The Yunmai Smart Scale

If you read my post, A Different Kind of Progress (f.k.a The Madness) you might remember the Yunmai Smart Scale I briefly mentioned. I’ve had the scale for about a year now and I’m still really happy with it. It’s accurate, digital, lightweight and pretty sleek. What’s more is it gives you Biometrics. So, when I step on the scale, I get readings for my BMI, BMR, Body Fat, Water, Protein, etc….

biometrics

The cool part is all of this syncs via Bluetooth to my phone. The app is really intuitive as well. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the biometrics but I thought they could be used as a guide at the very least. At less than $40 I thought the scale was worth and it was. Yunmai does have a model that is slightly more expensive at around $45 dollars that wasn’t available when I bought mine. To be honest, if this model was available at the time, I would have grabbed it. Aesthetically I think it’s worth the extra $6.00.

I think my favorite part, and the part that really helped me stay motivated, is the graph the app gives me of my progress. The geek in me likes to see the line trending down to my target weight over time. Overall I think this scale was a great investment.

yunmai

A Different Kind of Progress (f.k.a The Madness

OK, so, Madness is a tad heavy handed. Although, anyone who has been on “this side of the table”, so to speak, will admit that reigning in bad habits just plain sucks; especially when it comes to eating. After all, we’re designed to ingest calories for fuel and whatever we don’t burn our bodies store (oversimplification, yes, but the science of this is beyond the scope of this writing). This is a good thing; your body is planning ahead for those times when you might not have access to food. However, for most American’s at least, we rarely go more than 6 hours without eating something unless we’re sleeping. In fact, most of us have so much extra stored energy we have to engage in activities specifically designed to burn off all of that excess storage. Think about that for a minute. When you consider systems and resources you start to realize how wasteful all that activity is. But it gets worse; way worse.

I don’t need to tell you how prevalent type 2 diabetes is today or heart disease or hypertension  or accelerated atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) etc…. The list of obesity related diseases is staggering and pretty scary. For me personally this hit close to home. Over the last 6 years or so (really 30+ years in the making) I haven’t been what one would consider a “model” patient. I had a yearly physical exam and every year I got the same feedback; “everything looks ok except your triglycerides are high, you have pre-hypertension, your good cholesterol is low and your bad cholesterol is high. You need to lose weight, see a nutritionist and start eating better.” My response was almost always the same; “Yeah, I know, I can get more exercise and maybe stop eating late at night, yadda, yadda.” I never really took it seriously. After all, I had plenty of time to reverse the damage, I thought. Until one day while getting the results of some blood work from my doctor she said, “Your blood work is now consistent with someone who has Type 2 Diabetes…”.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 9.52.28 AM

My mind could really only muster one word that I repeated over and over; “F@&*”. At this point I was already on medication for hypertension, a daily Potassium pill to replace the depleted Potassium caused by the hypertension pill and a daily OTC Omeprazole for heartburn, without which my esophagus would be shredded. That’s no exaggeration either; at one time for me heartburn was a daily occurrence to the point of almost vomiting.

“Alright already, get to the part where it all turns around because you did this and that…”

Yeah, yeah…I’m getting there, relax. First a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I’m not a dietitian, I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a personal trainer I’m not even a practicing catholic anymore. The advice you get here is how went about getting healthier, dropping almost 50 lbs, bringing my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy levels and getting off the aforementioned medications. Use this as a guide, use your common sense and speak to your doctor before doing anything you might consider drastic or contrary to your doctor’s advice. One thing that I cannot stress enough, and if you take nothing from this writing but this I’ll be happy; you cannot outsource willpower. You just cannot. Jenny Craig, diet pills, Atkins, “insert new diet fad here”, may all work for a time; some might not work at all. At the end of the day you need to be invested in your health and well being. All those miracle diet plans are just businesses designed to first and foremost make money. You’ll find that getting yourself healthy with your own research is far cheaper and you won’t need to consult a guide to see if you can eat Cashews or drink OJ; you’ll just know.

