Monthly Archives: May 2013

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Save money with a tool library

All the tools, none of the price

The tool library workshop space

The tool library workshop space

As I mentioned previously, my wife and I clearly bought too much house when we moved into our current home. We paid $625,000 in 2008 in a collapsing market, thinking we totally scored. Unfortunately we didn’t wait quite long enough as home prices continued to decline, putting our potential sales price well below our purchase amount. (We’re about back to even now, not including commissions, interest and work we’ve done to it.)

This mid-century classic home is built like a tank and is the first home I’ve owned with completely straight and plumb walls. It has a warm, cozy feeling throughout and has a classic layout that makes most areas of the home quite usable. It has a lovely view of the Puget Sound and beautiful Vashon Island.

But, as always with real estate, there have been a few issues. The upstairs and downstairs bathrooms were both shot. The kitchen had been remodeled in the 80s or 90s and was poorly done. We’ve replaced all the windows and switched the giant, dirty oil furnace for a new, natural gas model. We almost immediately remodeled the upstairs bathroom and rushed to redo the kitchen last year before Pretired Baby showed on the scene.

As we became more serious about getting to our full pretirement as soon as possible, however, we made some abrupt spending cuts and looked with some dismay at the money we’d put into this house. If we had bought a totally adequate $400,000 home and put the difference into our pretirement accounts, we’d be just about there. Whoops! It’s a lesson I hope anyone thinking about buying a home can learn from me and avoid their own mistake.

So we developed a strategy to get out of our situation and still reach our pretirement objectives. Without diverting to a whole post on our house situation, we decided we need to make some prudent updates to this house to position it for eventual resell at a higher price (hopefully in an appreciating market as well). One of the tactics we came up with is to update our open and awkward basement layout to add two more bedrooms (will function as a storage room and an office for us) and to update the completely disgusting downstairs bathroom. That should let us sell for $20,000 to $30,000 more. Note that we may even downsize into a rental for a few years before we sell as part of a grander plan we have cooking.

Break out the tools

Tools

Tools

Thirteen years ago when I bought my first home, I didn’t even own a hammer. I always wondered how old men always seemed to know how to fix stuff on houses. Now I know. After owning half a dozen pieces of property over the years, I have acquired a massive collection of tools. My operating plan for tools has been this: Don’t buy any tool until you absolutely need it. When you need the tool, buy the best quality tool that will fit your needs and repeat as needed.

Projects take much longer and are more dangerous if you don’t use the proper equipment and as much as possible I’ve tried to avoid buying cheap, junk tools because they fail too quickly. Those tools (**cough** HarborFreight **cough**) are basically disposable, which is usually more expensive in the long run. There are a few exceptions to that rule, particularly related to tools that I am pretty sure I’ll never need again. And while renting tools can be a great option, it’s very often cheaper to buy these days, depending on how many hours you’ll need it.

Enter the Tool Library

More tools

More tools

Today, though, I have another option. I had the opportunity to help, in a very minor way, launch a local “Tool Library” in our community a couple years back. It was a project put together by Sustainable West Seattle, a thriving nonprofit where I served on the board of directors for a few years.

The concept is simple: Instead of every person in the neighborhood storing, say, a pressure washer in their garage for 364 days per year, these tools are centralized and checked out as needed. There are other benefits, too. The group loans tools out en masse to community groups doing work in the area. For example, this this recent project where a garden was created to help a local food bank. (Now hopefully the food bank will be able to offer more fresh food in addition to the more processed fare so often donated.) In addition, tools are available to the community in times of natural disaster, with shovels, axes and saws available as needed.

Nowadays there are even classes to learn how to take on various projects and there is a rentable workshop space with some larger tools.

It came with extra nails -- sweet!

It came with extra nails — sweet!

The tools came from donations and from some purchases using start-up funds received via some government grants and private donations. Many of the initial purchases were rounded up during the massive community-wide garage sale that occurs here every year. Many of those were picked up for just a dollar or two with many more just being given freely as people learned about the concept.

