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Friends Are Priceless in More Than One Way

Friendship is emotionally priceless.  It makes a bad day tolerable and turns fun events into stellar, life-long memories.  It can also save you money.  ;-)

The 2014 Texas Renaissance Festival

It’s that time of year again, and I accompanied my best buds to the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF) on the opening weekend this past Sunday.  It ended up being a rainy day for the first couple of hours, but the last 3-4 hours were clear and much drier.  I also noticed one other, giant difference.  I was comfortable the entire day!

My friend and house mate, Mandy, had replaced the super tight arm bands off of my usual Renaissance Festival dress with gold fabric she had left from a past project.  Not only did my dress still look as awesome as ever, but it was comfortable for the whole day!  No cut off blood supply, no red marks on my arms when I took off my outfit, and no tiny holes where the fabric had started pulling apart because of the strain!  Woot!

Cost of Dress in 2011 – $40
Years Worn to TRF – 4 years and running
Cost of Dress Alteration from Mandy – $0
Total Cost of Costume from 2011-2014 – $10 per year

That’s just fantabulous!

Renaissance Festival Dress in 2011

Here was my dress in 2011. The arms were already stupid tight, but I didn’t know that they could be fixed…

Renaissance Festival Dress in 2014

Left to Right:  Costumed Awesome person that I don’t know, Mandy, H behind her, Dee, me, and another awesome costumed lady that was very much in character.  Now my dress still looks great AND doesn’t hurt! Who would have thought that could happen?!  Now, don’t judge the overall dress or outfit from this picture though.  We had just finished being rained on for 2 hours.  Yes, those are two awesome costumes from Hocus Pocus.  Oh, and yes, my blue hair has faded to a sort of teal/green color.  We’ll be dying it fuchsia or magenta soon!

 

The Friendship Barter System

This is not a post condoning the outright use of your friends.  This is a post to point out the value of bartering, the give and take, when it comes to friendships.  Mandy is a seamstress and makeup artist.  She has fun doing craftsy projects and doing our nails during Girls’ Nights.  She was the one that made me really look like the Black Widow and Cat Woman at the last Comicpalooza.  She spoils us rotten with her talents.  Her boy, H, is good with his hands and fixes what he can around the house.  Our friend, Will, is an amazing artist that made me the most awesome Halloween decorations I own.  You get the point…all of our friends are extremely talented in some way, and we all trade our talents to each other as needed.  :-D

When it comes to my own offerings, I am not craftsy and my cooking is still improving.  BUT I am the go-to person in our friend group for money questions, anything to do with online website stuff, and they all know that I love them and will be a listening ear or shoulder to cry on at any time.  Mandy likes to run budget stuff by me to double-check herself.  I helped Dee create her own budget last year, which helped her reach her goal for her trailer purchase recently.  I’ve also helped Mandy and her boy find their most recent cheap but running car, and I helped our other friend, Isabelle, work out a good deal for her nearly-brand-new Honda Civic.  I tagged along with Dee to find her trailer, although she found a great one on her own a few months after that.  So I may not be as great with the detail-oriented stuff like my closest buddies, but I do try to make up for it whenever I can be useful.  ;-)

Do you remember to ask your group of friends for suggestions when stuff pops up?  You may be surprised on what everyone can bring to the joint table.  :-)

I’m a Cruise Addict and Other Financial Oddities

I saw this question left in my newsletter post this month from Alexis (thank you for subscribing and commenting!):

What financial things do you do that makes you think you are a little overboard? Is there anything you do to save money that makes you think “OMG, I’ve really lost it now”?

Cruise Addiction

I have gotten better at judging myself for my financial oddities, lol.  I also understand that Alexis was asking about my savings habits BUT my main financial oddity is at the other end of the spectrum.  I am addicted to cruising.  I love cruise ships, dining rooms where I’m spoiled, ports of call, and just showing up to scheduled activities all day.  If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d be booked for several cruises in a row that would start next week after #FinCon14.  ;-)

In case you haven’t been reading for the entire last year, my addiction is fed regularly.  We took a 5 day cruise in early September 2013, a 7 day one in January 2014, and another 7 day one in August 2014.  In my defense, I did at least find great deals.  All three of those cruises plus taxes, tips, excursions, and extras came to less than $4600 total for the two of us.

