1 Million Dollars

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Car Insurance

When I got my first car my mom added me to her car insurance and I paid the difference. I tried once to see what it would cost me on my own, but since I was under 21 at the time, it was outrageous. But as I got older, I moved on to my own plan and then the confusion set in. I had the state minimums for liability with my mom but should I have a higher amount? Should I add in comprehensive and collision as well? The only thing I knew was I did not need glass coverage. Compared to what they wanted me to pay, replacing the glass out of pocket was better.

At that point I had a car worth about $500-$1000 so I decided I did not need comprehensive and/or collision. If something went wrong I could replace the car with another beater or, at worst, take the bus until I could afford a new car. However, I did decide that I would increase the coverage I had for liability. If I got into a car accident, at the state minimums, I would be able to cover, at most, one basic car. If I hit a nice car, I was pretty much screwed. However, I did not have much money so, I slowly increased the coverage over time. Every six months, I looked into the cost of increasing the coverage and I looked into new insurance to see if I could get it for cheaper. And it worked.

At 19 for just state minimum liability coverage, I paid $700 every six months, now at 27 I pay $450 per year for $100,000/$200,000 plus comprehensive and collision. At 26, I replaced my old beater with a newer car and given that it is worth about $8000, I now have comprehensive and collision. I do have a $1000 deductible though, to keep the price down. I plan to drop the comprehensive and collision once the worth of the car is at least under $5000, though I am not sure exactly what point I will drop it. Anyone have an idea on when I should, and if you would not mind, why you think that point is best?

I would like to increase my liability coverage up to $100,000/$300,000 but for now, I think $200,000, is ok. I now only check every year to see if I can find a better deal because after two times of not finding a better deal, I think I am at a great spot. If anything changes, like moving, adding a car or removing comprehensive/collision, I would go back to checking every six month.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Budget, How to Make One?

There are so many ways to make a budget and no one way is wrong. Making a budget is, like anything in personal finance, personal. Some people just put away a percentage of their income and spend the rest. Others make maximum percentages per category, for example 25% of net income towards housing.

But when you are starting off the best way to start is to figure out where the money is currently going. Start by taking a month and writing down everything you spend and by the end, you have the beginnings of a budget. But you won't be done there. There are many annual or semi-annual expenses people forget about, like Christmas or car insurance or even car repairs. Start with the monthly expenses and divide what annual or semi-annual expense by 12 or 6 months and put that in your budget as well.

Now, the big question is after all your expense do you have any money left over? And if so, how much? If it is 10-20% of your income, great! If not, you are normal and it is ok. But you do need to work in retirement and emergency savings into your budget. That means looking at your other expenses in your budget and finding ways to cut them down.

It took me about two years to get my budget and my spending the way I wanted them and I still have some improvements to make. Making a budget is not something you do once and forget about, it is a tool for most of financial life.

Do you have a budget? Do you think it is helpful or not? How did you make yours?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Credit Cards

Some people would tell you that credit cards are evil (example Dave Ramsey) and if you have no self-control that very well may be true but it does not have to be. The problem is people see the amount of credit on a credit card as money. It is not. Your credit limit has no relation to the amount you can spend. Between my husband and I, we have more in credit than we make in a year, that does not mean we can spend that amount.

You should, however, never spend more than ten percent of your credit limit, even if you do have the money to pay it back. The credit bureaus will ding your credit score if you charge more than ten percent and ding it even more if you spend more than thirty percent.

The best way to get used to using a credit card, is as a debit card. When you purchase something, either put the money aside or pay the credit card online THAT day. Do not wait till the end of the month or you will end up screwing yourself up.
If you do screw up and max out your card, stop. Shred it and start paying it down. Do not get another card until you have gotten used to using, and paying in full every month, one card.

Once you get used to using one card, you likely will have a credit score that will allow you to get a rewards card. Look at your spending and pick one to apply to. Put your first card aside and start using the reward card. Do not pick one with an annual fee, they are not worth it. It is likely that your first card won't be useful after the first year or so, but you can leave it open (use it once a year), if you would like. Closing it will have a negative affect on your credit score, until you have had the reward card for a while, unless you have had a student loan or were an authorized user on another person's card for longer then the length of time you had your first card.

I prefer to have multiple cards because they give different benefits, for example I and my hisband have a Fidelity AMEX which gives me two percent back into my 529 account, a discover card that we use when the five percent back categories work for us (groceries, gas etc.) and for our school expenses (they only take discover and visa) and a couple visas that really are not that good. We are still looking for a good visa and are currently considering the Fidelity Visa that gives one and half percent back into our IRAs.

Anyone else have an opinion on credit cards or information I missed?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Potential Deal from Sharebuilder

I don't know what is up with ING Direct, they are selling to Capital One yet there have been all sorts of deals from them lately. I just received an offer from Sharebuilder (owned by ING Direct) and I am unsure if I should take it, though I am leaning towards it.

The deal is deposit $100 per month from September through December and get $50 in January. Sounds like a great deal, right? Problem is that I would have to pay $4/month to deposit the money into the S&P fund I have plus an additional $4 to remove the money. This would amount to $20 that would be coming out of the $50 bonus. The $50 is not tax free, however and I would have to pay an additional $5 in tax on the $20 fees so really for depositing $400 I would get $25 before taxes. That is a 6.25% return which is great however it is not without risk. I would depositing the money in a S&P fund which is risking and I could lose that 6.25% bonus in day.

Then again, if I did not use this deal, the $400 would be going in my Roth IRA and would be in the stock market anyway. The only differences are what fund the money is in and taxable vs tax free accounts. Are those differences worth not getting the $25? What does everyone think? What should I do?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is student loan debt good or bad?

Yes, or it depends. How is that for an answer? Student loans can be helpful in getting through school yet they can mess up your life for ten to thirty years if you borrow too much. There is a rule of thumb that students should not borrow more than they expect to earn their first year of work but the recession many graduates cannot find work, what then?

You can extend your student loans from 10 years to 30, if you have more than $30,000 worth of debt but that will increase your interest, or you could do graduated repayment but then in the future you will have to pay more per month. If you can't pay the minimum when you graduate, why do you think you can pay more in three to four years?

So how do you decide how much debt, in the form of student loans, you can afford? Of course, you do want the total amount to be less that your first year's wages but what else? Personally, I would try to keep the debt less than $15,080 which is full time at minimum wage or if you are working though school your current annual wage, whichever is more. That would allow you to have some wiggle room when you have graduated, yet is large enough to make a major difference in your finances during school.

What does everyone else think? How much student loans is too much? When does student loan debt change from good debt to bad debt?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Update on the millionaire goal-August

We have dropped down below our $10,000 goal again. We only have $9955 now. Our tenants did end up staying another month so we will be putting $300 a way this month and hopefully we will get back above $10000. However, if the stock market drops another 2% this month, we will be back to where we started, under $10,000 again.

Right now investing in the stock market is depressing and it is tempting to stop and just start paying down debt, like my student loans but I have to believe that the start market will get better. I have to believe that I am buying low and in thirty years it will be worth it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Second Guest Post!

Head over to Baking the Budget to read more about my real estate adventures in my second ever guest post.
Baking the Budget is a wonderful blog that I have learned a lot from. It is not geared towards students but still is a valuable resource.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan September

We did very badly this month. We spent $296.91 this month of groceries, however we did get a eight dollar rebate so I am only counting $288.91 for this month. This comes out to $72.23/week. Part of the reason for this, is we have just switched to doing our main shopping every other week and did two weeks worth of shopping on the twenty-eighth. Hopefully, that means September will be a low spend month. Also, we stocked up on soda, which we only do every twelve weeks, at rock bottom prices ($2.75/ twelve pack) but we bought 12 packs.

We are now at $2076.01 for 29 weeks, averaging out to $53.24/week. We are almost one hundred dollars over budget for the year and only have thirteen weeks to make it up. This means, to still make my goal I need to spend $42.50 or less every month. Given I am having trouble with keeping to $50/week I don't think that will happen especially since soon we will not have on garden produce to use as supplement. On the other hand, we are very well stocked for meat and we won't need sodas for another three months, maybe I can do it!
Anyone have ideas on how to do Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners without increasing my spending? If I want to get down to $50/week I sure can't overspend for those meals.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Benefits Do You Have?

Often people have benefits that come with their jobs that they do not take advantage of, most commonly is 401k matching but there are many others. For example many employers now have contracts with cell phone companies to give their workers discounts on personal cell line. My husband now have 19% off his main cell phone line. That saved us quite a bit of money over the year. Students can sometime take advantage of these as well. Anyone with a buffalo.edu email is allowed to get the discount of cell service. But these discounts and benefits often do not get advertized, so how do you find them?

Human Resources or their website can be the most helpful but so can coworkers or classmates. For example at our university there is a gym open to both staff and students that is paid by student fees. Since we already pay for it, why should I pay for a gym outside the school? It may not be perfect but it has most of what I want so why pay more for another gym?

