So, A Lot Has Happened Recently

Yep. I know it’s cliché for a blogger to say “sorry for not posting so much!” but really… it’s been hectic lately. Let’s run down the list!

First, I got a new job. Same company but a different location, new boss, mo’ money, etc. It’s much more interesting than what I was previously doing, and it came with some other perks as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time transitioning to my new office and my new role. I also work longer hours but it’s offset with “flex time” so I’m pretty happy there too.

The only downside is that since the new job is in the city, I wasn’t too comfortable riding my motorcycle to work every day. When I commuted 50 miles a day into desolate, swampy south-central Florida it wasn’t a big deal because there wasn’t ever any traffic and about 95% of the drive was on divided highways. The new job is a much shorter commute but it’s stop-and-go traffic through some congested roads. That’s not good for motorcycle safety. So I bought a car.

And, since I’ve mentioned it before, I didn’t get a new car. Although I did think about it! I was in the Honda dealership about to buy a Fit when a particular manufacturing detail caught my eye and caused me to abandon my pursuits. Let’s just say that I’m worried that Honda is going to have the same problems that Volkswagen has in North America, but that’s a topic for another post. Hint: it has nothing to do with diesel.

So I bought a Mercedes. And not just any Mercedes: A 31-year-old turbo diesel. I picked it up for about what my down payment would have been on the Honda, but it did take me about three weeks’ worth of work to get it running again. It had been sitting unloved for about four years, so almost every day when I came home from work I’d open the hood and twist bolts until the sun set. I’ll be writing a little bit more about this soon, since I’m a big proponent of buying antique cars as a way to save money.

And yes, I do have my Volkswagen still, but it seems to have decided that now would be a really good time to blow out its rear main seal. I’ll have to drop the engine to fix that but sometimes old cars take some coaxing to get back on the road. I’m not particularly upset about it because I know it comes with the territory of owning an older car. Plus, I don’t consider the Beetle reliable transportation; it’s a fun project that keeps my engineering brain sharp that I could sell at any time for essentially the amount of money I have in it. It’s win-win for me!

Oh, and I did sell my Yamaha motorcycle, so that went to offset the cost of the Mercedes a little bit. I got it essentially for free when I bought my house, so I’m chalking that up as a win too.

Speaking of the house, though, I started doing some repairs to my detached garage… which quickly turned in to more work than I was expecting. So that’s been going on too.

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This was what was holding up my roof. Sort of. You come across things like this when your house was built in the 40s and you live in a really wet area with lots of termites.

Let’s sum up. New job, still writing for a few blogs on the side, mowing a few lawns in the neighborhood on the other side, new old car that needed fixing to I could get to work without fearing for my life, old old car needing major repairs, garage in shambles. Oh yeah: my first priority regardless of all of my projects is generally to get to the beach and surf if the waves are up. And the past three weeks we got epic surf from Hurricane Joaquin. And I do not use the word epic lightly.

It was like this for three weeks. That’s unheard of for South Florida, especially since we’re still in the rainy season. And my bike got stolen too. Aww! So there’s been a lot on my plate, but I’m back now!

Photo: Not your grandmother’s car, but close. 

Hurricane Erika – Update

After maybe briefly making hurricane status (and causing a lot of panic in Florida) Hurricane Erika disappeared after tracking a little too far west and hitting mountains in Hispaniola and Cuba. We did get a bunch of rain and wind (and I got to surf on my new Meyerhoffer board!) but luckily I didn’t have to test out my new storm shutters on my old house.

I did get a chance to participate in the hurricane panic, though. I went to the grocery store to get 10 gallon jugs of water about six days before the projected landfall. (Recommendations say each person needs about 1-2 gallons of water a day. Don’t forget you have to flush the toilet too!) The grocery store was cleaned out, as everyone stocked up on bread and milk. It reminded me a little bit of growing up in the Carolinas when a snow storm was forecasted. We’d maybe get an inch of snow and everyone would panic and storm the grocery store (pun intended). The hurricane threat in Florida is a little more real than the snow threat in the Carolinas, though.

I also went to Home Depot to help a friend of mine buy plywood about four days before the projected landfall. He’s been renovating a house from scratch, and getting hurricane shutters (justifiably) wasn’t on the top of his to-do list until recently. I think we bought 22 sheets of plywood, but we had to wait in line to get them.

Probably the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was sitting on the side of the road for 45 minutes because my surfing friend locked his key in the car after we got out of the ocean. Oh well! At least we only live a mile or so from the beach. No harm done!

Hurricane season isn’t quite over yet, thought, so we’re not quite out of the woods for the year. Due to the El Nino we’re having, however, we’re not forecast to get very many storms this year. Good for my house, bad for my surfing! But each time we get a scare, it’s a good reminder that we could lose anything at any time. Even if we’re not in Florida during hurricane season.

Photo: Tropical Storm Erika’s actual track, showing a path over some substantial mountains, then turning into a tropical depression, then a tropical wave, then a brief rainstorm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday Links! August 22, 2015

The Routine is the Enemy Of Time, retire29.com. An interesting view on living life, and a way of life that asks us to pay attention to each moment before they all disappear.

Three Months of Early Retirement, livingafi.com. Early retirement has been a dream of mine for a long time, and it’s good to read about someone who’s just taken the leap. There’s hope out there!

What We Won’t Miss About Working, ournextlife.com. Speaking of which…

BONUS! What I’m listening to this week:

Just a good, honest jam.

