Frugal Lemon Leads to Frugal Lemonade

Frugal flops.  We’ve all had them, haven’t we?

I’ve probably had more than my fair share.   Mostly because I love a deal, and I’ve been known to overbuy a time or twelve.  Now that I am packing and reaching into every nook and cranny the sheer numbers of deals purchased and quickly forgotten are embarrassing.  I’ve filled an entire closet at the new house.  And I’m not done yet.

But this latest frugal lemon wasn’t about a deal, or overbuying.  In this case my eagerness and excitement spurred me to make a bad choice…

See, we’ve been planning to move since before Son was born.  As a result I never really decorated Son’s room the way I wanted to- though I wanted to desperately.  But why would I when we were about to move?  His furniture is my pre-marriage master bedroom furniture – whitewashed wicker.  Using the dresser as a changing table was a frugal choice that worked  perfectly well, and placing the full-sized bed in his room so guests would have a place to  sleep wasn’t a pretty choice, but who cared?  We were  moving! I did manage to put some picitures on the wall and an alphabet rug, but it wasn’t the room I’d dreamed to give him.  Not even close.

Well,  we didn’t move.  And then we didn’t  move.  And then we did not move.  For 4 and 3/4 years.

Now we finally are.  And now Son will have a room that’s just his, decorated for just him.  And I’m so frickin’ happy and excited about that.    A little too happy and excited…

I chose a really bright green paint for the room, but only put it on 1 wall.  I went to Ikea and chose curtains and accessories and built more new ideas.  With the paint I’ve spent about $100 so far.  Woo hoo!

The furniture in his room now will go in the guest room at the new house, so I decided he needed a new dresser and a desk.  New to us, at least.  So I looked on Craigslist for a wood dresser and desk that I could paint either white or bright green or blue – I hadn’t decided yet.  And I saw something that could be perfect – it had a really nice whimsical shape – and it was only $40 for the dresser AND the desk.  And it came with a headboard with cubbies (which I didn’t need so I was either going to re-sell it or saw off the bottom and hang it on the wall as a shelf).

I went to go see it and was disappointed to see that it wasn’t in great shape.  The headboard was in fine, but the dresser was scratched quite a bit.  The desk had water damage at the bottom (water and fiberboard don’t mix) and the fiberboard top was worn away in one corner.

I hesitated, thinking about all of the work that would need to be done.  Then I said to myself, “Well, the scratches don’t matter because I’m going to sand it before I paint it.  And I can put molding at the bottom of the  desk and just attach some 1/4 inch plywood to the top of the desk and viola!  And it’s only $40 for all three peices!!!”

So, I bought it.  And when Husband saw it he was unhappy.  He said it was crap furniture  and that he’d do the work but not be happy about it.   I saw my vision for it in my head and was undeterred.

But he was right.  It was crap.  And it was going to take soooo much work to have it match my vision.

I began to have buyer’s remorse.  My overexcitement led me to a bad decision.  The furniture was CRAP!  What was I thinking???  It was a frugal lemon so big that it took up half my garage.

Oy.

I began to think about getting him a good piece of furniture.  Maybe even new.  I looked on Craiglist, I went to Ikea.

And I decided to get rid of the crap.

So I listed it on Craigslist.  And I sold it to someone else.  For $50.  Yes, that’s more than what I paid for it.

I still haven’t bought a dresser for Son.  But I’ve calmed down and decided to take my time. There’s no place for emotions in frugality and wise spending.

It was a good lesson.  And I paid myself $10 to learn it.  Not  bad.

Not bad at all…

Sometimes The Best Move Is No Move At All

I’ve forever been talking about selling our home here and moving to a cooler climate, with better schools and where we can afford the kind of house we’d like.   I’ve been longing to move for years, especially  after I got pregnant.

I want Son to grow up in a place where there’s a change of seasons.  I think the seasons give a nice framework to mark the passing of time, and they add color to my own memories.

I want Son to grow up in a place where he has a yard to play in, where there are lots of other children, where we can take off on a weekend trip to the mountains.  I want him to pick pumpkins straight from a real pumpkin patch,  not a parking lot.  I want him to sled down a hill and run with glee in his shorts on the first warm day after a long and cold winter.

We’ve been so close to going so many times.  The MLS listing is written, the photos are taken.  I’ve spent many a night browsing listings looking for the perfect new house for us.