Employers also often have FSA (flexible spending accounts) for daycare and/or copays. You can put up to $5000 per year tax free, but be careful if you do not use it up, you loose it. For someone with a medical condition or someone who is on medication FSAs can save you a large amount of money because no only do you save on taxes, you don't have to pay FICA. Keep in mind, you cannot buy over the counter medicines using FSA money unless you have a prescription. A way to get around this, is to ask your doctor for a prescription for the over the counter items, most will give them to you.

There are so many benefits you can get from an employer or a school, if you know where to look and you actually look for them. What deals do you get from your employer, school or other organization?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I HATE Checks

This is silly but I am very spoiled with technology. I normally pay by credit card and pay those by ACH transfer so I am used to once I pay, the money comes out and I don't have to think about it again. So when I pay by check and the person does not deposit it for a while and I have to keep remembering that $X amount of money is not really there, it annoys me.

I know it is silly and really not a big complaint but still, I can't stop it from annoying me. Technology has affected how our generation does things and how we expect things to be done. My grandmother balanced her checkbook monthly and paid most things by check or cash, now I use a check on average every three month. I check my balances online and pay by credit card or ACH. I have never used a full checkbook up, in my life. I wonder how much more technology will change personal finance over our lifetimes?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

School is Starting!

What does this mean? It means getting all you need for classes and if you are moving (into dorms or an apartment), buying stuff for your new home. How can you do both of these cheap?

Well it starts of simple, make list. Make two lists if you are moving. Write down everything you need, or think you will need. Then go through the house and see what you can find on your list or will work as well. If you are moving into a dorm or apartment check craigslist, though make sure you know what the allowed items are in the dorms. For example most dorms do not allow pocket knives or candles. Don't waste your time or money by bring things you can't keep.

One thing I would recommend, if you have a lap top is a lap top lock. Lap tops are one of the most stolen pieces of property at a university. Lock it when ever you are away from it, even in your own dorm (others do have the key).

Once you have your list and have seen what you have, start pulling up the websites for staples, office depot and office max (depending on what is in your area), then pull up iheartcvs.com and iheartwags.com. Check the sales and match up what you have on your list with the sales. In a few weeks you will have most of what you need for cheap, at least for school supplies.
If you are moving, make sure to go on bedbathandbeyond.com and sign up for their 20% off coupons, then check out kohls.com and use their sales to buy most of what you need. If you cannot find a good deal at kohls, then use the 20% you will get for signing up to buy a few things from bed bath and beyond. It may take you a few weeks but by the time school is in full swing you should be fine.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Say Goodbye to Subsidized Student Loans for Grad Students

The federal government is cutting their expenses and one of the things that is being cut, is subsidized student loans for graduate students. Unsubsidized student loans will still be around (unless they get cut too), as will subsidized student loans for undergraduates (again, unless they get cut).

This is going to have a major affect on many graduate students and is to have to going to change how people decide about graduate school. I am not sure if this means all $20,500 of available money will be unsubsidized or if now graduate student will only have access to $12,000 for the year. My husband and I are discussing taking out the full subsidized amount this year just in case but we already have pulled out one full year last year ($8500) and therefore may just use that. If we do not pull more out, we will have to not save for retirement. I do not like that choice but what can I do?

Hopefully, there will be a solution found where the government will again allow subsidized student loans for graduate students but I do not expect it to be any time soon. Does anyone disagree?

Monday, August 15, 2011


Sometimes students bring their car to school or if they are living at home use it to get to school. Most students, rightly, get a beater but some prefer to get a loan to get a car they like. Normally that is a very bad idea. Often students are living on a part-time job, student loans and/or scholarships. Adding another debt on top can send you over the edge. I'm twenty-six and my husband is twenty-nine and neither of us have had new cars and that has helped us financially.

This does mean we need to be careful when we get our cars and we need to have a repair fund. We put away about a $100 in a car fund every month, we have never used it all and we save the rest for large repairs/maintenance and our next car. I was lucky, my mom bought my first car from a friend of hers and my aunt let me inherit my current grandmother died and we were moving to buffalo. Both were extremely well taken care of and allowed me not to spend a lot of money on repairs/maintenance. My husband was not as lucky and went through quite a few cars and had to do quite bit of repairs over the years. Thankfully, his father taught him quite a bit about cars and he has done some of the work and that has kept his costs down.

When we moved to Buffalo we decided to just take one car. In San Jose our university gave us free bus passes and therefore I only drove to work and for going out. My husband and I did the math and we would have to rent a car for over thirty days to equal keeping a beater around. We decided it was not worth it, and over the last two years we have only needed to rented a car at home twice.

It is best to decide what works for you, renting a car, using zip car or owning a car. Nothing works best for everyone and you need to decide in your individual case. What works best will change over time so you have to always be thinking about your situation. At some point my husband and I may need a second car, or we will have enough extra money to buy a motorcycle and live in a place where they are practical, but that is not our current situation. My husband had to sell his bike to help him get out of debt and he did not like it but he did what he had to do, as we all need to do.

What choices have you made for good or bad? What has worked and not worked for you for transportation? Why did it work or not? What made you change your current situation?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saving Money on Food

I've worked hard on keeping our expenses down this year. We have so many places where we could be spending money it is sometimes hard to juggle. Our weakest point in our budget is our grocery spending and our spending for eating out. Over this last year my husband and I have worked hard on getting both under control and I think we have done pretty well.

We use our crockpot often to avoid the want to go out eat, because we "don't have anything to eat", we also keep a frozen pizza in the freezer for an easy night. My husband and I switch off cooking and that helps a lot. When we do go out we use often groupon or living social to find a good deal. We do have favorite restaurants that we do pay full price but it is rare. Honestly, the hardest part about not eating out was getting used to it. Now, I rarely really want to go out but it took over six months to get over the want to go out every week.

Grocery shopping and staying under budget took some time too. At first we were staying under budget but running out of food by the end of the week and not eating well. We started eating better and started spending more but we could not afford it in the long term. We found a great store for cheap meat, started finding the stores with the cheapest prices and the store that was best for cherry picking. Cherry picking means that most items were more expensive at this store but certain deal would be very cheap and worth it to stop by. We started using coupon match up blogs and planning our meals around what we had in the freezer, cabinets and what was on sale. We also planted a small garden, we are in our second year of it. Over time we got our spending down about $20 and we are eating extremely well. It does take some planning and some time but it is so worth it to me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Our credit union just lowered their APR for mortgages to 4.261% and our current APR is 4.75%. I would love to refinance and lower our payments by $20/month but the closing costs are huge. They expect $1,450 for the origination charge and even though I know we paid that to close it bugs me when many companies are giving out lender comps. The other thing that bothers me, is the title search, they want $1,185 for a service they did less than two years ago. I have heard that some companies will do a mini-search and charge less if they have previously done the search. I am going to ask about that. I understand the appraisal fee and the taxes, though, even if they cost about $1000. My credit union has no control over those so I am not going to bother complaining about it.

At this point, as much as I would like to refinance the closing costs are too high even with the great rate.
If anyone has a bank they know with a rate close to this one, with better closing costs let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan July

I've reposting this post, it got deleted accidentally. I missed posting this at the beginning of last month (July). I spent $148.20 for the month of June which averaged out to $37.05 per week. That was an amazingly low amount and I'm still not sure how I achieved it. I bought using sales and coupon and ate out our garden but still, it is much lower than I expected. I still ate well, with vegetables and whole grains and even had some treats. I am very happy with this month. This has helped get my grocery spending down to under $50/week as an average over the last 30 weeks.

Let us so how low we can go together. Anyone else have great ideas on keeping grocery expenses low while still eating well?

Great Deal With Swagbucks

If you do not belong to swagbucks, now is the time to join! Swagbucks is a search engine that uses ask.com, and google to search and randomly, as you search, you get swagbucks. Swagbucks can be turned in for gift cards, the most popular being $5 Amazon gift card for 450 swagbucks. I normally get about $50-$70/year for doing nothing but normal searching. You can get more by doing their surveys or answering the daily poll. You get an extra swagbuck daily for keeping their toolbar on your web browser.

But why is now a great time to join? Swagbucks is offering a bonus 50 swagbucks from now thru Friday August 12th at 8:59pm pst when you use the promo code: AUGUSTBONUS. http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/Gin1984 Just clink the link and add the promo code and you will sign up with 80 swagbucks (50 from the promo and 30 for signing up through my link). You will be almost 20% of the way to a free gift card.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan August

This update is sad. Last month I was so good, I actually got my spending below $50/week for the year and this month I spent $292.35 which added up to $58.47/week. That sadly has brought me back over my goal of $50 per week, up to $51.06/week for the 35 weeks we have so far this year. I only have 17 weeks left in this year and it would take me spending less than $47.82/week to get back under my goal. I'm not sure if I will be able to do this, honestly.

I guess I am going to have to continue to try and find out where I will be by the end of the year. If I average $50/week for the next 17 weeks I will be $36.95 over budget.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

7 Links project

I was tagged by both Sandy from First Gen American and SB at One Cent at a Time to participate in a meme called My 7 Links Project. According to Young and Thrifty, “this project got started by Katie from Trip Base. The purpose of it is to get the blogger to reflect upon some posts (aka dig up posts from the past) so they can see the light of day again. Then the blogger is to nominate 5 other bloggers to participate." I was surprised that I got nominated, especially twice over, but here it goes....

