Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Time of the year for manure

Those of you planning to garden next year, it's that time of the year to get some fresh manure from your nearby farm so it has time to age over the winter. This past weekend we picked up a truckload of it for free and piled it up in the back yard so we can use it for expanding the garden next year. My neighbor down the street she has horses, llamas, and chickens and it costs her to have it hauled away (small lot in unincorporated part of town, so no room for a farm).

We also planted our garlic for next year, it was hard work to get the soil loose down 8-12 inches, but only an hour and will be well worth the 30 heads of garlic we'll have next year. For the amount of time spent and to be spent (minimal), I would recommend garlic to any budding gardener that likes garlic. (which I'll be doing on Friday, giving some cloves to a friend that loves cooking with garlic).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

November Budget & October Net Worth

Here's our budget for the coming month:

$1127 Mortgage
$240 Car Gas
$30 House Phone
$89 Electricity
$45 Water
$77 Home Gas
$160 Groceries
$450 Tithe
$95 Life Insurance
$30 Mrs' Fun Money
$30 Mr' Fun Money
$30 Dining Out
$30 Toiletries
$25 Mrs' Chiropractic
$150 Christmas
$300 Insulation
$235 Oil Change & Repairs
$50 Cell Phone
$1323 Debt Snowball

Our mortgage lender messed up on the escrow calculations, so we'll be back down a bit to $1127. Our groceries are going up due to Thanksgiving coming around (as well as we totally bombed this past month's goal of cash-only for groceries, made several bad purchases). My wife is starting chiropractic treatment, so we set aside some for her. Our Christmas budget is $300 total ($100 for each of us and $100 for family), so we'll do $150 this month and $150 next month. I really need to finish up the insulation project, it keeps getting delayed due to money problems, about half done. The $300 is an estimate, I suspect it will be lower. My wife's car needs some repairs, which we are having a friend that works for a parts supplier repair for us. Cell phone came down a bit as discussed before.

Debt Snowball:

Here's the fun part! Where it is all going:

$300 Home Depot - Minimum
$100 Capital One - Minimum
$100 Menards - Minimum
$200 Discover - Minimum
$623 Cell phone Debt - Old plan we cancelled a long time ago (long story, not the brightest point of our lives) and other debt on our existing plan (my wife is going to look into our current phone plan, they sent us a bill with too high of an amount due).

October Net Worth:

It was a catch-up month for us after we recently settled on our Chase account. My wife had some chiropractor expenses this month too that wiped away our emergency fund. The coming month will be better!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Our Wedding Present: Marriage License & Court Costs

A couple that moved in a month ago has been engaged for a while, he's making minimum wage and she is due with their first child in a couple of weeks. I got out of my comfort zone and asked him what was the hold-up on getting married and he said it was the money issue (eg: he's driving on no insurance right now). My wife and I talked it over and decided to give them the funds to take care of it. For the county we live in, it's only $33 total, but that's $33 they don't have right now.

They took it very well and it's just a matter of two days off for them to get the paperwork and go to the courthouse to get married. Hopefully it will be soon, I'd hate for their little boy to come into the world with unwed parents.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Declined for BC/BS Coverage

It's a first, I've been denied for individual insurance coverage by BC/BS. I suspect it's due to some recent chiropractic treatment I had done to correct bad neck posture. They're probably worried about surgery ahead. Even my father with two knee replacements has insurance, but not me...

What this means: My employer is going to look for other coverage for me, they are the ones footing the bill for the insurance. If they are not able to find one, I'll see about getting catastrophic insurance in case I'm in the hospital (hasn't happened in my life yet, but could happen). The rest I'll pay out of pocket and negotiate.

This is a very rough thing for me and I'll be doing a lot of thinking this weekend. This is going to change my future goals big time.

The Price of Unlimited

One commenter asked us how we'll be getting our cell phone down to $12.50/month. The math part of it is this: Net10 is $0.10/minute (no other charges) pre-paid cell phone where you can buy a 12 month card for $150. $150/12 = $12.50/month for 125 minutes.

