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?