He who seeketh, findeth

June 29, 2009

Refinancing my car at 48 months to save money

Filed under: Money — Steve (Chessiq) @ 12:39 am

Wooden scooterThis coming week, I am going to refinance my car. I have had it for about a year. I had originally financed it for 60 months. I am going to refinance for 48 months. This will not change the original period during which the car would have been paid off (well, may be 2 months or so because of the timing of the refinancing). However, the benefits are that when you buy a car financed for 60 months versus 48 months, there is a 1% difference in the interest rate for the loan (– that’s the case for the credit union from which I got the loan). So, I will save money due to the interest rate reduction. In addition, the monthly payment is going to be lower because the principal is (obviously) lower than the original amount, so I can afford to go 48 months than a year ago. (The shorter the loan period, the higher the amount, other factors help constant.)

Thus, I am going to be paying a lower monthly amount for the next 48 months but end up paying off the car as originally planned! I should have done this with my first car!

***

UPDATE 7/4/09: After emails back and forth with the credit union with which I financed my car, and a 40 minute call on Thursday, we closed on the refinance loan! The call was that long because the credit union is “out of town” – over 600 miles away, and some things were just better discussed over the phone. So, I will be paying 1.5% less interest. The payment has gone down about $9 per month. The refince is for 46 months which were remaining on my car. So, I am saving $414 in payments over the next 4 years. The 1% was normal reduction due to the amount being loaned was small over a smaller period of time compared to the original loan as explained above. 0.25% was a reduction due to being a member of the credit union for over 5 years, and the other 0.25% was due to having a credit card in good standing with the credit union. I also qualified for 0.25% for direct debit, but they can only give you a maximum of 0.5% additional reduction in interest. Not bad, considering I thought about it, blogged about it, and then tried it!

***

To rephrase “wealth is in restraint, not indulgence”, wealth is in saving, not spending.

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No more buying bottled water

Filed under: Money — Steve (Chessiq) @ 12:09 am

BRITA_pitcher_aqualuxYesterday (6/29/09), I went to Target to buy groceries. I was going to buy a few groceries and a fan. I was also looking for an alam clock. I didn’t buy the alarm clock because I figured, I already have one that I don’t like because it shocks me – super-sudden, super-loud, super-shriek – and I also have several alarm clocks on my cellphone… (well, I should have thought about all that before I decided to go look!) Anyway, while looking for the other things, I saw a BRITA combo of 3 filters and a drink bottle going for $14. I like drink bottles (and pens). I had given up bottled water for about 2-3 months earlier this year and then I started backup amount a month ago. This was an opportunity to get back to it. I thought the three filters was a good deal… that will last me at least 6 months. I usually spend at least $7 on bottled water a month ($3.50/box of 24 bottles x 2 boxes/month). So, that will be good savings if I can stick to it. I already bought a pitcher months ago, so no more investment in that department.

“Wealth is in restraint, not indulgence.”

June 28, 2009

Saving money on gas bills with a fan

Filed under: Money — Steve (Chessiq) @ 11:59 pm

Holmes Oscillating Tower FanYesterday (6/27/09) I bought a fan at Target so that I can save on the electric bills. I had researched earlier in the week how much energy fans use compared to air conditioners. I have been using an air conditioner for most of the past month and my electric bill has been around $60 (I think the highest was the latest I received a couple of days ago, and it was $57). I knew that the bill for June (to be received in July) will be much higher as June has been pretty hot. Last summer my bills were between $225-275 a month! That is a lot of money to me and I don’t intend to go through that again. Of course, there were other factors that contributed to the high bills, but I will not get into them. This summer will be an experiment to see if my thinking is correct. I intend to put the A/C at around 80 or 85 degrees Fahrenheit [80°F-85°F] which is pretty high, and then turn on the fan. I tricked my body earlier in the afternoon by not turning on the A/C and I got pretty warm (hot ;-)) as the temperature in the apartment got to around 92°F! Then I turned on the A/C at 85°F and it almost felt like I had jumped in the pool. No more shenanigans like that. I don’t think I will get the A/C setting below 80°F unless I have visitors or something else is going on.

I have also decided to start spending more time in the bedroom since the A/C is in the bedroom, that way I can close all other doors and there will be no need to cool off the rest of the apartment. The fan will thus remain in the bedroom… no need to move it from the bedroom to the living room and back like I did yesterday!

I am keeping myself pretty hydrated, not because I am warm, but it is just good practice. That’s it about the fan… I will update the post in the future with my monthly bills and see if I will recoup the $45 that I invested in the Holmes Oscillating Tower Fan.

