Thursday, September 7, 2017

It's Hard to Pay Yourself First

Back in the day, I worked at giant corporate bookstore when those Rich Dad Poor Dad books were really popping off.  I didn't read them until a few years later when I was working at the library and frantically saving for a cross country move, while also becoming a bit obsessed with personal finance.  In addition to a steady diet of Suze Orman, Jean Chatzky et al., I decided to try out Rich Dad Poor Dad.  I remember finding it pretty basic and repetitive, but the line where he says always pay yourself first, stuck in my head.  The idea is that before paying any bills, you put money into savings or invest it.  You will always find money for bills, because bills have to be paid, but if you don't prioritize yourself, you won't ever save.

Initially, it seemed like a terrible idea to me because I've been raised with the idea (from my banker mother) that debts need to be paid, early, if possible.  So the notion of putting money into savings when you could use it to reduce debt, and by doing so, save money on interest, just didn't hold water with me.  Except that by having no savings or financial safely net, you can potentially put yourself in a position to have to put emergencies on a credit card, and therefore pay more in the long run.

It's all very speculative, but there is merit to the idea, and I'm trying to get better about it.  For instance, I financed my car instead of paying cash for it, because that would have wiped out my emergency fund.  Ideally I would have been able to keep my previous car for many more years, but the repairs were coming more frequently, and with a two hour a day commute, I needed something more fuel efficient and reliable, so I bit the bullet.

Right now, with that car payment looming over me, I'm really fighting my natural impulse to forgo this year's goal of maxing out my Roth IRA, and funneling that money into the car loan instead.  I still have $2360 to contribute for 2017, which is $590/month, which seems impossible at this point.  But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. 

It's really, really hard to focus on a goal that is so far in the future, but as much as I love my job, I don't want to do it forever.  My profession is one that people tend to never want to leave--or maybe can't since it rarely pays well, and I've worked with too too many people who should have left ten years ago.  I don't want to be that person.  It would also be nice to just work less, at some point, if I feel like it.

Despite not knowing exactly WHAT I want yet, I know that having extra money gives a person options, and I like having options.  The car loan will get paid, but so will I.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

When Frugality Flails

I have had the most expensive couple months in a very long time. Probably the most expensive since I had to pay college tuition.  Since I last checked in, I have:
  1. Moved to a much more expensive city into a much more expensive apartment.
  2. Acquired a commute.
  3. Got a newer, more fuel-efficient car to deal with said commute.
  4. Had to increase the amount of car insurance I have because my new car is actually worth more than $50. 
  5. Husband got into a car accident, so he's had to pay for a rental car since our bare bones insurance doesn't cover that. 
  6. Kitty was diagnosed with hyper thyroid, which is a common and manageable condition that most older cats get, but it means expensive medicine and more frequent vet visits, which neither of us enjoy.
  7. We hit another patch of weddings--fun, but expensive and with some travel involved.
  8. Odd, random expenses that come with a new place are gobbling up my money.  Like curtains and rods, paint, fans, something to hang paper towels on, etc.
I am currently reeling from the fact that I will have a car payment for the first time in eight years, but I also plan to pay it off aggressively.  I technically could have just paid cash for the car and avoided financing it altogether, but that would have eliminated my Emergency Fund entirely, and I'm not willing to do that--especially so soon into this move.

Despite these extra expenses, there are a few good things that have come out of this situation.
  1. I do have to drive more to get to and from work, but our new place is in an actual neighborhood where I can walk to pretty much everything.  There is a street full of restaurants three blocks away, and a grocery and liquor store two blocks away.  Previously, my work commute was 15-20 minutes, but the only place I could really walk to from my house was the library, or to get Chinese takeout.  Now I can drive to and from work, then park my car and do everything I need to do on foot.
  2. Our new place is smaller, which may seem like an odd thing to want, but it makes a lot more sense for us.  Our previous place was a huge loft style apartment with no real rooms.  It was great looking, but not very practical for two people who like their privacy.  Since it was also really big, it was easy to start to acquire more things to fill the space.  Now, our house is only slightly too big, and we've been getting rid of a lot of things.
  3. Taking on extra expenses, along with being forced by the move to really examine my possessions has got me streamlining and making a bit of side cash.  I had started getting rid of things via Craigslist and Freecycle before the move, but the new area we live in has a very active Buy Nothing group on facebook, and I've been doing a bit of ebaying.  I'm not going to get rich, but it's feeling really good to get things out of my house, and make a bit of cash that goes toward my goal of maxing out my Roth IRA. Once I start looking at my possessions with an eye to sell, it becomes that much easier to keep the momentum going.
Despite these setbacks, I am determined!  Fall is my favorite time of year, and once my house is in order, I look forward to exploring my new neck of the woods.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Maxing out my Roth in 2017

I do pretty well with retirement savings. I get a 4% match from my employer, which helps a great deal, and I try to contribute to my Roth IRA as often as I can.  I am behind in retirement savings, however, because I got a late start, and my account reminds me of this painful fact every day. 