Photo: Got a great deal on this surfboard, a Meyerhoffer XYZ, which arrived in the mail this week. Unfortunately there probably won’t be surf good enough to ride this board for another month or so. To maintain my minimalist cred, I’m selling a 7’2″ board that’s been sitting in my garage for a while. If you’re also interested in surfing, this is the deal about the funny shape:

Saturday Links! August 8, 2015

Welcome to August! I’m back from vacation and, after a brief break, ready to tackle the world. Enjoy these interesting tidbits from the interwebs.

Empty Decks and Misguided Frugality, retire29. I’ve gotten into this blog a lot in the past few weeks because the author is very nuanced in the way he sees the world. This is one of those things I’ve always noticed but never really noticed.

Lifestyle Inflation Illustrated, anythingyouwantblog.com. A great reminder that we should be aware of our spending whenever we come into more money. It doesn’t have to be from raises at work, either; it could come from inheritance or even our yearly tax returns.

Living in Switzerland Ruined Me for America and Its Lousy Work Culture by Chantal Panozzo, vox.com. Not every country has the work “ethic” that is common in the United States. Others actually seem to care about their employees and their work-life balances.

BONUS: What I’m listening to this week:

A deep cut from this classic 90’s album.

Photo: Catching some surf up at Corners, my favorite surf break in Jupiter. This was a few months ago, since there isn’t any surf in South Florida for most of the summer. 

How I Plan to Pay Off My Student Loans… Maybe?

There’s a student loan bubble! Maybe? There’s also a group of people trying to get student loan debtors to go on a debt strike against the evil lenders, except that movement isn’t really gaining steam. I don’t really know how much of a problem there is overall, but I can at least share my part of the story and why I’m skeptical about paying them off, but why I still might do it anyway.

Also, I’d like to note how much minimalism and finances seem to be intertwined, at least for me. The fewer things I spend my money on, the more secure I am and the less mental clutter I have. I worry about fewer things. To me, paying off loans is akin to cleaning out a closet.

So! I graduated with about $40k of student loan debt. I went to a public university but didn’t get enough scholarships to pay for it all. (I went to high school in North Carolina which has a miserable education system with basically no money for college students, unlike South Carolina or Georgia. But that’s a whole other can of worms.) So I’m not in the worst situation ever, but not the most ideal either. Compounding the problem was the fact that 18-year-old me viewed community college as something disdainful so I didn’t get my easy credits and transfer in to a univeristy to save money. I was a very traditional four-year type, and turned to loans as a very feasible way to fund my engineering degree.

I also graduated as somewhat of an outspoken Libertarian who viewed debt as something evil that must be exterminated at all costs. (My political activism has greatly waned since then.) I paid off all of my federal student loans with a signing bonus from my first job, then made higher-than minimum payments on my state-funded loans. I also flipped a house and put my profits to paying down another chunk of my loan, and after everything I’ve done I have slightly under $18k left to go.

WHY I HAVEN’T DONE MORE

On to the excuses! I was a pretty typical 20-something that spent a lot of unnecessary money on fast cars. And lots of eating out. So I probably could have them all paid off if I was still driving my car from high school (except that didn’t have AC and I live in south Florida). But I’m a little torn on this, because I don’t want to be someone pinching pennies eating ramen but I also don’t want to be someone who’s racked up all kinds of debt chasing a lifestyle. I think there’s a good middle ground, and getting my mistakes out of the way early helped me discover what that is. I’m a big fan of budgetsaresexy; the way he tackled his debt is very inspirational, but I don’t know if I want or need to do this.

The other part of the problem is that my three student loans outstanding have interest rates of 3%, 3%, and 0.08%. That last one isn’t a typo. With rates this low I could make a better return putting my money to work elsewhere. I started doing this recently, actually. I figure that if I open an index fund and hold it for five years, I could have enough money to cash it out and pay off my loan. I’d have made maybe 5% in the market this way (hopefully!) and therefore I’d be out on top.

But with the rates that low, why would I cash out the index fund at all? Why not make minimum payments on a loan that basically amouts to free money? I know a lot of people with mortgage rates higher than this and they’re doing virtually nothing to pay them off early. The answer is 100% psycological. I still have that libertarian-leaning attitude that debt is generally bad, even if it’s paid for something good like a house or an education. When I’m free of my loans I’ll simply feel better. Even though they’re low interest loans, it’ll still be nice to keep more of my paychecks every month.

But I still have the battle, because the rational part of me knows I could do better things with the money, and the emotional part of me wants to be free of debt at any expense. Like before, I think a middle ground is warranted. I’ll probably end up paying them off early, but not as early as to sacrifice some of my lifestyle. So I might pay off my student loans early. Maybe. Depending on which part of me wins out.

SPEAKING OF WHICH…

I recently started kiteboarding (video below for those who live inland!) which isn’t a particularly cheap hobby, and I don’t want to sacrifice my entry into the sport to pay down loans marginally faster. It’s all about tradeoffs and maximizing happiness! I’ll be writing a little about this sport in the future, though, because it’s crazy amounts of fun. The reason I live by the beach is so I can do things like surf, paddleboard, and kite. It’s not an expensive lifestyle, but it’s not the cheapest, either. At least I’m not into jet skis and swamp buggies.

I’m also going on vacation to my semi-hometown of Charleston, South Carolina this week. Pictures of this will follow as well!

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