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More Free Money!

September 27th, 2011 at 09:12 am

Recently, coming up with money for consumer goods that we actually need has been difficult. We need winter clothing and shoes and some odds & ends.

However, we have gotten a little help. A few days ago, my wife took in some clothes of hers that she does not wear, and sold them. She got $31 and was able to purchase one new outfit and still had some left over that we put into our clothing budget savings.

The other day, we were able to afford $115 worth of items at Target. 1/3 of that was regular expenses, while the rest was - thankfully - a coat for each of us, and a pair of pants for myself. That means that I now have three pairs of pants. Yay? And my wife only has one...

The other day, we received an offer from Target, saying that if we create our wedding registry, print it out, and take it to customer service, we would get a $20 gift card. We signed up for this before we got married over a year ago, so we felt that it would not be entirely dishonest if we were to take advantage of this offer.

So we did just that. Sunday, we got the card, and my wife was able to get some much-needed undergarments.

It's slow, and it's paycheck-to-paycheck as far as getting things we need, but it is working so far. Thankfully, we still have a good amount in savings, though we do need to payback our EF. But I am currently working on paying my auto repairs fund, as tires are an upcoming purchase of about $350.

On Saturday, I changed the oil in our car. Now, most people pay about $20 at any old lube shop for their oil changes. Not me. I have had far too many negative experiences at tire, lube, and mechanic shops. So I take it upon myself. Also, the oil we get costs $50 for 5 quarts. "Why?!" you may ask. Wel, it is AMSOIL Signature Series 100% Synthetic oil. This oil lasts up to 25,000 miles or 1 year. You do the math... Actually, don't. I already did for you. Well... For me. Using this oil costs $0.0027 per mile. Motorcraft (Ford brand oil) synthetic blend is $0.007 per mile. And Mobil 1 ful synthetic is $0.006 per mile. Quite a difference. Also, AMSOIL is proven by independent sources to cause less wear, to warm up faster, and to burn cleaner. So, it's a great buy.

As for those tires I will be getting later... They are Kumho Low Rolling Resistance tires that will last up to 100,000 miles or 6 yrs, with a warrantee, and cost LESS than the standard tires.

It's all about the quality of the maintenance you put into your vehicles. Smile

Okay, so let's end this rambling and let you get on with your day!

Pedal Power - the new old ride

August 17th, 2011 at 09:31 am

Over the weekend, I purchased a 1972 Schwinn Varsity 10-speed road bicycle. This bicycle will serve as my secondary means of travel, for when I start school in the Spring. Unfortunately, I cannot commute to work unless I were to leave my vehicle at work, as I am required to transport DDA individuals. This is not an option, as we lack a second vehicle to leave at home in case of emergencies. Quite unfortunate.

The bicycle itself is in pretty good condition. Great condition, considering its age! There are a few things that need done on it - adjust front brake pads, adjust or replace rear brake line, figure out the gearing. Gearing on these older bicycles is a completely different story. 


1972 Schwinn Varsity 10-speed by uRabbit_foto, on Flickr

As you can see in the image above, the gear levers are much different than today's more compact, robust gear shifters. The left lever controls the front gears. There are two front gears and I refer to them as HI and LO. In the rear, are five more gears, making a total of 10 possible gear positions. Currently, the rear derailleur (shifter) is skipping gears 2 and 3. This could be an issue, considering I have hills to climb on this bicycle.

Other than that, there really is not much needing done to this 39 year old two-wheeled vehicle. I do need to get a helmet, multi-tool, open-end wrench set, pump, etc. Also, I will most likely take this in to get a complete tune-up.

Locally, we have the Boise Bicycle Project, which is a non-profit shop that does much more than your average bike shop. Their going rate is $10/hr. However, if you pay the $50 yearly membership fee, you get unlimited shop hours, classes, and a 10% discount on parts/in-store purchases. Great deal! I will be doing this when we get the extra dough. It will not be very soon, as I need to pay-back savings for the speeding ticket...

Also, I will be working toward getting the wife a bicycle and a trailer for our little one. It seems women's bicycles are going fairly cheaper than men's, and trailers are super cheap as well. Cannot wait for a family ride! Hopefully by next Spring.

