Some Positive Economic News, At Least for Me

I used to listen to National Public Radio a whole lot more.  When we moved to this house we did not put a radio in the kitchen, and that is a place I like to listen.  When I am whipping up some tasty meal, I can hear what they have to say.  This morning I was whipping up four-berry muffins and I wanted to listen.  But no radio.

Actually, that is not true.  We have a radio in the kitchen.  It is a wind-up generator radio.  Wind the crank and it charges the battery.  It works great, but the battery does not last long.  I need to keep winding it.  And winding it.  I want to use this radio.  I like the idea of listening to an electronic device without using electricity from the grid.  But, I admit, I rarely do.  I don’t want to keep winding.

There is another option, however.  This radio has the option to charge the battery with electricity from the grid.  Plug it in and charge and off we go.  I could keep it plugged in and listen as long as we have power.  This morning I decided that I was ready to choose that option.  The problem, however, was that I haven’t ever used the power cord.  And I had no idea where it might be found.

This took me to the basement.  Our basement is still full of boxes and baskets and bins from when we moved to this house two and a half years ago.  We slowly empty them and slowly bring new ones down.  The result is clutter stasis.  So when I go to look for a power cord, and I know I just saw the box full of them down in the basement recently, I get stymied.  I can’t find doodly-squat down there unless I get lucky.

I searched and searched to no avail.  I did bring up a mason jar to use for the bulk popcorn I just purchased at Healthy Living, so the voyage to the underworld was at least worthwhile for that, but I never did plug in the radio.  And, to bring this around to the point, I saw an envelope on the floor.  The envelope contained two $50 savings bonds.  Why it was on the floor was a mystery, but I figured that was not the ideal storage location for paper that had any value, due to the occurrence of mildew on such floors.  And so, in my wisdom and readiness to take action, I picked it up.

Now I was fully distracted from finding the power cord.  I had a jar to wash and some savings bonds to check out.  With the savings bonds in the envelope was a letter from the Hartford Courant.  It noted how my service as a newspaper carrier was superb, blah blah blah, and here was a token of appreciation.  I only received one savings bond with that letter, as I recall.  The other came later.  I decided I should find out how much they might be worth these days.

I turned, as is the norm in our house, to the internet for answers.  Ten years ago I might have just wondered about it and found a better spot for the envelope, but now I’ve got Google.  Google led me to the government web site with information on savings bonds, including a calculator to tell me the value of my investments.  As I have mentioned, two of my traits are wisdom and readiness to act, so I used the calculator.  I found out the bonds’ values and also learned a few things.

One of the bonds, issued in 1981 (have I actually held onto the thing for that long?) is worth $131.  The other, issued in 1986 (same question) is worth about $85.  That seemed a big difference for issue dates only five years apart, so I read more.  It turns out savngs bonds earn interest based on when they were issued, and the interest rates can vary quite a bit.  I couldn’t find interest rates for the earlier one but I did learn that the one issued later has a minimum rate of return of 7.5%.

That made me look twice.  Did it really say 7.5%?  Who gets a guaranteed rate of return of 7.5% these days?  You’d be lucky if you could earn 4% on a CD these days.  The rate chart only went back to 1982 but the rate on the bond from 1981 must be higher.  Get this–the highest rate I saw on the chart was from 1982 at 13.05%.  And this is supposed to be a safe investment.  Safe indeed.

So the good economic news is that I have $216 worth of savings bonds, and I have two years before the first one stops earning interest.  Considering these were purchased for half face value, that is a fine rate of return, especially since I didn’t purchase them myself.  Now, we’re not talking a huge amount here, but by 2016 I can cash them both and do something with those earnings.  Of course I will probably just reinvest them.

So it is good to know that I’ve got something, a little buffer, sitting in that envelope.  I keep reading bad economic news.  Here, at least, is some good news, if only for me.  Now I need to go get that fireproof safe I have been considering for years.  Then I can really stop worrying.  At least about a few things.  Then maybe I get on top of all the crap in the basement and, finally, I’ll be able to listen to radio while I make muffins.

Final Solar Class

I attended the last of three classes at Champlain Valley Union High School last night for a short course on solar photovoltaic installation.  Overall the whole thing was worthwhile.  I know much more than I did before the class.  I am ready to make it happen.  Oh, but that huge price tag.  Ouch.

Would it pay off?  If you look at just the financial pay back it is hard to judge just how long it would take to break even.  It is easy to do the math with some assumptions.  If you keep the cost of electricity static, it would take maybe 20 years to balance the initial investment with monthly savings.  That is a long time.  If the cost were a little lower, then maybe it would be a no brainer.  But the cake is big.

If we invested in a solar system it might cost as much as $40,000 to install a system that would generate all the power we use now, before any incentives.  A system might cost less, given some other assumptions, and we might invest in a smaller system.  There are lots of variables.  Even a $20,ooo price tag would be huge, however.  If we figure in interest, since we would have to finance a system, the cost grows.  It is the right thing to do, but it is hard to swallow such a huge investment, especially when it means saving maybe 60 bucks a month.

We just started the refinancing process.  We will save more than $60/month  just by getting a lower interest rate on our mortage (4.5%!) but that is a bigger loan.  The scale thing just makes such a big difference.  If incentives were high enough that we could reduce the initial cost and the time to breaking even, I would be ready to make it happen.  We just can’t afford to do it right now.

I will keep my finger on the pulse of what might change with alternative energy (What’s up with “alternative” for wind and solar, anyway?  Shouldn’t coal be considered alternative?).  Until the cost goes down, or we get a big influx of cash, however, it ain’t happenin’.  I could use a little of that stimulus over my way.