The psychological part of this:

When you have a contract for X number of minutes where X is a large number and if you use less than X, you lose them. What do you do? You use minutes as if they are unlimited. Sometimes you'll go over X and pay a bit more, beat yourself up for it, bring yourself back down a bit, but then go right back up to X, because "I can't waste what I'm paying for already." The price for this unlimited is a large set monthly expense that you can't adjust. If every minute you use is costing you a set amount, you'll pretty quickly (unless you don't care about the $$$) limit your usage and can adjust it based upon circumstances (e.g. job loss).

The way we plan to manage our phone usage is this:

Land-line (purchased for multiple reasons, DSL line, medical reasons): $20/month for phone portion, $10/month for DSL portion.

Long Distance on Land-line: $0.025/minute interstate & $0.019/minute intrastate with Uni-Tel Communications

On-the-road emergencies & work-related: $0.10/minute as discussed above.

Total Phone/DSL Expenses: Approximately $42.50/month.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


That's what my wife screamed when we got home a couple of minutes ago. She was responsible for 5 phone lines up to a couple of hours ago, which required our cell phone budget to be $158/month. Due to the changes done tonight, we are down to 1 phone and it will only be around $50/month instead. We'll be canceling the 1 line soon in order to go with a pre-pay phone with Net10. That will bring our monthly cell-phone expenses to be $12.50/month.

Your probably wondering where the other 4 lines went to? We gave them to the other people that were using them and Verizon required no deposit for them. We didn't think their credit was good enough to take any of the phones and were suspecting that we would have to make a deposit. It was only by the grace of God that we were able to get out of this sticky situation.

We'll spend the next month working at using the phone as if we have 125 minutes/month and once we get that down pat, we'll move to the pre-pay.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Frugal Gardening

With today's temperatures in the upper 70's near me, I'll be doing some cleaning of the yard to get it ready for next year's garden. I'm tripling the size to be around 450 sq feet, this year's was 150 sq feet. Here's some ways I've been keeping and plan on keeping expenses down on this:
  • Borrow one-time needed equipment. A gentleman from church has a farm nearby us and has offered if I need to borrow anything, just let him know. I'll be tilling the areas that have grass, so I'll borrow a small tiller then.
  • Organize your plans on paper or in an OpenOffice spreadsheet. I made a map of the garden with each cell a square foot and will make a timeline map of every 2 weeks of what is being planted/harvested during that 2 week time period.
  • Go organic. Another neighbor has llamas and horses, which I picked up free manure from (and thinking of contacting again soon so I have some for the spring ready to use). My garden this year grew better than the pesticide sprayed one across the street. Kill the bugs by hand the moment they come around and they won't have time to tell their friends.
  • Buy a tool only when your going to use it that day and you have nothing that is similar around your house. We converted plastic bottles into cloches to protect the plants during the cold, a large spoon from the kitchen to dig up potatoes, a small decorative basket for gathering up our crop.
  • Don't grow food you won't eat. I have 24 different plants planned for next year, all of them we use on a monthly basis around the house or enjoy when they are in season.
I'm not expecting at all for my garden to make me money in comparison to the work I'll be putting into it, but the pleasure of being able to go out front, grab a few herbs and vegetables, then go to the kitchen and cook them is well worth it. It will also keep me out of the stores as much as possible, since I'll have plenty to take care of.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Minor Car Problems

My wife's car started making noises near the left driver tire last month when we were on the road and it disappeared, but came back again last week. She brought it in, we're looking at the front hub assembly needing to be replaced. There is a couple in our church struggling financially (husband's employer was bought out and they have demoted him twice with pay cuts but expect him to be a manager at a cashier pay rate), so the husband is going to see about getting the part and doing the repair for us and we'll pay him instead of an auto-shop.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Biggest Financial Achievement

Get Rich Slowly is asking everyone to write about their biggest financial achievement. This is a hard one for me since this year alone I have had several achievements (multiple income streams, passive income, etc). Here is my biggest financial achievement:

Spending Less Than I Make, No Matter What

I used to know this rule before I got married, but somewhere I lost it due to wanting to please my wife, believing that my income would grow, that the credit card companies keep giving me credit so it must be ok. Then the little extra expenses of gas or utilities would come into the month and we'd have to put a little on the old credit card. There was a point when the only bill I had was my student loan (of $12K) and $6K in the bank.

