September 16th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we had changed Internet/Phone/TV providers to save about $35 per month. Mr. Tre was also getting the channel he’s been missing since we moved. Wahoo!

Okay, hold your excitement. This is what really happened…

The Problem

We were using Charter as our Internet/Phone/TV provider. When we hit our one year anniversary they sent us a lovely letter saying that our monthly bill was increasing by $37 per month and we would have fewer channels. But the fewer channels would be in HD. Wasn’t that generous of them?

The Bait

There are only a few companies that service our area. Mr. Tre found a DirecTV/Verizon bundle that would get us more channels than we had with Charter and cost $35 less per month. What could possibly go wrong? After several hours on the phone we had everything set up and scheduled our installation. Since there were two companies, there would be two installs. I work from home so we decided to keep Charter connected until Verizon had the Internet/phone working.

Installation day arrived. I lost service for a few hours, but the Verizon portion went much smoother than I expected. The installer was even nice enough to run some new wires and clean up the connections in my office.

Then the DirecTV installer showed up. He walked around the house for about two minutes and announced that there were too many trees. We could not possibly have satellite service. Mr. Tre took him outside and pointed out that all our neighbors have the same mature trees and most of them have DirecTV service. After several minutes of heated discussion, the installer said it wasn’t possible and left.

The Switch

Mr. Tre REALLY wanted that channel. He called DirectTV back, explained what happened and asked them to send someone else. They promised to call us back with a new installation time. After several hours someone called claiming to be the installers supervisor. He apologized and asked if we wanted someone else to come out. Yes, didn’t we already ask for that? He said someone would call back within 15 minutes to schedule a time. No one called.

The next day, still no call from DirecTV. We called Charter to cancel the phone/Internet and learned that our TV would increase by $35 dollars. Verizon also let us know that if we did not activate with DirecTV our pricing would increase. Our $35 savings was now a $40 increase per month. Mr. Tre called DirecTV again. They assured him that someone was coming, but they couldn’t give us a time.

The Warning Signs

The second DirecTV installer showed up 5 days after the original installation date.  Our first warning should have been when he demanded payment before doing the install. The original deal was no installation costs. He had everything working in 30 minutes, but the channel Mr. Tre wanted didn’t work. He told us that it could take up to 24 hours for all the channels to load.

The next day the channel still didn’t work. Mr. Tre called DirecTV and was told we did not order that channel. The first installer deleted our order. The new installer gave us a package he chose. The deal we had originally received was no longer available. To get Mr. Tre’s channel would cost us $40 more than we were originally quoted and they weren’t sure we qualified for the bundle pricing with Verizon.

Just Bad Customer Service

I called DirecTV to cancel. This is how the conversation went….

Me: I’d like to cancel my service.

DirecTV: I see you just activated yesterday. Why are you cancelling?

Me: Um… because you lied to us. We don’t have the channels or pricing we were promised. Please cancel the service and refund the installation charges.

DirecTV: Let me transfer you to a supervisor.

Repeat….

After one hour of being passed from person to person, they still had not cancelled the service and I was getting a little hoarse from telling them what I thought of their company. Mr. Tre finally took the phone away from me. He decided to keep the service for a little while because they promised his channel free for 30 days. What they didn’t tell him was that they would take away 10 other channels.

The End

It hasn’t ended yet because we are still with DirecTV and have a bill that is $71 per month higher than we were quoted. I think they are counting on the fact that I don’t have hours to spend on the phone trying to get them to cancel the service.

Have you ever had an issue like this? What did you do?

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September 15th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

The Versatile Blogger Award is an award that gets passed from blogger to blogger. Every nominated blogger has to share 7 things about themselves and nominate other bloggers for the award. Thank you Brian at Debt Discipline for nominating me!

Versatile Blogger Award

7 Things You Don’t Know About Me

Well, since I blog anonymously, there are lots of things that you don’t know about me and I’m always a little nervous about revealing too much. Here are seven odd little things:

1. I’m Canadian

I grew up in Vancouver and my entire family still lives there. I’ve lived in the US for about 12 years now and totally lost my Canadian accent, except for the occasionally pronunciation of “about”, “processed” and “roof” that sets my co-workers off laughing.

