Wednesday, September 8, 2010

65 - Answers

[Editor's Note: Last Sunday afternoon I was woken up from a nap by the sound of a large bundle of papers hitting my front door. I stumbled out in time to see Tim's car pulling away and to hear him call, "So long, sucker!" Intrigued I picked up the bundle of papers. It contained the usual collection of poorly-written and rambling answers, but this time there was a letter on top adressed to me. Well, letter is a bit of a stretch. Here's what it said:

I quit.
Sorry,
Tim

I called him up that night and he told me that his decision was final. So it's official: the long-running and much beloved "Ask Mitssob" is going away. Some of you may remember Tim going on hiatus last year. This time I get the feeling that it's going to be a bit before he even thinks about picking this up again. He's got some issues he needs to work through and needs to take some time to get his life in order. I've tried counseling him but frankly that man needs more help than I can give.

Before we hung up I told him the only way I'd let him out of his contract is if he did one more, and he's agreed to do so. So this is it, folks. The penultimate "Ask Mitssob." Will he come out of retirement sometime in the future like that football player everyone talks about every offseason? Honestly? I couldn't say one way or the other. But I know he's had a great time doing this over the past 4 years and he might get bitten by the bug again one day. And when that day comes I'll be ready to edit once again.
]

Q: Sarah - How the heck are the Australians??
A: They're fantastic, thanks for asking. They even say hi. Well not really, but I'm sure if I had asked they would have said a hearty "g'day" to you, Sarah.

I recently returned from a two week trip to the Land Down Under. I spent a day in Sydney, a week in Canberra for work and then took a week of vacation, splitting my time between Melbourne and Sydney. It was a fantastic trip, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Unlike my last trip there I took lots of notes and will be compiling them into a more complete journal of the experience. In the meantime I give you these random notes from my time in country.

- Unlike my first trip I had to actually drive for a while, and since they drive on the left down there it was a little unsettling. Fortunately after a couple of kilometers I felt a lot better. You just have to think everything through. Left is good, look right, left is good, look right, left is good...
- It took me a bit to get used to Australia slang. For example, equipment is "hired", not "rented." "G'day", "How ya goin'?", and "No worries" quickly became part of my lexicon while down there. We really are two people separated by a common language.
- It took me about a day to get adjusted to the time difference on the way out (+14 hours for those of you keeping track at home). I left Rochester at 3:30pm on Thursday, July 29 and arrived in Sydney at 6:30am on Saturday, July 31. I slept great on the 15 hour leg from LA to Sydney and managed to get through the whole day Saturday including an AFL game that night (more on that in a minute). By the second day I was pretty much adjusted. Hooray!
- The return trip was another matter. I left Sydney at 9:30am on Saturday, August 14 and landed in LA at 6:30am on Saturday, August 14. I got about an hour of sleep on the Sydney to LA leg which doomed me for the rest of the trip. I eventually got back to Rochester at 6pm that day, beaten down and exhausted but wide awake. My body finally gave out at around 11pm and I slept fine for about 8 hours but when I woke up I definitely felt odd. The next night I didn't sleep at all. Not even a few minutes. I survived by drinking huge amounts of coffee and sugar-free energy drinks, and then took a dose of sleeping pills and a shot of vodka that night to induce sleep. It took about a week for me to feel close to normal again, which made it the worst jet lag I've ever experienced.
- Australian Rules Football is an experience not to be missed by any visitor to the land down under. "Footy" as it is referred to by the locals is a unique combination of soccer, American football, and rugby. There's always something going on so it's very entertaining to watch, but Mike (my coworker) and I were dumbstruck for about the first five minutes of the game trying to figure out the rules. We eventually figured out some of the scoring rules (6 points for a ball between the middle stakes, one point for a ball between the outer stakes) but largely it was a mystery. For more information click here for the Wikipedia page.
- One thing I did love about the AFL game was the involvement of the refs. At the start of the quarters and after scoring there's a jump ball, which the ref initiates by throwing the ball as hard as he can into the ground and letting it bounce straight up. When the ball goes out of bounds the ref will collect it, stand with his back to the field of play, and toss it over his head like a bride tossing a bouquet. I am highly amused by this and think more sports should use it.
- Melbourne is basically a cross between London and San Francisco. My first day there had great weather and the next two were grey and rainy. The architecture was older and there was a very European cafe culture feel to the place. I really liked it, especially walking around Federation Square and taking the trolleys.
- Sydney is a fairly modern city with newly renovated sections, big buildings, and of course the famous Opera House and Harbor Bridge. The climate was good there (mid to high 60's and clear skies) and I loved walking around various points of the harbor. I walked across the harbor bridge, took tons of pictures, and ate some fantastic food.

So that was my Australia trip. I'd love to go back sometime and since we're doing quite a bit of business there I may get a chance in the future.

