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Let's Get Personal (please comment)

October 3rd, 2011 at 11:33 am

Blog posts have been pretty sparse from me lately. This one is going to get a little personal. I am going to share with you all some things that I do not usually tell random Internet strangers. 

This past weekend was quite emotional for my family and I. To make a long story short, we live with my parents, in their upstairs (bedroom, bathroom, and living area), while I pay down our debts. My oldest brother (32) also lives there, in the basement. This weekend, my father held a household meeting because of the recent goings-on in the house. My wife and I thought it would be an intervention to try to get my brother to straighten up. Week before last, he left the oven on with a pizza in it for four hours, scorching the pizza. We - my wife, infant, and I - woke up that morning with killer headaches, sick stomach feelings, and our 7.5 (8 months today!) month-old was super cranky that day. Obviously she had some physical issues going on other than just her normal teething. This is a health hazard. 

Last week, my brother attacked me for trying to get him to stop yelling at our mother. My wife was worried for my safety and the safety of our child. I was fine, as I have military background. However, that does not lighten the situation by any means. He is physically and verbally abusive. 

A couple weeks ago, we came home from running errands, to find smoke wafting up from the basement. The kind of smoke? Marijuana. 

So we have this meeting on Saturday evening. And what is it about? It is about how my brother has "agreed" to shape up or get out (though he is drunk and high during this meeting). He was given 30 days. Which, mind you, has been a previous ultimatum given him by them before. They fail to execute. My father went on to say that the fact that my wife and I "practice false religion" (being that we do not go to their religious gatherings; instead, we attend a different "religion's" congregation, because that is where our spirits feel at home), is a negative aspect of what "goes on in his house." I protested, remarking on how my brother was behaving during this meeting, pointing out how he was smiling awkwardly, and obviously pretending. They wouldn't hear it. I also pointed out the recent goings-on and how it effects us, but they would not hear that either, and even said that there were no harmful elements emitted from that burnt pizza, and that my daughter's life was not in danger. They kept saying that we needed to move forward.

Yesterday, at church, the message hit home for us. It was about worship. Where and how it is conducted, and where it should come from within yourself. Basically, the most important PLACE of worship is from your spirit, your heart. The physical place of worship is hardly a matter (within reasonable limits, of course). There was a lot more said, but I DO NOT want this to become a religious or spiritual debate, or even a topic. Just giving a look into who we are and how this has effected us. We then spoke with our pastor and he gave us some real insight and encouragement. 

We are now looking at other options.

My wife's mother is in an LPN to RN bridge program currently, and will be out in April or so. She is out of school by 4. I should be moving to that new position with the new employer in the next week or so. That position will net me about $250 more than I am netting right now. It will also allow me to go to school in the Spring. My wife suggested that she go to work at her previously employer, Macy's, where she worked the same nights as my new shift will be. Her mother would come over to watch our little one during that time. Though she will be out of school and back into the workforce in just a few months, she will do what she needs to help us out. Even if that means taking a job that coincides with our schedule. While I hate to put that on her, she has insisted. 

My wife and I would also be donating plasma regularly. One person who donates plasma the maximum amount of times per month can make around $200 in that month. However, since they are so strict about your urine and blood contents, you are not guaranteed or even likely to be able to donate that often. So, we are not including this in our future budget plan. 

All of this would help us to move out of my parents' house. The goal is to find a one bedroom for no more than $500/mo. It is doable. The university I will be attending offers family housing. One bedroom for $480/mo, and two bedrooms for $500/mo. However, in order to be accepted into the Spring move-in dates, you must apply in November. And the Winter move-in dates application periods have already passed. So, while these rates are far above any other we will find, it looks as though this will not be doable... We need out ASAP!

This brings me to the more financial side of things... We have been trying to decide... Should I take money out of savings in order to pay off a monthly bill of $100 (payoff is $549). We have $793 in our main savings account, $590 of which is EF. We also have $1,154 in another savings account, that might need to be used for airfare later next year for a somewhat expected emergency (sorry that I cannot provide more information on that), that - of not taken care of when it comes up - could spell unemployment for me. 

If I do not payoff this $100/mo bill, we will not be able to afford to move out.

Thoughts on this?

Also, I have a $200/mo bill in which I owe a total of $11,600. This is a no-interest loan from my parents. They paid-off a car while I was in college before (yes, I graduated). They did this without me asking, abd considered it a graduation gift. That car is now gone, and so is the loan. The loan was part of their second mortgage. Their second mortgage is being written off as a loss at Wells Fargo. Currently, this $200 goes to lay for my Mother's addictions to beer and cigarettes (which she spends $300/mo on). 

Since this loan was written off at the bank, I feel that when we move out, I will stop paying it. Their total disregard for my family's safety is inexcusable, and I do not feel obligated to pay this bill anymore. 

The worst thing about stopping payment to them is that I am going back on my word. However, they have gotten $8,000 from me ($600 of which is since the loan was written off). Also, I would be severing ties with my family. I feel they are - with the exception of my father - an endangerment to my child. For instance, my Mother's addictions get in the way of her ability to watch our daughter. She once placed her on the kitchen counter so she could reach into the fridge and get a beer. This is one of many dangerous situations she has put our daughter in...

