Friday, November 23, 2007

Vital Post-Thanksgiving Poll: The Leftover Sandwich

After Thanksgiving dinner a few of us were discussing that delicious post-holiday feast, the leftover sandwich. At first we were all, oh yeah, turkey bits on the bread, yum yum, etc. And then I offered, "Yeah, it's so great, right? Put some extra mashed potatoes on there --" "WHAT?"

Apparently I'd offended the sensibilities of the two men to either side of me. They insisted, "The bread would get all soggy!" "Uh, what?" "Do you use stale rolls then??"

I'm sorry, but what sorry excuse for Thanksgiving cuisine are you having that your mashed potatoes are so sloppy they'd make a roll soggy? And I thought it was just common sense -- the leftover sandwich is made of LEFTOVERS. Not some of the leftovers, but the sum total of leftovers. It's a Thanksgiving feast between two pieces of bread, not just fodder for your next plain jane turkey sandwich. You warm up the roll, which is not stale, slice it in half, then slather tiny portions of turkey (dark meat, please), mashed potato, stuffing, perhaps a green bean or two, and if you're into that kind of thing, some cranberry sauce. I also happen to like mine with a little bit of mayo -- that cliches into a sandwich. That's not gross, that's American. Ask my mom.

Failure. Success! Failure. Succe...er, failure.

Turkey Time
Here's the delicious turkey and fixins our friend/chef made for us yesterday, while I annoyingly took pictures of everyone and many of the dog. I can appreciate a little dog that just walks around looking cute, but doesn't yap or get under foot. I still could have done without the wiping-dog-ass conversation that we had over dinner though.

Today was Home Improvement Day #2. Nick came back from his Thanksgiving on the island to drive me to Home Depot and try to get a replacement window. This time I brought the broken window with me, hoping that the HD representative could just get me the same thing. It became clear about 5 minutes into the conversation that the window guy was an idiot, but even worse, HD didn't sell what I needed. Essentially I'm going to have to get the gates put on the house next week and just put some plastic over the inside, and special order the window.

The good news is that the rest of the windows snapped back into place relatively easy, so those are ready to be gated up. The final major task for today: new back door. I specifically asked the dude at HD if I had all the pieces to put in the door, and, as I expected, needed to finally buy an electric drill, which is a good investment anyway, along with a "nail set," which is like an awl. I specifically asked if I needed more nails or screws and he told me no. Well, let's just say it's a good thing I can reuse the ones on the current door, because that guy's an idiot.

Anyway, Nick and I went to town on the current door, which is a royal piece of shit, and proceeded to strip all our screwdrivers, rip off jams, and finally, realize how we were going to attach the door, in the dark, without unboarding the house, knowing that an iron gate was going to have to fit in the space as well. We brainstormed, and finally decided to leave it until the morning.

Then we came back to my house so he could examine the bike I bought on craigslist a few weeks ago. Surprise! The bike is a total piece of shit. The entire back hub needs to be replaced, meaning it's not ridable at all, and it *may* just be better, in the end, to buy a new bike than have it fixed, but I'm going to see how much it costs first. Oy.

Tomorrow I have another contractor coming by the house to do estimates on a few things I need done, and I realized that I could half one of the projects if I just take a screw to some shitty drywall the last guy put up. The more and more I look at the house, I realize how totally incompetent the last owner was. Wait, did I say that in my last post? Anyway, he was an idiot, and I'm going to have to fix every little detail he touched. Woot. Hopefully after the contractor leaves I can finish the door and toilet installation. I think we finally found the water on/off lever, so we'll give that a go, too.

Right now I need to go sew a button on my jacket. A regular handyperson I am!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Credit Card Advice

I actually get to start some of the hard core financial dealings I wrote about in the last post real soon. As a condition of my house closing, I had to pay off a credit card -- actually, I would have had it paid off by now, but then I decided to buy a house, and my lender was pretty clear that for the time being I should not spend a cent of my hard cash, that included paying anything over minimums then. So paying off the card is kind of a bonus for me, instead of all my closing cash just going to fees and whatever (it has to do with the type of loan I got -- it includes a large government "gift").

