New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Eleven Months

I didn’t post this update last month, and that was for a reason.  We had to shift our finances around because we are having another baby, and it was too early to say anything to anyone yet.  Since this is our third kid in under three years, and we have two dogs, we decided we are going to get a minivan.  We could squeeze all three kids in the back seat of either of our vehicles, but it would be really tight when going on weekend trips (one of the two dogs already has to lay down on the floorboards with baby stuff as it is).  We go on weekend trips a lot to Megan’s family, because they live 2.5 hours away from us.  I won’t end up hitting any of my New Year goals this year, unfortunately.  So it’s kind of irrelevant at this point, but here’s an update on my 2013 New Year’s Goals:

1) Reduce debt by 68.33%.
Target: 57%, Actual: 36.13%. I’ll still follow through with this, but we are 100% not going to hit this goal.  Every last extra dime is going toward saving for a new vehicle.  This was a month where we could have made a major impact to this number, too, as it was an extra paycheck month for me.  Unfortunately, we might still have to finance part of the new car, so I might not be able to hit my goal of no more car payments.  But it should be a minor amount, and we should be able to pay it off quickly. Here’s a graph of the progress so far:

novgraph2) Run a 5k.
This isn’t going to happen.

3) Complete a bike race.
This won’t happen now that it’s cold out.

A Better Alternative to Big Cell Phone Companies – Ting

I’ve had a cell phone for 15 years, and I have been with Sprint since the very beginning.  But the last 4 or 5 times I’ve upgraded my phone over the years, the price has continually gone up for the same unlimited service.  I’ve been frustrated, to say the least, when doing an upgrade with Sprint over the past 8-10 years, but stayed with them (I guess you could say I was loyal).  I did look into switching to competitors like AT&T, but their plans were even more expensive (even after the increase  in my new plan).  So I stayed with Sprint.

Over the past year or so, several companies come into my radar that have a different business model.  They make you purchase the phone up front, and then you have no contracts with a lower price point.  After doing months of research, off and on, I finally narrowed down my choice to one that actually got me to leave Sprint.

The company is Ting, and they work on Sprint’s network.  After using them for two weeks so far, the company is already going on my recommended companies page because of how they set themselves apart from the rest.  They have already become one of my favorite companies to work with, based on how they do things.  They charge you for what you actually use on your phone, instead of all the unlimited everything.  The key to what sets them apart is that they automatically adjust each month based on your usage, not keeping you locked into any set pricing plan.  So if you use your phone less one month than normal, they actually charge you LESS!

They break things apart into phone calls, text messages, and data usage, and have different level plans for each.  They clearly state those, and even give you a gauge on your current usage for the month (along with an estimate of what your monthly bill will be, based on your current usage).  It’s so clean and simple, and they even added a super easy-to-use app for Android phones.  One click, and you can quickly see exactly where you stand.  It’s awesome!

And based on our usage over the previous 4 months with Sprint, we’d end up saving roughly $70/mo for using our phones in exactly the same manner.  But we could connect up to wi-fi and our data usage would go way down (we’ve never really paid attention to our usage before, because it’s always been unlimited).  In fact, I’ve even switched my data usage off completely, and only turn it on if I want to use it when I’m not connected to wi-fi.  I kind of like that aspect of it, as strange as it sounds.

Here’s the real kicker though.  Now that we’ve been using them for a month with two phones, it looks like we’re going to be right on the border of paying either $39/mo or $48/mo for the first month.  That’s with TWO phones on the plan!  You share the minutes, and just pay an additional $6/mo for each phone.  And you can set an alert to get an email when you are approaching any of the limits you set, and even shut off data, texts, or phone calls if you really don’t want to go above a certain dollar amount.  So you have full control over what you pay every month, in every sense of the concept.  It’s truly amazing.

I guess there’s multiple kickers (in a good way).  Here’s another one. If you’re already on Sprint, there’s no reason not to switch.  You can use your same phone*, and not even have to reset it to switch companies.  You just get the same network service, same apps on your phone, but you just get a lower price every month.  Still in a contract?  Simply find out how long it’ll take to make up the early termination fee, and you’ll still come out way ahead even if you switch right now.  Ting will even pay for part of your early termination fee as well, which is an added bonus.

