Need something to do during winter in Covid Season? How about a home inventory?

OK, for many folks that sound more like punishment than fun, but for a lot of us in the FIRE community, we love to create and monitor lists, reports, finance sheets, etc. So this sort of thing can be enjoyable. I know, we are sick individuals.

Its also an excellent spur to make folks embrace minimalism?

Over at Women Who Money, they’ve written a pretty good article on why you need a home inventory and some practical steps on starting one. The key reason is that every year “One out of 20 households has to file insurance claims due to theft, fire, wind and water damage.” Having the items you need replaced inventoried, photographed and ready to go will dramatically help this – and may make you review your insurance to make sure it covers the needs.

The article goes through the variety of helpful aps and computer programs that could assist you in it. Some of the ways folks can do it is:

  • Make a video and describe items and their costs. One for each room
  • Photos. Again, documenting details, including brand names and serial #s
  • A digital inventory. FIRE folks friendly list, using apps, online tools, or just a spreadsheet

For some of the more expensive and/or hard-to-replace items, they suggest you include:

  • Brand
  • Size
  • Model number 
  • Cost – include the receipt if you have it
  • Store where purchased
  • Purchase date
  • Serial number
  • Photos or videos (close-ups are helpful)
  • Appraisal of antiques and collectibles
  • Replacement costs

I think one of the best things the article covers I getting started. Rather than “eating the whole elephant” they suggest you start with selected categories and do them one at a time, then branch out as necessary. The ones they suggest you start with are:

  • Electronics (don’t forget phones!)
  • Appliances
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Collectibles
  • Furniture

For storing the inventory as you complete it, they suggest a physical copy in a fire safe at home as well as one off-site (safe deposit box?). Also have digital copies, including out on the cloud.

I’ve had an old version of the inventory, but haven’t updated it in years. Going to start this Thanksgiving weekend with the electronics and appliances, and then go from there.

I liked this article so much, I added “Women Who Money” to my blogroll. Looking forward to reading more from them.

Mr. 39 Months

Stay Prepared for the Months Ahead

I’ve spoken before about the need to prepare for emergencies, and with the advent of Hurricane Season (Sep/Oct), The wildfires in the West, and the coming winter, I thought it would be good to revisit. As the Boy Scouts say “Be Prepared.” I was reading an author with some good ideas (I won’t link, because some folks might not like his politics).

Here are the “must have” items that you will need:

  • A two-month supply of your prescription medications and your over-the counter medications.
  • 20 AA and 20 AAA batteries.
  • Two good flashlights per person plus extra batteries
  • 20 Bic lighters.
  • 25 candles. 
  • Two portable radios plus extra batteries
  • 3 rolls of Duck Tape
  • 2 extra tarps.
  • 200 feet of 550 lb. paracord.
  • An everyday carry knife for each person
  • A professional bleed/trauma first aid kit
  • 2–3 bottles unscented household bleach

For this food section, the author attempted to generally balance the total calories — 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fats.  Buy items that you like to eat already; avoid items that you have never tried.

  • Rice: 25 pounds total            
  • Dried Black Beans: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • Dried Pinto Beans: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • Dried Garbanzo Beans: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • Dried Kidney Beans: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • Dried Lentils: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • All Purpose Flour (unbleached): 1- 10-pound bag per person
  • Yeast: 2 ounces per person
  • Rolled Oats: 10 pounds
  • Corn Bread Mix: 4 packages
  • Muffin Mix: 4 packages
  • Canned Tuna: 60 oz. total
  • Canned Pink Salmon: 36 oz. total
  • Spam or Beef Stew: 12 cans
  • Chili and Beans: 12 cans
  • Powdered Milk: 4 cups reconstituted per day per person
  • Powdered Hot Cocoa Mix: 2 cups reconstituted per day per person
  • Olive Oil: 1- 51 oz. bottle
  • Canola Oil: 1- 48 oz. bottle
  • Mayonnaise: 2- 20 oz. jars
  • Peanut Butter: 2- 48 oz. jars
  • Jam/Jelly/Honey: 3–4 large jars
  • Salt: 1- 26 oz. Morton Salt
  • Brown Sugar: 1- 32 oz. envelope
  • White Sugar: 1- 4- or 5-pound bag
  • Assorted Nuts: 1- 2.5 pound jar

Overall a good list of items. Some other points to consider:

  1. Keep your cars fueled up to at least ¾ of a tank (folks in NJ during Hurricane Sandy found that a large percentage of gas stations had no power – so no gas)
  2. Check car status (spare tire) and buy a couple of quarts of oil
  3. Fill propane tanks (can use grill to cook if needed)
  4. Check your cell phones OS and apps are updated
  5. Make sure your important papers are available and able to be moved. Maybe make a copy and send to someone you know

Stay healthy and be ready.