Since I already had such a massive tool collection and haven’t been doing as many home projects lately, I haven’t really needed to borrow anything since we started the tool library. But since we decided to kick off our basement project, I did my first check-out last week.

Everything you need to attach wood to concrete

Everything you need to attach wood to concrete

At first I had forgotten it was even there! Needing to attach my walls to the concrete floor of my basement, I had gone in search of a powder-actuated tool. This tool fires a nail into concrete with what is basically a .22 bullet shell. I first checked with family (lots of construction folks in my family) to see if anyone had one I could borrow. No, it’d been loaned out to another family member and was now lost. Next I checked the prices over at Home Depot. Wow, $559 for the Hilti DX 36. Looks sweet! Old me might have just went down and bought that baby on the spot. Or more likely one of the cheaper versions since I won’t need it much after these walls are up. Like this one for $22. Plus I’d need to buy nails and shells. There was nothing decent on Craigslist.

But then I remembered: I have a tool library right here in my neighborhood! I even helped with the launch! I checked the inventory and sure enough, there it was, a Remington Powder Actuated Tool just like I needed. For the low, low cost of FREE. When I got it home I found it even had leftover shells and nails in the kit. Score!

It was busy at the Tool Library while I was there. Someone was loading their car with a load of rakes and shovels to attack a spring project while another person was returning a small rototiller. A couple folks were using the rentable shop space.

Now I know some of you are thinking: “Well I don’t need a Tool Library because I never need tools. I don’t even own a house!”

The embedded nail

The embedded nail

Sorry, but we’ve got you covered, too! In addition to having tools available for community projects, the definition of “tool” has been expanded as well. Available are canning tools, a cider press and even books. Wait, books at a library? Mind=blown! There has even been talk of having some loaner dishes available for banquet events and even some sound system equipment or projectors for meetings. We’ll see what happens as it grows.

There really is something for everyone. Do you ride a bike? Check out the bike repair tools! Need to move something heavy? Or just concerned about Zombies? We’ve got you covered. It’s a pretty cool concept. Check around. You may have one in your community as they’ve been sprouting up in recent years. If not, why not help start one? Our team has put together a sweet starter kit to help you get going.

So how did my powder actuated tool loan work out? Awesome! I started by framing in the walls, getting them all dialed in just the way I want. After YouTubing how to use the tool (these donated tools often have no instructions with them), I was ready to go. You insert the nail into the barrel end. Then a cartridge (the “bullet”) is placed in the upper section. You press down hard where you want the nail to go and whap with the hammer. It pops like a gun going off and your nail is safely embedded into the concrete. A few more and the wall is totally solid. The basement is looking awesome so far. I just have a few more walls to go and I’ll be well on my way to a home that’s ready to rent, sell or just enjoy!

Anyone else have a tool library in their community? If there was one available, would you use it? 

Objective then Strategy then Tactics

howfeedtribeWhile it’s quite often that I’ll rip on the horribleness of corporate life, it’s important to acknowledge and learn from the good parts, too.

One of the most powerful things I learned during my career was how to do effective strategic planning. After many years in the trenches, I’m now very good at it and it’s become very natural for me to think strategically in nearly every aspect of my life.

If you’re thinking seriously about pursuing pretirement, or if you just simply have other financial goals (getting out of debt is a common one I hear about), approaching the problem strategically will make all the difference.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
-Unknown (often falsely attributed to Sun Tzu)

The first thing we need to do is have a short primer on the difference between strategies and tactics. They are often mixed up and there can even be a little grey area between them at times. But, in general, strategy is about the plan. Tactics are about the actions. Strategy is about “how” while tactics are about “what”.

Strategy is buying a bottle of fine wine when you take a lady out for dinner. Tactics is getting her to drink it.
-Frank Muir

When undergoing strategic planning, by far the most important thing is to ensure the tactics line up under the strategy, which in turn fits under the objective. If the tactic does not meet the objective and falls outside the strategy it MUST be rejected (or the Objective or Strategy must be modified). Many, and maybe even most, companies do not maintain strict discipline on this and end up wasting resources, doing duplicate work and creating a disorganized, unfocused organization. This in turns ruins morale and makes everyone hate their jobs.