In case you couldn’t tell, Ting’s really up there on my list of things I love.  YNAB would be #1, but these guys are coming in a close second.  I’ve just never been so excited to pay a cell phone bill before, and they have changed that.

Want to switch?  Click on this link, and we’ll both get a $25 credit on our next month’s bill.  Why not switch?  It’s been awesome for me so far, and I’ve read a lot of reviews on the company before I switched as well.  They’ve got nothing but glowing reviews from everything I’ve read.

* Check out Ting’s whitelist page for all the Sprint phones that can be brought over.  It’s most of the phones, but there are a few minor exceptions.

Benefits to Living on a Budget: Big Expenses

Since we budget every month, there’s a lot of work that I do to get the budget ready at the beginning of the month.  It seems like things have been getting tighter and tighter with our budget, with two kids now.  For some reason, we’re having a hard time making ends meet right now, and we’re evaluating all sorts of options to get that to change.

But my view of us having a hard time making ends meet isn’t the same as most people’s version.  We just got a bill for our 6 month car insurance that’s due, and I didn’t worry about it at all.  It’s $325, and I just let it go through without a care in the world.  That’s because I’ve been saving every month for the past 6 months to make sure it’s covered.  The same thing goes for other large expenses (Christmas comes to mind right now).  With how “tight” our budget has gotten over the past few months, we’re still saving for Christmas.  So when the time comes to buy presents, we’ll have the money to do it and not worry about it at all (as long as we stick to the Christmas budget we create every year).

If you live on a budget, you plan for all those irregular expenses before they happen.  That makes it a little tougher each month, but a lot easier when the time comes that you completely forgot about a large bill.  These sort of things make me really thankful for us living on a budget.  It’s stressful each month, but a ton easier when tough times come.

So if you haven’t started a budget yet, start reading these posts on creating your first budget.  You’ll be thankful you did when things get rough.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Nine Months

Ok, it’s really late this month, but I still made it during the month.  We were gone for a week, and have been swamped planning our youngest’s first birthday party, so I completely forgot about making this post for the month.  Here’s an update on my 2013 New Year’s Goals:

1) Reduce debt by 68.33%.
Target: 48.28%, Actual: 34.73%. It’s becoming obvious that we’re not going to hit my original target for the year.  I should probably adjust it since Megan started working 3 days a week once she went back to work, but it’s sort of late in the year to do that. Here’s a graph of the progress so far:

DebtReduction.xlsx

2) Run a 5k.
I ran twice in September.  Since Megan joined her bootcamp class, I’m having a hard time getting in the running mode.

3) Complete a bike race.
This one most likely won’t happen.  We did go on a bike ride again this month though.

My Honda Fit – Customized!

 

I previously talked about buying a Honda Fit, and adding space to it to be able to use it as a truck.  Well, I’ve done all that, and wanted to show you some pictures of what I customized with my Fit.

Before I get to the pictures, I just want to say how much I love this little car.  It is extremely practical, has a ton of storage space in the back (due to the hatchback design), gets 40mpg with the way I drive (I got the manual transmission), and is a fun little car to drive.  You can change the configuration of the seats so you can fit more in the car than you’d expect, too.  I’ve fit 8 foot long 2X4’s and 4X4’s in the car with the hatch closed simply by folding the back seat and front passenger seats down.  The back seats can fold up as well, leaving room for tall storage.  This is my favorite car I’ve ever owned.

Ok, on to the customizations!  I got the windows tinted, because the sun shined through and was really bright on the kids in the back seat.  I think the car looks better with the tinted windows, and it keeps it cooler in the summer months.
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A view from the side, so you can see the tinted windows (in IL, the front can’t be tinted as much as the back, so that’s why it looks that way).
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A view from the back.P1020398

I got a phone charger/docking station to use my phone as a GPS.  This ends up being even better than a built-in GPS because the maps are automatically updated for free (with Google Navigation), and you can type in the address before you even get to your car, and just plop your phone in the docking station, ready to go.  (You get an added bonus of seeing everything in my garage from this picture)P1020400

My only real complaint about this car was that there was no center console.  There wasn’t even an armrest for the passenger, but Honda has a center console that was an added accessory.  I added that to the purchase of the car, and it makes things much nicer.
P1020401

I purchased a hitch online from etrailer.com, and installed it myself.  The wiring for the trailer is run through the trunk, so you don’t see it in this picture.  I use this to haul a trailer and our bikes when we ride.  I also plan on getting a hitch mounted cargo carrier so I can add more space without hauling the trailer around.