Mr, 39 Months

Frugal Tip – Fixing your mistakes, instead of letting them compound

We’ve noticed some stains around the base of our downstairs toilet, and after doing a little research, it turns out this is a sign of water leakage. I had just changed out this toilet last year, so I was a little disappointed – it meant that I had not done the install correctly.

So I watched a couple of videos online and referred back to a few of my books – then took the plunge. The initial thing to check was the wax seal, which goes around the flange on the floor, and the toilet “seals” to. This is usually where the system fails and the leak begins.

Tools you will need:

  1. Wrench, 11mm or 7/16” (or adjustable wrench)
  2. Scraper (to clean off old wax seal)
  3. Towels
  4. Rubber or Nitrex gloves
  5. New Toilet bowl wax ring (Typically $2 – $3)

In order to do this, you have to do the following steps:

  1. Turn off the water supply to the toilet (typically a knob to turn near the floor on the left or right back of the toilet, which feeds to the tank
  2. Flush the toilet and then drain the tank and toilet (you can use a wet/dry vac, or just a sponge & bucket – which is what I used). Make sure you wear rubber gloves
  3. Disconnect water supply from upper tank (it should be something you can easily unscrew)
  4. Use an 11” wrench, 7/16” wrench, or an adjustable wrench to take off the two bolts holding the toilet to the floor
  5. Once the bolts are off, you should be able to lift up the entire toilet assembly. Place it off to the side, on a towel
  6. Examine the wax seal and flange. In this case, I had put in on wrong, which caused it to leak. You need to put the wax ring on the flange on the floor, not on the toilet.
  7. Clean off any old wax residue, then put on the new toilet wax ring. You may need to replace the bolts in the floor if you bent them when you pulled off the toilet.
  8. You then place the toilet down, aligning it with the bolts that are sticking up from the floor. When you place the toilet down, it will dig into the wax ring on the ground, sealing it in. My mistake was to place the wax on the toilet hole at the base, and assume it would seal
  9. Once you place the toilet down, push on it from above/sit on it and rock gently back & forth. This will help dig the toilet into the wax ring.
  10. Put the bolts back on and tighten down. Do not over-tighten or you might crack the toilet
  11. Reattach the water to the top tank, and then turn the water back on. Toilet should refill
  12. Flush the toilet a couple of times to get water back into the toilet bowl

Once this is done, monitor the toilet for the next week to make sure the leakage doesn’t reoccur.

My brother-in-law was a contractor and said that “once you’ve changed a toilet 3 times, you can do it in your sleep.” I hope he’s right.

Mr. 39 Months

Year of Saying “Yes”

A very good article from Leftover Dollars on their “Year of Saying Yes.” Basically, they had a loved one who passed away after an illness of 2-1/2 years. That person had lead a rough life, without a lot of funds, and at the end, even when they had the opportunity, they chose not to spend money or time trying to experience or enjoy parts of their life that they had expressed an interest in. They maintained their “I don’t have enough money” attitude all the way up to the end.

Leftover Dollar noted that the experience of watching this “played a huge role in my FIRE journey.” Because of LD’s childhood, she was a natural saver and very frugal, so even as things went well and money became available, purchases and lifestyle inflation was put off, due to a fear of being broke “and scared of the chaos that ensues when the money runs out at the wrong time.”

I’m not sure how many folks in the FIRE community pursue it due to deep emotions on poverty and not having enough money (probably a significant portion). In this case, LD used her loved one’s final situation as motivation to start “saying yes” to all the things she wanted to do, but had been holding out on. She sought out a new job because she didn’t enjoy her current one. She traveled, visited old friend, and embraced life. “Basically, whenever an opportunity arose that I really felt would enrich my life or satiate some longstanding curiosity, is said yes. I acknowledged that I could afford it and made it fit into my budget.”

Its an excellent read, and I suggest you take a look if you have the time.