This can happen in your home life, too. We’ve all seen families that aren’t on the same page financially, don’t have a clear direction and often the married couple are at odds. It seems to them, and everyone else, that they are just “bad with money” or are “fighting about money”, but in reality they have no clear objective or shared strategy. Their tactics, then, are just a collection of haphazard, uncontrolled actions, usually buying stuff they can’t really afford with the vague idea that they’ll pay the credit cards off later “when we get some money”.

In a way, it’s understandable. We didn’t evolve to analyze things in this way. Early man wasn’t putting together a PowerPoint document on the best way to feed their tribe (“Objective: Feed tribe. Strategy: Find and kill mammoth. Tactics: Use spears to stab mammoth.”)  No, we evolved to use our instincts to figure out these challenges. The food captured was the easiest and safest food to get that would provide adequate nutrition. This led to farming and eventually society. Unfortunately in a modern world, especially one with cheap and easy credit, these instincts for the quick and easy fix lead directly to mindless purchasing. Not to mention our evolved interest in anything shiny (probably evolved to help us find fruit, fire and water), tricks us into wanting the fresh and new.

But we also evolved a brain that is able to think abstractly and can overcome these predispositions with logic, education and mindfulness. And that’s why it’s so important to use strategic thinking to our benefit. The hardest part, of course, is then resisting these urges to help us reach our goal.

Let’s say a family is $20,000 in credit card debt and is feeling depressed and hopeless. Our imaginary family might want to cheer themselves up by taking the kids to Disneyland. After all, it’s a relatively cheap trip and they’ve been promising the kids the trip for some time now.

If their Objective was “relieve temporary depression” and the strategy was “spend a little money on something fun” then the tactic might correctly be “take a trip to Disneyland”. See how identifying the correct Objective can help you build the right strategy? If they had identified their Objective as “Get out of debt as soon as possible”, there is no way they could end up with a tactic of taking this trip. Their strategy would be something like “cut all spending to the bare minimum, try to increase our income and put all additional cash toward the credit cards”. Tactics might be things like cutting out cable TV, taking on some side work, etc.

Sometimes you can reverse-engineer this approach to figure out what someone’s real objective is, which can be pretty interesting. Take for example, organized religion. While I am a confirmed atheist  I’m not here to question anyone’s faith. And I draw a bright line between faith (which I politely respect) and organized religion (that I despise). But, that aside, organized religion makes a really clear example. See, for example, religions that oppose birth control. Why would they do that? Let’s reverse-engineer it. Take Mormons, for example, who at one point famously even allowed multiple wives and even today oppose birth control. Yep, now one of the fastest growing religions. Add in their tactic of sending young people on missions around the world, and it’s clear what their objective is — massive growth.

OK, now that I’ve offended half my readers, let’s talk pretirement. If pretirement (investments cover expenses) is the Objective, then the strategy is likely one of lowering monthly expenses and building up the pretirement fund. From there, it’s all tactics. Where and how to save, what to invest in, how to increase income, and so on. Having a shared Objective with your mate and agreeing on the Strategy is one of the keys to a long and happy relationship and life. And we’re not just talking about money.

What are your Objectives, Strategies and Tactics for reaching Pretirement? 

Caveman image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fuck You, HP!

office-spaceExpiring ink? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Is Hewlett-Packard the world’s worst company? OK, no. Not as long as Monsanto exists, but still pretty bad.

I mean, look, here’s what I want: An inexpensive printer that, on those occasions when I need to print something, actually prints my document on a piece of paper. Is that too much to fucking ask? According to HP it is.

It’s bad enough that their printing software is absolute bug-filled CRAP. It’s absurd how many extra pieces of detritus it takes to achieve at long-last the prized correctly-printed page I crave. And it’s ridiculous that I have to wait through endless minutes of clicking and buzzing before this piece of shit printer finally decides it’s ready to print. Assuming of course, I didn’t have to just restart everything to reconnect the idiotic software to the system so it can decide to print out my one fucking sheet of paper. Oh and shall we talk about how I can’t print a document right now because it’s 10 p.m. so the stores are closed and it’s telling me the Yellow “does not have enough ink to ensure printer health.” Did you catch that? I can’t print a document in BLACK because it’s out of YELLOW. And can we talk about the ridiculous prices of these replacement cartridges? I fortunately don’t use my printer a ton so it’s not breaking the bank, but what a scam.

