Wednesday, November 30, 2011

11/30 - Monthly Financial Breakdown

Well, another month has passed and this means I need to do a financial breakdown. Ugh, the holidays are expensive, I am almost afraid to look at the numbers. Some modifications to the breakdown to better suit my spending patterns

Previous Monthly Financial Breakdown post here

If I sum up total expenses from 10/1 through 10/31 I get -$1694
A rough calculation would put my yearly expenses at $20,328, way way over :(
lets take a closer look.

Regular Food costs: -$100 or -$25 per week (Low due to holiday travel)
Fun Food Costs:  -$261 or -$65 per week (High due to holiday travel and also no cooking abilities for a week)
Fuel: -$154 or -$39 per week (includes two trips to airport plus a long trip to see Wayne and driving around Denver)
Leftover Renting Expenses: -$6.74 (final balance for water bill)
Van: -$109 (includes: propane valve and EZ toll tags)
Insurance: -$50 per month   (I pay in 6mo intervals to reduce the premium but still counted as monthly)
Clothing: -$170 (One new smartwool tshirt, a zip top (from ebay), and socks. Also purchased an REI discount coupon )
Travel: -$720 (Purchased two airline tickes with parking and travel insurance)
Misc:  -$141 (Super sale on a guitar and parking for my jury duty)
Storage:  -$32   (plus a sunk cost of 15 per month for mailbox)

Things that were not necessary this past month: Most of this past month's unnecessary expenses are related to holiday travel. The guitar was not necessary at all, so will be the rocksmith game to go with it once released in December, so $140. The two trips are also pure luxury, so $720. With the exception for one week ($30), the fun food expenses were all eating out with friends, so $231. This brings my luxury expenses to $1091 and necessary to $565 Yikes!! Without the luxury, my yearly is at $6780... :)

Ok,  clean out the unusual stuff and do a monthly for the rest
Food and fuel: -$350 (I don’t have any long distance driving trips planned for next month other than to the airport for my Christmas flight)
Storage and box:  -$47
Insurance: -$50 
Clothes: -$100 (Assuming another smartwool shirt and misc)
Van:  -$50 (I don't anticipate any large projects for next month, revised down)
Fun: -$400 (number significantly revised upwards, Upcoming Christmas holiday will incur dinner expenses, parking fees, etc...)
Yearly expense estimate with the new numbers: $11964

Unhappy to see an increase over my 11k mark and still disturbed by fun expenses. The flights are what killed this month's budget. Yes, the fun food was high, I am working on a list of activities that I can do with my friends that is less expensive and more interesting.

I dread next month's expense sheet, should be interesting and depressing to see exactly what Christmas costs. 

Note:Gave away a few items, nothing worth mentioning.

Here is the status of my dividend income:
Since I re-aligned my investment strategy I've been putting extra cash into dividend paying stocks and other investment opportunities. I started out by doing a broad overview of what I had in a previous post and now it is time to put up my progress. Last post it was at 16%.

Previous Monthly Financial Breakdown post here

Current level is now estimated at 9% (pending the actual dividend payments at the end of Q4)

Progress has regressed, I needed to hold onto my last paycheck as insurance against unexpected expenses  and I also wanted to bump up my emergency fund. The reason my dividends have dropped so much is because a major holding of mine had to reduce their quarterly dividend by 25% which for me accounted for 7%. I also did some calculation tweaking for more realistic numbers. My plan for December is to push up my emergency fund a bit more but still put away cash to improve my dividends. Such slow progress, the market has not been very favorable to me either. Currently in the red on almost everything I own but am optimistic for 2012.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back in H-Town and my dream

I am back in Houston after a very action packed vacation surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. I return again for Christmas and the next two weeks at work will feel like an eternity.

There was no time to relax, between seeing family, friends, and blog followers there was no spare time. I did get rid of some unneeded items and did some of the car stuff as mentioned in the previous post.

Seeing all the stuff I have acquired and forgotten about made me feel ill. I know there is a lot of useful items in the attic that I won't be using but would be useful if I had a child. Do I continue to retain these items in the attic knowing that my parents wont be moving any time soon or do I just eliminate them and plan on purchasing new/used stuff if/when it is needed.