2. I have 5 brothers

Yes, you read that correctly, I have FIVE brothers. I am the only daughter in a family of six children. Let me tell you, it’s impossible to be girly when you are surrounded by so many boys. I grew up playing street hockey and climbing trees. I blame them for my total lack of fashion sense.

3. I was a competitive figure skater

When I was young I was a competitive figure skater. I really wanted to play hockey, but my parents thought it was too dangerous. Thanks to my brothers and their broken legs (3 of them), I was delegated to the realm of figure skating. I think they regretted that choice when I discovered figure skates were an excellent choice of weapon for self-defense.

4. I was a VA before it was cool to be a VA.

Way back in 2000 I started doing some VA work. I had a couple regular clients and it helped out while I was on maternity leave, but it really wasn’t my thing so I went back to work when my maternity leave was up.

5. I don’t drink coffee

I never liked coffee, but I need a caffeine boost in the morning. Tea is my morning go-to. I’m a little cranky until I’ve had a cup of tea and watched the news.

6. I’m addicted to the Real Housewives Series

Okay, this is a little embarrassing to admit. It’s kinda like watching a car wreck, I just can’t turn away. Every so often I ask Mr. Tre what future generations will think of us when they uncover the Real Housewives. He looks at me with disgust and tells me to turn that crap off.

7. I’m a Canucks fan

Hockey Night in Canada was a staple in our house growing up (you Canadians know what I mean). I grew up watching the Canucks with my dad and am still a huge fan. They are also known as the Canuckleheads is our house. As in: “The #### Canuckleheads got knocked out in the first round this year!”

I hope you enjoyed learning more about me :-)

I nominate the following bloggers:

Debs of Debt Debs

Erin of Journey to Saving

Tonya of Budget and the Beach

Michelle of Budget Blogess

Posted in Uncategorized
September 14th, 2014 | No Comments »

This week on the House of Tre we talked about…

CPE on a budget. This year my employer is paying for a one-day seminar but most of my CPE is coming from free hours. I’ve found several great sources for free or low-cost CPE.

franchising. As part of the Chasing Our American Dream series, we are exploring different ways to build wealth. Have you considered purchasing a franchise?

Thank you @debtdiscipline for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award!

This week a lot of personal finance bloggers are heading to FinCon. I have to admit I’m a little jealous, but my day will come! I was supposed to be heading west for a business trip, but that has been delayed. I’m looking forward to another week at home with my boys :-)

 

Blogs I Loved….

There are so many great blogs about personal finance. I have to admit that I am falling behind on my reading, but these were my favorites….

…@DebtandtheGirl asked Can You Manage to Live on Six Figures? I find this discussion fascinating. Is $100k really necessary for the middle class life?

…@fitisthenewpoor updated us on No Spend Week 1.

Hope you had a great weekend!

Tre

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September 11th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

As part of the Chasing Our American Dream series, I’m exploring different ways to build wealth. This week we are talking about franchising.

Franchises

What is a franchise?

A franchise is the right to sell a licensed product or service using the operating methods of the franchise. McDonald’s is probably one of the most recognized franchises. Franchises are available for many different businesses: service industry, retail store, restaurant.

Why operate a franchise?

The benefits of operating a franchise are that you receive the operating methods of the franchise. In the case of McDonald’s, you would receive the right to sell McDonald’s products, operating instructions to ensure your location produced the same products as other McDonald’s and the ability to use the McDonald’s name. As a new business owner, the training and brand recognition provided by purchasing the franchise rights allows you to start-up without going through the learning curve of developing your own brand. Customers know what to expect when they see the sign and are lined up for opening day.

In comparison, suppose you started your own fast food restaurant. You would have to develop the products, find suppliers, locate the optimal location and develop your brand. Business would likely be slow when you first open since your brand is unknown.

How much does it cost to buy a franchise?

Franchise fees and other start-up costs vary.  What type of franchise are you buying? Will you need a storefront?

Initial costs include:

1. Franchise fee – the fee you pay to use the trademark, products and services

2. Other Start up costs – real estate, equipment, legal fees, business licenses, working capital

Is the franchise fee the only franchising cost?