I am now attempting to talk my hubby into wanting to go again in either November-December 2014 or February-March of 2015.  I’d prefer both but do want to save for another rental property as well and I know it’ll make it harder if I keep spending $1200-$2000 every few months on what should probably not be happening more than every year or so, hahaha.

Other Money Oddities

Funny Piggy Bank

On the savings side:

  • I haven’t bought any retail clothing in more than a year other than my bride’s maid dress.  I make the exception for undergarments, but all of my shirts, pants, shoes, and dresses have been bought from second hand shops and Goodwill since early 2013.
  • I gave up most drinks at restaurants more than 10 years ago to save that $2-$4 per visit.  I just order water.  I will splurge a few times a year on lemonade or iced tea, but that’s about it.  This isn’t that weird but it came to mind.
  • We have more than 10 accounts at CapitalOne 360 because I manage money better when it is pre-assigned to specific expenses and goals.
  • I save more by using credit cards than cash.  Honestly.  When I have cash, I spend it without remembering what I spent it on.  It’s like drinking water.  But when I use a credit card, I see the charges every time I log in – they stare me in the face and force me to spend less especially towards the end of the month.  I’ve had a credit card since I turned 18, and I have never carried a balance or accrued interest charges in any way.
  • I re-use junk mail envelopes to leave money for our lawn guy.  I think it’s funny as hell that I don’t mind paying $35 to have my lawn mowed, edged, and weeded, BUT heaven forbid I use a fresh envelope for the cash…
  • I haven’t had an ATM usage fee since college in 2001.  I despise getting charged to withdraw and spend money.  So I used to go out of my way to find my own bank ATM’s just to avoid that $1.50-$2.50 charge.  Now I keep a small-medium cash pile at home so I don’t need to use ATM’s at all.

What are your financial oddities?  Please share!!!

And the Winner Is…Patience

Last Friday, I posted about choosing between our want list and buying a new rental property.  Well, we’ve decided to postpone everything for at least a few months.  :-)

Patience for the Win

Patience

I usually love making money decisions, but this time around felt different.  I felt awkward.  Then I realized that every time we squirrel away a large nut, we spend it or invest it nearly immediately.  We always keep a solid emergency fund, but the rest seems to flow in and out like water.

For example, when we had saved up $50,000 at age 23 in 2007, we invested $15,000 in a friend’s business (that failed miserably) and $25,000 into our first home.  It took us about 2 years to save it and was gone within 4 months.  When my online work started taking off unexpectedly in 2011, the money I brought in started adding up quickly.  Within 9 months, we had paid off the remaining $23,000 left on our first house and started building our new one which used up about $50,000 for the 20% down plus the closing costs by October 2012.  When we got a large tax refund this past April 2014, we threw the majority of it to our Roth IRA’s as soon as it touched our account.

We are not patient people by nature.  And we fear missing out on opportunities the first time they present themselves even if there is a good chance that they will be back.  Generally, I love that about us.  But in this case, waiting 3-6 more months to see what sort of cash we can really hide away will probably be the least stressful idea.

Plans Now

We already have an easy $20,000 set aside for a future investment.  That’s not touching any of our emergency or backup accounts – just what we were going to use for investments or property anyway.  We’re going to see what we make over the next 3-6 months with our online endeavors.  If it’s enough to cover our average of $7000 a month for taxes and bills (you can check out our budget for all of the details), then we will put aside all of my pet sitting income and the sports officiating income that Mr. BFS earns into the investment savings.  Then we can check out our cash-for-investments account again in early 2015 and see if we indeed put enough aside to buy and fix up a rental property.  With any luck, we will have put $40,000+ aside total, which would be more than enough to buy a $100,00-$125,000 rental property AND get hubby’s Lasik, get him signed up for that college reffing camp, buy some media room furniture, AND take another cruise.

I have always been a fan of having my cake and eating it too.  This makes me happy.  This makes hubby happy.  I love it when we both come to the same conclusion.  And I should try using patience a little more often anyway.  :-D

Just Started Using Checkout 51 – The Grocery App for Everybody! Really!