How many of us are holding back while pursuing FI, trying to put in that last dollar into our retirement funds? How many things have you passed up, even though you wanted to? While I definitely don’t embrace the “YOLO” lifestyle (you only live once), Mrs. 39 Months and I have done our share of traveling, spending and generally enjoying life. I came late to the FIRE movement – I only got to saving 40%+  of my income in the last couple of years. Before that, it was more like 20%.

Still, I find as we get closer, I’ve had the urge to say “yes” to a lot more. Once we hit our FI goal (8 more months?) I plan on saying “yes” a lot more often.

How about you?

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal Tip – Another instance of doing some of your own home repairs

In light of my recent failure to take care of my home items, I thought I would take the chance to show that, yes I can do stuff around the house that helps keep our costs down. Doing your own home repair work and home maintenance is an excellent way to reduce your costs, live frugally, and learn some skills that you could, conceivably, turn into a side hustle as you move towards FI.

In this case, one of our toilets has been slowly leaking over time, leading to small amounts of water on the floor. This has caused some issues with the trim, and if not dealt with, could cause issues with the subfloor/flooring as we move forward. Better to jump on this now when the issue is minor.

My brother in law was a handyman/carpenter for most of his adult life, and I had the chance to work with him for a couple of months when I have first gotten out of the military. One of the things he told me was that replacing a toilet was easy, and once you had replaced three, you knew everything you needed to know and could do it with ease. “The problem is that most folks never replace three toilets in their lifetime” he said. He also commented that this was true with most home repairs/fixes – installing flooring, cabinetry, etc.

There is a great wealth of information through books and on the internet in reference to home repairs, so I’d urge everyone to consider it before they pay someone a lot of money to do some of the basic stuff.

In my case, I went and bought a $150 toilet at the local home repair store, about $40 of additional items needed, and read a bit on how to do it (I’ve replaced one before, but wanted to catch back up). Then it was on to the process.

  1. Turn off supply & drain the tank
  2. Remove nuts, lift off tank and toilet bowl
  3. Put wax seal on new toilet and install on floor with washer & nuts
  4. Attach tank and hardware (don’t tighten too much)
  5. Re-attach supply, fill tank & test for leaks
  6. Attach the toilet seat

Overall, the process was done in about an hour, and so far no issues. Saved probably $250 in the cost for a plumber to do it – it wasn’t very complicated. You just had to be willing to get a little dirty (not with crap, but with the wax seal, water, etc.)

Any experiences on your part doing home handyman work?

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal Tip – taking advantage of business travel

One of the things you often read in our community is people’s love of travel. Some folks make it a full-time career once they hit FI! For those of us still working, we sometimes get selected for business travel.

My father was an engineer in Oak Ridge, TN (where they helped make the atomic bombs) and did extensive business travel all over the US. One of the things he told us near the end of his life was the regrets that he had, that in all his travels he did not take an extra day or two off, and see the sights of the local areas that he visited. The company spent all that money to send him to these places – and he did not take advantage of the free travel.

I have tried to take that to heart in my business travels. As an industrial engineer in the logistics industry, I have had the chance to travel to about 20 different states, and some of the major cities of the US (LA, Portland, Denver, Dallas, Orlando, Miami, Boston, etc.) and done international travel to Canada and Sweden. Not only has this enabled me to rack up some airline and hotel miles, but also I have tried to take advantage of the site seeing opportunities.

I have even had the benefit of taking Mrs. 39 Months along with me. We have traveled to Orlando, Portland OR, and a few other places where she has been able to go see the sites, and I have done my work.

Recently I had to travel down to Miami for a warehousing conveyor project (it is not going that well) and had time to run around for half a day on Sunday. I hit Miami’s south beach, sampled a lot of Cuban cuisine, and toured an interesting house down there called Vizcaya. It’s a mansion built in 1920 to look like an Italian villa, for one of the founders of the John Deere Company. Nice gardens, nice home, a lot to recommend it if you happen to be in Miami.

Hope your travels go well this holiday season

Mr. 39 Months

Mr. 39 Months Mom takes a trip….

And you thought travel was just for FIRE folks?

I owe an awful lot to my mother, like most of us. She helped form my character, assisted me in getting a start in life, and provided loving (though sometimes critical) support. She also was an excellent example of how to live a life of abundance and frugality.

