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Budgeting in the Undead Stuff

The following is a Halloween guest post from my in-real-life friend Mitch from last year (2010).  I thought it was hilarious enough to republish.  Buckle up and enjoy the undead humor!

If you’re reading this blog, you realize that one of the most import things you can do to ensure a safe, happy future is to plan ahead. But what about your head? Or, more specifically, what’s inside your head: Brains.

Yeah, you’ve got some, all right, and that’s just the problem. In the dark days to come, the streets will be full of mindless throngs out to get you.  And no, I’m not talking about all your friends and family who didn’t fully invest in their 401(k).  I’m talking about the rising tide of the undead who will walk the earth in the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse.

Yes, friends, it IS coming… and sooner than you expect.

If you plan to be one of the “breathers” who makes it through the Time of Troubles alive, then you need to plan for it today. That’s right; you need to be Budgeting in the Undead Stuff.

Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

Like any form of disaster preparedness, you need to look the problem squarely in the eye (in this case, a milky white eye devoid of a soul or human emotion) and analyze your options. The first step to planning a response that is both effective in terms of cost and saving lives is to decide on how big a disaster you are budgeting for.

If, like some of my friends, you think the Zombie Apocalypse will be the end of human civilization, then you might as well cash in those stock options and move your family to Alaska to live in a fortified Kwanza hut (Alaska’s the first place you should flee to because of its low population density and – because zombies were originally created by voodoo doctors living in the tropics – the undead tend to avoid places that are chilly.)

I personally believe that the disaster will only run about 3-6 weeks before all the dead will be shot in the head by a either tailgating rednecks or the US Army.  So, in that case you need to plan to stock up some basic supplies, just as you would in any disaster (like a hurricane, earthquake, plague of locusts or door-to-door salesmen).

Basic supplies should include:

  • Canned food (and a can opener)
  • Basic First Aid Kit (aspirin, bandages, triple antibiotic ointment, burn ointment, etc.)
  • Extra Medication (blood pressure, heart, etc.)
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Flashlights & batteries
  • Portable TV or radio
  • Extra socks (trust me on this one, you can’t have too many socks)

Checking Your Undead-Battling Supplies

These things should be checked and rotated on a routine basis, particularly the food. When stocking the pantry, pull the older canned goods forward and put the newer ones in back, so you can maximize the shelf life on these goods. The same is true for the batteries.

To be honest, these are things you should already have as part of ANY disaster kit. But, I also suggest adding the following items, which are not expensive and will last for years. The trick is to put these into a rugged plastic case and leave them there until an emergency:

  • Knife, scissors, latex gloves
  • A tool kit (a hammer, nails, screwdrivers (both common and Phillips), pliers, and some wire can come in very handy when you’re trying to nail boards over the windows to keep out the hungry undead or those salesmen)
  • A solar charger with an adapter for rechargeable batteries AND an adapter for your cell phone
  • Emergency blankets (those thin silver kind that fold up into a small pouch can keep you warm at night and can be nailed to the roof during the day as a signal to passing helicopters)

The latter items aren’t really that expensive (easily under $100) online or at a sporting goods store, and if kept dry, they’ll last for years.

Unique Zombie-Fighting Supplies

There are a few things that are unique to planning for a horde of the undead roaming the countryside. These include the need for weapons. Now, if you’re from Texas (like me), then the chances are good you’ve got a gun or two just lying around the place. And don’t get me wrong, nothing says “Adios, Brain Sucker!” better than granny’s old 12-guage. However, guns make noise and that attracts more zombies. So, sometimes you want to keep things quiet.

Baseball bats are perfect for knocking in zombie noggins. And you don’t have to go out and buy a new one, either. Hit some garage sales and see if one of your neighbors is selling one after Junior got tired of little league.  Another thing you can find at garage sales is a cheap back pack. No, I don’t mean for hiking through the Sierra Madres mountains, but the kind Sissy outgrew when she moved up to junior high. After all, you never know when you might have to grab your survival kit and hit the road (or just flee to a refugee center).  True, a garage sale purchase might find you waiting out the apocalypse with a Hello Kitty backpack, but it’s better to be tacky and alive than fashionable and having zombies eating brain tartare fresh out of your skull.

So, with a little luck, pluck and planning, you and your loved ones can be prepared for ANY disaster, including an army of darkness hell bent on devouring your main asset: You and your family.