My readers and friends must be sick of the subject, as am I.  I’m tired of talking about it – I just want to DO IT.

But, like so many others, we’ve been hit by the lousy economy.  Husband got a pay cut last week,  and our home is worth only 60 percent of what it was worth three years  ago.  The  job market in Atlanta is so flooded that the odds of getting a job even for local applicants is a longshot, and if I were a hiring manager I’d toss any out-of-town applicants directly into the circular file.  We just can’t risk it, at least until things turn around.

The good news is that you’ll not have to hear me talk about it, at least for this year.  The bad news is that we’ve decided that our best move is no move at all.

It’s not about risk-taking.  It’s about not making a bad decisions because we don’t want to let go of our dream.

On the other hand,  Husband still has a job.  We’re living in a home we could afford even if Husband had to work at McDonald’s.  We have no debt other than the mortgage.  We have a healthy savings account.  We have lots of family and friends here, and it’s been a nice, chilly-for-Florida winter.

So, I’ll make our too-small house work.  I’ll find a school for Son.  I’ll continue to scavenge clearance racks to find things to re-sell.  I’ll continue my de-cluttering battle, and hopefully gain some ground. We’ll go to the beach.

I’ll count my blessings that we still have a home, that Husband is still working, that we can put food on the table. I’ll pray for those who aren’t as lucky.

But I’ve not really let go of the dream.  We’re just delayed.  I can live with that.

I’m going to make the most of today.  But I’m still going to think about that house.

You, Too, Can Buy a House in Florida for Under $20,000

I’ve already shared with you one of my favorite blogs – Cake Wrecks.  Wreckporters  scour their local supermarkets, and Flicker, looking for submissions.  I don’t know what it is about this area, but I’ve never seen a wreck in real life, except my godmother’s pile-of -poop-complete-with swarming-flies-wedding cake (oh yes, I wish I hadn’t packed away my photos in preparation for moving, don’t you?). It never ceases to make me laugh, and sometimes even guffaw.  Trust me, no one looks pretty when they guffaw.

A few weeks ago a friend turned me onto another site that has made it’s way into my reader.  It’s a similar type theme blog, but instead of Cake Wrecks it features house listing wrecks.   It’s Lovely!  I’ll Take It! posts listing photos that make you wonder at the  sanity – and commitment to selling – of the people who chose them as representations of their property.  I’ve seen things that no prospective home buyer should.

I was lucky enough to find a listing that was so vile for so many reasons (not the least of which is the nudie shot of the realtor on his website)  I had to submit it.  I’m happy but not surprised that they featured it today.

Go check it out, and while you’re there check out some of the archives.  And please, if you’re ever going to take photos of your bathroom in hopes of selling your house, please flush.

One Fart and It’s All Over

I know there’s a crisis in the housing industry. I know people bought waaay more house than they could afford, and as a result more people are foreclosing on their mortgages than are wiping their tushies. Almost.

And I’m all for simplifying one’s life. There is so much we don’t really need, and so much cluttering our lives. I love the idea of really paring things down and living a less stressful life.

But.

Short of a complete and total financial and societal breakdown (and even then I’d likely squat in bigger digs) there’s just no way I would live in one of these voluntarily. At least as long as I’m married and have a 4 year old son. And a doggie.

When Husband and I were first together he could not even sleep in my double bed – an antique handed down by my grandmother. It currently lives in pieces under our king tempurpedic-knockoff bed. Even now he feels crowded.

And he’s a loner at heart. He needs time to himself, and I make sure he gets it every day. There is no way he’d keep his sanity in such a small place. And his complaints would drive me insane, too.

Besides, one fart and it’s all over.

To List the House or Not List the House, That is the Question

We were sooooooooo close.

We were so close to listing the house.

We’d decided against a realtor and for a listing service, which would give us a realtor-quality listing that would stay up until we sold the house.

We’d started packing and put items in storage to make the rooms feel bigger.

We’d taken the photos of clean and de-cluttered rooms.

We’d snuck onto realtor.com looking at houses in Georgia.

We’ve even come up with a list of Twenty Things to Do Before We Buy a House.

We were one day away from listing the house when the floor – a.k.a. the economy, fell out from under us.

Banks aren’t lending money. Credit card companies are reducing credit limits, affecting credit scores for even those with excellent credit histories.

Car dealerships are closing because no one is spending money to buy cars, and banks won’t give car loans to those few who do.

