Monday, April 27, 2009

She Stole My Karma

Seeing Kings of Leon last Friday was the kick-off for a frenzy of a weekend for Talls and Smalls. We were pumped to see the Kings after we missed their Constitution Hall show last November. My trout buddy Chris introduced me to the Kings this fall, and they're my favorite new obsession, but I'm not the only one. They blew up this fall thanks to their good looks and lusty singles like "Sex On Fire."

They played all of my favorites, including "Charmer."

Saturday, we spent the day as local celebrities at Run Amuck, a 5K mud run, which we and 13 friends ran in costume as members of the Mario Kart pack. Eric and I were Toad and Toadette, complete with spotted hats (our bike helmets with shower caps stretched over them). Eric had the good luck to run into one of his students and her parents in full costume. Luckily, she's a good kid whose mom wrote to Eric the first week of school about how much her daughter loves his class. What can I say, Talls has it goin' on.

We wore cardboard cars and made quite a splash, literally through the mud and figuratively by the awesome reaction everywhere we went. Kids and adults wanted to take pictures with us and of us. Talls and I concluded that we've never been cooler in our lives.

Sunday hosted great weather for a rooftop goodbye to my friend and colleague Kate, who is off to Guatemala this week for Peace Corps work. It's such a cool opportunity, but I left feeling really down about the heaviness of growing up, moving on and moving apart. It's just depressing to face the fact that all of the people I want to see can't be in the same place.

Friday, April 10, 2009

F*** Bitches, Get Money

At a happy hour last night, Elizabeth admitted that in a recent run-in with an acquaintance , she responded to thusly to the question of what she'd been up to:

Fuck bitches, get money.

Although out of nowhere (and hilarious--I've resolved to give the same answer when the next unsuspecting person prompts me, unless it's my boss or my Nana) to my virgin ears, E took the response from a chart-topping hip-hop song. By the way, I love how the poster of this video--such as it is--censors "bitch" but not "fuck," the direct opposite of my headline instincts.

This incident is as good a segue as any to talk about money, honey. I've been increasingly interested in finance, inspired by several people: my dad, E, the woman behind Feminist Finance and a few authors.

Right around the time of our wedding, Eric and I started noticing how many houses were up for sale in our neighborhood. We started looking at houses once we were hitched, figuring that we should take advantage of the shitrendous market. We took a few months to look around, and ended up making offers on two different houses in Rockville, Md., before we decided to throw in the towel. It's funny, I remember our mortgage broker telling us in August of last year that we should buy a house quickly, because the market was going to turn around any day. Obviously, he wasn't the best fortune-teller.

So after two offers fell through, both because of shady sellers, Eric and I decided to do something that felt a little crazy. We put several thousand dollars of our savings toward student loans, and resolved to pay the rest of the debt off within a year.

But how did we become such debt Puritans?

Well, it started with years of indoctrination from my Dad, I'm sure, but I wasn't really paying attention until I was an adult. As he often does, my Dad asked for some bizarre favor as a gift for his birthday last year. He requested that all of his kids to listen to this quacky economy dude Dave Ramsey's audiobook. Eric and I listened, and although I disagreed with some disturbing points (God doesn't want you to have a Jaguar, dude), we did come away with some sound advice, some strategy and a plan to be completely without debt at 25-years-old.

You heard it here: I listened to my dad's advice. I have done that once or twice. Hi, Dad.

Basically, there are several steps you follow. The first few go something like this: Make a budget, start an emergency savings fund, pay off your debts one by one, starting with the smallest, including your house, and from there, invest a certain percentage of your income into retirement, college funds, Roth IRAs and the like.

We're obviously in the paying-off-debt phase, and the idea behind paying everything off would probably sound like a good idea to most people, but you'd be surprised what a radical step it feels like to put thousands of dollars against a debt that you usually pay off $60 at a time. The fact is, when you pay off your debt early (11 years ahead of schedule for us), you save lots of money in interest. It feels like we threw away all that money, because we didn't have anything tangible to show for its loss, but in reality, we had that much in debt to pay off eventually. It's a hard thing to wrap your head around at times.

If you can get past this dude's bizarre idea that God wants us to be rich, and the fact that he's a regular on Fox News, he has some reasonable advice and a pretty funny adjective that he uses for hard-core debt-payer-offers: gazelle-intense (as intense as a gazelle that's running from a cheetah).

So in addition to the big lump sum payment, we're basically paying as much as we can each month against the student loans, which were the biggest form of debt for us after minimal credit card bills and one side project. That means that we're paying three-quarters of a rent payment against the student loan every month, which is quite a chunk of change. As a result, we feel pretty cash poor for now, but we get really pumped up when we see the loan balance trickle. It gives me insane pleasure to do out the math to figure out when we'll have everything paid off (with some luck, maybe by the end of 2009).

