Financials


My sister and her boyfriend have made the monumentous decision to purchase real-estate together.  They’re looking for something in the $100k – $120k range, and are willing to live in less-desirable neighborhoods in a home with high demands for improvements.  They have exactly $20k in savings, which they plan to use entirely for their down payment. 

Frankly, I believe this to be a terrible idea.  Not buying a home, but using every penny that you have to fund your home purchase.  Particularly when buying a home that requires repair.  But when the only way to afford a house is to spend all of your savings, is it then appropriate?

I have had extensive conversations with F, my pseudo-brother-in-law, about this choice they’ve made.  “We need the money to get a loan,” he’ll say.  “But what happens if there’s an emergency for which you need that money?” I’ll protest.  “We’re going to get a credit card for those situations,” F counters.  “But…(gasp)….if you don’t have the money when the emergency comes up………” I pause, trying to catch my breath “……….how are you going to pay the credit card in full when the bill comes?”

To date, he has yet to come up with a good response.

Here are two people that struggle with their finances on a fairly regular basis, and now they plan to stretch themselves even further, with no financial cushion, to realize the dream of owning their own home. 

Meanwhile, in the Mid-West, R’s brother and his wife are preparing to take the mortgage plunge as well.  Not only are they stretching themselves to pay for it, but they’ve also accepted an adjustable-rate term on a portion of their mortgage.  Due to a combination of factors, including low income levels, lack of employment stability, and poor credit, this was the only way they were able to get financed.

R has done his best to dissuade them from buying the house, but they, like my sister and F, are steadfast in their decision. 

I started to wonder why both couples, so abrubtly, decided to buy a house on limited finances, with almost no forethought.  They have not been saving for this goal.  They have not done the legwork to find out how much home they can afford, the burden of property taxes, or the cost of repairs.  They have not spent the last several years evaluating different houses and architectures they like and dislike so that they can confidently make a decision about they type of home they want to live in.  So why, all of a sudden, do they have a burning desire to be homeowners?

Maybe because the time feels so right.  The media, the real-estate industry, the government: they’re all trying to convince us now is the time to buy.  If you don’t buy a house RIGHT NOW you’ll miss the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.  All of those good deals will slip right between your fingertips, and years from now, when you’re still renting, you’ll look back with regret on your one chance to buy a home.  Don’t miss the boat!

Even I am not immune to these persuasions.  I was recently reading an article about home prices seeing a surprising increase, and momentarily worried that if we didn’t buy a house now, our window of opportunity would close.  And I find myself a bit envious of R’s brother and his wife.  While we have been tentative and indecisive about moving forward with buying a house, they are going for it.  I suppose there is risk with every reward.  But I will not be bullied into making the biggest investment of my life, just because I am afraid it’s now or never.  And maybe that’s true – maybe it is now or never.

But I think I would rather be a financially comfortable renter than a bankrupt owner.

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Editor’s Note: I initially prepared this post before we moved from the NW, so some of the tricks I had used there are no longer applicable.  No longer can I utilize aternative commuting methods, because driving to various sites throughout the day is a part of my job.  Despite this, I still believe there are good tips within this post, and therefore decided to post it anyway.  Also, since writing, I stumbled upon a similar post by Frugal Dad in which he compiles 122 reader-suggested money saving tips.  You can check it out here.
Every time I see an article promising me easy ways to cut costs, and save money, I feel a rush of excitement followed immediately with disappointment.  Most of these articles are full of ideas that I am already doing – bringing my own coffee to work, brown-bagging my lunches, taking the bus, planning a menu, etc.  All great advice!  But not so helpful for those of us already doing it.
 
I save $1000 every month, sometimes more if I’m lucky enough to get a bonus or a third paycheck that month (I’m paid every two weeks, instead of twice a month).  I am not including my retirement savings in this number.  This accounts for roughly 1/3 of my take-home pay.  But sometimes, I feel like I could and should be saving more.  And so I search for ways spend less, and save more. 
 
I have compiled two lists below.  The first is a list of unconventional wisdom for saving money.  These are ideas that had never crossed my mind until I was lucky enough to find them.  The second is a collection of my favorite, tried and true tips for saving money.  All tips on this list are things that have, without a doubt, had a substantial impact on my spending habits.
 