Save Over $500/yr in Gas!

July 27th, 2011 at 11:16 am



Today is as good a day as any to talk about how to save a few extra bucks. And today, the method for saving is by way of driving economically. Did you know that driving poorly could lower your vehicle's fuel economy by around 33%? While this is the general consensus, I know from personal experience that driving economically can raise your fuel economy by around 70% and more!

Take, for instance, my wife's and my personal vehicle - a 2007 Ford Focus w/ 5-speed manual that is rated at 27 mpg combined EPA (23 city/33 hwy). Now, if that sounds good to you, I feel sorry for you. Frankly, I am just not satisfied with these numbers. My dissatisfaction with these numbers has helped me to achieve 35 mpg on average over all fill-ups. My last tank was 38 mpg. So how do I do this?

There is a combination of 'tricks' that every driver can learn and execute in order to achieve 120% more than EPA estimates, and HIGHER

No idling
Idling has quite the negative impact on your fuel economy. So, eliminate it! Stopped at a red light? Key-off your engine. It's as easy as that. I am good enough now that I can follow the pattern of lights in order to know when my light will turn green again, or even turn red, so that I may start my engine or begin deceleration respectively. 

If you were unaware, hybrids utilize a technology that turns off the vehicle's engine at idle.

Don't use your brakes
Obviously, you cannot avoid using your brakes entirely. However, you can in controlled situation. Most people only look as far as the next car ahead of them, or even only as far as a few feet ahead, looking at the road directly. If you remember driver's education, this is a big no-no! I try to look at least a full two city blocks down the road. And I do not look at the road. Instead, look at the traffic lights. This will also improve your peripheral vision to aide you in better responding to situations. 

If you see a light turning red that you are approaching, what do you do? I'll tell you - you continue going the same speed until about 100 ft from the light. It's true. What do I do? About a city block or more, I pop into Neutral, then begin downshifting in order to slow my vehicle without using my brakes. What does this do? This 'trick' keeps some of your vehicle's forward momentum in store for when you start back up again when the light changes back. Now, it may not be possible to keep moving, such as when a light is long, the light changed before you had a city block to slow down, or what-have-you. So key-off to avoid idling

But how does downshifting help fuel economy? Most vehicles these days have what is called Deceleration Fuel Cutoff. What this does, is cutoff the fuel when the vehicle is under negative acceleration. Yes, it works when you break as well. However, the further/longer it takes you to decelerate, the higher your fuel economy. 

Accelerate like a granny
Yep. You know all those grannies driving around their Cadillacs, while you zoom past because you're running late for work? Chances are, their V8 engines are getting as good of mileage as the typical V6. 

A good rule of thumb - accelerate at the rate of 1 mph per second. It should take you five seconds to accelerate by 5 mph. While this may not sound like a long time, it is! So, practice! 


If you do indeed decide to utilize these methods and attempt to exceed your vehicle's EPA, keep in mind a few things:
1) Patience is a Virtue. Driving slowly will most definitely result in your commute time becoming longer. But not as much as you would think! My commute is about 8 miles one-way in the city, and it only takes me 25 minutes. 
2) Other drivers will hate you. It's just a hard fact. People will swerve around you. People will flip you the bird. They will possibly even endanger yours and the lives around them. This is nothing new. This is just more noticeable when you are driving consciously, and not like a maniac. 

In fact, one person took off my driver-side mirror because he decided to use a middle turn lane to pass me...

Often, people will pass me, only for me to catch up to and even pass them at lights. It is quite rewarding! 

Fuel Brands
It has been shown that no one fuel brand is more fuel efficient than the other. This is mostly due to the fact that they all come from the same refineries. However, I prefer Chevron/Texaco for the additives. That is what you need to look at. Additives. Chevron/Texaco additives help to preserve your engine by cutting down on wear. 

The Savings
If you were wondering what kind of savings you should expect from this, keep reading. 

