Monthly Review: May 2010

May Month Review

Credit: www.destination360.com

Well, another month is gone, and it sure seemed to go by fast.  Here’s my recap for the month of May, 2010.   There were quite a few changes from last month, and one was due to the fact that for 3 weeks of May (and 1 of april) I was driving a rental car after my car went in for a problem and there were issues with the dealer obtaining the part.  It didnt really matter to me not having my car.  I drive a lot, so I was happy to put miles on someone else’ car (and get a huge increase in gas mileage).  Also, according to mint, I’ve finally made it into the positive side of the net worth scale!  Wooohooo to me!

Credit Card debt – This just seems to be the hardest thing to shake.  Most of these cards have been paid off at one time or another.  To read the stories about them, click here and here.

Citi Card:   $0 ($1702) This card has been my main focus, as the promotional rate was to expire this month.  I paid a significant amount to this card last month, and I did again this month.  Although I have yet to transfer the funds, this is paid off!

Southwest Card: $450 ($27) I’ve been using this for gas recently, because of the airline rewards.  I’ve had the car for just over a year, and I’ve already earned a free ticket!  I think when my other two cards are paid off, this will be the one that I keep.

WaMu Card: $0 ($0) This was paid off, then when I went to purchase something over the internet, I accidently used this one instead of my Southwest card, so it had a bit of a balance this month, but I’m going to pay it off this week.

Other Debt – This is all non credit card debt.  Just Student Loans and an Auto Loan that I took out which you can read about here.  This debt has held steady, and will become the target of my debt snowball soon enough. I just haven’t figured out which debt it will be.  The amount of my debt at this writing is in red, the amount I paid last month is in green.

Nelnet Student Loan $ 3,073 ($50) This normal payment is $50, which I paid last month.  It seems like there’s not too much of this going to principal, considering the small balance.  I think this will be my next target.

Direct Loan $ 7,468 ($92).  The regular payment on this is 92, but the amount the note went down was $67….Interest…Sheesh.  This was up above 12k, but I started sending them a bit of interest payments while in grad school, and by the time my repayment came around, my balance was lower than what I borrowed.  I’m glad this is going down.

Great Lakes Loan $ 13,030 ($ 156) Double paid on this one last month, but just hit it with the standard payment this time.

Ford Credit Loan $ 19,907 ($ 350) I always pay a bit more than the minimum, but always have to call and get my extra payment applied to the principal of the loan.  I’m really not sure why the payoff balance sunk almost 1k this month, but I dont care.  The sooner this is gone, the better!

Total Debt Level: $ 43,475 ($3251)  When this number goes down, I’ll never be complaining.

I’ve kept up my handy excel spreadsheet, and it’s fun to see the amount go down every time I update it.  It’s similar to the spreadsheet Matt Jabs created, but with more graphs (I’m a visual person) and less focus on interest paid.

Another point of note: It’s been 5 months since I’ve spent more than I earned (!) and I’m excited to keep this gap open and widen it in the future!   My goals for the next month include focusing on my non credit card debt and hopefully getting myself into a position where I can have only 3 debts.

Saving Money Tip: Open Source Software

Last week, I was having a twitter discussion with one of my favorite PF Bloggers, Matt Jabs of Debt Free Adventure.  Matt’s a great blogger, and offered to put my car situation on his website, and I got valuable feedback from him and his readers.  Anyway, Matt & I share slightly similar professions (Although he has recently gotten a new job, Congrats Matt) in that we are both IT Geeks by day.  (I should probably stop talking about Matt & get to my post.

Anyway, Matt got me thinking when we were talking about a computer purchase.  At work (and I work for a very by-the-book employer) we have even begun using open-source software because it is so cost effective, and I thought it would be a great way for non IT geeks to use to lower costs when purchasing a new machine.  There are many different programs that you have been working on computers with for years, and probably just purchase because the program is good (or OK) and don’t know what else can do a similar function for a better cost.  Microsoft Office comes to mind here.

So, here are some ways you can save money on software when purchasing a computer

Open Source Software

Word Processing/Spreadsheets/Presentations

Standard Program:

Microsoft Office – To Order a new Dell PC with Microsoft Office, it costs $119.00, and is not the “professional” edition, which includes an email client, Microsoft Outlook.  For that, You’ll need to cough up $279.00.

