Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Art glass stalker

On my last day in Oregon, I stopped by a shop where I had seen two pieces of stunningly beautiful art glass on my last visit, two months ago. They were originally $109 each but reduced to $39.99. For really nice, hand-signed pieces, that's a pretty incredible price and I didn't expect to see them still in the shop.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that both pieces were still there.

I picked each one up in turn, admiring it and trying to figure out how I'd get one of them home without a calamity. I almost had reached into my bag to dig for a credit card when the irritating little voice in my head started up:

I'll probably make it back without breaking it, but how fun is it going to be dragging something that heavy all over public transit at 5:00 in the morning?

$39.99 is more than a week's worth of groceries.

What about the whole low crap threshold thing?

Does buying this piece of artwork support the larger goal of paying off the mortgage in another year?

(Significant other) just brought back a little piece of art glass from Germany. He might think I don't like it if I bring something different in so soon.


You get the drill.

I managed to talk down every one of those arguments in favor of the glass, meanwhile standing there like an idiot.

Then came the big one:

When I went to my dentist on Friday, he muttered uh oh! while spelunking around in my mouth. It turns out that uh oh! translates to a thousand dollars of restorative work, only part of which is covered by insurance. My dentist reluctantly agreed to let me get the work done when I come back to Oregon in December, warning me to be very careful in the meantime.

I thought about that for a moment and then made my decision.

I put the glass back and walked out. Teeth come first.

Dammit.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Another land use topic: eminent domain

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion on Measure 49 in Oregon. The topic brought to mind another land use issue that hits a lot closer to home for me: Columbia University is seriously exploring the feasibility of using eminent domain to secure seventeen acres of land in Harlem for development.

In some ways, Columbia has a compelling case. The university already holds title to the 70% of the property it needs for the expansion. In addition, having been established as King's College in the early days of colonization, Columbia has enriched the city's intellectual and cultural life for hundreds of years. Perhaps most importantly, Columbia's expansion would bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to an area that, if not exactly economically depressed, hasn't experienced the boom-boom gold rush economy as much as its neighbors to the south. Surrounding real estate would increase substantially in value following Columbia's expansion, bringing tremendous benefit to remaining private property owners.

There are downsides to Columbia's proposed expansion. The area of Harlem that Columbia proposes to co-opt has a rich cultural life and history of its own. In addition, the owners of the remaining 30% of the real estate Columbia needs would be stripped of their property rights entirely. While these owners would be compensated for losing their property, the presence of an 800-pound university gorilla suggests that compensation will be more perfunctory than meaningful. Moreover, both affected residents and the surrounding community have expressed overwhelming opposition to Columbia's secretive tactics and refusal to engage the community and lobby for support. None of this is likely to stop Columbia from moving forward with the full support of city government.

I'm not against Columbia's expansion per se, but I do object to the use of eminent domain. While there's no rule stating that Columbia has to take its community into account, not doing so frames Columbia University as a bad neighbor. For me, however, the bottom line is this: I don't see why a universtity with a multi-billion dollar endowment can't simply do what everyone else has to do: pay market rates for the real estate it wants, and work around the problem if some neighbors aren't inclined to sell.

That's my $0.02 as a Columbia University alum.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The economics of regulating land use

I've been visiting my family in Oregon for the past few days. With election day right around the corner, there's been a big to-do about several measures on the ballot. The one that interests me the most is Measure 49, which addressses land use regulation. Here are the details as written in the electoral guide:

BALLOT MEASURE 49: MODIFIES MEASURE 37; CLARIFIES RIGHT TO BUILD HOMES; LIMITS LARGE DEVELOPMENTS; PROTECTS FARMS, FORESTS, GROUNDWATER.

RESULT OF “YES” VOTE: “Yes” vote modifies Measure 37;
clarifies private landowners’ rights to build homes; extends
rights to surviving spouses; limits large developments; protects
farmlands, forestlands, groundwater supplies.

RESULT OF “NO” VOTE: “No” vote leaves Measure 37
unchanged; allows claims to develop large subdivisions,
commercial, industrial projects on lands now reserved for
residential, farm and forest uses.