Would you continue to pay, or would you stop?

Thank you for reading and for providing your opinions. This is an important post to me, personally.

eBaying Again

September 26th, 2011 at 07:11 am

After not having used eBay since I sold my MacBook Pro over two years ago (simply because I have not had anything to sell that merited the use of eBay over Craigslist), I have posted $250 worth (if you use Buy it Now) of auction items.

If you read my last entry, you would know that our computer – that I built just before I sold that MacBook Pro – recently had a power supply failure, which resulted in some damage to the motherboard, adding up to a little over $300 worth of repairs, if I did it myself. About $450 if I had someone do it.

Rather than repairing, we opted to get our new iMac that we'd planned on getting come tax return time. The total for the new iMac came out a little more than planned, but it was less than $450 in difference, so I believe it was a wise choice. And, since I remembered having received a letter from BillMeLater saying that I now qualified for their 'no interest or payments for six months if paid in full at the end of six months' deal, we will not be making any payments or accruing interest on this. When we receive our returns in - hopefully - February, we will be paying-off the BillMeLater account.

Nice to know is that my BillMeLater account was approved for a $2,608 line of credit. While that is more than I need and more than I used, it is great knowing that I qualified for that. I am sure than my credit score of 715 helps. In February, before we got real serious and organized about this debt reduction and overall healthy financial habits, my score was at 647. I'd say that is a pretty good improvement in less than a year. Smile

Back to eBay... In a matter of one minute of being posted, the processor that I listed sold for $100. I purchased it for $200 when I built it. So I think I got $100 worth of use out of it. Smile

Historically High U.S. Fuel Export

September 9th, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wondering just how much the govt cares about gas prices?

Take into account that the U.S. has recently reached a historical high for exported oil...

U.S. News - Historically High Oil Exports Helping Keep Gas P...

By PATRICK DEHAAN
September 8, 2011
Many Americans know supply and demand can make an impact on how many dollars they shell out at their local gasoline station--the lower the supply the higher the price. Is part of the reason supply is low because refiners are keeping it there deliberately while sending refined oil overseas?

[Read: How Much Oil is There?]

Refiners have been shipping historically high amounts of refined products out of the U.S., much of which is bound for Europe or Asia. Since diesel demand is high from Europe, where a majority of vehicles burn the heavier fuel, refiners can make a few extra dollars from each barrel by shipping it across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, domestic supply of diesel fuel currently sits nearly 11 percent below where it was last year, or some 19 million barrels lower.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should offshore drilling be expanded?]

Certainly the fact that U.S. refiners are exporting such a high volume of product overseas is not only keeping domestic supply tighter than years past, but it's also supporting high prices. Gasoline exports are also at record highs, some 395,000 barrels per day, according to the most recent Energy Information Administration numbers. Just earlier this summer, we were exporting 200,000 barrels per day of finished gasoline, so refineries are now sending nearly double the amount of gasoline out of this country. Looking at gasoline inventories, we see a similar deficit because of the amount of gasoline being shipped out. Not surprisingly, the latest EIA numbers show gasoline inventories some 7.4 percent or nearly 17 million barrels below there year ago levels. [See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.]

The bottom line is this: historically high exports aren't allowing U.S. domestic supply to grow and are certainly a part of the culprit behind high gasoline and diesel prices. So for those motorists out there rounding up reasons why prices are high can certainly add products being exported to their laundry list of reasons why motor fuel prices remain seasonally high. Keep in mind refinery maintenance season is right around the corner, and if these export rates remain high, we could see even more pressure on gasoline prices, perhaps pushing the fragile U.S. economy closer to the brink of another downturn.

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

August 16th, 2011 at 07:30 pm

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

A great article that really got me steaming over this country's so-called "representatives."

Please post comments in my forum post, here.

Current Happenings - Road Trip, Car Stereo, etc.

July 25th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I wanted to post another regular blog entry today, but I simply have not had time lately. So, instead, I will post the current happenings in my life.

Credit
I decided that, since all my credit debt is done away with, I should get a card without an annual fee and with cashback rewards so that I may use it every day in place of my debit card, so as to build my credit up, and to get free money. 

I began researching cards, and the two that suit me best were the Chase Freedom and Capital One Cash Rewards cards. I rather liked the Discover and AMEX cards better, but they did not provide the "everywhereness" that Visa/MC does. I may yet use an AMEX of Discover in places that will take it. Probably just stick with one card though. I was declined for the Capital One card with no annual fee, but was approved for Chase's with a $100 cashback if I send $500 in three months. No problem! So, that is in the mail.

I did some quick math, and estimated that I can make at least $84/yr off of this card. And, since it is not a budgeted income, and do not have to redeem it at any time, I can let it sit there until I feel like having a surprise.

Also, just received confirmation that my Best Buy credit card account was closed with zero balance and that it is being reported to the three major credit bureaus. Woohoo for that!

Road Trip 
As of the 30th, my wife and I will be in Tillamook, OR, for a family get-together on her mother's side. It will be the longest road trip I've ever driven, so it should be fun! 