For Microsoft Office on an Apple Machine, it costs $149.95 for the regular edition, and $399.95 for the “professional” edition

Open Source Alternative:

Open Office – Open office is a great program, and as long as I’ve used it or talked about it with friends, I’ve never heard a bad thing spoken about it.  It has spreadsheets, wordprocessing, graphics and databases.  This is more functionality than you get with the standard version of Microsoft office, and it’s free.  It also has a simple save as “*.docx” or whatever microsoft format you need.  It also has a save as “*.pdf” option.  You can download open office for free at their website, www.openoffice.org

Email:

For Cost Option – Microsoft Outlook included with Microsoft Office Professional Edition.

Open Source Alternative:

Thunderbird is the email client designed by the people who created the Mozilla Firefox Browser.  It’s got many of the same features as outlook, such as email search, easy set up, and integration with their calendar program, called Lightning Calendar.  If you think these sources are unsafe, think again.  Use of Firefox (the browser) has been gaining steadily over the years, and is probably safer at this point than Internet Explorer, the Microsoft Web browser.

Photo Editing:

Many of the photo editing software comes standard (a perfect reason for you to use it and not think about it).  Some of it is OK for the amateur photographer, but there are programs that do a much better job and are also free.

Picasa: Picasa was purchased by internet giant Google quite some time ago, and then was (as is google’s motus operandi) made free, and features were added like crazy.  It has a much more intuitive way of finding your photos, and also adds support for red-eye removal and tagging pictures with places and people in them.  You can also upload some of your photos on the internet to share so that grandma can see pictures of your new baby (or puppy), for free!

USB Jump Drive

You probably bought one of these to store files, thinking man, this is handy.  Well, if you’ve lost yours and don’t want to replace it, try….

Dropbox – Creates a folder on each of your computers and syncs the items in the folder across the dropbox folders.  Along with moving your files to computers, you can use files on the dropbox website.  If you’re interested in more, check the homepage for a short video on how to get the most out of dropbox.

For most users, these options would save you lots of money in software when purchasing a new computer.  There’s more products that will allow you to cut the cost of Microsoft Windows out, but I didnt mention them for 2 reasons:

  • It’s usually included in the cost of the computer
  • Other Operating System software (Linux, Unix) is typically for IT geeks like myself.

So, I encourage you to take some of Bakers advice and Unautomate your software choices.  The old methods work ok, but there are newer, better and free-er (is that a word) software options.  Explore them, you’ll save money and be glad you did.

April 2010 Recap

Well it looks like April is finally over, so its time for my monthly spending recap. I was hoping to be credit card debt free by the end of this month, but unfortunately that dream did not become a reality, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I was the happy recipient of 3 paychecks in April, something us bi-weekly paycheck receivers covet that happens twice a year. To me, it is better than Christmas and my birthday put together. So, without further ado, here is what went down last month.

I’ve started to keep track of my debt in something in addition to mint, and I’ll explain that as well.  After what seemed like many prosperous months in a row, April included quite a few oddities, mostly me misallocating my funds, and forgetting about autopayments (this was the biggest mistake, and most costly).

Citi Card$ 1,702($790)– This had been the focus of my efforts for last month. Im glad to see this one go down, but I wish that it would have been gone by now. I’ll keep at it next month.

Southwest Card $ 477($477)This was paid off in March, but I put more on it this last month.  I’m really, really not sure how this happened (well, I know how I spent it, but I’m not really sure what it was on).  It looks like most of it was to gas & food.  Part of the reason this was used was because I caused myself a cashflow problem.

WaMu Card – 0 – Im considering closing this card, but I don’t want to change my available credit and thus the ratio of credit im using to what’s available until I pay off more of the other 2

Other Debt – This is all non credit card debt.  Just Student Loans and an Auto Loan that I took out which you can read about here.  This went down more than I had expected, and caused the liquidity crisis that I mentioned above.  See, one night I went home and was really excited about paying all my bills (I don’t know why) but I paid just about everything in one night, and then about a week later, one that I paid came up for Auto-draft, right after I had sent what I had left to my Citi Card.  This caused me to overdraft my account (which made me mad, as I havent had one in ages, and was hoping to not have one all year), but caused quite a cash crunch while I waited everything out, causing me to turn to the other card.

Nelnet Student Loan $ 3,106($60) This normal payment is $50, but I paid extra last month.  I think when I get my Cards paid off, I’ll shift my focus to this because the balance is so small, although I’m not too sure yet.  This used to be a department of ed student loan, but was sold.

Direct Loan $ 7,535($262).  The regular payment on this is 92, but my parents threw me some extra change to toss on this bad boy.  This was up above 12k, but I started sending them a bit of interest payments while in grad school, and by the time my repayment came around, my balance was lower than what I borrowed.  I’m glad this is going down.