SUMMARY: Modifies Measure 37 (2004) to give landowners
with Measure 37 claims the right to build homes as
compensation for land use restrictions imposed after they
acquired their properties. Claimants may build up to three
homes if previously allowed when they acquired their
properties, four to 10 homes if they can document reductions
in property values that justify additional homes, but may not
build more than three homes on high-value farmlands,
forestlands and groundwater-restricted lands. Allows claimants
to transfer homebuilding rights upon sale or transfer of
properties; extends rights to surviving spouses. Authorizes
future claims based on regulations that restrict residential uses
of property or farm, forest practices. Disallows claims for
strip malls, mines, other commercial, industrial uses.
See Explanatory Statement for more information.

ESTIMATE OF FINANCIAL IMPACT: The measure would
require one-time state administrative expenditures of $8.7 to
$12.5 million to evaluate claims received to date for adherence
to measure requirements.
In the short term, the measure would require state administrative
expenditures of $1 million to $2 million per biennium
to evaluate future claims. In the long term, state administrative
costs may be reduced as the measure limits the scope of
potential future claims. The amount of those potential
reductions cannot be determined.
Potential state litigation costs cannot be determined.
The measure authorizes compensation to landowners. The
amount of state expenditures to pay claims for compensation
cannot be determined.
The measure authorizes establishing a claims review fee for
new claims not to exceed the actual and reasonable cost of
reviewing a claim. The impact on state revenues cannot be
determined.
The measure clarifies ongoing claims review processes and
is expected to reduce local government claim processing costs
from current levels. The amount of these potential reductions
cannot be determined.
The measure authorizes compensation to landowners.
The amount of local government expenditures to pay claims for
compensation cannot be determined.
The effect of the measure on local government revenues
cannot be determined.


For the first couple of days I was here, I found myself really torn on this one. At heart, I'm a believer in capitalism. Regulating land use has an immediate and powerful effect on the value of land holdings: if farmland can't be sold off for value-added development, the value of that asset will tank, which in turn has a direct impact on the landholder's bottom line net worth. The law of supply and demand regulates production and consumption, and if there's demand for heavy development on farmland and landowners are willing to sell or otherwise support development, then government should butt out.

Right?

Well, I'm not so sure about that.

Land is a finite resource and it's hard to undo the effects of development. In addition, I'm convinced that global warming is real and it's already here. While voting yes on Measure 49 provides avenues for landowners to seek compensation for lost land value resulting from regulation, voting no on Measure 49 doesn't address how industrial or residential development of farmland would compensate either for increased pollution and contributions to global warming, or for negative effects on groundwater or endangered species habitats. In other words, unregulated land development has significant potential to cause broad negative impacts that extend far beyond transactions between buyers and sellers. There is no legal avenue I'm aware of for effectively mitigating those effects if Measure 49 fails.

Anecdotally, I've seen the effect of heavy development in farmland areas. Just a few minutes from where my parents live, there used to be a huge Christmas tree farm that extended for acres. It was sold off for development a few years ago and houses went up rapidly. The area is hilly, and now practically treeless. Every time I run past the ugly-ass McMansions that were thrown up onto tiny lots, I wonder what will happen the next time we get one of the heavy wind and rain storms that come up every few years. I'd bet on heavy erosion and damage to the area, if not to the houses themselves. The increased population density caused by both that tract of development and similar development in the area has had a noticeable impact on traffic density, and that means increased emissions and air pollution.

In short, even though it goes against my personal free market ethics, I think regulation of land use is not only warranted in this case but also entirely necessary. I'm no longer an Oregon voter, but for you folks who are, I hope you vote Yes on 49.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Anyone scared to check their portfolio now?

It's been a busy week in the f.z. world. My group at work had a big shakeup, which is good for me (not so good for the now-former bossman, though). I also flew back home to visit my parents, which involved an hour flight delay resulting from bad weather, another hour-plus on the tarmac waiting in line to take off, a long, long flight, and running out of gas on I5 in the middle of the night in a torrential downpour.

In other words, I'm a little behind on things.

On Saturday, I learned that the stock market took a dump of 366 points the day before, which happened to be the anniversary of Black Monday in 1987. Analysts pointed to jitters about soaring oil prices, less-than-fabulous earnings reports, the putrid dollar, and ongoing doldrums in the credit and housing markets.

Does anyone believe me when I say that this is a good thing?

I don't believe that the sub-prime mortgage mess has worked its way out of the economy yet by a long shot. I also think that dependence on foreign oil remains far too high, and we're going to pay for that in the short term. In a few months, the stock market could be looking far uglier than it did after Friday.