Now we’re unsure what to do. If we find someone willing to buy our house they probably won’t be able to get a loan, at least until banks start lending money again.

And if we do sell the house Husband has to find a job in Georgia before we buy a new place. After all, no lender is going to give us a mortgage with no income. And in this economy advertising agencies are laying people off, not doing much in the way of hiring…

On the other hand, no one’s going to even want to buy our house if they don’t know it’s for sale. I’m also thinking that sitting on the market for awhile will not have the same stigma it has had in the past. Almost all houses are languishing, aren’t they?

So, what’s the smart decision? Do we list the house and take those risks? Do we put it on the market even though no one is buying and we’re uncertain about the future of everything?

Or do we wait, for our home value to decrease more, staying in a place we don’t want to be, and wait for things to get better while we sit here uncertain about the future of everything?

Stay tuned.

You’re going to give me $50,000 to do what?

Oh, it’s a tempting offer. But it’s likely not open to you, unless you’ve got a Jewish mother.

A congregation in the self-proclaimed Peanut Capital of the World, also known as Dothan, Alabama, is so lacking in Jewbies they’re offering up to $50,000 to Jews who move there. And if you stay at least five years you don’t have to repay it.

$50,000. Fifty. Thousand. Sheckels.

To live in a town dotted with big fiberglass peanuts painted to resemble characters and people — including an Elvis peanut. A place where the politics are hard right in an area with a history of racism and anti-semitism as long as the sleeve of your hooded white cloak.

To live in a place that’s quiet and family-oriented, where we can afford a house and see the change of seasons.

A place that’s growing and changing.

A place that’s less than thirty miles from the best man in our wedding, who lives across the border in Florida but comes to Dothan to attend this same temple with his wife and four kids most weeks.

Oh, that’s a tempting offer. Fifty thousand could make a nice difference in our lives. A really nice difference.

I wonder if Husband’s non-Jew status would affect our eligibility. We are raising Son Jewish (Husband refuses to attend church, so that was a no-brainer), and even if Husband was Jewish he’d still not participate in the Men’s Club… And he is circumcised…

I’d finally have people to play Mah Jjong with!

But could Husband find a job? It’s Dothan, Alabama! Do they even have any advertising agencies?

Fifty thousand dollars!

Husband has been there. Says I wouldn’t like it.

$50,000 would really help me overlook some of Dothan’s negatives. Not all of them, but at least twelve. Of the medium-sized negatives. Or one big one.

I could put up with an awful lot for five years for $50,000.

I’m making a call to Dothan tomorrow. No harm in getting the details, is there?

90% Well Done

This morning I went to use the microwave and noticed it was dirty. I cleaned it, then noticed that the electric can opener was, too (does anyone have one of these that works well? I never have!). I cleaned that and pretty soon there was no stopping the ball from gaining momentum on the way to completely tearing apart my kitchen. Three garbage bags, 1 large charity box and twelve cleaned and re-organized cabinets later my kitchen is just about ready to be shown. That’s good, since I have appointments with two realtors this week.

It’s hard for me to plan ahead for these things. When I think about a huge job like that I get so overwhelmed I don’t even want to begin. And lately I’ve been doing so much at my Dad’s old house that the thought of packing or cleaning out anything is about as welcome as a hemorrhoid. As a result the upkeep of my house, and the market-readiness work have fallen to the wayside. That’s not right, but it’s the way that it is. Or has been.

But when something just evolves the way it did today I feel empowered and completely forget to be overwhelmed.

I like that feeling.

The only downside is that I still have not found a cure for the 90% Doneness Syndrome. I get 90% of a job done and am left with a pile of things that I don’t know what to do with, or am too tired to deal with after busting my tush all day. Today’s 10% is currently sitting on my dining room table.

Sigh.

Tomorrow. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Today My Son Broke a Cherished Glass Container. Hallelujah!

Despite the fact that my house is full of stuff I really hate clutter. I struggle all the time with de-cluttering, especially in my too-small house.

It’s fairly recently that I “got” one of the most powerful tenets of de-cluttering: Just because I like it doesn’t mean I should keep it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhh…….

This morning Son went to give the dog a cookie, her treat for doing her duty (if I had a treat for every time I … never mind).

He inadvertently dropped the glass lid of the container and the glass shattered against our ceramic tile floor.