Great Lakes Loan $13,269($239)This is where my double payment happened, so it went down much more than normal.  I’d rather have the credit card lower than this, but progress is progress, and my numbers are lower than they were last month, so I don’t have much whining to do.

Ford Credit $20,874($350) This is the truck loan.  I pay $15 extra every month, but on some months, I’ve forgotten to call & ask for them to apply my extra to the principal instead of next months payment.

Total Debt $46,726 This number is higher by last month, and by a bit.  I apparently need to determine what calculator I use and use the balance, because it should be lower.  My spreadsheet has it going from 48k to 46k.  This needs to be worked out.

Here’s how I monitor all of my stuff in excel (along with monitoring my day-to-day with mint)

It consists of 2 Graphs:  One showing my monthly income vs my monthly expense, plotted over time.  The other has my debt to income.  It’s got a line for each one of my lines of credit (credit cards, auto & student loan), my total debt, and my income.  I just take all of this info from mint, and make the charts myself.  I also calculate the difference between my spending and income, and I’m happy to report that I have not been at a deficit since 12-09, when I stretched (maybe too much) for a down payment on the truck.

The only thing that confuses me is the difference between the accounts. I’m thinking they should be mostly similar, but I’m relieved by the fact that they are trending downward.

Questions for the readers:

1) What has been your best/worst month for paying down debt, and why do you think it was?

As an aside, I’m hoping to continue to blog 2-3x per week, and I’m also looking to change the theme.  Not sure if I like the one I’ve got, and I may change up quite a few things about the blog.  I’ll keep you posted!

Thanks for reading.

November Month Review

This is an update about where I stood in November as far as budgeting and paying down my debt.  Im hoping this will be all inclusive, but sometimes I do forget things, and will update them as I realize.

Budget For November

I do all my budgeting in mint, and its helped me greatly.  I’m not really into getting down to pencil & paper budgeting, but this has worked fairly well for me.  If you are struggling, I suggest you give it a try yourself.  If it doesnt work, move on to something different.

Rent $325 of $375 – I was able to get a discount on rent for this month for fixing a fence that the wind blew over.  It took the better part of an afternoon, but was totally worth it.

Auto Insurance $33 of $35  – Always the same, but I think my rate went down a dollar or two for my next cycle, starting in december.  Nothing to complain about there.

Groceries $99 of 110 – I was fairly close on this one, which is good.  This is just food that I buy to cook at home.

Transfer to Savings $50 of $50 – it’s great to maximize this transfer.  I set this up recurring every month, even though Im not finished paying down my debt, I still think it’s a worthy endeavor.

Fast Food – $68 of $35 –  This one obviously needs to be adjusted.  There is no sense in making your budget goals so unrealistic that you blow by them (like I did) and then feel bad for the rest of the month about missing them.  I’m thinking of raising this $10 or $15.

Gas – $189 of $200 – No, I’m still not happy about this, but due to some recent changes that I’ll detail in the future, this one will only get worse before it gets better.

For the Month, I spent $1361 out of a total of 2,330.  I’m living well below my means, and to ensure that I keep it this way, I have given myself a Monthly Budget of $1375,  with everything else going to debt repayment.

Status of Debt

My goal for this was to have the credit cards paid off before I really had to get into my student loan payments at the beginning of 2010.  Unfortunately, this didnt really work out as planned, and you can read the story about me not thinking properly here.  Just in case you were wondering, I prefer to get lessons from the school of hard knocks instead of verbal advice.  My

Chase WaMu Card 666.14 this is the one I’m most happy about.  I’ve had this card for about 5 years, and it’s been a burr in my saddle ever since.  I currently have the cash on hand to knock this one out, but I am reserving that until I get paid again, in case I will need said cash for an emergency.

Chase Southwest Card $1,534 This one was paid off in August of 2009, but I had to use it before I had the change to close it.  I had planned on paying it off with proceeds from the sale of the car, but that did not pan out.  Find the link above if you want more on that story while I cry forget about it and move on.

Citi Card2,622I’m not to worried about this, as it’s on 0% interest and does not expire until may.  It will be gone by then.

So…..how much did my debt cost me this month?  a whopping $69.  Not too happy about this, but soon enough it will be gone, and I can assure you that my lesson has been learned.


The High Cost of Being a Moron

Yup, Im an Idiot.  It’s official Now.

Credit: Southsidetowing
Cars Impounded

Wow…..I never thought it would have happened, as I’ve been on quite a good streak with my finances and personal life lately.  By “good streak” I mean to say that I havent done anything that will knee-cap my chances of being successful in the future.  Some people call this “Staying out of your own way”.  As I mentioned, I have been quite good at getting out of my own way lately (I wasnt always this way, but that’s a topic for another post).  I was making good headway on my debt (I still am, sorta) and just really had not done anything that I could look back on in 5 minutes and say “What the hell was I thinking?!”