“Hey, can you write down your diet for me?“

This is by far the number one request I get from people whom I haven’t seen in some time. I get the ask; I have dropped a noticeable amount of weight and even for those people looking to lose 15-20 lbs it’s a fair ask. Unfortunately, I can’t do it. To be honest, I wouldn’t be doing them any favors anyway (give a man a fish, feed him for a day… there is, however, a cheat-sheet at the end). What I did to get back where I belong isn’t “a diet” it’s a carefully calculated, researched…food…plan…ok, ok it’s a diet. But it’s not “the grapefruit diet” or the “apple cider vinegar” diet. It’s a conscious effort to educate myself on how to make healthy choices while at the same time diminishing the possibility of relapse. It’s literally something everyone and anyone can do. All you really need is will power, time and one of the most powerful tools known to man; Google. Well, all that and the ability to think analytically and use common sense. There’s a wealth of information out there but there’s just as much misinformation. If you Google, “are peanuts nutritious” and decide to click on Planters.com for the answer, they might be a tad biased so to take the info with a grain of salt and cross check the information you find there with another website who couldn’t care less if you buy peanuts or not. By the way, peanuts are a healthy snack unless you eat half a tin. Just take a small handful if you’re hungry. If you have hands like a lumberjack a small handful is less than 12 nuts. Which brings me to one very important staple of eating responsibly; portion control.

I know, it’s like I just reminded you there would be homework for the weekend due on Monday. In all seriousness this was probably the most difficult part of changing my eating habits.Historically for me when it came time to eat it was normally just fill the plate so I don’t have to get up to get more and the only limit on the height of the food was, “will this spill on my way to the living room?”. We learn how to hollow out piles of mashed potato’s for a “gravy reservoir” or place the crab rangoons on top of the general gao’s so it sticks in place. It got to the point where I had one plate for my steak and another plate for all the sides. That’s not portion control. What’s worse is that I couldn’t eat fast enough. The perfect recipe for overeating; tons of food with a race to the finish. In any event, it was high time I found that “sweet spot”.

The reason this is so difficult is because it takes practice. You need to find that point where you’re satisfied but not stuffed. It’s not a feeling many to which many of us are accustomed. We’re used to being to the point where, “yeah, I can eat one more piece of pizza but man, that’s it. Then I’m tapping out” as though it’s a right of passage to eat more than three people combined in one sitting. A little tip; if you’re having an internal conversation about whether or not you can fit more food you’ve already eaten too much. If after a meal you need to take a break before you walk to the bathroom, you’ve eaten too much. You should be able to say, “if pressed I could eat more but I don’t need to.” That’s your sweet spot. Don’t worry, you’re not going to die if you’re hungry again in 2 hours. You have access to food! Just have a piece of fruit or a handful of walnuts or almonds. As I stated earlier finding this sweet spot isn’t easy. It took me the better part of two weeks and I still from time to time eat too much but I’m able to recognize when I do and it happens now with less food than it ever did before. Also, when I do overeat it’s with more nutritious food. I’d much rather be stuffed on zucchini than pork fried rice.

“You said something about google…?“

Ah, yes, right. If you recall my, “oh s&*%” moment from earlier when my doctor informed me Wilfred Brimley and I had the same blood type, diabetic, it occurred to me shortly thereafter I really didn’t understand what type 2 diabetes was. So, like every other person with access to a computer and an internet connection, I Googled it. The in’s and out’s of Diabetes are also beyond the scope of this writing so I’ll leave that research to you. What I did stumble upon, however, was information related to why people with type 2 diabetes need to control their blood sugar and, just as important, how to do it. The top 3 methods to control one’s blood sugar…Exercise, Diet and Weight loss. Pretty simple equation, considering Exercise + Diet = Weight loss. Now this is a good time to remind you of the theme once again: You cannot outsource will power. I obviously can’t exercise for you, neither can anyone else. That is something you must do yourself. I can tell you what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat but that will only last for so long. What you really need to do is learn how to educate yourself about what you should be eating and just as important what you should not be eating. I think it’s pretty obvious that, if you’ve come this far, you shouldn’t be eating Doritos, Pastries, cookies, hot dogs, deli meats, etc…. These are all pretty obvious. However, there are a whole host of other foods that type 2 diabetics should avoid or at least limit that might surprise you. Take a look here.

Now, all of this research on how to eat like a type 2 diabetic turned up some interesting recipes. However, if you recall, I also had bad cholesterol. So now I had to sort of “double down”, if you will, and cross reference all of these recipes for type 2 diabetics with foods that someone with bad cholesterol levels should not be eating. What a bitch that was. After all, I wasn’t about to eat myself out of type two diabetes and into a stroke; what’s the point of that? So, when I had down time I did what I had to do; I googled “recipes for type 2 diabetes”, found some recipes that sounded interesting, read the ingredients and googled any ingredients that I thought might be bad for my cholesterol. After a while a pattern began to emerge.