Flash forward to today, I estimate we spend about 2/3 of our income on average on normal expenses with 1/3 of our income going to take care of our debts from years of bad choices. It took a big boulder of being out of electricity for 3 weeks, no running water for 2 weeks, working at Taco Bell in order to bring some money in while I searched for a better paying job for me to wake up from the fantasy that I could spend more than I make. We're seeking at the end of this month to cut out our cell phone plan to bring the amount going to debt even higher.

By spending less than we make, my whole point of view on money has changed. I see my coworkers with $40 in the bank and spending a whole day on the job looking for someone with cash so they can buy equipment (that would be reimbursed) and see where I used to be. I look at my beater of a car as I pull near a $30K car and remind myself I have the title of mine, who knows if they have the title of theirs. I see my roommate that has no debts, $10/hr job, $300 covers all housing expenses complain about not having money and I see someone that does not have the motivation yet to live a life of spending less than they make.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radical Environmental Tips

Note: These items are for the Blog Action Day regarding the environment and are not prescribed for those with weak hearts.

Be Homeless:

By being homeless, you can save on rent, electricity, water, gas, trash bills, home repairs, furniture, etc. You will be closer to the natural world and it will help you appreciate the ecosystem that we live in. Need a bathroom? There's always the national park toilets that use no water you can use, plenty of restaurants, or the good old trusty log and hole in the ground. Need a shower? Many truck stops have showers, the local gym has one and there's always a stream or lake one can use. Besides helping the environment by consuming less, you'll be saving lots of money.

Have No Children:

How much of an environmental footprint does each person leave? One sure way to reduce the number of people leaving an environmental footprint is to not have children. This will also free your time up to go out and plant trees, clean streams, and protest the latest polluters. Being homeless is not the best place to raise children anyways. If you really want to have a child, there's always adoption or foster care.

Don't Produce:

Working at a job producing widgets? Does your company recycle as many widgets as they produce? Most places don't and they don't worry about them filling the environment, that's "somebody else's job". Leave that place and change careers into one of many jobs that do: Waste Water Specialist, Sanitary Engineer, Farmer, eBay Seller/Buyer. You'll be bringing the world back to it's natural state instead of filled with widgets.

Note 2: I don't follow any of these tips, but I do many of the common environmental tips (recycle as much as possible, compost pile, CF bulbs, reduce heat, turn lights off, consume less, drive high MPG vehicle, drive little, organic garden, reuse stuff, shared housing, cloth diapers, second-hand shopping). Enjoy these radical ideas and have a great day!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

$4 of 2.4 lbs Grapes & $12 of 30 lbs of Chicken


I went grocery shopping yesterday and normally my wife does it (some of our roommates were needing to go and I made it an official no-work-for-wife day). I got the items she had on the list and decided to go to the fruit market nearby to pick up some bananas and any other fruit that was on sale. I picked up the bananas and saw some grapes for $0.99/lb, which I thought I picked up, but I picked up the $1.69 grapes. Due to the roommates wanting to get out of there, I didn't look at the receipt, but I did think it was high, but I had picked up other stuff. Lesson learned: Check the receipt no matter what.


The other stuff was 10lbs of chicken at $0.39/lb. I went back today to make sure they didn't charge me wrong for the grapes, which they did not. I ended up picking up 20 more lbs of chicken for $8. I'm marinating now 3 lbs of it skinned, we skinned about 12 lbs of it and have 15 lbs with skin in the freezer wrapped in twos. The skin, some fat cut off, carrot, celery, salt and pepper are cooking up to make stock right now. One of the ways we are seeking to keep our food budget under $120/month for the two of us.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Long Term Goal: Retire at 42

To some people, their idea of retirement is traveling the world, playing golf, etc. For me, it is the option of getting out of the rat race with my family being provided for still. It means being able to serve with Habitat for Humanity for 3 months if I choose to do so, teaching my children at home, growing a beautiful garden, reading, talking with people.