Well, as you can probably gather, this completely blew up in my face recently, and I’ve finally gotten around to writing about it.  You’ll probably say I was stupid as well, but at this point, I’ve put my moronic actions past me, and have updated my plan/situation to reflect that.

As I mentioned in a previous article (The cost of your car, Pt 2), I purchased a new car when my old one broke down on the way north, and because I got a fairly good deal on a not that old car, I figured that once I got my other car fixed, I could sell it for at least what I paid for it, or possibly a profit.  So, with the help of a great friend, I retrieve my car from its location, take it to the repair shop, and they tell me it will be about a week, because they were a bit behind.  (It was fine with me, as hunting season had just opened, and I know that my mechanic hunts frequently)  So I drive the newer car until the old one is fixed, and then list it on craigslist.  Within a few days, I had many promising responses, and set up a time to have someone look at the vehicle.  I had left room on the price to haggle a bit and still make some money, and the first person that looked at the car made me an offer that I accepted.   The buyer informed me that the transaction would take a while to complete, due to some funding issues, which I agreed to.  One of the reasons that I did this was to avoid having to pay insurance for the car – though I do think that insurance is important (such as Life Insurance, Health Insurance, etc)

Once that happened, I imagined all this progress I was going to make on my credit card debt with this money that I did not yet have.  I ran numbers over and over in my head, and I thought I would be able to hit my goal of being free of credit card debt by 1.1.2010.  I was ecstatic, and applauded myself on shrewed business skills.  All the while, I left the vehicle parked on the street in the city I work in (45 mins from the city I live in).  It was a couple blocks from my place of employment, and so I didnt really figure it to be that big of a deal, as it was parked on the street next to a vacant lot.  The plan was for the car to sit there for around 8 days, and I figured that no one would mind (or even notice, really) that the car had been parked there.

The problem with that situation was that there was an issue with the funding source of the buyer, and I figure that im in no hurry, and can wait for her to straighten everything out.  The car ends up sitting there for the better part of three weeks!  On the day of the sale, I go to retrieve it and ITS GONE!  Im thinking to myself, holy crap, where is it, what happened to it, etc.  I come to the conclusion that it got towed, and I need to find it and get it before I can sell it.  (I havent panicked yet, but im sure annoyed at this point).

I call the city, they tell me (after waiting a bit) that it was towed.  I call the towing company, and they say that have it, and that it’s going to cost $900 for me to get it out.  They had it for almost 2 weeks.  I was not happy that I was not notified, but right then, all the dreams I had of using that car money (and profit) to pay off my debts went out the window, and life gave me a well placed kick to the midsection.

I retrived the car, swallowing a $900 bill before hand, and thought, well, im glad this mess is over, sold the vehicle and wont really look back.  Except to weep continuously.

I learned the following lessons from this escapade:

  1. Keep track of your crap – This would not have happened had I not assumed that all was going to be hunky-dory with the world.  The car got towed, but it could have just as easily gotten stolen.
  2. Get out of your own damn way – Personal finance is difficult enough (so much so that many dont bother with it), and it’s even more difficult when you keep tripping over yourself.
  3. Dont count your chickens Dollars before you’ve got them –  This definitely didnt help either.  It just made me angrier at myself for being such an *idiot*
  4. Persevere – I think this is the most important take-away from this.   Although my Jan 1, 2010 goal for being credit card debt free is most likely unattainable at this point, this is no time for me to just give up.  I’ve gotten too far, enjoyed the successes that I have had too much to just quit now, even though I did take one on the chin pretty hard.

As they say on Intervention, Relapse is part of recovery.  You have to just keep plugging away, and eventually you’ll be where you wanted to be at the beginning.

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August 09 Budget Review

Ahhh….finally.  With the end of august comes the end of summer, the childrens are going back to school, and the weather starts to get a bit cooler.  It’s also the end of the month, which means time to review the progress made in august towards becoming debt free, and re-evaluating (or creating new) goals for my budget.

Income: This is all the income that I earned during the month of August.

  • Paycheck – $1,100
  • Gifts – $383 – This income is not normal, and I do not budget for having it every month.

