Friday, October 18, 2019

Financial Friday | The Importance of the Emergency Fund

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We interrupt the Vancouver vacation posts with an important Financial Friday post.  The topic today is emergency funds.  Do you have 3-6 months of living expenses saved up?  If you don’t, I highly recommend that you work towards that right now.  Today.  And I would go for closer to 6 months than 3 months.  Your long term investments like a 401k will not help you if unexpected things happen to you, such as losing your job, or your water heater starts leaking.  Which is exactly what happened to us two days ago.

Our water heater was 8 years old.  We got it replaced in November of 2011.  On Wednesday we noticed that it was leaking.  Once a water heater starts leaking, it’s pretty much done.  And you don’t have hot water until you get another one installed.  So I spent yesterday morning calling local plumbing companies for quotes on 50 gallon water heaters with different warranty periods.  The first company came out at 10 am for free to look at it and provide an estimate of costs to replace it.  We will call this Company A.  The plumber, David, showed up right on time.  He called as he was leaving his prior engagement and gave me a 30 minute warning.  Not only that, but his company emailed me my appointment time with a photo of him and his name, so that I know who’s coming and what he looks like.  I really appreciated that since Todd was at work and I was home alone.  Now that’s white glove service!

David from Company A helped me shut off the water to the tank so it stopped leaking.  Then he got to work on his tablet to provide me with some quotes.  They were all for a certain 50 gallon tank but it was three quotes for three different warranty periods (from 6 years to 10 years).  He showed me his quotes and I almost peed my pants.  It ranged from $3,200 to $4,000!  I know we paid $1,200 in 2011 for this water heater, so I was aghast at what it cost through Company A.  He probably saw my face, because next thing he offered financing. 

Because Todd and I have built up our emergency fund (we have more than 6 months of living expenses saved up), we never actually need financing for these types of emergencies.  But I always act like I don’t know finance and ask them to give me the details anyways, for funsies.  Because I like to hear what their pitch is, and what the interest rate is, so that I could calculate how much interest I’m NOT paying, and how much money I saved myself by having an emergency fund. 

He told me that the monthly payment was only $61… for 10 years!  Like I said in my previous Financial Friday post, car salespeople, home loan salespeople, and anyone whose job is to SELL you things will tell you that you can afford something because you can afford its monthly payment.  But what is the real cost to you if you use their financing?  I asked him what the annual interest rate was, and he said “9.9%”.  So I plugged that into my spreadsheet (after he left, of course) and found out the truth.

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First of all, even the $4,000 quote at 9.9% APR yielded a monthly payment of $52.64, so his $61/month must have included some hidden fees.  Second of all, if you pay for your water heater with their financing over 10 years, you paid $6,265 for that water heater, rather than $4,000.  You are paying $2,265 in interest.  That’s steep, my friends.  And the water heater probably won’t even last 10 years!

So I called Company B plumbing to come out.  I spoke to a nice lady named Sarah on the phone, and she gave me a verbal quote of $1,422 for a 50 gallon tank with 8 years warranty.  So this price was more like it!  They sent a nice plumber named John out and he also was on time and arrived around 1:30 PM.  He evaluated the situation and told me the replacement 50 gallon tank with 8 year warranty would be $1,780.  Say what?  I asked him “What’s the difference between the price you just gave me, and what Sarah quoted me on the phone?” And he asked, “What did Sarah quote you?”  I said, “$1,422”.  Then immediately he said, “Ok, then I’ll honor that price that Sarah quoted you”.  Dude…. really?  I was actually thinking to myself, wow, I should have said, “Sarah said it was $600, and that you gave out free chocolates”.   You guys!  Beware of such tactics!  They’re making money off you and the price is ALWAYS negotiable!

So John went to get the new tank and came back to install it.  It took him about three hours to take out the old tank and install the new one.  At the end, I asked what forms of payment he took.  He said, “cash, check, credit card.”  So of course I used a credit card.  We get cash back, and it’s like a floating loan until the payment is due.  We always pay our credit card statements in full.