Another blindingly obvious fact that I have come to grips with is that cars have consumed a significant portion of my life. cleaning, repairing, restoring, traveling in, etc.... Especially my attachment to the classic Mini. I have piles of parts and tools (hand tools, detailing tools/supplies, restoration tools, etc..) which take up space in storage as well as memorabilia and collectibles; models, posters, shirts, hats, magnets, books, pens, movies, etc...  The mini is so embedded into my life that it may be impossible to separate from. I understand that it is just a car and do not need it to survive but I have too much fun with it. In a way it sort of defines who I became and also represents my collective abilities. I have resisted the urge to collect van related items but I still have two boxes of parts that came with it as well as two van related shirts. I shall try to eliminate more stuff from my storage unit, probably going to focus on consumables and other household items.

The farther down the minimalism path I travel the less interested I am with driving and of cars in general.
I had a dream last week, I was living in a small house with glass walls in Hawaii. There was a greenhouse which provided the majority of my food and all utilities were generated on-site. There was a yoga/meditation rock garden with waterfall and a view of the ocean. In the dream I worked for pleasure instead of necessity and creativity outweighed consumption.

Financial post tomorrow, lots of scary numbers and trends after the recent holiday/vacation.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holiday Plans

My holiday starts right after work, I've got vacation through the 28th and plan on having some fun or at least get some rest. I might have to move some of my parents stuff and also sort through my old crap. Actually I need to go through my old crap and get rid of most of it, freeing up part of my life and leaving a pile of old stuff with my parents is not a good strategy. I really wish I had been able to finish my project car as it is taking up way more space while in pieces. I guess I will focus on stuff that can be easily replaced and then follow up with stuff I no longer want/need. I am sure I will have to spend some time doing car maintenance at least one of the days, the mini needs an oil change but I can only do it if I have a spare filter and I should start the gt6 motor to keep the rust off the cylinders and other bits.

The van will be parked at an airport parking lot, I have already taken my laptop and camera to my friends place and the rest of the "slightly valuable" stuff is in my storage unit. The really important stuff is locked in my office filing cabinet; who breaks into an office building looking for valuable personal items?

Upon returning from vacation I have to install the manual filling valve for the propane tank, not having a working fridge and stove has been quite inconvenient and expensive. 

If anyone needs some smartwool socks, they are 25% off at REI for the holiday week. I was there on thursday and picked up a pair of black skiing socks to replace my work socks and they are amazing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11/15 - Weekend Update

Ya, I missed the monday posting of my weekend update. I was supposed to spend all day at Jury duty but right before our group entered the court the lawyers managed to settle the dispute and we were released. I was really looking forward to taking part of a court case, listening to the lawyers give points/counterpoints and evidence trails. Anything that isn't going to work is exciting but after being released I ended up heading back to my home region because I didn't know what else to do. I did get some supplies at whole foods and also took the van in for an oil change, had dinner at a Vietnamese place. I am still waiting for my propane tank valve, until it arrives I have no refrigeration or cooking abilities.

I've received a few responses from my craigslist post for a regular parking spot.  I will be following up later this week. Hopefully I can get something for free because the most I would pay to park per month is like $40 and it would have to be the perfect spot.

This past weekend was interesting, saw Wayne on Wednesday and Thursday for b-day parties, spent friday wandering around a park with a really cool burned out section that would be perfect for a photoshoot and learning guitar stuff. Saturday disappeared into trivial tasks and computer oblivion along with storage unit clean up (got rid of kitchen stuff like potato masher and pizza cutter and various glasses)
Sunday I modified an ikea desk into a coffee table and went to the Thanksgiving dinner event at the Table.

Plan for this week is to go running after work tonight, pack for upcoming trip home, and install propane tank fitting (if it arrives in time)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Once again the van tries to kill me

Yes, another attempt....once again by chemical means. I think I should rename the van to "Christine"

I ran out of propane Wednesday night, once again exactly 15 days after filling it last. Per the usual routine, I left work and drove straight to the U-Haul place to get it refilled. The same guy has been filing it up and is getting quite good at it, plus he sells it to me as vehicle fuel instead of regular propane fuel which save me 60 cents per tank fill-up.