I’m not an avid coupon clipper.  In fact, I sort of suck at maximizing store specials, buying seasonally, or any of the other methods that truly help keep grocery shopping cheap.  My regular readers know that I’m not a classic “frugal blogger”.  But I do like easy money.

My friend, Anne, told me about this phone app about a week ago, Checkout 51, and I’ve already earned $3.00 of free money.  Really.  The links in this post are my affiliate links, but I only signed up to be an affiliate after I’d been using this app and then noticed that I told 5 friends about it in 2 days, lol.  This is a grocery store application that everybody can use.  Let me explain…

How It Works

1.  Download the app and sign up.
2.  Shop like normal (all grocery stores or even places like Wal-Mart or Target) and keep your receipt.
3.  Check the app’s current, weekly list for qualifying items after you have that receipt in hand.
4.  Claim free money if something you buy is on their list by submitting a picture of your receipt (super easy).
5.  Get sent money after you hit $20.

Checkout 51

Like I said, I am already at $3.00 in about a week.  And you don’t need to buy anything extra, just claim what matches anyway.  No need to change your spending habits or anything like that.  Oh, and if you use coupons to buy whatever it is that you are claiming, that’s fine.  They only care about what items make it to your receipts that are also on their weekly list.

Sample List

Here’s a sample list of qualifying items that are valid until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, July 9 2014.  Their lists change every week.

Pepsi
20 fl oz or more. Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Burger patties
Any frozen or fresh variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Hamburger buns
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Bell peppers
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Amy’s Organic Soups
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Earth Balance natural buttery spreads
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Wyman’s of Maine frozen fruit
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Select Ken’s Vinaigrette Dressings
Valid on Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, Lite Strawberry Vinaigrette, or Lite Apple Cider Vinaigrette.
Cash back: $0.60

McCormick® Grill Mates® Steak Sauce
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Carmex Lip Balm
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.30

World Peas
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Buy 2: Nongshim Noodle Soups
Any variety. Excludes Bowl Noodles. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $0.50

Buy 2: Blue Dragon Products
Any variety. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $1.50

HALLS Drops Bags
Bags 17 count or higher, any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® PlugIns® Scented Oil Customizables™ Starter Kit
Any Glade® Customizables™ Starter Kit.
Cash back: $2.00

Glade Jar® Candle
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® Wax Melts
Any variety. Excludes Glade® Wax Melt Warmer.
Cash back: $1.00

Try It Out

Overall, it’s just a simple extra way to save a few bucks overall.  I think it’s ingenious!  Let me know what you think!

10 Tips to Save Money

Here’s an oldie but goodie from early 2011!  :-)

Here are my top 10 tips to save money:

1. Save Automatically.

Setting up automatic contributions is the best way, in my opinion, to save money. It is simply harder to spend money that you can’t see. I’d suggest starting by contributing the minimum to your 401(k) to get the maximum company match. Then take a look at Roth IRA’s. If you don’t qualify, think about saving automatically to an account that you can use to invest in whatever you wish.

2. Prioritize Your Spending.

It’s much easier to say no to a fancy new car if you know that you rather fully fund your Roth IRA. If you know you absolutely adore your smart phone, maybe it will be easier to save elsewhere, like a magazine subscription you barely have time for.  Prioritization is key.

3. Give up Expensive Habits.

Smoking comes to mind first simply since I saw a man in front of me at Kroger pay $7 for one pack! OUCH. Drinking, bar hopping, drugs, soda…any regular habit that costs money adds up fast. We’re saving about $250 a year now that we’ve given up our daily soda habit!

4. Find cheap hobbies.

Blogging and board gaming have been awesome for me. Blogging has actually turned into a money making opportunity and board gaming is only as expensive as allowed. We buy less than $250 worth of board games a year and we are entertained weekly. The trick is to find a hobby that you crave to be a part of that costs way less than the normal ways you spend your time.

5. Change to less expensive activities.

My husband has paused Curling (the ice sport) for the last 2 years and has saved more than $1000.  His hobby jobs and board gaming have taken up this time.  :-)  It is all about prioritization. If we ever needed extra cash, expensive activities would be the first to go.