Q: Banjo - Do the recently graduated (i.e. from college) qualify to draw unemployment while searching for a job in their field of study?
A: I was all set to give a detailed and well-researched answer to this question when I was pre-empted by a member of the Jolinko community. At first I was angry but then, well, I read the answer and it was quite good. Here it is:

Zane
From the NYS Department of Labor:

A: To qualify for benefits:

You must have worked and been paid wages for employment in at least two calendar quarters in your base period,
AND
You must have been paid at least $1600 in wages in one of the calendar quarters in your base period,
AND
The total wages paid to you in your base period must be one and one-half times your high quarter wages. The amount of high quarter earnings used to determine if you meet this requirement will not be greater than $8,910. Earnings in the other base period quarters must total at least one-half of $8,910, or $4,455.

A: The unemployment insurance program provides benefits to individuals who have sufficient employment to establish a claim, have lost employment through no fault of their own, are ready, willing and able to work and are actively seeking work. If you have worked in New York State within the last eighteen months, you have the right to file a claim for benefits.

to explain this more briefly...

- you have to have been working for at least 6 consecutive months (2 quarters.)
- you have to have made at least $1600 in wages during one quarter (you surely meet this requirement.)
- if you made less than $8,910 during a 3-month period, then you need to have made at least half that during the other 3-month period (to prevent people from working full time for three months, then slacking off and filing for unemployment benefits.) this shouldnt apply to you.
- you must have lost employment due to no fault of your own. you cant be fired or quit, but you can be laid off.

you likely meet all of the criteria, but (as far as i know) havent been employed for 6 consecutive months so you might be out of luck.

EDIT: whoops, there we go again answering questions meant for mitssob to answer.


Believe me, I appreciate it. Thanks, Zane.

Q: Bridget - Are there no workhouses? No prisons? Perhaps if they wish to die, they should do so, and decrease the surplus population.

^^^^^Name the movie ^^^^^^

A: I'm sorry, your question must be in the form of, um, a question. But I'll give you a pass this time. The movie is "A Christmas Carol", based on the book by Charles Dickens of the same title. My personal favorite rendition is A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Q: Barn - Where is it then?
A: Where is what? For the love of God man, where is what?

Q: Phil - What teams will win each of baseballs 6 divisions?
A: Once again it's my favorite time of the baseball season. That time when someone asks me who's going to win the divisions and I make my guesses and then get laughed at for being a complete idiot. This year promises to be the same, trust me.

AL East: NY Yankees - They'll hold off the Rays and the Sox (who won't make the playoffs).
AL Central: Minnesota Twins - They're up 4.5 on the White Sox at the time of this writing and this year they won't piss that away.
AL West: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - My only real long-shot. I don't trust the Texas Rangers at this point and think the Angels will stage a great comeback. Maybe.

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies - The Braves will choke and Philly will slide in.
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals - Ditto for the Reds.
NL West: San Diego Padres - Tim Lincecum cannot save the Giants, so it's the Padres.

As I say every time I'm asked to predict anything, any money lost by using my picks is not my responsibility.

Q: Michaele-Lynne - Are there any PsyD programs for counseling or industrial/organizational psychology in the Philadelphia/Tri-state area? How about a masters degree in Counseling? I feel like I've exhausted the search engines...I fully do not expect you to actually do this research for me, however, I encourage you to learn up on I/O Psych!
A: Well since I'm going to likely use the same search engines as you I probably won't find anything you didn't, but I'll try.

The site I came across first is degreedirectory.org and found this site as a result of a search for organizational psychology. There was also a separate page for General Organizational Psycholog found here. I didn't see any schools in the tri-state area but I may have missed one so you may want to dig around there a bit. Another site to check out is gradschools.com, which has a section for clinical-psychology found here.

Thanks for the encouragement to study psychology, by the way. The subject of psychology is one I've never been all that interested in. As I continue to develop as a writer, however, I think there's a need for at least a basic education.

Q: Bridget - How would you suggest one go about preparing now (as a recent college grad) for everything monetary in my future, i.e. financing for a home, paying off loans, bills, and a wedding that's in about a year?
A: Below are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the subject. Bear in mind that I'm a pretty financially responsible guy but I don't have all the answers, nor do I pretend to. I know nothing about weddings, for example, so I'll defer to the Jolinko community responses (posted at the end of the answer).

- Pay off your debts as soon as possible. They're a financial drain and the sooner you pay them off the better. I'd divert as much as you can to paying them off early, even at the expense of setting money aside for things like a house. The sooner the loans are paid off, the sooner you can divert more of your income to the things you want to buy.

- If your or your future husband's work provides a 401k then contribute as much as possible. My company matches up to 6% and I go above that to 12%. You will not miss the extra few bucks every paycheck and over time it adds up. A lot.