Let me say it again: this is a good thing.

In my opinion, the stock market is overvalued right now and we're overdue for a significant correction. The current high oil prices are actually a good driver for continued development of alternative fuel technology. The low-valued dollar means that American exports look far more attractive to overseas buyers, and American-made products look better to domestic buyers. Banks were making ridiculous lending decisions, and making it harder to get a mortgage isn't necessarily a bad thing: home ownership is a good thing for many people (not necessarily all), but it's not a right. All of the things that are happening now can play into long-term benefits for the US economy, and that'll trigger another bull market in due time.

Oversimplistic? Definitely. The point I'm trying to make, though, is that if you're a long-term, buy-and-hold investor, the current market jitters simply don't matter. You only lose money if you cash out. If you've invested money you're going to need in the next year or two, you accepted a significant amount of risk when you made that decision; hopefully you won't do that again. For eveyone else. . . this too shall pass.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So what exactly *is* middle class?

MSNBC has an interesting series on the middle class at the moment. Apparently, what middle class is depends on who you ask. It usually means homeowners with incomes between $40,000 and $200,000 (that's kind of a big range if you ask me), and apparently there's usually a huge-ass TV in there somewhere as well. Another hallmark of the middle class is feeling squeezed economically.

Hey, I really am middle class! (Except for the TV.)

Take a look at the articles for yourself. They cover some of the same general ground I did in my last post, so I won't regurgitate them back at you.

Who or what is the middle class?
Where a home of their own is an elusive dream
A family banks on its human capital
Tourist mecca squeezes the middle
Tracking the middle class's missing cash
How much of my wages goes to health care?
Life is harder now, some experts say
How you can cope with 'middle class crunch'

What say you? Do you consider yourself middle class? Do you feel economically pinched? What do you do to cope?

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The new gilded age

This week, the Sunday New York Times Magazine focused on life in New York's new gilded age, where the rich have been superceded by the super-rich and the middle class is increasingly choosing exile to the outer boroughs because they can't keep up with the cost of living any longer.

It's not just happening in New York. Income inequality is growing everywhere across the country. According to metrics published by the United Nations and the CIA (which I found on Wikipedia), the United States as a whole ranks right up there with countries like Uganda, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Turkmenistan, and Georgia in terms of relative income equality among the population.

This trend didn't happen overnight; on the contrary, it's been three decades or longer in the making. According to an article published last week in the Wall Street Journal, factors driving inequality include improvements in technology that favor people with more skills, globalization (which I take to mean creating more efficient labor markets by reducing barriers to outsourcing), and communication advances that facilitate larger rewards for star performers.

I've seen some definite benefits to having more wealthy people in New York. When I first came here nearly fifteen years ago, my neighborhood was way past the traditional dividing line that marked the "good" parts of Manhattan from the "bad" ones. Crack vials on the street were commonplace, and soon after I arrived, old-timers advised me to always keep $20 of mugger money handy and put the my credit cards and the rest of my money in another pocket. (This tip came in handy when two friends and I were accosted by a thug with a large knife. I gave him my $20 and swore that it was all I had, although I had a credit card and $50 in my other pocket;my friends were similarly relieved of $10 or $15 each.) That all began to change within a few years as better policing led to a drop in crime. As public safety improved, renewed interest in living in Manhattan caused the real estate market to explode. The boundaries of "bad" neighborhoods pushed out, and even though I walked right through a drug deal by accident a few weeks ago, on the whole my neighborhood is fully gentrified and considered extremely desirable.

While the old maxim that a rising tide lifts all boats has some validity in that income growth has increased for everyone across the board, squeezing out the middle class does bring consequences. Some of those consequences are cultural: having an upper class with the means to spend more creates demand in the marketplace. Marketers not only respond to new demand, but also work to create demand across the board. If you're on the lower end of the income spectrum, having new standards of what's cool or what's desirable creates additional pressure on already limited resources.

(Disclaimer: yes, I think people are fully responsible for their own economic choices. Nevertheless, for many people, new cultural standards can make it harder to make appropriate choices, and that's one reason why credit card companies love people so much.)