We have $381 set aside for this trip (money from selling my class ring). We also have $306 leftover after paying bills (technically, about $250, as some is for gas). I was thinking we would keep this $306 in case of any emergencies during travel. However, I have not made a double-payment on my current target debt, and I do have $1,000 in EF, so I was thinking also that I should probably just make that double payment...

We will also be visiting Portland on our last day there. And, as a possible future home for our family, wenwould really like to get a non-touristy feel for the city. We are going to visit a coffee shop or two, a place for breakfast, a place for lunch, and I place for dinner, and then possibly visit some neighbourhoods. We are not sure. Any ideas?

Car Stereo
While still paying down debts, I was able to save $100 for a new car stereo. We are so excited! It has been pain not being able to listen to anything other than the radio! So I went onto Crutchfield's web site and looked around there, as well as other retailers. Got a beautiful stereo with USB, AUX in, CD player that reads MP3 and WMA, Bluetooth for hands-free, a remote, and HD Radio! So excited about the HD Radio! The wife and I tried to install it ourselves in order to save $50, but it was unsuccessful. Taking it in today to get it done. Maybe they won't charge the full $50 since it is 3/4 done...

This stereo retails for $139.99. Crutchfield had it for $99.99. A simple Google search found me a $20-off coupon code for Cruthfield. So I ended up paying $79.99 for the stereo, totaling $98 for everything, including free shipping and gear for installation.

Work
I will be working at another location tomorrow. I am not entirely happy with this change that my employer is doing (again!), but I am their go-to guy, so it is to be expected. A long-time employee left for a better job with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I will be taking his place. I do not look forward to the higher maintenance and more fragile work environment, but it may help make the days go faster as well. 

Baby
Our daughter, Lorelei, is growing every day! Saturday, she decided that she would suck through a straw. This morning, my wife calls me to tell me that she is saying 'mama'. 

Our little 5.5-month old will be presenting us with teenage material in no time! Ah!

Rounding
Some of you know that I execute a wonderful tool called rounding. What this entails, is I round up to the nearest dollar on all withdrawal transactions and run down on all deposit transactions, then  record it in my PocketMoney app. 

The total saved from rounding this month was $17.61. This goes straight into savings.

Fuel Economy
I am consistently achieving 120% of my vehicle's EPA rating. The car is rated at 27mpg city/hwy (55%/45%). However, I am getting - on a long-term average - 35mpg, driving 85% city, 15% hwy. Last tank, I reached an astounding 38 mpg. This is great for a 2.0L engine. Granted, my previous Honda Fit's engine got 42mpg without trying...

Groceries
We came in $27 under budget for the month! Our grocery budget really is helping out! 

So that's what's been going on. Hope everyone finds a bit more time off than I - I will be busy this week!

Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Credit Cards & Loans

July 18th, 2011 at 11:43 am


by uRabbit_foto, on Flickr
Ah, the allure of credit cards...

The reason that I am in this debt payoff situation that I am in is due to credit card and loan debts. Think about it... if there is no loan or credit line to payoff, well, there is no debt! My situation just so happens to involve too much of both. 

Credit Cards
When I was 18, one of the first things I did to prove my independence was open a credit card. And for the most part, it was not that bad. Until I began purchasing items that I did not have the money for. That is, of course, when it always gets out of hand. Sure, people say that a credit card is nice to have around in case of an emergency, but to those people, I say - nay! You should - first and foremost! - have an emergency fund set up. This is the number one priority. When you start earning an income, you want an EF. At least $1,000. Then start saving for whatever else you want, separate from that $1,000 EF. 

Credit cards are not as horrible as they sound. In fact, it is like with all things - in moderation. 

The best way to use a credit card is to first get a card that you can use anywhere. Then use it to purchase your normal expenses - gasoline, groceries, etc. But, be sure that every time you make a purchase on your credit card, you record it so that you may put that money aside to pay for toward the card. In fact, I would even suggest recording the credit card transaction in whatever you use to record your debit/checking account purchases. This way, you are not tempted to spend what you do not have

When you get home - that day - payoff what you just spent on your credit card. It's just that easy. 

Department store cards are hardly another matter. The only difference is that you cannot use them other places. Only get a department store card (or otherwise limited card) if it offers incentives. And remember - only spend what you would otherwise use cash for already. If it is not a planned purchase, do not go through with it.

Of course, the aforementioned practices are of my own preference. You may want, say, an Amazon.com Credit Card, because you make frequent purchases from them, and you would be less likely to overspend on it than you would a general credit card. It all depends on your weaknesses/strengths and preferences

I cannot stress this enough! Credit cards are NOT free money! Nor are they a 'payday loan' to put off paying. They are, in fact, a great tool - when used responsibly - to raise your credit score/credit worthiness. 

Loans
Loans can be great. But most of the time, they are very bad. I can say for certain - I am going to try my hardest to never again open another loan that is not 0%. With that said, it is not to be said that I will not ever again have another loan that is not 0%. There are some exceptions...

Student loans are a little excusable, as you are [hopefully] opening them in order to better yourself and to earn a better income. It can be hard to work enough in order to pay for school at the same time, but it can be done - though not by everyone. If a student loan is the only line you have open that has a balance, I would not harp on you!

However, do not abuse those student loans! I used my first student loan to pull out a $6,500 down payment on a car - bad idea! Use it only for schooling.