So the moral of this story is three fold:

  1. Build up your 6 month emergency fund so you can pay for emergencies like this.  Taking cold showers is no fun!  Store your 6 month emergency fund in a savings account or money market mutual fund.
  2. Always get multiple quotes so you can get the best price.  (In this case it was a difference between $3,200 and $1,400!)  And ask for discounts, coupons, specials.  Negotiate the price or at least ask for a little less.
  3. Paying for an emergency like this with financing will cost you dearly.  See #1, build up your emergency fund.
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Fall Trip | Vancouver Day 4 Stanley Park

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On Sunday 10/6 we decided to check out Stanley Park in the morning, since the forecast said no rain yet.  But first, breakfast!  We walked to Breka Bakery & Cafe on Davie Street, just a couple of blocks from our hotel.  It was well-reviewed on Yelp and on Google, so we were excited to try it out.  As you may recall, Todd does not like breakfast food in general due to his dislike of eggs and cheese.  But he does like pastries!

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Believe it or not, pastry boy did eat most of BOTH the apple fritter donut and the apple strudel!  He deemed both very delicious.  I got the spinach & artichoke pocket, which had a filo dough pastry outside, filled with spinach, artichoke, and cheese.  They heated it up in a panini press.  It was delicious.

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Three breakfast items, one chai latte, and one Americano… it all cost only about $20 CAD or $15 USD.  We can’t get good food this cheap in San Diego!

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After breakfast, we walked to the Yaletown skytrain station to purchase the TransLink $10.50 CAD all day compass pass, which allows you to ride public transportation all day on the Vancouver buses, trains, and ferries.  We planned to take the bus to Stanley Park, take it back to the hotel, then take the bus to Gastown round trip the same night as well.  It was cheaper to get the all day pass than pay separately for the bus tickets.  After purchasing the passes, we walked a block and caught the bus towards Stanley Park. 

Also of note:  Google Maps is AWESOME for navigating metropolitan areas.  You can compare the travel time on foot, buses, bike, and by car.  AND it has the city bus routes and schedules.  So we knew exactly where and when to catch a bus to get to where we want to go.  We also prepared ahead of time and saved all the locations that we were interested in visiting into my Google Maps into a folder called “Vancouver”.  Then you don’t even have to type in locations, just choose from your “Vancouver” folder!  We were VERY impressed with the Vancouver transit system.  It ran on time, was very clean, and was widespread and convenient.  Thumbs up!  Here we are on the bus!

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Another tip I have is regarding cell phone usage in Canada and Mexico.  We have Verizon and they have 24 hour “TravelPass” sessions in Canada for $5/day/phone.  So we decided ahead of time that we would pay for TravelPass on my phone and Todd shut off his cellular service in Canada and only used WiFi when available.  We used my phone for navigation and looking things up on the fly.  It worked perfectly and I was on the Bell Canada LTE network. 

We got to the entrance of Stanley Park and there were numerous bicycle rental shops.  We chose Spokes right on the corner across the street from the park entrance.  We rented a tandem bike and it was super reasonable.  I think we paid under $25 USD for almost two hours.

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Since Stanley Park is about 10 km around the perimeter, we thought it would be easier and faster to see it via bike.  And it was beautiful!  For the first few kilometers you get to see views of downtown Vancouver.

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We stopped at many points to take photos.  This is Brockton Point.

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You can see the Lions Gate Bridge connecting Vancouver to North Vancouver (where we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park). 

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It was a little windy and chilly on the bike, so we were glad we had jacket and vest.  It was not uncomfortable or cold though.

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The Stanley Park trails worked wonderfully.  They separate out pedestrians from bikes so that bikes are on the slightly elevated inner trail and pedestrians walked on the lower outer trail.  That way bikes and people aren’t running into each other.  We thought that was awesome!

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We ended our circle ride around Stanley Park around noon and caught the bus back to the hotel for some rest and snacks before our 3pm Vancouver Foodie Tour, which I’ll cover in a separate post!

