Plant Database, the geeky way to keep plant data!

Greetings fellow gardeners, I have been keeping a database of plant varieties for a while now and wanted to make it available to you. This will never be a completed item as I scour varietal information across the internet. If you have more data to contribute, I would love to add your info to it.

For those who don’t know, I don’t use excel at home and prefer open office. All files that I put out (here) will be in open office formats. If you need other formats, just post the need and I’ll get in contact with you.

http://www.openoffice.org Tree and Plant DB

Compost, the smarter way to garden

Greetings SNH’ers,

As the Fall season starts to come into view, many of you are eyeing a mountain of yard clippings full of leaves, grasses and small trimmings from your plants. Don’t throw that stuff out, start using it for compost to feed your garden next year.

If you aren’t in the habit of composting, now is a perfect time to build a 3 bin compost system in your yard and start with your fall stock. Make sure to put a healthy mix of green stuff (fresh grass clippings, clean food scraps, egg shells etc) and a mix of the brown (twigs, leaves, paper products like egg shell containers).

The compost still has about 6 months to cook until you need it for spring to feed your plants. Nothing beats free compost for your garden and now is the perfect time to get on it. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste you put out to the curb every week!

Here are some great YouTube videos about composting:

link 1 link 2

College Savings

Good Evening SNH’ers,

This is more of a user feedback post. I am debating about the best strategy to help my kids with funding for college. I know that I cannot fully fund their college activities, but I do want to have some money reserved to give their first year a start. I have seen several strategies available each with their pluses and minuses.

Method #1 – 529 Plan

  • Pros
    • Can generally put in as much or as little as you want.
    • It is shielded from the fafsa form as counting against your child’s available funding.
    • It is valid in any state.
    • If funded in your local state, may have tax exemptions or deductions.
  • Cons
    • Funds must be used for education or a penalty is assessed.
    • Usually pretty low growth fund opportunities (sub 6%).

Method #2 – Prepaid Plan

  • Pros
    • Generally gets a better forward interest rate by committing funds at current rates.
    • Generally exempt from federal taxes
    • You will have a predefined amount of tuition you have paid for in advance.
  • Cons
    • Can typically only be used in the state at public universities.
    • Usually structured payment plans that may or may not fit well with your current financial plan.
    • Not all states offer these plans.
    • Not transferable outside of the state, though some states have made allowances for “equivalent in state value.”

Method #3 – Parent funded investment account

  • Pros
    • Unlimited fund options with a private broker
    • Larger growth opportunity
    • No restrictions on how the money is used
    • If no college is planned, money can be reserved for other uses
  • Cons
    • There is no guarantee that the market was favorable to your investments
    • There may be capital gains taxes you may have to pay

Within this list, I don’t currently favor the prepaid option. While the savings are great, I am not in position to commit any of my kids to an in-state public school. I like the 529 plans because you can transfer them to another child and you have a low risk investment that generally stays above inflation from the data that I have seen. Method 3 looks great on paper, but you really have to watch the market carefully, and I am not too good at picking funds that are so stable that I could count on an ROI each year.

There may even be a 4th strategy to combine a 529 plan with an investment account funneling off dividends to the 529 plan and committing to regular contributions to both the 529 and the investment account.

Let me know what your thoughts are, I would love to see what you think is the smarter way to save for college expenses.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Invest Early, Invest Smart

If you’re like me and started late into the game, go start investing right away!

Good Evening SNH’ers,

I have decided this post to be all about saving for the future. I hope this article encourages those of you without retirement accounts to start one tomorrow, or even tonight. When I was younger, saving was encouraged but never made a priority in my life. I always understood the benefits of compounding and how the longer that I kept money invested, the greater the outcome I would have. I think the investment path is one of the tools we need to approach life just a bit smarter.

