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.

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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