Mortgages are one of the exceptions to the no-loan policy. Homes are huge purchases, and can rarely be done without a loan or two. Keep in mind for mortgages - do not allow the monthly payment to exceed 29% of your monthly income. This includes HOA, insurance, closing costs, etc. I will not go any further into mortgages at this time.

Business loans are another excusable type of loan. It is quite impossible to start a business without loans. Unless you have some great investors, or already make caboodles from your current income, chances are you will need some startup loans. I have read that you should not expect to pull out more than what your business could realistically earn in two years. While this is not to say that the loans will be paid off that quickly, it is simply a guide. 

Personal loans can be dangerous. When I was 18, another thing I did to prove my independence was pull out a $2,200 loan to purchase a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. Why? Because I felt that I needed one. I did not. 

A loan that I was sort of forced to get was a personal loan to cover the difference on a vehicle's sale price and loan amount. I sold my 2007 Honda Fit last year in order to cut costs. I sold it for $13,000, and owed $15,000. I still feel I got a great deal because I sold the vehicle above KBB value. And, that loan now has under $900 left on the balance, and is my current paydown target. It will be paid off in a couple of months. That loan was only good because it helped to cut my debt considerably. 

This entry has not been as thorough as previous entries. That is because of two things: 1) Credit cards and loans are very extensive matters that require a lot of research, 2) but at the same time, I believe credit cards and loans are some of the most simplistic things in finances - try to avoid loans, and do not overspend. Of course, there are special circumstances, percentages and incentives to consider, types of loans and credit cards that could be beneficial, etc. 

In the end, as with all things financial, it is in your hands. 

Gold for Cash & Under Budget Again!

July 14th, 2011 at 06:58 pm

We had been meaning to take in my class ring to sell for cash. Finally had the chance to do so today, as I got off an hour early, since I came in early. 

We headed to a not-so well-known gold and silver shop. I believe it was called Idaho Gold & Silver. My class ring was 14k, had two small diamonds in the middle of the 0's for the year (2007), and one larger one right in the middle of a large grey stone that was set on the top of the ring. I cannot remember the name of the stone, but it was - at least at the time - the most expensive stone available from Jostens. 

Unfortunately, the shop did not pay for either the stone or the diamonds, but that was the general consensus around town. They believed the diamonds were too small to salvage, except "maybe" the large one. I am sure that any of the shops would take it and use it or sell it though.

When it was new, my father paid around $850 for the ring. Today, with his permission of course, I got $381 just for the gold. Not too shabby, eh? At the time I sold it, gold was at $1,585/oz. So, of course, they pay a percentage of the gold content. 

For an unaccounted-for income, this is a pretty good chunk of change. I had already planned on having our car's driver-side mirror fixed (~$120) and getting a stereo for the car ($~60). The stereo is already "free," because it was planned for before I received the free alignment for our car. So, really, the mirror will be the only planned purchase that has not been paid for in some other way. If this makes sense...

So, at the end of it all, we come out very much on top! We have a planned trip for Portland coming up, and we will be using some of this money for that as well, and applying the money we will be saving towards debt.

I love FREE money! 

Also, came in under budget on our grocery budget for the third week in a row! We are currently $30 under budget, and will most likely end up $40 under budget by next week! How cool is that?! And we are getting more food each time!

Three FREE Credit Reports Annually

July 14th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I just thought I would take a moment to let everyone in on a little-known secret.

So, everybody knows that you can get a free credit report annually. However, very few people realise that you can actually get one for free every four months. 

The 'trick' is just going to each individual credit union and getting a free report through them, rather than going to one of these free credit report web sites with a ridiculous jingle.

Here is my rotation:
Experian - March 1
Equifax - November 1
Transunion - July 1 

This way, you can monitor your credit report regularly, and for free. Remember, you cannot view it for free again one year later. That is why we use a different one every four months.

Happy Credit Reporting!

Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - [Not] Saving & Budgeting

July 11th, 2011 at 01:44 pm



Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Savings & Budgeting

I can tell you right now - When I was 18, I never thought about budgets or savings or anything like that. I was in college and was going to be making loads of money when I got out. I had a MINI. I had a brand new TV. Brand new furniture for my apartment. Etc., etc. 

Fast-forward five years to now. I am 23, married, one child, driving a grocery-getter, living in the upstairs of my parents' house, working the same job I was when I was in college.

So what happened?

I did not budget. I did not save. I did not have a realistic outlook. 

I thought a job would just come with my Certificate. Dead wrong. When my long-term girlfriend left me, I figured it was time to get a new TV and videogaming system, by way of getting a Best Buy credit card. I just paid that card off last month...

I was single for six months, and in that six months I made the worst financial decisions in my life. Along with getting that credit card, I also decided it was time to get a truck. You know, so I could do man things, like go hunting and all that. I did not even own a firearm or had ever been hunting. I took my beloved dream car and traded it in, financing the difference. Insurance sky-rocketed and I was now paying for two cars. 

All the while, since I started making money at age 12, I never once saved my money - except for a big purchase - and never had a budget, never had money for emergencies, etc. 