Your Most Beautiful Post
I do not see any of my posts as beautiful. They are all financial and facts. This post had made me think about writing more emotional posts, I mean this is personal finance.

Your Most Controversial Post
Sadly, I also do not have a controversial post. I kinda wonder what I'd have to write about to get everyone up in arms. I'm silly like that, I like causing reactions.

The Most Popular Post
By the numbers my most popular post was The Million Dollar Club http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2010/09/million-dollar-club.html but that is mostly because it is linked to J. Money's site. However, if you take in to account responses and people just coming on to read the post, because they liked it it would have to be Tax Credits for Education http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2011/06/tax-credits-for-education.html That does makes sense, because it is one of the most important thing for a student to learn about.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me
Hot Days, Chillin' for Cheap has so many comments and views and I honestly would not have written it without being push to. http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2011/07/hot-days-chillin-for-cheap.html We had had some of the hottest day in Buffalo that we had ever had and my husband and I have no air conditioners because we are used to hotter temperatures from California. The heat and humidity that week though, I also went out and bought an air conditioner. That post is a compilation of ways we kept cool.

The Post I Am Most Proud Of
How to decide if you should buy or rent as a student allowed me to combine my love of real estate and being frugal as a student. http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-decide-if-you-should-buy-or-rent.html Honestly it is unlikely that many students could use this advice, it mostly works for richer families or graduate students but it is a viable option for some.

Your Most Helpful Post
I did a series in the beginning of this blog about student loans. Almost all students at some point end up using student loans and I think they are very important to know about and to know about what your options are. The article on federal loans was the most useful of the series. http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2010/01/federal-student-loans-overview-and.html

A Post You Feel Didn’t Get The Attention It Deserved
Frugal Fun was an article that was suppose to be the beginning of a series of different was to have fun on the cheap but no one seemed to like it. http://frugalstudents.blogspot.com/2010/05/students-especially-if-they-work-dont.html I am thinking about doing another frugal fun post in future and see if it is better received.

I'd like to see this post on....
1. http://buylikebuffett.com
2. http://queercents.com (though I do not know if this wish will be seen by queercents)
3. http://4hatsandfrugal.blogspot.com- Great writer and she is the one who got me into blogging.
4. http://bakingbudget.blogspot.com
5. http://thesavedquarter.com

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Frustrations in Real Estate

Our tenant gave us a little over a month's notice that they would be moving out when their lease expired. I thought that was nice, and even though I did not like having to find new tenants and lose rent for a month or more, everything was ok. I posted on craigslist with a $50 increase in rent and got some immediate responses, one that looked very good. My husband went up to see about showing the apartment on saturday and we were informed that they were not planning to move till October, they still have not put the bid in on their new house.

I understand finding a place, buying it and moving in can take awhile but I am very annoyed that she did not let us know. The more into winter we are, the harder it will be for us to find good tenants. I feel like telling them that since they are going month-to-month the rent will be raised. I probably would not have done so, however, if she had talked to me. Am I wrong in doing so?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Update on the millionaire goal-July

We have finally crossed the $10,000 goal. We deposited $1000 in a Roth in ING Direct to get a $76 bonus. However, again the stock market was not nice to us and therefore we have $10,810. My next minigoal is $25,000 but it will take a long time for me to get there.

We deposited $1000 this month, yet only have $420.90 normally to deposit per month. I took the extra out of the EF and I did this because of the bonus. I will have to pay back the extra money. I took all the extra money from the 2% FICA deduction from my job as well as this months deposit. I still have $100.40 to pay back before I can start deposited money into our retirement accounts again.

Normally a hundred dollars would be paid back quickly but our current tenants have given their one month notice and it may be a few months before we get tenants again. Until then all I have is ten dollars per month from the FICA deduction from my DH's job and any extra from my job as well.

It is possible that we will still owe our EF by the end of the year, if we do not get tenants. I am not sure if I will remove the money from the Roth to give it back to the EF or not. Does anyone have an idea what I should do and why?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Create a Emergency Fund and Why YOU need one

A emergency fund is a hard thing to build in general, but for students it is harder then the average. Many students are living on student loans, some that charge interest and financial aid penalizes you for any assets, beside money in retirement accounts, a car and a house.
Students often have very little time between school, studying, extra-curricular and work needed to survive and pay for school. But often students need an emergency fund, just like anyone else. Unless mom and dad are paying for everyone of your expenses you need an emergency fund. But how much you need depends on where the income is coming from and what your expenses are.
Do you have a car? Then you need money to fix it, if it breaks and that money comes from your emergency fund.
Often the best way for students to create a EF is work like crazy during the summer. But you might be saying, the summer is almost over, what now? You still have a month and there is so many different things you can do. If you have not signed up for mypoints or swagbucks you are loosing money every month. They are the easiest ways I know to get giftcards and it is not like students are never on the computer. You can sign up for swagbucks at the bottom of this blog and start with extra points. Remember the little things add it, a dollar or two here or there will add up to hundreds. Are any friend's parents or parent's friends going out of town and need someone to pet sit? That is money in your pocket and you get some time away from your parents, too. Are there any older people in the neighborhood that need their lawns mowed? Find side hustles and put that income into your saving. That is the most important thing to do.

While you are doing that, are you working at your main job as much as you can, if you have one? Remember you want to best the employee you can, so when you come back for summer and winter break they want to hire you again.

While you are doing all of this, you need to look at your financial aid. Is it grants and scholarships or is student loans? If the aid is student loans, what kind of student loans, subsidized or unsubsidized? Can you get work study? Work study is the best way to work while you are in college. Your employer understands you are in school and that you need time off to study for midterms and finals and the income does not count against financial aid for your next year.

Wow, so much to do and only a month to do it. Does it feel impossible? It is not, just do as much as you can, that is the important part. As you earn the money put as much as you can aside, try for half but every penny you can save matters. Now it is time to open a high yield savings account. If you have $250 and get referred ING Direct will give you $25. Contact me if you need a referral.

If you have support from parents, you probably only need about $1000 as your emergency fund. Once you have that, if you have unsubsidized student loans pay them down. If you do not, open a Roth IRA at ING Direct and leave your extra money there (up to the amount you earned this year or $5000 whichever is lower). You can pull it out, if you need it without a penalty, just don't pull out the interest. That will keep most of your savings from being counted against you for financial aid.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hot days, Chillin' for cheap

Here in Buffalo we have seen record temperatures, by the time we leave for school it is already 85 degrees and it can hit 100 degrees during the hottest part of the day.  We do not have an air conditioner in our home, for two reasons, one, normally Buffalo is cooler than we are used to and two, air conditioning is expensive.  But this last week has made me want to run out and buy an air conditioner.  But we didn't, we found ways to cool down without air conditioning. 

We have fans, including a ceiling fan which normally are enough to keep the place cool but we had to do something else.  We ate salads, cooked using the crockpot instead of the oven because we did not want to heat the house up any more.  We also ate a ton of Popsicles, which we had gotten for free the week before combining coupons and sales.  We put ice in our drinks to cool them down more and drank at least twice our normal amount of water.  We plan to be eating more salads and fruit salads this week, I may even make a potato salad.  I just have no wish to heat up the house, or myself, cooking when I do not have to. Fruit, like grapes and berries, can go in the freezer for a good cool snack.   I have been eating a ton of fruit this week and it does seem to cool you down a bit.   

You can cool yourself down by showering in colder water, or putting damp washcloths or small towels in the freezer and put them on your neck.  Stop by a garden store or cvs/ walgreens to pick up an inexpensive mister for plants. If you fill it with cold water and mist yourself, you cool off without much cost. You can have an extra bottle in the frig for extra cooling.. Just don't mist while reading this blog because your computer doesn't like being wet.  Remember to wear clothes that make sense for this weather, wear shorts/skirts not pants and light clothes, it can make a major difference.

 In the evenings we have opened up all the windows and doors and brought in the cooler air, it may only cool down to 85, but that is better then 95-100 degrees.  We close everything and pull down shades during the day so the sun does not get to heat the house as much (a tip I learned from my mom as a child), it keeps the house 10 degrees cooler. 

Also, take advantage of places with air conditioning.  We stayed a bit later at work this week and got extra work done.  We also had fun.  We went to the movies during the matinee which was the cheapest price but got us out of the house during the hottest time(btw, Captain America was amazing).  We did our grocery shopping in the middle of the day. When we did laundry we hung most up and ran the dryer only once at night while we were going to bed. 

There were times this week I wanted an air conditioner but as long as it is just a heat wave and not the normal weather I think I stick with my fans and find other ways to cool down during the summer.  Does anyone else have cheap ways to cool down this summer?

Friday, July 22, 2011

My First Guest Post

My first guest post is now up at Grad Money Matters.
This article is about how my DH and I were able to get started in our landlording business. Any additional questions can be asked either here or there, I'll be checking both sites.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When would you use both the deduction and credit for higher education

As it stands the deduction and credit have the same income requirement however this was not always true and may change in the future. It used to be that the deduction had a higher income cap and that is why many adult student used it instead of the credit. So since there is no reason to use the deduction alone, when would you use it?

