subscribe to the RSS Feed

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vacation Plans (Thwarted)

Posted by Dave on July 15, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I got a text, followed up with several links titled “Cottage Please” from my wife. She had a few days off and thought it would be nice to rent a cottage for a week for the two of us to hang out at.

I like vacation days as much as anyone – I get 23 days a year (over a month’s worth, for those wondering why I have stayed with the same company for over 10 years). Most years, I use these days to golf, see family and friends, canoe or just relax at home – a rented cottage is something completely different for us. The cottage would cost about $1,000 for a week, which I agreed with my wife was reasonable – for a cottage rental in the first week of July.

Where I kind of questioned the whole thing was why we would be going to a cottage. Neither of us are what you could call “water people” – we don’t spend our days seeking out new and exciting places to float on pool noodles or anything. We also aren’t touristy, seeking out picture-taking opportunities or other day-events in the areas we travel to. Our main interests are sitting around, reading, with some sort of cool beverage in our hand and then eating good food.

At the time of the “Cottage Plan”, my wife was on a heavily restricted diet, in her attempt to rid herself of severe food allergies – she couldn’t really eat anything you would call convenience food. We would have essentially been moving all of our food and stuff from our cupboards and freezer to a different place to cook it.

So, I was generally just not keen on the whole idea. What I did like about it was taking a few days off together to relax, which is what we did. We hung out on our newly renovated patio  (we are no longer “those guys with the bad backyard” in our condo complex), read our books and had a nice extra-long weekend, which saved a considerable amount of driving time, rental on a cottage and was probably equally as relaxing.

On one hand, I’m kind of a grinch for just not agreeing to do what my wife wanted me to do – it wasn’t super expensive (we do have money set aside for vacations and other fun stuff) and probably would have been a good time. I’m not sure how to measure “$1,000 of fun”, but I don’t think that on the margin, we had a significantly less relaxing weekend at home (well, there was one trip to our favourite bar to watch a world cup game), than there would have been somewhere by a lake or river. I would like to think that I simply asked – what would we be doing there (in this case), that we couldn’t do for almost free at home?

Adding Capacity

Posted by Tim Stobbs on July 10, 2014

My sons have recently asked to play a new game on the internet called Roblox where you can use blocks to build just about anything you want in a little world and then play in that world.  Since they needed Daddy to do the setup and figure out the controls I spent the first week or so playing with them as we learned the game and built a few things like a castle, a few houses and the pool (complete with water-slide…hello you turned an engineer loose on a  high tech game of blocks…what did you expect?).

In the beginning none of us knew the controls so by playing around we figured out a few things and got better at it.  Then towards the end of the first week of being asked EVERY DAY “Can you play Roblox with us?” I started letting them use the controls starting out with little projects (like adding a sidewalk to the road).  Then other night I turned them loose and said I would be in other room if you need help.  Other than coming in jumping up and down saying “You have to see what we built”, I got most of an hour to drink tea and visit with my wife.  They managed to build a wood fort complete with hangover to prevent the character from falling off the edge with walking around the top of the walls.

I personally believe that everyone needs to develop their capacity…at just about anything.  Far to often people don’t have much for skills to look after themselves and the items they own.  So the second something goes wrong, they call in an expert and pay large sums of money to fix some fairly basic problems.  Like my sink is leaking…did you check to see if the connection is loose? My Air Conditioning doesn’t turn on…did you check the breaker right beside it? My sink is draining slow…did you take it apart and clean out the hair that is blocking it?  My investments returns suck…have you ever read an investment book or blog post?

This isn’t to say you need to be an expert on all things, but rather have enough basic skills to handle most things that come your way.  For example, while I’m fair good with getting computers, cell phones and other electronics to work, I suck at doing much with cars.  But I can still check the fluid levels, top up my tire pressure, change a wiper blade and could change a spare tire or change the oil if I wanted.  Other than that I’ve never had any interest of learning more about them (perhaps because my family already has enough car geeks that I have an unlimited supply of suggestions if I bother to ask).

Building capacity isn’t always an easy thing, yes you will screw up somethings and may end up still having to hire someone to fix the problem.  Yet by trying you are least in a position to ask a few intelligent questions to your hired expert.  Also I suggest starting with a fairly basic problem and doing a bit of research online…Youtube is an very helpful way to figure things out as sometimes you just have to see the problem get fixed to understand what you are doing wrong.  After all there is a deep sense of pride the first time you manage to fix something new.

So what capacity have you been buying up lately?  I’ve been learning a bit more about insulation since I’m helping my dad out with his cabin project and my future project is moving my dryer duct over.  Nothing too hard, but is good to learn more skills.


Posted by Dave on July 8, 2014

In the last few months, we have been consistently receiving a new real estate paper in our mailbox. I enjoy the paper in the summer, because they’re good firestarter for my charcoal barbecue, otherwise I have to buy a print newspaper every few weeks. Last weekend while we were on a road-trip, my wife grabbed the paper out of the mailbox and was reading it to me while I was driving to a friend’s place.

Beyond having an idea of what our own townhouse is worth by looking up listings when we notice new “For Sale” signs in our condo complex, we’ve tried to avoid shopping around for houses. The main thing that would make us avoid even thinking about buying a new place is the hassle of moving. We try our hardest to reduce the amount of crap we have in our house, but somehow we just keep accumulating it. Rather than move, in the last couple of months, we’ve attempted to optimize the house we do own (at a whopping 1,050 square feet + a basement).

Last month, I completed a backyard “renovation”, which mainly meant giving away a bunch of heaving patio stones (incorrectly installed), building a big cedar planter box over a weekend and laying some new sod and cedar mulch. We now have an outdoor space that we hadn’t really used in the 5 years that we’d lived here because it was kind of gross to sit around. Total cost was under $150.

Our next project (which we hope to complete by next spring) is to convert our basement from a catch-all storage area, into a place we can actually use if we have people over. For the cost of a couch, some paint and trim, as well as a few trips to the Salvation Army and city dump, we’ll gain about 400 square feet to (maybe) use.

I can’t see us needing more space, and it always amazes me when I hear people talking about “upgrading” their house – moving from their current 1,200 square feet to 2,000 square feet, something that usually more than doubles their debt levels. When we were house shopping 5 years ago, something as simple as a garage added on to a similar townhouse was going to cost us an average of $25,000. Adding a single bedroom in our townhouse complex (still no garage) of identically built houses was going to add around $35,000. The marginal cost for this extra space seems excessive, and this is on about as low as “low-end” gets on housing in the city I live in.

We don’t really need two separate areas to sit in (a “new” basement and current living room), but we have the space available and it would be nice to sit in the much cooler basement in the summer. For very little work it might allow us to use more of our house – optimizing available space rather than even contemplating a costly upgrade.

Would you consider “upgrading” your house? What would make you do it? How would this impact your financial plans?