Image: www.drive.com.au

How I Took 1 Year Off My Retirement Goal By Selling My Car!

Searching for the One

During my education of financial independence I came across MrMoneyMustche’s advice to get a fuel efficient vehicle.  You can do a search for “car mpg” and find several articles on his website related to this.  For some reason I didn’t think this applied to me!  I have a 2011 Hyundai Sonata which is a very safe car, very reliable and sleek and sexy.  Plus I bought financed it brand new and paid off in 2 years so no car payment!  We rationalized all this because we were downsizing to one car.  I’m a freakin’ genuis right?!

You can give us credit for downsizing to 1 car but like most things in life shit changes and if you’re lucky you get a bit smarter as you get older.  In the two years +/- since buying that car, I changed my wicked, wicked financial ways to a strategically focused goal of FI by 39 or sooner.  I started doing research on what type of vehicle would fit the Mustaschian criterion of being 35+ mpg as well as something that would fit our lifestyle.  With our new-found love of biking and my husband’s music gear and baby refinerrs in the next 5 years (don’t tell my mom!) we decided on a 4-door hatchback.

Consumer Reports

I used my friend’s log in for consumer reports (CR) and started researching small hatchbacks.   I settled on 2 cars which were fit all criteria and were CR best picks: Honda Fit & Scion xD.  I spent a lot of time looking at which year to buy so I didn’t pay for depreciation, self maintaining and how to buy one, etc.  I read a few articles including the ones linked above and decided the 2009 Scion xD was easy for me to work on myself, 5 years old so almost fully depreciated and of course was already a CR best pick!

Negotiating

I created a document with all the websites I found helpful including but not limited to the following.  BTCS was a great find!  I set up a second email address and used it for email negotiating with dealers focusing on month and quarter ends to see if they’d be willing to lose a little money on a car to make their ME/QE goals.  No such luck though!

Before Edmunds True Market Value vs Kelly Blue Book.  KBB seems to be always higher and I found they dropped greatly in market value estimate about 1 month after I bought my car.  Perhaps because the 2015 models came out?  Either way they aren’t a true representation of what people will actually pay.  There were plenty of people who bought Scion xD’s at prices I wasn’t willing to pay because it’s a “popular” car.  Try to be patient and don’t forget people are stupid.  Also don’t be stupid…

  • Beat the car sales man
  • Edmunds true value vs KBB
  • Actual market demand

I found many 2009 Scion xDs selling for around $10k in the 8 months in searching.  There was which sold for $8k with low mileage but it sold within 2 hours and I was working – silly me.  I ended up getting the seller we ultimately purchased from down from $9900 to $8000 over a period of 2 – 3 weeks.  Their Scion was high in mileage at 99k but I saw many models around 150k+ plus it’s a Toyota so it should run forever.  I owned a Scion tC for 3 years back in college and loved it.  I knew that going for a high mileage car would give me the wiggle room I needed in price.  They were also moving at the end of the month so their deadline was to my advantage.  Recognize situations like this that can work in your favor!

 Inspecting

I searched the web and created a 7 page document of every section/part you could inspect on our car.  I also looked up pictures of what the engine looked like in good condition.  We did a 45 minute inspection while talking to the car sellers from windows, seats, radio, suspension (bounce check), engine, tires, body, brakes (during test drive) etc.

When doing this I noticed pink crusty residue on what was the water pump.  I was not familiar enough to know it was the water pump and so my mind didn’t go to thinking it was a leak.  Because I didn’t take it to a mechanic before purchasing we later found out the water pump needed to be replaced along with a minor leak in the control arms.  The control arms don’t need to be replaced but do need to be monitored so could be a replacement in the future.

The water pump was a large enough repair that I would have further negotiated another $400 off the selling price but could have gotten them down to $600 easy based on the extra repairs like adjusting the rear brakes, transmission flush (yes I was too lazy to do this myself), etc.