 
Creative ways to $ave
1.  Remove unused cargo racks – How did this never occur to me?  I have a set of racks atop my car that we use occasionally for bike transport.  But the only purpose they serve when not in use is looking cool.  And how cool can I possibly look driving around, wasting gas?
2.  Keep your eyes open for new restaurants.  They typically offer grand opening specials. – I haven’t tried this yet.  And, I suppose, I could be risking a poor dining experience – we don’t eat out often, and when we do, we like to go places we know and love.  But it might we worth a shot.
3.  Collect vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer. As soon as it’s full, make a soup out of them. R insists that the best soup bases are homemade.  I wouldn’t know, because I never have enough ingredients at the same time to make my own.  But this is a fantastic idea.
4.  Pay for your laundry and car usage. – Act as if you’ve returned to the laundromat, and pay yourself for each load of laundry.  The idea is that your usage will be reduced, and you’ll have some extra moolah to save.
5.  Switch to cloth napkins. – I think this is debatable.  Sure, you save money when buying napkins or paper towels – which are pretty inexpensive to begin with – but you spend more washing the cloth napkins.
6.  Use you local park’s playground as a workout station.  Monkey bars can be used for pull-ups and leg lifts. The park will also have a trail where you can run. – Makes it kind of hard to justify that gym membership during the summer.  Winter may be a different story.
7.  Plant a tree next to your outside air conditioning unit. By shading your outside unit you may improve the operating efficiency of the overall system by 20%. – I don’t own a home, and don’t use an air conditioner.  And I would also point out that one would either have to wait a long time for a new tree to provide enough shade to make a difference, or they would have to purchase a mature tree – the cost of which may outweigh the savings.  But either way – talk about thinking outside the box!
8.  Stay at a college dorm room when traveling. Many universities rent out dorm rooms at a decent price during the summer. – Speaking of “thinking outside the box.”  I attended a basketball camp in my youth, and we had the great fortune of staying in the dorms.  It was a great experience at the time, but I don’t know how much I would enjoy it in my adult life.  
 
My Favorite ways to $ave
1.  Keep the Change – This works for the debit card/checking system, and the cash system.  Every time I spend money, I round the amount up to the next full dollar amount when recording the transaction in my budget or check register.  If we spend $50.87 at the grocery store, that $0.13 gets thrown into our change jar.  It can really add up to some substantial savings – R and I have saved up $600 in less than a year with this method! 
2.  Bring lunch from home – R still eats out quite a bit during the workweek.  These meals come out of his personal money, so it’s none of my business.  But I do know that the teriyaki place he visits, which represents the cheapest place he dines, costs him almost $7 per meal, after tip.  Just three days of eating there per week costs him $84 a month.  That’s over $1K a year.  Meanwhile, my “work lunches” budget gets $20/month, only costing me $240 a year. 
3.  Brew coffee at home – I’ve mentioned this before, but this is a great way for me to save money.  However, I do have a boss who walks to get a cup of coffee down the street every day.  At first, I thought about how much money he must be throwing away on his daily caffeine fix.  It took many months for it to dawn on me that he needed a guaranteed escape for just a few minutes each day.  For some, maintaining sanity in a stressful atmosphere may prove well worth the cost of the coffee.
4.  No cable/No TV – When I was growing up, my parents refused to purchase cable tv.  Once I moved out, I continued the resistance to paid television.  And then, about a year ago, R and I gave up our television entirely.  We occasionally watch full tv show episodes online (ABC, NBC, FOX, Hulu, and many others are great places to find your favorites!), but we mainly use our time doing other things.  Not only are we saving money by keeping the cable bill away, but it also helps our relationship – instead of vegging out in front of the tv every night, we have the opportunity to talk to each other, or get out and do something else.  Seriously – getting rid of our tv may have been the best thing we’ve done.
5.  Alternative commuting – My alternative commuting has come up before, but it bears repeating: I have saved hundreds of dollars in gas money by driving to work less.  There’s a great site, Drive Less, Save More, that lets you open a free trip diary and track all of your alternative commutes.  It also lets you see your results, ie. how much money you’ve saved.  In June and July, by alterna-commuting 3 days a week, I saved approximately $240 in gas.  That comes out to about $1440/year.  Pretty substantial.
6.  Mini-trip biking.  R and I live about a mile from the nearest library, and 2 miles from the nearest grocery store.  We tend to make these trips fairly frequently (though, the grocery store trips have been reduced since we started menu planning).  In the past, we would always hop in the car and drive on over.  Now we’ve been hopping on our bikes instead. I don’t have a way to quantify the money we’ve saved, but I feel confident that it has made a difference in our overall fuel consumption.
7.  Library.  I.  Love.  The library.  No joke.  Movies, books, magazines – all can be directed to the local branch, all online.  It’s amazing.  I have saved so much money by not buying the books I want to read, or the patterns I want to knit, or the movies I want to see.  It is awesome.
8.  Menu Planning.  I have gone back and forth over the years with my dedication to menu planning, but it’s due to laziness, and not a lack of effectiveness.  When I plan a weekly menu, I visit the store only once per week.  I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner that night, or wait for chicken to thaw, because I can take it out the night beforehand.  We eat out less, because we have everything we need to make dinner at home.
9.  Snacks in my desk drawer.  I keep a collection of healthy snacks in the drawer of my desk – keeps me away from the vending machine when I get that mid-afternoon stomach growl.
10.  Rechargeable batteries.  The recharging center was an investment that I was reluctant to make, but it’s turned out to be a great one.  I purchased 4 AA rechargeable batteries.  My digital camera needs two, so I keep two in the camera, and two charged up in the case.  This way, I’m never making last minute stops at the 7-11 to buy new ones after the old batteries run out!  And believe me, this has happened far more than I’m comfortable admitting. 
11.  Digital camera.  When R and I first got together, he tried encouraging me to get a digital camera, but I didn’t want to – I liked having the physical photos in my hand.  But I always bought those cheap throwaway cameras, because I was so terrified of losing a nice one.  I finally received a digital for Christmas, and I’m totally converted.  Less printing costs, less camera costs, and better quality photos – score!  Not to mention the plethra of online companies offering free prints to new customers.  Find out How To Get 1,761 Free Digital Prints!
12.  Empty water bottle.  Bringing an empty water bottle to the airport to fill up on the other side of security has saved me, on several occasions, from purchasing an overpriced beverage once inside. 
 