Here are some great tips for anyone:

Create a Budget
Sure, you may have more income than you do expenses, but that does not always mean you will have money at the end of the month. You need to create a budget. The best way to do this - in my opinion - is to use a spreadsheet. Google Docs has great, free tools for this. 

Add up your income to get the total of one month's worth. Now, round down to the nearest hundreds place. If you make $1,989/mo, round down to $1,900. This will help you create a buffer. It's like finding an extra $20 bill in yesteryear's ski jacket, but it's $89 every month!

Now, get your bills. For every bill, round to the nearest ones place. Your phone bill is $46.13/mo? Round to $47. This, again, creates a buffer. The point of this is to 1) Guarantee you always have enough for the bill, and 2) Account for any fluctuation in amount due month-to-month. My phone bill varies between $1-2 difference on some months, so round accordingly. 

With your bills, find all of the due dates. Chances are they are not all due on the same day, so you have to consider this in your budget as well. 
 
You may also want to include any percentage rates on your loans/credit lines, so as to easily set up your payment plan. I use the snowball method. Pay off the highest percentage rate first. Therefore, I put my highest percentage loan at the top of my budget spreadsheet, though I do not list the percentages. You may. 

You should have about five or six columns now. From left to right, it may look like this: Amount | Payee | 5th | 20th | Due Date | Rate. Obviously, in each column, you would put the appropriate information in there. 

Remember, make a budget for everything!

Click here to see our budget as an example

You may also decide to do a grocery budget - which I strongly recommend. Head on over to my blog post about that

Pay Yourself
Wouldn't it be great if we all had the ability to pay ourselves? And then, if something ever happened, we could just reach into our pockets and pull out the needed dough? Oh, it is possible...

Many people do not save money. As a result, they end up with unreliable vehicles, broken-down homes, empty wallets, and - quite often - torn relationships with loved ones. 

Like I said before, I never saved. Until about a year ago. Now, I keep at least $1,000 in my emergency fund, $500 in my healthcare fund, and $300 in my auto maintenance fund. Obviously, I do not stop contributing to those savings, but I do slide the priority of savings down to number two while I pay down debts. 

Many people find that remembering to save is one of the hardest things to do. There are a couple workarounds for this.

- If your employer allows direct deposit, you may select a certain amount of your check to be automatically deposited into your savings when your salary check goes through. 

- On your W-4, you may select a specific amount to be withheld from your paychecks. This is great because it will be like the money is not even there. Then, come tax season, you get even more back. Which, I suggest, you throw straight into savings or - if you already have enough in there - into an investment. 

- Make it part of your budget. You can add 'Savings' as a Payee so that you will pay it just like any other bill. This creates a smaller 'difference' between your income and expenses, and seeing that smaller number will be less tempting. 

How I Do It
I incorporate quite a few different techniques into my savings strategy. 

Probably the biggest player in my savings is - believe it or not - an app for my iPhone. With this app, I am able to create specific budgets for spending categories (auto, toiletries, etc.) that help me stay in-line with my spending (this app does not replace my spreadsheet budget). It also acts as a checkbook register. So every time I spend money, I record the date, payee, category, and amount. With the amount, I always round up to the nearest dollar. See? Another buffer. So we round up with expenses, and down with income. 

Here are some screen shots of the app: 

Set up multiple accounts for one actual account, in order to more easily divide your money. I use 'ICCU: Payment' to put aside extra money to use on the debt that I am paying down, on top of what I already have budgeted to pay.


Round up for expenses/purchases. See the $12 in the first image, in account 'ICCU: Payment'? That is what was saved last pay period just by rounding up. So it is going to be applied to the next payment on the highest interest loan.


Keep in-line with budgets.


Track what you spend most on, using expense reports. See if you can cut costs anywhere.

You can download this app, PocketMoney, here: http://bit.ly/q11c3q

I also drive economically and track my mileage. My vehicle is rated at 24 city / 29 highway. I am getting 35 mpg with 80% city mileage. Check out CleanMPG for more info, and stay tunes for my blog on this topic in the future.

Again, we budget our groceries. We also eat very healthy, by shopping mainly the outer rim of the grocery store.

We do not dine out. That's right. No dining out whatsoever. No quick trips to the grocery store for anything 'extra'. No fast food. No restaurant dining. 

We cut all unnecessary costs. Got rid of Netflix, even though it was only $11/mo. Putting that towards monthly payments on debts instead, shaves months off of the payoff time. 

We have only one frivolous item on our budget. 'Treats'. $30/mo. This includes: coffee shops, chocolates, unnecessary groceries, toys, etc. 

There is so much to list. But most importantly, the biggest money savers have been my own genuine ideas. Rounding and driving safer/more economical. No one mentioned these or suggested them. They came to me. Therefore, you will most likely find something that works for you, and that's great! 

Time for a New Car?

July 8th, 2011 at 08:49 am



I thought now would be a good time for me to publish this blog entry, as it ties-in with my post from Monday, Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Car Hopping.  I feel that this is very important information, and usually gets looked over when people are in the market for a different vehicle.

Is your car reaching near 200,000 miles? Is yours just crapping out? Did you happen to purchase an American car back when American cars were just not so... Reliable? Read on to discover some tips that will help you get through that whole car buying process that many people dread... Or that others find too exciting to be smart about it.