- Get a Roth IRA. It's basically a savings vehicle that you can contribute up to $5000 per year to. You can use it for stocks, bonds, cash, or whatever and it's not taxed when you withdraw when you retire. If you need to get to the money in an emergency (say when you decide to divorce Banjo) you can do so and pay a fee. In fact, I think you can actually make a one-time withdrawal for a down-payment for a house and it's not taxed, but I have to check on that. My company uses Fidelity for its 401k so I set up a mutual fund and a Roth IRA separately from that using them.

- Honestly a lot of this comes down to organization. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't balanced my checkbook in years but that doesn't mean I'm totally disorganized. To help keep myself organized I've settled on a web application called Mint.com. It is basically my financial clearing house, a place where I keep all my accounts up to date. You can track spending, savings, and get an up-to-the-minute look at your personal financial situation.

- To encourage savings I use automatic withdrawals from my checking account to other accounts. If the money's not in my checking account then it's harder for me to spend it. At least that's the theory.

- For those of you with a mortgage here's a novel idea from the good people at Lifehacker.com. If your mortgage provider permits it then you should pay half the amount of your mortgage with every paycheck (assuming a 2-week schedule). You end up making one extra payment each year, which saves lots of money in interest over time. Unfortunately my mortgage provider (ESL Federal Credit Union) doesn't make it easy to automatically set that up but I was still able to modify this method for my own situation. When I bought my home I did what is known as an 80-10-10 mortgage. I put down 10%, and borrowed 10% using a home equity line of credit for 15 years. Initially I paid double that every month but now what I do is pay the full amount every month plus half every two weeks. It's automatic and it'll help me pay it off a lot faster.

- Since my mortgage provider is not my normal bank I am able to use this for yet another purpose. With every paycheck I transfer half the value of my mortgage to a savings account with the credit union. Instead of making extra payments, though, I simply save the money. I use it as another savings vessel.

- The most important thing other than organization is to live within your means. It sounds like common sense but it's amazing how easily people can get in financial trouble.

And now, the Jolinko community sounds off.

BillF: I would suggest putting off buying a home for a few years. Homes are much more expensive than just a mortgage payment. You are in charge of fixing leaky faucets and broken windows. You need to buy things like yard equipment, and you have to worry about things like appliances breaking down. You also have to worry about the economy and whether or not you will find yourself laid off because you have no seniority in a struggling company. Or whether you or Banjo get a great job offer somewhere else. You don't want to tie yourself down to a house so early. I think it's a very very wise decision to wait and see where your life is headed, how much disposable income you need to live comfortably (meaning your quality of life is good, nobody wants to be house poor and feel like they can't do anything they would like to do or purchase that awesome new TV because their mortgage payment is too much)

Zane: Oh i'm definitely waiting for a home for a while. As much as I'd just love to go house hunting because I'm a girl and girls like that stuff, I'm gonna hold off for a while on that one. I'm mostly concerned about affording my wedding. I've got $9,000 aside now, but that's saved for the actual ceremony and not the honeymoon yet.

BillF: I can't give you much advice on that front because
1) I'm not married
2) Weddings are an expenditure I don't think is worth it (but I am a man)
You look like you're off to a good start with the money you've set aside though. But as for paying off loans and bills. The first step is to consolidate your loans, that will help a bunch. Also, your lending company should be able to provide you with a payment schedule so you know exactly what to expect. Here's what kind of bills you can expect to budget for:

Rent
Utilities (Electricity, heat, hot water)
Car
Insurance (Auto, Renter's)
Gas
Food

The biggest thing is to figure out your net income and not your gross income and base all your decisions off of that. I know way too many people who think that because their salary is X that's how much they actually make. Just take how much you take home a month, multiply it by 12 and figure out your necessity spending. Then you know how much extra you have a month to spend on extra curriculars or how long it will take you to save for your next big purchase. There really is no trick or secret. But make sure you can use your money in ways that make you happy. I work with a few guys who pinch every penny and then just leave it sitting in their savings account. And they will never, ever touch it. I'll never understand hording money. It's of no value if it won't ever be used.

Banjo: I'm a big believer in retirement savings. Using the "rule of 7s" as is common in financial circles (in an average market, your investment doubles every 7 years), if you put aside a pool of money as you begin working, and continue to work for 35 years (5 iterations of 7, however some work for 40-45 years), theoretically your initial pool will be 32 times the value when you withdraw that it was when you deposited it. I intend to retire handsomely, with a fast car... and a shit ton of banjos.