Increased income inequality brings other social problems as well. Economist Robert Frank was quoted by CNN as stating that countries with the most significant disparity in income also had higher than average rates of personal bankruptcy and divorce. Although I couldn't find any statistics to support this, I suspect that increased income disparity and the fact that the costs of health insurance and medical care are far outstripping income growth for people on the lower part of the totem pole are together greatly contributing to the fact that fewer and fewer Americans are able to afford health insurance. As one of the dying breed of middle class Manhattanites, I have a good, stable job and decent health insurance, but I'm still scared of getting sick, especially after reviewing Prosper.com recently and seeing just how many people state that they went off the rails financially because of illness.

How do we reduce income inequality and spread the gilding of the new age around a little better? For future generations, better education is a solid start. India and China in particular are pulling far ahead of the US in terms of core math and science education; I'm not confident that we're in a position to start catching up anythime soon. Even if we do, schools can't do the job alone. Parents also need to do their part to create a stable home environment and an emphasis on educational achievement. For people in the job force today, it's more important than ever need to keep skills current and be ready to embrace change, whatever form it takes. Building a solid financial base through saving and investing is also key to mitigating the risk of the unknown.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gettin' naked

Naked of ad service ads, that is.

I've had a love-hate relationship with ad services since I started this blog, but lately the relationship has been more along the lines of hate-hate. I started out using Google Adsense but quickly got banned for click fraud. Although I never violated the terms of service in any way, I have no way of proving anything other than the fact that I didn't click on my own ads. That wasn't enough for Google, and they shot down my appeal with a permanent ban.

After Adsense went bust, I signed up with AdBrite. Revenues work out to about three bucks a month on average. At that rate, it eventually reached the point where I decided that it wasn't worth looking at the screen clutter anymore. The content of some of the image ads irked me, too. I'm no prude, but too many of the ads (even the ones categorized as family-friendly) weren't as friendly as I would have liked.

Well, let me rephrase that. Some of them were way too friendly, if you catch my drift.

As blecch of an experience as AdBrite has been, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to purging the ads had it not been for a prescient post by Escape Brooklyn about blog advertising and whether it's selling out or not.

I'll let you read Escape Brooklyn's conclusions for yourself, but my take on it is that if you can make a few bucks off of a hobby, why wouldn't you?

Ad services haven't been worth the screen space for me, but you'll see that I do have a text link ad way up there yonder on the right. It's for a payday loan company. Payday loans are not something I'd ever want to do personally, but I think it's probably safe to assume that most PF blog readers are grownups and perfectly capable of making their own decisions. I'll judge ad requests and requests for sponsored posts on a case-by-case basis, but on the whole I see no need to babysit y'all.

If you're an advertiser and you want to see something of yours here, let's talk turkey: frugal (dot) zeitgeist (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Discussing your savings rate is like discussing your underwear

You might do it among close friends, but for the general public it's one of those things that you just don't talk about.

Madame X posed an interesting question the other day. She wondered when it's okay to ask how much money someone makes. The broad consensus was that it's seldom ever appropriate.

That made me wonder about asking people not how much they make, but how much they keep. Is it ever okay to ask people how much money they save? In some cases, I think it's a proxy for asking about income because it gives the asker a starting point for figuring out how much the askee makes without actually asking the question. If I get the weird vibe that someone's got an underlying motive for asking me how much I save, I get a little skeeved out. As long as the asker is someone I know reasonably well, though, I don't mind discussing my savings rate (or, in fact, my unmentionables). At the moment, on an annual basis I save $15,500 in my Roth 401(k), $4000 in my IRA, and I have a lofty goal of putting $550 a month into my emergency fund throughout 2007, but I think I've only managed to do that a few times for a total of $2200 so far this year. My savings rate will blip significantly upwards once the mortgage is paid off.

As for my underwear, today that would be white cotton from Costco.

Your turn. How much do you save, and where do you put it?

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mrs. Micah's meme, and last call for questions for Barbara Stanny

First up: I'm finalizing my list of interview questions for PF authorBarbara Stanny. If you have any of your own to add into the mix, please leave them in the comments hither.

In other news, Mrs. Micah picked me to answer the 7 Random Things About Yourself meme thingie early last week, and this is the first time I've really had a chance to think about it. This place could use a little levity anyway, so here goes.

1. I run marathons
I've done four to date. In my last one, I finally came in under 3:45 and qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. I've been running for 25 years and don't ever plan to stop, but the wear and tear is catching up to me; as a result, my marathon days are coming to a close. I think a run in Boston next April will be a nice way to finish up.