“Wealth is in restraint, not indulgence.”

June 27, 2009

CPA exam myths, questions, and my experiences

Filed under: AUD,BEC,CPA,FAR,REG — Steve (Chessiq) @ 11:42 pm

I have taken two exams so far, Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Business Economics and Concepts (BEC) and I have been blessed to have passed both of them. I had a lot of questions before taking the exams, and also after taking the exams (while waiting for the results to come out). Here are some of the questions that I had and the answers I have got from experience.

(Disclaimer: As everything else on this blog, whatever is on this site is for my personal use. It is my personal thoughts and reflections, experiences, wishes, etc – it is not advice for the way you should live your life, conduct your business, or approach life. For advice, help, whatever, consult an appropriate professional.)

HOW MUCH SHOULD I STUDY?
Short answer, as much as possible, more than you have ever studied before. Study, in my experience, includes studying the review book, going over multiple choice questions, listening to audio CDs, and watching DVDs. Some of these may not be available to you depending on the review course that you have. You need to use the most current study materials. You need to start studying early. Finish your first “pass-through” a couple of weeks early. Do all the multiple choice questions, hopefully, go over them at least twice. Make sure you are getting the passing score plus a nice safety margin. All this will be in the introduction to the review material. It is a good idea to study the introduction to the book which tells you how to approach the exam, etc. People are different, but I found it best to study continuously, well-spaced out, and then do intensive (almost cram-like) study a week or so before the exam. Even though I was not using Becker, I found this to be helpful. Everything else that is coming after this will not matter much to you if you have studied as much, as smart, as hard, as you could have. You will not have to worry about whether the exam is curved or not; whether you should be worried or not if your results do not come in the first wave; whether if you don’t finish a small part of some simulation, you will still pass or not; whether you failed or passed just because one of the testlets was tougher and then the next one was really easy; whether you passed or failed depending on how fast or slow you completed the whole exam or parts of it. If you have studied well and you have done well on the exam, everything else matters less. Okay, since the most important aspect is taken care of, we can now move on to the other things.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED IF I TOOK THE EXAM EARLY ENOUGH TO QUALIFY FOR WAVE ONE OF THE RESULTS BUT MY RESULTS DID NOT COME OUT?
From my experience, it appears that one should not be worried. People worry because they think that either they have outright failed or they are borderline. This may be true, but it was not the case for me. I was worried, just because exam candidates worry, and I didn’t think my preparation, especially towards the end was good enough. Like I have said in another post, I overstudied, burned out, stopped studying, and then got back to it 2-3 days before the exam and crammed until a few minutes before the exam. I found the first testlet pretty easy even though I missed a couple of questions that I should have got right. Anyway, I am digressing. I will explain this later. You may want to read this, for further information on the grading of the exam and how the exams are released. I believe that if you are using Gleim or Yaeger, the introduction to the section you are taking will explain enough to tell you that there is no need to worry.
For me, the thing that gave me the most peace of mind was the knowledge that if it was true that if your results did not come out in the first wave then you failed… You would have all passing scores in the first wave – which is not the case, and you would have all marginal passes and/or failures in the second wave – which is also not the case. If you go to sites like Another71 or CPANET.com, you will find that people’s scores are all over the place in both wave 1 and wave 2, so I would not read too much into it unless something changes. My FAR result came out in wave 2, on 6/19/09,  even though I took the exam on 4/20/09 and “should have come out in wave 1”.

SHOULD I BE WORRIED BECAUSE I DIDN”T FINISH A PARTICULAR TESTLET (HOPEFULLY, A “SMALL” PART)?