It makes the most financial sense to really double down on that savings immediately, so that I can get as much interest compounding as possible. I'm planning to increase the percentage I save through work, which will up my match, but my plan for 2017 is to also max out my Roth IRA contribution, which is something that I should be able to do for the first time--maybe ever.

The maximum amount you can contribute to a Roth IRA is $5500/year.  I'm starting this year out with an advantage in that I already have about $2300 in that account because I cashed out a life insurance policy and rolled it into last year's and this year's Roth.  So I just need to find an additional $3200 or about $350/month.  My plan is to divide that amount up into tiny dollar amounts and see how quickly I can snowball it.

My financial goal last year was to be more charitable.  I set up a monthly sustainer donation with NPR, ACLU, got a subscription to the New York Times (which I know isn't a charity, but good journalism is important) and I made donations to a few local theatres.  The amounts donated were small and relatively painless at the time, so I'm going to approach my Roth with the same mindset.

  1. Schemes and found money. I have a few ways to earn a bit of extra money, and that had previously gone into my travel fund.  For now, I'm going to re-route all those revenue streams to my Roth until I hit $5500, then they'll go back into my travel fund.
  2. Interest income.  I generate a little money every month in interest income on my savings accounts.  Normally I just leave it alone and let the account balance grow,  This year, I'm going to move it into my Roth.  I can't do this every month, since you're only allowed to make five withdrawals from savings per month, but I can move this money over quarterly.  My capital one savings accounts tell me exactly how much interest I've earned in the calendar year, and having that money in my Roth rather than regular savings will help it grow faster.
  3. Returns/ Refunds/Rebates.  When I buy something and return it, that refund money is going to go into my Roth unless I absolutely need it.  I have a pair of shoes that I need to return, so that's $60 extra dollars right there. I've also been doing very well with ibotta lately, so all of that money will be funneled right into retirement.  Same thing for my quarterly Big Fat Check from Ebates, which is currently sitting at $34.99.
  4. House Cleaning. I have a lot of things I no longer need. There's an older macbook pro power cable that isn't compatible with my current computer, a TV/DVD player that I haven't used in two years but that works perfectly well, etc.  I'm looking  at the things in my house with a critical eye, and listing anything that I don't use, but that someone else could use on craigslist.  I find craigslist generally annoying, but I have four listings that net me enough money the hassle of dealing with people should be worth my time. I also have a gift card that I got as a gift that I am selling on ebay.  I was stressing out trying to think of what to spend it on, when I realized that I don't want to buy anything and I'd be much happier with cash.  Maybe this is tacky, but I don't really care.
We're also approaching a more temperate time of year, so hopefully heating bills will finally go down, and that will free up a little bit of extra cash.  I'm like a magpie looking for that shiny money, and I think I'll be able to make my goal!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Five Frugal Things Weekend Edition

  1. Friday night, I went out to eat and then saw the touring production of Rent.  The show tickets were free because I have a volunteer job writing theatre reviews.  For the low cost of ~700 words about how fantastic the show was, we had excellent seats.
  2. Before the show we went out for dinner and drinks to a place I had a gift certificate for.  We spend far more than the gift certificate, but it was still nice to have that discount, and the food was yummy.
  3. Saturday night, I invited a couple friends over to hang out.  I got some beer and picked up a couple pizzas with a Groupon.  The Groupon was actually free due to me being part of the class action lawsuit against Groupon, which netted me $60 Groupon bucks, which I turned into pizza.  Now I have plenty of leftovers to pack in my lunch this week, and I got to spend time with some fab women without having to pay for a meal out like we usually do.
  4. Sunday morning, it was 60 degrees and I went for a nice long run.  Since it was such a beautiful morning, there were tons of people out walking dogs and just having fun outside.  A good run is always a delightful thing, and excellent people watching is an added bonus.
  5. The rest of Sunday will be spent tidying up the house, packing lunch for the week and watching tv with my cuddly kitty--free and delightful.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Schemes and Finds

I love a good money-making scheme.  For me, the thrill of the hunt sometimes gets me into situations where I spent far too much time trying to earn a paltry amount of cash, but somehow this small amount of cash that I've gotten outside of my actual job is more exciting since it's unexpected. What's even better is finding low-maintainence schemes to make money doing things I already do, or things I should do.  I've had a few in play lately that I'm really enjoying, and I'd love to hear of others!

