Friday, February 29, 2008

Goal Reevaluation

Student loans- Originally the plan was an additional 3000 in principal. The problem has been the amount of time I spend figuring out interest paid, especially since my payment date gets pushed back with every payment I make.

New Goal- $5979 by 12/31/08 (29% accomplished)

This will be a little less than paying 3000 in principal but something I can attain with more ease.
Emergency fund- I had a number in my mind at the beginning but failed to write it down.

New Goal- $2000 by 6/30/08 (55% accomplished)

Car Loan- This wasn’t in the original goal for the year but the tanking interest rates have me wanting to speed up the payment timeline.

Goal- An extra $25/month

Wedding fund- This one has taken back seat at the moment. I can only handle so much at once.

The funds will come from my salary and extra income. I'm still working on the March budget so I don't have exact details yet.

Good-bye Netflix, Hello Redbox

Right out of college I lived with two girlfriends in an old (we’re talking late 1800’s) D.C. row house. It was in a great location so we overlooked little things like the lack of air conditioning. Despite the lack of amenities and how little we paid in comparison to our friends we were all young and broke.

One of my roommates proposed Netflix as an alternative to cable. We each paid something like $6 for what worked out to 10-15 discs a month. Three years later I still have the account and pay $9.68 a month. I average about 3 discs a month and occasionally take advantage of their watch instantly online feature.

I love the service but the more I think about it the more I realize it’s an unnecessary expense. After a little math I realize that a putting that money into a savings account making 3%-3.5% interest would mean holding onto $124-128 a year. Since I’m not quite ready to cut the cord I’ll put my account on hold at the end of the month. If I did it today I’d loose most of the money they charged me a few days ago.

A tip let me know that you can put accounts on hold for up to 90 days. During that time I’ll try RedBox. I can’t remember the lovely blogger who tipped me off to their free rentals but thank you. I’ll see how often they send me free codes and consider signing up for the SMS feed or getting codes online.

After a few month’s we’ll reevaluate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A different type of stockpiling

Usually when I hear about stockpiling I think about buying food staples. While I like the idea we live in a small place and don’t really have the storage. Last weekend when I was sick I thought of another type of stockpiling that we need to do. When you’re sick and feel like crap driving to different stores to get the best price isn’t a priority.

Laying in bed with a fever, lamenting how much money Gameboy was spending I decided to make a list of things to keep on hand to keep the grocery budget in check. We tend to get colds, migraines, and stomach bugs, with an occasional fever thrown in. In general we don’t get sick that often, but with the new job this could change for me.


Cold/sinus stuff

The name brands aren’t things I stick to but they get the point across.

In the next few weeks I’m going to keep an eye out for good prices to replace what was used up over the weekend. Once I’m back at my baseline I’m going to work on adding extras.

February extra earnings and groceries

I was looking at the number and realized why I was feeling so burnt out last week. In the past few days I've deposited more than $300 (260+ net)into my account. These are all funds that I've learned in the last week and a half. It will be worth it when I snowflake a little later tonight.

Grocery wise things have been good also. The original budget amount was $200. Halfway through the month I realized that keeping it under $100 was a possiblity. That was until I got sick and sent Gameboy to the supermarket to get emergency supplies (gatorade, crackers, etc.

In the end the total was $101.11. 1.11 over or 98.89 depending on how you look at it. Either way I'm pleased.

In March I want to be more strict about snowflaking immediately. This month I've honestly been too tired get to the bank, do the math (I have to take some off of the top with one of the extra income streams), and remember to transfer.

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm ceramic and cast iron

A few weeks ago Mighty Bargain Hunter asked "How strong is your piggy bank?" Essentially how easy is it to get access to your money quickly. He gives 6 options on how to rate your savings ranging from Papier-mache to Titanium-reinforced Kevlar.

Currently I fall into:

  • Ceramic piggy bank: An “unlinked” savings account, or an online account without check-writing.
  • Cast iron piggy-bank: Tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s, or college plans.
I’m working on:
  • Aluminum piggy bank: A certificate of deposit.

Ideally it seems like a mix of the last five would be the best. Money in different types of accounts, some accessible when you need it and some behind Kevlar until the golden days.

Friday, February 22, 2008

First time home buyers

Buying our first home has been on our minds for some time now. A few different circumstances have come together that may make buying a house sooner rather than later a bit more advantageous. As always my first step has been a lot of research. I’m a person who has a hard time parting with large chunks of money. I don’t worry about 5-15 here or there. But anytime we start talking about more than 100 I become a bundle of nerves.

Last night we took a big step by attending a first time homebuyer education class. I’d learned about 80% of what the class covered through life and research, but that extra 20% could go a long way in helping make the biggest purchase of our life more affordable. We learned a few ins and outs of our state’s biggest program and that we can combine different programs to maximize benefits. The best part was learning of a few new programs.