Total $1,485.90

Spending: This is how I allocated my resources during the month

  • $416 on Auto and Transportation –  This is the most I’ve ever spent on this category, by far.  I had some things happen earlier in the summer, and now I commute to work every day.  This includes insurance, gas, and some repairs that I did myself, and some that I paid to have done.
  • $441 on Home – This is rent ($375) and home improvement.  Im comfortable with this number, although typically this would include just rent.  I built a new bookcase this month.
  • $232 on Bills & Utilities – This includes water, trash, electricity and cell phone and tv/internet.
  • $226 on Food – This includes grochery shopping and dining out.  I believe that I budgeted for $225, so im ok with this
  • $40 on Education – This is to pay to keep me in school.
  • $19 on Shopping – Not too sure what I bought, which is probably not a good sign.
  • $40 on Travel – Went camping in the Badlands of North and South Dakota this month.  Had a great time. Totally worth it.

Total: $1,414

Difference: $71Not much, but it’s better than a negative number.

There has also been some exciting news reguarding my credit cards.  (wooo!).  As you’ll recall in my paying off credit cards with savings post, I recently paid off one of my credit cards with my savings.  It was a difficult decision, but in the end it made the most sense.  Due to an inturruption in my cash flow, I was going to have to use a significant portion of my savings to live off of for a time,  so I figured I may as well slay one of the beasts.  Boy, did it feel good.  Without further ado, My credit card debt levels:

  1. Southwest RapidRewards Card: $0 – I paid this card off, and im more than happy about that
  2. Chase/WaMu Card – $2,110 – I was able to direct 300 towards this account from my savings.  It’s my next target for payoff.
  3. Citibank – $2,472 – This card is at a 0% balance, and will be my last card to pay off.  The balance ends may, 2010.

Total Debt: $4,582 Im happy to see this number getting lower, and my net worth approaching $0.  Then I can start building a positive  net worth!  Who else is with me?!

Note: As Im still a student, this does not include my student loans, which are currently are in-school status, and will be so until ~june 2010

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The five Eco Principles – Energy Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the third one, focusing on Energy Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

Energy Efficiency has been one of my favorite topics for about 5 years now, and I’m planning an overview style post, as well as a possible series, about different types of energy.  Just like smart design, energy can be easily manipulated to save you heaps of cash on your heating/cooling and energy bills.

As I said in Tuesday’s article, you need to treat your home as an investment, and not let recurring costs undermine your final goal (whatever that may be).  By making the investment in your home for things that can help you save on (or eliminate completely) your monthly bills, you’ll be money ahead.  One great way to do that is through energy efficiency.  There are many different ways to do this, some detailed in Mondays post on smart design, and some I will talk about below.

One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to increase the energy efficiency of your home is to plug the holes.  Make sure that you have the whole home insulated from the outside, including quality windows as well as foam or another type of insulation.  The easiest way to be energy efficient and save money is to stop it from seeping out of your house in the first place.  By keeping in the energy you have already paid for, you can use much less.

Once you have kept what you’ve already paid for inside your home to the best of your ability, then you can move on to your baseload use.  This includes things that need to be (or are, dont bother fooling yourself by saying you’ll unplug that phone charger after you take the phone off it if you know you wont) plugged in all the time.  Lowering the energy usage of these appliances (fridge, oven, computer, etc) is the next step.  Preventing them from using so much energy by upgrading to a newer model (go for the energ ystar logo) can quickly pay for itself by saving on electricity.

Next you can move back to smart design.  Big windows, sliding glass doors, sky-lights, and large sunshades can help let the light and heat in, and hold it in after the sun has gone down.  By using natural heat and light, you can save on heating and lighting costs.  This also works  in the summer, as windows can keep your home cool by allowing heat to escape and creating cooling cross breezes throughout your home.

If you have looked at all these options and are still searching for ways to lighten you energy bill and decrease your environmental footprint, you can look to green roofs (and an older post) to minimize heating and cooling costs, as well as absorb rain water and minimize runoff.  If you’re really savvy, you can turn your green roof into a garden.

Finally, there is solar energy generation.  This should be you LAST step if you are looking to be energy efficient.  It doesnt matter how sunny it is where you live in phoenix, Florida or wherever you do happen to live, if you havent reduced your energy use, your going to end up buying more solar panel(s) than you need, and will still be pushing energy right out the door, the windows and the walls. There’s no point in putting solar first on your list, when you havent done things listed above.  It would be like trying to fill up the bathtub when you dont have the drain closed.  It may begin to fill, but it’s probably not going to get very full very fast.

Energy efficient upgrades are a great way to begin saving money and lowering your house’s “carrying cost” but make sure that you pick the low hanging fruit first, and make sure that you dont “trip over dollars to save dimes”.  If you want the best bang for your buck, i’d start with insulation.

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