Our Ford Focus was getting about 24mpg before we started hypermiling (the term for exceeding the EPA). And now we are getting 35, currently (and going up as I get better at hypermiling). What kind of savings is this?

At 24 mpg, we would get about 264 miles per tank before fill-up. 
At 35 mpg, we get about 385. 
We fill up about four times a month (if that). 
We drive about 1,000 miles per month (12,000 annually). 
12,000 / 24 mpg = 500 gallons consumed
12,000 / 35 mpg = 342 gallons consumed

Look at the difference there! 158 gallons of fuel is saved! Not only saving us money, but keeping our impact on the environment lower as well! Quick note: driving economically also reduces your CO2 emissions! Go green!

Let's see how much money we are saving:
Let's say a gallon of gas averages out to be $3.68 for the entire year. So...
158 ga X $3.68 = $581.44!

That is an annual savings of $581.44! Talk about a good chunk of change! 

So you're not only lowering your economic footprint, but you're saving loads of cash as well! Why everyone does not do this, is beyond me. And, frankly, I cannot respect those people as much as I can someone who actually puts effort into 'going green'. Sure, people buy hybrids. But are they maximizing that vehicle's potential. more often than not, the answer to that is 'no'. And it gets to me. Why do people have to be so lazy? Why does everyone want to be able to BUY something that will fix their problems? And then go around bragging about how much they spent on something that is 'saving our planet'. Ugh... Sickening.

Anyways, I hope you all enjoyed this topic. Please, PLEASE check out CleanMPG.com. there is loads of information on there. There is also a tool to track your mpg. However, I prefer:

GasCubby - Record and manage your vehicle's fill-ups, track your mpg, keep records of maintenance done, etc. 
Click here to go to App Store

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!

Babies Can Be Frugal Too!

July 22nd, 2011 at 08:44 am


Lorelei says "Bleeehhhhhh!" to spending money.

This Friday, I would like to talk about babies. So, before you go out and spent a boat-load on your bebe, please give this article a read.

A lot of people feel that babies are expensive. I know of people that spend hundreds of dollars a month on diapers alone. Then there's formula, or when they're old enough, baby food. There's clothing, walkers, high chairs, potty chairs, teething rings, toys, etc., etc.

However, I am here to tell you - you can spend less than $50/mo on your new bundle of joy, and she will still have everything she could ever want or need. 

In the six months our daughter has been on this earth, we have spent less than $1,000, easily. I would go so far to even say we have spent less than $500. Less than $300, even! 

Yes, it is true. How can you do this?

My wife's baby shower is responsible for a lot of it, I must admit. But none of the things we got were worth over $50, for one item. So, if you have any family or friends, chances are they can help you out a lot! The gals at our church were there, as well as family and friends. What we got was quite a few outfits, a breast pump, plenty of cloth diapers, about two month's worth of disposable diapers, and a few odds and ends. 

Most people these days do not breast feed and use disposable diapers. However, since my wife is able to breast feed, that is what we do. Why not? Breast-fed babies are shown to develop mentally, emotionally, and physically better than formula-fed babies. Also, we use cloth diapers. A friend's rationalization for not using cloth diapers, is that he would not wear something that he'd crapped in more than once, so why would he make his child...? Interesting. Spendy, but interesting. We do use disposables when we are out of the house, and at night. We use about one case of diapers every 1.5 to 2 months. Not bad, eh?

When it comes time to start weaning your baby into solid foods, most people purchase baby foods. But why? Laziness. Would you not rather give your baby freshly prepared fruit & veggies straight from your own kitchen? All you need is food and a food processor (or you can mash the foods yourself!). 

Now what about clothing and toys? As you know, babies grow out of both rather rapidly! However, this does not mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars on them. If you have family and friends that are able to help contribute any amount of money to your baby fund (via purchases they make themselves), then you should be set. 

My wife and I took the clothes that our daughter had never worn and was already grown out of, to a store called Other Mothers. We ended up with a lot of in-store credit. And were able to get things for our daughter that she actually needed. So 'second-hand' stores can be great for both the buyer and the seller. And don't go thinking your child is 'too good' for second-hand.

