2014 Year In Review

Since this is the last day of 2014 it is a good time to look back at 2014 and determine what went well and what didn’t go so well. I’ll start with what went well since I’d like to see the positives first.

This was a good year for me financially. I was able to max out my IRA and also put about $10,000 in my savings account. 2013 was my highest income year ever, but I think 2014 might have beaten it. Although my income was still fairly modest it was easily enough to support my spending habits and I didn’t have to worry about having enough money during the year. That is a big improvement from just a couple of years ago.

I was able to do a fair bit of traveling. I went to Las Vegas twice and Cancun once. I also went on a two-week hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail and had some shorter trips on the Katy Trail. I also earned a Southwest Airlines Companion Pass and have a stockpile of about 60,000 SW miles to use for travel in 2015.

I was able to lose thirty pounds this year and win my Healthy Wage bet. When I made it down to 196 I did feel better and my clothing was loose. This was the lowest weight I’d been for a couple of years and the first success I’d experienced losing weight for several years.

Of course, there was also some things that didn’t go so well. Although I managed to lose thirty pounds this year overall I didn’t really improve my fitness. I’ve gained back twenty of the thirty pounds I lost. This is a result of going back to my old eating habits. I need to start eating better in 2015 and losing weight again.

Writing was something I was terrible at doing this year. I had writing goals for monthly goals several times this year and I don’t think I made any of my writing goals. There is a lot of room for improvement here. I don’t think I’m going to bother setting writing goals anymore. I need to just write.

I also regret cutting my A.T hiking trip short and not finishing the Katy Trail. I need to get better at dealing with temporary discomfort and sticking to my plans.

Overall, 2014 was an okay year. If I stick to the goals I’ve set for 2015 it will be a great year.

My Same Day Passport Experience

You may know from previous posts that I have a trip to Cancun with my girlfriend and my mom planned for Monday. As preparation for that trip I got out my passport Thursday afternoon to add my passport number to my airline ticket reservation. I was dismayed to see that my passport had expired in September.  My first thought that was that there was no way I could renew my passport in time to leave on Monday.  This was a major bummer to say the least. Since it was already Thursday afternoon, I basically had one business day to get a new passport.

After doing some internet searching through Swagbucks I was somewhat relieved to see it is possible to get a passport in one day.  I first tried to get a passport using RushMyPassport.com.  I hated the idea of paying $350 plus the $170 in passport fees to get my passport, but it was better than the alternative of having to cancel my Cancun vacation. After filling out my passport application online , printing off my airline ticket confirmation, and going to get my passport picture taken I called RushMyPassport to get a letter of authorization per the instructions on their website.  Unfortunately, when I called them they said they wouldn’t be able to get me a passport in 24 hours and it would be Tuesday before they could get me a passport. Since they weren’t able to provide me they advertised and I paid for I canceled their service.  Getting the passport on Tuesday wouldn’t do me any good. They promised to refund the fee to my credit card. I’m hoping that they honor that promise. I’ll share how that turns out.

Now I was despondent once again.  A little more internet research showed that it might be possible to get a passport in one day at a U.S. Passport Agency. The problem there was that there are only 28 of these offices in the country and none of them are very close to Kansas City.  It turns out the closest passport agency to KC is in Hot Springs, AR.  It is kind of strange that Hot Springs,a town of 30,000 people, has a passport agency.  The other passport agencies that were within a somewhat reasonable distance to me were in Chicago and Dallas. I looked into flying into those cities, but the last-minute fares were too high and I wouldn’t get there early enough to make an early morning appointment. Hot Springs was my only hope.

I called their automated reservation line and managed to make an appointment for 9am on Friday.  By the time I got all of this done it was a little after 5pm on Thursday. I called my girlfriend and let her know we needed to make an emergency road trip. Luckily, my girlfriend is cool and didn’t freak out about the situation.  It was about a seven hour drive to Hot Springs so we needed to get on the road.  It was about 2:00am by the time we arrived in Hot Springs, checked into a motel, and got to bed.