In order to control my blood sugar and prevent spikes I needed to eat foods low on the glycemic index. In order to lower my LDL and raise my HDL I needed to lower my saturated fat and boost Omega-3′s. Do you see where this is going? You guessed it. PLANT BASED DIET. Ok, ok settle down for a minute. Before you google, “how to make beef wellington”, take a breath and read a bit further. I am not saying you cannot eat meat, I am not saying you have to be vegan, I’m not even saying you have to be a vegetarian. I am neither vegan nor vegetarian but I pilfer their recipes almost daily. Vegetables can taste good. Vegan’s and vegetarians have figured out some damn good recipes. Take advantage of that. I personally stay away from “vegan meatballs” or “vegetarian sloppy joes”. Those types of recipes for me just trigger an expectation of what it should taste like and of course it never does. Don’t set yourself up to be disappointed. Your best bet is to try and make something you’ve never had before with ingredients you like already. Have you ever had a healthy vegetable stir-fry? It’s a thing and it’s really good. The internet is crawling with recipes that are nutritious and filling. All you have to do is look.

After about 6 weeks I requested my blood be retested. Below are the results.

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 9.53.00 AM

This was literally progress in less than 2 months. All I did was eat healthy, exercise and my body did the rest. If you put forth the effort and make a sincere effort to get healthy you will succeed.

A Worthwhile Investment

One tool I found particularly useful during all of this was my Yunmai digital Scale. I liked this scale for a few reasons. First and foremost it’s accurate. I tested it with some weights I had at home. I also tested it at different locations to see if I’d get the same reading and it was always accurate within fractions of a pound. It also provides more readings than just your weight. It includes other Biometrics like BMI, Body Fat Percentage, Water, Protein, Bone Mass and Calculates your Body Age which I thought was really cool. It also syncs all of tis information to your phone via BlueTooth and makes it all available via an easy to use app. My favorite part of the app is the tracking graph. It gave me more motivation to keep going being able to see the results over time.

yunmai

 

CHEAT-SHEET

as promised, here is my list of foods that I stopped eating and my list of foods that I began eating either altogether or more regularly. Be warned, this is not my list on day-1. This evolved over 2 months. For example, I didn’t stop eating red meat on the first day. It took a few weeks before I was able to let go.

Stopped eating/drinking:

Processed foods, processed/refined flour, white rice, Potato Chips of all kinds, Soda, starchy vegetables, candy, fruit juices, white pasta, red meat, Beer, pizza, deli meats All Dairy (eggs, Milk, cheese, yogurt, cream…all of it. think about all of the foods that are either dairy directly or contain dairy. any recipe that calls for milk I replace with almond Milk. I’m almost certain this was the root of my excessive heartburn because for three months, no dairy = no heartburn), white bread, pastries, hot dogs, canned beans.

Started eating and drinking/ ate more frequently:

Water (this was key. I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water), fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, frozen berries for smoothies,  Solid white Tuna in water, Salmon, white meat skinless chicken, Chia seeds, Green Tea (loose leaf), Matcha (added to smoothies. super good for you, doesn’t taste that great), Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Almond milk, Almonds, walnuts, 100% whole wheat bread, Natural, Unsalted Peanut Butter.

Sweet Millions!

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with me telling you about piles of money. It’s about the ‘Sweet Million’ Cherry Tomato and my first ever attempt at growing absolutely anything! Truth be told I can’t even grow what I would consider an impressive beard and that takes almost no effort. So, suffice it to say, I was a little nervous when I decided to take on the challenge of growing Cherry Tomatoes with my 6 year old daughter. But I figured, even if it failed and nothing grew it would be a great lesson either way and we could try again. It would be an opportunity to demonstrate perseverance.

The overall act of growing tomatoes seemed, in my mind, pretty straightforward; get some pots, get some soil, get some seeds, provide water, sun and support then wait. But I had so many questions; what seeds do I buy? when do I start to grow them? what pot size do I need? how many pot sizes do I need? how deep do bury the seeds? how often do I water? how do I know if it’s healthy? The list of questions started to become overwhelming. So, I figured the best thing to do is find out where to start. So I googled; “how to grow cherry tomatoes from seeds”. I got plenty of results as you can imagine. Most were pretty helpful. There were a lot of suggestions to start from an established plant and buy from a nursery but I really wanted to start from seeds. I thought it would be really neat for my daughter to see something sprout from the earth and blossom to a beautiful, fruit bearing plant so I decided to go with what a few people suggested; a seed starting kit. This way, as suggested, we could start them indoors and see the activity.

