Year In Review

There are only a few days left in 2011, and it was quite the year for me.  I did a lot of traveling, did a lot of writing, lots of interaction with the yakezie and even my first blog conference.  I’d like to go back and look at how I started the year and how I finished the year (just like last year) to give everyone hope that debt repayment is possible and one reason I think you should focus on it: freedom.  Unfortunately, I didnt pay off as much debt as I did last year, but I was able to thoroughly enjoy the fruits of my labor from last year.  I had more cash flow, and I participated in quite a few weddings and bachelor parties, all out of state.  I didn’t have to say no to any of my good friends when they asked me to stand with them at their weddings or just asked me to attend because I “couldnt afford it”.  That in and of itself was awesome.

Along with all the travel this year, I also got engaged to an awesome woman and someone that I’m excited to share my life with.  I got a new job  so that I didn’t have to drive 100+ miles every day to and from work, and while the savings in dollars didn’t materialize right away, I do enjoy having a 7 minute commute instead of having a 50 minute one (though it sucks when it’s cold out).  Along with all of those, I did tons of work toward finishing my masters, and it should be officially done by May, 2012 – 3 years after I was supposed to be done, and 5 years after I started in the fall of 2007.  Better late than never?  I kept up with my goals for the year 2011 as best I could, and didn’t really totally fail at anything.  Though my spending got off track for a while, it was because I was taking money that would normally be used for debt repayment and spending it on something that I enjoy (spending time with friends and traveling) – which is more than OK with me.  Even though I would have liked to be totally out of debt before I did this, I didn’t add any new debt, so that’s all that matters.

Debt:

At the beginning of 2011, I had debts from 2 student loans and 1 vehicle loan, totaling $33,854(!!!) broken down as follows:

  • Truck Loan: $17,695
  • Student Loans (2):  $16,158
This was a far cry from all the old demands on my paycheck, when I had 7 different debts that I had to make minimum payments on.  That was a lot of people coming after my check before I could use it how I wanted, and the tax man isn’t even in those 7.  I was able to eliminate 4 of those in 2010, leaving me with 3 in 2011.  My goals for 2011 were to pay off the smaller student loan (~6k) and the truck loan.  I was able to pay off the student loan (despite tons of problems), as well as make significant progress on the truck thanks to a low interest rate on the loan and a hail storm.  After all that progress, here’s where I am now:
  • Truck Loan: $9,466
  • Student Loan (only 1 left): $11,359
The total remaining for my debt is $20,825  and it has gone down by $13,209.  Last year, I was able to pay down 17,964.  This year was a little bit lower than last year, but I’m still happy about the total.  The number is going down and not up, thankfully.  The only reason that my debt didn’t go up at all is because I worked so hard in 2010 to make sure my finances were on the right track.  However had I not done that, I would have either had to skip out on close friends weddings and bachelor parties, or put everything on a credit card.
How did you do this year?  Did you build up reserves, pay off debt, or do neither or both?  What are you looking to do next year?

Year End Goals Review

It’s getting towards the end of the year, and it’s a great time to review the goals that I had for the year and how I fared with them.  I put some of my goals up on the site, and you can find them here.  I’ve also been doing some quarterly updates that you can read if you’re curious (Q1, Q2, Q3) but this is the final one  for this year, and soon will come goals out for 2012.  While I didnt put my goals all on the website, I did put goals for my finances and my health on here.  Goals not included were either mean to be a surprise or were not relevant to the topics on this blog, so I left them off.  So, without further ado, here were my goals and how I fared with them in 2011.

Financial Goals

  1. Pay off my Direct Loan.  The balance for this loan as of 12/31/10 will be right around $4,250.   While this wont help out my cash flow that much, it’s still by far the lowest loan balance  that I have.  I’m hoping that this will be paid off in Q1, and it should be if I can get back to my gazelle intensity that I lost in December.
Success!  I had a pretty ambitious goal of paying this off in the first quarter, but was rudely woken up when tax season came around.  I ended up using money that was supposed to be for debt repayment to pay both state and federal income tax.  After that, it was mostly traveling during the summer that ate up my extra money for loan payments, and once I was finally ready to pay it off, they lost the check.  Eventually (mid november) I was able to pay it in full.
  1. Pay Off Truck.  This goal is going to be a heavy lift, but I think that I can do it this year.  I’ve been debating if I should pay this off first or move on to the next lowest balance.  In the end, the truck is going to win out because of the amount of cash that it’s going to free up.  The balance on this note as of 12/31/10 is $17,979.
Fail!  Although I knew last year that this would probably be a bit too far out of reach, I decided to put it on here anyway so even if I ended up failing, i’d be pretty far ahead of where I was supposed to be.  I didnt make extra payments on the loan, but got a huge insurance check from a hail storm and was able to put that towards the value of the loan.  After borrowing 21,000 in December of 2009, The loan balance is near 9,000 now, which I’m more than fine with.  I originally financed the note for 6 years, but it should be long gone before then.