Buy Used
Yes, BUY USED. Never purchase a brand new car. There literally is an instant depreciation in value when you drive that squeaky clean brand new car off the lot. It is about 10%, give or take, which could be like throwing your down payment out the window.

Take, for instance, the 2003 MINI Cooper S that I mentioned in my post from Monday. I financed that car for $15,000, in 2007. The sticker was $23,000, so we will use that figure. With all the factory options that that MINI had, it retailed in 2003 at $38,000. That is a pretty HUGE difference. A difference of $15,000, to be precise. 

'But what about miles?' you may ask. You're right - a lot of miles can build up in four years. In fact, the average American drives 12,500 miles annually, or 50,000 in four years. But guess what? That is not many miles for today's vehicles. Today's vehicles will last into and possibly beyond 200,000 miles. If you follow the 12,500 miles/year statistic, that is 16 years! Also, my MINI had only 8800 miles when I purchased it, or about 2,200 miles annually. So, yes, those gems are out there! I was practically the only owner!

Follow the 4 Year Policy
Statistically, all of the major depreciation of car value happens in the first three-to-four years. Let's examine this.

Let's take a look at our personal vehicle. We purchased our 2007 Ford Focus S 5-speed manual with 30,000 miles on it. It retails at $11,435. A brand new, unused 2011 Ford Focus S has its MSRP set at $17,295. That is a $5,860 savings, or 34%! Consider the difference! Also, if you think it's just age, a used 2011 Ford Focus S goes for about $15,345. Instant negative equity!

Here is a great resource. I absolutely love Edmunds! Depreciation Infographic: How Fast Does My New Car Lose Valu...


Keep in mind that each car depreciates differently. Here is an article detailing a few Top 10 lists for best and worst depreciation values.

Save Even More - Salvage Titles
Now, remember how I said that my wife's and my 2007 Focus retails at over $11,000? We did not pay $11,000... We got the car at $5,500, from a consignment dealership. We put $1,972 down, financing the rest at $126/mo. How did we do this?

Our Focus has what you would call, a 'Salvage Title'. This may also be called a 'Restructured Title', or a 'Rebuilt Title'. This means the vehicle was involved in an accident (or theft) in which the vehicle suffered severe damage - according to the insurance company. It generally tends to be that the costs to repair are 50-80% of the vehicle's retail value. Thankfully, body work is very expensive, which means that you can have your hands on a reliable vehicle that has only suffered cosmetic damage. And chances are that you will not even notice any cosmetic flaws! On our Focus, the front grille is a hint lopsided, a corner of the rear bumper is not latched on all the way, and that's just about it. Really, only things you notice if you pay very close attention to details. But this is something you should do when looking at cars in the first place. 

This brings me to my next point...

Have an Inspection Done
Before you buy your new used vehicle, one of the most important steps is having the vehicle inspected by a shop that you trust. I have heard that some will do this for free, and then offer discounts on further business, but I have not encountered this. I have seen $15-80 inspections, all of which were about the same, and all very inclusive. They will tell you what needs done before you buy it, what will need done soon after you buy it, and their opinion of whether or not you should buy it at all. A good idea - if you don't know where else to go - is to go straight to the dealership that sells that brand of cars. 

A key point in the car purchasing process. 

What about my factory warranty?
You may say that the money spent on a new car is worth the extra cost because of the factory warranties. Well, consider this...

Most vehicles do not require a major repair until around 100,000 miles or five years. The best warranty in America right now is 100,000 miles/10 years, whichever comes first. Chances are that a big repair will come after that 100,000 miles. Typically, though, today's vehicles should last well into the 200,000's, only needing sub-$100 (sub-$500 for tires and brakes) repairs, that really should be considered part of your maintenance regimen and budgeted for, as I am sure they are on the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. These types of repairs/maintenance costs will include things like: re-timing or replacement of timing belt (becoming a thing of the past with timing chains becoming more affordable and reliable) @ 100k, new tires @ 60k (not covered on factory warranty), new brakes at 150k miles, new windshield wipers every 10k-20k miles (not covered), oil changes every 5,000 miles (not covered, but required to maintain warranty - may be performed free or discounted where you bought your car, dealer specific), new spark plugs every 40k miles (not typically covered), alignment every 50k miles or when changing tires (not typically covered, but may be required to maintain warranty), etc. Many warrantees only cover manufacturer malfunctions. So, really, they are not worth the extra costs.

Note: Keep in mind that these are generalizations. I know that more expensive vehicle manufacturers - MINI, for instance - offer an extended factory warranty (MINI's is up to 100,000 miles) that costs a little under $2,000, that cover engine timing, oil changes, alignments, wheel/tire installations (not the tires themselves), etc. So, remember, it is up to you whether or not these warranties are worth it. Also keep in mind that NOT ALL warrantees transfer to second owners. MINI's, however, does. Hyundai's, for example, does NOT.

Trade-ins
Number one rule about trading in your current vehicle... Do not trade-in a vehicle that you owe anything on. This would most likely send your auto loan into negative equity. Who wants to own one car, and pay for two, like I am currently doing

Down-payments
Down-payments are one sure-fire way to avoid negative equity. The more you put down, the less you owe, the lower your interest rate, the fewer months needing financed, and the lower your monthly payments. A good rule of thumb for down-payments is about 10-20%. The more, the better. 

