Archive for May, 2007

Memorial Day

May 28, 2007

Memorial Day seems to take on a much more sober tone when the names that are read off are people you knew; as a kid I knew why memorial day existed but mostly it was a day off from school. Ask, most people and they will say its the day the pools open. I was reading an article recently about Warriors’ Walk at Fort Stewart. Due, to the current deployment they will have to expand the walk again to make room for the fallen. The Warriors’ Walk is a memorial to 3ID soldiers who have fallen in since OIF I. Each fallen Soldier is marked by a tree and a marker, a light shines on each tree at night. The memorials help remind people who may not have those memories. You remember the person and what effect and impression they had on you.  That is true, no matter if a Soldier or a civilian, only the manner of their death is different. One would hope that when I die, and we all do, that I will have had a postive effect on those that met me and that I will be remembered. Memorial Day is suppost to be that time for all Soldiers who have given, no matter the conflict or the politics.

That may be why every-time I am back to the states everything feels like I am watching a movie.  Its like the world has been turned upside down, the trivial and the significance have replaced each other. Everything, which is trivial seems to consume everyone’s time, while the things which really matter just drift by with only a few people noticing. From the time, you step off the plane, you would not know that US troops are deployed around the world from just going though your normal day. Maybe, its easier to just ignore it; then to think about it and the ramifications. Quite honestly, I do not expect many people who are not in the service to understand.  We are so sheltered from the realities of the world, the media certainly does not address them or portray them correctly when it even attempts to. Expatriates or tourists may come the closest to understanding. Massive differences from reading or hearing about something and living though it.  Its something of a Catch 22 in that I would not wish a person to have to live though it, but at the same time its the only way they can come close to understanding.  I need to think quite a bit more, since most of this is a jumble.

It has nothing to do with “support” we are getting more of that then most likely any group since WWII; we still have critics though, I remember the one cute 20 something redhead in Atlanta who called me a “baby-killer” as  she brushed by me while walking though the airport back in 2005. The most annoying thing is not that she was a critic, but that she didn’t do her research. I have no issues with supporters or critics, though there are extremists on both sides.  The beauty of our system is that people can have opinions and express them. I just wish people on both sides, took the time to actually learn before they take a stance and express their opinion.

In other news, I have started to look at microeconomics. Mostly micro-loans, two companies Kiva and Prosper, deal with them in the United States. Kiva focuses on giving money to people in third world countries to make improvements in their life; but the loan holder gets no interest on the loan. I have come to think of it as a revolving charity. Prosper on the other hand focuses on loans to people in the United States at rates lower then credit card interest rates but higher then what a bank would charge. The people asking for the loans normally cannot get the loan from a bank due to their credit or the amount is too small. The majority of the loan requests seem to be for getting out of credit card debt. The loan period is three years so the interest tends to be low unless you give loans to people with bad credit; however even with a 3% interest rate which is lower then a saving account you may get more benefit from knowing you helped someone. I may put $500 into both to experiment.

I started the TSP, putting all my extra pay in at 100% and 20% of my base pay. I may increase that after I see how much it effects me. SDP finally took, I saw the first installment go in this month. 

 Been listening to quite a bit of jazz music of late, tends to be very relaxing. As of late I have been trying to download some pod-casts of the Internet but the connection is horrible over here. Working to get everything, I use on the Internet a bit more organized instead of the mix and match that that currently exists. Not sure if “disorganized” is a good way to describe the Internet but seems to fit. Downsizing though programs and sites so that I can better use my time and get more done. Got my calorie intake down to a good level, around 2400 a day. Its amazing how something that is small has more calories then some entire meals. Need to start finding time to hit the gym here daily.

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What purpose does the media serve?

May 24, 2007

In college, in one of my political science classes we talked about the 24 hour media cycle and how they now need to fill up that 24 hours with news. No longer do you need to tune in to the morning, afternoon and evening news, its the same information repeated over and over with commentary for 24 hours till something changes. At the same time the “fluff” pieces seem to be greater since it takes less time and resources to investigate what Paris Hilton is doing as compared to a world or national topic which deserves debate .

I tend to get most of my news these days on-line though various sites such as CNN, BBC and Al Jezeera. You have to evaluate what is shown based on sources and why they are presenting the information at each site. One of the better news sites, is the on-line version of the NY Times, strangely enough. At least it makes it very easy to tell real news from commentary.

The line between “news”, what is new information and commentary has largely grown murky. It started with morning shows which offered commentary while reporting events around the world/nation/region. Now, its very hard to find a news source which does not offer commentary. I keep asking, why does anyone need someone to explain something to them. I find it hard to believe that people cannot come up with their conclusions.

I happened to just see the O’Reilly Factor on Fox a few moments ago. If you have never seen the show I would suggestion you watch it. At first it appears to be a news show but its entirely commentary on events, however instead of trying to be investigative it uses slander and misinformation to discuss topics.