That depends on the company you have a franchise license with. Many franchise agreements require payment of  royalties and marketing fees in addition to the initial franchise fee. Royalties are ongoing fees that may be due weekly, monthly or yearly. Royalties are usually a percentage of sales or a flat fee. Marketing fees are generally a flat fee.

Isn’t a franchise for people who already have wealth?

Not necessarily. The startup costs for a franchise range from $2,000 to over $1 million. It depends on the type of franchise you want to own and the location. Do you need an office or storefront? Can the franchise be operating from home? How many employees do you need for startup? These are all important questions to ask.

How do I learn more about franchises?

Start by doing some research on the Internet. Attend a Franchise Expo. Try to speak to the operator of a franchise you are interested in.

Like any new business venture, do your research. Is this a viable business? Do you have the resources to open and operate a franchise?

If you own or have owned a franchise, let me know about your experience. Would you recommend owning a franchise?

 

Photo Credit

 

Posted in Uncategorized
September 9th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

CPE, otherwise known as Continuing Professional Education, can be a wonderful opportunity to expand our skills. Or it can be 40 hours of credit crammed into 12 painful hours in front of a computer.

Most professionals negotiate CPE into their benefits, but not me. Nope. I was so excited that someone actually wanted to hire me I didn’t ask for a CPE allowance. What have I learned from this experience? To actually negotiate next time I get a job offer.

For the past five years my employer has chipped in $250 and the rest has been paid by me. My annual cost for CPE has ranged from $400 to $2,000, depending on if I wanted to actually learn something useful or just get enough hours to qualify. Last year was a “get enough hours to qualify” year.

This year I’ve been putting it off. I’m tired of scrounging for free hours and taking classes that are completely worthless. I’m also totally pissed because my employer has decided all the Millennials need professional development, which translates into a couple thousand dollars a year on each of them to attend seminars. Hello? What about Gen X?

Summer is over and it’s time to get focused if I don’t want to spend New Year’s Eve doing online classes (yes, I’ve done that before). So with a few phone calls to our vendors and a lot of negotiation with my employer I’ve come up with the following plan:

CPE Plan

This year my employer will pay $456 towards my CPE and I will pay $438. Victory! Here’s how it breaks down:

I convinced my employer that they should pay for the seminar on new industry regulations since the regulations impact our companies. I can’t do my job properly if I don’t know the new regulations. It took a few discussions, but they agreed. Small victory!

I’m starting to think about my next position, which requires some very different skills from my current position. Not quite sure how that career plan works. I’m taking a one-day seminar on the skills needed, what employers are looking for and new technology that will make me look like a super genius :-) I’m paying for this one since I am already over my CPE allowance for the year and my employer doesn’t see any value in training me for a promotion that does not exist.

Our company uses ADP for payroll. They have a program called iLearn that offers free webinars. I signed up for a time management class through iLearn that will give me 1.5 hours of CPE. ADP also has a training program for managers that offers one-day seminars. Our ADP rep knows I’m desperate for free hours so she always invites me to at least one seminar a year. I’m getting a total of 9.5 hours free from ADP.

Thanks to Obamacare and the new regulations for health insurance, there are tons of free seminars available. I was able to pick up four free hours of CPE from our health insurance company. The downside is that there is a ton of new work that comes along with Obamacare. I’m starting to think we will need another person just to ensure we are in compliance. But that person would have to work less than 30 hours so we don’t have to provide them with health insurance, which is probably more expensive than the salary.

There is a professor that offers a free 1-hour webinar every month on technical issues. He usually picks topics that are a bit controversial and I always learn something new. They are at lunch time so I have my own little “lunch & learn” in a conference room. I try to attend every month, but missed a few this year. I expect to have 8 hours by the end of December.

I’ve been trying to take our office paperless for the last few years. We’ve made a little progress, but seem to be stuck getting over the final hurdle. I think people are just too attached to that piece of paper in their hand! A potential vendor sent me an invite to a 2.5hr seminar on moving to a paperless office.

Finally, I am taking 2 hours of Ethics. I tried getting my employer to kick in for that one too, but they said no. It will be a webinar since it really isn’t worthwhile to head into the city for a two-hour class.