Learn from my mistake.  Take it to a mechanic or be ready for a possible large repair.  This is the nature of buying high mileage cars.  I did neither so I’m uneasy but trying to get over it.  Only time will tell if I made the right decision.  My goal is for this car to last another 50k with a stretch goal of 100k miles (5 – 10 years of use hopefully)!

Selling Your Old Car

Put an ad up on Craiglist list it’s free.  Also put an ad up on cars.com – also free.  Before I put up both ads I watched the market for other people selling my same make/model in the county to see what they were their asking and selling prices.  You can also check out KBB and Edmunds but depending on whether you look up as a seller or a buyer you can get 2 different estimates for the same car on the same website.  Either way doesn’t mean people will actually pay that estimate.

There weren’t a lot of options on Craigslist so I had a lot of interest but no one offered my asking price of $13,500.  I received several offers at $12,000 and kept it for sale over a month trying to get closer to my price.  I also put up an ad on Autotrader and paid $20 (after coupon).  I didn’t get any interest from the Autotrader ad.

Carmax

During the first week we had it for sale our car to Carmax to get an idea of what they’d pay.  The appraisal process took 30 minutes and was very easy and pleasant.  They offered $12,000.  I had received a cash offer of $12,500 a couple of days early so I immediately texted and told him we could do $13,000 if he purchased that weekend.  In the end he went back and forth with my and other vehicles wavering between increasing his offer and backing out.

Having 2 cars felt like a burden.  We didn’t drive the Sonata and even though there was ample parking with good visibility to potential buyers after a month I incurred added insurance, paid for a detailing and wasn’t getting any closer to my newly reduced asking price of $13,000.

Learn from my mistake.  Go to Carmax first to get an offer.  They sell at a premium because they take cars under dealership or manufacturer warranty (which mine was) and get everything repaired.  The also add insurance/guarantees into their price so you get a piece of that margin.  Even if you don’t end up selling to them their offer was very close to what private parties were offering.

If I could do it again I would have accepted the $12,500 cash offer on the spot.  Because I didn’t I ended up spending $165 on a detailing and another $67 on insurance and $20 on an Autotrader listing (I’ll get a refund because it didn’t sell in less than a month) just to end up selling it to Carmax.

Feed up Capital & Gas Savings

Hindsight being 20/20 and all I still met my goal of purchasing a car that will cut the amount of expense it generates.  Based on the calculator my annual gas savings is $571 per year!

gas

As mentioned above, my new car cost me $8,000 before repairs ($600) and excluding sales tax ($560) total = $9,160.  I sold my old car for $12,000 – $165 – $67 = $11,768.  By replacing my car, I reduced my retirement nest egg by $37,257 ($11,768 – $9.160 = $2,608 / 7%)!

Since I’ll invest the $2,608 then dividing it by 7% will give me the amount of principle I would need in my retirement fund to generate this income.  Add in the gas savings of $571 and I’ve further reduced my f-you fund by $8,157 for a total of over $45k!

Annually I contribute, at least, $35,000 (2 x $17,500 401k max contributions) and $6,000 (2 x Roth IRAs) for a total of $42,000.  With the reduction of over $45k from switching my car, I’ve essentially reduced my retirement horizon by 1 year!

Not too bad for my first time buying and selling a car!=)  Have you ever done this?  What went well and what would you change?!

Image: How Stella Got Her Grove Back

Find Your Groove – Establishing New, Awesome Habits to Get S* Done!

Bad Habits

I’ve established some very bad habits recently.  This isn’t the first post I’ve done about wanting to reboot myself and I’m safely assuming it won’t be the last.  Sometimes when you’re investing a lot of time into work you forget to keep your personal life balanced.  I started thinking about this yesterday and an article I came across today reinforced it.

With my father’s recent passing it’s easy to get a bit lost. Things are just weird – for lack of a more elegant term – but If there was any time for me to get back into good habits, stay positive and grateful for the time I have it’s definitely now.  Not just for myself but because it’s what my dad didn’t raise any “cream puffs” (one of many, many dad-isms along with “the hell you say?!”.