Fitness related:
  • Pact--Pact is an app where you track the number of steps you take, and/ or you could also track the food you eat, and you earn cash on a weekly basis if you meet your goal.  For instance, the fitness pact requires you to pick a number of days each week where you will walk at least 10,000 steps.  You also establish a penalty for yourself if you fail to meet this goal.  My pact is that I will walk at least 10,000 steps five days a week, and if I fail to meet that goal, I am penalized $10. At the end of the week, if you've met your pact, you get a share of the pot from the other people who didn't make theirs.  You need to have a fitness tracker to record the steps, but other than that, it's pretty low-overhead.  I have been using this for about 8 months, and I make on average $.90/week.  That's not a huge amount of money, but for those 8 months, I've made about $30 doing something that I should be doing anyway.  Once you're in the habit, 10,000 steps per day is very achievable, and I've never not made my pact since I started using the app--even if that means walking laps around my apartment.
  • Step Bet--Similar to pact, there is a newer app called step bet, where you pay a $40 buy-in up front, and then the app assigns you a daily step goal based on your previous data. The bet runs for six weeks, and at the end, the winners split the pot, and the losers just lose.  This one was a legitimate challenge, but I'm very proud of myself for completing every week, even though this has been a terrible winter and I wasn't been able to get outside to go running more than a couple times while the Step Bet was going on.  My step goals that the app assigned me were four days at minimum 13,401 steps and two days at least 16,493, then one rest day.  I'm a pretty active person, but that many steps was very tough sometimes.  At the same time, I met the challenge, and I'm pretty proud of myself.  For my efforts, I earned a cool $6.43, but I would actually do this again just because it's satisfying, and any little extra bit of money is nice.  Since winnings are based on other people not completing the challenge, your winnings can vary wildly depending on the people you're competing with.
  • Dietbet--Dietbet is the same company as Step Bet, and it's the same concept except with weight loss rather than steps.  There are a number of different games you can join, all of which have various buy-in costs, different amounts of time the game lasts and different goals.  I've done The Transformers game for the last couple years.  That's a six month game where you pledge to lose 10% of your body weight, and there's a buy-in of $125, which is steep, but last year I doubled my money and lost weight!  You have to weigh in by taking a picture of yourself standing on your scale, and then a picture of the number on the scale, along with an index card with the secret word that's sent out during weigh in time.  The company verifies your weight, and you get a percentage of the buy-in at the end of the game.
Shopping:  One caveat with regard to shopping apps, it obviously makes no sense to try to save money by buying things you neither need nor want just because they're a great deal.  I use cash back and rebate apps only to buy things I either have bought before, or I've thought about buying.
  • Ebates--I hate going to stores, so I buy online whenever I can.  Ebates is an online shopping website that gives you a percentage of cash back when you authorize them to see what you bought.  The number of stores Ebates is connected to grows all the time, and you can money quarterly via paypal.  You can either go directly to and search for the online store you want to shop in, or you can download their browser extension, and every time you go to a website where they would give you cash back, the ebates button lights up and you can enable it for your shopping trip.  I've been with ebates forever, and apparently have gotten $529 cash back.  The cool thing is that you can get cash back on more then just online shopping in the traditional sense.  For instance the three most recent things I've gotten cash back on are online tax preparation via HR Block, a new phone plan through Verizon and cash back on hotels booked via Expedia.  All of those were things I was doing anyway, so getting a little extra money ($75 in the case of Verizon) is pretty awesome.
  • Ibotta--Ibotta is a rebate app that you can use for groceries, liquor store purchases and a few other things I've never tried. It's basically like a coupon, except it gives you a discount after purchase.  Your rebate money is banked in your Ibotta account, and once you get to $20, you can cash out via paypal, or get gift cards.  The grocery rebates are frequently pretty small, so it takes a while to add up, but the rebates for beer, wine and liquor add up very fast. For instance it was just St. Patrick's Day, and my local liquor store was running a special on Guinness and Harp beer.  Guinness is usually 13.99 for an 8-pack; Harp is $13.99 for a 12-pack.  The store had them on sale for $11.99 each, and I had Ibotta rebates for $3 off each in addition to that.  So that's a tidy savings on something I would have bought anyway.  Once drawback with liquor store purchases, is that in order to get a rebate from Ibotta, you need to scan the items you bought and take a picture of an itemized receipt.  It can be tricky to find liquor stores that give itemized receipts--so make sure you're getting one before you go nuts buying things!  This week, I have both a $1 off coupon and a $1 off rebate for Fairlife milk, which is usually $3.99, so that's half price for me!  I always buy milk when it's on sale, since my preferred milk is more expensive, and then I portion it out into pint sized mason jars and freeze it. $2 isn't much, but if you found $2 on the ground, you'd probably pick it up, this is just another version of that.
Little bits of money can add up to real savings, and once you're in the habit of looking for deals and rebates, it just become automatic.  Are there any other schemes you've found that I should investigate?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pre-Vacation Spending Fast