6. Cook at Home More.

This only saves money if you learn to cook using inexpensive ingredients. My mom is the queen of a yummy one-pot meal. I personally have started jumping into all recipes that use ground beef or turkey as the main ingredient, lol.

7. Make Grocery Lists.

This is a life saver if you actually follow your list. You have control over what goes into your cart…if you keep that in mind, you can save hundreds of dollars every month or two.

8. Compare Prices for Your Different Monthly Services Annually.

I call around for cable, internet, and insurance quotes every year and have kept our bills at the same or better rates they were 5 years ago. A 10 minute call can really pay off.

9. Make Long-Term Goals.

Goals keep your mind from wandering when a nice but expensive what-not pops up. Our early retirement goal keeps me driving my cruddy Aveo simply so I can continue to save instead of making monthly payments.

10. Re-Evaluate Your Housing Costs.

We were paying $730 for a one-bedroom apartment that was 1000 square feet in 2006. We realized that we’d only have to pay a few thousand more a year to own a home and build some equity. Then we had a $740 a month mortgage and spent $2300 a year property taxes by early 2007.  Now we have paid that home off, use it as a rental, and bought our next home.  If you take into account the rental income, we’re paying less than $600 a month now for our dream home including the property taxes of both houses and our current mortgage payment.  Renting out a room on and off for the last 6 years helped a lot too.

What other everyday tips do you have for us?

Short-Term and Long-Term Savings Options

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The following is a guest post from Shelli Elledge at Written FYI.  Shelli is a business analyst whose interests are personal finance and healthy lifestyles.  Some of her financial ideas differ from the mainstream, but she offers additional viewpoints about saving and investment.  (Crystal’s Note:  She’s also a sweety, so be nice whether you agree or not with her non-typical option, lol.)

In many ways, savings, investment, and retirement plans are viewed differently than in the recent past few years.  Although the concept of saving for emergencies, large ticket items, and retirement is still the same, the tools are not as effective as they once were.  The traditional plans, including money market accounts, IRAs and pension plans, are under scrutiny as to their stability in today’s economic climate and are questionable as to whether they are user friendly.

Savings and Money Markets

Savings or money market accounts earn miniscule amounts of interest, and then the interest earnings are taxed at the end of the year.  This is nothing new.  It means that the earnings on these types of accounts do not keep pace with the rate of inflation.  To me, these types of accounts are not viewed as interest-earning but are simply a location to store one’s liquidity for temporary or short-term purposes.

IRA’s

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are retirement plans provided by various financial institutions.  There are several different types but the overall benefit is the tax advantage.  However, some of the disadvantages are that early withdrawals are penalized, mandatory withdrawals at certain age limits, meeting exemption requirements for withdrawals, and distribution amount requirements.  In a nutshell, the most unappealing part is the tracking, the restrictions, the penalties . . . well, you get the picture.

Pensions

Pension plans are not as common today as they used to be.  Many corporations have replaced it with the more-common 401k plan.  However, pension plans are still used by many government agencies as retirement plans for city, county, and state workers.

To put it another way, it’s the retirement plan that first-responders, firefighters, police men and women, and teachers, and other service workers rely on.  Yes, the same public service workers who protect and serve the public’s needs on a daily basis.  And it’s also the same type of plan that is being scrutinized in Detroit today because of that city’s dire financial problems.  Many retirees and future retirees are playing the waiting game and are anxious to see how the bankruptcy proceedings play out.  Although the immediate impact will be felt in Detroit, many other American cities are in similar situations.

Non-Typical

So, if the typical savings and retirement vehicles aren’t really so attractive, what choices do we have to house funds for long-term?  What I’ve done over the years is taken out whole life insurance policies.  I know . . I hear the groans now but don’t shut me off yet.

My husband and I both have term insurance policies as well as whole life insurance policies.  Term insurance is cheapest and we consider it a safety net in case we die.  After all, it’s the cheapest type of life insurance.  However, our whole life policies we have long considered avenues for long-term savings – with a death benefit.  Yes, it is more expensive but it does more things.

