A Break Up Letter

credit cards
Creative Commons License photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

7/2/2010

Dear Credit Cards:

Boy, we’ve known each other for quite a while, but I’ve been feeling a bit queasy about our relationship for the past 3 or so years, and I wasn’t sure how to break it to you at first.  I decided that the best way for us to separate would be through this letter, which I will write and send to you, and then never look back.  There will be no more “emergencies” or “fun things I can’t miss out on” funded by you.  I’m sorry, but it has to be this way.

Boy, we have known each other for almost 8 years, can you believe it?!  Me neither.  It sure hasn’t seemed like that long.  Do you remember back when we had just met each other?  I wasn’t even in College yet, but you and I were growing close.  I would just charge a fuel purchase here or there to build our relationship, and then I’d get you back at the end of the month.  I always thought you were cool, because you never really seemed to mind that I paid you later.  You didn’t always seem too happy that I paid you back in full though, but I never seemed to mind.  I figured, that’s odd, but oh well.

Remember that time we got to College, and we made so many other friends?  There was the card with my school logo on it that gave me a sweet t-shirt, the card with the airline miles, and countless others.  They were all your friends to begin with, but soon the became our friends.  Some of them were some pretty cool cats, but some were pretty lame.  I mean they wanted me to pay to hang out with them every year, plus they didn’t give me any freebies?  Sorry I was so rude to them, but I think it was for the best.  Even though I never got along with all your friends, you still let me hang out, which I thought was cool.  I really appreciated that, man.

Little did I know that you were one of those true friends I kept reading about in books and stuff.  Do you remember that time I had that financial emergency?  I didn’t think you did, but remember how you were there to spot me the cash, and said it was cool?  You were even nice enough to set up a payment plan for me because  I had a job and you knew I was good for it.  That was really, really sweet.  You were there to spot me then and many other times in the coming months.  Not only were you there for the big emergencies, but the small not-so-much emergencies too, like going out to eat with my friends or hitting up the bar to hang out.  You were a pretty good friend to me then, man.

We had some good times, too.   First, we bought a new winter coat and some snowboarding gear in the winter.  Then, do you  remember when we went snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, NV for that spring?  It was a really awesome trip that you lent me the  money for 89% of.  That new computer I got a year later?  That was you too.  It felt great, having all that new stuff and doing all those things with you.  After a while though, our relationship became strained.  You started to get testy when giving me money, so I figured it was time to re-examine my priorities and think about what I was doing.

(Un)fortunately, I’ve been feeling our relationship has strained a bit, you know?  It’s just not the same as it used to be.  We’ve both grown up and bit and changed into different people, and our relationship has been neglected because of it.  I don’t know if you even noticed or not, but I haven’t even hung out with you in almost 2 years!  Can you believe that?  All I’ve been doing is paying you back, dawg.  While it’s been no fun for me, it doesn’t really seem like you care all that much.

I see you out and about with a much younger kid, much like I was when we met, and the two of you are having a grand old time.  I tried to talk to the kid about you, but you wouldn’t let me near him.  I just figured that if you and I were good friends, and you and him were good friends, then him and I were practically destined to be soul mates!  I thought that you were acting kinda rude, but I just sighed and let you and that young kid hang out.  One day (hopefully) he’ll grow out of your guys’ relationship, but for now, I hope he’s having fun.

Either way, credit cards, I think it’s time that you and I parted ways — no hard feelings or anything, but a clean break would be nice.  I know you’ll try & call me, send me letters in the mail (who does that anymore, anyway?) but my mind is made up.

Sincerely,

Jeff

ps: If you’re reading this, it means that I have (or will in 48 hours) sent the final payment to my final credit card with a balance on it, zeroing out my balance over all cards for the first time in longer than I care to remember.

Saving Money Tip: Change your own Oil

Oil Change Equipment

There are a lot of ways to save money floating around the interwebs, some common (like using coupons) and some not so common (like buying cloth rags to use instead of toilet paper).  Today I am going to tell you about one of my personal favorite saving money tips, which is changing my own motor oil.  One of the reasons that I do it is I just like to go out side and get a bit dirty, do some work that I can get positive, semi-immediate results from, and there’s something at least a tiny bit manly about being able to work on your own car.  I didn’t always know how to change my oil though so there are a few things that I have learned on the way.   (Materials Pictured Above from left to right: Socket wrench, socket wrench extension, oil drip pan, oil, oil filer, filter wrench, funnel)

Changing your own motor oil saves some money.  The amount saved depends on how much you drive your car.  If you’re like me and drive a lot, you can save quite a bit of coin over the course of a year.  If you don’t drive as much, the savings will be slightly less (~$120/yr).