Crystal’s Question:  Did the idea of grabbing “granny’s old 12-guage” make you laugh hard enough to make milk spurt out your nose?  No?  Just me then…

Mortgage and Newsletter Update

Mortgage Payoff Update

As I proclaimed, lol, my husband and I are attempting to pay off our mortgage within 6 years or less – specifically, by the end of 2013.  In order to stay on track, I’ll be posting updates here as we make progress.  Here’s what we have accomplished so far:

Payoff Amount on our goal start date (10/26/2011) – $62,634

This is the first week of our goal, so this is basically the starting point.  All we have done so far is start the transfer of $7000 from our ING Savings account to Chase which we will be applying to our mortgage this coming week when it clears.  :-)

Newsletter Update

Remember, if you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter with exclusive, subscriber-only giveaways by using the subscription form in the right sidebar! ———>

My current goal is to reach 150 subscribers by October 31st, so please spread the word as you see fit! I appreciate it. :-)

Just for kicks, here are the current newsletter stats from last week’s subscriptions:

  • Number of Subscribers: 105 (Thank you!!!)
  • Open rate (how many subscribers ended up opening the third newsletter): 46 of 105 (43.8%), which is 27.8% higher than industry standard, woot!
  • Clicks (how many people have clicked a link inside the last newsletter): 14 (13.3%)
  • Countries Reached: United States, Canada, Netherlands. United Kingdom, and New Zealand

Thank you so much to my subscribers!!! I appreciate the vote of confidence and Jesse and I will make sure they don’t get boring!

Additonal Info

I will continue posting monthly and yearly blog statistics and income updates, so stay tuned at the beginning of every month!

In case you didn’t know, Alexa traffic rankings are determined by the numbers of hits a site gets by people with the Alexa toolbar. If you want to be part of this ranking community, you can download the Alexa toolbar here. :-)

If you don’t already, you can follow me via RSS, Twitter, or like my Facebook page by following those links. :-)

To learn more about the Yakezie, the blogging group that has helped me in SO many ways, check out my Yakezie page! Feel free to email me if you are a Yakezie member or challenger and don’t see yourself on the list!

If you are interested in seeing how I went from an 8 million plus Alexa rank and 3 readers to where I am today, you can see My Blogging Checklists, which breaks down everything I do related to blogging. If you want to see how I have started bringing in more than $6000 a month in less than 18 months, you can check out How I Make Money Blogging.

I have also started a new site, http://howimakemoneyblogging.com/, which will cover how I currently make money blogging and my transition to a work-from-home blogger!

THANK YOU ALL FOR BEING THE BEST READERS EVER!!!

Weekly Favorites, Gratitude, and Giveaways #45

Weekly Updates

  • I spent most of my extra time this week decorating for our Halloween Potluck Party that is tonight.  I am so excited this year – I feel like a kid again!  Can’t wait to post pics next week!

My Favorite Posts this Week

Guest Posts at BFS

Thank you!

I Staff Write at…

Giveaways

Blog Carnivals

If you are hosting a carnival that includes Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, please email me so I can include it in my roundup. Thanks!

Top 5 Referring Sites to BFS from Last Week:

  1. Get Rich Slowly
  2. Debt Free by Thirty
  3. Free Money Finance
  4. Yakezie
  5. First Gen American

Feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions. I’d love to add a few more blogs to my regular reading list or at least give a shout-out for great posts or contests.

As always, thanks to all the bloggers that teach me something new every day. Thanks to all my commenters for making this blog the community I want it to be. Thanks to all my lurkers too. ;-)

I hope everybody is enjoying this as much as me!

Please subscribe to my new newsletter to receive weekly updates and links to exclusive, subscriber-only monthly giveaways!
There’s a $25 Amazon Gift Card up for grabs right now and a survey to get your opinion.
PLEASE, fill out the survey (2 minutes tops) so we know where to go with this for you!
I am aiming for 150 subscribers by October 31st since I did not hit my September goal!
The newsletter subscription box is at the top of the right sidebar —————>

My Other Sites

I have started a new site, How I Make Money Blogging!
Let me know what you think!

I also own and manage Crystal Clear Thoughts, About Life Insurance, and Dog’s Life For Me

My Monthly Goal Reward Led to a Serious Talk

Since I hit my monthly goal of at least $10,000 for October, my husband and I went out for a scrumptious meal at Perry’s Steakhouse a couple of days ago.  While we were devouring $45 per person steaks (I literally cringed when we opened up the menus), we started talking about our future plans.