In April, I'm going on my first real vacation in a few years.  I've been on shorter trips recently, of course, but this is the first vacation in a while that's long enough for me to need to make sure all the food in the fridge gets eaten before I leave.  Since I'm a little apprehensive at the idea that I'll be spending money every single day for more than two weeks, I'm going to go on a spending fast before I leave so I won't feel any guilt for splashing out.  I'm pretty good and living low-key while in regular life and then splashing out while on vacation, but I always like to start a vacation with a bit of a deficit, which makes vacation mode out that much sweeter.  There are a few things I'm going to do to set myself up for the most enjoyable travel experience I can get.
  1. I usually try to lose a little weight before I go on a long vacation since I know I will inevitably gain weight while traveling.  Traveling is great in that I will be moving much more than I do at my desk job, but I will also be much more gluttonous.  Losing weight and eating mindfully before setting out on a trip helps me both identify what is real hunger as opposed to just convenience or boredom eating, and it helps ensure that my clothes continue to fit while I'm away.  I also find it much easier to diet before going on a trip, because I know that there is an end point to the diet. I will, of course, be bringing looser or more forgiving clothes on this trip, but I can't wear them every day.  Also, there's really nothing worse in my mind than returning from a trip and immediately feeling guilty for having nothing that fits to wear to work, or having to buy new clothes.
  2. I am going to avoid the grocery store except for the absolute essentials.  I did a January pantry/ freezer cleanout, which got rid of a lot of items that had been lingering in my cupboards for far too long, but I could have actually kept up that cleanout for another month or more easily.  This time around, I have even more incentive to stick to it, so that I can leave the fridge nice and clean for my house/ cat sitter while we're gone.  I'll also, obviously, save money on groceries, which is nice since paying for hotels already has me smarting a bit.  I already have a few restaurant dates on my calendar for before I leave, so buying fewer groceries will help finance eating out, which is kind of the opposite of usual rules of frugality.
  3. I've been doing slightly more online shopping lately. A lot of what I've ordered has been returned, but I've also been looking for "the perfect X", which has necessitated ordering and sending many things back, and just spending more time being tempted by items in online stores.  Since I don't want my house-sitter to have to deal with a large volume of packages, I need to not order anything else until I get back, or just not at all.  Even though I'm being very deliberate with my purchases, this will help me avoid temptation since I won't even be looking.  Even the most deliberate shopper gets tricked sometimes!
  4. I'm doing a very slow and methodical closet clean out.  Travel always forces me to consider the functionality of my clothes, since I need to pack things that are comfortable, move well, clean easily and don't take up too much room/ have too many complicated pieces.  If I'm being honest, that's how I would like my wardrobe to function on a daily basis too, so by analyzing items I currently have, thinking about situations I would wear it and determining how many potential uses I could get out of it, helps me decide if a particular item of clothing is really as useful as I would like it to be.  I've been slowing siphoning things out of my wardrobe since we moved over a year ago, and since I realized I had a bunch of clothes I hadn't really unpacked or missed.  It'll be fun to come home to a closet that is more reflective of what I actually wear, and that will have room for my travel clothes once I've unpacked.
So maybe this all makes me sound like a bit of a crazy person since a lot of it is only tangentially related to travel, but I find that planning a trip unlocks the organizer part of my brain and gets me excited in a 'take on the world' way.  I might as well harness that energy to improve the rest of my life!