Also keep in mind that your child does not need every obnoxious toy that every store has to offer. Our daughter - now almost six months - has three toys. Her peacock from Babies-R-Us, her twinkly birdie that looks like an elephant that we don't know where it came from (haha!), and her key ring. Those are the ones that were purchased. But usually, she would much rather play with her Oragel tube, a clean toothbrush, or any sort of paper or grass so she can rip it to shreds. Other than that, she also has her walker. So, you can see that we have not spent even $50 on toys yet. Nothing can compete with a child's imagination. 

Just so you are aware, our budgeted allowance for baby-related expenses is $30. And so far this month, we have only spent $12, and the month is almost over.

Some people may think we don't spoil our child enough. And we wouldn't have it any other way!

Being Frugal & Living Healthier @ the Same Time

July 15th, 2011 at 08:28 am



A lot of people say that it is just too expensive to live healthy. And for the most part, they are right! $50/mo gym memberships, produce and other raw ingredients costing more than pre-packaged food items, bottled water being so expensive. 

Well, guess what? It's really not that bad - it just takes a little work.

Start at the Beginning - The Grocery Store
The grocery store is absolutely the number one place where we spend the most money that directly impacts our health. This could be for good or for bad - for both our health and our financial fitness. 

However, keep in mind my post on developing and sticking to a grocery budget. With a grocery budget in hand, my wife and I are able to save money while eating healthier as well. If you look at our grocery budget, you'll notice that we do not eat much processed foods. The popcorn, chips, crackers, and other possible bad foods that we eat, are all natural with no artificial colouring or flavours, and are low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium.

Kettle Brand, Lays All Natural Baked, Tim's (mostly), Sun Chips, etc. are all brands that are less unhealthy than other brands/types. But remember - you still need to monitor your intake. Wheat Thins, Triskets, and others for crackers.

Notice that the most we spend on, is produce. This is a must. You need to prioritize your grocery spending. Also remember portion control - one serving, do not eat until feeling full, etc. Drinking water will help curb your hunger also. More on water later...

Really, you just need to be creative with your meal planning. My wife - thank goodness! - is a natural cook. For those less fortunate, there are some great web sites with great frugal recipes. Some of those include: a frugal recipes blog, MiserlyMoms, Frugal Recipes, and many more!

When you eat healthier, you perform better. You are more likely to want to exercise, and be healthier in other aspects of your life. 

Healthy Activities
A lot of people associate the word 'healthy' with a tight firm body on a treadmill. This is not necessarily the case. Health status should not be determined by the outward appearance, rather, it should be judged by what you take in. Nutrients, vitamins, alcohol, smoke inhalation, etc. And chances are if you feel healthy, you are. And if you don't, well...

Let's say that you actually do need to exercise. Come on now, everyone needs exercise! But if you are one of the many Americans needing supplemental exercise activities because you do not get enough throughout the day, then there are plenty of things you can do, without spending loads on a gym membership. 

Yoga - My wife does yoga daily (when the baby allows!), and she loves it. It is rejuvenating, revitalizing, and renewing. (Ah, I love synonyms!) She can perform it relatively well in our living space, though ceilings higher than 6 feet would be better. Ha! 

Running/Walking - Something that I personally need to get back into! When I was in the Army, I learnt one very important thing about running - do not walk. Everything in motion, tends to stay in motion. Everything at rest, tends to stay at rest. When you slow down, you are more likely to slow down again. Do not break that rhythm. Get into a good breathing pattern that aligns with your steps. If you have shin splints like me, it will be a painful experience. But it is most likely because you are running wrong. Chances are you're over-striding. To get a good running stance, take a deep breath in. You know that straight up standing position you're in at the peak of that breath? Keep it while you run. But please, do not hold your breath!

Running can be done anywhere - around your neighbourhood, a recreational paved trail, the local school's track, etc. I have actually found that running in dirt does not hurt my shin splints. I honestly cannot say why, but some avid runners suggest that it is simply because our bodies were made for uneven surfaces.