2. I lived in Japan for 2 1/2 years
I was a foreign exchange student back in college, and after that I spent an additional two years living there on my own while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I'm out of practice, but I still speak and understand Japanese. I'm very dependent on a dictionary for writing letters, though. I still keep in touch with my host family from 1989; they are wonderful people.

3. I do Japanese flower arranging
I studied in the Ikenobo school of flower arranging for just under two years while I lived abroad. My instructor wanted me to test for my teaching license, but I was one month short of the minimum study time by the time I had to return to the US for graduate school.

4. I can't sing
Think of a diseased bullfrog warbling, and that's kind of what it sounds like.

5. I don't plan to have kids
For once, this isn't an economic decision; I really like other people's kids, but my own biological clock seems to be broken. I've never had the desire to have my own and I think I'd be a lousy parent anyway. Besides, I have a couple of genetic quirks that suggest that I might not be able to successfully pull it off, at least not without considerable medical assistance.

6. I have thyroid disease
Hashimoto's thyroiditis, to be specific. It's an auto-immune disorder that is controllable but incurable. Essentially, my thyroid gland is dead. My heart rate is low anyway (42 is normal for me), but it slowed down to the low '30's and my metabolism started going out of whack before I was diagnosed. I've been on treatment for half my life and it's been very, very effective.

7. I wish I had a dog
My life is too hectic to be able to give a dog a stable, reliable routine right now, and that's not fair to the dog. At the moment, I'm friends with all the neighbor dogs (to the point where their owners often bring them over to visit after walks), but one day I'll have my own.

I think I'm supposed to pick other people to do this, but instead I'll just suggest that people nominate themselves.

We'll return to the regular PF blog with the next post.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

The costs of telecommuting

I've never been an early adopter of technology because it usually ends up costing me money. The first time I got a cell phone was in 2006, when I changed jobs within my company and the new bossman told me that I was expected to use a Blackberry. The year before, as the accessibility and availability of broadband grew and the expected price drop kicked in, I finally decided to stop ganking my neighbor's unsecured wireless connection (yes, I know, this is a horrible thing to do) and get DSL at home.

I had a secondary reason for getting DSL when I did. The network-based applications I need to use at work are growing ever larger and more sophisticated, and that means greatly increased download speed. Although I had and still have access to an 800 number that connects to a modem bank in New Jersey, the fastest connection I can get using that route is 50.6 kbps. By early 2005, that speed was severely impacting my ability to work at home one day a week, so my choices were pretty obvious: give up my flexible work arrangement and be in the office five days a week, or bite the bullet and upgrade my technology to an appropriate level.

Well, what would you do?

It was an easy choice, made easier by the fact that I often work on the weekends. Having to deal with 50.6 kbps connectivity on the weekend was making me insane: I'd rather spend less time waiting for data and more time off doing all the fun stuff after finishing my work in less time. My FWA is reversible; if either my management's not satisfied with my job performance or the arrangement is no longer working for me, either party can terminate it at any time.

Telecommuting has some pretty terrific benefits, but it also also carries some costs that aren't always immediately obvious. Is working at home cheaper or more expensive than working at work?

Here's how it affects my bottom line:

How working at home saves me money
1. Commuting costs
The interstate jitney costs $109 for a monthly pass, or $6/day if I buy individual tickets. If I work five days a week in the office for an average twenty-two days a month, the monthy pass works out to costing $4.95 per workday. In that case, commuting is a heck of a lot cheaper with a monthy pass. If I work four days a week in the office for an average of eighteen days a month, the monthly pass works out to $6.05 a day. As a result, it's cheaper to buy individual tickets. This works out to $1 per month in realized savings.

(New Yorkers: I'm not counting the Metrocard here. I use the subway so much that I'd buy the monthly pass regardless of the number of days I'm in the office.)

2. Clothing
It's all sweats, all the time around here when I'm working at home. This means one less shirt to wash and iron every week. That's probably about a nickel in realized savings.

3. Technology
I'd probably have high-speed internet and a nationwide phone plan whether I telecommuted or not. My employer recognizes this as well, so I'm limited to charging only 25% of monthly phone and DSL costs against company expenses. That 25% works out to $18.67 more in my pocket.

Sounds like a pretty good deal so far, right? Let's take a look at the costs.