Here's a short list of the time line I'm looking at:

Age 28 - Where I'm at right now.
Age 29 - Pay off Credit Card and Misc Debts, only student loans and mortgage remaining
Age 30 - $10K Emergency Fund & $10K IRA
Age 33 - Student loans paid off, leaving mortgage remaining
Age 37 - Mortgage Paid Off, Tons of Cash going to IRA & other Investments
Age 42 - $500K in various investments earning 10%.

The amounts and dates may change as we look into business opportunities along the way. If I just stay with programming and work at increasing salary by changing positions and increasing skills, these are where the estimates are landing. I know some may say to use the money that would go to paying off the student loans/mortgages to invest, but my home is a business of it's own generating gross income of $1300/month and I psychologically don't want to have those debts living in my life. Your mileage may vary.

My expense calculations looking at our existing numbers, excluding debt, would run us around $2500/month to retire today (health expenses included). With 3% inflation, those costs would be $3800 when we're 42. If rent continues with the 3% inflation, we'd be looking at $1500/month approximately on the conservative, meaning our investments would need to bring in $2300/month or $28K/yr. A $500K investment nest egg returning 6% would give us $30K/yr. I may still choose to work for brief periods of time doing consulting work, but it won't be required.

All of these calculations point to I would much rather have a lower standard of living and spend time with people not working than have a higher standard of living but keep working for 20+ more years.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Tithe Question

I figure I need to make a full post about it since whenever I have it mentioned in a budget, I get what I call the "Tithe Question". It comes in many forms, but the basic one is "Can't you just hold off the tithe until your out of debt?"

Mathematically, the tithe while in debt does not make any sense in a worldly way. The math says to pay off the debt that is charging you interest first, then the money you saved on interest could be given to the church. I will agree math wise that it is a bad idea to tithe while in debt.

One problem with that viewpoint is when should I exactly start? Should I skip tithing until my mortgage is paid off (6% interest rate there)? With $6K/year of a tithe, I would wipe away $360 of interest in the first year alone (and $360 every year after that). What if I could do an investment that brings in 10% annually? That would be $600 more I could give at the end of the year. Won't I have more to give later on then? When do I give then?

Tithing is about making me more like God. He gives us breath every moment, graces us with still some more time to accept Jesus as our savior to forgive our sins. Tithing is a continual reminder to us that God is in control of our finances and our lives. "'A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD." Lev 27:30

I don't know how long I have to live on this planet. I could die right after typing this or I could be blessed with 80 more years of life. I struggle with the tithe question all the time, I've been able to convince myself at times that the math viewpoint is correct, but the problem is that I don't really track how much I need to give in the future. By myself, I am selfish. With the LORD in me, I am giving and caring.

The other problem with the math question is that there are real needs today, not in the future. Some people may feel that their local church is squandering the money given to them, but there are many churches changing lives today. I know I would have been out of electricity for a couple of months a year ago if my church didn't step up and help. I would have also been out of running water for a while (or used my mortgage payment that was already 2 months behind) if my church didn't help. These were times when I wasn't tithing (so please don't discuss with me about these are examples of why I shouldn't be tithing now).

My major goal right now is yes, get us out of debt, but I don't want that to be the only thing said at my eulogy. I'll cut the other expenses, drive a little less, work a little harder, yet still seek to tithe.

"Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God." Ex 23:19

Saturday, October 6, 2007

'07-'08 Budget To Pay Off $20K

I've been mulling this plan for a few weeks now, but I had put in my head that we should have the goal of taking care of our non-student loan & mortgage debts by the end of next year. I figure we'll need about $20K in cash to negotiate on the $30K (as well as my student loans will need to start being paid). Something I've learned the hard way is if you don't plan with plenty of detail how that is going to happen, it probably won't. With my current numbers, we are short by about $5K. Here's the big picture (click to view) and then I'll explain:

Natural Gas - We have a $400+ credit with them so that the winter bills won't be so high. They brought our budgeted amount from $145/month down to $77/month. I'm expecting after the winter, we'll be bumped back up to $100/month based on our yearly usage averaging that.