No, none of that brings HP even remotely close to being the world’s worst company. What brings them to the brink of absolute, unforgivable horribleness is this: expiring ink cartridges. EXPIRING INK CARTRIDGES? Are you kidding me? What. The. Fuck. Are we making ink cartridges out of bananas now?

These guys are essentially pumping petroleum out of the ground, shipping it across the world, making millions of little printer cartridges in a factory, shipping them to America and all over the country, where they are then sold, installed in printers, used a bit and then thrown away BEFORE THEY’VE EVEN BEEN FULLY USED so these fuckers can squeeze a little bit more profit out of their replenishment-based business model.

When I bought this printer several years ago, I did my best to seek out a printer that was mainstream enough that I could find an ink cartridge when I needed one and that didn’t require the most expensive cartridge replacement. I’m well aware the “money is in the blades” as they say, so I was as careful to not be suckered into buying a cheap printer or anything off-brand that would leave me hunting all over town for overpriced ink when I needed it. I settled on the HP C7280, which also included the scanner I badly needed as well as a few other features I knew I’d never need such as photo printing. It prints serviceable documents when it works, and if you can fight through the shitty software, it’s tolerable most days. Since I print quite infrequently, it’s hasn’t been the end of the world. But when I need to print, I need to print NOW.

But this expiring ink cartridge bullshit may be the thing that finally makes me go Office Space on it. See, in recent years they figured out how to embed a computer chip in the actual cartridge. Not only does it let the printer reject any non-HP cartridges, they’ve also put an “expiration” function in the cartridge, clearly aimed at preventing refilling. So now I’m stuck buying overpriced HP cartridges, even though I haven’t yet used up the ink that I PAID FOR WITH MY OWN MONEY.

I’m not sure when I’ll swap this printer out for something else, but when I do, I know it won’t have the letters “HP” on the front.

EDIT: I tried to hang in there with the old HP printer for quite awhile just to avoid shelling out the bucks for a new printer, but after again refusing to print black because it was out of blue ink, I screamed “FUCK!”, unplugged the piece of crap and set it aside. Here’s what I bought: 

So far it’s been excellent. It prints super fast. Starts up instantly without the half hour of clicking around like the HP garbage. I was a little worried because the ink cartridges look very small but it seems to barely sip ink. It’s been a few months and I’m still on the original ones. The scanning is very fast and the whole device is very quiet. It may have the same chipped ink cartridges as the HP since the industry seems to be heading that way, but we’ll see. I may post a full review once I’ve gone through my first batch of ink. If I do write up a full review, I’ll link to it here. 

Pretired.org so far — the social edition

follow_me

I started this site just a couple months ago on a lark. I wanted a way to keep my mind sharp as I enjoyed my new life as a stay-at-home dad. I also felt I had a lot to get off my chest and I’ve even surprised myself how much I’ve had to say about reaching pretirement.

But what has surprised me even more has been the response. Traffic has been growing steadily and much faster than anything I’ve seen before. Comments have been extremely intelligent and insightful and you’ve all challenged me to think harder and more carefully about my own perspective. Best of all, I’ve stumbled into an entire thriving community of like-minded folks who share the belief that we shouldn’t throw away our lives behind desks working for other people. We want to spend every moment possible doing what we really care about, not losing our minds and bodies to a faceless corporate borg.

So, thank you to each and every person who has stopped by and especially to those of you who have made such meaningful contributions in the comments. It helps keep me going!

With that in mind, I’m happy to share the latest news: I’m adding social channels to the Pretired.org experience. I’ll post my latest writings there in case that’s how you prefer to be notified of new posts. However, the vast majority of the content will be different from what you see here on the site, just to round out the experience. And if you like the content, please tell your friends!

Find me on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/Pretired

And on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/PretiredNick

Namaste!

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