If you want to look into the programs offered in your state visit this HUD page. You’ll get a redirect for your state programs with a list of programs available.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I'm feeling a bit burnt out this week. I've spent a little too much time working my second job and attending seminars. On the up side I'll have some extra money to snowflake. The seminars will help me take the next step for developing my career and the foundation for buying a house.

The downside is I'm to tired to blog or do much of anything else intelligently.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A year older

It was a pretty low key day. That's my style though so I was happy. A friend invited us to see an independent film at a festival in the morning. We carpooled up and used the time to talk and catch up with each other. I took a nap after we'd been home for a bit before the birthday calls started. Gameboy made dinner because we couldn't get reservations at the place I wanted to go for the night.

Hopefully I'm a year wiser as well. A lot has happened in the last year and we have a lot planned for this year. My birthday wish is that we can accomplish our goals with the best possible outcomes for the year and our future.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

It pays to ask

Earlier this week while we were driving through the mountains I asked a lot of questions. One had to do with cell phones. We are on the road or traveling a lot, so most have increased their monthly minutes. I was thinking about taxes (and how I really need to do mine) when I asked if they write of cell phone usage as a buisness expense. They let me know that we get $25/mth to apply to our phones.

I didn't remember seeing this in my checks so I looked over my last stub. I was sad to see the 12.50 was missing but didn't let this stop me. On Friday when I was in the office I visited HR. Within an hour I had an unexpected check for 37.50 and assurances that my next check will be correct. Now I just have to decide whether it should go towards my student loans or the emergency fund.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Expires 2/14/08 8:00 Central Time

As I typed that last post I was listening to today's Oprah (I love my DVR). At the end of the show featuring Suze Orman, her latest book Women & Money was offered as a free download. Scroll halfway down the page and click on the book you'd like (English & Spanish are available).

Update: The download was supprisingly quick. It's a web based pdf that took around 2 mins on DSL.

Happy reading!


This week was a great grocery store week, though I had help in a few different areas. I spent a total of $28. The breakdown:

Target $9: flour, yogurt, milk, Cliff bar

Everything but the Cliff bar are usuals. Though work travel can save a lot of money I've learned to keep a bit of food in my bag when traveling to really small towns with a tight schedule. I didn't use it on this trip so I'll save it for the next one.

Safeway $19: 4 packages of lunch meat, Sara Lee bread, 2 mango's, potato salad, a dessert kit, tofu, and 2 packages of cheese

The lunch meat and bread was $11.16, but netted a $10 coupon. The rest was a combination of planned purchases (mango's, tofu, cheese) and impulse buys (potato salad, dessert kit). I picked up the dessert kit, which was marked at $.99 and rang up $.59. Gameboy picked up the potato salad because it was on sale, though looking at my receipt tonight I realize that it rang up full price ($5.99). I'm going to bring the receipt with me next time I go and we'll see what they'll do.

Lessons learned:
-Game plan before we go into the grocery store.
-Check the receipt before leaving the store.

When we got home we had a discussion about the impulse buys and what it does to the budget. We decided on one per person per trip, but keeping it under $3. We also decided to discuss what we are going in to buy. This way we're on the same page and can keep each other in check.

The things that helped:
-I was traveling for work so I didn't eat at home for two days.

-Remember that babysitting job a few weeks ago? On the last night their freezer started dying, so the mom sent me home with a big bag of hamburgers, chicken, and other little bits. All of these things filled our freezer, so we won't need to buy that stuff for a little bit.

The goal for the month is to spend less that $200 a month on groceries. So far, despite the impulse buys we're on track.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Student Loan Check-in

One of my financial goals for the year was to pay $3000 worth of principal in addition to my monthly payments (starting in April). I'm happy to say that January went well and I'm more than 1/5th of the way to my goal for the year. Mystery shopping payment that had accumulated in PayPal, some Xmas money, a few other mystery shopping checks, and snowflaking helped get me there. Seeing the numbers go down after each payment was seriously addictive.

What is even better is the amount of interest I paid off at the same time. Until Tuesday my account was in a grace period. All payments made during this time were applied first to interest and then principal. So in order to get to pay off $632.42 in principal I had to pay off all of the accrued interest. In January I made a total of 1435.02 in payments.

The part of this I'm loving the most is that my bill has dropped $15/month. I'm still going to pay the original amount I was quoted. It's built into my budget and will help me get a little closer to my goal each month. The only thing I regret was not getting some of that money in before the New Year. Student loan interest is tax deductable so any bit that I'd paid last year would reduce my 2007 tax liability. But you live and learn and I'll take what I've done so far.