How working at home costs me money
1. Electricity
I mentioned in my last post that my electric bill has skyrocketed in the past year because of increased rates. This increase is compounded by the fact that when I'm working at home, I'm burning a huge amount of electricity relative to what my utilization would be if I went to the office. I have nine high-hat ceiling lights in the kitchen and living room, plus two globe lights near the front door. The natural light in my apartment isn't great, so when I'm working at home, all of those are on. In addition, my laptop is plugged in. If it's summer and it's really, really hot, the air conditioner will be on intermittently. Finally, there's a whole host of energy-sucking small appliances that I use when I'm at home: the radio, the coffeepot, and the microwave, to name just a few. I'd guesstimate that working at home adds about $20 to my electricity bill every month. I try to mitigate the effect as much as possible (such as by fully charging my Blackberry at work during the workday so I don't have to do it at home), but there are certain things (like giving up coffee) that I just can't or really, really don't want to do.

2. Coffee
I drink coffee. I drink a LOT of coffee. Ten cups is standard, sometimes twelve if I haven't slept well. I make it at home and schlep it from Costco on the West Coast every six months or so, and that's a lot cheaper than Starbucks. Still, it's an expense. Coffee is free at work, so I've trained myself not to drink it until I get there on the days I go to the office. When I'm working at home, I drink home-brewed coffee most of the day. It probably works out to about $1 a month that I wouldn't otherwise spend.

The rest is pretty much a wash; I bring lunch to work, so I don't think there's any tangible cost differential there. I do my own ironing and work is a business-casual environment anyway, so there aren't any dry-cleaning costs to consider. As a result, here's how the numbers fall out:

Savings from telecommuting: $19.72

Costs of telecommuting: $21.00

There you have it: telecommuting costs me money.

In that case, why continue to do it?

Easy. The intangibles. I get an extra hour of sleep on my work-at-home day. Since I usually get less than six hours of sleep a night during the week, this means a great deal. I hate ironing; spending five minutes less doing it because of one less work shirt is meaningful to me. As far as work goes, I'm more productive because I don't have people interrupting me all day long. In addition, my stress level is far lower than it would be in the office or trying to get to or from the office. Although I work at home on average an extra two hours beyond what I would do in the office, having a thirty second commute instead of a two to two and a half hour commute is something I enjoy and appreciate tremendously.

All of that is worth the extra $1.28 a month that telecommuting costs me. Truthfully, I'd be willing to pay a whole lot more.

You can bet on one thing, though: I'd never tell the bossman that.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

The mortgage report, and why it's good to be a homeowner in New York City

First, why it's good to be a homeowner in New York City:

1. Unlike much of the rest of the country, property values are holding steady or even increasing.
2. $400 property tax rebate. Woohoo!

My property tax rebate check came today, and at a very good time, too. My budget is pretty tight ordinarily, but by the time a year from my last salary increase rolls around, inflation has generally taken a rather harsh and painful bite out of my spending power. The price of food has risen astronomically this year, although it was alleviated somewhat by increased competition in the neighborhood grocery stores. Spikes in fuel prices have driven the cost of public transportation in the city and on the New York - New Jersey jitney up dramatically, even for monthly passes. Finally, my electric bill took a shocking leap upwards this year as well. (Check back for some more thoughts on this point later in the week.) Getting a $400 shot in the arm gives me breathing room until my first paycheck under the new salary comes later in the month.

Now, on to the main point: the mortgage report. October's payment was credited today, so I've got thirteen months left at my current rate of payment. Seeing the payoff point get so close is making each month seem like an eternity. On a more positive note, however, I'm not changing my ticker to accelerate beyond my current rate of payment, but there's a reasonable chance it'll be paid off sooner than that.

What happens after that?

I don't think life is going to change much afterwards, truthfully. I'll still have to work for a long time, although probably not until I'm 65 (or 67, which is how long the Social Security Administration says I should work). Investing the money that's freed up will bring me a long way forward in buying my freedom from jobworld. Compared to that prospect, shopping doesn't look all that enticing.

There's one big exception, though, and this is where I'm giving in wholeheartedly to wanting something for the sake of wanting it: I'm going to quit the nasty-ass gym that gave me a foot fungus ($20 specialist copay and $30 for the cream) and join a really, really nice one. I figure that it's a reasonable way to reward myself for paying off a $200K mortgage in seven years.

How about you? Any short-term (or long-term) financial goals and rewards in the pipeline?

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