Our next order of business was to buy the seeds. This was a little intimidating. I had no idea there were so many varieties. I was really looking for 2 criteria when evaluating the seeds; high yield and robust. I love cherry tomatoes in salads and I figured a high yield plant would allow us to choose the ‘cream of the crop’ and I figured the more robust (disease resistant, especially) the better our chances were for success. I found the Sweet Million and it fit the bill. A couple days later we had our seeds and our starter kit.

The best thing about the starter kit was it came with starter pods; they’re basically these little discs of soil that plump up when they absorb water. It also had tips on how deep to bury the seeds, how often to water, when to remove the lid, etc… so that was refreshing; I’m not a gardener but I can follow directions. It wasn’t long before my daughter and I witnessed our first taste of success.

starters

As the seedlings appeared to sway more and more reaching out for the sun we moved them from the window sill to the deck during the day and we’d bring them back in at night. This went on for a few weeks until they needed to be repotted. I grabbed some of my wife’s leftover potting soil and upgraded what we thought were the strongest six.

upgrade

gettingthere

If you look closely at the pic above you can see we planted these while they were still inside the original starter pods which was recommended. The material is porous enough that the roots will grow right through to the surrounding soil as the plants reach for more nutrients and establish a better root system.

It wasn’t long after this that they appeared to be outgrowing their new home. So, we decided it was time again for another upgrade. But I wasn’t sure where to go from here. I really didn’t want to spend all kinds of money on larger pots and to be honest I wasn’t even sure what kind to get or how big. I had from the beginning this vision of using these old 5 gallon buckets collecting dust in the garage as the final stage containers. I figured they were large enough and with a few holes in the bottom courtesy of an ordinary drill and 1/4″ bit I had my final four containers. Once again, I chose the best of the group, discarded the two weakest and replanted. I had to get some more potting soil now. I found some “general purpose” potting soil similar to this and it was marked down (score!) so I grabbed some extra.

replanted

growing

It was after this replanting that they really started taking off. It was like bamboo. Well, not that drastic but they did grow quite quickly. This is where I really started to “read the leaves” so to speak. As you can see from the pic above the leaves toward the ends are a little burnt. This can be due to a number of reasons like over/under watering, too much fertilization or poor nutrition. I didn’t have much control over the fertilizer as it was premixed but I did try to pay attention to the behavior of the plants in relation to the watering. I found (and read) that tomato plants don’t need to be watered daily. What I learned to do was read the soil. If the soil felt dry I’d water and if we were going to have a few straight days of heat, I’d water a bit more. If we were expecting rain I’d skip watering to avoid overdoing it. A lot of the care-taking was reading, planning and experimenting.

support

Eventually they grew to the point that they would lean in heavy rains which made me nervous. They appeared as though they would snap so I added some support as you can see in the pic above. These are just plastic tomato trellises similar to these that the previous homeowner left us. They do the job quite well and I love that I was able to reuse these!

tomatoes

What’s this!?!?! Tomato’s?!!?? We did it!!!!! I know my wife was teasing when she called me a farmer but I’ll take it. In only a few months we went from tiny little seed to the beginnings of an actual piece of fruit. It really felt amazing.

thumbforscale

After a few weeks we saw these babies (thumb for scale)! There’s at least 3 dozen between the four plants of different sizes. I can’t wait for them to ripen. I know with four indeterminate plants I’ll have a ton of these things but I plan on making a sauce which I can freeze and, as all good gardeners do, giving away plenty! I’ll make sure to let you know how they taste!

The Passive $100 (Part 4)

In Part 3 we left talking about how to make up for the $57 left to achieve a monthly passive $100. One thing I realized recently is that while we didn’t have any credit card debt (we pay our balance in full every month) we were still losing money using them. “How can that be?”, you might be asking. We’re not carrying a balance, so that means we’re not paying interest. In fact, we’re actually getting money back in some cases via rewards. So, how are we losing money?

Let’s first talk about the rewards game. Credit card rewards are fantastic when correctly applied. Just because you’re getting rewards back doesn’t mean you’re making good financial decisions to obtain them or good financial decisions when you use them. Let me explain with an example. I have a Visa Amazon Rewards card that offers 5% back on qualified Amazon purchases (*as a Prime member, don’t forget to factor in the yearly fee, although you do get more services with that so…), 2% back at certain restaurants, gas stations and drug stores and 1% back on everything else. Now, that being said it is very important we state one thing; none of that % back means anything if I carry a balance. I cannot stress this enough. It’s simple math. I am on the low end of the scale according to Chase (who knows how true that is) and my APR is ~15%. So, if I’m getting “rewards” at 5% back in the best case scenario and I carry a balance month to month that 5% back means nothing. Sure, it brings down my APR but in the end the credit card company is still taking money from me in the form of interest and I am paying more than whatever I am being charged for my actual purchase; purchase price + interest rewards is still > purchase price alone so don’t be fooled by “money back” gimmicks if you’re not planning on paying your balance in full every month.