And there it is: the best savings advice I have to offer. 

Need more?  Also see:

For about the last two years, R and I have been weighing our first real-estate purchase.  Back in the NW, we came frighteningly close to spending multiple hundreds of thousands of our hard-earned dollars on a beautiful 1906 craftsman that turned out to have major electrical problems and therefore failed our inspection.

I remember, at the time, feeling so let down and disappointed.  My imagination had run wild with ideas about this house; the decorating, hosting, raising a family….that when the deal fell through, I genuinely believed that we had lost the home we were meant to buy.  In the brilliance of hindsight, letting go of that house now feels like the most intelligent decision we ever made.  We would have been stretching ourselves to make the payment, our lives would have been tied to that house, and its geography, and – while we didn’t know this at the time – both of our jobs were in serious jeopardy. 

R was employed by a supplier within the automotive industry.  Shortly after resigning his position to join me in my hometown, said supplier eliminated more than 35 jobs of the original 75.  Of those positions, over half were a part of R’s former department.

Meanwhile, back at my former employer, the budget was in serious decline as well.  As a retail and manufacturing organization, they had done well for the past several decades.  But their products are exceptionally well made, making them a bit steep in the affordability factor.  Additionally, their main product line is used primarily in home building and remodeling – which, as we all know, is a practice many people discontinued in the midst of this economy.  I recently heard from a former coworker who told me of a round of layoffs that affected over 30% of the entire workforce.  This massive layoff included positions ranging from janitorial work to the executive team members.  Needless to say, the remaining 70% are highly fearful and uncertain of the stability of their jobs.

At the time, we also didn’t realize how strong the pull to return home would be for me.  Had we gone through with the deal, that beautiful house, which I so desparately adored, would have turned into a terrible burden.  We would have been prisoners to the investment of money and time it required.  Perhaps we would have finally given in to our joint craving for a canine companion.  And before we knew it, we would have established the NW as our home.  Which, I should probably confess, R likely may have preferred it.  But I imagine I would have resented it.

Now, back in my hometown, our sense of permanency is strong.  With R’s “green collar” job, and mine in the healthcare industry, we’re also back to feeling pretty secure.  And we’re back to discussing real-estate. 

Let’s just hope it’s not a case of history repeating.

Long before I ever met R, he had established a certain “green-collar” type company as his dream job.  Said dream job just so happened to be based in my hometown.  Where we now live.