From my experience, if you have done well in all other testlets, and for some reason you don’t finish or something does not work out in another testlet, you should not despair. Well, I should probably explain myself. Itimed myself pretty strictly during the exams. For FAR, I planned to spend 45 minutes a testlet, maximum an hour if the testlet was tough. I told myself that I was willing to spend 1 hour on each of the multiple choice questions and then 30 minutes on the simulations if need be. I finished the first testlet in 42 minutes, and I reviewed for another 5-7 minutes. It was an okay (almost easy) testlet, but I missed a couple of questions that I should have got right if I had studied properly. I was not worried because I had a treshold of how many questions I could fail, and I was within that treshold. (Of course, if you fail 7 questions with the highest points then you may fail the testlet. I think I am able to tell when a question is objectively difficult and when it is not. Well, I would like to think so.) Anyway, the second testlet was pretty tough… I think I spent 1 hour 15 minutes on it. I was not too worried about it because I had about 10 minutes or so from the time budgeted for the first testlet. Overall, I was putting myself in a bind or time crunch, but I was calm. The third testlet was almost as tough as the second one, and I spent about an hour or a little over. In each case, I went back through the questions just to make sure that I had answered all questions, and I revisited the questions that I had marked for review, (and I had written down what I thought the correct response should be or why I could not decide.) Anyway, time for simulations, fourth testlet, I went through all the tabs, just to see the questions. I was just following the things I had read or heard or seen about handling the simulations. I had actually written down the steps I would follow at each stage of the exam and I read them each day as I started or finished studying. Anyway, I could not find the correct research solution, and I did not sweat it. I had done well or okay on the other parts of the simulation. Last simulation, I had 25 minutes or so. Obviously, I started with the written part, per advice from other DVDs or CDs or Books, and I quickly found the research part,… but when it came to the part that I needed to enter my figures, the spreadsheet was not working properly or I was doing something wrong. I tried double-clicking, I tried typing in my figures, I tried entering numbers in places I knew were not correct… I cannot remember what happened or how it all ended up working okay, but somehow I was able to enter some numbers (solutions) in a couple of places and the solutions were what I expected. Anyway, 3 minutes to go and I start reviewing the tabs, I find that there are numbers in a bunch of places I didn’t want them to be, i.e. when I was double-clicking in all the weird places and just trying things out and it didn’t seem like things were working out, the numbers I keyed in were being captured. UURRGGGHH! I started changing things, but then I told myself that I should not worry about it. I had put in a lot of effort, it was not good to try to change something that I spent minutes (or hours or days) working on in the remaining few seconds. I trusted the AICPA and their program… that if there were places that were not supposed to be touched or edited, then things will be okay… I sat there and watched as the clock ticked away. Time up. I was not sure whether to include this in my evaluation of how the computer worked, how satisfied I was with this or that, what improvements could be made, etc. I just wanted to go home and rest and start preparing for BEC. If I tell you that I did not worry about the simulations, and the questions that I knew I was supposed to know the correct answers to, I would be lying. I worried a little, but found ways to comfort myself quickly.

I wrote about my preparation for BEC, especially the last couple of days before the exam, in another post. I will link to it later. But, I did not have as much of a rough time with BEC… the only thing is, I was chilling and reviewing everything in my third testlet, and I saw that I had now answered the first or second question. I had may be 30 seconds or less. It was a wordy unclear question, and I just had to choose something because you “NEVER LEAVE A QUESTION UNANSWERED!” – that had been drilled in my head – and “NEVER CHOOSE (A) UNLESS YOU ARE SURE” etc. I had written those things down and went over them as frequently as I could, especially when I was practicing MCQs. So, I chose something and time run out. I felt relieved after the exam, just as I did after FAR. Was that good or bad? If I failed FAR and I had this same feeling, then may be I failed BEC as well? As we now know… I passed both. You cannot stop living just because you didn’t finish a simulation or some part of a testlet. I guessed quite a few times, because I just wasn’t sure or I didn’t have the timeto spend on a particular question or questions, but it appears I had studied enough to make the right guesses, or if I got things wrong, I had gotten enough correct to pass.

A SECTION I TOOK HAS COME OUT, I AM PREPARING FOR ANOTHER SECTION TO BE TAKEN  IN A FEW DAYS, SHOULD I CHECK MY SCORE?

Honestly, I do not know the answer to this. I was preparing for BEC when FAR wave 1 came out. I checked and checked and checked even though I knew that both failure and passing could affect my preparation for the BEC. Neither was better for me as far as preparing for BEC was concerned. If I passed, I could relax a little bit and study better or relax too much and not study well enough. If I failed, I could study harder to at least pass one, or I could be devastated and not study well enough and fail two in a row. I thank God that I did not get my FAR score in wave 1. I lost a day that I could have studied BEC because I was checking NASBA, another71, the state board site, my email… I even wrote NASBA! Ha Ha! I read a hundreds of discussions and rants about the exams… so this one is a toughie. If you can manage to not worry or think about the exam you took and focus on the one at hand, that would be the best thing to do. However, spending time checking exams that have not come out, worrying and not studying, is one of the most unproductive things one can do while preparing for the CPA exam. It is not easy to block distractions out.

I AM NOT READY, SHOULD I RESCHEDULE THE EXAM?