And what about walking? Everyone should enjoy a nice walk. Especially with the family! Even with our baby in-tow in her stroller, we can speed-walk together. Speed-walking is not even required necessarily. We took a 5-mile walk down one of Boise's historic residential districts, and did not even realise the distance. We took pictures (see them here at my flickr set), gazed in awe, and just enjoyed our time together. Afterwards, we both felt great as a result of a bit of a workout!

Working Out
There are loads of exercises you can do with absolutely no equipment, or very little equipment.
Here is a good article for men.
And here's one for women.
And a web site dedicated to home workouts. 

Staying Hydrated
Absolutely every single person needs to keep hydrated! Even if you do not feel thirsty, chances are you are still dehydrated. What I always say is, If you are not peeing every hour, you are not hydrated.. Truth be told, if you are hydrated, you are most likely visiting the restroom often throughout the day. And you will know for sure that you are hydrated when your urine is clear and not of any colour. (Unless you have kidney issues...)

A Discovery News article notes:
...dieters who drank two cups of water before each meal lost 5 pounds more than a group of dieters who didn't increase their water intake.

Water helps in so many ways, that they are just too numerous to list here. But among them, some are: help breakdown of fats, stimulation of metabolism, boosts immune system, etc. 

But what about how much it costs? A case of 24 12-ounce bottles of water costs around $4 on average. If we are drinking the suggested amount of water daily (which is about 80 ounces for a 160-pound adult), we are consuming 6.5-7 of these bottles a day. So a $4 pack will only last one person about 3.5 days. So we are looking at over 8.5 cases per month, about $40/mo for a single individual. Quite the expense to stay hydrated! 

Now... Think of all that waste! Having to recycle the bottles, the waste that the manufacturing plants produce, etc. There has to be some other way!

Most of us hate the taste of our municipal tap water. And I don't blame you - So do I! However, there is a way to take the convenience of filtered water and the frugality and enviro-friendliness of tap water with you, by combining the two. 

There are a few companies with similar concepts, but the best has to be bobble. This nifty creation consists of a clear BPA-free bottle and a BPA-free carbon filter in the colour of your choice. There are solid colour filters, multi-colour filters for the kids, and a special edition two-tone green filter that, upon purchase, 50% of purchase price goes to an environmental protection organization, The Nature Conservancy. There are three sizes of bottles as well. One for the kiddos, a 'regular' sized one, and a super-hydrator size. Check 'em out!

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!

Dollar Store Drugs

July 13th, 2011 at 08:35 am

You would never think it, but you can score great deals on OTC drugs at your local dollar store.

Last night, my wife and I took our daughter for a walk up to the dollar store around the corner. Not exactly the normal family walk destination, but tonight it was, as I had just run out of my antihistamine. And some of us know how miserable that can be!

Unfortunately, this dollar store only stocks one variety of antihistamine, but thankfully it is the one that works for me - cetirizine. I also need to take decongestion medication, as the antihistamine does not take care of that. And, luckily, they carry that as well. Smile

So I got five packs of 14 pills of cetirizine, and three packs of 24 pills of the decongestant. Now I can live somewhat allergy-free for about a month. Total price? Just under $9. But, remember to round up!

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! 

Big-O Tires Secures Future Business With Me

July 9th, 2011 at 06:35 pm

Took the car in today to get an alignment done. The tires seem to be wearing more on the outside, which is not right. They should wear evenly.

Four hours later, the car is done. They did not call me. But, in their defence, they were quite busy today. So, hint number 1 - go to a tire shop when they are busy. Why? They won't try to sell you tires. Wink And mine obviously need to be replaced!

The store manager folds up the receipt, staples his card to it, and says, "I didn't charge you. You were cool about the wait and your car didn't need any adjustments anyway."

That struck me as odd. I mean, woo-hoo, free alignment! I was expecting $60-80 (that's what they quoted), but I had a $20 off coupon anyways. So, I asked about the wear, and he said nothing was wrong. So I went on my merry way.

