help from anyone but my husband. I think they need a budget instead of a handout from the state.