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Off to VMWorld

After a busy week of getting things prepared for the trip, my wife and I are off to Los Angelos and San Francisco. We left Friday evening from Richmond, VA at 6:30pm, and I’m midflight now in route to Fort Worth, TX. We have an hour and a half layover there, then off to LA. I’ll spend a day with her there, and Sunday I leave for a quick flight to San Fran. Melissa will stay behind in LA to visit her mecca, Disneyland, while I go to VMworld in San Fran. Win-win for both of us. She gets to go to Disneyland while not stuck in San Fran bored while I’m at VMworld, and I get to geek out at VMworld without having to spend any time in Disneyland. On Thursday evening, Melissa will fly up to San Fran as VMworld is wrapping up, and then we spend a few days in San Fran together, and then we fly back to Richmond Tuesday.

I’m looking forward to VMworld quite a bit. For one, I’ve never been to anything like VMworld or TechEd. I’m definitely looking forward to learning about vSphere and all its new features and related products. VMware is definitely doing a lot of interesting things these days. I’ll blog about what I see while at VMworld. It’ll be good times. I’m also going to take advantage of what I learn there to upgrade my VCP certification to the new version.

I also have a new companion on this trip – the Asus EeePC 1005HA. Got a killer deal on it. $330 for the version with a six cell battery, the 1.6GHz Atom processor, and 0.3MP webcam with a 2GB RAM upgrade and an external DVD USB reader/burner. Really loving this thing for portability. Melissa will be using it in LA, though, as I needed to ensure I had the proper horsepower to do any remote work for clients if emergencies come up. We’ve already used it waiting at the airport for wifi internet access, and Melissa watched a DVD on the plane before getting motion sick.

We’re now making our descent into Forth Worth. Check back in for updates.

(500) Days of Summer = Awesome

Not very often a movie is so good that I feel compelled to blog about it.  Rarely is that movie a romantic comedy that tilts more to the drama side.  This movie is simply phenomenal.

I hate formulaic “Rom Coms” where you know what the happy ending is going to be.  You simply don’t know what’s going to happen with this movie, although you’re forewarned the two main characters’ relationship won’t survive in the previews and again in the beginning of the movie.  If you’ve ever gone back and stepped through a relationship to figure out what went wrong and why, you’ll appreciate this movie.  If the movie was just about that perspective, I might have just enjoyed the movie a bit, but this movie was brilliantly written with well thought out sequences that just make this movie memorable and emotionally meaningful, such as it’s subtle ingenious ways it gives the play by play of the relationship between the two characters, from the non-chronological order of the remembered moments, juxtapositions of the really good days with the dark days, side by side comparison angles of what the title character expected would happen with what actually happened.

The acting was very good.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job playing a hopeless romantic, through the euphoric falling in love moments, to the periods of utter confusion when things don’t turn out as he expects.  Zooey Deschanel perfectly captures an emotionally distant woman who isn’t quite sure how she feels about the other character.

Hands down one of the best drama bent romantic comedies I’ve seen, up there with movies like When Harry Met Sally or As Good As It Gets caliber movies.  If you like Rom Coms that can actually stand up as a good movie regardless of genres, go see it!

My Financial Makeover – Part II: Attacking the Credit Card Debt

In my last post in this probably unnecessarily long series about how my wife and I have cleaned up our financial lives, we finally got serious about how to improve our personal finances.  Here’s the good news when you’ve done so many wrong things for so long – it’s easy to identify the problems, and the solutions for the most part are obvious from a large perspective.  We knew what was killing us financially – credit card debt.  Sure, we had other problems, too, but they were small potatoes.  But first, and this may seem obvious to some, but it’s important to look at why credit card debt is bad from a numbers perspective.

Why Credit Card Debt Sucks

From strictly a mathematical perspective, credit card debt sucks because it’s one of the highest interest rate debts you can have.  Car loans are usually between 0% APR on a sale of a new car to normally no higher than 6% in my experience if you have good credit.  Mortgages are somewhere between 4% and 9% on the really high end, plus interest paid on them is a tax credit.  Good student loans are usually between 3-10%, plus interest paid is also a tax credit.  Credit cards?  At the very best, they’re at 8% APR, and can go even higher than even 20% APR!

There are other reasons to get rid of credit card debt, but this point is something that leads to my next point about addressing your overall financial health.

Attacking Credit Card Debt Is One Step to Better Financial Health

I’m sure the above is something many reading this already knew.  I certainly knew this in 2005 when I took my job in Washington, DC.  My employer at the time offered 20% matching if you put up to 5% of your income in the 401k program.  I didn’t do it because I was focusing on paying my credit card debt down (I told myself that, anyway).  My highest interest credit card at the time was 12%.