Being three, his eyes began to fill with tears as he looked to me for my reaction.

“It’s okay,” I said as I gave him a reassuring hug. “You just helped Mommy de-clutter.”

And it wasn’t really a cherished container. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been dog biscuits in it.

But still.

Twenty Things to Do Before We Buy a House

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about selling our home here and moving to another state. The market is worse here than almost anywhere else in the country (we also boast having the highest foreclosure rate – don’t be jealous!), so it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime too soon.

Still, it’s good to have a plan, and I have plenty of time to come up with one.

When Husband and I are finally ready to start looking for a house in our new home state there are a few things we will be sure to do, some of which we didn’t do in out first home buying process.

Before We Start Looking

These are things we will do before we actually go see any houses.

1. Familiarize ourselves with the area. We are still debating on whether or not to rent for at least six months first. I know it’s a good idea, but the thought of moving and doing it all again six months or a year later is so unsavory. On the other hand, it would give us time to really know the area, and not have to rely on the recommendations of friends and family whose preferences may not be the same as ours.

2. Know our credit score. We’ll be making sure our credit reports are accurate. We’re not planning on getting pre-approvals, as we don’t want anyone pulling our credit (and thus lowering our credit score) until we’ve chosen a lender. By knowing our score and income, and given our complete lack of debt at that point (our only debt is the mortgage on our house here), we can get a good idea of what interest rate we will realistically qualify for, and what kind of mortgages are available to us.

3. Know how much house we want to buy. We are huge proponents of living below our means, and just because a lender is willing to lend us $300,000 doesn’t mean that’s how much we want to borrow. Our goal is to take the equity (falling every day) we have in our current house and try to keep our mortgage payments about the same as they are now. Our mortgage is currently 12% of Husband’s income, but we know we’ll be taking a pretty big salary cut when we move. We’d like to keep the mortgage at 25% of his income or less. We won’t know our exact numbers until we sell this house and Husband gets a new job.

4. Compile a list of requirements. Our list is broken down into Must Have, Preferred and Wishes. We Must Have at least 3 bedrooms, but a 4th is Preferred. A Den or other Bonus room is one of our Wishes. So is having a laundry room on the second floor. You get the idea.

5. Hire a buyers agent. This is one of the most important things we’ll do this time that we didn’t do last time. There are seller’s agents, buyer’s agents and dual agents (represent both sellers and buyers). When buying a home I’m going to have a buyer’s agent. A buyer’s agent is ethically required to do what’s in our best interest in the real estate transaction. They represent us and only us, and cannot be in collusion with the seller and/or his or her agent. We won’t be afraid to sign a non-exclusive contract, but we’ll be sure to read and understand it first. An experienced buyer’s agent is going to understand the market, know where the bargains are and know how to whittle 1000 possible listings down to the five to ten that most meet our requirements. They won’t try to push their own listings on us; no trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That will save us tons of time, tons of money, and tons of stress.

6. Do our own research. We’ll look on the internet for information about the neighborhood, schools, crime. Sites like Homefair are chock full of useful information. We’ll also check the property appraisers website to get an idea of property taxes in the area we’re looking. Some areas (like the one in which we live) give homestead exemptions and longevity discounts that can make the current owner’s taxes artificially low, so we’ll want to make sure we’re getting an accurate picture of the taxes we’ll have to pay.

7. Get insurance quotes. They won’t be accurate, but if we can get an agent to give us an idea of the rates for the area we’re considering and the types of policies we’ll need (i.e. is it a special flood hazard area, necessitating flood insurance?) we can use the information as a factor in our decision.

Items to Bring When Looking At Houses

1. A Scorecard. We’ll use our Required/Preferred/Wish lists to make a scorecard for each house to help us keep track of the houses we’ve seen and for comparison purposes later.

2. A digital camera, an extra data card and extra batteries. We’ll take pictures of the neighborhood, the outside, views from the front and back doors, interior features we like, interior features we don’t like.

3. A cell phone charger. We can use this small electrical appliance to test electrical outlets. Oh, yes.

4. A tape measure. Will our furniture fit? How much wall space is there? How big of a refrigerator can I buy for the space? All good things to know.

5. Bottled Water. I don’t want to waste time having to stop for drinks.

6. Hand Sanitizer. I’m allergic to cats. And if a house looks dirty I’ll definitely want to use some. Blech.

Before We Put An Offer In

We hope to narrow it down to three houses, depending on the market and what’s going on with it. In some cases we may do these things after we put in the offer, but only if we have sufficient “outs” built into the contract.