Changing a Habit – Getting up Early

I want to focus my one goal because I think it’ll be easier to accomplish.  Getting up early can lead to multiple side benefits so I’m going to start here.  Just Google “getting up early” and you’ll see the plethora of results telling you how great it is.  I know this isn’t for everyone, but when I had to force myself to get up early when I was in the middle of busy season and trying to get my CPA license.  It worked and I’ve been a believer ever since.

I’m a big fan of Zenhabits so when I Googled how to get up early and came across his article I was hooked.  I also found a couple good ones on Lifehacker and Wikihow.  Seems like there are 2 schools of thought:

1. Get up early 15 minutes at a time

2. Go for the whole enchilada

With either methodology, you’ve got to keep your wake up times consistent on the weekend a.k.a no sleeping in!  This is going to be a struggle – who doesn’t love sleeping in and being lazy on the weekends!  Well not this girl (…anymore)…  Refinerr 2.0 will be a super productive getting shit done machine!  Just check out this list:

  • Writing more for my blog
  • Running
  • Spend 15 minutes reading outside

I really liked one article that talked about jumping out of bed with great enthusiasm, ready to take on the world.  I’m going to do that!  I want to do all these things.  They are important to me and at the end of the day when I choose not to I just get an hour more sleep and a heap ton of guilt for not doing them.  Instead I could be chatting up the other awesome FI community members, learning a fancy new $20 word I can throw around at work and getting some sunshine in the process.  Best of all, running will keep me healthy, positive and is a very important outlet for my stress.  So with all good goals, I’ve got to make these SMART.

  • Wake up everyday including weekends at 5 am
  • Read outside for 15 minutes after yoga
  • Register for 10k before July 25th (best friend’s wedding!)
  • Running schedule – Mon/Wed/Fri
  • 10 minutes yoga – daily
  • Write for 30 minutes on off days from running (Tues/Thurs?)

I’m going to keep my progress updated so you can keep me accountable.

With all sad endings, you can choose to make it an opportunity for growth.  It’s not easy but I try to keep my father’s passing in mind as a chance he’s given me to be better.  I was able to write and say something at my dad’s funeral that I still want to be true so I posted it below.  Hopefully it will inspire you and if not, that’s cool too!=)

I’m not very comfortable in churches.  My atheism probably doesn’t help this.  My father was an atheist – until he was diagnosed with cancer.  My father always talked about his ashes being spread in the islands.  He wanted his body to be, where his heart had always been.  That too changed.

My father was a strong, adventurous man. And at the end, he was afraid.  He was afraid of leaving everything and everyone he loved.  He was afraid of dying.  This did not come from a place weakness.  He feared, so he could show me how to be strong for him.  He feared so he could show me how to be selfless.

We see fear as an enemy, to overcome or it will defeat us.  We are human beings in a world of constant change.In this chaos of change, we are afraid.  We fear failure, not being good enough, being alone and being judged.  We fear we’re not OK or our life isn’t good enough.  We fear being forgotten.

When you are afraid of these things, remember my father.Do not let your fears hold you back.  Be strong! Remember that he was afraid so you didn’t have to be.

This is the gift my father has left all of us.  Live a brave and epic life.  Make my father proud.  Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

save-money-pig

Who Says Girls Are Bad At Math? March Financial Review!

We set aggressive goals for 2014 (because why the hell not)?! Check out January and February if you haven’t yet.  Below is a download from our Mint.com account which I threw together along with commentary for your viewing pleasure of our second month’s budget to actual analysis!

 

2014-05-26_1950

We Made Our Budget!

You should see a few things right away:

  1. We should have increased our new house fund savings account to show the funds which aren’t going into our Roth IRA as we maxed out for the year last month
  2. We’ve went over budget for eating out which is not great for this month but mostly conflict with our health goals.  You can’t calculate the price down the road of eating poorly.
  3. We saw the first of many wedding expenses to come.  My best friend is getting married and I’m in the bridal party.  I’m glad I have the financial ability to celebrate this with her without having to stress about money!  She’s a very conscientious person so I know she’s keeping this in mind when planning.