The reason for using the deduction is when you are spending more than the $10,000 cap for the credit. This could happen if you have multiple students using the lifetime learning credit, either in graduate school or if you are taking more than four years to finish school because of working.

The idea is to count the first $10,000 towards the credit and the remaining expenses towards the deduction. This will save you the most money on your taxes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Preparing for college

Classes for most universities start at the end of next month and that means bills for classes will be due sometime during this month. Do you know how you are going to pay for them? Do you even know what your options are? Have you accepted your financial aid at school yet?

Many students use their student loans to pay for school and the money they or their parents have for living expenses but that would be a mistake. If you did that, and you are still a dependent on your parents, your parents could not claim the higher education deduction or credit. The better idea is to pay for classes with your own money or your parents and then use the student loans for living expenses. If you have scholarships, they are only tax free if you are paying for school so use them as such, unless your parents want to get the tax deduction and are supporting you. If your parents are in the 28% tax bracket and you are in the 10% tax bracket, them paying the school makes and getting the deduction makes more sense then you saving tax money by using your scholarship for classes.

Keep in mind that if you are paying for more than 50% of your expenses, and this included scholarships and student loans, you are not a dependent according to the IRS. Many parents do not realize this and will continue to claim you, however if caught it can amount in major penalties, just like any of type of tax fraud.

If you are moving away for college, talk to your parents about what will happen to your room while you are away. Decide what you should take, decide if you want to get of anything. If you decide to get rid of stuff, decide if you want to have a yard sale, donate it or throw it out. Use google maps and determine if you need your car or if use a service such as zip car would be cheaper. Keep in mind the cost of parking on campus as well repair costs. Decide if you need a meal plan and if so how many meals you want. Most students use the two meal per day plan because you will not always be on campus or want to eat all your meals on campus. Decide what is important to you. Add up the costs you will be spending during this semester and school year subtract your financial aid, any money you have now and any money your parents say they will give you. Do you have enough? If not you need to fix it now!

Can you or your parent call the school and ask for a review and see if there is anything the school can do? Can your parents help a bit more? Now what can you do? Are there any people in your neighborhood that would like someone to mow their lawns or weed their gardens? Do you or your parents have friends how are going on vacation and do not know what to do with their pet? Could you offer to go over and pet sit? Can you offer to dog walk? Can you start doing surveys, open a swagbuck account or a mypoints account. None of these are big money makers but they add up. Every penny you get is one penny less you need borrow and pay back at a huge rate.

Does anyone have any other ideas for what students need to do before leaving for college?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another ING Deal-update

I mentioned earlier this month that my husband opened a Roth IRA with ING Direct with $1000 to take advantage of the deal that would get him an additional $76. And ING Direct, being wonderful has already deposited the extra $76. In just thirteen days, when most banks take three to four months for any bonus money.

This makes me happy, yet sad because ING Direct has been bought by Capital One and these wonderful deals are likely to be long gone very soon. I hope everyone takes advantage of the referral deal. If you do not know about the referral deal, it goes like this: you ask someone with an ING account to refer you, you open a savings account with $250 and then leave it there for 3 months and get $25 cash. Ten percent return without any risk, who could hate that?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Higher Education Deductions

When I posted about credits for higher education I was asked about deductions for high education and decided to put a full post about it. The sad part I have to start with is that the tuition deduction is temporary: 2011 is scheduled to be the last year that taxpayers can take this deduction. However under most cases the credits are more helpful. You would only use the deduction when you have already maxed out the credit, say you have multiple students in one household or you AGI exceeds the requirements for the credit. The maximum AGI you can have for the deduction is $160,000 if married filing a joint return or $80,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er).

It has the same limitations as the credit, can't be used for living expenses, may not be used if you are paying from a 529 or using a scholarship etc. See the credit's article for all the limitations. However, the deduction is extremely clear on one point, books or supplies bought from the college are deductible, books and supplies, even if required, bought from another source are not. This means if you buy your books online you may not deduct the cost of them via this deduction.

If married filing a joint return and your AGI is under $130,000 you can deduct up to a max of $4000, between $130,000 and $160,000 the max is $2000. If single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) and your AGI is $65,000 or less you can deduct up to a max of $4000, between $65,000 and $80,000 the max is $2000.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Carnival of Personal Finance #317 – The Harry Potter Edition

My post on how to pay less interest on student loans without taking less students was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance- Harry Potter Edition. My first carnival and I am very excited. There are a ton of other articles at the carnival that I liked.


Head on over and check some of the articles out, my favorite is Are Rewards Cards Costing You Money? but How To Build a 6 Figure Income Dividend Portfolio with $600 per month is interesting though I do not have $600 per month to invest yet. I am about $200-$300 short of being able to invest that much. But it is good to have goals so I try to look towards the future and get ideas of what I might want to do.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A trick to pay less interest on student loans

When students get their financial aid package their aid is given to the students twice a year during the first few weeks of the semester. The aid often composes of grants and both unsubsidized and subsided student loans. But why would you take out the unsubsidized loans right away? You probably can pay for your classes with the subsidized loans and grants and then request the unsubsidized loans a month or two later once you actually need the money for living expenses. Keep in mind most dorms allow you to pay month to month or by semester, you can choose month to month and pay less interest. It normally takes about a month to get the loan so I would request it a month before you need it.

This is what I would do for this upcoming semester. First, check how much saving you have, determine what your month will be and how long your savings will cover you. Then request only the grants, work study and subsidized loans from the school. Use this until you are only have a month and half of expenses in your savings account, then request the unsubsidized loans. If you are able to work or do work-study you may be able to stretch the money out even farther. Given that you will be using up much of your saving during the first semester you probably will need to take the unsubsidized loan during spring, sooner. That is ok, but you will save a large portion for every day you push back taking the loan so try to push it back as far as you can, while not going so far that you do not have money for living.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan June

I averaged $48.08/week last month on groceries. That was below my weekly allowance for groceries and I am quite please with it. I even was able to spend lower then the amount I need to bring my year to date grocery spending closer to my annual goal.
I am now averaging $51.78/week. I am at exactly halfway though the year and I am $46.22 over my goal. I am still within budget but by achieving this goal I will have more money for savings and invest or even more fun. I think I can cut $46.22 from 26 weeks even with Christmas dinner. If I am to achieve my goal of $50/week, I will have to spend average less than $48.22/week for the rest of year. This is more then I spent last month, on average and I think I can do it.

Anyone have any advice for keeping my totals low while eating well?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Free Money from BondRewards

I just cashed in 50 bondreward dollars for twenty-five dollars cash. I signed up for bond rewards in August of 2009 and this is the first cash back I have received. It probably will take me longer to earn the next twenty-five dollars because when you start off there are surveys to do to get 14 bond reward dollars. Even so, it should not take more then about another year.

Bond Rewards is similar to ebates and upromise except they send you emails that are worth .05 bond reward dollars (or $.025 cash). I normally received about enough email to get .50-.60 bond reward dollars ($.25-.30 cash) a month. They just started allowing you to update your profile every six months for another 5 bond reward dollars ($2.50 cash).

In the entire time I have had bond rewards I have only used the cash back portion of the site twice. Normally ebates or upromise are better deals but bondrewards had a tire purchasing site that the other two do not and bondrewards does double cash back on different sites, this changes monthly. They do require you to make one purchase to get cash back but given that I will need tires again, I do not see that as a problem.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Another ING Deal

A few months back I opened a Roth IRA with $200 with ING Direct because they offered to add an additional $50 if I did. I received an email with an offer from them yesterday that if I opened a Roth IRA with $1000 they would give me $76. Because I already open one I cannot take advantage of the offer but my DH has not opened one with ING Direct so he can.

Just like the last ING deal, I am pulling the money for the deal out of my emergency fun (EF). However, unlike the last deal I am not sure when I will be able to pay it all back. I put away $420.90 every month, $400 from the rental and $20.90 from the 2% reduction in social security. However, the lease for our rental expires in September and it can take a few months to find another tenant. It is possible that our current tenants have not found a place they want to buy yet, but I like to assume the worse.

If I do not get a tenant by December I still will owe $74.60 to my EF. I hope to find a tenant, within a month or two but I am a new landlord so who knows what will happen. This also means that after next month my millionaire updates will probably be pretty boring and unchanging.

However, I will be making a 7.6% on my money before even putting it in the stock market, and its associated risk. Owing myself, not others, is a risk I am willing to take to make 7.6%.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Update on the millionaire goal-June

It is has been a disappointing month for investing in the stock market. Even with adding $220, I now have less money in my investment then I did last month. As of July 1 we have $9856. I am very disappointed, I feel like every time I reach for this goal it just pulls farther away from me.

We have decided, now that the disability insurance is paid for, to increase the amount we put towards our investments to $420.90. $400 of that comes from our rental and $20.90 comes from the two percent reduction in FICA. Over this year, as I work I will be increasing the amount we put towards our investments but since I only work part time I do not expect to increase the amount much more than a dollar or two per month.