For example, we’ve used our policies to buy real estate because we’re able to access cash value in the accounts.  The insurance company considers them loans and we still pay them back, but the funds are liquid and it’s available for us to use.  There are no early withdrawal penalties and earnings on the funds housed in our policy are not taxed.  It forces us to put set aside funds, yes, just like we would set aside funds for a savings or retirement account.  But we are putting our funds in a life insurance policy, which is a financial tool that we should have anyway.

What sorts of accounts do you use?

Conscious Spending – Back in the Groove

Since we do want to build back up our $10,000 emergency fund as quickly as possible (you can click here to read about the dental bills that are wiping it out), we have decided to do several things:

  • Mr. BFS is signing up to officiate as many football games as possible between September and November.  That should bring in about $4000.
  • He is also looking into tutoring opportunities to use all of his teaching experience.  Those can pay between $18-$25 pretty easily.
  • I am looking for more babysitting and petsitting opportunities since I enjoy it.  That doesn’t make a ton, but it’s fun to me.
  • I may be taking a part-time marketing position for a friend of a friend’s air conditioning business since he needs some experienced help.  We’ll see how that turns out by the end of this week or after we get back from our cruise.
  • We are making sure to spend consciously.  That means we literally think about every purchase we make to ensure it’s worth it.

The Return to True Conscious Spending

Mr. BFS and I aren’t spendthrifts.  But if you’ve read my blog for even a week or two, you probably figured out that we are not in the “frugal blogger” niche at all either.  We save at least 10% for retirement, invest at least 10% (either real estate or stocks), save for large other goals, and spend the rest.  We truly believe it is possible to budget in a fun life even while you are responsibly handling your future.  We live that way.

So, in the last few years, we have pretty much stopped sweating the small stuff.  We have concentrated on the big picture and moved on with our lives.  For example, we saved up more than $100,000 over 18 months to pay off our first home’s mortgage and to put down 20% on our new home at the same time.  But we also splurge for $700 food bills each month, a $200 housekeeper, and $80 a month for lawn care.  We prioritize regularly to make sure that we are getting the most use and enjoyment out of our money spent.

Honestly, I think that is the mentally healthiest way for us to live since I am detail-oriented to a fault when I really get going.  BUT, we know we can shave off about $1000 a month in spending if we truly evaluate every purchase and only spend when it’s worth it to us.

So for the next few months at least, we are going back to our post-college selves.  We are asking ourselves “This or the emergency fund?” about everything.  So far, it has helped us avoid spending extra on convenience food, home stuff, and even a few little things that we just liked when we saw them on Amazon.  Gifts are becoming a little cheaper but very thought out.  We have started eating at home before we leave to meet friends somewhere.  I’ve even been limiting myself to a one-drink minimum ($4) plus water at the karaoke bar I have started going to with our friend, B.

This is Most Likely Temporary

Based on these last couple of weeks, I know that we can totally do this for the rest of the year.  But once our emergency fund is back up to $10,000, I bet we return to looking at the big picture.  Analyzing every expense is work.  It’s not difficult, but it also isn’t enjoyable.  It was necessary years ago, but not now.  I liked being able to aim for just not spending more than a certain target number.  I understand that we splurged regularly, and I am okay with that.  My main reason for not being a frugal blogger is that I think it’s generally a big time suck.

I value time way more than money.  I waste it just like everyone else, but I like knowing that I am wasting it by choice when watching Dr. Who or something.  Thinking about small expenses all of the time and avoiding $1 McDonald’s drinks is an excellent way to save up money fast, but in the end, I think that not worrying about stuff like that worked better for us.

We had to do it right after college to save up to buy our first house and get the life that we wanted.  It makes sense to do it when times are tough.  And we are choosing to do it now to save up $10,000 faster than we could by just waiting for it to accumulate.

Think of this as proof that conscious spending works.  But on the flip side, it is also okay to choose a less frugal lifestyle (without going overboard) if you have the money to do so.  I don’t think it’s healthy to live paycheck-to-paycheck since it’s super stressful and it all can crumble with one bad month.  But I also don’t think that it’s necessary to crack down on yourself forever even when you are saving appropriately anyway.  In short, finding your own happy balance is the key.  Temporary visits to different sides of that balance can work too though, lol.

What do you think?  Balance?  Spendthrifty?  Frugal?  What is your way of living?