Since we started this quest in September 2008, we have paid off over 65 percent of our debt. Every time we pass another incremental milestone, we get more inspired, and we've given ourselves at least one incentive to get to the end of the rainbow: We won't get a dog until we've seen this through.

So, no horribly spoiled devil-dogs like Ginger.

And no smelly-breath loving, either.

But when it's all over, we'll have a proper family band, like these peeps.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Viral Online Habits

In the days when I first moved to Virginia in 2004, I would often sit on Cindy's couch (Lisa and I rented rooms from a very awesome woman, who is still a great friend) with my laptop, bullshitting with my friends, who were spread all over the country at college--from Middletown, Conn. to Los Angeles, Calif. to Spokane, Wash. This was the dawn of the viral video days, the days of Schfifty-Five and the hilariously dumb answers to high-school test questions. I still need to study up, but this list is a good starting point to viral video history.

Viral video has become so pervasive that Current TV has a segment called Viral Video Film School, which covers internet how-tos, vlogging (video blogging), sexy tax advice and anything else that people take video of and post online.

Much as we still enjoy viral videos and sound clips, ridiculous, self-aggrandizing "quizzes" have also sadly endured in the present-day internet experience. Ten multiple-choice questions aren't going to make you any more similar to Bella Swan (Which Twilight Character Are You?) than you were five minutes ago, and they sure as shit won't make Colin Firth your partner (Which Celebrity Is Your Ideal Boyfriend?). It might, however, make me Paul McCartney (Which Beatle Are You?) circa 1979. I don't want to be the post-2000 McCartney, selling shitty albums at Starbucks. That McCartney I refer to as Mr. Jowls.

But I digress. The inspiration of this entire post was, believe it or not The Most Useless Quiz Ever. This was one of my favorite viral internet quizzes from my internet-use infancy. The quiz is true to its name, and I really enjoy the results. My first quiz back in 2004 revealed that I was "the macaroni protest movement," which came along with an illustration of angry elbow noodles. I've clearly grown up a lot since then. As you can see, I'm now "the attack banana." Other known results: a heart-shaped armadillo and a ladybug languishing on a throw pillow. Good times.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Hello my droogies,

It's been forever since I blogged atcha. I attribute the lack of enthusiasm (on my part) to a general "I'm sick of obsessing about my freakin' wedding, as awesome as it was" and also a months-long depression about our living situation, which happily ended March 1.

After a disappointing house hunt, Eric and I decided to just move from Takoma to a nicer apartment, and use the down payment money to pay down our student loan debt (more on that later). Thinking that it would be great to commute without cars, I had the bright idea that we should move to Rockville (known to us now as Suckville), which is the suburb in Maryland where Eric teaches. Long story short, we had a few financially irritating run ins with a moving company, a gym, and someone who I hope gets hit by a car while riding my bike. The lifestyle change from walkable, dense city (Silver Spring/Takoma) to soccer-mom, suburban wasteland was really, really depressing for both of us, but I was most vocal about it. The move added a half-hour to my commuting time, made it impossible to bike to work, and made me feel really isolated from our friends and anything we wanted to do in DC.

So after a lot of thought, we decided to break our lease with our Suckville apartment (which was a fine place, but rather small and we had to pay utilities separately) and move back to the Silver Spring area. Eric brilliantly found an apartment complex that was running a rent special that basically paid for the cost of breaking our lease, and we moved in March 1. Eric has to drive to work now, but his commute is pretty short, and I've suggested he try to carpool with his friend and fellow MoCo teacher, Grant.

We're so pumped with our new place, we already have it all set up. We never got all the boxes unpacked at Suckville.

Soon my new bike will join Eric's on our bike wall. It just came in the mail today!

Those lanterns are from the dairy farm where my mother-in-law grew up in New York. Try not to be too jealous, Mom.

We, happily, have a lot more room in our Silver Spring place. Enough room for a proper music corner, which makes it easier to jam on our keyboard and guitar (for me) and any number of instruments for Mr. B.

And our favorite new addition, our turntable chills under the fellas. The player was a wedding gift from my big sisters. Now Eric and I jam to Arlo Guthrie, Jackson Browne and The Beatles on vinyl, among others.

More on our debt later, because I'm really proud of what we've done in the past year. I just felt like I should draft a post, because I've been doing it a lot at work. Check out the blog I started for our magazine and leave your feedback, if you know what I'm talking about. Fisheries science can be pretty wonky.