I might be able to reach $10,000 next month, if the market does not drop more than 3%, but it seems like the stock market is not work with me lately.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Combining deals

I have mentioned on here using cash back sites like ebates, using cash back credit cards and buying gift cards on discount but I just discovered I could use all three and save more.

Mr. Rebates is a cash back site, I have used it occasionally but it is not my favorite. When I found out about it, you had to request a check and it did not seem to be anything special. I stuck to ebates and upromise and have since added on bond rewards. A few weeks ago though I wondered if any of my websites that I use to buy discounted gift cards were on the cash back sites. I looked at my normal sites and the answer was no. However, I happened to get an email that day from Mr. Rebates and thought I would check there as well. It just so happens that Mr. Rebates gives 1% cash back for cardpool. Cardpool is my favorite site to buy discount gift cards from because they accept american express and my american express gives me 2% back into my 529.

Now if I combine all these, the gift cards, the cash site, the cash back credit card, I can save some serious money. Now, I rarely find gift cards for groceries or gas but I always find gift cards for petsmart. I spend $62/month on prescription cat food and litter for cat. That is over three percent of my monthly expenses and that don't even count that we have to have him seen once a year to keep his prescription. So over a year I spend $744 at petsmart, if I buy the gift cards at cardpool I'd only spend $677 a year. But if I just make one extra stop at Mr. Rebates first I get back another $6.77, plus if I use my american express I get another $13.54 back. By using all of these deals together I save $87.31/year, over a 11% savings plus I bring my cat spending down to less than 3% of my monthly budget.

You can't buy gift cards for everything, nor can you use cash back sites or credit cards for everything but when you can, why not combine them to spend the least you have to, to get you want?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tax Credits for Education

Their are two different tax credits available for those who pay tuition for higher education. They are the American opportunity tax credit (valid during 2009 and 2010) and Lifetime learning credit.

The American opportunity tax credit is for the first four years of school. It replaces the Hope credit for 2009 and 2010. The Hope credit is only for the first two years. The full credit of $2500 is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less, or $160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. These income limits are higher than under the existing Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits. American opportunity tax credit (AOTC) includes expenses for course-related books, supplies and equipment which are not necessarily paid to the educational institution but the Hope credit and the Lifetime learning credit only allows tuition and fees charged by the college, therefore books would not be allowed. The following expenses do not qualify for tax credits: room and board, transportation, insurance, medical expenses, student fees except if they are a condition of enrollment or attendance, expenses paid with non-taxable funds or tax-free educational assistance or the same expenses used for any other tax deduction, credit or educational benefit. Taxpayers will receive a tax credit based on 100 percent of the first $2,000 of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year, plus 25 percent of the next $2,000 of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year.

Lifetime learning credit can be used for graduate classes, or when the AOTC expires, during the last two years of undergraduate education. Unlike the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit is calculated on a per family, rather than a per student, basis. Therefore, the maximum available credit does not vary with the number of students. Either the parent or the child, but not both, may claim the credit for the child's expenses in a particular year. If an individual claims the child as a dependent on his/her Federal income tax return for the year, only the individual may claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for the child's qualified tuition and related expenses. If no one claims the child as a dependent on a Federal income tax return for the year, only the child may claim the Lifetime Learning Credit for the child's expenses. Remember, if you are a dependent your parents must pay the tuition bill to get the tax credit. This means that a scholarship or student loan cannot pay for the tuition, if your parents or you want to take the tax credit. The person getting the tax credit must pay for the tuition. If you are not a dependent then the student loan, but not a scholarship, can pay for the tuition bill. The credit is equal to 20 percent of the taxpayer's out-of-pocket expenses up to a maximum of $10,000 in expenses. Thus, the maximum Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) a taxpayer may claim is $2,000. The maximum credit does not change even if the taxpayer is claiming a credit for the expenses of more than one student in the family. A way to get around this is to use the AOTC and the LLC together or the LLC and the tuition deduction.

Also, you can use the grants,student loans, scholarships and money from a 529 to pay for the expenses not covered by the credit. For example, if you are taking the LLC, pay for your books plus transportation and living expenses from the student loans, grants etc. but if you were using the AOTC make sure to use your own money for the books and use the grant, 529 etc. on such things as transportation and living expenses.

By being careful and planning, you can minimize the cost of school. This may mean planning where and from who the money comes from but it can be done.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


My first semester at college I spent $700 on textbooks, some used and some new from the on-campus bookstore. My last semester at college I spent $300, some used and some new but I bought online and from private sellers. A savings of $400 per semester adds up to $3200 over the four years at college.

When I started trying to save money on books, I started by buying online at barnes and noble. Going to barnes and noble through upromise gave me three percent back on my purchases as well. This cut my costs down to $500 per semester and I thought I was doing well.

Then my last year rolled around and my DH and I started dating. He was even better than me at finding deals on textbooks. That year I checked half.com, amazon, textbooks.com, abebooks.com and campusbooks4less.com. Not one site had all my books for the best price but by checking them all I found all my books for cheap. If I had known about these sites at the beginning of college I would have been able to save more or work less.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Credit Scores

When you first become an adult, you do not have a credit score because you have no debt. A credit score is how well you handle debt. You may be thinking, well then I do not need a credit score. But how would you buy a house, in the future? Also, many employers have started running credit reports as have insurance companies. So how do you get a credit score without debt?

Sadly, the easiest way has been stopped. It used to be, you got a student credit card when you started college and then a few years later graduated to a regular credit card. As of 2009, you can no long do that, because of the credit card act of 2009. That act does not allow for students to get a credit card without their parents co-signing or having a job with a sufficient income until they are 21. No one, not even the credit card issuers seem to know what a sufficient income is unless you have a full time job.

You could get a secured credit card, but often those have annual fees and you should rarely pay for a credit card. You could ask your parents to add you as an authorized user, if they have great credit but how would you know what their credit score is? If you ask your parents to allow you to be an authorize user, let them know you will no be charging on the card, and you would prefer them to keep the card. Many students rack up large amounts of debt, and it would be unfair of you to do that to your parents.

If you parents are unable or unwilling to take the risk of co-signing, you still have options. If you take out student loans, as you repay them, you will earn a credit score. If you do not need to take out student loan, either because of grants or your parents are nicely paying for school, you would need to wait until you turn 21 to get a student credit card. This means you may not have as high of a credit score when you graduate as with the other options but it should be high enough if you pay on time and in full.

The most used credit score, FICO, ranges from 350-850. FICO uses payment history, the ratio of credit card balances to the total available credit limit, the length of credit history, types of credit used and how many time you request more credit cards or loans. Let's take each part separately, to have a positive payment history, you must pay on time. This also keeps you from getting late payment fees so avoid making late payment at all costs. The ratio of available credit is only referencing rotating debt, like credit cards. To get a favorable position here, do not use more than 10-30% of your credit card available credit. FICO likes seeing both installment debt, like student loans and credit card usage but you can get a very high FICO score without installment loans. Every time you request a new credit card or installment loan, you will get dinged on your credit score, so avoid getting too many credit cards or loans. To get the best rates you need a credit score of 760 or higher except for mortgage loans which you can have as low as 720 and still get the best advertized rate. You do not need to check your credit score though you should check your credit reports once a years to make sure they are accurate.

Once you graduated and been earning an income for about a year, you should start looking at reward cards. My favorite are cash back rewards, such as FIA card services with 1.5%-2% cash back or discover cash back. I have had trouble finding a good Visa or MasterCard cash back credit card but I am still looking.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Saving money while eating out

We all know that eating at home is cheaper than eating out but sometimes you just want to go out to eat. What can you do to make eating out not eat up all your money? All it takes is a little planning.

You can get coupons from daily deal sites such as groupon or living social or you could buy discounted gift certificates on restaurant.com. You could also buy gift cards for your favorite chain restaurants on plastic jungle.

Both daily deal sites and restaurant.com allow you to buy a gift certificate for less than the amount you will spend but restaurant.com does require you to spend anywhere from ten to twenty dollars more than the gift certificate plus tax and tip. The website will let you know how much you need to spend and any restrictions. Some common restrictions are the higher price gift certificates only being useable at dinner or cheaper ones only useable at lunch. Daily deals are cheaper but normally you can only buy one per person and the choices are not stable.

If none of the restaurants from those sites appeal to you, I would recommend checking out plastic jungle. You won't get a good of a discount as the other sites but could save about seven to ten percent. Hey, that takes care of tax. You can also not buy alcohol, honestly just drinking water will save a large percent. Also keep in mind that most meals at restaurants are much bigger than you should be eating, put half or so aside for your next meal or split a meal.

By using these tricks you can go out for anywhere from 50%-90% cheaper than you would expect. And that means you can go out more often. Remember to check upromise and ebates before purchasing any of the gift certificates so you can get cash back on your eating out purchase. Right now upromise is giving 15% back on restaurant.com purchases.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to decide if you should buy or rent as a student

Depending on the area it may be cheaper to buy a place versus rent for four year while in college, or while in grad school for five. Given that my DH and I bought a duplex you might think I am very pro-buying while a student is in school but it really depends on many factors.