My Income Increased

For anyone just tuning in, I was making $35,000 a year at my old day job as a glorified customer service rep, which I had started at $26,500 in 2005 and left in July 2011.  After taxes and benefits, that came to just about $2100 a month.  Even with my blogging income in 2011, I was making just around $3000-$3500 a month until May 2011.  Then my blog advertising business really started to take off.  My income has even started to land in the 5 digits for the last couple of months – $11,900 in September and am already at $15,000 for October.  Even after fees, expenses, and taxes, my income has quadrupled in a matter of months.  So my husband and I have started re-looking at our future.

Our New Goals

We decided this week to throw a lot of the excess cash towards our mortgage (about 35% of any extra we have at the end of the month).  Our current goal is to have it paid off by the end of 2013, so 6 years from when we bought our house in 2007.  We also have decided to invest 25% of the monthly excess into individual stocks and mutual funds, so we will hopefully build up a portfolio that can cover our expenses from when we plan to retire around age 52 and when we can touch our retirement accounts (2 Roth IRA’s and my old 401k) at around age 60.  The other 40% of the monthly extra is split with 20% going to our vacation and travel account and 10% going to each of our fun money accounts.

Possibilities

But we haven’t ever really talked about re-evaluating our retirement age or looking to see if my husband really needs to work until age 52 as a school librarian (24 more years).  Honestly, if I can consistently bring in $10,000 a month or more year round, my husband could work from home too as a virtual assistant.  We could cut both of our work days down to 5 hours a week day or I could double my current client base.  Most likely, it would probably end up being something in between…

As for our retirement age, we both think that we could look at seriously cutting back when our cash on hand and Scottrade investments equal $3,000,000 or more.  That was our original retirement goal and it would still work for us.  We have more money to spend now, but we are still living on basically the same amount we always have and just save the rest.  If I wanted to be completely honest, we used to live on about $38,000 a year and now live on about $45,000 a year, but that isn’t too bad since we used to make about $80,000 a year combined and now make about $140,000 or more a year jointly.

Overall, our dinner and talk helped us wrap our heads around our new increased income.  No matter what, we are going to continue to try living on the same monthly budget and have made the conscious decision to try to stick under $60,000 annually for living expenses and basic savings goals.  That will leave us at least 50% of the rest of our income to throw towards our future.

Have you had any major lifestyle changes that you may need to really dig into?  How often do you re-evaluate your overall goals in life?

Entertainment on the Cheap

The following is a guest post from Lisa at Frugal Living.

Among the other giants such as eating out, entertainment can butcher your budget if you’re not careful!  Cutting down on spending can certainly start in this area, where you can make quick and easy alternatives work for your finances.  Consider how some of the following ideas could help you stick to your financial plan.

Avoid the Movie Theaters

You could easily spend $30 to see a movie at the theater for a date night, and easily double that amount for a family of four. While it can be fun to go to the theaters, the cost can be outrageous when you consider theatre admission and snacks.  And truthfully: are there really that many movies that justify that price?  One cost-efficient alternative is to frequent the local dollar theatre. The dollar cinema plays movies that have just left the high-priced theatres before the movies are put out on DVD. Rates can range from $1 to $5, depending on your city or region.

Another choice is to rent movies instead.  Your local rental store might charge a few dollars for a new movie, and you could easily get a few movies for $5 that aren’t brand new to the rental world.  Movie kiosks have popped up on nearly every block, with Redbox and Blockbuster being the most prominent. There are also plenty of mail and streaming services (Blockbuster, Netflix, Amazon, etc.) that can provide even more bang for your buck – most have a free trial to get you started on the right foot!

Family Fun – Indoors or Out

Families have plenty of free options that are great for entertainment.

Children of any age will enjoy a board game night.  Whether it’s Candyland or Monopoly, you can tailor the games for any age or level of competition (you know who you are).  Combine it with some inexpensive food (a deal on pizza is a great option) and you have plenty of entertainment. 

Outdoor activities are a dime a dozen – it’s just a matter of taking advantage of them.  A trip to the park is great for all types of families.  You can let the children play on the playground, or take advantage of plenty of sports activities.  Teach the children how to play tennis, basketball, baseball, or a number of options.

See what free family-friendly activities are available in your area.  Most areas have some type of free zoo within reasonable driving range.  Maybe there are children-oriented reading events at your local bookstore.  Regardless of what there is, do some research and find them!

Get Outdoors!

You might be missing out on some fun options, regardless of your group – family, couple, or group of friends.