As you have seen, buying a four-year old or newer (in some cases, older) used vehicle is most always in your best interest when comparing to buying brand new. 

All at Once...

July 6th, 2011 at 08:14 pm


It seems that unexpected events always seem to happen at once, doesn't it?

A couple months ago, a driver destroyed my driver-side mirror. I still need to get it replaced, as I was waiting for the claim to process, but it got denied.

Near the end of last month, I noticed our car's tires wearing improperly, so an alignment is in need, and - soon - tires.

Now, our purebred Miniature Schnauzer is feeling quite under the weather. Not eating, not drinking, lethargic, grumbling at her butt... I got home and massaged her belly with downward strokes, trying to promote intestinal activity. I also gave her milk - which she practically devoured - and tried giving her olive oil - which our kitten devoured when we were not looking. Then we took her for a walk. She had two good bowel movements while we were walking, so we are quite happy at this point. She also seemed a bit more energized. But still need to keep all of our eyes on her.

Thankfully, we have an EF and an auto expenses fund.

On a happier note! Our 5-month old daughter is now walking between our legs, her hands in ours. She is so advanced for her age. Smile

Mistakes for Young People to Avoid - Car Hopping

July 4th, 2011 at 02:27 pm

I have decided to start a new series - Mistakes for Young People to Avoid. Really, this series could be helpful to anyone and everyone, but it will pertain mostly to stupid mistakes that young people - like myself - quite often make. In fact, nearly every installment in this series will be from personal experience. 

These installments will be periodic, so stay tuned! Remember, blog posts will be made - usually - on Mondays and Fridays. This series will most likely be once per week. So since today is Monday, chances are that each new installment in the series will be made on Mondays.

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Being swooned into a new car is not as fun as it sounds.

I am 23 years old. I have been licensed since I was 16. I have also had a total of eight vehicles. More vehicles than years I have been licensed. If this does not sound like an irresponsible way to live your life, then you are beyond my help.

This first installment of my series, Mistakes for Young People to Avoid, is on car-hopping. That is, whimsically jumping from vehicle to vehicle. Let's start from the beginning.

At age 16, my parents purchase a 1984 Honda Prelude 1.8L Dual-Carb with automatic transmission, from my aunt, for $500. It was worth $2,000. This baby was MINT. Still had that clean smell. After two years of ownership, I had jacked up the front end so bad that both front wheels toed-in (inward angle), so much that any speeds above 40 were shaky and dangerous. I had backed the car up with the driver door open, and caught the door on som shrubbery, bending it backward against the hinge. The transmission was also slipping and would not shift thru second gear. Needless to say, I needed a new car. And armed with my newfound responsibility and my parents' credit scores, we headed to a dealership.

First dealership we get to, I decide on a 2003 Nissan Sentra 1.8L with automatic and air conditioning. It was a very basic car. Power nothing and no CD player. I had that car for two weeks, and decided I did not want it.

This time, I did a little more research. Went online and looked at some other cars. Found a 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP and a 2000 Cadillac Catera. I was interested in both. The Pontiac had better ratings, but the Cadillac was... A Cadillac. Heated leather, air ride suspension, sport mode, winter mode, Bose surround sound, On*Star, wood grain, etc. This baby was mine!

...For about a year...

After replacing the Mass Airflow Sensor ($280 under extended warranty) and recently finding out that the California Catalytic Converter needed replaced (some $700 or something), I opted to go car shopping again. 

This changed my entire life... I was in the middle of college, getting my Certificate in Massage Therapy. I looked into getting a student loan for a downpayment on a new vehicle. I wanted a two-door, manual, brand new sporty coupe. I headed to a dealership that had just what I wanted... The [then] brand new Pontiac G5 GT, a 200-HP turbo four-cylinder. And they had one... In screaming yellow with a leather package. 

A couple days of negotiating revealed that I could not get financing for that car. "Do you like MINI Coopers?" were the words I heard after my denial. And my eyes turned into the biggest, dopiest puppy-dog brown eyes you couldn't even dream up. My heart pounded. A MINI Cooper... My dream car since they came out in 2002. 

And there it was... A 2003 electric blue MINI Cooper S. Six-speed Getrag transmission, Harmon/Kardon sound system, panoramic roof, the works! I knew all there was to know about these cars! And what's more? It only had 8,800 miles on it! One test drive and I was hooked! 

Okay, let's do it! $23,000 sticker price. Nope. Denied. Okay, now what? The salesman goes to the back room. Comes back with this deal: $21,000 sales price, $6,500 down payment, and they take my Cadillac in at full retail! (And yes, it was full retail - $7,000. Trade-in was $3,500.) Okay! Sign me up! 

So I pulled out another student loan for $6,500, and I was outta there! Then the first payment hit... $583. Whoa! Okay... I don't think I can do this... But I could have, if I'd known how to budget. 

I kept making the payments, and boy was it hard! But I did it; I just never had any money for anything else... I thought. But, really, I just didn't go to movies or go out as much as before. I was saving no money at all. 