A spectacular combination of experience, industry connections, a good friend, and pure, dumb luck somehow led to an offer with this organization.  The only catch would be his status as an employee.  R is not officially employed at his dream job, but instead works a contract that offers between 30 and 40 hours per week, at a very decent hourly wage.  Because he is employed as a contractor, there are no benefits included with his position, and we are responsible for “withholding” our own tax money.

There are pros and cons associated with this form of self-employment.  From R’s perspective?  Mostly pros.  From mine?  Hard to say.

You see, I don’t think R has worked a single 40-hour week since our move.  He goes in late and comes home early.  He’s usually barely out of bed as I’m leaving in the morning, and is always home before me.  I originally attributed this behavior to a sudden laziness, which I had never known was within him. 

Our finances began to suffer, because we were budgeted for him to work a specified number of hours per year, and he wasn’t doing that.  So many areas of our budget faced a serious shortfall.  I finally brought this up in a discussion one evening.  I laid down my concerns about our budget, as well as my concern that his vague hours could make him appear flaky to his colleagues, thus diminishing the chances of ever having the opportunity to be a permanent employee with the company. 

He calmly explained to me that, as a contractor, he costs the company a certain amount of money each hour he is there.  There are times when he faces a shortage of work to do, because he is waiting for a part of the project from someone else before he can proceed with his.  Other times, he needs a certain type of software to complete a project, for which there are only a small number of floating licenses.  His point was that every hour that he is costing the company money, he also wants to be either making or saving the company money.  If he is there just to be there and earn money, he’s going to appear as a poor investment.

We had to rearrange our budget, and I had to rearrange my expectations. 

The other big issue with the contractor status (other than my envy) is the payment schedule.   As a contractor, R is paid in net 30 terms.  This means at the end of a full month, he submits an invoice for all of the hours he worked throughout the month.  The company then has 30 days to pay him.  Which all boils down to mean we receive his paychecks a full two months after the work has been done.  Add to this a bit of, oh, let’s say absentmindedness from the person in charge of his contract, and we usually don’t receive his check until the second or third week of the month.

I had a very hard time with this at first, and finally, remembered what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck.  I make a decent wage, but the first several months we lived here, there was no money coming from R’s job.  At all.  I was supporting both of us on my income.  And I have to say, it was harder than I thought it would be, for several reasons. 

For one, we had all but thrown out our budget, and certainly weren’t tracking our spending.  Our money was divided between various accounts, some still in the NW, where we used to live, and some opened up in our new home.  I felt like I had little to no control over our finances.  Another reason was that, for the first time in my life, I felt as though I no longer had my own money.  Any money I made went to our expenses.  I felt stifled, like I no longer had the freedom to do with my money what I wished.  There was also an extraordinary amount of pressure that I’d never felt before. 

I felt such relief on the day that R received his first paycheck.  And even though it was a rough wait for it, the two month delay also means that if or when the contract is not renewed, we will still receive two full months of income from his work.

Ultimately, the self-employment has been a wonderful opportunity for R.  His flexible schedule has provided him with the ability to take a few days off to visit his family, or to spend time with them when they visit him.  The experience with this organization will look fantastic on his resume, and is a huge milestone on his career path.  It also provides him with the freedom nto explore and enjoy our new home.

Now if only I could find a way to curb my envy…

It’s beginning to look like I will be moving back home, and sooner than I had expected!  Our projected move date is October 5.  Wow.  There has been a pull for me to be closer to my family for some time now.  And though R’s family is here, he’s willing to give it a shot. 

Three years ago, when I moved to the Northwest, I was seeking a life-experience.  My biggest fear was that I would find myself stuck in the same place for the rest or my life, never doing anything, or being anything.  And so, I quit my comfortable job, stuffed my car with all the books, photos, and journals that would fit, sold the rest of my belongings, and started driving.  Several weeks before, my mom had accompanied me out here to find an apartment, so at least I would have somewhere to lay my head when I arrived. 
 
I remember that first day I arrived.  Once I had my hands on the key to my new place, I excitedly rushed in the front door.  The place was perfect for me; a small, 1940’s one-bedroom apartment.  Hardwood floors, vintage details, and a front and back door that both led out to lush courtyards.  After driving for two days, all I really wanted to do was take a shower.  And that was my first realization that, in my hustle to get rid of anything that can be replaced, I got rid of some “necessities.”  Like a towel.  And shower curtain. 
 