First can you afford it? Buying a property requires a down payment, closing costs and emergency fund plus money for all the little expenses like lawn mowers, snow plows and even a washer and dryer. Most students do not have the money for all the upfront costs, even most graduate students may not have the money. Where would you get the money? Your parents?

That brings up the second point, especially if you are an undergraduate. Will your parents go along with the idea of buying a property? If so, who owns the property? If your parents are paying all the bills obviously they own it but to get owner occupied rates the person occupying it must be on the mortgage. How will you work that? That will affect your credit score and will affect if you can get loans later in life.

Also, at eighteen do you even have a credit score? Could you even get a mortgage even with your parents co-signing? You probably could but the interest rate may be a little higher than a rate your parents could get. This also means your parents need a good credit score and not much debt. Do you think your parents would qualify?

Then you must think, will you have the time to take care of the property, find tenants/roommates if you need them etc? I know that if my DH and I were not together neither of us could have bought the rental by ourselves. It was too much work and needed many different skills.

Then you need to check if the mortgage plus repairs will be lower than renting. You cannot be sure that housing will appreciate or even that it won't depreciate by the time you are done with school. You need to look at the costs of renting out the property when you leave. This means adding up all the monthly expenses plus repair and seeing if renting the place would cause you to break even if you only got rent for ten months out the year.

Now if every point work out, then maybe, just maybe, you would financial better off buying instead of renting but if even one of these does not work, don't buy. It won't help you, it will hurt you. Renting isn't a bad thing. My DH and I plan to rent while he is working a post-doctoral fellow because the time we will be in the area is so short. What each person needs to do is see what works best for them in their own situation.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What does college classes and saving for retirement have in common?

They both require a plan. If you have plan you will achieve both goals quicker. If you have no plan, you may fail. But when you are young, in college, so much can change in five years how can you have a plan for the next forty? A plan does not have to be set in stone nor extremely specific, it can be a general outline for your life and it can change as your life does. You just need to know what you want. For example, I have a wants list that I add to as I find items I want, as time passes I put money aside for those wants and either decide I no longer want that item or am able to buy it.

It is recommended that you save at least 10% of your income towards retirement as a minimum though some say women need to save 15% because we live longer. You may not think retirement is important but what if you get sick and cannot work? Wouldn't you like to be able to say enough is enough and stop working if you need to? Being able to retire does not mean you must retire just that you have the freedom to. Having a plan for getting though college does not mean that you cannot change the plan and take another path.

So let's make a plan for retirement. Can you start saving 10-15% of your income?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan May

I did badly this month, even with being gone for a week. I spent 239.41 during the month of May. This averaged out to be $59.86 per week. Part the reason for this is we had to buy more perishables when we got back from our honeymoon and we also we found a great deal on sodas and stockpiled enough for the next three months.

I am now averaging $52.45/week. If I am to achieve my goal of $50/week, I will have to spend average less than $48.20/week for the rest of year. Given the increases in cost at grocery store and the decreasing of deal I am not sure I will be able to achieve my goal. I will still try for the rest of the year but plan to increase my goal next year to $55/week, unless something changes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Citibank's credit cards were hacked

As I was reading some of my favorite blogs I came across an article about hackers hacking into citibanks and stealing credit card numbers, emails and names of cardholders. If you have a citibank credit card, like I do, please go read this article and check your credit card purchases online. If you get an email from "citibank" about your credit card do not follow the link.


Frugal Food

When I moved out on my own, I could not cook. Well, I could not cook most things. I remember one night trying to make dinner and getting so confused I called a friend's parent and had her walk me through how to cook whatever I was cooking though I do not remember what it was. I have gotten much better now and also have bought a crockpot which helps a lot. I have learned to watch sales and stockpile but it is just a fact of life that certain types foods will be cheaper than other types. For example ground beef is cheaper than steak but I can get a good deal on both. Since I am trying to say money on food I am going to start pricing out some of my favorite frugal recipes and posting it. Today's is crockpot chili.

ground beef or turkey-$1.99/lb using one pound
can of black beans .69/can
can of kidney beans .69/can
taco or chili powder depending on the size it would be at max .79/each
tomato soup .69/can use two

Brown the meat, then throw everything in the crockpot and leave on low for 8 hours.
You now have about 4-6 servings of chili for $5.54, about one dollar a serving. If you can afford or want to, you can add cheese and/or sour cream once it is in bowls. Adding that might increase the cost to $1.50 per serving.

Now I hate eating the same thing day after day so I understand if you are sitting there going but I am not eating 4 meals of chili in a row. I would not do it either. What I do is put half in the freezer for a later date and eat one bowl of chili and then the next meal we cut up a potato, fry it in vegetable oil and pour the chili over it and make chili fries. I may spend a little more on the vegetable oil and the potato but not much (maybe another .50) and it makes me willing to eat the leftovers.

Some people may say that these are not health meal because there are no fruits or vegetables in them. You could add in some frozen corn to the chili or stewed tomatoes but I found I did not like it that way. Some people might add some vegetables on the side but for me, I am ok with an occasional cheap meal that does not have everything in it. We can't always be good.

Anyone else who has a great frugal meal, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Financial Website

I received from daily worth about a new FREE website https://www.gosimplifi.com. This site is similar to mint.com or quicken that you add your assets and liabilities but it does not ask for your passwords and you can update it as much or as little as you like. I just spent about thirty minutes adding all my information and it had pretty simple directions though a few confusing parts.

I think their budget part of their website is bad and will not use it but the net worth part was great. I ended up having a higher net worth than I thought and it forced me to write down and think clearly about my current goals. I normally write my budget and net worth in excel and it is fine but this site help remind you and gives you advice. Not all of the advice is useful and the site even admits this, but all of it is worth considering. I would very much recommend this site for almost anyone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yakezie Challenge

I am joining the Yakezie challenge, thanks partly to a kick in the butt from the saved quarter at http://thesavedquarter.com/. I have been working on improving my blog for the last couple months and except for my wedding/honeymoon I have averaged at least two blogs per week which is one of Yakezie's requirements.

One of the main focuses on this blog is choices. The choices we chose between may both good, both bad or one of each but they are still choices and we need to choose what path we take. This point is especially important to young adults whose choices will influence the rest of their lives which hopefully will be a long time.

My path has taken me places I would never have expected, and I expect to have some more twists and turns along the way. Because of joining yakezie I will be highlighting some of my favorite blogs and authors that have make a difference in my financial, and sometimes personal life.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Prices are going up

And deals are going down. As I look for deals I my grocery stores I am finding many less stockupables and higher overall prices. I am trying to get my average weekly spending at the grocery store down to $50 yet the last two weeks have both been over $65. I have been finding less coupons for what I need or want and my stockpile is shrinking. There are even fewer extra buck deals at CVS than there used to be. It is frustrating and I almost feel like I have no choice but to just spend more money. But if I did that where would the money come from? I would have to take it from my savings and I do not like that plan.

My car insurance has already been increased and even with cutting some coverage I cannot find insurance for the price I used to pay. I could cut the coverage even lower but I am not comfortable with doing that. And of course, the difference is coming out of my savings. However, the choice to not increase coverage is mine, I could choose differently. Even when we only have two bad choices we still have to make the choice.

I may feel like I have cut all my expenses to the bone but when it gets tough, the tough relook at everything. I may have to make choices I dislike but those choices are still mine. Part of what I am doing is changing my main store from wegmans to price rite. I may prefer wegmans but pricerite on average is cheaper. This should save me some money though not the amount I need it to. What else can I do to get my budget where I need it? I am going to work on increasing my coupon usage and try to check the coupon sites more than I do now. Other than that all I can think of is to cut back some of the treats we get. However those treats make food fun and keep us from eating out more than we should. It is a balancing act and can be hard. I am going to continue looking for another solution for now but may soon have to make the hard choices.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Update on the millionaire goal- May

Well it looks like the market did not cooperate with us last month. As of May 1, 2011 we have $9894 in retirement savings. We ended up putting $298 into my DH's Roth IRA's because he is rolling over his Roth IRA from T Rowe Price to Fidelity and the rollover did not complete before the scheduled deposit to T Rowe Price.

We do have the cash to deposit the almost three hundred without removing money from emergency fund now that the wedding is over so that is not a problem but it is not fun putting in almost three hundred dollars yet the accounts only raising by one hundred and fourteen dollars over May because of a drop in the markets. I did feel like just adding the extra one hundred and six just so I could reach ten thousand but decided against it. I felt like that would be dishonest because the one hundred and fourteen would be a May contribution not April one. Well, that is life when you invest in the market, there are ups and down. Hopefully we will reach and surpass the $10,000 mark this month. Unless it drops more than one hundred and five we will reach our minigoal but as this month and the recession has shown, it can drop more than ten percent.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to Save Money While Flying

Flying is just getting more and more expensive, but what can you do if you need to travel far? Personally I have found southwest and jetblue to be the cheapest for airfare but still check Kayak.com just in case there is a great deal. Sign up for southwest and jetblue tweets and check them before booking, because a lot of those deals cannot be beat. Before deciding on what flight to go on, check for baggage fees. It may be cheap to ship your bag via fedex/ups/usps or go with the slightly more expensive airline that has free check baggage. Both southwest and jet blue have free check baggage (jet blue allows one free bag, southwest two). Other airline, like Hawaiian, may charge for the bags, however they may allows you to check in online and pay less.