Then I graduate college. Woohoo! My parents decide to pay off my auto loan and lower my payments to $200/mo. Sweet deal! 

Fastforward about half a year down the road (have now owned the MINI for about a year and a half), and I decide I need a truck. I didn't even know how much I still owed my parents, but I didn't care. 

I found a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Pre-Runner (2wd) with the fancy TRD Off-Road package. Monthly payments of $162, no problem! Retail price, $18,500. Trade-in, $14,000. They convinced my dad to sign the MINI over if they gave him a $1,000 check (out of my trade-in value). I was on my way with my new truck. Funny thing, I wanted a 4x4, and still ended up with this two-wheel driven one. 

Half a year later, I'm commuting to work 20 miles one-way, getting 20 mpg. Compared to my MINI's 23 mpg in the city (and hot-rodding it everywhere), I was not happy. During this time, I met my wife-to-be. Her family invites me on a trip to Seattle. 

While in Seattle, we talk about our future plans and all. And my truck comes up. Long story short, I decide I want a Honda Fit. I begin doing research when I get home. Great cars, great mileage, great reliability. Sign me up!

Found a 2007 Honda Fit Sport, with a short-shift 5-speed manual, tinted windows, and rare factory optional goodies. I leave the dealership with it, trading-in my truck. 

During my ownership of the Fit, I loved it almost as much as I loved my MINI. I was getting 42 mpg and was loving it! But at $282/mo and insurance pretty close to that, I had to do something else. 

This time, I'm a little smarter about things. I decide to use my $1,500 tax returns to purchase an older Jeep Cherokee. Their 4.0 inline six engines are known to be one of the strongest. I sell my Fit for KBB value, which happened to be $2,000 less than what I owed. So I got a personal loan for the difference amount from my credit union and was on my way. Found a 1990 Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0. Unfortunately, it was not the exact same 4.0 that I had researched. They put those in the '91's and up. I was bummed. But it ran pretty well... For a while. 

I got the Jeep in March of 2010. January of 2011, the Jeep blows its head gaskets while my 9-month pregnant wife is driving it. Needless to say, she was without a car for a while, and I was off in the Army.

In the same month, we found a 2007 Ford Focus S. Has air conditioning, but little else. I read up on cars, and this was by far our best deal. We set out to get a Focus and we found one. And with only 30,000 miles! We paid $5,500 (financed $3,800, car retailed at $9,000) and we couldn't be happier!

Now... It's July of 2011, and we still have the Focus, and it's serving us pretty well. We will be in this car for some time to come. Now, a little more detail...

After all the trading of vehicles, I am left with so many bills! First off, the balance owed on the truck transferred over to the Fit, so I am - in all reality - still paying for the truck in that personal loan (which is almost paid-off). I am still paying on the MINI and have over $11,000 left to pay on it! So, at one point, I was paying for three vehicles, while only owning one. Where's the sense in that?

Right now, I am paying for two and only have one. But if you think about it, I could have two - the Focus and my MINI. I could have avoided all that and still had the car of my dreams, as well as a vehicle for my wife. Unfortunately, I did not have the guidance or foresight to think of that when I was single.

Every day, I kick myself for getting rid of that car. $200/mo for that is very affordable. And I only had 22,000 miles on it when I got rid of it. 

I have not done the math on how much money I have blown on vehicles, but I am sure it is in the 20,000's, easily.

I was irresponsible, as many people are these days. It is the lack of financial education and the wrong mindset that got me there. I will never forgive myself for getting rid of that MINI. But all these experiences has made me realize things and has lead me to where I am - on a path to financial freedom! And it is my goal to one day own a MINI as good as or even better than the one I had, and to pay cash for it. Among many other goals.

I hope this account of mine has helped some of you or relates to you in some way. Please, teach your kids (and yourselves!) about finances and responsibility. And don't be afraid to tell them (and yourself!) NO. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, and be sure to keep reading! 

You will forever be missed...

Hidden Savings

June 30th, 2011 at 09:41 am

This week, I have been seeking advice from the community, pertaining mainly to our current budget. It has most definitely helped!

Here is the topic: http://bit.ly/lUTyBW

First, it started with some reality checks. My wife is a SAHM, and she loves it. However, we may need to have her help pick up some slack. We don't have many options for child care, so she may have to do something on the weekends. However, what is more likely, is that I will be using my Certificate in Massage Therapy to work in neighbouring towns that do not require a massage license. I will be working toward that license so that I may get a better position here in Boise.

Next up, was addressing my high interest credit card. I recently paid off a Best Buy card and have one card left; my Master Card Platinum. While this card is pretty customer friendly (no annual fees), it's pretty high interest (24.24%). One user suggested looking for a lower interest card and transferring the balance. My CU, Idaho Central Credit Union, is awesome. They have great credit cards. So I applied.

Having been in contact with the store manager at the downtown branch where I frequent, I soon found out that they could save us money on our car payment as well! Long story short, I did not qualify for the credit card, but did qualify for a $4,300 loan (covering the current auto loan AND my MC cc) at 4.99%!

We go in on Friday to sign on the dotted line. Smile

It's great to find out that savings are out there just waiting for you!