The process is straightforward: stick the hose attachment to the tank, close the line to the fridge/stove, open the bleeder valve and turn on the propane flow. The liquid propane fills the tank till it bleeds out the valve and then the auto-stop mechanism shuts off after the pressure stabilizes. I waited for the tank to equalize, paid for the fuel and then left.

This is where the van's plot begins, the autostop valve decided that the best time to break and leak out all of my propane was while I was driving in traffic and running errands. The O-rings must have given up holding back the pressure of 3 gallons of liquid propane.  I was traveling around in a fog of propane gas entirely unnoticeable from inside the van. I am quite surprised that it didn't combust off of the hot exhaust or ignite after the cooling fans and other electrical devices were operated. Lets not forget the smokers with open windows in traffic.

I am beginning to feel like a mobster, every time I start the van there is an uneasy feeling that it will result in a massive explosion. How many attempts can I survive till it succeeds?

Eventually the fuel drained out and I have ordered a new valve this morning but till it arrives and I get the time to install it I have no cooking or refrigeration abilities.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Guess which famous person used to live in a vehicle

The guy who founded Patron Tequila. At one point in his life, before patron fame, he lived in a old rolls royce in CA.

this article references it:

My Hotel Parking Strategy

This is my strategy for parking at hotels.

First rule: check for security by driving around the lot once during the day, also take note of the security cameras. Most cameras are at the main entrance but some have lot cameras. If you see a security cart, I do not recommend parking there for more then one night as they have lists of registered cars. I have not had any problems with these places but I do not recommend staying.

Second Rule: Locate staff vehicles. The guests all park at the entrance or side doors while the staff have to park at the other end. Depending on what shift they are on they may end up leaving while you are sleeping and may recognize your vehicle if it is there repeatedly. The goal is to be on the other side of the worker traffic but out of the view of the cameras.

Third rule: Avoid the No Go zones. These are vast areas of empty parking spots, typically used only by very large trucks (moving trucks). These can be easily spotted during the day as they do not have the usual evidence of vehicle fluid spots and have pristine parking lines.

Fourth rule: Location is everything in determining a good night of sleep. Use buildings as sound barriers. The diagram below is of a hotel I frequently stay at, I have noted my parking preference in green. This fits all the rules above and also lets me put up the sun shade without looking suspicious because the sun will be coming in from the right side of the drawing (or south if you noticed the north arrow). Also has a nice view and cooler temperatures.

Fifth rule: Take note of all street/lot lighting. This may sound strange but, with tinted windows, you want to be parked underneath the lights rather then farther away. If you are far away the light is coming in at an angle and will help illuminate the interior (not desired). Park under the light and it passes straight down and away and it also makes the vehicle look less suspicious as long as there are other cars around it. If you do not have tinted windows then you must park as far away from light sources as possible.

Sixth rule: Notice where the neatly trimmed shrubs and short walls are, these are designed to conceal the air conditioners and dumpsters. Avoid for noise and smell reasons.

Seventh rule: Pay attention to the location of pet areas, you do not want to wake up and have people walking around in front of you waiting for their pets, it gives the people too much time to observe the surroundings and also your van.

Eighth rule: Always have traveler props scattered about the "viewable" areas, or driver seat area. Traveler props include maps, hotel bills, fast food wrappers and cups, glossy advertisements, business shirts/pants, snack food. For some of you these may already be strewn about but do add the business clothing. Make sure it is neat and not in a big pile, everything must be viewable but not obviously placed. Clothes on hangers can be angled across the interior to for a visual barrier between you and the "viewable" area.

Ninth rule: When you park at your final destination for the evening, do not jump out of the seat and head straight for the curtains and bed, sit in the driver seat and observe what is going on around you. Use the phone as a prop to mask your activities. Look for other people sitting in cars (usually on phone) or those walking the lot. Once clear of observers, begin the process of setting up window shades and other traveler props. When you wake up, the same process should be observed before leaving.

Tenth rule: Do all your cooking, cleaning, music listening, yoga, running and any other noisy/motion activities at a public place like the park.

Monday, November 7, 2011

11/7 Weekend update - popcorn and flannel

The weekend was spent working on Colin's table, playing guitar, eating out, working out, laundry, playing Starcraft, Friday night party and a 11/5 party with V for Vendetta film as conclusion.