We grew up in the upper middle-class, with my stepfather and mother both management professionals that earned a good, but not fantastic wage. We never had to go without, but at the same time, we never had the latest toy or gadget. When we reached the age to drive, there was a third car, the old beater car that we inherited after our Mom got a new one. We had clothes, plenty of food, and the opportunity to try new hobbies and interests, but again – never a lot of new, hip stuff.

We all got jobs when we hit 16, so that we could earn our own money (and spent a lot of it on gas for the beater, since it was expensive then). Our college wasn’t paid for us, we had to get scholarships, and work through our college years to pay for it (as well as take out loans). I’m aware that the price of college back then was much less than it is now, I’m just pointing out that it was not expected for the parents to assist at that time.

After we left the nest, my stepfather and mother traveled a lot, but they also saved a lot, not spending more than they took in, and living a fun but frugal life.  Well, my mother is now in 81, and after my stepfather passed early this year, she chose to get back out and travel. She signed up for a 2-week cruise around the Greek islands, and took off in early October.

She just got back this weekend, and in talking to her, she really enjoyed herself. While she wasn’t as mobile as they were in the past, she did get to see a lot of stuff, and met some new people who took her “under their wing” as they ran around. While she isn’t sure about international travel going forward, she still plans to travel more. In fact, she’s coming up to see me in New Jersey and my brother in Vermont for Christmas. On the road again…..

Why do I write about this? Just to remind everyone to plan for the long term, because you are going to stay healthy and want to run around for a long time. Be ready and enjoy it!

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal Fail – Not taking care of your stuff

Members of the FI community are always looking for ways to cut expenses and costs, without jeopardizing their lifestyle. For many, it’s a source of pride that they can be as frugal as possible, while still enjoying life. Here at Mr. 39 Months, I’ve worked hard to get our expenses in line, generate a surplus, and then use that surplus to move us towards our goal – financial independence.

As part of that, I do a lot of my own stuff around the house (home repairs & remodeling, gardening, shopping, and moving the lawn). Its in mowing the lawn where I had my “frugal fail.”

The yard needed mowing this week, so out came the mower, I gassed it up, and got ready to go. We only have about ¼ acre of ground, so its less than an hours worth of work. Still, it saves my $75/month during the season (the basic cost of a lawn service). So off I went…..

Unfortunately, I had not taken the time to check the oil – and in fact I hadn’t checked it the last several times that I mowed the lawn. Everything went well for about 15 minutes, and then the machine just died on me. It completely stopped. When I tried to restart, the whole thing was frozen up – even the pull cord was stuck. Nothing.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t properly oiled it. When I checked it, it was bone dry (or pretty close). I had just ruined the motor on the thing.

I’ve taken it to a repair shop, even though I am pretty sure its toast. I hate the idea of just “junking” something and just buying new (our “throwaway” culture), and I have actually had the thing repaired once already when its transmission went (its pretty old). They are looking at it, but the prognosis isn’t good.

To get a mower that is the equivalent is roughly $400. I’ve heard that many people in the US can’t handle an emergency of $400 or more. While we can, it just goes to show you – take care of your stuff! It will save you a lot of money as you go through life.

Good Luck

Mr. 39 Months

Frugal win – doing your own minor home repairs

Well Mrs. 39 Months is out for week (she is doing a craft-related project with friends up in Vermont with my brother and his wife). So I’m a bachelor for the week. My grocery shopping consisted of a cart full of meat (steak, pork, chicken) and ice cream. I did purchase some fruit and broccoli as well, so I’m not a complete nut. The pets have been a little traumatized – they are used to me being gone for the week on business, but not my wife. Still, things are going OK.

When we remodeled the house ten years ago, we added a half-story to our rancher to make it sort of a “cape cod” kind of house. Our bedroom is now on the second floor, and we have a separate heating and cooling unit for it. Unfortunately, our AC guy, for some reason, thought water flowed uphill, so in the summer when we cranked up the AC (about 5 months after construction was done) it started leaking over our ceiling (the AC unit is in the attic). Ruined some drywall.

The construction guys came back in, fixed the AC issue, and put in drywall, but only put on the mud coat. Never came back (we were already occupying the bedroom, and it was difficult scheduling all of it). So for the last ten years, we have been living with a plain sheet of drywall over the bed, with its mud coat alone – and un-sanded. The problem has been that we were never in a situation where we could clear out the bedroom and do the work – Mrs. 39 Months didn’t like the idea of setting up temporarily somewhere else in the house.