So, my question is what purpose does the media serve?

In other news, Toby Keith did come by and I was able to get a picture with him. Very nice individual, went around shaking everyone’s hand. He had a concert later that night. I did not go, by the time I finished with my work, I heard his show starting but decided to just go get some sleep.

I sent off in the mail for my credit reports, something that everyone should do each year. Due to US Law everyone can get a free copy of their report from each of the three companies which deal with credit reports (this does not include your FICO score). Some states offer free reports each year or a discount from the credit companies. Otherwise, you have to pay for the report unless you have been denied credit. Since I am outside the United States I could not use the website but a phone number exists and you can also send a request in the mail. I did the later, so will see how I look here in about 15 days.

Its Tuesday

May 22, 2007

All together not a bad day today and yesterday for that matter, at least for me.

Something of a treat today, Toby Keith is doing a concert over-here. Not sure if I will go, depends on work etc.. There are playing the music in the building this afternoon either way, since it seems he will come though. Maybe I will get a pic, who knows.

Decided to put $5,000 into the Clothing Fund, I can always increase it. I found a better account for the savings, seems HBSC offers a direct on-line saving account with a 5.05% rate which beats what my bank offers. I opened an account there and put $5000 in it. With the Furniture and Clothing fund combined at $15,000 based off one year I will only need to invest $14,279 and if I increase it to $20,000, only need to put in $19,039. I will take the SDP fund (which I opened yesterday, I tried to do it down in Kuwait but after two attempts it never went though) and move it into that same account when I get back since it provides better interest. If I let the $10,000 from the emergency fund sit for 20 years it will grow to around $24k. Not sure if I will do that since mutuals still offer the liquidity but higher interest rates.  I need to do more research into some of the Vanguard funds.

I did not intent for this to go into much details, when I started it but mostly just commenting on things I am noticing and running into in-regards to my own money.

I plan to go start my TSP today, so should get my pin in a bit and start putting my money in a Life-cycle 2040 fund. Its a 401(k), but with no employer contributions. The limit back in the states is $15,500 can be put in this year; but over here the limit is around $45k can be put in. When redrawn later on in life, the amount invested that year is tax free, however you are taxed on the interest for that year. I am going to try to max the 401(k), at the very least it will help me do come catchup since I failed to do it up till this point. 

A friend mentioned saving for house, I have decided to rent, however once I have the furniture, clothing, emergency and retirement accounts setup, I will open a fund to start saving up for a nice house in my later days. I am still undecided on if its better to rent and then buy a house when I get out of the military or if acquire houses as I go, renting them out when I move instead of selling them; thus having someone else pay for the mortgage and by the time of retiring having 3-4 houses paid off, that is quite a bit of equity and provides for a steady source of income over the years and you can always sell one or two off as you get ready to retire for a nice cushion.

The L2040 is a nice looking fund, based on automatic asset allocation with very low operationing costs and maintenance. The fund starts aggressive but gets more conservation as it reaches 2040. The Life-cycle funds started back in 2005, it returned 16.53% last year.

I also eligibility for a $20,000 lump sum bonus for agreeing to three more years active duty. Normally, I would not be offered any bonus but due to shortages currently and projected they are offering it. Its tax-free if I take it over here. That by itself would take care of the funds listed above and allow me to crank up what I am putting into TSP. However, I need to do a bit more research before I decide either way.

In other news, I am starting to love Amazon, they have amazingly quick shipping over here, and when you start using their used buying you can save quite a bit of money. Sometimes the item is still new but 10-40% cheaper then direct buy from Amazon, however the best deals are on items which are not limited print runs and have been around for quite awhile. So far, getting quite a few books and CD’s that way. I still like having the CD’s even with all the digital music these days.

A couple choices…

May 20, 2007

As a few friends pointed out I have a bit of disposable income sitting around which I need to find a good use for.

I need to create a emergency fund which I will not touch unless I really need it. So I plan to  start putting money monthy into the Saving Deposit Program.  Its a program for DOD personnel who are deployed which has a 10% interest rate up to $10,000. When I get back I can put it into a saving account my bank offers with a 4.81% rate; that way I will have a nice fund that I can liquidate if I need it.

I have set a goal amount of $10,000 for furniture, I may raise this to $15,000. This may seem high but honestly I only have one decent furniture piece that my 50″ HDTV sets on. Everything else is a Walmart quailty particle board that looks ok, till you try to move it and it falls into multiply pieces. I move so often I need to buy some decent furniture that while not expensive will move with me and last for a few decades. IKEA seems to be hit and miss, you either get an amazing product or you get something that may as well have come from “Walmart”; I do hear they have nice cheap sofa’s though. I currently have a sofa I got used for $50 bucks. It has a horrible blue floral pattern, that was my introduction to the world of slipcovers. I have been looking at Room and Board for quite a bit, the craftsmanship seems to be topnotch but the price reflects that. If anyone has any opinions or ideas let me know.