Remember, paying down your credit card debt is one step to better financial health.  The goal is not to pay down your credit card debt.  The goal is better financial health.  I’ve seen people who care too little, and some people who care actually too much, about paying down their credit card debt.  Look at the above scenario.  I should have put the money in the 401K, not pay down the credit cards.  Why?  Even at 12% interest, I got 8% over that just in the match alone, plus a tax deferred return on the investment in the 401k, plus a tax credit for the $1000 I would have put in the 401k.  So what if my credit cards never got paid off; my financial health would have improved!  Just looking at the match alone, had I paid down the credit card debt instead of contributing to the 401k, I’d have lost an 8% return on my money comparatively.

Why do I bring this up?  The very first thing my wife and I fought about when we decided to get serious about paying down our credit card debt was how to get every penny we could scrounge to do it.  My wife brought up my contributions to 401k.  If we ended it, we’d have several hundreds of dollars a month to pay down the credit card debt.  This time, I was smarter than my 2005 self, and perhaps it was because there was now an 80% match instead of a 20%.  I absolutely refused to stop the full 5% contributions, regardless of how much longer that meant it would take to pay off our credit cards.

My point is don’t make a religion out of paying down your credit cards.  Be fanatical about what will help your financial health the most.  An obvious example of this is contribute to get every dollar you can in a 401k match so long as the match is higher than the highest interest rate of your debt is usually the better way to go.

Incidentally, my employer recently suspended 401k matching due to the economy.  That completely changed the equation.  Without a match, it’s almost always better to attack credit card debt.  I’ll discuss what we did with investing more in a later post.

Playing It by the Numbers vs. Psychological

Our next disagreement was over how to pay them off.  My wife advocated paying extra money across all our debts, or focus on the credit cards with the lowest balance, where as I advocated minimum payments on all but our highest interest rate credit cards, and every extra penny we have should be extra money thrown at that highest credit card.

I don’t want to spend a bunch of time on this.  There’s no doubt that mathematically, what I advocated is better, and we decided that was the way for us to go.  It saves the most on interest.

However, the smallest debt makes sense for many people.  It gives positive psychological feedback when you start knocking off debts faster, so you see you’re making progress easier and more immediately.  For us, we decided that was not the way to go.  Because I figured out how much extra money we had per month to pay down the credit cards, I knew it wouldn’t take but a year or two to pay them down.  We really didn’t need this positive feedback.

Also, honestly, what’s most important is committing to getting it paid off, not how much interest you save.  When you’re in that much credit card debt, it’s far more important to stick to paying the debt off than squeezing every last penny out of the method you use to pay them down.  However, if you do want to squeeze every last penny out…

Attack Your Debts By Reducing the Total Interest You Pay

Usually, the above method I advocated is the best way to go, but you can get creative beyond that to save yourself even more money.  Consider this scenario, which is similar to what we were facing:

Type of Debt Interest Rate Balance
Debt consolidation loan 10% $5000
Credit card 12% $3000
Credit card 9% $3000
Credit card 9% $4000

We were also due a $5000 tax return at the time, and we were intending to use that windfall to help pay down our debts.  Conventional wisdom would have been to pay the 12% interest credit card off and $2000 off the debt consolidation loan.

But if we wanted to reduce the total interest I was gonna pay, there was a better way.  We could get a 0% APR for 12 months intro rate credit card, and transfer the balances of all the credit cards to it, pay the 3% balance transfer fee, and use the tax return to pay off the debt consolidation loan, which is what we did.  I knew within a year we’d be able to pay the new credit card off, and even if we didn’t, the new credit card was only 8% interest.

That effectively lowered the interest on all the debts compared to the first solution:

Solution 1 Result

Type of Debt Resulting interest rate Resulting balance
Debt consolidation loan 10% $3000
Credit card 0% $0
Credit card 9% $3000
Credit card 9% $4000

 

Solution 2 Result

Type of Debt Resulting interest rate Resulting Balance
Debt consolidation loan 0% $0
New credit card 3% (balance transfer fee) $10,300

 

To make up some of the balance transfer fee, I made minimum payments on this new credit card, stuck the rest of the money each months I would have been able to pay on it in a savings account at 2% interest, and got about $125 back in interest.  We did take a bit of a hit on our credit score because of the balance transfer, but our score was high enough to absorb it.  In the end, this saved us a couple hundred bucks in interest when it was all said and done.