P1020402

This one is a view of my trailer in action.  I hauled a half ton of dirt to fill in some low spots in our back yard.  My car handled it like a champ!  I also picked up just over a half ton of bricks for my neighbor the same afternoon, so my trailer had double duty that day.IMAG0379

In addition to what I’ve already done, I really want to add a cargo carrier to the back and a roof rack to haul additional items.  I’ll get those two items later on, once we save up some extra money to pay for them.

If you’re thinking about getting a Fit, or a car like it, go for it.  It’ll be one of the best decisions you make with your car purchases.  It’s inexpensive compared to most vehicles, and more practical.  Definitely a smart vehicle purchase.

Fall

I love Fall.  I love the colors of the trees when the leaves are changing, along with the leaves falling off the trees.  I love the cooler temperatures that are perfect for being outside.  I love how the grass starts to be able to recover from the scorching summer heat, and starts turning green again.  I love planting grass seed and watching it come up, too.

Fall makes me want to do everything outside.  I want to plant trees in the back yard, finish off our fence, put rock down on the sides of our house, and extend the landscaping around the whole house.  If it didn’t cost a lot of money to do all that, I would have it done by now. I get the itch to do that stuff every Fall.

Fall makes me want to wash my car.  It makes me want to take the kids outside and play in the cooler temperatures.  I even love it when it’s a little chilly, and you have to wear a hoodie in the evenings.

I love planting Mums out in pots in our driveway, and watching all the blooms as the season progresses.  We just did that this past weekend.

I love getting pumpkins, too.  This year will be fun carving pumpkins with both kids.  I can’t wait.

Fall is probably my favorite time of year for watching sports, too.  I love watching football on Sunday afternoons, and playoff baseball is right around the corner.  The Cardinals are usually in the playoff hunt in September, and I love it when they are still playing deep into October.  I have even been known to grow a playoff beard a few times while they are in the playoffs.

I just love everything about Fall.  It’s probably my favorite season of the year.  Christmas would be right up there with it, but as far as the natural four seasons of the year goes, Fall is probably my favorite.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Eight Months

I’m really late on this post this month, but we did make some progress.  It seems like we’re going somewhere every weekend right now, and things won’t slow down until at least later in October.  Here’s an update on my 2013 New Year’s Goals:

1) Reduce debt by 68.33%.
Target: 41.29%, Actual: 31.48%. We actually made positive progress so far, but that’s only because I took the money out of my flexible spending this month (which I’ve included in the plan).  This will be a tough goal to reach, now that Megan’s only working 3 days a week.  Here’s a graph of the progress so far:

goal-9-16-2013

2) Run a 5k.
I ran twice in August.  Since Megan joined her bootcamp class, I’m having a hard time getting in the running mode.

3) Complete a bike race.
This one probably won’t happen.  We did get out on the bike for the first time with Blake earlier this month.

Baby Teeth

Our kids are both pretty good sleepers, so when nights like last night happen, we take notice.  Our 10.5 month old woke up every couple hours all night long.  We figure he has to be teething, because that’s just not like him.

Our two year old has always been an awesome sleeper too, but it was rough when she started getting her teeth in.  She’d sleep through the night for about two weeks, then have a two week stretch where she’d be up every couple hours, due to the teeth coming in.  It looks like we might be starting that with our youngest now.

The difference is that when it was just our oldest, we could sleep in since she didn’t get good sleep either.  Now, it never fails that when he has a rough night of sleep, she wakes up early.  This morning, she got up at 6 and walked right into our room and climbed in bed.  She usually sleeps until around 7 or 7:30.

As a side note, my hosting provider moved things around about a week and a half ago, and I didn’t realize I had the IP address stored to connect to the database.  Long story short: my blog has been down since the beginning of the month.  It’s back now though, and it shouldn’t go down again.