Background

I had some revelation about a year and a half ago that no matter what, I needed to get a retirement account started because Mrs. SNH and I did not have any plans whatsoever for how we would end up in retirement. It was bleak and the math on the lottery tickets didn’t prove favorable. I also looked at our current finances and forced it to be a priority to get something started. It meant really ratcheting our food costs and even controlling how we chose to drive making each trip more purposeful with the miles spent in our car. I also used a work at home program doing small click-work for Amazon’s mechanical turk program that helped kick start the process. It is really a great program to get a few dollars moving in the right direction, but you really have to stick with it to get more that 100 “hits” done before you start to achieve anything appreciable. At the same time, I also set about putting away 1% of my income into my 401k. As I saw more money go into the 401k, I also opened a private Roth IRA for some strategic reasons that I will post down the road. I look forward to meeting a modest retirement goal at this point.

Onward to compounding

One of my favorite tools is to estimate what happens to money as it compounds at the following site: https://www.dividend.com/tools/compounding-returns-calculator.php. This calculator allows you to play the “what if” scenario. Let’s say that you estimated a 7% growth on your investment every year and put in a total $1000 at the ripe old age of 17. At the age of 67 which is now the social security definition for retirement (here) if you were born after 1960, that would net you about $29,457.03. Parents, here is where it really gets crazy, what if we did that same investment when your child was born and had a full 67 years to mature in an investment account. It soars to just over $93,000. That is the power of compounding. The lesson learned is that the earlier you invest, the less you will need to put in down the road to have a secure future at retirement age. If you started investing at age 40, to get to the same 30k at age 67, you would have to put in about $4600 to reach that 29k mark. To reach the 93k mark, you would need to put in roughly $15,000!

Another great tool I have found to play the game is here: https://www.hughcalc.org/drip.php . This one allows you to look at reinvesting dividends and making monthly contributions to an account which is much more realistic for investors where they can sock a little away each month and account for dividends and stock appreciation.

The take away

If you’re like me and started late into the game, go start investing right away! There are many great ways to get started with next to nothing. After all, the sooner we start, the more we will see when we get to retirement!

Here are some of the places you might start investing:

Schwab (http://www.schwab.com)

Fidelity (http://www.fidelity.com)

Betterment (http://www.betterment.com)

Ally Invest (https://www.ally.com/invest/?PRtarget=am )

TD Ameritrade (https://www.tdameritrade.com/home.page )

Ellevest (http://www.ellevest.com)

Full disclosure: I am not a financial planner or fiduciary and write from personal experience. I advise that you discuss your financial future with a professional to evaluate decisions that can affect your investment paths as they are far more suited to assisting you and your personalized needs.

Why gardening is smarter, not harder.

Gardening is a past time that I have used over the last few years to relieve stress. I think is it genuinely one of the few activities that can be a positive on your belly, body and mind!

There is of course the first benefit of feeding yourself. Who doesn’t love the freshest and tastiest grouping of fruits and vegetables delivered minutes from the vine? There is no comparison between a tomato brought to a deep red on the vine vs a store bought tomato picked at the “peak of green-ness.” Yes, I have coined a new nonsensical phrase. The flavors are rich and sweet where a store bought tomato is often mealy.

Growing your own also benefits your body. It encourages you to eat higher quantities of the good stuff we should put into our bodies instead of the inner circle of grocery store goods which arguably contains nothing good we should be eating. Little monster SNH’er #1 completely decimates my pea plants each year, leaving nothing for me. Little does she know, I plan for that and encourage it! #3 loves to raid the fresh organic strawberries before anybody else. I also love that little monster #2 ate more cucumber that he ever did with grocery store produce!

Gardening gives our brain a chance to decompress from long doses of the workday routine. If you are in the retired community, it can give you a bit of a gardening high to brag among your friends about the biggest zucchini or heaviest bean bush that you have grown.

If you haven’t started a garden, it really is easy. Since I have been a renter the last few years, I have stumbled on a great way to create a temporary patch of real soil. Just get a set of 6 to 8 tomato cages, some plastic ribbed 3′ high mesh fencing for a few dollars at your local big box. Mark out an area around with the tomato cages as if they were fence posts and attach the mesh with some zip ties. In about 30 minutes, you can have a great patch to start planting and likely a bit lower in cost than the same equivalent for potted plants. The cleanup is quick too so you can return the ground to its original state when you move out!

That is all for now. Happy gardening. Oh, and since winter is coming up, might be a good time to get some red russian kale in the ground!

a 2013 incarnation of the garden.