As I was preparing for the exam, the one thing that I frequently did was to visit sites like another71 (link above), CPAnet, and read up on people’s experiences. I will admit that sometimes I overdid it, because it was much easier than studying, but I learned a lot just by seeing the mistakes that other people made, or the good things that people who passed the exam did. One of the mistakes that I made was to overstudy and overprepare for FAR way before the exam… (I am not sure if it was a mistake – but I regard it as such) – and then burned out a month before the exam… and I didn’t touch a book or a DVD or a CD until the week of the exam. I had 4 days or so to review for the exam and it was a little stressful. For BEC, I did the opposite, I didn’t study until it was too late – almost too late. Lucky enough, I realized this weeks ahead of time, and I rescheduled my exam date. I had read various people’s writings about why the rescheduled and how the additional week or weeks made the difference between passing and failing. In my case, I can surely say that if Ihad not rescheduled, I could have barely passed or failed. I had rescheduled the exam to a week later. That allowed the cramming that I did during the week of Memorial Day weekend(?) to settle in – and it was almost like I had two cramming review sessions. If you look at the postings I made during that time, you will see that I was not exactly a happy camper, but I was positive about my progress.

So, to answer the question, you know yourself best. Do you think that waiting another week or two (if there is time in the testing window) is going to make a difference? If so, is it worth the cost? For me, the $35 was worth it. I will buy an extra week of study for the CPA exam at $35 any day if I think it will make a difference. Actually, it is not just a week I bought… I bought/saved future time that I could have spent re-applying, re-studying, re-taking the exam, re-worrying, re-checking various sites for results information etc. What a deal I got! However, not studying just because there is an option to reschedule is not smart at all. It is a waste of time and money. I don’t think I will ever reschedule again. I think I have got a good hang/handle of how much studying I need to do and when I can start without burning out or underpreparing.

Here is a helpful link  for other AICPA or CPA exam-related questionsfrom an interview Jeff (another71.com) conducted with the AICPA.

I guess I should stop here for now. It is almost midnight. I will add to this or do another post when/if I remember something else. I will read my mission statement and then do a couple of Auditing MCQs before I sleep.

It is a wonderful life.

June 24, 2009

Humility – lessons from past mistakes

Filed under: Happiness,Meditation,Thoughts and Reflections — Steve (Chessiq) @ 11:28 pm

I have remembered a couple of times when I probably made a fool of myself without knowing it because I was trying to act as if I knew enough or a lot about a subject that I did not, and there were subject-matter experts around who could have called my bluff! Such memories alternately fill me with remorse for my acts, laughter for the naivety and stupidity, and wonder at how patient and accommodating the other people were with me during my acts. The last point fills me with humility. First to prevent future acts of the same because by pretending to know more than you truly do, you lose face instead of saving face! Second, a determination to “pay it forward”. I need to learn to be patient and accommodating and kind to people who are now going through the phases that I went through. Sometimes we don’t look back enough at our life experiences to see that we are not perfect. I am not. I can only hope to become better as flashes of my imperfect past resurface in my mind.

Sometimes you don’t appreciate how “dumb” you were until you become truly knowledgeable and/or experienced.

So, it is my prayer to act and be humble regarding my “assets”.

As a parting note, this reminds me of Jesus’ instruction… that when you are invited to a party, do not sit yourself at the high table, because when a more important guest arrives, you may be asked to give up your seat for the guest and you would be embarrassed; if on the other hand, you sit yourself at a lower level table, and the host sees you and thinks you should be at a higher table, he will come and get you to be seated at the higher table, and you would be elevated in the eyes of your peers. (Of course, I have paraphrased.)

It is a wonderful life.

June 20, 2009

Passed FAR

Filed under: CPA,FAR — Steve (Chessiq) @ 1:19 pm

I found out about an hour ago that I passed the Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) section of the CPA exams. I am happy! I was convinced I had barely failed (or with some luck, barely passed). So, it was good to see the 84, (you need 75 to pass). I fell on my knees and said “thank you!”, “thank you, God!”, over and over again. I raised my hands up high, and I lowered my head… in praise and thankfulness. I have never been so excited and happy for anything. I am rarely excitable, so this was a totally different side of me. I do not think that when I pass all the remaining exams, I will be as excited as I was today.