Many cities will have free outdoor concerts during certain times of the year, such as summer concerts in your city.  Take a look at these activities near you; they are quite common and offer some great music at a price that can’t be beat.

Sports lovers can save a big by avoiding the major leagues.  Minor league teams are much better-priced options, and can be tons of fun for any of our group examples.  You’ll often find deeply discounted tickets available during the week, along with specials that are commonly executed to boost attendance.  Support your local teams and enjoy the fun environment!

Find other exciting things that will save you money.  Hold a cookout, look out for bowling deals, or even offer your time as a volunteer for an event you’d like to attend, but can’t afford.  Enjoy what  your area has to offer!

How do you stay entertained while sticking to your budget? Share your insights here!

Crystal’s Comments:  We go to our local dollar theater (well, $1.50 theater) about 4 times a year and the actual theater about 2-3 times a year.  We also host monthly potlucks that end up costing about $30 a month for the main dish.

NEW GOAL – Paying Off Our Mortgage in 6 Years or Less!!!

As you may have already read, the only debt that Mr. BFS and I have left is our house.  We paid off my car in 2007 and paid off the last car, my husband’s Prius, in 2010.  And after refinancing our mortgage this year (February 2011), we had about $69,000 left.  Our payments went down from $740 to $515 a month for 15 years, but we continued paying $900 a month as we have since we bought it in 2007.  As of today, we owe about $63,000 more, which means that we are currently on track to pay off our house in 2017, so about 10 years total.

Our New Goal

Well, we are taking another look at that goal.  Now that I am making significantly more than I was, but we are trying to continue living on the same budget, we’ve been having a bunch of left over cash at the end of every month for our emergency fund and investments.  Since we are already happy with the emergency fund staying at $10,000, my husband and I just decided to divert the extra towards principal repayment on our mortgage instead.  We’ll continue investing in stocks and mutual funds as well with the monthly extra that is ear-marked for that, but repaying our mortgage is a guaranteed 4.5% return that would make us happy too.

If I do dig in and continue to make at least $8000 a month or more every month, then we should have our house paid off in a little less than 2 years.  That would mean we bought our home in 2007 and are planning to pay it off towards the end of 2013 – 6 years total!

In short, our new goal is to be 100% debt free by the end of 2013!!!

The Plan

In order to hit this new 2013 goal, I’ll start posting the mortgage payoff updates on Sundays to keep me honest.  I will probably only have updates once or twice a month though since that’ll be the only times that I’ll be writing extra checks.  As of right now, we’ll continue having the $900 automatically withdrawn every month for our basic overpayment of $385.  Then, after I see how much our monthly extra actually is, I will make an extra principal payment at the bank.  Between these two payments every month, we should be seeing a huge drop in what we owe right off the bat.

Our Reward – Party and Recliners

If we do hit this goal, we have decided that our reward will be to spend one house payment, so $900 or less, on a party for all of our closest friends and two new recliners.

For the party, we’ll throw our highest-class potluck yet.  We’ll splurge on steaks and chicken breasts to grill for everyone and they can bring their favorite sides.  I’ll make the sweet potatoes that they all like and we can board game and talk into the night!

The recliners have been a purchase we have been putting off since we have two pretty good hand-me-downs from my husband’s grandparents that are nice enough that we just couldn’t justify buying the nice, plush leather ones that we both want.  I figure the recliners will cost about $600-$700 since I’ll find a BOGO Free sale or general sale before we splurge.  The party will run about $200 since the steaks will be about $5 a person for 20 people and we’ll supply the plasticware and drinks and stuff like that as usual.

Thank you all for the support you give me just by reading.  I hope you don’t mind being used continuously to keep me on track, lol.  It really does help to have all of you to be held accountable to.

Do you have a goal you’d like to publicly announce?  Feel free to use us all to hold yourself to it too!!!

My Confession – Splurging and Scrambling

The following is a guest post from Martin of Studenomics. Martin has just released a super-helpful guide that shows you how to completely conquer credit before you hit 30.  “You can’t leave your mark on the world if you spend your 20s paying off credit card debt. I did all of the boring research for you so that you can see how easy it is to figure out credit.”

I’ve learned from Crystal and many other internet entrepreneurs that transparency is the way to go. Today I’m going to be more transparent than I’ve ever been before. I’m going to make a confession about being in credit card debt. I often mention (perhaps brag?) that I’ve been able to avoid credit card debt and student loans. Well today I need to confess to something.