So that is it! 42 hours of CPE (I always do a few extra hours in case a free webinar is rejected during the audit) for $438. Not a budget buster and all the classes are useful. I’ve already started building my case to attend a conference next year that will provide 24 hours of CPE, but it’s unlikely my employer will agree. Budget cutbacks, increased health insurance costs….the list of reasons to say no is endless.

Are you required to do continuing education? If so, does your employer cover the cost?

Posted in Uncategorized
September 8th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

This week on the House of Tre we talked about…

August Update. August wasn’t the best month, but I did accomplish a few small goals.

…our experience with Investment Properties. Many people want to build their wealth through real estate. If you are considering investing in real estate, learn from our mistakes.

This week was super busy at the day job. Plus lots of back to school activities with the kiddos. We switched our phone, Internet & cable providers last week to save some money ($35 per month). The phone & Internet transition went smoothly, but the cable still isn’t working with the new company. I say it’s a sign we should cut the cable completely, but Mr. Tre isn’t buying it :-)

 

Blogs I Loved….

The first week of every month is my favorite because all the pf bloggers update their budgets & net worths. I love reading this stuff! I couldn’t get through them all, but these are a few of my favorite posts…

…@cashvillesky wrote about The Career Pivot.

…@DearDebtBlog gave us an update on her first month as a freelancer.

…@DebtRoundUp reminded us to Take a Day Off Once In a While.

 

Hope you had a great weekend!

Tre

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized
September 4th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

As part of the Chasing Our American Dream series, I’m exploring different ways to build wealth. Our first plan was to build wealth with investment property. We were going to start with a single family home and work our way up to multi-family properties. Our long-term goal was to build a portfolio of properties that would provide income and create assets that we could pass on to our children.

Our First Foray Into the Rental Market

We purchased our first investment property in 2003. The house was next to a large military installation where there was a lot of demand for housing. At that time we had only owned our home for a few years and had no experience with rental properties. We hired a property manager to handle the day-to-day management.

Things started off well. The property rented quickly and the property manager handled the tenant issues. We received a check every month and didn’t have to deal with any problems. The house was fairly new so there were not a lot of maintenance issues. The housing market was on fire and by 2005 we had a six-figure net worth, even with our mortgage. American Dream here we come!

Then reality kicked in…

The first tenant only stayed for a year. The next tenant was always late with the rent. His utilities were turned off for non-payment. Instead of having them reinstated, he lived in the house with no utilities. It took several months to evict him and then several thousand dollars to repair the damages. We were not happy with how the property manager handled the situation and hired a new management company.

The new manager promised us the world! By this time we had two rental properties and were moving out-of-state for Mr. Tre’s work.  We really needed someone we could trust and she said all the right things.

The housing market collapsed soon after we moved. We went from a six-figure net worth to a negative net worth overnight. Demand for housing in the area also collapsed. We had to lower the rent to keep the properties occupied. Lower rents combined with the management fees put us in a negative cash flow position. Also, the property manager was deducting repair costs every month.  Both properties were less than 5 years old and it didn’t seem possible that they needed so many repairs. We were falling further and further behind.

One of the houses was vacated by a tenant that was two months in arrears on rent. The manager told us over the phone not to worry, it would be rented in a few days. Mr. Tre flew back to do a property inspection. The house had over $10,000 in damage! The property manager did not want to pursue the tenant for the damages or rent. We later found out that she did not take a security deposit when the tenant moved in.

How were we going to deal with all of this?

We terminated the contract with the property manager and began managing the properties ourselves. We took the property manager to court and won a judgement for the security deposit, but had to go after the tenant for the rest of the damages. It took several years and we only recovered about 25% of the actual damages.

5 things we learned from our crash-course in property management…

1. Do your research. Make sure you understand the market and the laws before investing in a property.
2. If you hire a property manager, check up on them. They are not as invested in your property as you are.
3. Have a good lawyer to help with the legal issues.
4. Have enough cash available to cover the mortgage and utilities for several months. There will be periods when the property is vacant.
5. Document everything! IRS audits. Tenants that don’t pay. Supporting documents and a good filiing system are a priceless.