So, all that being said, back to the original question; how am I losing money if I’m not carrying a balance on my credit cards? The biggest way I’m losing money is by misusing the card that I have. I currently carry the aforementioned Amazon rewards card. It’s great for Amazon purchases at 5% back for qualified purchases. Amazon purchases are not a very big expense for me relatively. Can you guess what our family’s biggest expense is? If you have a family of four also you probably guessed correctly; it’s groceries. Aside from our mortgage, groceries is by far our biggest expense every month and it’s a very close second. I’m talking in the neighborhood of $1200.00 per month. Now the elephant in the room here is, “why are we spending so much on food?”. I’d like to lower this expense and believe me we have, but one thing at a time. Right now it’s high time to properly buy groceries.

If you search online for “cash back card groceries” you’ll get some great results. One such card I found that was a great fit for us was the Blue Cash Preferred Card from Amex. (You can check out the link, I don’t get any referral fee’s from Amex so my review here is completely unbiased) What I liked best about this card was it offers 6% cash back on groceries up to $6000 in purchases then 1% after that. 6% back on purchases up to $6k, which we easily spend as a family of four, is $360 back. Thats an extra $30 per month on average!! That’s a huge leap towards the goal!

With an average of $30 back per month we only have $27 more to make up. Piece of cake! Stay tuned, more rewards coming in part 5!

The Passive $100 (Part 3)

In my last post I mentioned passive income. Passive income is described as income generated “without doing much”. That’s somewhat vague, I think. What I consider passive you might consider work and vice-versa. When I was a teenager I lugged foundation forms around for a whole summer. What I do now as a software engineer is comparatively “passive” with respect to physical effort but, I digress. What I consider passive in this context could easily be defined as effortless. In my last post I mentioned our Money Market account with Capital One generated around $15 in one month. That is truly effortless; that money made money while we slept. If I’m earning money while I sleep I couldn’t possibly put forth any less effort while still having a pulse.

In order to achieve my goal of $100 a month passively will take more, however. I just don’t have enough liquid cash to deposit in a Money Market to generate $100 per month in interest. In order to generate $100 of interest in one month @ 1.75% I would have to deposit around $70k. I would have to tap into my retirement or take out an equity loan to get that kind of money and both of those ideas would cost me way, way more than what I’d get back so, the MM alone just won’t cut it. But it’s a great start.

You may be thinking, “there are other investment vehicles out there that could generate that kind of return” and you’re correct. There are thousands upon thousands of financial products out there that could probably generate more than $100 a month for me. However, as we all know, with greater returns comes greater risk and there is one very important aspect of this endeavor for which I must account; I cannot risk losing more than 15% of our liquid cash asset. At least right now. That number might grow as our savings grow but as I’ve mentioned before this is not just my money, this is my families money. If 2008 like markets should rear its ugly head again I’d be in a very tight spot. I’m young enough to hold and weather the storm but I’d be constantly worrying about an emergency forcing my hand. So, for now, I have around 5 months of expenses in the MM or $20k @ 1.75% and I know that money is safe. The interest could drop but the current value of the account will never dip unless I withdraw. That makes me feel safer but I’d truly like to have 8 months worth of expenses in there which would be another $12k. If I can bring it to $30k I’ll be satisfied. That would be more than enough money accessible without penalty should we need it.

But how close to the goal of $100 a month will $30k bring me at a rate of 1.75? The math says about $43.00. That’s not bad. That’s almost halfway to the goal. I need to find another way to generate $57.00 a month. I think I know an easy way to get a good chunk of that $57. I’ll cover that in part 4.

DI Why Not?

patch_from_afar

One thing we don’t anticipate when buying a home is just how much work it actually is keeping it all together. Nobody is foolish enough to think owning a home is dead simple but I can’t be the only one to underestimate the amount of work and cost home ownership comes with aside from the mortgage. I live in the North East. Winters are cold with snow and ice, summers are hot with downpours and humidity. Mother nature really beats the hell out of your property most of the year. Things break down, rot, wash away, heave, fall over, crack and sometimes just disappear (if you’re gardening keep an eye on your vegetables). One morning I discovered a new weed growing in a most unusual spot which is really saying something for a weed; those things grow anywhere. This one was growing straight up from a half-dollar sized hole halfway down my driveway, which, by the way, is an extremely long driveway; somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 feet long. “That’s not good…” I said aloud to myself. Upon further inspection I found out I was correct; this really wasn’t good. Not only was there a weed sprouting through a small hole, a closer look revealed most of the dirt below the hole was missing. This was the dreaded, “sinkhole”.