Fast-forward several years, and arrive at today, as I’m preparing to move back.  Once again, I am racing through the house, gathering things to get rid of to make the move a little easier.  On many occasions, I have made a valiant effort to “de-clutter.”  And I think I did a very good job of getting rid of everything that I didn’t need when I moved up here to begin with.  But the problem is, it doesn’t last.  I cannot seem to sustain my minimalist ambitions.  My inability to keep clutter at bay is evidenced by the fact that here I am, three years in the future, with a whole bunch of junk. 
 

R and I were discussing our financial preparations, and, remembering my shower curtain predicament, I suggested we carve out a “replacement” budget, which we can use to buy the items that we get rid of for the sake of the move.  At which point, he completely altered the way I’ve been thinking of, and have always thought of moving. 

 
“I think it is a mistake to think that we are getting rid of all of this stuff, and we will replace it with newer and better stuff once we arrive at point B.  It is more like we are reducing our possesions in order to live a less-cluttered, more minimalistic lifestyle.”
 
And it occurred to me that every single time I have ever moved, I have viewed it as an opportunity to get new “stuff.”  And I gradually accumulate more and more “stuff” until it is time to get new “stuff” again the next time I move. 
 
So we’re getting rid of a bunch of “stuff,” a large portion of which has been collecting dust in the basement for the past 2 years we have been co-habitating.  I mean, literally, untouched.  We’re taking to the pages of Craigslist, and half.com to try and purge our home of all of the crap we’ve gathered.  With any luck, we’ll be able to fund a portion of the move with the profits from the “stuff.”
 
And I’m going to try really, really hard not to replace it all. 
A while back, I mentioned my recent commute changes.  Most of my trips are made on the bus, but I occasionally manage to self-propel myself to work on a bicycle as well. 
 
R started to get into roadbiking a few years back.  When he was initially researching the purchase of his bike, I balked at the grotesque amount of money that people spend on roadbikes.  I mean, they’re bicycles!  Can’t you buy a bicycle at Target for under $100?  He tried to explain to me that weight is of the essence.  Carbon seatposts are all the rage.  Carbon what?  But, okay, honey, you go ahead and follow your passion, I told him, all the while feeling pretty lucky that we weren’t sharing our money.  When he rolled up on his new (read: used) LeMond, and told me he had paid $750 for it, I tried my hardest to keep the shock from visibly registering on my face. 
 
And I almost managed to maintain that straight face when he pulled on his padded shorts.  Almost.
 
If you are not already familiar with padded cycling shorts, allow me to provide you with a mental illustration.  Imagine a grown man.  Now imagine him wearing a diaper.  Finally, picture skin-tight black spandex pulled over the diaper.  Laughing?  I was.
 
He tried to explain the “necessity” of such garments by telling me the bike seat is too hard to sit on for long periods of time, and the padding makes the ride bearable.  Why doesn’t he just get a more comfortable seat, I wondered?  Apparently, cushier seats are heavier – but the extra weight on your ass doesn’t matter…
 
Anyway, he rode around merrily for many months before he finally convinced me that I, too, needed a bike.  “It’s a great work out!” he enthused, “and so refreshing to get a little exercise before work in the morning.  You’re probably spending more on your car every month than you would need to spend on a bike.   After all, gas is nearing $3 a gallon – you’ll save a lot of money,” he said.  You may be thinking, wow, under $3 a gallon!  So cheap – that must have been a long time ago.  But not really.  Just 16 short months ago.  Either way, at the time, we were all biting our nails down to the nubs in anticipation of $3/gallon gas. 
 
I agreed to spend $400 on a bike.  This still seemed like an enormous amount of money, but I was paying more than $300/month on my car payment, and $150 on insurance.  Not to mention the cost of gas, and other maintenance.  Add to that the “commuter incentive” offered by my employer – ride to work just 14 days a month, and receive an extra $20!  My optimism convinced me that 14 days a month would be cake.  I quickly realized that was not the case.  Turns out 9 miles uphill is not a very enjoyable way to spend a blazing afternoon more than once or twice a week. 
 
Channeling the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, R went about searching the pages of Craigslist for a good bike for my induction into the cycling world.  Within a few days, he had found one that he breathlessly described as perfect for me.  We headed out to a city suburb to take a look, and after a brief test-ride around the neighborhood, we had a deal.  Heading back into town, we talked about the cycling adventures we would go on, the great shape we would be in, and the loads of fun we would have.
 