Our future as landlords

After this experience we decided that owning investment property is not the way we are going to build wealth. We sold one of the properties last year. We still own the other property, but manage it ourselves. We’ve debated selling it and getting out of the real estate game. I would prefer to invest in a REIT, but Mr. Tre wants at least one investment property in our portfolio. For now, we are keeping the property, but we will see what the future holds.

Do you own investment property? What has your experience been?

Posted in Uncategorized
September 2nd, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Well, we made it through August with our finances somewhat intact. One business trip, two kiddos back to school, one husband back to school and one vacation at the Jersey Shore. Whew! That was a busy, expensive month. The goals? Hahahaha……

August Goals

Healthy Living  - Fail

I logged a whopping two cardio classes for the entire month and managed to lift weights five times. There was a lot of hiking and swimming, but not nearly enough to make up for my bad eating habits.

Blog – Fail

I was supposed to improve the layout and organization of the blog, but I barely managed to post. I did however accomplish a ton of work on my e-commerce site (which makes up for the lack of attention here) and relaunched it with a new look and lower admin costs.

Extra Income – Fail

The goal this month was $300, but I barely worked on anything. I was hoping some of the textbooks  would sell, but they haven’t yet. With my lack of attention, I earned $79.96 in extra income.

Enroll in a class – Pass

Not only did I enroll in a CPE class, but I finished my CPE plan for the year and managed to convince my employer to pay for one class. Major victory!!

Sign up for photography class – Pass

The class doesn’t start until October, but I am registered and counting down the days :-)

Here’s one more photo from our trip to the Jersey Shore…

 

Jersey Shore 2014

 

September Goals

Budget 

It’s been a while since we looked at our monthly budget. I think it’s time to sit down and reevaluate our financial goals.

Healthy Living

I seriously need to focus on my eating and exercise habits. I gained about 10 pounds over the summer and that has caused my hip problem to resurface. Which means constant pain until I get it sorted again. I’m headed back to the gym today and I’ve asked my doctor for a referral to a nutritionist to help me deal with the weight issue.

Blog

Improve the layout of the site and try to guest post on some other sites. Any advice on how to get started?

Extra Income

I’m setting the goal for $300 again.

I’m going to leave it at four goals for September. I know that work is going require long hours from now until next Spring (uggg) so I will focus on being healthy, fixing my hip and trying to be nice. Hip pain makes me a little cranky :-)

 

How was your August? Did you achieve your goals?

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized
September 1st, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Did you know you can submit your blog to Modest Money and be included in the list of Top Finance Blogs? Yes, it’s true!

There are over 370 blogs on the list now and Jeremy at Modest Money is looking for more.  I submitted House of Tre and got this cool badge for my site….

Top Finance Blogs
I may not have cracked the top 300 yet, but I’m on the list with some very cool blogs :-)

Submit your blog today and find out where you stand!

Posted in Uncategorized
August 31st, 2014 | 9 Comments »

This week on the House of Tre we talked about…

building wealth. How do you build wealth? Through a 401k? Investments? Owning your own business?

…the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher. Have you tried the app?

Okay, this should have been Update #12, but I’ve had a little trouble keeping on task the last couple weeks. The Jersey Shore was amazing! I didn’t realize how nice the beaches were. If you haven’t been, you must go! The drive was a little crazy (I forgot what it is like to drive near NYC), but we made it eventually :-) Tiny Tre was the only that brought DVDs to watch, so the teenagers spent six hours in the car watching Pokemon.

Jersey Shore August 2014

Jersey Shore August 2014

Labor Day weekend is rainy here so we’ll be staying inside. Maybe I’ll finally finish cleaning out all the closets :-) Do you have any plans for the long weekend?

Blogs I Loved….

I found so many great new blogs this week! Of course I also read my favorites :-) These are a few of my favorite posts…

…@beachbudget wrote about Redefining Yourself. It’s too easy to get stuck in a rut and limit yourself. I love that she is taking this chance!

….@budgetblogess is going Back To Basics: Living on Salary Only, Forget the Bonus. I think she’s on to something!

….@ShopMyCloset12 wrote that Following Mormon Fashion Blogs Will Save Your Job. This is a delicate subject every summer in our office.

One last link….have you seen this video about social mobility in America?

 

Hope you have a great long weekend!

Tre

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