Health Goals

  1. Establish a routine at the gym.  I seem to be teetering on the brink of a solid schedule of gym attendance, and I’d really like to have it gel into a nice routine this year.  Unfortunately, this goal sits a bit at odds with my goal of paying off my debt (because I spend extra time working more to earn more).  I’ve got a spreadsheet tracking my progress, and I’m aiming for 4 days a week at the gym (if anyone cares, tuesday, thursday, saturday and sunday).  I think I can do this and stay focused on all of my other projects.  I’ll share these results in my monthly reviews so you can keep up as well.
Semi-Success.  I got into a pretty good routine during the first 8 or so months of the year, but kind of fell off after that.  Though I was able to regain a bit in December, I’ll be back in full force with all of the other new years resolution people in January and February, but I’ll still be there when they drop off in march.
  1. Identify an unhealthy eating behavior and stop it.  After thinking about this for a while, I’ve decided that instead of stopping an unhealthy behavior, I’m going to start a healthy one.  I’ve decided that I’m going to eat vegetarian 1 or 2 dinners per week (my breakfasts are sometimes vegetarian, and I can switch my lunch if I want).  This will give me 1 or 2 days of full vegetarian food per week, which should do great things for my health.
Success!  This went really well, quite unexpectedly.  H decided that she wanted to become a vegetarian (though she does eat fish) so that made my meal planning much easier.  When I wanted to do a vegetarian night, I’d just eat whatever she was eating.

November Monthly Review

Most of you remember my saga with direct loans.   To end it, I finally had to have the bank pull back the funds over a month after it had cleared the account and still had not posted to the website (nor could they even find it).  I went to pay it all on line after cancelling my monthly payment, so they decided to take my monthly payment out anyway.  I cant wait to see how long it will take them to refund that.

Also, as for No Spend November, I think it went really, really well.  Aside from paying for my honeymoon, my spending was almost 1k lower that it has been over the past 6 months.   Now that the honeymoon is all paid for, I’ll probably try a low spend December (I don’t really have a whole lot of Christmas shopping done yet)

I went looking through my old monthly reviews on this site, and the oldest one that I could find that used this format was from april, 2010 (the old format I reported how much I spent in what category).  Back then, I had 7 (!!!) different things that I needed to make monthly payments on.  Now, I’m down to 2, and I’ve got a lot more free cash because of it.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $11,345 ($103)  I hate this loan.  It never goes down.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $9,463  ($302):  This one will be my next target.  I’m hoping i’ll be able to have it paid off by the time I get married.

Health Goals

I’ve also decided to track my health goals for the year.  This has been up and down all year, but despite the traveling, I’ve managed to keep it together this month.  This is usually gym visits, but I dont always like to go to the gym, so I’m changing it to workouts.  Usually when I dont go to the gym, I go running.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Visits: 14

This went better than last month, though I still havent been great.  I think part of it is the damn time change – I hate how it gets dark so early!

Thoughts on an Old Project

Readers: This is a really old draft that I wrote sometime in 2010.  Its about my graduate degree and how annoying it was finishing school and not having a job.  I’m still not sure if the degree was worth the cost (even though 3/4ths of it was paid for by the school) but as of right now, I’ve submitted my final draft to my professor – short version, I decided to finish it)

I’ve been working on something since the fall of 2007.  It was originally supposed to take 2 years and when I began, it was something that I wanted to do, and I also figured that it would increase my starting salary and make it relatively easy to advance or move to different spots if I felt so inclined later in my career.  In short, it seemed like a no brainer, so I went ahead and started.  Now, I’m not so sure if I made the right choice.

