Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 games of 2011

For the past two years I've written about my favorite 10 games that I was lucky enough to attend in person. If you were curious below are the links for both lists:
2009 - Winner: Game 163
2010 - Winner: Dolphins at Vikings

Now it is on for this year's list.

10. Magic at Timberwolves. Magic won 108-99. Some games are memorable because of exciting plays or a dramatic finish. This wasn't one of those games. It was a mid-season game between a terrible Timberwolves team and a much better Magic team. There wasn't much surprise in the 9 point win, except that maybe the final margin wasn't larger. Still this makes the end of the list because it was fun in person to watch Dwight Howard play in person. Going to see players on the opposing team was a main draw for Timberwolves fans and you might notice a common theme on this year's list.

9. Miami at Minnesota (football). Gophers won 29-23. In my time in Minnesota, I saw Miami play Minnesota in football twice. The first game was a painful double overtime loss at the Metrodome. This year the hope was this was different. Minnesota had just come off a home loss to New Mexico State and ended up finishing the year with a 3-9 record. Miami won the MAC title last year and had a veteran QB that I knew would lead them to a victory over the not so mighty Gophers. On the 3rd play of the game Miami completed a 66 yard pass to Minnesota's 9 yard line. They had to settle for a field goal, but I still felt good about the game. Anyway, it was back and forth for a while. Miami's special teams were terrible (a missed PAT and a blocked punt for a td), but still they had a shot. Down 13 points they finally started throwing on every play. They scored one td to put them down 6 with plenty of time left. When they got the ball on the 34 yard line with 3 minutes to go and a touchdown and a PAT away from a win, I knew this was the year. They drove the ball down to Minnesota's 20 (even completing a 4th and 10) and had one final play with a couple seconds left on the clock. Miami's QB threw his final pass into the endzone and the receiver literally had the ball (and most likely the win) in his hands. The Gophers cornerback was able to knock it out at the last second and Miami lost. It was an exciting game and fun to hang out with M and two other friends (who were rooting for the Gophers). Still this game meant that there would be two "what if" Miami games against Minnesota.

8. Blue Jays at Twins. Blue Jays won 11-3. It is normal in basketball to go see a game because of one player. The #10 game made that list because of Dwight Howard. It is not normally the same in baseball. However, this game was different in that Jose Bautista put on a show that was a new in-game experience for me. He hit three home runs and came up to bat in the 8th inning with a chance to hit four home runs in a game. 15 players have accomplished that feat in game, which makes it more rare than a perfect game. The three home runs were enough to put this game on my list, and with one more swing of the bat it would have easily been the #1 most memorable game of 2011.

7. Miami at Ohio State (hockey). Miami won 5-3. Hockey games can sometime stick together in my mind. I can remember that some team won and the score was probably something like 3-2, but individual plays or incredible players usually skip my mind. This game was slightly different in that it was much more of a high scoring contest, and as someone who now lives in Columbus and is married to an OSU grad it is always nice when Miami can give me bragging rights over Ohio State.

6. LA Clippers at Timberwolves. Clippers won 98-90. It is hard to remember much about this game besides the fact that Blake Griffin is really fun to watch live. I can normally point out this players by who gets M's attention. Off the top of my head I know she knows Dwight Howard, LeBron, Kobe and Blake Griffin. That are the only four current players that I am confident she knows about and can recognize. The reason she knows about Griffin was because I took her to both Clippers games this year because (apologies to the Mavs and the Heat) the 2010/2011 season will be remembered by Blake Griffin. I made her watch the Griffin dunk on the Knicks more than a couple times. Anyway, this game was fun and definitely worth the price of admission.

5. Heat at Timberwolves. Heat won 111-92. Another game, where the main attraction was the opposing team - that might tell you how great the 2011 season was for MN teams. Anyway, pretty much any time I see LeBron play it will be on my list of top 10 games. This year was especially fun because not only did I see LeBron, but also Wade.

4. Giants at Brewers. Giants won 5-4. There were a few highlights from this game. 1) Hanging out with my brother-in-law as he watched his favorite team. 2) Seeing Tim Lincecum pitch. 3) Watching Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam in his first game in the majors. 4) Finding out that Giants relieft pitcher Sergio Romo was born on the exact same day as me.  5) Watching Prince Fielder get thrown at home in a game that wasn't that much different from Buster Posey's injury. It was a fun, close game and it was especially nice seeing two good baseball teams since that was never an option at Target Field this year.