  1. Make sure to use the proper tools.  You can’t get something done right if you don’t have the right equipment
  2. Make sure you have a spot for the waste oil.  Here at sustainable life blog, we don’t like to waste anything.  Depending on where you live, you can probably call the city or county, and they will tell you how you can dispose of it.  My county (and most of them around here) will collect the used oil.  Some recycle it, and some burn it for heat, but it’s always used.
  3. Check and Double Check Yourself.

Alright, after we’ve got that out-of-the-way, let’s get dirty!  First, you’ll need to figure out what kind of motor oil and filter your car has.  To do this, you’ll need to look in the owner’s manual that (hopefully) came with your car.  Once you do this, you need to take the car that you’re going to change the oil in and head over to your local auto parts store and get some new oil, a new filter, a drip pan (if you don’t have one), and an oil filter wrench.  The first time you pick all this up, it will probably run you about 30 (which is what jiffy lube charges).  Simple cheap stuff, and once you buy it all, you’ll only need a new filter and oil, which will run you about $10/trip.

Get Ready to get Dirty

Once you’ve got all your stuff back home, it’s time to get down and dirty.  Get out your owner’s manual and look for an engine diagram (or there could be a how to change oil guide in there) and find the Oil drain plug.  Get a torque or crescent wrench,  and slowly loosen the bolt. (Dont forget to keep the bolt out of the oil when you remove it completely) Oil will start to leak on you a bit, and it should be warm (unless your trip to the parts store took a while, then give it some cooling time).  Just make sure you have your drip pan ready to try to catch it when you remove the screw completely.  While the oil is draining, you can grab your oil filter wrench and locate your oil filter.  It will be round, and sticking off of the engine somewhere.  If you can’t locate it right away, go back to your owner’s manual and find an engine schematic that will tell you where it is.  Once you find it, take your filter wrench and loosen the oil filter slowly.  Some oil will start leaking out of here as well, don’t worry about it.  Once you get it off, you can set it aside.

Replace what you took out

Now, it’s time to replace what you’ve taken off.  Get the bolt, and screw it back into where you took it out of.  Then get your new oil filter and rub a bit of oil around the rubber seal.  This will make it much easier to get off the next time, and I can tell you that there’s nothing worse than a stuck oil filter.  Then screw it back where the old one came from.  There is no reason to tighten these things down as hard as you possibly can get them, either.  Remember, you’re going to be the one taking them off next time.  So get the snug and give them a bit more and call it good.

Now, you’re almost done, but you need to grab your oil, pop open the hood, and put back the required amount of oil!  Fire up the car, make sure everything works and you’re good to go!

Now, that wasnt so hard, was it?

Here’s a cost breakdown.  This will probably take about an hour of your time, and assuming you drive as much as the normal american (12,000 miles/year) you’ll save about $60 during the first year (due to costs of oil drip pan and wrench), and about $80  every year after that.  Of course, the better you get at it, the less time it will take you.  I change my oil about once every 6 weeks, so I can stand to save a bit more than that.  I wouldn’t trade less driving

But I can guarantee you’ll feel good after having changed your own oil, because there’s nothing like the feeling of a job well done.

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.

How To Give Up Caffeine

Back in 2006/2007, I was quite addicted to caffeine.

3 Cups of Tea

Photo credit: Mat.teo, Flickr

Tough to say, but there’s really no way to sugar coat it.  Thinking about it now, I kind of recoil in horror about the amount of caffeine intake I had.  I would regularly wake up and have a coke for breakfast (horrible, I know), and then it would be a few hour break from caffeine (and all liquids, actually), then I’d get home, relax and make some dinner and then start on my homework/work and have another cup of tea (or 2).  This tea was typically green or black, but on occasion I considered my caffeine intake and switched to white tea (but only if I was planning on going to bed soon).  It wasn’t good, and not only was the consumption outside this world, the rate at which I consumed a cup was astounding.   Either way, it got to a point where even I started to realize my consumption was high, so I decided to make an effort to cut back.  Here are some of the BEST reasons I found to give up caffeine:

  1. Caffeine has a half life of 4.9 hours for healthy adults (women taking oral contraceptives, it’s 5-10 hours, dont ask me why)
  2. Caffeine hogs your liver.  When you drink caffeine, it gets broken down into 3 parts in the liver (Paraxanthine 84%, Theobromine 12% and Theophylline 4%).  When your liver is breaking down these things that you put into your body knowingly, it cant break down toxins that are in your body that you don’t know about.
  3. Caffeine has been linked to miscarriage, with women who consume more than 200 mg a day (2 cups drip coffee) doubling their risk.
  4. It will make it harder for you to fall asleep, and you’ll wake easier
  5. We all know about the feeling a few hours later when you crash.  Coffee is a lot like credit cards in this way – you can keep having fun, but eventually you’ll have to pay the piper.
  6. It will dehydrate you.
  7. The acidic nature of caffeine drinks has a negative effect on your body by preventing other nutrients from getting absorbed.
  8. The “Latte Factor” (or soda factor) It doesn’t really matter how much you do or don’t drink of the stuff. It will add up no matter what, and lets face it: Water is free & better for you.

You’re probably addicted to the stuff (Just like I was), depending on the amount of caffeine you drink.  Lets work out how long it could take.   1 shot of espresso from starbucks has 75 mg of caffeine in it.  Given our half-life formula, that 1 espresso shot (or drink) will stay in your body for the next 31.5 HOURS, Give or take a few hours depending on how healthy you are.  At 4pm tomorrow, are you still going to be thinking about that espresso shot you had at 8am today?  I didnt think so either.  It’s probably time to give it up.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, something as simple as getting a waterbottle to fill can help you out.  The soda can/tea cup I used to reach for was replaced by a water bottle, and I didn’t really notice the difference at first, then I started to feel a lot better after a while.   Once you start switching to water during the times that you typically blindly reach for a caffeinated beverage (read: at your desk) you can start doing the difficult part: purposefully avoiding it at restaurants, in bars, etc.   But, please, don’t try both of these at once.

I suggest starting with having your morning coffee ( and if you started out drinking 3+ cut it down to 3, then to 2, then to 1).  While you’re doing this, start replacing the coffee you’re not drinking with 2x the amount of water.  It will fill your stomach up and leave less room for the caffeine.  You’ll also rehydrate yourself in doing so.  Once you get in the habit of doing this, you can move on to the next step!

Good Luck.

Green Washer Fluid

Today I was at wal-mart searching for, among other things, some new wiper fluid for my vehicle.  I typically dont give much thought to purchasing washer fluid, but something struck me when I was looking at the 5 or so different choices.

There was an eco-friendly alternative for wiper fluids.

Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be.  It seems that going eco-friendly or “green” is in vogue, and consumers will gladly pay a premium for eco-friendly products.  Such consumers typically buy and give  little thought going into whether or not the product was actually produced as they claim. (I do this on occasion)  At first thought, I figured this was just a well disguised attempt to separate me from my scarce financial resources.

Does the Earth Really Look like this from Space?

Upon further investigation, wiper fluid is typically hefty stuff, as the majority of the wiper fluids have some sort of anti-freezing agent in them.  It used to be methanol, but due to its known harmful effects (blindness, among other things) now they typically use ethanol and ethylene glycol (more commonly known as antifreeze).  So, did getting the green product really matter in this case?  The antifreeze is a key ingredient in the fluid in the winter (quick tip: if there’s frost on the windshield in the morning and you don’t have time to wait for the defroster to heat up, spray some wiper fluid on it.  It will melt the frost), and removing the things that make the wiper fluid not freeze would drastically decrease performance, and ultimately, my satisfaction with the product.

So, what’s a green conscious consumer to do?

Well, as mentioned before, the eco-friendly wiper fluid only went down to 32 degrees.  I bought two gallons to use for the summer time, and when the winter time comes back (in 3 months) I’ll use the eco-unfriendly stuff unless I can find an alternative.  Not only did I get the eco-friendly product, it was also 50 cents or so cheaper than the regular washer fluid.

Questions:

  1. Have things gotten too “green”?  You can find green things everywhere these days, but who really cares if your wiper fluid is eco-friendly or your superman underwear contain 100% organic cotton
  2. Would you sacrifice performance to stay green?

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.