Once you have found the cheapest rates for flying are there still other ways to save money? Sure, there are. You can bring a empty water bottle or travel mug so you can refill it with water once you are inside the security check point. You should also bring snacks like fruit or granola bars to snack on and avoid paying the crazy prices at the airport. Bring a book or ebook to read so you do not get tempted to buy anything at the shops. My DH and I did that but I read all the books I brought during the flights to San Jose and to Hawaii. However, we happened upon a used book store in Hawaii and bought a couple more for the trips back to San Jose and on to Buffalo.

If you are flexible let the gate attendants know they can bump you and you can get credit towards a latter flight. They may also give you food credit or a night at a hotel room depending on the wait for another flight. This does not always work, it worked once for us but the last three times I have asked, it has not worked. Do not rely on it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Frugal Movie Watching

During the summer some of the best movies come out, yet at ten dollars per ticket, how can people afford to go? My DH and I afford it by finding the cheaper theaters (here AMC Theaters is cheaper than Regal Theaters), by going at the matinee time and by buying AMC gift cards online for a discount.

On plastic jungle AMC gift cards are 18% off so we were able to get a twenty-five dollar gift card for twenty dollars and fifty cents. You may be thinking all right, you saved four dollars, big deal. First, that four dollars can add up quickly over time and second I am not done yet. My DH and I go to matinee movies at AMC for four fifty per person instead of regular priced movies for nine dollars or going to Regal for nine dollars and fifty cents. We do splurge and get popcorn at the theater, though.

Let's add it up then, shall we? Normally tickets cost nine to nine fifty a person, so eighteen to nineteen dollars for my DH and I plus popcorn at seven dollars for a medium adding up to twenty five to twenty six dollars. By using the matinee at AMC and getting the gift card we only spend thirteen dollars and twelve cents. That is a savings of almost fifty percent and we get the same movie experience.

Being frugal is not about giving up your fun but finding the best way, financially, to have that fun.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Frugal and Busy Summer has Begun

Summer has just started and I am sure I will not be bored this summer. There is so much to do, both fun and work to do. A ton of fun movies, such as Thor have come out and will come out this summer, the yard sale season is just starting, I can actually work in my garden after some false starts and most importantly I can workout outside again.

I have decided to get in shape this summer, without spending any money, let's see how well I can do. I will be posting every week on how well I did, to keep myself on track. My goal is to stop gaining weight and get some muscle back in both my arms and legs. I stopped working out consistently after I hurt my neck a few years back and have wanted to get back into it, without hurting myself, for a long time.

I am going through our Stuff this week and deciding what to sell at our yard-sale next weekend, if the weather is nice. Because of some lovely gifts from our wedding we have upgraded our stuff and can get rid of some "college" stuff. Most of the stuff we are selling will be Stuff we either no longer use, like some books or some Stuff we have upgraded.

We are going to have some serious time in our garden, leaving for two weeks had allowed the weeds to take over. The only things already planted and living are two blackberry bushes and the apple tree, I have managed the kill two basil plants this year, for some reason.

We do plan to do some repairs around the house as well, like painting the stairway, and the bathroom as well as some other minor stuff. I do not expect that to cost too much, but I have learned that repairs normally cost more then is planned.

We are using discount giftcards bought from plastic jungle and cardpool for any expenses this summer that we can for example home depot and amc theaters gift cards, which should save us 5-10% on those purchases. All in all, I think this summer will be crazy busy, frugal and fun.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Plan for Emergencies

Depending on where you are at life, an emergency may have a different definition. As a student it may be student loans not coming through or parents not paying the amount they said they would. To some students a job lose is not an emergency because student loans and/or parents are paying for their expenses. However, some students are working and going to school and may rely on their wage, I know I did. But when I was working outside the school loosing my job did not affect my schooling and vise versa. For my fiance who had a scholarship in undergraduate and a fellowship now school and income are intertwined. That makes emergencies a different beast. It does mean he has a more secure job but if something goes wrong it will be worse for him than it was for me. Both now and then I had an emergency fund but honestly it does not feel like enough. Do you really want to worry about the money slipping through yours fingers when you are trying to find another job? What happens when multiple emergencies happen? It just eats away at the emergency fund and your three months of savings is now a month. I do not think house repair, car repair or any replacement funds should be included in your EF. They should have their own fund. My EF is for loss of income, nothing else. This way if you need to replace a car battery when unemployed your EF will not be drained down.

Even as a student, people should have multiple streams of income. Maybe it will be scholarship and work or maybe you would consider student loans in that mix but never rely on one stream. I think this is going to be the biggest change about our generation compared to the previous generation. We know our jobs are not stable so we will have more than one income source. By having more than one income source, if one disappears it is not as life changing.

However, as you start out you will have one main source of income and you will need something to rely on when that source fails. Note, I did not say if, I said when. There is no stable income, state and federal employees were taking furloughs and private sector employees get laid off all the time. So what can you do?

Personally, I am working on getting my alternative sources of income up. When we purchased our home, we bought a duplex. We looked at duplexes where the rent would cover our mortgage, property taxes and insurance. Now that we have a renter, even if my fiance looses his job our home is secure. But what about everything else, food, clothes and most importantly health insurance? Do you know how much you (or your parents) are paying for health insurance? Does that amount cover the full cost or just a part?

When I aged out of my mother's insurance I could not find any health insurance that would cover me, even with a huge deductible. I had to COBRA my mother's health insurance at over $500 per month. On the other hand, my fiance was able to get a high deductible plan for under $150 per month. Now to COBRA our current coverage it would be almost $600 for both of us. This cost must be added into your emergency plan because you cannot guarantee that you can find health insurance other than COBRAing your current health insurance.

So at this point if I lost all income I would need $2147 per month, if I cut away the fat from my budget. For a minimum emergency fund I would need $6441 (3 months). Because my tenants could leave at the same time that my fiance loses his job I keep my EF at least this high. However, that extra $525 a month could help stretch my EF to almost 4 months. I personally would not be comfortable with such a small EF without the extra income and his very secure job. He has a contract with his PI (primary investigator) as well as the department and the college.

Also, I work as a server, it took me less than two months to find a job, maybe not exactly what I wanted but one advantage to a low skill job is it is easy to find another. We do not count my income in our budget, last year it went towards the wedding and this year I am taking classes so may not have the time to work. In addition we have two extra rooms we could rent out, though we do not want to. The best time to rent room is August (for students) or April/May for summer school. We do not depend on that in our EF planning though it is an option.

What else can we do as part of our EF plan? I am looking into mystery shopping for when I am not taking classes. We are saving like crazy for our next move in three years. We have a car fund, a house fund and a replacement fund. Those funds should deal with any minor "emergencies" so we can work on a plan for the major ones. We are going to buy another duplex but that will probably be some time from now. I have started being an occasional research subject at the university for a little extra money for our EF. We also plant a garden to stretch our food budget, this will help if we cannot afford groceries. At some point I hope to also get some income from the blog but that has not happened yet. Anyone else have ideas for other sources of income?

For students time is the greatest hurdle in making multiple streams of income. Students need flexible jobs that allow time for studying and classes. I found that combining serving with an on-campus job was the best. Over the summer is the best time to juggle multiple streams on income and make the most income. You will notice an increase in my work on this blog during the summer as well. I do have one guest post coming out in June and will be trying to get another guest post for both July and August. Work will pay for my classes next semester, the other streams will add to my EF as well as my retirement fund.

Life Gets in the Way of Blogging, in a Good Way

I am now a married woman, my DH and I went back to California for our wedding and then on to Hawaii for a cruise. It was lovely and a big thanks to my mom for all her help but it is now time to get to real life. Time to change beneficiaries on our investments, finish my DH's disability insurance paperwork, and get back to the frugal lifestyle. I admit we splurged a lot in Hawaii but it is a memory I will have forever. Also, part of the reason for being frugal is so that we can splurge on things/events important to use and our wedding and honeymoon were very important to us.

We are planting the garden this weekend, and getting back to work tomorrow. We have a list of chores to do around the house, just like normal. I do wonder if I will feel different as a wife but at least now it just seems like life.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Frugal Weakness

My biggest weakness is food. It is funny when I was young I could care less about what I ate. I would either eat or not, I did not care. Now, I want to eat well and I even want to eat healthy food. We spend almost double at the grocery store compared to last year but we do not want to go back. Back then, we had enough food for the week and that was it. If something went wrong, we had nothing. We ate badly, for example, I do not think I had a piece of fruit for six month.

Now we eat salad on average of two nights a week and eat at least a piece of fruit a day. We also eat more expensive "treat" dinners. And this is where the problem occurs. When a dinner costs ten dollars, it does not matter if it is at home or at a restaurant, it is going to kill your budget, if it is done too much. But those are the dinners we like the most. What can we do to enjoy our meals without paying the price?