3. Indians at Twins. Twins won 2-1. Last year I bought five season tickets and there were three Twins games on the list. This past year I doubled down and bought 10 season tickets. There are only two Twins games on the list and the first one was only because of how bad the Twins pitching/how awesome Jose Bautista was. This game looked to be like most of the other Twins games this year. It slow, boring and painfully hot. The Twins didn't score a run for 8 innings and didn't really even threaten during that time. However, what is nice about baseball and has been said many times before is there isn't a clock and that any comeback is theoretically possible. The Twins were able to load the bases in 9th inning and won on a 2 run single by Danny Valencia. I love walk-off wins and this walk-off was both exciting and unexpected.

2. Thunder at Timberwolves. Thunder won 118-117 in overtime. I wrote a full review of this game and my *courtside experience back in February. I wrote that I could cross off one spot on my top 10 list and sure enough the game comes in at #2.

*The tickets were listed as courtside even though they were the 4th row.

1. Ohio State at Nebraska. Nebraska won 34-27.  Just like the game above, I also wrote about Nebraska's greatest comeback in Memorial Stadium history back in October. It is a worthy game to hold the #1 spot, and I can only hope I see one game like that in 2012.

Happy New Year's everyone.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Current State of Mind

The funny thing about writing about yourself is the level of criticism that come upon real emotion. If you tend to be nothing but positive, then people will think you are bragging and should show a proper level of modesty. The people on facebook who always write about their great life are pretty annoying - at least according to most of my friends. However, if you do nothing but complain then those same people will be upset at you for being negative. It almost seems like the world is just hoping everyone is as bland as most athletes during a press conference.

For the most part I follow the rules above. On facebook I wanted to write about how great my Christmas gifts were (an iPad, gift certificates to Chick-Fil-A, Skyline, etc), but refrained because I didn't want it to come across as bragging. Also, I'm not someone who likes to complain about big things like a job, family issues, etc. since airing any type of dirty laundry on such a public space seems foolish. Most of my facebook comments seem to fluctuate between thank yous to people or what I consider to be witty comments. Ex. my last facebook post was "I'm not saying that I took a new job just because it was close to a *Chick-Fil-A, but it is an added job perk." 

*I might have a Chick-Fil-A obsession, but that is another post for another day.

Anyway, for those of you that read the blog you get the more honest version. I will brag, complain and comment on my life. The reason is that I don't think many people really read this thing. Sure, I know that I have a few regulars and it isn't like I am going to be 100% unfiltered, since I know this blog is a simple Google search away from any potential friends or employers. Still, this gives me the time and space to write out my thoughts and hope that a few people out there care.
Now that is over let me just say how happy I am with my life. I have a wonderful, supportive wife who complements me in many ways. I admire the way she conducts herself, and we seem to share the same big picture thoughts on how our life should be led. It has been a welcome surprise to me how much I've enjoyed being married. One of the big reasons is that practically speaking it has led to a lot less stress. When you share decisions, responsibilities, etc it just makes things a lot more peaceful.

Also, I recently spent a week back home in Mississippi with my family and friends. It is amazing to me that I haven't lived in Mississippi for 10 years, but still can count on the same people. During the trip, M and I went to visit two of my friends at their parents houses, and we spent the time just sitting around talking. We told stories, provided updates on our lives and just enjoyed each other's company. M remarked that spending so much time with the parents of friends wasn't something that happened as much in Ohio. If that is the case then I am happy to have grown up in Mississippi. It gives me a sense of place to go back and spend time with both my friends and their parents. Also, they spoil me with their compliments and hospitality, so that isn't bad either.

As for other things I am happy to have a sister that I can still look up to. She (with help from her spouse of course) has done a great job of parenting my two nephews, and I am thrilled with the new additions to our family. It will be exciting as an uncle to see those two grow over the years. Also, just like always I can look at her life and (hopefully) see what my life will be like in 5-6 years. It was like that with high school, college, marriage, etc. She has always provided a good path for me.

Finally, I am always impressed with the people in my life that are naturally positive and uplifting. It is very motivating to spend time with people like my nephew H, my Mom, my friends, etc. They sometimes get upset (like normal people), but it isn't there natural state. I love being able to relax, smile and enjoy life without feeling like someone is getting short-changed or offended. It might be hard to define the same characteristics that make them that way, but the end result is that you want to spend more time with these people. Also,a a side note, I'm happy because it isn't like you get to pick your parents. It's blind luck. Thankfully, I'm happy with the cards that were dealt, and it is nice that over time the word "want" has replaced "have to" in the sentence "I have to spend time with my parents."

