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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Afforable Home Upgrades

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 18, 2014

Sorry for the lack of posts last week I’ve been up to my eyeballs in projects around the house.  The major one is my wife’s long awaited cork flooring has arrived so I was doing a small test run on installing it in the front entry.  That way I’m ready for the much bigger project of installing the cork floor in her kitchen.  We also decided to buy enough material to do the same flooring in the back hallway and laundry room.  So while the material wasn’t that cheap ~$1900, it will cover a large area so it should make the house a fair bit more enjoyable once I finish all the installs.  Here is what it looks like so far.

Cork in Front Entry

Yet that wasn’t the only project I was working on.  The other project was completed in a single day for a cost of a mere $155, which is the main subject of this post.  It consisted of rescuing our backyard plant bed from the weeds and putting down two yards of mulch to suppress the weeds from coming back.  I recently learned I previous wasn’t putting down the mulch thick enough to do a good job of weed suppression.  I last time put down perhaps two inches of mulch when in fact 4 or more inches is required.  I learned the hard way on that one here is the before and afterwards pics.

Before

Before

After

After

But that project was the perfect example that home improvement doesn’t in fact have to be expensive.  Unfortunately due to media brainwashing everyone tend to think of major improvement like redoing a kitchen when in fact there are a entire class of projects that can make a home more enjoyable which can be done on a limited budget.  The trick to find something that largely requires time to complete it, but you have the skills to do the work yourself and the material costs are low.

So as I already mentioned, mulch is a damn cheap material to work with. So it can be used under trees, in beds to keep down weeds and also look a bit nice looking.  Other bulk materials like crusher dust can be used to create pathways or support patios and if you order is bulk is again fairly affordable.  Also ask friends and neighbours about splitting perennial that already exist in their yards like iris or day lilies. You can often create a nice bed of plants with a bit of labour and some patience.

Inside the house your best friend in the world is paint.  Per can it might be expensive (DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON PAINT YOU WILL REGRET IT – trust me I learned that also the hard way), but your coverage is fairly huge and it can make a big impact on a home.  This is by far the most common reno we do after buying a new property as we can often get a room done in a regular weekend.  Or if you can secure some help for a week it is possible to paint an entire small house in just a week.

Other project that can be affordable include change out light fixtures (as long as you don’t shop for a new chandelier), flooring projects (if you choose an affordable option and keep to a smaller area) and most projects that involve fabric if you know how to sew (new pillow covers or curtains).  Then if you are open to shopping around a bit you can also snag some excellent deals on materials, it just helps to have an open mind and not being bothered by buying other people’s leftovers.  I once got a great deal on oak hardwood just because the people in question decided to sell their house instead of finishing the flooring project they had started.

So in the end, don’t think you need to spend $20,000 to do a reno project to your house.  In fact, you can like make your house a lot nicer for a fraction of that cost as long as you don’t mind doing the work yourself.  Since I like learning new skills I rather enjoy that sort of thing myself.

What was your lowest cost project in your house?  Any other ideas on affordable renos?

That’s Not How it Works

Posted by Dave on August 12, 2014

I recently made a significant golf club purchase, buying a last year’s model of a club that dropped over 50% in price (an R1, replacing my 9-year-old R5 for any golfers out there). Anyone familiar with golf will know that there will probably be a minimal change to my scores, but there is always the “new” thing coming out to entice a golfer. Like any junkie, I’m hoping this new club will fix the issues I’ve been having with my swing.

While at the golf course playing with one of my buddies, I was asked why I didn’t get the the newest model. Beyond the fact that I know there will be at best an improvement to my golf game, the cost of the newer, fancier club is almost 2.5 times higher than the one I got. My argument with the vast majority of these kind of frivolous purchases is that they are almost entirely unnecessary. Golf alone is kind of a ridiculous hobby to have, but it’s something I’ve done for 25 years and can’t see doing anything else in the summer.

My wife has been asked by co-workers in the past why she wouldn’t work on more of a part-time schedule, instead of working her current 40 hour work-week. Similarly, I get questioned about my moderate “cheapness” when it comes to using super-cheap golf balls or the use of “old” equipment.

While we have no debt, no major expenses, and a fairly cheap lifestyle. The way that we have achieved our financial goals thus far, and the way that we will continue to move closer to our final goal of financial independence is to keep our current path. Our path remains in making conscientious purchase decisions, and maximizing our earning potential over the next decade or so.

Much of my twenties was spent turning all of the money I earned into nothing all that useful to my future. My $150 golf club purchase that happened after 6 weeks of research and comparing prices pales in comparison to some of the toys I mindlessly threw cash at. I’m happier now, sticking to my financial plan and hopefully achieving financial independence. This plan doesn’t really work that well if I were to go back to my spending pattern I kept a decade ago.

Opting Out

Posted by Dave on August 5, 2014

My wife has been in her current job for about a year and a half. Her company has a 6 month probation period, after which she was eligible for benefits – health, disability and life insurance. When her probation period ended, we talked about the type of insurance that she would be getting and compared it to what we currently had. I have been at my place of work for over 10 years now, and I have excellent benefits, including disability, and some life insurance to round out the package given to me.

The way my company’s insurance works (which is probably identical to how everyone else’s is set up) is that you can either be eligible as a single person, or as a family. Family insurance covers 2 or more people, which kind of peeves me off, being a “family” of two, and paying as much as someone with 4 children, but that’s a whole other discussion.

When we looked at what my benefits were covering, what my wife’s potentially would cover, and then looked at actual usage of benefits over the past five years, it didn’t make sense to have two insurance plans. Her plan was going to cost us approximately $500 per year, which we thought could be spent better someplace else in our budget.

I’m usually all for insurance of all kinds. I have CAA, I have probably too much life insurance for us, I pay for a decent amount of car and house insurance and in the past have taken out liability policies for things like weddings and other large parties I’ve “hosted” where things could get litigious. Even with my healthy love for insurance, I couldn’t see double-paying for a lot of stuff we haven’t used or would ever require. My wife requested that she be opted out of the group plan and signed the appropriate paperwork saying that if she ever wanted back in, she would be required to have a medical exam.

Last month, on a normal audit of benefits, it was found that opting out shouldn’t have been provided as an option. We requested documentation stating why she was previously allowed to not be involved in the group plan, but now was being “forced” to do so. At that point, the insurance company made a “one-off” decision to allow her to stay out of the plan.

These are the kind of financial decisions that do take a lot of thinking about. The risk we are taking is fairly minimal, that being a lack of insurance coverage vs. the cost of being over-insured.

My preference would be to have all of the money my employer is currently paying for the remaining benefits plan to be paid to me, so that I can do with it what I want to do. I would rather be able to choose between a super-upgraded private benefits plan or have no benefits at all and invest or spend the money.

Would you have kept the secondary plan? Do you carry private health insurance?