FAR was my first exam, and the preparation for it was a little chaotic as I documented in the earlier postings. I was so tired and stressed out about the FAR exam (during the preparation for it), I stopped studying a couple of weeks before the exam, and then started again a couple of days before the exam. The day before the exam, I think I studied for over 16 hours. I even studied for about an hour in my car just before going into the exam. The other pressure was coming from the fact that even if you pass the other three sections and you fail FAR, it seems like you are failing the one subject that you are meant to know or be good at. So, I am so happy that I will not have to worry about that. Lastly, the volume of material for FAR is just too much, and I pray to God that I will pass the next two exams, and not have to worry about re-studying for FAR!

Praise be to God in highest and peace to His people. Amen!

Thanks to everyone who encouraged, supported, inspired, and prayed for me during the first half of this challenge. I will definitely need you all again during the remaining half of this marathon.

Two down, two to go.

I think I will start studying for the Audit and Attestation exam tonight.

It is a wonderful life.

June 13, 2009

Passed BEC

Filed under: BEC,CPA — Steve (Chessiq) @ 10:02 pm

Waiting for the results of the CPA exam, Business Economics and Concepts (BEC) section, made today one of the longest days of the week. I just found a few minutes ago, (this is 9:57pm), that I passed BEC. I got 87; you need a 75 to pass.

Thanks to God for all that I am. Thanks for my life, my energy, my health, my family, my girlfriend, my friends, my acquaintances, the resources, and all that has enabled me get to this point.

So, one section of the CPA down, three more to go.

It is a wonderful life!

June 6, 2009

Back to life June 2009

Filed under: CPA — Steve (Chessiq) @ 5:37 pm

It has been a busy week with month end close and auditors coming in. I have enjoyed the long hours even though there were times when I closed my eyes as I walked to my car… Just to rest for the 4 or 5 steps! Obviously, I have not done much studying, but I intend to get back to life of studying for the CPA exams. In another week to two weeks, I should know how “great” I did on those two exams.

Anyway, what did I manage to do when I did not have time to study during the past week? Well, I am on twitter! I am using “Evernote” and I love it. I played a couple of blitz chess games at chess.com, and as a way to wind down when I got home at midnight or later, I have been catching up on “thesimpledollar” blog posts.

So, let’s get the laundry done, de-clutter a little (mail), dishes, and we will be back in the CPA studying business. I think I will be watching one of the CPA DVDs while doing my dishes. I don’t have to take notes on the Auditing DVDs. I usually stop to write down what chapter or page number the instructor has emphasized or assigned and get back to it later. I take the lectures as general guides. I have to do the detailed and harder work myself. Hopefully, that approach worked the last two times so that I can confidently apply it to the remaining two times. We will know between June 15th and June 22nd.

It is a wonderful life.

June 1, 2009

Waiting for CPA exam results while preparing for AUD

Filed under: AUD,BEC,CPA,FAR — Steve (Chessiq) @ 9:24 pm

After my exam last Friday, I decided to start studying Auditing and Attestation (AUD) as soon as possible. Saturday morning, I decided to give Wiley testprep CD 14.0 a chance. For the past two exams I didn’t use it at all because I just didn’t like the “design”. One of the things I didn’t like was that I had to scroll up down to see a short answer – this really irritated me when I got a question wrong! In addition, the pop-up answer covered the partially covered the multiple choice options and you cannot move it to the side. How … smart is that!? The other reason is that (I think) I read that it only keep track of the last 3 sessions… So, I went ended up buying Gleim’s testprep CDs (I paid about $55 each for FAR and BEC and downloaded the software). Anyway, I re-read the Wiley “manual” or contents section and played around with it and I thought, since I am trying to save money, I could force myself to make do with it and see how I like it. I found that there was a text link… that gave you excerpts from the book relevant to the question being asked. I really liked (and still like) that idea. I guess you can read almost half of the book – the important stuff by reading the excerpts as you go! (You = me!)
The past couple of days I have done several things… I have finished watching the first DVD of the Yaeger lectures which covered Engagement Planning and Risk Assessment, and Internal Controls; I have finished Engagement Planning and Assessing Risks (Wiley AUD book – first module or chapter), and I have gone through all the multiple choice questions related to the first module – 125 questions. I didn’t do great, something like 67%. As always, I don’t worry about my first pass through. When I read the book or review my notes I should be okay.
My goal is to be at least half-way done when the exams start coming out in the next 3 weeks! My thoughts are alternating between… “I passed both FAR and BEC”, “I passed BEC but barely failed FAR”, and “I barely failed both FAR and BEC”! With that, what my reaction will be… how I will communicate the news to my family, bosses, workmates, and friends. I would like to think I passed both parts.

In the mean time, Auditing and Attestation rules!

It is a wonderful life.

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