The next morning I arrived at the passport agency about fifteen minutes early for my appointment.  It took a couple of minutes to get through security and then I was able to meet with a passport agent after waiting just a couple more minutes. The agent was very nice and it only took about five minutes to go through the passport renewal process.  She told me I could pick up my new passport at 2:30pm.  I was momentarily frightened when I heard “Tuesday” instead of “2:30.”  After she repeated the time, I was greatly relieved. I left the passport agency office at about 9am which was when my appointment had been scheduled. The expedited passport renewal process was extremely efficient.

I returned at 2pm to the agency to pick up my passport.  Although the passport pickup form stated to not arrive early to pickup your passport I decided to see if my passport was ready after noticing other people entering the agency. I was in luck and was able to meet an agent immediately upon entering the office and she had my passport.  I was extremely happy to receive my passport and know that I’d be able to go on my vacation.

If you need a passport in one day it is possible if you go to one of the U.S. Passport Agencies.  Some of them require proof of imminent travel and there is no guarantee that you will be able to get an appointment though.  It is much smarter to check your passport ahead of time so you don’t have to get a passport at the very last minute like I did. I’m incredibly lucky that I checked my passport when I did or it would have been too late. If I had discovered my passport was expired on Friday I wouldn’t have been able to make it to a passport agency in time to get the new passport. The whole ordeal of having to drive seven hours each way, get a motel, and being stressed about whether I’d actually get the passport or not could have been avoided if I had just checked my passport when I booked the airline tickets.  If you have any upcoming international travel make sure you have a valid passport.

My Movie Scene with Reese Witherspoon








If you have been reading this blog for a while you might remember a post I wrote back in 2012 about being an extra in the movie, “Devil’s Knot” and meeting Reese Witherspoon.  I’m not very good at tooting my own horn because the movie finally came out in May of this year and I’m just now getting around to writing about the release of the movie.  I also thought I had previously written a post on how to get a job as a movie extra, but I can’t find such a post.  I’ll be writing a post on that topic soon.

When the movie finally came out I was pleased to see that I had some camera time. Although, I was right next to Reese Witherspoon in a couple of scenes I still wasn’t sure if I’d be viewable in the movie.  The scenes I was in could have been cut from the movie or cropped so that I wasn’t in the scene or I could have just been so far in the background or the scene shown so quickly that you could barely recognize me. As you can see from the photo in this post I got lucky and have a scene that basically features just me and Reese on the entire screen.  I’ve been an extra in a couple of movies before so I know it isn’t usual to get a scene where you are seen with the star.  In the other movies I worked as an extra on I was either totally unseen or only visible for a brief moment in the background so I’m pretty happy that I had such a highly visible scene in this movie.

If you want to check out the movie it is on Netflix right now.  I used my phone to take a picture of the movie playing on Netflix on our TV for this post.  My most visible scene is at about 1:21 into the movie where I can be viewed sitting in the courtroom next to Reese Witherspoon and then standing by her in the hallway a short time later. I’ve also been able to spot myself in the background a few other places in the movie, but I doubt anyone who doesn’t personally know me would be able to spot me in any of those scenes.  The movie is a dramatization of the trial of the West Memphis 3.  If you aren’t already aware of this case it is a pretty interesting story.

The Minimum Wage Millionaire – Book Review and Giveaway

minwagemillion I was recently given a copy of the book, The Minimum Wage Millionaire: How a Part Time After School Job Can Change Your Financial Life, to review. I’m offered books to review almost every week, but I have been declining them for quite a while since I’ve read so many personal finance books that I’m pretty much burnt out on the subject. Plus, I regularly read lots of personal finance blogs so I like to read about something else for my additional reading. Since I hadn’t done a giveaway for a long time and I liked the idea of this book I decided to review and give away this book.

The concept of the book is fairly simple. If you are able to invest the maximum Roth IRA contributions for six years while in your teens and early 20’s then you have a good chance of that money growing to a million dollars by the time you are retirement age. You can quibble about the expected return on investment or note that a million dollars won’t be worth near as much by that time, but it is still obvious that starting your savings early will dramatically improve your financial situation later in life.