House Phone - DSL is $10/month for 6 months and bumps up to $20/month for 6 months. Best deal we could get last month.

Groceries - Higher at Thanksgiving/Christmas time with dinner parties at our home.

House Maint - This November we need to wrap up the insulation project by blowing in (ourselves) insulation under the kitchen and in the attic. In April we have to take down at least one big tree in our yard, if not all the big ones. I cut off as much as I could on my own, we'll need someone with a bucket truck to come and cut the rest down for us (I'll take care of it on the ground).

Clothing - Our baby will need another set of cloth diapers near the beginning of the year, which my wife is sewing to save $$$. Clothes everyone is good for a while (including her).

Med Expenses - At the start of the year, we will need to start paying for coverage for my wife and daughter (getting off of Medicaid). For our daughter, IL has a cheap program for kids, so we'll be doing that. My wife with her medical conditions though it will be $300/month for the $2.5K deductible plan with Illinois CHIP.

Vacation - We'll be doing a small camping trip during the summer as well as me serving on a missions trip.

Gifts - Christmas we budget $300 total, my birthday and my wife's is in September, our daughter is in May, $50 for each of us.

Other Income - Mystery shopping mainly.

Rental Income - That fluctuates, but I'm estimating we'll have 3 out of 4 rooms rented on average, that's where the $1K comes. November we should have a full house at $1300.

Options For $5K Shortfall:
  • Stop or reduce tithe, this for us is a last resort option.
  • Drop cell phone coverage. I know our bill is high (part of that covers someone else on our plan in case they don't pay). It's a complicated situation, hopefully we can act on it soon (that's what this table is all about).
  • Life insurance. Search for a cheaper quote than we have right now (the one we have is with my wife's previous employer and we went with it because it would be bad for her to be promoting something if she didn't carry that something herself).
  • Increase income. I haven't been looking much, but once I get a huge project I've been working on for my employer live, I'm considering using it to either find consulting projects on the side that provide more work than my on-call computer repair job or find a better paying full-time job. My current job gives me a lot of flexibility that I'm uncertain I could find with better pay.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

$6 Coffee Pot

This Saturday my wife is hosting her women's bible study at our house and most of the ladies drink coffee. My wife is a tea person, so we don't make coffee and don't have a coffee pot. When she was at Aldi's this week doing our grocery shopping for the next 2 weeks, she saw a $6 coffeepot. Because I was driving home and she had the cell-phone, she could not call me to discuss (since it would have changed our budget), so she did not get it.

We talked about it some on and off the past couple of days and I'm glad she didn't just buy it. That $6 comes out to about 1/2 hr of me of "real hourly wage" after expenses. I'd much rather be with her another 1/2 hour than having to work for a coffee pot we'd use once and put in the basement to collect dust. I've been seeing how everyone wants the dollars in our pockets more and more...

In the end we'll probably borrow one from a roommate or have one of the ladies bring their coffeepot with them on Saturday.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Full House of Renters

Last night made it official that we are back to a full house of 4 renters. The last ones moved in last night, we did a budget with them for the month ahead (to make sure they can afford the room) as well as discussed alternative methods of payment until they get payments from old employers outstanding and start their new job later this week. I wrote up this morning a detailed list of activities and explained that we just need a full day's worth of work on the list to take care of a week of rent. They felt that was a fair trade. I figure my "real hourly wage" (after work expenses) is around $12/hr and the guy of the couple doing 8-10 hours of work is cheaper than me taking a day off of work to do the activities around the house.

One of the roommates that was considering to move to a cheaper place with co-workers told us he checked out the place, it's a bit farther of a commute for him, uncertain if he is going to live there, will let us know later in the week. I'm holding the discount card until we get more time to talk, he came back home when we were talking to the new couple.