There are still things in my life that are missing. I'm new to a job, and it can be tough starting over again with a new company. I'm optimistic, since the work seems to be rewarding, and I like my coworkers. Also, we need to find a place to live, which means A) finding a house, B) negotiating a fair price, C) moving and D) getting used to a significantly higher mortgage payment. Finally, it has been difficult leaving Minneapolis and starting over in Columbus. I'm hoping to find a friend group that consist of the best of Mississippi and Minnesota, but I know that will likely take effort and time. One of my flaws is that I can be impatient, and that is probably true with the job, house and friend situations.

Anyway, maybe I am just in such a good mood because I had Chick-Fil-A for breakfast and Skyline for lunch (thanks to the gift cards) or because I am feeling especially flush with Christmas spirit. Things are most likely to change soon, so I thought that in the meantime I would write down the reasons for my current state of happiness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Looking back at 2011

As we approach another new year it is important to be reflective, while also creating a plan for the upcoming year. First to look back, 2011 continued a personal trend of big changes during odd number years. For whatever reason it seems like big changes tend to stick to odd number years.

In 1999, I switched from glasses to contacts and transitioned from a high school sophomore (awkward) to a high junior (a little less awkward). That year brought a new starting position on the basketball team and a girlfriend. Neither of those two points can be understated in terms of importance.

In 2001, I graduated high school and decided to move my life away from the only state I had ever really known. The decision to attend Miami University wasn't an easy one, but is something that I wouldn't ever want to change.

In 2003, nothing much really happened. This is the one big exception to my odd year = big life events.

In 2005, I graduated from Miami and went to work at Target. This again represented a big move as I continued my northern trek up to Minnesota. Also, I started the world of corporate America, which meant sleeping in on a Tuesday was no longer a possibility.

In 2007, I made the decision to stay in Minnesota. I had the opportunity to go to North Carolina (my ideal state), but turned down a job offer for a company in Minnesota. It is hard to think of what life would have been like if I had accepted the role in North Carolina.

In 2009, I (finally to some) proposed to my long time girlfriend M. We found a perfect two bedroom duplex in Edina and moved in together.

And in this past year, M and I and moved from Minnesota back to Ohio. This involved interviewing for new jobs, quitting are old jobs and moving back in with the in-laws. This decision was made with the future in mind. We both really loved Minnesota, but we our families in Mississippi and Ohio, it is probably short-sighted to think that was a reasonable place to live for the next 30 years.

That was the big news of the year and something that I probably couldn't have predicted at the beginning of the year. Besides that though M and I had a wonderful first full year of marriage. One of our main joys was traveling and with that we were very fortunate this year. Below were some of our trips:

  • I met my brother-in-law in Milwaukee for a Giants-Brewers game before driving back with him to Minneapolis. In retrospect this was especially important, since before we left it was nice to show Buck our favorite spots in the Twin Cities. 
  • We went down to Jackson for my nephew H's 4th birthday party. Also, it was great seeing my sister and brother-in-law's new house.
  • M and I spent a week in Mexico with M's parents. I wrote about this on my blog, but it was a great week soaking in a new culture. Also, I wouldn't mind the weather in the Mexico City area.
  • I had my annual Kansas City (a great success), Buffett (#4) and Vegas trips.
  • We also flew down to Columbus for my mother-in-law's 60th birthday. 
  • We had a few small roadtrips including a nice drive down to the Field of Dreams site in Iowa. That trip also included a single A baseball game between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Beloit Snappers. 
  • Finally, we were able to get M to attend a Malphurs family trip to Florida. This was really fun and relaxing. Also, the big highlight was meeting my new nephew. 
  • Our 2nd big trip of the year was the one over Thanksgiving to London and Paris. 
Looking forward to 2012, I don't think we will go on as many trips as the previous year. We are trying to do as much as we can for as long as we can because the advice we have been given is to take advantage of traveling while you are young and not tied down with children. Thankfully, I don't think we will look back on 2011 with any regrets.

Besides traveling, M and I enjoyed our final year in Minneapolis. It was tough leaving our friends, restaurants and duplex behind. M did a great job of suggesting a final night out at our favorite restaurant - Amore Victoria. We partially hosted (wine and some appetizers) a party for about 30 of our friends. That was a lot of fun. Also, we were taken aback by the generosity of some of our friends. Two of my good guy friends got me a rare, expensive bottle of whiskey called Pappy Van Winkle's. Also, another friend took me out to lunch, bought me a t-shirt and even lent me her husband to help with the move.