Jarsh: 9k?! Our wedding was around 7k and a lot of the ppl on here could say it was pretty great

BillJ: I would agree that it was a good time. It sounds like Bridget's family if more along the lines of ourses', and our reception alone was more than 9k....but we (they) were in a position to fund that. We also did not turn away dates (not a dig, just a fact). I know you were limited by the size of the location, but that's just it: Families who dream of their "only daughter's only wedding" (quote from my father-in-law when speaking to the baker about the blackish flowers on the cake) are willing, able, and sometimes even insist on paying for things to be perfect. That doesn't even touch on the stories I heard working in the wedding business for over a year. Lisa still gets them with calligraphy business. Some people are just crazy about their wedding day. Anyway, weddings are definitely what you make of them. And if you're more on the "traditional" side like she's talking about, you're spending $15-20,000 easy.

BillJ: This ain't your daddy's average market. That said, things always have a way of stabilizing. Houses are a great investment if you planning on staying in one place for a lot of years...ideally longer than your mortgage. It's also better if you are buying in a market that has steady, gradual property value growth. If you're in a market that is booming, it will bust soon enough. You're looking in the greater Albany area, so until we get a strongly-conservative governor (not just republican, see Pataki) and they shrink government a whole bunch, I don't see Albany's bubble bursting any time soon. If you heading further south, like anywhere near Pughkeepsie, be careful. The closer you get to NYC, the screwier things get. As for other investing, that's all about the long haul as well. Start with your 401k. Invest at the maximum level that your company will match all or part of (I don't know of anyone matching 100%, but whatever) because this is free money. Aside from that, pay your freaking bills. Get rid of all credit card debt, installment loans, and get to work on any student loans that you have. Sure, they are low interest, so do them last, but they still have interest and it will get you more buying power (and probably lower interest rates) in the future. If you have paid ALL of your bills and still have money to play with, call me, I have some things I can sell you. But seriously, if you're bill-less, build up a cushion of $5-10,000 for oops expenses. Beyond that, live a little, you're going to die next week in a firey car crash. PS-my opinion based on my experiences in life and working in the financial services industry. Many will disagree, especially about the house being a good investment. Like BillF said, there are things you'll need to fix. That might be your tipping point-if you like fixing things, owning is awesome. If you don't, you'll want to sell the first time the toilet won't shut up.

BillJ: An IRA acts similarly to a 401k. The Roth variety is the best (most tax benefits). A minimum or 3 to 4 percent of your income is a good starting point, 5-10 is good if you can. Sorry Tim, I'm hogging.

Zane: you can likely invest through the bank you already do business with. its usually free, or affordable, in terms of fees and most all banks offer a variety of investments from stock and bonds, to mutual funds and other more sophisticated investments. they'll also sit down and help you figure out what you should invest in to meet your financial goals (making quick money, steady income for retirement, etc.)

BillF: I stay out of the market as much as I can. It's too fickle in my opinion. Though now is a pretty good time to invest. I have a 401k that I put 6% in but I've chosen to invest in Real Estate rather than Stock or Debt (Bonds).

Heyotter: Pick 4-6 things to invest your 401k into (and not just the same 4-6 kinds of mutual funds). Any more than that and you've got too much to keep track of. Any less and you aren't diversified enough. Almost doesn't matter what you invest in, they all give shitty returns these days. Anyone trying to tell you their investment is better than everyone else's is just full of shit and trying to get commission. Keep investing your whole life. I don't want to bail your ass out.

Banjo: If I continue to work for the state, I'll have a hefty pension on top of my other savings. Furthermore, I only have to put into the retirement system for 10 years to draw full benefits once I retire (this is not common, I got in the system before they added a new "tier" which requires you put in for your entire time at the state).

Todd86: Anyway, weddings are definitely what you make of them. And if you're more on the "traditional" side like she's talking about, you're spending $15-20,000 easy. Carla and I got married in 1999 in Potsdam and it cost us about $12k, and it wasn't what I would call particularly lavish. A lot depends on location. If we got married in NYC it would have easily cost us 3x that. Edit - come to think of it, we did have an open bar the entire reception, and Carla's sorority was there in full force.

Q: BillJ - Every time I load the animated gif thread my router poops. Short of buying a new router, anything I can do to stop that?
A: More fiber.

Seriously? Check to see that your router is in a place that gets proper ventilation and is not overheating. Next you can open up the administrator settings and check on the security settings to see if any ports are blocked or if anything looks out of whack.

If all else fails buy a new router. They're fairly cheap and honestly it's not worth the time or money to try and debug one that's really flaky. Better to just move on.

Q: karyn - Are the numbers on a baseball field fence the distance from home to the bottom of the fence or top? How do they determine how long a homerun was if it lands in the seats? Is it distance to the seat or to ground level where it would have landed if the seats weren't there?
A: First, the numbers on a baseball field fence are the distances from the tip of home plate to the bottom of the fence (thanks to Answers.com). Second the folks at HowStuffWorks.com answer your home run distance question far better than I could. In short the distance is to ground level there ball would have hit if the seats weren't there. It's a bit of guesswork based on where the ball lands and what kind of home run it is (line drive, normal, or towering).