While some people could have (and indeed, did) predict that the recession was going to happen, I didn’t really see it coming.  The recession has changed the calculus on all of the things that I had thought about this project when I started it.  Nothing expected has come to fruition, and partly because of this, I’ve put it on the back burner to the extent that I don’t even try to kid myself that I’m going to work on it/finish it.  I have very little motivation to continue to work on the project, and I’m wondering if I should completely throw in the towel and not finish at all.  First, a little back story.

I was in school when the recession first set in for the country, and prepared to finish up 8 months or so after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September.  Soon after, I figured it was prudent for me to start applying for jobs.  I had relatively few restrictions as I wasn’t really tied to any place and was willing to move just about anywhere.  After sending out applications numbering in the 100s (I wasn’t counting, but had I known the response, probably should have considered it) I failed to hear anything back for months.  I kept going, and right before school was over things started to break.  I was able to line up 3 interviews in the span of 2 weeks, which was far more promising than anything I’d heard for the past 6 months.  I was made an offer and accepted, packed up my things and moved.  After multiple changes to my first day of employment, they finally told me what I had been suspecting all along: I was out of a job.  I called up my old employer and asked if they had room for me, which they did (Job 1), but it wouldn’t be a benefited position, and it would mean quite a bit of driving.   It didn’t matter to me, I needed an income.

After a while there, I kept looking for positions and eventually found one (Job 2) that I accepted (for much, much less than I figured I would be making), but decided to keep my old job.  I knew my car was going to go soon (It did) and I wanted to pay down my debt quicker.  I was finally making money, but my project quickly got put on the back-burner, and over time desire to finish the project waned and effort put in to finish it vanished.  The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: Should I even finish it at all?

It was started as something I did to increase my income – both in the short and long term.  When I took Job 2, it was for less money than I could have been making had I forgone the project and looked for work.  It didn’t increase my income in the short term, and given where I’m at right now, it does not look like an income increase can come from it in the long term either, as I’d have to start back at the bottom in a different (but semi-related) field, and begin to work my way up.

Along with that, every bit of time that I spend trying to complete this project represents income lost from Job 1.  When I’m working there, I’m getting paid, and if I’m working on this project, I’m not.

As of right now, I continue to pay lip service to the idea of finishing the project, but it’s just that.  I feel like I don’t have much motivation to finish it, and my efforts would be better utilized elsewhere.  As far as I see it now, the only reason I have to finish the project is because I started it.  While I know that not finishing things is a sin to some, at what point does it make sense to continue to waste time by finishing this when I don’t think much will come from it, now and in the future.

Though I still have not officially “finished” I do know that having a graduate degree has helped me get my foot in the door for quite a few interviews – not to mention me raising my salary by ~20k per year over the last 2 years.  The unfortunate thing is that if I got back into the field where my grad degree is, i’d take a 50% pay cut right off the top, as I’m currently utilizing skills that I learned while an undergrad.  Naturally, I’m not going to do that even though I enjoy reading about the field.

This isn’t really meant to be anything more than a cautionary tale about grad school – namely, dont take out too much money for it.  If you really want to go, I suggest finding a program that will get you a higher salary, or like me get a program that will cover your tuition and you get a stipend for teaching or research.

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 2

A while back, I wrote a post on the costs I incurred while going halibut fishing in Alaska.  When I wrote the post, I was relatively unsure of the street value of the fish, and was pretty sure that I was getting soaked in the deal.  Even though I used a pretty high price point, it looked like I came close to breaking even in the end, and I have some great memories from the trip to boot.

After I wrote that post, I figure it would be interesting to do this with all of my adventures getting my own food, so here’s the next chapter.

A while a go, my fiancee’s friend mentioned that he wanted to come up to Wyoming and hunt antelope and I offered to take him with my future father in law.  Unfortunately, the dates didnt work out and I was at fincon during the only weekend available, so I was unable to go.  After he got back (he was successful) he invited me to go duck hunting with him.  I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about ducks, duck hunting or anything like that.  Along with that, I’ve only even eaten duck once in my life.  Even so, I decided I’d go.