I recently spent just under a month being stuck in credit card debt.

For the first time in my life I found myself in credit card debt and scrambling to get out so that I didn’t start getting hit with interest payments. I finally knew how it felt to be on the other side of the war against debt. This is my story…

How did this happen? How did I get myself into debt?

I was traveling through Europe for a month with my backpack and my laptop. I was using my laptop to work on Studenomics and my other online ventures (don’t worry, I’m not becoming a lifestyle design blogger). I pretty much bring my laptop everywhere I go because I can’t go more than a day without checking up on my blog stats, responding to comments, and checking my email.

There’s just one problem with this. I had been using some crapy laptop that I bought for like $500 three years ago. It was nothing special, but it got the job done. Considering the amazing technology out today, it was embarrassing when I pulled out this brick in a coffee shop. I had debated purchasing a new piece of equipment before I hit Europe because I knew that I wanted something more reliable and a lot lighter. I ended up not buying a new laptop because I put it off for too long.

Everything was going well until one day my laptop just wouldn’t start up. Normally I would just go to the computer store on the corner or call a buddy up to help me out. The only problem is that I was in Budapest, Hungary. So I sort of freaked out! A few of my new friends at the hostel tried to help me figure it out. I used a friend’s laptop to Google every possible solution. I found out that the software had just died.

The good news was that I was able to recover some of the files through using Linux (well the German version since my new friend Toby didn’t understand English and he was doing all of the fixing).

The bad news was that I was out of a laptop. I knew that I needed a new laptop. I didn’t know that this would happen in Budapest.

Then it happened. I guess you can say it was a blur. You can compare it to a drunken night out on the town because I don’t really remember much. All I remember is walking around town with my friend Zack from Long Island. Then I vaguely remember walking into an Apple Store. Then my next memory is walking home with a MacBook Air.

I went from using the worst laptop on the market to holding a brand new MacBook Air. I had my credit card to thank for this. I was officially in credit card debt.

How did I pay off my credit card balance?

I don’t write about my financial infrastructure as much as Crystal does and I definitely understand that I need to be more transparent. I wanted to try being transparent by showing you how I paid off my credit card debt.

I have two main banking accounts:

1.  An account with ING Direct where I keep all of my main savings and my free checking account. I also have my sub-accounts setup for my various goals.

2.  Then I have an account with a local bank where I’ve connected my credit card, retirement account, and investment accounts.

I took some money from my Random Savings Account in ING Direct, transferred some money from Paypal, and moved some money from my checking account. I was finally able to become debt-free.

It took me almost a month (until my balance due date) to pay off my credit card because I didn’t know where I should pull the money from. I had the money saved up, I just didn’t have the money budgeted in for a brand new MacBook Air. You can bash me in the comments!

How can you prevent this from happening?

This credit card debt dilemma could’ve easily been prevented. I want you to prevent yourself from getting stuck in a similar situation. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Don’t be a sucker for a brand name. I obviously didn’t have to get the MacBook Air. I could’ve easily purchased any other laptop for like half of the cost.
  • Always be prepared. You can call it an emergency fund or you can call it a savings account. Call it what you want but you need to save up some money just in case.
  • Invest in yourself. I preach the gospel of investing in yourself and yet I still found myself using some old laptop to get my work done. It never hurts to have excellent technology on your side.

How did it feel being in credit card debt?

I absolutely hated being in credit card debt. The stress of knowing that you owe someone money is just too draining for me. Even though I had the money I just couldn’t handle knowing that I had to see it go. I really couldn’t get myself to transfer the money to my credit card. That’s $1,800 that I’ll never see again.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in using debt as leverage (which I’ve done but that’s another story for another guest post). It just totally sucks to spend today’s income on yesterday’s fun. If you’re in debt, I want you to get out of debt. If you’re not in credit card debt, I want you to avoid it at all costs.

Have you ever found yourself in credit card debt out of nowhere? How did you handle this?

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of Completely Conquer Credit.

Crystal’s Comments:  Based on this definition of credit card debt, simply having a balance but paying it off before interest hits, I am in credit card debt every day of my life pretty much.  My husband and I use credit cards for everything but pay off the balances within a week of the monthly statements being emailed to us.  BUT, MD doesn’t seem to have all of those little, crazy emergency fund and savings accounts my husband and I have for splurges and pop up expenses, so I can understand why he freaked out.  Thank you MD for sharing here!  Good luck with your new book!