It wasn’t long before the asphalt began to cave in. We drove to avoid that part of the driveway but the driveway, although long, is not very wide, maybe 8 or 9 feet. Before long it was difficult to avoid which meant it was time for a fix.

thats_a_hole

I had been putting this off because I knew this could easily cost me $2k. To get a company out here, dig up this section of the driveway, refill, lay and roll the asphalt wasn’t going to be cheap. I wrestled with the idea of fixing this myself. I knew it would be laborious but that didn’t scare me. I’ve shed my share of sweat, drained my share of blisters and trimmed my share of fingernails that were so packed with dirt it was the only way to make them look presentable. What made me hesitate was I wasn’t really sure I knew what I was doing. But, I thought, “how bad can I screw this up? At the end of the day the worst that could happen is I still have to pay someone to repair my driveway that I tore up.” In that respect it made sense. So, I said, “let’s do this”, had a cup of coffee, threw on some “yard-work” clothes and did what any sane person does before starting a job in which they have no experience; I googled.

Google was really helpful even though I had a general Idea of what I needed to do. There were three things on my mind

  1. Remove the asphalt to expose the sinkhole
  2. Fill the sinkhole with dirt and pack it down tight
  3. Patch the hole with asphalt and pack that down

To Remove the asphalt it appeared I was going to need an “asphalt saw”, according to my research. I didn’t get a great picture of that but you can see it off to the left in the picture below. This one I was able to rent from Home Depot for around $150 for 4 hours. These monsters can be described in three ways; loud, loud and dirty, so wear old clothes, eye protection and ear protection.

asphalt_saw

These saws have hose hookup so that water is constantly cooling the blade. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have a hose long enough to reach where I was working. What I ended up doing was bringing down a couple 5 gallon buckets of water and every so often I’d douse the blade to make sure it didn’t warp. Not having a constant flow of water helped me discover another reason this hookup was there; dust control. If you aren’t able to hookup a hose like me I recommend wearing a mask as well. It got really dusty really quickly.

ripped_up

I learned pretty fast that I had to make several cross-hatched cuts because this stuff is heavy. A few extra cuts saves your back, just let the saw do the work.

a_little_better

After the first day I was feeling better about the job but I was still worried about the next part. I had to fill the hole and “patch” this vacant strip of asphalt. Any normal human being probably recognizes this is much larger than a patch job now. But, I was determined to see this through.

While googling how to deal with this problem I stumbled upon a product called “cold patch“. It had really good reviews and I found a few youtube videos of people using it including the guys from This Old House so I decided I’d give it a shot. It would probably have been faster to call a company and have them deliver some asphalt but I figured it wouldn’t be cheap and I’ve never worked with “hot asphalt” before so I decided to make another trip to Home Depot. I calculated that I would need at least 10 – 50lb bags so that’s what I started with. I also grabbed a tamper while I was there.

Now I still needed fill the hole with a base and I wasn’t really sure what to use. What was there after I ripped off the asphalt was just plain old dirt. I estimated I’d need a yard to fill what was gone and bring the entire spot up to between 1″ and 2″ relative to the surrounding asphalt. Fortunately, when my wife went to the landscaping company to get the “dirt” they recommended we try graded gravel as this was a common base for paving. This stuff worked out really well. We had it delivered and they were able to drop it right on the spot so all I needed to do was spread, fill and tamp.

packed_gravel

I was in the home stretch! Now I just needed to add the cold patch and pack it down. If you remember I stated earlier that I’d need at least 10 bags which was definitely true. In the end I needed 15 bags. But when I was done I was really satisfied. Quikrete states that cold patch can be driven on immediately and that doing so actually helps it solidify so I had my driveway back as soon as I finished.

packed_cold_patch

Quikrete also states that while it should be fully cured in 90 days it’s best not to apply any type of sealant to it for at least a month. We’ve been driving over it now for a couple weeks and it’s holding up very well. I plan to seal the entire driveway just before the fall. Hopefully that will repel the water for a while. This was a satisfying project and I’m proud of myself for getting it done but it’s not something I want to do every summer. At least not patches of this size!

The Passive $100 (part 2)

I was sitting on my couch one evening, heads down on my laptop half listening to a baseball game looking at our bank transactions. These days with the available technology, I’m aware of every action North of $100 via text message concerning our accounts, but I like to peruse frequently just in case there was something I missed. Often in a meeting my phone will vibrate and I’ll acknowledge in passing that a debit of 100-some-odd dollars was posted via automated payment; “probably the cable bill” I’ll think to myself. You get to know what bill is what just by the amounts.