So I am in the happy position of being, um, 1/3 debt free. Here's the thing: this isn't going to last long. Because I only get half my loan up front, I basically have to credit the other half until my house inspection is cleared.

The obvious:
1) Negotiate a lower rate on all three cards by threatening to move the funds and cancel the card.
2) Negotiate a low transfer rate and shift everything around.
3) Cancel one card and open a great, rewards, 0% for 12 months, etc, card.

Have any of you been in a similar situation? What did you do? I assume I'll do some combination of 1 + 2, but if I do 3...what card do I get? Do any of you have an awesome credit card (as far as credit cards go) that you'd recommend?

Furthermore, do any of you have any negotiating "tricks" when it comes to getting your percentages lower? Mine aren't too bad to begin with, so I'm hoping to not have too much trouble, but of course they won't give it up with out a fight.

Leave comments if you feel like spreading the joy to my millions of readers (or actually, the millions of people who've been googling "waive into DC bar" lately -- congrats 2007 CA bar passers!), or just shoot me an email at twotimingthecosmos[at]gmail[dot]com. Thanks!

Monday, November 19, 2007

This is my (really really long) awe-inspiring (for me) epiphany moment

You'll certainly see this turning into the Home Improvement Cosmos over the next few months (years) as I get the new place fixed up, but something a little more under the radar that I've been working on for the past few months, and am making long terms plans for, is fixing my personal financial situation.

I found Get Rich Slowly after my friend Rebecca sent me a link to a gardening post he did, and I immediately got hooked on the blog. The writer is a pretty average joe (actually turns out to be one of Chai's friends!), so he's not doing crazy investing I wouldn't understand or couldn't afford, and he's not dealing with some totally fucked up credit situation and starting from square one.

So he's a lot like me: a fairly responsible person who wasn't born rich and acquired more debt than he'd like over his lifetime for some legitimate and some regrettably wasteful reasons. He's way ahead of me, and is about to become debt free for the first time when he gets his bonus over the holidays. (The only places we seem to differ are that he's married and seems to live in the suburbs -- I remember a long comment thread of people appalled at the mere thought of a $10 cocktail -- but for the most part it's irrelevant when it comes to his advice.)

I'm just starting out. If I'd put off buying a house, and dedicated myself to saving money the way I've been doing over the past six months, I could have been credit card debt free in about a year and a half, maybe two. But, I found the house I loved, and the equity I'm building along with the huge tax benefits I'll get (to wit: the $5000 credit I'll get next year) made me steer off course a little bit.

The major problem, however, is the massive amount of money I have to spend up front for this thing. I'm getting about $23,000 from my construction loan, but there is about $8000 in other work that needs to be done before or contemporaneously with the major projects. (Not to mention the kitchen and bathroom redos, which aren't necessary, so they'll have to wait awhile.) And of course I have to cut a $7000 check tomorrow, but I haven't actually received any of the loan yet! Gaaaaah.

The next six weeks are going to be about me manipulating my finances like Catherine Zeta-Jones robbing a laser protected bank. After this is over, after my house has passed inspection and I get the rest of my loan, after I refinance and start paying $600 less a month on my mortgage, I'm going to fully embrace personal finance reform, starting with opening a high interest online savings account ... which is something so unbelievably obvious I can't believe I had to read it on a blog to realize I should be doing it.

Then: I will "pay myself." Which is the concept of direct depositing your paycheck into your online savings account, from which you pay all your bills, and also from which you give yourself a small "allowance" that you deposit into your standard ATM wielding bank account (but assuring that you're paying over your minimums and/or keeping a substantial amount in your HI savings), and compromises the amount of money you're actually allowed to spend every pay period. It's kind of stupidly brilliant.