The author states that this is the book he wishes he would have read when he was younger. By writing the book he hopes to make more young people aware of how beneficial starting to save early for retirement can be. This idea resonates with me. I read a lot personal financial books when I was in my early 20’s and knew how powerful starting to save early could be. Unfortunately, I worked minimum wage jobs back then and barely made enough to pay my bills so I wasn’t able to save much. Once I finally landed a decent paying job I totally abandoned my good financial habits and blew all my money and went into debt. I eventually ended up cashing out the few thousand I had managed to save in an IRA while trying to get out of debt. If only I had kept the same money habits I had when I was making minimum wage once I started making a decent wage I’d be a lot better off financially right now. Having the knowledge isn’t the same as applying the knowledge. If there are any young people reading this post, don’t make the same mistake I did.

The Giveaway

In order to enter to win a Kindle copy of the book, “The Minimum Wage Millionaire”, all you need to do is leave a comment. There is a limit of one comment per person. Other contest rules will apply as needed to maintain fairness. Entry to the giveaway will end on Sunday June 22, 2014 and a winner will be chosen by random drawing. Note that you do not need to own a Kindle in order to be able to read a Kindle book. There are free Kindle apps for smart phones, tablets, and PCs that can be used to read the book.

Weight Loss Bet Update 2 and Other News

Earlier this year I bet $3000 that I would lose thirty pounds in six months. In the first month I lost twelve pounds. Another month has passed since then so now it is time to post my weight loss for the second month of the bet period. After doing so well in the first month I slacked off during the second month and that laziness is reflected in my results. I managed to lose zero pounds in the second month. That is better than gaining weight, but it certainly isn’t good. A month like the last one could end up costing me $3000.

For my first two months my average weight loss is six pounds a month. If I lost six pounds every month that would be a total weight loss of thirty-six pounds which would be good enough to win my bet. Even though my average for the two months is okay I know I need to do a lot better this month. I’m not going to be able to exercise all day like I did while hiking during the first month, but I can exercise a lot more than I did in the second month. There is also a lot of room for improvement with my eating. After returning from my hike I followed the Weight Watchers diet plan for a couple of weeks and it worked well for me. However, like most diet plans the Weight Watchers diet plan doesn’t work if you don’t actually follow it. Last month I barely kept track of my daily points and I know that most days I went over my allotted points. I’m back on the WW plan now. The fear of losing $3000 has been refreshed in my mind and I will be sticking to plan this month. I doubt I can lose twelve pounds like I did the first month, but I think a loss of at least six pounds is reasonable.

Other News

In other news I recently started a medical study that will pay me a total of $3000. That money could cover my expenses for about three months. I have different plans for this money though. I have needed dental implants for several years, but could not afford them. I’m earmarking all the medical study money towards getting implants. I need three implants and I will be getting them at the local dental school. They quoted me a price of $1200 to $1400 per implant so the study money will not be enough to cover all the costs of the implants. It will at least cover almost all of the cost and I can make up the rest from my savings or if I am working I can cash flow the extra cost from my paychecks.

I am supposed to start another document review job next week. The exact start date hasn’t been set yet so the job is still not a sure thing. The job is only supposed to last two or three weeks and I will be gone one week for my Las Vegas vacation. I’m lucky they didn’t care that I will miss the week due to vacation. That is usually a deal breaker for these short-term jobs. It would have been nice if the job had started a couple of weeks ago and finished right before my vacation. The nature of short-term jobs like these is that they don’t always come at convenient times so you got to work them when they are available. I’m doing fine on money. I haven’t dipped into my savings since my tax job ended in April although I haven’t added to my savings either. This month should be much better financially then May though.

During the last month I was really lazy. It is too soon to say for sure but, I think I might have figured out how to overcome my laziness. I’ve noticed that if I get up in the morning and write my 1000 words and/or exercise that I end up having a productive day. Or at least what I consider a productive day. On the other hand, if I decided to have a leisurely breakfast or put off my exercise and writing until later for some reason then I almost always end up not having a productive day. Although I tell myself I will take it easy in the morning and get to work in the afternoon that almost never happens. I guess it works like inertia. If I start off lazy I tend to remain lazy. If I start off productive then I tend to stay productive. I just need to be more disciplined in the morning. If I can motivate myself to work in the morning then the rest of the day will usually be productive with no more motivation needed. One month from now I will let you know how this worked.