Searching

14 07 2008

As many of you know, I started this blog to hold myself accountable for budgeting as my wife and I planned and budgeted to move into our new house.  Over that time, I successfully wrote and grew this blog to over 100 subscribers.

Now that we have moved into our house, I’ve found myself at a loss of ideas and motivation to post.  As I’ve been trying to analyze why I feel this way, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m beginning to feel like a hypocrite.  We live in a very nice new house, that we have worked very hard for, however we have had a great deal of help getting here.

First, we got a huge leg up from my wife’s brother and his wife.  They currently own two houses in the Dallas area and offered to let us live in one of them, rent free, as long as we maintained it and paid the utilities.  So far we have not been able to thank them enough for the head start they gave us on saving for a house.  We lived there for about a year, and by living frugally we were able to live on my wife’s salary while saving all of mine.  This enabled us to have a good sized down payment on our house and to fully fund an emergency fund.

Next, my in-laws gave my wife her mom’s old car for her graduation.  Which is a very generous gift by any standards, but when her mom’s old car was a mint condition Lexus SC 430 with low miles, it’s above and beyond.  We were able to sell the car for a large sum, which enabled us to put a very large down payment on our Volvo, and put the rest into the down payment on our house.

Finally, something that I have written about previously, but a check that my grandmother gave me when I was young.  I was able to invest and exponentially grow it.  This money paid for Mary’s engagement ring and our wedding rings.  It also paid off all of our debt after college, and for some of our furniture.

Living in our nice new house I have to say it is hard to feel like we are living frugally, in the truest since of the word we definitely are not.  We have a new 2500 sqft house (for 2 people), and we drive a new car that we make payments on (when we could have paid cash), but what I have really come to realize in the last few months writing this is that being frugal isn’t about being stingy, cheap, or not wanting to spend money.  What being frugal is really about is choices.

Mary and I choose to live in a nice new house, we choose to drive a nice new car, and we choose to make sacrifices to afford both of them.  We take our lunch to work.  We don’t eat out much.  We carpool.  We don’t have cable.  We use coupons. We don’t belong to a gym, instead we workout on our own…which will hopefully be a future post.  Mary made the drapes in our bedroom from nice fabric she found deeply discounted.

As you can see, although we may not be the true poster couple for being “young and frugal,” we like to think that we are wise with our money, and we are able to enjoy the choices that we make, while still saving for retirement.





Why You Need To Know Math

20 06 2008

This week I overheard a conversation that made me ashamed of my generation.  I felt like I aged 20 years and was looking at two young people (roughly my age) in disbelief.

I was in a retail store with my wife, and I had a cashier call other stores to check stock on an item.  As I was waiting for my answer, a woman (around 25) walked up to the register with an item.  It rang up as $8.50.

She turned to the cashier, “This was marked as 50% off.”

“Oh,” replied the cashier who was in his early 20s, “ok, I’ll just make an adjustment,”  He the proceeded to ring up the item again.

“That’s not right” said the woman.  “50% of $8.50…$4.50.”

At this point I would have been alright, people make mistakes, but I was still biting my tongue.

The cashier thinks about it, and then REACHES FOR A CALCULATOR!  At this point I couldn’t take it any more, and proceeded to make an ass out of myself.

“Uhhh…$4.25,” I interjected.

Both parties, thought about it for what seemed like at least a minute, and I got a combined “Oh yeah.”

I should have stopped at that, but for some reason, unknown to me, I had to continue with the smartass comment of “yep, gotta love that elementary math!”  

I immediately felt like a huge ass, I apologized, and left the store.

Now, I know I was an asshole and I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but really?  Needing a calculator for something like that?  Are we really a generation that can’t do remedial math in their heads?  Are we that reliant on technology that we can’t think for ourselves?

How can you expect to budget while you shop if you can’t do things like that?  I love sale racks (who doesn’t?) but I always have an understanding of what I will be charged before I pay.  That way I know if the cashier makes a mistake in ringing me up, it’s a basic way to save money, and a skill that everyone should have, if you don’t watch out for your own wallet no one will!  Yes, this issue was over a quarter, but imagine if it was a higher ticket item?





Falling Off The Wagon

15 06 2008

Hi, my name is Daniel, and I… lost track of my finances. 

I write (what is for the most part) a personal finance blog, so you’d think that I would track every penney, but I don’t.  We budget to pay ourselves first (savings/retirement), pay all of our bills, and then everything else is give and take.  One month we might go over on eating out, but we won’t touch our clothing budget, so we call it even; but over the last month as we have moved I have learned a very valuable lesson.

Once you start spending, it’s hard to stop.  It’s like the floodgates of your bank account open, and the next thing you know, you’re asking how your credit card bill got that high!?