I'm actually getting pretty used to this very lo-fi lifestyle I've been living. Progresso soup for lunch everyday (at $2 a pop rather than the $7-10 I was spending every day)...I know I should be bringing my lunch, but one step at a time. I almost never eat out for dinner, instead make dishes that last 2-4 days with different formations of rice, pasta, stewed tomatoes, black beans, onions, jalapenos and cheese, with some turkey sandwiches to break up the monotony. When it gets cold I become a homebody anyway, so staying in and watching netflix (or like the past few weeks, working) is my status quo, and not spending $30-40 on beer or jack daniels or whatever. I haven't bought a piece of clothing since I hired on my realtor in August (even though I'd kill for some sweaters right now).

But you know what? Spending close to nothing (we'll ignore the $420 I dropped at Home Depot on Sunday) feels Really Really Good (the HD purchase gave me serious anxiety). It feels GREAT. I think way back when I just got used to having this stupid credit line, and didn't feel so bad using it because I was 1) in law school and was using it to buy groceries or 2) eventually started making good money and was paying more than my minimums, even though I'd still use them on occasion. Now the thought of hitting up the mall and dropping a hundred bucks on a new pair of pants actually, inexplicably, outweighs the satisfaction I'd get out of the new clothes. Being debt free eventually is such an exciting thought, it actually makes me even more happy I now have a big house to ramble around in, cook big meals, and practice my hobbies (gardening! writing! starting my own business! (yes, that's a "hobby" for now)), rather than sitting in a bar three nights a week drinking cheap beer. Not that I won't still do that on occassion, but man it's a huge money and time suck.

What I'm saying is that now that the House has pulled me screaming into Adulthood, maybe....I'm happy I'm here?

Don't worry, marriage and children still freak me out. One thing at a time people.

Weekend Warrior

I spent my first fixer-up day at the house today. Lucky for me, Brian and his SUV volunteered to help me with some heavy lifting for the low, low price of a batch of chocolate chip, peanut butter chip, oatmeal cookies. We went to Home Depot and picked up far too much before I realized a huge chunk of my money is tied up at my title attorney's office until Monday or Tuesday, but I did get a new back door, two new toilets, front door locks, and an extraneous padlock that I forgot to buy the accompanying chain for.

So I finally got that moment that most people get during their closing, when the seller hands over the keys, except I ripped mine from a two-pack, super-plastic coated doorhandle package. We managed to get them on with only minor problems. The actual door handle is on upside down, ironic only because Brian had just finished telling me he'd done that in a former house of his, though a much lesser problem than when we forgot to add the tumblers the first time around. The prior owner revealed more of his incompetence today, as we realized the door and the deadbolt hole don't quite line up. (Also during my tour I realized that the kitchen cabinets are even worse than I'd first realized -- two lower cabinets close with a decent 1-2" gap!)

Side note -- I'm watching Flip That House and they just found out while cutting down a tree in the yard that the entire inside is filled with Africanized Bees (relatives of "killer" bees)...so, I think my project is looking up!

I also removed my first toilet evar! Thrilling. And, you know, pretty goopey. It was at this point I remembered I brought my camera to get some "before/after" pictures, but naturally ended up in its crosshairs sprawled underneath an old toilet, so, I'm still considering their upload potential. They'll probably make a good cover to the "Heather's Renovation" book when this is all over.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bailamos!

Oh lord. Dick Valentine can have my children. I just got back from my second Electric Six show at the Black Cat (and sober! amazing what going another 300K into debt will do to your consumption), and despite a few nitpicks, it totally rocked, again. Their new album with an impossibly long name actually had to grow on me a bit, unlike Switzerland, which is impossibly killer, but after a few or five run throughs I finally realized it was amazing, just kind of different than their usual style. They actually played Green Building tonight, which I consider their "slow" song, but it's kind of not when you're yelling it at the top of your lungs. Awesome.

Only complaint: That band is way too popular and they have too large a catalog to be playing such a short show, and "4 songs from each album" is not a good ratio, when it means you're not playing Slices of You or Infected Girls (!). I need my awkward moment where I'm dancing like crazy and want to sing along but instead spy around to see who's making up the Herpes Crew yelling, "Infected girls do it better!"

Regardless, my feet blissfully hurt, and even though going to these dance band shows means you often end up to some crazy person shoving their elbows into everyone, I'll be sticking up a reminder to look out for their next swing through DC.

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