I already had a shotgun, so I didnt need to buy one of those.  What I did need was ammo, license, a state duck stamp and a federal duck stamp.  Most of the stuff I still have left and can be used again within a certain time frame.  I believe the federal duck stamp is good for the season, and the state duck stamp is good for 45 days.  Here was what I paid

  • 2 boxes ammo ~$22.  I can use this again, because I think I shot 3/50 shells.
  • Federal Duck Stamp/State Duck Stamp (State good for 45 days, federal for a year): $20
  • 1 Day waterfowl hunting license , non resident. $11
  • 1 Tank gas ~55
Unfortunately, this was a bit of a slow day out on the pond.  Of course, I’ve never been before so I didnt know, but the guy I went with said that usually he bags out and gets 6 ducks.  Unfortunately, we only shot two.  He was nice enough to let me take home both ducks as I assume his freezer is already full of them.  As I found out when I was processing the animal at home, there’s really not much to a duck.  You basically just want the breasts to eat, and some people save feathers if the make files for fly fishing (I don’t, and the guy I offered them to at work didn’t want them).  I didnt really know what to do with the rest, so I just got rid of them.  I’d like to find something to use what’s left of the animal for, but I dont know anything.  If you’ve got ideas, leave them in the comments 🙂
All in all, I think that I got meat for about 4 meals out of it, but I could have gotten more.  One of the duck breasts was compromised during the trip and had to be discarded.  So this was kind of an expensive trip at a cost of 108, and a cost per meal of $27.  Of course next time I go, It will only cost $11 for a duck license and whatever I use in gas.  This may not have as high of a return as my fishing trip did, but once I go a few more times I’ll have (hopefully) staggeringly lower cost per meal.   This may not best return, but it a good time – not nearly as bad as my dad described it “standing in a freezing ass duck blind at 5am”.
Readers: Do you hunt?  Are you interested in hunting?  If so, why?  Would you like a natural source of meat, a cost effective source, or do you hunt so that you can get back to the land and know where your food came from?

How I Saved Over 3,500 On My Honeymoon

Like many bloggers that start blogging because they want to be accountable to themselves to right the financial ship, I had an issue with overspending on credit cards.  Though I didnt think it was that bad (5k is going to be like one paycheck when I get a real job – foolish, I know), it was.  So after  got a real job and realized that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, I started to get accountable, created this site, got 2 jobs and started to pay down my credit cards.  While it wasnt all easy, I did do it, and even wrote a break up letter to my credit cards after I paid the last one off.  I went for a while just using my debit card, but the promise of frequent flyer miles enticed me too much.  I had reformed, I told myself, and as long as I paid the card off when the bill came i’d get the miles and more secure transactions.  Not only that, I had already earned a free flight this way while I was in debt by transferring a balance to a 0% credit card.

It didnt take long for me to start reading into it more and make the plunge – some of you may have gotten the 75k american airline miles card with citi bank, and I did that, put all my purchases on it until I reached the limit and closed it.  I kept up with this miles and points game, waiting for the next huge deal.  They started to come fast and furious, but eventually I got the british airways card that gave me 100k miles after spending 2,500 bucks!  There were so many things I could do, so many places I could go by earning all those miles.  Just like the other one I put all my purchases on it, but this time I didnt close it – I knew I was going to get engaged soon, and that would require a honeymoon – so I started reading up on how to use these points.

After a lot of reading and a lot of searching and talking with H, I gave her a few options for places to go and she picked one so I started to look at flights.  After a while I found out ways to make the most of the miles by getting stopovers on the way to our destination.  While I’ve been trying (and doing well so far) at my no spend november having to do this totally ruined it.  Unfortunately, it had to be done by november 16, when all of the miles and points guru’s suspect that british airways is going to hugely devalue the miles – making the trip that I ended up booking impossible with the amount of miles that I had.  I figure that I’d have to spend this money anyway, but I didnt realize how much of a deal I was getting.

H and I are going to thailand for our honeymoon (we had some pictures taken while we were there by a friend)and are also spending 4 days in tokyo.  As of right now, our flights would have cost almost $4,000 for both of us, but I paid around $1,400 in fees for both of us, saving about $3,600.  Unfortunately, the way things worked out we still need to purchase round trip tickets to Los Angeles to kick off the trip, but I dont think those will be too bad.  If I want, I also have miles for those because of all the traveling that I was doing this summer.  While this did put a huge crimp in my no spend november, I dont think there would have been any way we would have been able to go where we are going without spending the money to book now.  There were other options that could have been cheap, but I have never been to asia and wanted to go, and so did H – so we figured this would be a fun time.

All in all – this was just too good to pass up.  I’m excited to see the sights of tokyo and bangkok and spend a lot of quality time with my new wife!