We realized this week that we have run our credit card bills up much more than we realized.  It’s not like we have purchased large items, it’s a great number of little things that we did not appropriately budget for.  For instance, the last two weekends we have been out of town, and we did not adequately budget for food for either weekend.  Plus being gone on the weekend messed up our schedule, so we didn’t go to the grocery store to stock up for the week as we usually do, so we ended up eating out.  Then we moved, there was no point in us buying tons of food when we would have to move it, so we ate out more.  

Our move was a beast by itself.  Thank goodness I have friends and family who were willing to come help when I offered free beer (which no one ended up drinking!).  I rented the largest Budget truck available, for 24 hours, found a coupon code online to nock off 10%, and then surprised myself when I was able to negotiate another 15% off at the truck rental place.

Somehow a great number of little things added up.  The only major things I can remember buying are drapes and blinds for the house (which we came in way under our budget for!…to bad we went over everything else!)

This will serve to be a very interesting month.  We will soon make our first mortgage payment (yikes!), and we’ll get to see how close we were in our estimates for our new utility bills!  Plus, we’ll map out a plan to pay off our credit card bills.  Which right now I’m thinking will involve pulling some funds out of savings and tightening the budget to replace the money over the next few months (and hoping for a decent raise soon!)

Also, allow me to apologize for this seeming rant.  As you know it’s been over two weeks since I’ve really posted anything of substance, so A. I’m a little rusty, and B. it helps to just start writing to get the wheels moving sometimes!





Buying A House and Maintaining An Emergency Fund

20 05 2008

In 8 short days I will make the biggest purchase I am ever likely to make, I will be purchasing a new house.  And the closer we come to closing, the harder it is for me to practice what I preach.

Everywhere I look small “upgrades” are popping up that I know I can find cheaper elsewhere, or that I can do myself without having to pay the builders up charge for, and it pains me every time I give the go ahead for them to do something else when I know I’m being ripped off.  I can’t haggle with them, I’m not in a position to.  I already signed the contract to build the house and put down earnest money, so I’m at my builders mercy.

Why would I voluntarily get ripped off you might ask?  Because as I plan ahead for all of our upcoming expenses like drapes, blinds, rugs, random furniture (although we have most), deposits on utilities, moving costs… It’s easier to lump it all in and finance it so that I’m not out anymore cash after I seemingly drain my accounts at closing, because I will not allow us to dip into our emergency fund for these items.  Really the only thing we aren’t having them do that they can is hang our drapes and install our doggy door ($350 for something I can do myself in a hour is too much for me to bare).

At the end of the day, and especially as our country is testing the waters of economic uncertainty, emergency funds are too important to tap into for non emergencies.  And I’m proud to say that even though we may be paying an up charge on these items, our emergency fund will remain in tact and actually grow a bit due to the rolling in of some of our closing costs, so in the case of an actual financial emergency we will have money to keep us afloat.





Why You Shouldn’t Be Scared To Share Ideas

8 05 2008

 

A key trait of millennials is that we love to be entrepreneurial, we love to take on new tasks, but most of all, we need to know that our ideas are appreciated or at least given the time of day. Being a millennial, these traits are some of the main reasons why I started this blog.Jumping into the workforce where all of my co-workers and bosses are Gen-X and Boomers has been challenging. On one hand it really hasn’t been difficult to impress them, but on the other hand there is no free-flow of ideas. All the people around me seem to think that good ideas can’t come from the bottom of the corporation, and that they always come from the top. Needless to say, it has been a frustrating environment for a millennial to work in.

A couple weeks ago I had a Jerry McGuire moment at work and wrote somewhat of a manifesto for the company, and I must say that it felt great. And it felt even better when I shared it with my boss and I wasn’t fired, in fact he agreed with me! He then proceeded to fall into my generalization that good ideas only come from the top.

Never forget that the free-flow of ideas is something that millennials thrive on. We can build on each other, we can help each other, and maybe some people will start to listen!

All of this takes me back to a phrase that my entrepreneurship professor taught me (one that is impossible to forget):

If you’re scared you’re going to get screwed, you’re never going to get laid.

Vulgar, yes, but it’s also memorable and true. Say you have a business idea, but you’re too scared to share it with people. Then nothing will ever happen (unless you know every aspect…marketing, development, financing…). But say you start sharing it with people, maybe a rich old guy at Starbucks wants to invest, maybe your friend knows a few people who can help you out, or maybe someone helps you build on the idea. Either way, you’re ahead!

But what if someone steals my good idea? Why do you care if someone steals your idea? If it’s your idea I hope that you will have more passion for it than someone else. Sure, greed is a motivator for some, but businesses that are looking to cash in from the start rarely do well. Remember, you can’t fake passion. Entrepreneurs with a passion and a vision are the one’s that surpass expectations. What do Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Dell, and Starbucks have in common? They all started out with passion and visions, and all are still run by the people that put them on the map. Did other people try to steal their ideas? Yes, absolutely they did, but the people who conceptualized from the beginning have done better. Also, remember that imitation is just another form of flattery. Note: Howard Schultz was not the founder of Starbucks, but it was his vision that grew it from a few stores to what it is today.