Well, now that she is gone, I’ve decided to do the work, which consists of:

  • Clearing out the existing space (Mon)
  • Putting down tarps and protecting other surfaces (Mon)
  • Sanding/scraping the old drywall compound (Mon)
  • Priming the surfaces (Tue)
  • Putting on 2 coats of paint (Wed)

Its not work that I (or most other people) enjoy. Still, I had the chance, and rather than spend money to have someone else do the work, I chose to tackle it myself. I’ve already got a lot of the tools (rollers, scrapers, brushes, etc.). About $70 for some of the materials (paint, spackle, primer) and I was ready to go. Moved everything out (I have been sleeping on the ground in our family room) got it setup and off we go.

Doing a ceiling is a little rough on the arms, but not too bad. As of last night, I was done, and checking in this morning it appeared the ceiling was fairly close to the existing color. I knew I couldn’t get it perfect, but I’m pretty happy with where we are. Hopefully Mrs. 39 Months will like it we she gets back Friday night.

Mr. 39 Months

Do you have your emergency kit setup?

The FIRE community is very big on self-sufficiency and taking care of yourself, not just financially, but with a host of other things. Some folks have embraced farming (Frugalwoods, etc.), some energy independence (solar, wind, etc.), others have embraced RV/small home living. I have written before about farming/growing your own food. We all seem to want to reduce our living expenses/effort and to reduce our footprint on the planet. It is a noble goal.

Well as June starts to wind down and July starts to hit, Hurricane season starts in the Eastern US. Depending on where you live, this could be a minor, or a major cause for concern. In May I traveled to Texas, during my time there, they had torrential rainstorms, and a tornado touched down about 12 miles from where I was. The Midwest has been having severe flooding, and of course, the state of California is always trying to kill you (wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, etc.). If we are concerned about self-sufficiency, we also need to be concerned about how we handle ourselves with life’s emergencies.

Most folks do not realize that FEMA (US Federal Emergency Management Association) states that folks need to be prepared to take care of themselves for the first 72 hours of an emergency. This makes sense, as it takes time to get the emergency machine in gear and materials on site. I will not forget when hurricane Sandy hit the New York/New Jersey area. We had several days’ notice, but some folks decided to stay in their homes, and there were people who 12 hours after the storm passed were on TV complaining that they did not have any food, any power, any gas, etc. What were they doing for the 2 days prior to the storm hitting?

You owe it to yourself to be prepared for things that might pop up. The internet and numerous books are full of information on what to do in survival situations, but I thought I would cover a few.

Things you will need to plan on

  1. Ways to stay warm. If your body drops below a certain temperature, you die – plain and simple. Depending on where you are, you will need to plan to either stay in place/living in your current domicile, without power for heat. If you have to flee, you will need blankets or sleeping bags, and a structure (car, tent, etc.) to live in.
  2. Water: So much of our world revolves around this liquid, and many people are unaware. Not just to drink, but to prepare meals, wash dishes and clothes, and to flush the toilet. If you are going to stay in place, before the disaster hits, fill your tub (the one you shower in) with water. You can use it to drink, wash and flush. If you have to leave, make sure you bring plenty of water for drinking/sanitation purposes. Estimate a minimum of a gallon per person, per day.
  3. Food: Stock up on non-perishable foods (i.e. do not have to be refrigerated). Assume you will lose power, or will not be able to refrigerate on the road while fleeing the scene. Plan to be able to subsist for at least a week. Have an alternative way to cook. Mrs. 39 Months and I have a camper stove that works on both propane and unleaded gas.
  4. First Aid Supplies: You probably cannot plan for everything, but basic first aid kits (for bumps, bruises, minor injuries, etc.) will be necessary. One thing many people forget is to make sure they have sufficient supplies of the medicine they need.
  5. Other: Do not forget your pets for supplies (food, water, medicine) as well as for warmth and transport (pet carriers) if you have to flee. In addition, toys for the kids and anything else you might need to help keep everyone calm.

Again, the internet is full of ideas on how to deal with potential issues. Take the time to do some basic preparation, and you will feel a lot better in the months ahead, as the news tries to scare the dickens out of you.

Mr. 39 Months