On this night in particular one comparatively minute transaction caught my eye. It was a credit for 62 cents. It was by far the smallest deposit for that month as you can imagine. I’d be hard pressed to go through the process of depositing $0.62 even remotely. This transaction really bugged me. It wasn’t that it was out of the ordinary it was that it was so insignificant with respect to the reason for its existence. The reason that amount was credited to my account was because I parked literally thousands of dollars at my credit union. In this case we’re talking upwards of $10k. I put $10k in their hands for a month and they give me a whopping $0.62. We’re talking about 0.05% or 5 basis points. A bank wouldn’t loan money to themselves at that rate. They certainly wouldn’t loan money to me at that rate even if I gave them the opportunity to call the note in full at anytime. It just wouldn’t be worth it to them. So why is it worth it for me?

 

Now you might be saying aloud, “what do you expect, it’s a checking account?” and you’re right. Unfortunately that’s kind of the norm. Checking accounts are fundamentally horrible places to keep money but they are a necessity for most of us. I’m not aware of any high interest savings or checking account that allow you to make dozens of transaction each month without charging you exorbitant fee’s. I have found better but nothing that comes close to keeping up with inflation. There are some out there that pay 4% up to $2500 and 2% on ‘X’ after that but they’re all banks I’ve never heard of and they all have “minimum debit purchases”. Sometimes as many as 20 point-of-sale debit purchases. So, in order to get the 4% I have to park my money in a bank I’ve never heard of and use my debit card a certain number of times in person to qualify. I’m trying to curb spending not increase it. I also avoid going to stores at all costs. There’s really no reason to and retail outlets are designed specifically to separate you from as much of your money as possible; I don’t fault them for this, it’s just business. However, there is a reason why malls are dying. It’s because everything is available online, it’s often cheaper and I don’t have to add miles to my car, waste gas, deal with traffic, find a place to park, risk an accident, etc…. So, suffice it to say, a minimum number of point-of-sale debit transactions, for me at least, is a non-starter. So far, I have some guidelines for a checking account.

  • It must be a main-stream bank (Uncle Al’s Savings and Loan 2500 miles away isn’t going to do it for me unless they’re guaranteeing 15%) and, of course, FDIC.
  • A minimum number of POS purchases is unacceptable. Essentially, this account is to server as a hub to pay my bills and little more
  • “Free Checking” is a given. I’m not paying fees including ATM (in or out of network) and/or minimum balance fees. We’ve already stated that a checking account is bad place for money so I’m looking to keep “cost of living” in this account at best.
  • Better than my current Credit Union’s APY (which is %0.05) but I’m under no illusion that this account will generate more than enough to buy a small cup of coffee every month. At this point it’s just a matter of principal.

According to the above criteria my Credit Union wasn’t cutting it. So, I began my search via Google looking for “high yield checking accounts”. As I’m sure you can imagine, I got a lot of results. Most of the “high yield” checking accounts were banks I’d never heard of. One of them was called, “Bank of Internet” which to me sounded like it was probably run by Somali pirates. There were others as well that just didn’t sit right with me even though they were offering higher interest rates than most. But, as I was not planning on parking a whole lot of money here I was more inclined to do business with a bank that I knew and had a good track record. One bank in particular caught my eye that felt familiar; Capital One.

I had seen the “Capital One 360” commercials but never paid much attention to them. At that time I thought, “a checking account is a checking account, right?”. But this did check off the first bullet in my list; it’s a main-stream bank. O.K., one down. So, I looked to see if they had a minimum POS transactions per month; they do not. Great! Two down. Bullet three; was this free checking? Yes, it is fee free. Do I require a minimum balance? No, I do not. Are there ATM fees in or out of network? No, there are not (this excludes vendor fees or “ATM Owner” fees but ATM visits for us are extremely rare, anyway). The last bullet should have been extremely easy to beat. Does this account offer better than 0.05% APY and, of course, it does. On the balance I plan to have in there it will earn 0.20% which is 4 times what I’m getting now. I felt this was sufficient and decided I will open a checking account with Capital One. However, something else caught my eye.