Other Tips To Reduce Interest Paid

Call your creditors and negotiate a lower rate.  On my wife’s car loan, all I had to do was call up and threaten I was going refinance the car loan.  They dropped the car loan rate 0.5% without hesitation or fees!  Why didn’t I call sooner?!  That ends up saving a couple hundred dollars over the life of the loan.

Here’s another thing we just did I wish I did a lot sooner.  If you’re getting large income tax returns like we do (in our case because of a large amount of interest we’re paying on our mortgage), adjust your W-4 form to get the money per paycheck instead of one lump sum next May in a tax return.  Why?  Because you can pay down your debts over the next year instead of having to wait, which will save you interest!  Even if you’re done paying down your credit card debts, getting your money per paycheck instead of one big tax return is better because you could stick the money in investments or a savings account and earn interest in the meantime.  Here’s a handy calculator to help from the IRS.

Feel free to comment how you attacked or are planning to attack your debt!

My Financial Makeover – Part I: Making the Commitment to Do Something

I’ve gotten a lot into revamping my personal finances lately, so I wanted to share with people strategies my wife and I used to significantly improve our financial situation.  I want to give a brief history of how we got to where we are now, and how we got motivated to do something.  Making the decision to commit to a better finances is easily the most critical decision to make over anything else when trying to improve your finances, and it’s not so easy.

How We Got Into Credit Card Debt

My wife and I started our marriage off in 2000 in a lot credit card debt at probably $10,000, plus $11,000 in student loans.  A lot of it had had to do with emergency or unforeseen circumstances.  For example, my wife charged a boat load of money to keep her car running, only for it to die anyway, so then she had to buy a used car to replace it, saddling her with credit card debt and a car payment. 

It only got worse from there.  My wife had some medical issues and was out of work for significant amounts of time, and I decided to change careers from teaching to Information Technology to better make ends meet.  Unfortunately, that often meant using credit cards to pay for certification exams and other expenses to get into the field.  At a peak, it got as high as $25K between debt consolidation loans and credit card debt on top of that, plus her student loans.

Getting to Where We Could Do Something About It Had No Excuse To Ignore It

First off, a lot of the reason we were in credit card debt was me spending money to get into the IT field while drawing a teacher’s salary and my wife a teacher’s aide salary that in the best of times barely made ends meet, and at the worst of times didn’t really come close.  We at first adapted by cutting our spending by eating out less to shopping at Wal-Mart instead of the local higher end grocery chain.  Those things stopped the bleeding to some degree.

To help fund my career change, I did sidework in computer networking and building computers.  That helped to fund my exams to get my MCSE certification.  We also got debt consolidation loans from our local credit union to reduce the amount of interest.

I knew things were going to get better once I got into the IT field.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen the way I expected it to.  For one thing, I began in earnest getting into IT in 2002.  It wasn’t until 2004 I landed my first full time IT gig, and it was in Charlotte, NC.  A lot of the additional income I earned went to paying the second apartment rent in NC while my wife stayed in Richmond, VA due to this being a temporary 1 year contract.  Then to make matters worse, every contractor got laid off three months later.  I had to draw unemployment for a few months until I found another job, this time in Washington, DC.  Again, quite a bit of the additional income went to the efficiency apartment payments up there.

Eventually, I landed a good job down in Richmond in 2006, which earned enough that there simply was no excuse to delay doing something about the credit card debt.

In truth, we could have done a lot more things before I got my current job, but we just didn’t think it was important enough.  Now, there just weren’t anymore excuses.

Making the Decision to Do Something About It

At first, we simply accepted or ignored the debt.  Extra money we got from tax returns or paychecks went to stupid purchases we didn’t need, like a big screen TV, etc.  We were paying down some debts but with no real strategy to it.  I always let my wife handle this stuff, which was a big mistake on both of our parts.  Both of us should have been involved, and between the two of us, we could have made a lot better decisions, but stupid me couldn’t be bothered with spending time on personal finances.  We’d say stuff like…

“That credit card is NEVER gonna get paid off.” (It’s only been 2 years, and they’re paid off.)
”Who doesn’t have credit card debt?” (Just because almost everyone we knew had credit card debt, that doesn’t make it right, and there are far more people out there who don’t have credit card debt than you think.)

She’d throw extra money at all of the debts (and too little extra money anyway) to make ourselves feel better that we were doing something about it, when we weren’t really doing anything substantial.  And I couldn’t be bothered with looking at this stuff.  The one truly positive thing we did though was contribute to my company’s 401K with provided an 80% match for the first 5% of our income.  More on this in my next post.