Saturday, after working out and having lunch with the Stuarts, I did laundry which cost was approx $5 for the two loads and dry time. I also switched my sheets over to flannel, which was a signal for the weather to spontaneously get hotter then usual at night leaving me cursing my weather luck yet again.

I finally got to have my popcorn conversation Saturday night. The popcorn conversation is exactly what it sounds like, a conversation about popcorn. A mutual friend is a foodie and cooks very tasty stuff and so I wanted to talk to her about the finer points of popping popcorn, the oil to use, temperature, toppings, pan types, and popcorn source/quality. Now that I am armed with new information and ideas I can continue on my quest for the perfect popcorn batch. It is a good thing that popcorn is an inexpensive food source as I plan on eating a lot of it.  See the wiki for more info

I cleaned the fridge on Sunday.  The entire process took approx one hour which includes restocking with the recently purchased food. I need to eat more green foods, since moving into the van my green food intake has dropped to almost 0 while brown, red, white, orange, and yellow are at all time highs.

I've ordered another Smartwool microweight t-shirt, this time in a grey color. I think two of these t-shirts are all I need for most of the activities that I do.

Hope to so some purging of the storage unit this week, not sure what I want to focus on yet, maybe cleaning supplies or office stuff.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The flow of information in a corporation

Incase any of you followers or viewers are unfamiliar with working within a corporation, let me explain how information actually travels because it defies logic.
On the outside, when you need information from someone, say you want to know how to get to a friend's house, you send an email and they respond with what you need.

See diagram below:  person L sends email to person S, they respond and problem solved. 
In my corporate world the information travels like so:

L wants information from S but L is busy and so A is in charge of gathering the information and compiling into a summary for L. A is rather busy so I get tasked with trying to get information from S. Person S, who is equally as busy as L, comes from the world of installing equipment and as such these people tend to not operate in the digital world, I have to physically walk to S's office to ask for information which is at the other end of the building. Since S isn't with the digital world, I am provided a brief summary despite requests for an email but some information that I need is contained within subordinate G who also does not exists in the digital realm. Person G lives several floors above me and so I have to continue my travels to reach G. G is also a busy person and spends a considerable time in meetings as well as being out of the office entirely. Once contact is made with G, I need to request that G sends information to S to send to L Contacting both G and S is very much like attempting to capture a stray cat. They only appear for brief periods and are scared away by loud noises. I basically have to set up camp outside the office, wait till they appear, and beg for spare minutes. This will generally agitate them and reduce the quality of information that I seek which reduces the chance that an email will be sent with the information that I requested forcing me to return with a follow up visit. Meanwhile L is wondering where the information is which forces A to ask for a status update from Me as well as what I have managed to accomplish over the course of the day. How can one justify spending an entire day attempting to get an email sent from S to L, what about the actual work that I had to do?...

This is what engineers do all day long, if you believe otherwise you have no chance to survive, make your time. All your base are belong to us!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My plans for living with the cold weather

This past weekend's cold front reminded me that I do not have a central heating system and rely entirely on a few blankets. I actually received a few offers from friends to stay in their houses till the cold front passed but I turned them down. I needed to experience the cold. It was the only way that I could come up with a workable solution.

Friday night I tried using just the window insulating covers but when I woke up on Saturday the van was almost as cold as the outside. The covers reduced/slowed the heat loss but it was clear that the amount that is lost was significantly higher then my body heat output. Therefore the solution to this problem is to either increase the heat output via propane heater or reduce the heat loss area. I have decided to try reducing the heat loss area. My current idea is to use a black blanket tucked into the upper bed area which can be draped down across the width of the van and cover the foot of the bed. This will reduce the heating area to just the bed space and some air space above the table. I believe this is enough of a reduction to avoid needing an artificial heat source. The secondary benefit to using the blanket method is that I will no longer need to hang random shirts and pants from the roof rack bar to create a "light block" from the front windows and will not need to use the curtains. This will somewhat reduce the suspicious look of the van from the outside in the event that a very nosy person tries to look in through the tinted windows.

In the image below I have marked the bed in green and the blanket idea in red.

The second thing I noticed was that residual heat from the motor slowly creeps through the insulation and mattress and if I keep the comforter over the bed it will be just warm enough to be comfortable despite the ambient air temperature.