 

 





Live On Last Years Salary

6 05 2008

My wife and I have essentially been living as if we were making mortgage payments on our new house for the last 6 months, but instead of paying a mortgage (and taxes and insurance and Homeowners Association) it’s all been going into savings for our down payment.

We admit that we are stretching ourselves to buy our first house (I think that’s something that most people do), but as we are re-evaluating our budget (less than a month until we move in!) we have found ourselves looking forward to our raises in the fall (even if it just equates to a cost of living raise) because let’s face it…as much as budgeting is important, no one likes sticking to a strict budget, so we look towards the future at what we will be making and what we can spend (or save) at that point in time

I think our problem is that we are always looking to acquire more. We want more and don’t want to make sacrifices to get more.

As Mary and I caught ourselves looking forward at what we will be earning and what will increase in our budget I thought to myself, why not look backwards?

Why not live on last years salary? Say your salary was X last year and it increased to Y this year. If you live on last years salary and budget you inadvertently save Y-X all year. Then when your salary increases to Z you can live on Y and save Z-Y.

This concept allows you to save more and forces you to permanently (ideally) live below your means. It’s simple, but a great and easy way to save!





Ten Tips for Saving Money on Gas

1 05 2008

As gas passes $3.50 per gallon and rapidly approaches $4.00 per gallon (or it’s already there…sorry CA), Mary and I can’t wait to move into our new house and cut our commute from 32 miles to 15. However in the meantime, we have taken measures to get the most out of our tanks of gas. So here are 10 tips that could help you increase those MPGs and decrease those gas bills!

1. Carpool. Mary and I are lucky enough to work at the same company, so it makes sense for us to carpool. By our calculation, we are saving at least $200 per month by this little step. Sure, it sucks sometimes when one of us has to work later, leaving the other with nothing to do, but we always remind each other how much money and time (Carpool lane) carpooling saves us.

2. Change the oil on time. Staying up to date on engine oil changes helps your car run better and get the most out of your gas. I make sure to change the oil in our Acura every 5,000 miles (Oil Co’s recommend 3,000 miles, car makers say 5,000), and every 7500 miles in our Volvo (synthetic oil).

3. Get a high performance air filter. K&N air filters are expensive, but they pay for themselves in the long run. They come with a 1 million mile warranty because you clean them instead of replace them, plus you can get up to 10% better gas mileage because they allow your engine to breathe better and give you better performance. I received 10% better gas mileage in my old Jeep when I put in a K&N filter. Note: Mr. Dave points out in the comments, that high performance filters are not recommended for some engines like the VW TDi engine.  Though if you have that engine you’re beating all of us on MPG anyway.

4. Inflate the tires. Making sure your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI will increase your gas mileage because a fully inflated tire offers less resistance when you are coasting.

5. Coast. If you have an onboard computer, have you ever set it to give you the instantaneous MPG? You will probably notice that when your foot is off the gas your MPG skyrockets. So if you see a read light ahead let off the gas, there is no need to speed to a stop, it’s just a waste of gas and you’ll have to replace your brakes sooner.

6. A/C or Windows Down? It’s summer, it’s hot, so what do you do? This all depends on what you are doing. If you are driving at highway speeds, roll the windows up and use the A/C, because the drag of the windows being down really hurts the gas mileage. Driving around town? Roll ‘em down!

7. Don’t carry around extra crap! Weight directly affects your gas mileage. The more stuff you have weighing down your car the worse MPG you get. So lose the golf clubs, toolbox, and other random stuff unless you need it.

8. Plan your routes. UPS saved millions of dollars a year in gas by rerouting their trucks to limit the number of left turns, and you can save money too! Plan your routes in the most efficient way possible. Generally right turns are faster and they use less gas waiting at lights than left turns, so why not try it out!

9. Get a gas card! Many credit card companies offer cash back on gas purchases, so why not!? You’re going to be spending the money anyway, so you might as well earn up to 5% cash back. Or even better get a gas company card, brand loyalty pays you in savings!

10. Don’t use E85. What? But the government said it’s going to be our saving grace and I want to help save the environment! I’m all for saving the environment when it is in my financial interest (like compact florescent lights that will pay for themselves), but if it will cost me more money, I’m less likely to do it. E85 is cheaper, and your car may run on it, but according to AutoTrader it contains 27% less energy than 87 Octane (the cheap stuff). That means you get 27% less MPG using E85. The only time it’s in your financial interest is when E85 is less than 73% of the cost of 87 Octane. At my local station, E85 is about 30-40 cents cheaper per gallon than 87 Octane. $3.20 / $3.50 is 91%… not in your financial interest.

I hope you can put these ideas to good use, and if you’ve got any more, feel free to leave them in the comments!