As you may recall I mentioned I had about $10k in my current Credit Union’s checking account. I also had a decent amount in my Credit Union’s “savings” account (I’m sarcastically using quotes around “savings” because it was basically just another low-yield, rusty bucket for my money to rot in while losing value to inflation). As I was visiting Capital One’s website for information on 360 Checking I happened upon their Money Market account or the “Capital One 360 Money Market”. At the time they were offering 1.65% on balances over $10k. Score! There’s one important factor that, up until now, I haven’t mentioned regarding money; liquidity.

Liquidity refers to how easy you can get your hands on your money or, perhaps more important, how quickly. Remember, I have a family of four and I am a homeowner. Sometimes the unexpected happens and we need relatively quick access to our money without having to pay enormous penalties. Certificate of Deposit’s or CD’s, for example, have a higher interest rate than a Money Market account but if I need my money immediately I could face a penalty of up to 12 months of interest. Too risky. Right now a Money Market account looks like a good fit. At the end of the day it’s really about what fits for you, your lifestyle, your level of acceptable risk and your family. For me I always have to remember that there are three other people, two of whom are under the age of 7, that rely on me for financial security.

So, now I have decided to open two accounts with Capital One; a checking account and a Money Market account. The checking account will serve as a hub through which all of our bills will be paid and the Money Market account will be used as a savings account through which we will earn higher than average interest compared to traditional savings accounts and that money will be available within three days should I need access to it in the event of an emergency. Much Better!

So, now I started doing some math to see what sort of “returns” we would get from this Money Market account. Since I opened the account the APY had actually gone from 1.65% to 1.75% on balances greater than $10k, so, via an online Calculator I punched in the numbers on $10k to see what one month would bring us. It came out to be $14.58. We’re not retiring early by any means but compare that to the $0.62 we were getting just a month ago and that is reason to celebrate!!! This is where I had an awakening. By doing a little research from the comfort of my own home and transferring our money from one institution to a better institution I increased our return 2251%. To me that is incredible and that is where I asked the question; could I find a way to passively generate $100 per month? To some out there this might seem like a low number but I felt it was a realistic goal for someone like myself. Someone with no financial education beyond what life has taught me thus far. Perhaps some of you out there might be thinking this is a difficult task. Perhaps it is. But I think it can be done. But what does passive mean? I have some thoughts on this we can discuss during part three. Stay tuned.

The Passive $100

Until roughly 5 years ago finance wasn’t something I gave a second thought. I grew up in a home that was not poor but nowhere near wealthy, either. Money was for bills, food, an occasional vacation and little else, mostly because there was little of it. My father reminds me that when we were children we rarely asked for money. We didn’t really need it as there was plenty to do without it. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I got an actual job that produced a W2 and the only reason I got that job was because I wanted my own vehicle. The sad part of all this is not the $1800 I spent on a late 80’s Monte Carlo with checkerboard rims. The sad part is that while I started earning at a very young age I never actually learned the basic principles of personal finance. Truth be told, I still don’t know them all but I’m learning. Also, full disclosure, that Monte Carlo was great and of all the cars that came later, that’s the one I miss the most.

I’m at a point in my life now where I have dependents. My wife and I have two young children for whom she cares 80% of the time while I make a living as a software engineer. While she easily has the more difficult job I am the majority of our income. My wife does work part time at a salon and does considerably well for the hours she’s actually able to be there. However, as you can imagine, with two small children she’s not able to be there very much; it’s definitely a part-time gig that is great extra cash but I think it’s more important for her to get out of the house and interact with adults 12-15 hours a week; helps keep her sanity, you could say. When she and I were planning our future we knew we wanted children and we didn’t want them raised in daycare. Don’t get me wrong, daycare is fantastic. It’s great for single parents or partners who both earn high incomes that justify what you pay for the service. For my wife and I the extra money my wife could generate while we paid for daycare wasn’t enough to justify the expense. More importantly, my wife just wanted to be there everyday, every moment while they grew through those toddler years which I always loved and respected. Kids can be exhausting! The amount of energy they have is seemingly endless.

As I aforementioned, my income is really what our family survives on. Until recently, we had what I thought was the correct version of an “adult” financial framework; a checking account, a savings account and contributions to a 401k. Growing up the only real financial advice I can recall was, “put money in the bank”. To be fair, at that time, interest rates for a savings account were an astronomical ~5.00%, compared to today so putting money in a savings account actually meant something. Sadly, these days, you’re lucky if your savings rate keeps up with inflation; in most cases it does not which means putting money in savings costs you money because the dollar you put in there today has less buying power than the dollar you take out a year later but, we’ll get to all that. Right now it’s probably easiest to explain my motivation here by stating that I was tired of losing money while doing what I thought was the right thing. So, I decided to do something about it for the sake of my family and this is how I began.