I might have mentioned in the past being disappointed with the number of Minnesota friends that showed up at our wedding. It seemed like after 5 years we should have had at least double digits at the wedding. I know that it was far away in Ohio, but again I was disappointed. However, this past year has reaffirmed my faith in Minnesotans. M made great friends through Junior League and I was happy to continue to spend time with my friends at Honeywell. I learned that the Minnesotans I hung out with might not wear their emotions on their sleeve, but they are genuine people. It has been tough in Ohio to not have the same connections. 

The sporting world could have gone a little better this year. Duke predictably lost in the Sweet 16. UNC

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas (I received an iPad!) and a happy New Year's. I know this has been a long post, but I had a lot to say that didn't make it into the Christmas letter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My personal guide to making money in your 20s

First off there are more important things than money. There are great friendships, loving families and so much more that makes life worth living. To judge your life strictly by your balance sheet is a crude and simplistic way of looking at something more complex.

That being written I think that being financially well-off is important in a life. It just makes things easier. For example M and I just got back from London and Paris. If we didn't feel comfortable with the amount of money we had saved up and plan to make in the future then we wouldn't spend the money to go on that trip. My father always would say something like "we can do anything we want - just not everything" to describe our financial situation. I always liked that saying and tried to emulate my parents by recreating that situation. I think M and I are at that point in our life, which is a product of good luck and hard work. I feel confident saying that our financial situation is very healthy and looking back on the decisions we made here is my advice to people. 
  1. Make your own decisions. It is your own financial life and you should trust your own judgement if for no other reason than ultimately you are the only facing the consequences of your financial decisions. If you've done the research and feel comfortable with your analytical abilities then disregard what other people might say. This doesn't mean you can just play things by emotion and turn a blind eye to rational thought. Just because someone at work says a stock is a great buy doesn't mean you are off the hook on thinking about it yourself. In the end the money you put into that stock is your money and you have to take full responsibility for that.
  2. Don't buy a starter home. I am very strict about certain rules about home buying and this is one of them. The reasoning I have on this is that starter homes don't make much sense for a variety of reasons. First off it is a starter home then it means their are some less than desirable characteristics about the home. It might not have enough bedrooms or be in a bad school district. Why would you lock yourself into that type of home? Also, once it is time to sell then you have to pay the real estate fees to go from a starter home into your next home. The transaction costs are too high. Finally, while you are in your 20s there is a decent chance your salary will increase. I wouldn't have wanted to buy a home based on the salary I made at 22 compared to the salary I make now. 
  3. Don't buy a home until you are a married. There is too much risk if you lose your job and if you plan on getting married then your situation will completely change. You will go from one to two incomes and what you might want/need will change with another person's opinion. The result is that the type of home you might want and could afford will change. If you want to get married then just wait till then before you buy a home.
  4. Put 20% down on a home. If you can't put 20% down on a home then you probably shouldn't buy a home. It might be tough to do, but that type of financial discipline should be required before you buy a home.
  5. There is good debt and bad debt, but mostly debt is bad. Debt is an albatross that you carry until it is paid off. Depending on the interest rate you can pay 2 to 3 times the amount the product/good is actually worth. Now their are good types of debt, like for example my one friend who went to a prestigious law school and is now making a healthy salary as a lawyer. That type of debt is understandable. However, besides the obvious bad debt (credit card bill thanks to a new 60 inch tv) their is good debt (school loans or mortgage) that will severely limit your ability to accumulate money. If you want to go to a random private school then by all means go for it. However, just know the $120K in student loans you took on will eventually have to be paid. Again, I am not writing that going to a private school is a wrong decision for your personal life, but financially it might set you back. 
  6. Luck plays an important part in your life and one should not to discount that variable. There is a difference between making a bad decision and getting a bad outcome and making a bad decision and getting a good outcome. In the first scenario you get what you deserve and probably will keep that in mind when you face a similar situation. In the second scenario though you might think that you made the correct decision because of the outcome. The best example of this would be something simple like blackjack. If you hit on a 14 when the dealer is showing a 6 then you made a poor decision. It doesn't matter if you get a 7 and win the hand. Another real world example of this would be back when I first started investing in 2007. I felt that investing in the stock market was a good idea and even when the market crashed in 2008 and 2009, I kept my money (and even added money) into the market. I am happy that I did that and didn't think that the bad luck of investing at the wrong time made the decision to invest a bad one. Anyway, understand the importance of luck and distinguish between making good decisions and being lucky.
  7. Keep a budget. It could be as simple as writing down the amount of money in each one of your accounts (checking, savings, 401K, etc) and also the amount of money you make and spend. Find something that works for you. I keep the data in about 15 categories (rent, entertainment, groceries, etc), but the important thing is to know whether or not you gross or lose money every month. From M and I's budget I know how much legroom we have between what we make and spend. That money we save and also reinvest in the stock market.
  8. Do well at your job, but also don't be unduly loyal to a company. I've enjoyed both of my previous companies, but I always knew that any given moment I could be let go. I was an at-will employee and I have enjoyed that freedom to quit. The ability to quit has provided me the two largest raises of my career. There are many things to consider with a company (the people you work with, vacation hours, etc), but unfortunately sometimes the best way of getting ahead in terms of salary is to leave for another company. Again there are plenty of exceptions to that rule, but that has been my experience and I wouldn't want somebody to rot away at a company that most likely doesn't care about you.
  9. The earlier you find out what you want to do with your career the better off you will be. Just like switching homes can be costly, it also be costly to switch careers. You can make money in most professional avenues, but normally the salary you make is tied to your experience level. If you completely switch careers you probably go to the bottom of the ladder. 
  10. ETFs are better than Mutual Funds because of their low expense ratio. Unless you really believe a Mutual Fund manager can consistently beat the market (I don't) then pick the type of portfolio you want (large/mid/small cap, growth/value, etc) and look at the expense ratio. 
  11. Save aggressively when you can because eventually you will have a mortgage, kids (I was just told by a friend to estimate day care as another mortgage) and other expenses. The more you can bank away now (6 months of living expenses can be tough to save up, but is important) the better. It should go without saying, but it is wise to invest in your company's 401K to at least the percent that the company matches.
  12. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to money. If you think that just by ignoring something then it will magically get better then you need to grow up. When I was a teenager I didn't really worry about money besides what I had in my pocket. However, that excuse doesn't really work when you are an adult. You should know where your money is, what it is doing there and why you are choosing that path for your money. You probably work hard for your money, so take care of it.
  13. The morning coffee at Starbucks adds up, but the real cost you should be worried about are your big expenses. Most money advice articles I read suggest giving something up like a $3 cup of coffee to help with your financial situation. If you get a $3 cup of coffee every day at work for the 49 weeks your work (assuming 2 weeks of vacation and 1 week of holidays) then you spend $735 a year. That is definitely important and adds up, but it isn't as important as choosing a Civic instead of a Lexus or a reasonable apartment compared to luxury apartment. M and I spend money on smaller expenses, but I think the main reason we have been able to save money is by managing our big (I call them fixed costs on our budget) expenses.
  14. Understand the risks/rewards and the worst case scenario. Often people can be too optimistic (e.g. home prices will always go up) and don't factor in what might go wrong. It might not be the best way of living life, but I have found that a lot of my best choices I've made are ones that I've decided against because of the added risk and possible worst case scenario. 
Also, despite the fact that I've spent four years as a forecaster doesn't mean I can predict the future. I might make mistakes as soon as we put an offer on a home, and I try to understand that. Things have worked out in M and I's favor and for that I primarily thank both of our parents. They have provided good examples of a strong work ethic and/or good decision making. The luck of who are parents are (because you can't really choose them) was the most important factor in where we are now. That factor is out of your control, but what should be in your control are the 14 points above.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