One day, I got motivated and took a hard look at our finances and realized we weren’t making progress, and we were burning gobs and gobs of money on interest.  How did I get that motivation to begin looking?  I’m naturally a curious person, and for some reason, I just one day started to wonder where we stood financially, and how was it people I knew making roughly the same as I was were able to afford bigger houses, new cars, vacations, etc., when I seemingly couldn’t.  By the way, I’ve since come to learn that trying to compare yourself to others in that manner is idiotic because so much of what you can and can’t afford has so much more to do with your financial decisions of your past, and for all you know, maybe they can’t afford these things but did it anyway, but neither here nor there.  Regardless, it was time I found out where we stood financially for whatever reason, and it definitely threw my wife for a loop when I started asking a bunch of questions and spent a bunch of time in Microsoft Money, which is what we used to manage our financial lives at the time.

What I found was not good.  I actually got really angry about the decisions my wife was forced to make by herself, and my complete lack of involvement.  Anyone out there who is married, I can’t stress enough that both you and your spouse need to be involved for countless reasons.  In our case, since I didn’t know really where we stood financially, I didn’t know when I wanted to spend money on something if we honestly should be spending money on stuff like that.  On top of that both my wife and I have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to finances.  I’m horrible at figuring the short term logistics like how to make sure we always have enough money to pay our bills and buy what we need, doing the day to day upkeep of balancing the checkbook, etc., which is something my wife happens to be very good at.  My wife is bad at “grand strategy” of personal finances, like how to attack a mountain of debt in a manner that minimizes how much you pay in interest, how to best invest money, etc., which because of how analytical I am, I happen to be good at.  Fortunately for both of us, we each can fill the gaps where the other is weak, but since I put all the burden on her, the bills were always paid on time, but we weren’t making as much progress as we should have been on debts. 

Enough was enough!  It was time to do something about it!

Doing something wasn’t as easy as just deciding to.  My wife and I at first had huge fights about how we got to where we were, and what we should do about it.  She also got tired of me being so focused on the finances, but that’s how I am when I decide I’m going to do something.  And I completely understand from her point of view how frustrating it must have been for someone who for seven years really wasn’t involved at all in finances suddenly growing a critical eye and slamming what essentially were your decisions since you handled everything financial in the marriage.  We got through it though, and eventually we both began listening to each other in the areas that the other was good at.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how we attacked and paid off our credit card debt and paid it off.

Business Trip to Nashville

Got back from Nashville Saturday morning. I spent 3 days there on a business trip, followed by two days of playing tourist.  Notable meals: Melting Pot (never eaten there before, not really specific to Nashville, but the Smores Chocolate Fondue was ridiculously good), Loveless Cafe (bit of a drive, but fantastic southern food), and I picked up some BBQ sauce from Jack’s BBQ, but I didn’t get a chance to eat there.

Downtown Nashville is very nice.  However, Elvis copped an attitude, so I had to do what I had to do…

We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland resort, which was astounding.  It is the largest non-gaming hotel in North America.  Here are some pictures of the indoor garden areas.

  

  

Unbelievable.  If you stay there, make sure you give yourself a few days to just explore the resort.  We wish we did. 

We also ate at the Aquarium restaurant, which has a massive aquarium inside with real sharks and other exotic fish…

 

 

We also visited the replica of the Parthenon.

 

Inside is a full sized replica of the famous statue of Athena and her shield that were gilded recently.

 

Fun trip.  I’ll leave you with video from the dancing fountains at the Gaylord Opryland…

BRING BACK YOUR DEAD! (In Active Directory)

If you accidentially delete an object and don’t have Windows 2008 domain controllers with the handy recycling bin functionality, you can “reanimate” the object using various tools.  This works because Active Directory doesn’t really delete the object when you issue delete commands.  Rather, it marks the object as “tombstoned” for a period of time to ensure all domain controllers see the object is to be deleted.

I’m a PowerShell fanatic, I recommend doing it this way.

http://www.sdmsoftware.com/freeware.php

SDM AD Tombstone Reanimation Cmdlets 1.0

Run Start – Programs – SDM Software – SDM AD Tombstone Cmdlets

Use the following to filter to the object you want and confirm first you’ve got selected the right object:

get-sdmadtombstone -domainname "domain.com" -filter "name"

It could be a user’s last name, or computer name for example. 

Once you have the right object(s), just tack on | restore-sdmadtombstone to the end.

get-sdmadtombstone -domainname "domain.com" -filter "name" | restore-sdmadtombstone

It will force you to confirm on each object you’re reanimating as a precaution as well.

Keep in mind that tombstoned objects aren’t kept forever, so the sooner you try this after the deletion the better chance it will work.

After you do this, the object won’t be quite dead yet, in fact, it will be feeling much better!

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