Readers: Where did you go for your honeymoon?  How long were you there? Were you able to leverage some good deals, or did you just pay full price?

ps – I was not the only blogger in the pf blogosphere that took advantage of this exact deal for their honeymoon.  Check out how well heeled got hers booked!

Saving Money Tip: Manual Upgrades

There has been quite a bit of to-do in the cell phone industry lately, almost all of it because of the iPhone 4s release.  I dont have an iPhone, and I’ve never had one.  I wasnt even planning on getting a smart phone.

That obviously didnt go the way I wanted it, so there I was with all the other nerds financial bloggers at fincon11, tapping away on smart phones during sessions and breaks.  Due to the fact that I dont want to be constantly under a cell phone contract, I probably had one of the oldest smartphones in the building at the time, an android HTC Eris (which a friend informed me is the “3rd oldest” android phone).  Back when I bought this, there was an iPhone, but I couldnt get one in wyoming because AT&T didnt provide service in my state (no joke), so we basically had verizon, sprint or a regional carrier to pick from.  The iPhone didnt appear here until verizon got it recently.

This phone has been pretty good to me, but it has taken a while to upgrade the OS.  For the longest time I ran android 1.8, then verizon upgraded me to 2.1 after quite a while, and I’ve been running that ever since.  The current os version is 2.3 (gingerbread) – but my old phone doesnt have the guts to run it.  I’m still rocking eclair for you android fans.  Lately, I’ve been having crashing problems and wanting an os upgrade, but Verizon won’t give one because my contract is almost up and they just want me to get a new phone with another 2 year contract,  where ill no longer get unlimited data and will be slowed to 2 gb/month.  Obviously, I don’t want that, so I really want to keep this phone as long as possible and was looking for ways to do that.

Disclaimer: Everything past this point that i’m going to talk about will void the warranty for your phone (and could “brick” it).  If you’re unsure, dont try it and if you are sure, try it at your own risk. 

After talking with a programmer buddy of mine and a few others, they convinced me to get “root” access so that I can do an os upgrade on my own.  I hemmed and hawed for a while before I got one, and my final decision was made because if I messed something up and did ruin my phone, my contract was up so I could get a new one at a discount.  I decided to get ready and go ahead with it.

The first thing that I had to do was back up my data (which I unfortunately didnt get all of, but oh well) and save it all on the computer.  That part was easy, and didnt take much but a bit of babysitting time.

After that, I needed to find an updated version of the OS that would run on my phone.  I found this post about how to get this done on my old phone.  After backing up data and finding the correct version, I was off to the races.  I’m not going to tell you that this wasnt slightly nerve racking, but I made it through.  The worst part was having to look up a solution for how to select the proper software because the way the website said to do it did not work at all.

Once I had the new software up and running, I grabbed all my back ups and reloaded them.  All of this was pretty easy, but it was time consuming taking all of the data from my old apps and putting it back on the new apps.  Of course, I could have paid 6 bucks to upgrade the app that I used for backup, but I didnt want to.

After using the new os for a few days, I’ve found a few bugs, but have also found the bug fixes.  Once I get those loaded on to my phone, everything was be fine.  For those curious, I was having problems with the GPS which started going haywire because it was trying to triangulate my location instead of using the built in receiver – a process that earned an inappropriate comment from a friend of mine.  It also had issues where the browser would crash about 2 seconds after it opened, but one bug fix corrected the GPS issues and the browser.  There was also troubles with the camera (it wouldnt work at all) but I downloaded an aftermarket free camera app from the market and that fixed that.  The nice part was that people had done this quite a while ago, so there was plenty of information to be found in the forums.  Honestly, it feels like a totally new phone.  Everything works faster and better and all the screens are different.  I feel like I got an awesome new phone, but I didnt have to pay a thing!

While the manual upgrade process did take quite a while and could have been a total disaster, it was fairly easy and a great way to upgrade the phone.  I’m not in the I need a new phone all the time mindset, and I’m saving quite a bit of money because of it – from not having to upgrade my phone and from not re-signing a contract! Not only is this better on the pocket book, its better for the environment. In a book that I’m reading and will review here shortly, they say Americans throw away 140 million cell phones every year! Doing this is one way to keep mine out of the landfill for a while.

Readers: Have you ever tried to save money by doing a manual phone upgrade? Are you leery of doing something like this (I was) or would you be willing to give it a try?