I wish I could say I fell instantly in love with cycling.  But it was a slow beginning for me.  I had imagined our “adventures” as leisurely rides in the sunshine, the breeze swaying and birds singing.  R, on the other hand, wanted to push himself (and, by default, me) – and he had a better bike to do it on.  So I didn’t really want to ride very often.  And besides, I’m pretty sure my butt-cheeks were getting bruised by the hard plastic seat.  Every once in a while, I was able to convince myselft to ride to work, but I didn’t enjoy it the way many of my co-workers seemed to.  
 
Meanwhile, R’s passion for cycling continued to grow.  He set out to build his very own, high-end bike out of a Fuji frame and various components purchased off Craigslist and Ebay.  I must say, it turned out very well – I was impressed.  So while he began his new relationship with the Fuji, the poor Lemond sat neglected in the cold, dark basement.  Until I volunteered to give it a little exercise.  Turns out, $350 makes a world of difference in the quality of a roadbike.  The ride was so smooth, the seat so comfortable, the handlebar so sturdy – I had never known cycling to be this way!  I enjoyed it so much, I ramped up my bike commuting to once or twice a week.  Still not enough to qualify for the alternative commuting benefit, but I felt great.  It helped, I’m sure, that it had become summer, and the sun shined often, while the rain disappeared. 
 
Here we are, one summer later, and I am again riding to work once or twice a week.  I am not ashamed to confess my lack of dedication to bicycling during the winter months, when the dark and rainy mornings make for a miserable (and not very visible) ride in. 
 
And I have one more confession to make. 
 
How do I survive my 20-mile, round trip, commute?  With padded shorts.
Every childhood birthday that I can recall, my grandmother  gave me a $50 US Savings Bond.  At the time, I found great disappointment in the lack of a glittery new toy, but I now feel deep appreciation for her foresight.  My dad kept these savings bonds locked away in his safety deposit box for years, until I requested possession of them just a few weeks ago.   Browsing my way through the TreasuryDirect site, I figured my bonds to be worth just under $500.  Not an enormous amount of money, but a decent chunk of cash.  
 
I thought long and hard about the best way to use this money.  Add to my emergency fund?  Deposit to my Roth?  Shopping spree?  It was also becoming clear to me that the stock market is taking a full-on nosedive, and it seemed like it might be a good time to throw some money into the fire.  There were good deals to be had, I was sure.  So I decided to use this money to introduce myself to the investing game.  
 
Currently, my 401k contribution is at 5%, with just one of those percents being matched by my employer.  That money is invested – but I don’t know anything about it.  It’s all done through the investment company, and my participation in the process is limited.  So when I decided to start investing my $500, I had no idea where to start.  R was kind enough to help me set up an account through Charles Schwab – which still sits empty.  He showed me how to view the stock’s history, and look for indicators that the value might be rising.  He pointed me in the direction of Investor’s Business Daily, and suggested I join a simulated stock trading game.  
 
But I still didn’t get it.
 
I signed up for the “fantasy stock market” and perused the pages of Google finance.  And I have no idea what to do with all of that information!  There’s a big search window to “get quotes,” but what am I getting quotes for?  I understand the idea of buying and selling shares, but that represents the entire body of my knowledge on the subject.  How do I figure out what companies I want quotes for
 
All of the money advice I see includes the dire need to invest money.  Well, I have the money!  I just don’t know how to do the “invest” part of it.  Do most people use brokers for this sort of thing?  Or are most people just more intuitively capable of choosing where to put their money than I am?
 
So finally, I returned to the Charles Schwab site, and started researching some stocks.  R showed me how to build a custom screener, and I selected a few that interested me.  I googled all of the companies, and dug up all the dirt I could find.  The companies that I still liked after an exhaustive investigation – I must have clicked on three different links for each of them! – I settled on six stocks that I am interested in purchasing.  I headed over to my fantasy stock trading game, and purchased 15 shares of each.  This way, I can continue to hover on the edge of real investing, and just dip my toes in the idea of it.  I’ll watch the stocks for a little while, and see if any give me a heart attack.  Maybe I’ll add some more, maybe I’ll get rid of some.  And then, well, I suppose I’ll dive in – or, more likely, belly flop. 
 

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