1. Visit the neighborhood at different times of day. A neighborhood that seems quiet at 11am might transform into a noisy, motorcycle club and roving-teen-filled mecca at night. We’ll check out the neighborhood at random times of day -and week – to make sure it fits with our preferences. Another thing we’ll do is look for all of the ways to access the neighborhood so we can see the surrounding areas and any potential problem areas.

2. Talk to our prospective neighbors. We’ll go up and knock on the door. It’s not a time to be shy. These people will be living next to us for many years to come, and if they open the door and clouds of marijuana pour out we may want to reconsider our choice. You may not. Different strokes. We’ll ask about crime, difficult neighbors, renters, worrisome animals (a friend lives next door to a menagerie of very stinky, more-comfortable-on-a-farm-than-in-a-subdivision-type animals). What do they like best about the neighborhood? Worst?

3. Do more of our own research. We’ll check out the property appraiser’s website to get information about taxes and home sale prices. We can find out how many times the house has changed hands and how much was paid, and lots of other useful information that’s all available for free. Knowing how much someone paid for a home can be extremely useful when negotiating price.

4. Check with the city to see if there are any pending land use changes. A good friend bought a large home on a very nice piece of land, only to have a huge chunk taken away under eminent domain for a sewage system. The pending plan would have been useful to know before buying, methinks. The forty acres of woods behind our dream home could wind up being razed to make way for a WalMart. Zone changes happen, but we at least can protect ourselves as much as possible.

5. Check to make sure any renovations have received the proper permits and inspections. I know several people who were fined and/or had to rip out renovations, wiring and plumbing that were done without proper permits and were not up to code. If the homeowner can’t provide proof we’ll contact the city. If not permits were obtained that will affect our offer.

6. Check to see if there is a Homeowners Association. If there are, what are the fees? What services are provided for the fees? We’ll get a copy of the community rules, and decide if we can live with them. Is participation compulsory? My sister’s community has several homeowners refusing to pay their share, and the last treasurer embezzled funds. Oy.

7. Bring in the expert. Before I bought my current house I brought my stepmother (the most critical person I know) and my best friend (the most observant person I know) to get their opinions. It was my first house and I was nervous about taking such a big step. Next time we’ll bring a friend who is a building contractor to see the house, just to get an opinion on the construction and any issues we might have that way.

I hope there’s time to do all of these things. The market and other factors will dictate if we’ll get to each step, but I hope we do. Once the offer is accepted and we have a deal we’ll of course have lots more to do, which will be the subject of another post.

A Treasure Trove of Trash TV

Tonight I found myself in a place I’ve never been before.

There are two trashy reality shows I want to watch. At the same time.

My first contender is American Idol. They go to Hollywood this week, where all of the arguably talented contestants compete to make it to the top 24. This year some people get passes from the first round to the final day. For the rest they have to prove themselves, making for tons and tons of good drama.

AI is a perennial favorite of mine, and as such I set the TiVo before the season even started to catch every last dramatic drop. I even set it to stop recording five minutes late, as many people I know were left hanging last year when the finale ran late. I answered more than one frantic phone call wondering who the heck won.

Then, today, as I was sitting Tornado vigil, I happened to look at the TV listings to see what unlucky shows the networks pit against AI. There among the poor ratings victims was Big Brother 9.

What? That’s a summer show!!!! What the heck are they doing starting that in February, for goodness sake! And then I realized… we’re in February sweeps. You know the sweeps – when the networks pull out their ratings busters in an attempt to increase their viewership so they in turn can charge more for advertising all of the stuff we mostly don’t want or need.

I can’t say I watch BB religiously. But one cannot miss the first show. No. Absolutely not.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Luckily, I have TiVo. I also have three televisions. Most importantly, I have a husband who is willing to either play on his computer or use the little TV in the guest bedroom so I can watch BB9 and TiVo AI’s second hour. I think he’s only letting me do this because AI running two hours means House is not on, but I’m not asking. I shall just assume it is out of the kindness of his heart.

So, I will get to watch all of my trash TV tonight. And then Husband and I will together watch the only TV show we both really love: Boston Legal.

There is joy in Florida, despite the tornadoes.

Denny Crane.

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