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fall Trip | Vancouver Day 3 Capilano & Forbidden Tour

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Saturday 10/5 was our first full day in Vancouver.  We had big plans!  When we first looked at the weather for Vancouver a week before our trip, it forecasted rain for every single day we were there.  Fortunately, the only day it rained on us was on Monday 10/7.  So Saturday was clear and we decided to visit Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver.  But first, we had to pay a visit to Tim Hortons for breakfast since we were in Canada!  We walked down the street from our hotel and there was practically one in every corner.  I got a breakfast sandwich and a coffee.  Todd got pumpkin spice muffins and a latte.

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The pumpkin spice muffins had cream cheese on the inside and were so good that we went back twice during our trip for more, ha ha!

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Capilano Suspension Bridge Park has free shuttles from several locations in downtown Vancouver, so we walked about 10 minutes to the nearest pickup location and got on the shuttle bus to the attraction.  The ride was only about 15 minutes.  We arrived by about 10:15 AM, which was still early for a Saturday, so the line for the ticket booth was not long at all.  Took us about 5 minutes to get our tickets and go inside. 

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We decided to do the Cliffwalk first, since there really wasn’t anyone in line for it. 

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Neither Todd nor I are afraid of heights.  If you are, it could be nerve-racking! 

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Of course, the views were spectacular!  I don’t get to see large green trees in San Diego, so I really loved being amongst them in Vancouver.

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Looking back from the Cliffwalk, you could see the suspension bridge and people on it.  It gives a good perspective as far as how high up it is.

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The Cliffwalk circled around a large rock and we took photos of each other.

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There were also several lookout points too.

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In this photo, a bald eagle landed in the tree right above us!

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The Cliffwalk was awesome, we totally loved it!

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Then it was on to the actual suspension bridge

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While the Cliffwalk was totally secure and didn’t sway at all, the suspension bridge swayed side to side and bounced up and down a lot!  You need to use your “sea legs” and you may start to feel dizzy.  I did a little bit.

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Once we were on the bridge, we could see the Cliffwalk on the edge of the cliffs.

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The views from the suspension bridge were spectacular on both sides!

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On the other side of the bridge, there’s a rainforest and Treetops Adventure, where you walk along a series of high up walkways around the trees.  We loved this part as well.

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At the beginning of Treetops Adventure, you get the statistics for the day.

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Then it was lots of walking amongst the treetops!  Can you spot Todd in his red Ohio State sweatshirt?

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There was also an area where they put up globes of LED lights and it just looked so magical!

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We saw some docents with some wildlife too.  It was so cool.

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We visited the Capilano Trading Post store and bought some maple chocolate fudge and maple taffy!

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After that it was lunch time and we were hungry from all the walking!  They actually have some nice dining options at the park.  We were just interested in a bite to share, so we visited Logger’s Grill and got a hamburger and french fries.

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Then at 1:00 PM, we went on a guided history tour, which was part of the regular park admission price.  We learned about the history of this area of Vancouver, and how the suspension bridge and park came about.  We also learned about the local First Nations:  the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh.

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After that we took the shuttle bus back to Vancouver downtown.

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We rested at the hotel for like an hour.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown Vancouver.  The room as not big, but it had nice views.

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The reason we had a small lunch was because we had to eat dinner early!  We got takeout pizza from Firecrust Pizza down the street, and watched the Ohio State vs Michigan State game.

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We only had time for the first half of the game, because we booked a tour called “Forbidden Vancouver” at 7pm.  We walked for 25 minutes to Cathedral Square, the tour’s meetup location.

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Our tour guide’s name was Glenn.  He dressed up in 1920's clothing to get in character, since the tour was about Vancouver’s prohibition period.

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We found out lots of fun and not-so-fun things about Vancouver’s prohibition past, including saloons, back alley “blind pigs” (similar to Speakeasies of US prohibition times), opium dens, and brothels!  We ended up in the center of Gastown, where the tour ended.

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After a 30 minute walk back to the hotel, we were pooped from our exciting day!  Stay tuned for two more full days of Vancouver fun coming up!

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