How to Handle When the Unexpected Happens (Our Garbage Disposal Quit)

One day out of nowhere, our garbage disposal just decided to quit working.  Our house is only 4 years old.  We bought it as a spec house, so we didn’t custom build it, but we are the only ones to ever live in it.

I only mention this because builders sometimes take shortcuts on certain things, and buy the cheapest item for things that don’t matter.  Nobody’s going to make their home buying decision on the type of garbage disposal, so they just pick the cheapest one they can get their hands on.

However, the brand is one I was familiar with, as I’m sure others are as well: InSinkErator.  We had one in our old house that was probably there for 20 years, and we never had a problem with it.  We even left it when we updated the entire kitchen, because it was so reliable.  So when this one quit working, I did a little investigating.

This particular model was the cheapest InSinkErator model at the big box stores, and currently sells for $85.  It also got 3 out of 5 stars, which in my opinion means there are issues with them.  I saw a lot of negative reviews about how this model didn’t last very long.

So when I found out mine bit the dust, I looked at the higher end versions of the same brand at Home Depot and Lowes.  I figured if I got the same brand, I could just reuse the part that’s already attached to the sink, making installation easy.  For one that got good reviews, it would cost $279.  I was NOT expecting to pay that much for a garbage disposal!  It just chops up food into smaller bits.  How could a reliable one cost so much?

So I went to Amazon, and started reading a bunch of reviews.  I ended up settling on a Waste King for $76, which also included free shipping.  It had great reviews, a stronger motor (1/2 HP as opposed to 1/3 HP), and a longer warranty.  It was a different type of connection to the sink, but that was easy enough to take out and replace with the one that came with the kit.  They made an adapter, but then the plumbing wouldn’t line up correctly, so I decided to replace the existing part to the sink.

The whole removal and installation took me and my dad 5 minutes to complete.  We removed the old disposal, including the sink attachment, and installed the new one with no issues.  The plumbing all lined up perfectly, and the installation was super easy.  We didn’t even need any plumber’s putty to put the sink attachment in (the kit included a rubber gasket, which worked great).

The only downside was that, according to Amazon, it would take a week or two before it would be delivered.  In reality, it took two days before it showed up at our doorstep, so that wasn’t even a real issue.  It’s amazing what a difference the Internet has made.  If this happened 10 years ago, I would have just bought a different model of the same brand at one of the big box stores, and paid a lot more.  Doing some research on the Internet saved me a couple hundred dollars.

One side note: the old one might have been able to have been repaired by a professional, but it would have probably cost just as much as the replacement.  I figured it wasn’t worth the hassle in this case.  Doing your research before a purchase usually pays off.

How I Lost $600

I got a little upset yesterday, because of something I did.  Through my work, I have money taken out of my paycheck and put into a Dependent Care FSA with every paycheck.  I do that because our kids go to daycare, and maxing out the dependent care through my work doesn’t even come close to covering the charges.  Since it’s tax-free money, why not take advantage of it?

Since we live on a budget, we budget everything we need into daycare every month.  So I decided that I’d use the money in the FSA to pay down debt.  Every couple of months, I’d take the money out of the account and apply it directly to our debt reduction.

So I don’t pay close attention to it.  I figure the money is there when I need it.  Well, this approach backfired on me.  I checked it in May, and took out the amount in there, and didn’t check it again until a couple days ago.  When I checked it, there was $592 left in the account for 2013, which ironically ended at the end of May.  Of course, I had until July 31st to take the money out, and I checked it in the middle of August.

For those of you that don’t know, the downside to an FSA account is that if you don’t use the money, you lose it.  I was really upset about it, and even said I shouldn’t put money in the FSA since I didn’t take all the money out.  I mean, I lost almost $600!

Then I thought about it some more, and realized that if I didn’t put the money in there at all, I would have paid more than $600.  I saved $3000 in the account, and none of that money was taxed.  If it was taxed at 20%, I would have broke even.  But tax rates are higher than 20%, so I still came out ahead.  So I lost $600, but it still ended up saving me money by putting money in the FSA for the year.

The moral of the story: make sure to check the year end date for your FSA.  A good clue to check it is when you are in an open enrollment period.  If I would have looked then, I would have taken all the money out.  Make sure you keep close tabs on the year end if you use an FSA.  It could save you some serious money!