House Hunting in Ohio

Big changes happening in M and I's life. My last post was from Paris, and since then we flew back to Minnesota, spent a week packing, hosted a going away party, said goodbyes to our friends and drove to Ohio.That all led up to a day of house hunting yesterday. We are looking at this small city about 10 minutes from downtown Columbus and 15 minutes from where we will work. The homes were mostly built in the 1920s and the neighborhood seems to be a very close-knit community. At lunch our real estate agent knew about 5 different people at the restaurant. Everyone seems to know everybody else in Bexley.

Anyway, we found three different homes we really liked. Since then one went under contract, but there are still a few options. Below is what we were considering.

303 S. Ardmore Road:
  • Pros: Great kitchen and lower level (family room, sun room, etc). Also, really nicely maintained. Finally, a better price.
  • Cons: 3 bedrooms and the 3rd bedroom is more the size (8' x 10') of a nursery.
2354 Bexley Park Road:
  • Pros: Really great lower level. There is a finished basement, but it is small.
  • Cons: Expensive. Also, the backyard could use improvement. The kitchen is small too, but there might be an easy fix on that.
There is a 3rd option as well, but it is a home this guy bought and is rehabbing the entire inside. It looks terrible now, but should look amazing when he is finished. We saw another home he rehabbed and were extremely impressed. Lots of big decisions ahead. Do we buy one of the ones above? Do we wait till more come on the market? Do we go with the rehab one? We will be doing another round of house hunting tomorrow.