We have shopped sales, used coupons and even had a small garden last year, what more can we do? I have decided eating health is more important than saving money but I would like both. If I do not buy enough food at home that I like, I normally end up going out to eat and that adds up as well. So I am still struggling with this, and may be for some time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Update on grocery savings plan April

My average for April was $43.23 per week and am down to $50.80 per week for the year. If I get my average down to $50 versus the $50.80 I will save an additional $41.60.
I am doing better than I expected but I was out of town for a week and that did help. Doing so well this month means I only have to keep my budget below $49.50 per week to reach my goal of spending less then $50 on average per week. That is more than I thought I we be able to spend, coming off March.

However, I did not start my garden because of a late snowfall. I will be starting this weekend. I did grab a basil plant and eating fresh basil has been lovely. We need to plant lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, red onions and jalapenos. I cannot wait till the apple tree and blackberry bushes start giving off fruit. We consider the garden expenses part of our food budget so that may increase our expenses this month we expect to save some money by gardening.

I am swinging by the WIR grocery hounds a little more than I used to, especially with Wegmans deciding to only change their sales every other week. This means I do not have to check the blogs for Wegmans except every other week. This will save me some time but I wonder if it will end up costing me some money. Tops Market has not had many deals in the last two weeks but the two weeks prior it had quite a few. The ebb and flow of deals is to be expected and that is why I stockpile when I can.

By reaching out to others this lifestyle change is easier than I thought it would be. We still struggle with this change but it is not as hard as I thought it would be.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Term Life Insurance

There are two types of life insurance, term or whole. For most people term insurance is the way to go. The only exceptions come about when you are bringing in a lot of income and have maxed out your 401k and IRAs. But for young people, I do not think any of us are in that boat so I am going to focus on term life insurance. Term life insurance is misnamed, it should be named income replacement insurance.

Term life insurance comes in different amounts of money ($100,000 to $1,000,000) and for different terms (10-30 years). The cost starts lowest for the lowest term and amount of money and increases as you increase either variable. The benefit for getting the longest term is the rate won't increase for that term.

Often people can get a small amount of life insurance through their employer for free and larger amounts for pennies on the dollar. My employer gave $20,000 for free and an extra $1000 for every .10/week. This means $5.20 for every $1000 extra you would want per year. However, I did not take advantage of any extra life insurance through my job. You may be asking, why? My fiance and I both work, we live on my fiance's income (the higher salary) and bank both mine and the rental income. Given that term life insurance is suppose to replace the income of the provider I do not need any. We could hypothetically self-insure for my burial if my work did not provide the $20,000 free life insurance.

Now in my fiance's case, I am dependent on his income so he should have life insurance. On the other hand, I do have both my job and the rental, so I could survive without his income, though it would be tight. This would change if I got pregnant or started graduate school. We also determined that after graduate school my fiance likely would have life insurance through his job and therefore we would not need a long term. Considering all of this,if we chose to get life insurance, we would choose the ten year term and probably the lowest amount that we could get ($100,000).

While we were checking out disability insurance we checked out term life insurance for both my fiance and me. The cost would be between $100-$150 per year for either of us. We could get life insurance for both of us, and disability for just $50 more than I expected to pay just for disability. Though that is amazing I do think we will wait until we need the insurance and for now just add more money to our Roth IRAs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Update on the millionaire goal- April

As of May 1, 2011 I have $9780 in my investment account. I am $220 short of having $10,000, my first step in my millionaire goal. This month I will be depositing $219.75 into Fidelity. This income will come from our rental, $200 and the 2% reduction in social security $19.75. I am considering just putting in the extra twenty five cents just to hit the $220 and reach $10,000 this month.
The remain $50 (or 49.75) I will now be putting towards my fiance's disability insurance payment. It looks like we will have the disability insurance paperwork finished by the end of the month and we will have a new annual bill of $360. We will begin to look for life insurance in a few months.

It looks like I should have $10,000 (if the markets cooperate)by May or June of this year. I plan to increase the amount going to the IRAs once we save enough for the disability insurance and life insurance. This should be in two months, July of 2011.

My next minigoal will then be $25,000 where I can stop investing in target date funds and diversify myself using mutual funds. It looks like I will be able reach that goal in three to four years once we increase the amount going to the IRA.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Disability Insurance

Everyone who has a job and needs the income should have disability insurance, but it can be very expensive. Disability insurance pays about 60% of your wage if you are injured and cannot work. Some pay only if you are unable to work any job, other will pay if you cannot work in your current position. The real kicker is that if you buy disability insurance not through your employer it costs about two to three percent of your salary. Now if you are like me, you are sitting there going "ouch". I'm suppose to save 10-20% of my salary, now you saw I have to give up another 2-3% for disability insurance? And we are not even counting in taxes here.

But disability insurance is important and worth the cost. What are you going to do if you can't work? What can you do if your job requires you to talk and you have lost your voice? Or what about loosing a hand? Do you think you could do your current job if you lost a body part or were in a wheelchair? The only benefit on buying disability insurance not through your employer is it is not taxable earnings but if your buy disability insurance pretax, through your employer, it will be taxable earnings.

My fiance and I have been looking for disability insurance for him for a few months but again, it is very expensive. We could only find disability insurance costing 3% of his salary. We had decided to wait to the wedding and then just bite the bullet and get it. A month ago we were at a home show and MetLife had a booth there. Since I am an eternal optimist, I thought lets see if they have a lower price. We just finished the paperwork and MetLife gave a quote that is under 2% of his salary. What seemed to make a difference with them is that my fiance is a researcher and paid by the government and that is something MetLife considers. Also, his lifestyle and job are not risky and I believe someone with a risky lifestyle would pay more. With that combination MetLife made us an amazing offer. I honestly was shocked on how low the price was. We went home and I read over every little bit of the paperwork and it seems legitimate.

Side note, I make no money off this post.

Because of the savings, my fiance and I are now able to afford life insurance as well and may also be able to put more into our retirement accounts.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reminder-Lack of Coupons

Because of Easter Sunday there should be no coupons this Sunday. For some reason on holidays newspapers do not include coupons. I do not understand why coupons are not included but they are not. You can get online coupons through mypoints at http://www.mypoints.com/emp/u/centers/couponCenter.vm, also when you use the coupons on mypoint you will earn 10 points per coupon.

It does appear that next Sunday, May 1st, 2011, should have double the amount of coupons that we normally get.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cash Payments, ER and Getting a Discount by Just Asking

A month ago I had to work a very early shift at work, starting at 6:30 in the morning and we were not able to get lunch until 12:30. Now, to some that may not be a big deal but I eat every three to four hours so by six hours I was not feeling well. I went down to eat and yet I did not start feeling any better. I went back to work and then just started shaking and was afraid I would fall.

Now you may be wondering, what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, my boss told me to go to the emergency room but I told I could not afford it (my copay is $200) and she told me worker's comp would take care of it. After resting for a bit, I still felt bad but I did not think I needed to go but she insisted and I did not feel up to arguing. That was a mistake. My employer did not cover it because it was not an injury even though the doctor believes I started feeling sick based on not eating.

Now comes the kicker, because I did not tell my insurance (again, because I thought work would pay the bill) they would not cover it. The bill came to me and it was $275. I had always heard that hospital bills are negotiable but because I had amazing insurance I had no experience with it. I called the billing department and left a message and within a few days got a call lowering my bill $100 and allowing me to pay $10/month. Now I only owe $175 and because I will not be charged interest I have decided to take the entire 18 months to pay the bill off. I had some money put aside for health costs but had two other health bills so that fund is low. By calling and asking I will not have to dip into my EF or derail some of my other goals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Financial Independence

My definition of financial independence is enough income producing assets to pay my bills without having a job. Right now the net income I need is about $24,000 per year but that would increase if my fiance lost his job, because we get health insurance through his job. The additional cost of insurance would be about $500 per month so $6000 per year. This means my goal, at this time, is to get enough income producing assets to make $30,000 per year.

So far my investment income from 401ks, Roth IRAs, Traditional IRA and taxable accounts give me less than $300 per year. This assume about a three percent withdrawal which should last me indefinitely. My rental should bring me $525 per month, which is about $6300 per year at best, more likely to be about $5250 because of vacancies. Obviously I am no where near financially independent.

But what could make me financially independent? I could buy more duplexs/rentals or I could put more in my investment accounts, or I could pay down the debt we owe. I should do all of them, but I do not have the money currently to do so.

This is when one must decide what minigoal will help achieve the goal the best. In my case, we were looking at buying a second duplex but with my other, nonfinancial goals, that did not seem to be a good idea at this time. Paying down debt, at this time would not change my monthly payments for quite sometime therefore I decided against prepaying my loans. However, in the end getting rid of my debts will remove $4595.76 of expenses from my annual budget. This amounts to 15% of the budget. That is major and I think I should pay down the debt but I do not think it will be as immediately helpful as my other option. Therefore I will be putting more in my investment accounts. As of next month I will be increasing our contributions to our Roth IRAs. I am still deciding how much to increase by, but it will be increased by at least $150/month.