What does this mean? Well, I have been meaning to get a new head unit for the car's stereo, as we will be taking a trip to Portland here in a couple of weeks, and a road trip is no fun without a working CD/iPod player! So I have found a head unit on sale online that is $60 with free shipping. Plays via USB, SD Card, and AUX input. And it's over $100 off. Smile

So anyways... Keep in mind... If you keep your cool and waste your Saturday, you just mind end up with a good deal. Smile

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. 

Car Needing Repairs

July 5th, 2011 at 02:41 pm

Well, it seems like car expenses like to hit all at once... 

A couple months ago, another driver swiped off my driver-side mirror with his passenger mirror, while trying to pass me illegally. Unfortunately, his insurance denied my claim because they could not get ahold of him via telephone, and there was not substantial evidence that he was ever involved. So, his business card with his personal information written on the back in his handwriting (license #, policy #) does not count as evidence? And I can just ignore my phone whenever I do not want to be held responsible for anything? Moral of this short story: always wait for police, no matter how long they take!

So, anyways, this mirror is needing replaced. I got a quote from a well-reputed body shop, and they want $118 to fix it! Ha! Right...

Also needing done is the alignment. My car's tires are wearing on the outside instead of on the inside like they should be doing. The inside of tires are supposed to do more of the road surface contact, while the outsides of tires are supposed to wick away rain and snow. This is how they are made. When they flip-flop responsibilities, they perform at half their potential value. Therefore, my tires are wearing way too fast on the outside. 

I am needing new tires, but this can be avoided for a while by addressing the underlying problem, that being the alignment. It is possible that instead of making the wheels toe-in, they are toeing out. This is causing the inappropriate tire wear. This job can be done at Big-O Tires for $55, according to the quote they gave me over the phone. By far the cheapest. 

As for the mirror... I am thinking of getting a new mirror online from a third party manufacturer (rather than direct from Ford, as they charge $52 per mirror). I have found one for $25 online. Also, we know a mechanic through family that charges very fairly and is quite knowledgeable, and does not take too long or perform too quickly. We will be getting into contact with him in order to arrange something. 

You don't always have to pay an arm and a leg to fix/maintain your vehicle. 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.

----------------


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...

Groceries on a Budget - Literally

July 1st, 2011 at 06:53 pm

Do you have a budget? Most of us do. They include items like car payments, mortgage, credit card bills, and most definitely groceries. But do you have a separate budget for groceries?

A what?

Most people do not think to actually make an itemized budget for their grocery shopping. However, it is not only a great financial tool, but it will also help you cut down on unhealthy foods, and will help you stick to your grocery lists!

A few days ago, my wife wrote up a budget on Google Docs. And I must say, I am quite impressed!

Click to see the Grocery Budget

As you can see, she did a great job of categorizing items and applying a set amount, as well as laying out how often the items are purchased.

Such an easy task, yet such a huge helpful tool!

What's more, you need to be able to stick to your grocery list! Never, ever go to the store without a list. You are much more tempted to make impulse buys this way. Even with a list, impulse buys are still a hazard. Also, try not to go to the store hungry!

A great way to make your grocery list correspond with your budget is to write the amount you plan to spend on the particular item, next to that item. See below.



Doing this, we were actually able to get MORE groceries for LESS. We ended up saving $13 than what we usually spend on the month's first week of groceries.

Now that's what I call a good job budgeting and saving!

iPhone App: A great app for shopping, that I like to use, is called ShopShop. Super simple, and super FREE.

My Daily Frugal Lunch

July 1st, 2011 at 12:06 pm



I know a lot of people eat out, especially for lunch while at work. This is not only hard on your pocketbook, but also on your health. Here is what I have for lunch every day, M-F, thanks to my wonderful wife.

- Sandwich (of some variety; PB&J, meat and cheese with spinach, etc.)
- All-Natural crackers or baked chips (Wheat Thins, Triskets, Kettle Brand baked chips, etc.) - one serving size
- Organic baby carrots
- Tillamook All-Natural Lowfat yogurt - there is absolutely nothing artificial in these cups of delicious yogurt! And, they're super cheap! About $0.40 each.
- One full bobble - I drink about 3-4 of these a day. Best part is, it's refillable and has a built-in filter!

This is a super low-cost lunch and I enjoy it every day!