Between now and December the remaining goal is 2367.58. I'll post another update next month.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Eating at home

In addition to trying to get my financial life together I’m trying to get improve my eating habits. I’m not trying to be an all out health nut, just improve things a little at the time. In the past I’ve dieted off 10-15 pounds with a lot of focus then slowly gained it back when life got busy and/or stressful.

Luckily my health and financial goals dovetail nicely. The main goal is to get most of my meals from my fridge. Even when the things I cook aren’t good for me it is still healthier than anything I could get at Burger King, Applebee’s or any other major chain. It is also much better for the wallet.

The main exceptions will be when I'm on the traveling for work (and getting reimbursed), a monthly work meeting (sadly not reimbursed) and one date night meal a month.

Look for recipes in the coming posts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Off to Caucus

In a couple hours it will be time for me to caucus. This is the first year I've lived in Super Tuesday state so I'm pretty excited to be a part of the hoopla. More importantly I'm excited about supporting the candidate I think will do the best job for our country. Hopefully today will bring my candidate one step closer to the White House.

Update: It took 2 1/2 hours to caucus tonight, though I think a part of that has to do with belonging to a precinct with some opinionated folks. The thing I loved most about the caucus format was seeing the numbers and impact you had on things. In my precinct we only won by 4, which I think is a testament to how important each person's vote is. I'll also refrain from complaining about the two block hike through snow to get to the building. Why you ask? It really excites me to see people voting.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Money-Making Monday: Babysitting

I realized a few years ago that doing the work I want to do career wise would not fully fund my life goals. I’m not talking about designer shoes or tons of clothes- in a perfect world I could wear sweats/athletic wear 90% of the time. The overarching goals include purchasing a home, being able to travel, and not having to worry about paying my bills each month.

Currently I earn the most money through babysitting. For me it’s a bit of a no brainer. I LOVE kids, so getting paid to hang out with them works well. Before the move west I had three families that I sat for regularly. I’m still in touch with one of the families and the fun things happening in their lives. In the new city I had a hard time finding new families to work with. After some though I decided to join a babysitting service. Each week I give them my availability and they match me with any families that need a sitter for that time.

Giving the agency their percentage at the end of the month

I don’t have to put a lot of time into finding jobs
Set rate that’s higher than what market rate
Earning a little bit of interest on the agency percentage each month

Last month an extra job from a family friend also landed in my lap. They’re very recent transplants and haven’t been able to find a regular nanny. The week of overnights with a very easy 5 year old has given me a nice jump on my down payment goal and was fun to boot. We had a very fun week including trips to the park, first time bowling, going out to dinner, and just hanging out. In addition to making money we were also able to save some money on groceries since I didn't eat at home all week.

The main downside was a week without wireless. After 3 years of almost always connecting wirelessly plugging in felt so restricted.

What are your favorite ways to supplement your income?


The first time I read about snowflaking was on Paid Twice. It is an adaptation of Dave Ramsey’s snowball method to pay down debt, but snowflaking fits better with my lifestyle. Paid Twice has a great primer, but the general idea is using all of the little bits of income that come in to pay down debt. The key is to do it right away. Since most of my banking is done online this is pretty easy to do.

Most of my snowflaking money will come from mystery shopping, online surveys, and some of my babysitting jobs. So far this month I’ve paid over $450 towards my student loans using this method. A large chunck of that (approx $350) is money that I’d let sit in my paypal account for way too long. Each month I’ll decide how much should go where based on our savings/debt goals.

The other bit of my snowflaking will be my own bit of delayed gratification. This is more for Him (still trying to come up with a blog name for the other half) than me. He’s definitely an impulse shopper and so far this is the best method for redirecting. It’s one thing to continually say “I can’t buy that” and another to see the money necessary to fund your dreams grow. Each time either of us doesn’t buy something that calls our names in the store the same amount of money goes into the down payment account.

Is this something you've been working on? Something that may work for you?

Happy Snowflaking!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Plan

To achieve the goals of the year I have a few different things I plan to do. The first is to increase the amount of money I make. I started doing most of these things while I was in school last year and have decided to continue even though I have a full time job now. The short list includes mystery shopping, babysitting, online surveys, and consulting work. These are the things that work best for me based on my skills and available time. On any given day I do at least one of these things to keep additional funds flowing in. Obviously some of these are more lucrative than others. In the next week I’ll start outlining each of these types of work.

The second half of the plan includes saving and snowflaking. I plan on using my mystery shopping and survey earnings to snowflake my student loan debt. Babysitting and consulting money will go towards the down payment and wedding funds.

The final part of the plan is reducing our spending. I know that when I head into the grocery store with a plan I do a lot better. I’m also working on making our apartment more energy efficient to cut the electric bills. The final thing is avoiding the places that seem to pull the money from my pockets.

More to come later