Still trying to figure out how much I want to put aside for clothing. I still got shirts from college and others I have collected over the years. My choices of “nice” are limited; most falls into wear it on the weekend around the house and town. I am not going for name brand as much as quality; with the intention of taking care of it so I can wear it for years to come.

I got a shirt I ordered from KATG today in the mail. Its a entertaining podcast that I started to listen to awhile ago. It’s for the mature or immature audience to be honest. I would recommend you try it yourself and decide.

Since its Sunday, I was able to grab an extra hour of sleep. I average six hours of sleep; about 2 hours of “me” time and the rest is work each day.  Was reading an article in Star and Stripes today which mentioned many people are only getting four hours of sleep. Four hours is what is recommended that everyone needs for a 24 hour period. That is not for continuous operations however; four hours a day for much more then a few weeks will burnout anyone out.

Assessing My Current Status

May 19, 2007

I have started to track my budget and its surprising how much money I have just laying around not doing anything. I do not have any issue listing amounts since everyone who does government work knows what everyone makes based on grade and time in service, with some leeway for special skills.

Income after deductions (Medicare, Social Security, Life Insurance and charity) per month = $ 5,468.96

Now what do I currently spend my money on? So I broke it down by what I pay per month. My car, 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid that is sitting in storage, with the rest of my stuff covered by renter’s insurance and discount car insurance. Homeowner’s insurance for a house in my name, I cannot off hand recall what the property taxes were this year but since its in a rural area it was very low. I am currently paying for a satellite wireless Internet connection in a third world country thus the high Internet charge.

Car insurance $17.48, Renters Insurance $27.41, Internet $75.00, Storage $105.00, and Homeowner’s Insurance $34.50. A total of $ 259.39.

So I have $ 5,209.98 left over each month in disposable income.

Based, on what I have been reading on-line I am somewhat lucky. I am debt free, I owe nothing based what was listed above, house my parents are living in, my car, and all my college loans are paid off. I am maxing my Roth IRA and plan to start putting 20% of my pay into TSP, government 401(k) this year.

Currently food, laundry and room and board is costing me nothing. In fact, due to not paying enough attention I overpaid on my credit card so I have a credit of almost $1,200 on it.

So based on my peers I am not doing too bad. Goal this year is to get my retirement planning setup then focus on creating two funds for when I get back to the states, a furniture fund and a clothing fund. Both, areas where I need to focus some attention.

Welcome on my trip towards something…

May 18, 2007

I have come to the realization that I am almost 30; the good thing is I look more like I am 20. Needless to say I have decided to make quite a few changes in my life and this I hope will be my way to document those changes.

I am currently employed and will most likely continue to be for the near future.  The two main changes I am trying to make is both to my diet and finances.

I used to have the metabolism that let me drink a couple of beers and a large pizza nightly with the only negative being less money the next day. These days if I tried that I would feel it for about two days, I still sometimes break down and order a pizza but I am trying to wean myself off of it.

Currently eating a light breakfast cup of dry cereal (low sugar) with OJ and Skim Milk, followed by a another cup of dry cereal(yes, trying the Special K approach as a guy) for lunch. I eat a reasonable meal for dinner. During the day I drink about 10 cups of coffee and about between one and two liters of water with some Crystal Light for flavor. I have removed most fruit juices and soda even the diet versions, I do eat one scoop of ice cream per week. I would prefer some Bailey Irish Cream but currently settle for either mint chocolate chip or cookies and cream. I am trying to eat more fruit but honestly the fruit I can get my hands on does not appeal to me, other then a banana here and now.

As for money, for a long time I did not pay attention to what I spent. You would think that since my first computer was a Packett Bell 166mhz computer from Sears back during my Freshmen year of college and it took me three years to pay it off while working at minimum wage as part of my financial aid I would know better. But, it was not till recently (a few days ago) that I honestly started doing the math. Since college I have always been comfortable in my lifestyle, I never had the best but I also never needed anything.

I am in the process of maxing out my Roth IRA. I have put in my max for this year and last year. Due to the HERO act that was passed, I am in the process of maxing my IRA for 2005, since I can still make a payment since due to being deployed overseas that year. My focus has now shifted to TSP, or the federal governments version of a 401(k). At the same time I have finally started to track my budget using an excel sheet I created, I pay to buy some better software (Quicken 2007 for Mac) so I can download my statements and auto-track instead of tracking everything by hand.

This has further led me to consider that buying a house, which I had planned to do may not be the best idea, since due to my constant moves, renting is normally cheaper then a mortgage payment and its far simpler.

So, that in the nutshell is the first step on the journey.