We only budget for after tax regular paychecks excluding bonuses.  You should always budget for your worst case income scenario.  I’m maxing out my 401k for the first time EVER!  My husband has a way to go but he increased his by 5%!

Savings Rate

So we made our budget which means we’re closer to spending $36k per year but what did we put into our f-you fund?  This means we saved approximately 47% of our income after taxes (total savings $2.8k/$5.9k)!  This isn’t necessarily f-you fund money because it’s not going into our retirement but it will go towards a passive investment property (or a home which we’ll pay off unless the rate is extremely low) therefore reducing our needed living expenses.

Add this along with our 18% contribution to our Roth (husband is around 20%) and we’re at about 65% savings rate!  This blows my mind because I can show you months in 2013 where we only saved 20 – 30% of our money.  I’m not including the $200 total monthly HSA investment we pull before taxes or the maxed Roth IRAs for both of us!

Where’s your savings rate at?  How did your March finances turn out?

Happy budgeting!

Image: www.levo.com

Negotiate Your Credit Card Fee Like A Boss! The 5 Minute Trick I’ll Never Forget

Step 1: Prep Work

In any negotiation, you need to know your bottom line before starting.

You will need to be prepared for 1 of 2 outcomes – you either pay the annual fee OR you shut down your account.  Know which one you’re comfortable doing.  Remember, credit card companies hear this all the time so they aren’t interested in your bullshit.

I have 2 credit cards; one of which I’ll pay the annual fee and the other I’ll shut down without hesitation because I only opened it for a free plane tickets to Hawaii.  As of 30 minutes ago, I just did this exercise twice and got 2 very different outcomes but got what I wanted each time.

Make sure you know what winning looks like before you go in to battle!

Step 2: Don’t be a Dick

The person on the phone has to deal with irate people all day long.  Don’t add to their misery unless of course you’re speaking with a direct member of the Visa/Mastercard/AMEX family who set up these fees!

Use a calm tone of voice – be in control and unemotional.  Use their name.  Make small talk.  There’s no reason this has to be an unpleasant transaction.  You have something they want ($$$) and they have something you want (travel poiiiiiiints).  Surely you can come to a mutually beneficial agreement in no time flat!

Step 3: Let Them know Your Issue

Immediately let them know you really like the benefits of the card especially the dollars spent to points conversion for travel but you’re not interested in paying such a high annual fee.  You’re letting them know that your:

  • Flexibility – You’re open to not just refunding the fee but lowering it.
  • Bottom line – You want travel benefits AND you don’t want to pay the current annual fee.

Step 4: Let Them Know You’d Like To Cancel the Credit Card

Once you state this, they will tell you they can’t refund the annual fee because of all the wonderful perks you enjoy with the card.  You, of course, already know this but this is what they have to say to you.

I let them know I understand and asked if it’s possible to speak with a supervisor.  They will transfer you or put you on a brief hold.  Either way you’re going to repeat Step 3 again.  The supervisor will repeat the same message the customer service rep stated and this is where it gets fun!

I asked for them to transfer me to someone who could cancel my card.  The Supervisor is the person who can shut down your card so you’re already at the end of the line.  Let him/her know you understand the situation but it’s unfortunate you have to cancel such a great travel rewards card.

I started asking about how to redeem my points.  You already will know that any cash redemption would be ~50% of the value it could be if you redeem for travel.  Cash redemption is definitely the lowest redemption/conversion % of any of your options.  For example, my CapitalOne Venture had ~65,000 miles so I had the option of redeeming for $300 cash or $650 in travel.

For both the CapitalOne Venture and Chase/British Avios cards, the reps and supervisors did not offer to refund my annual fee.  The CapOne supervisor did offer to switch me to their other Venture card with a 1.25 dollar to point conversion (instead of my current 2.0 rate) as that card doesn’t have an annual fee.  I declined reiterating that travel points were why I enjoyed the card.

Step 5: Ask About Other Promotions

With my CapitalOne, I knew I’d pay the annual fee either way so if they weren’t going to budge on the fee I still wanted to keep the card open.  Right before I canceled it I asked if they had any other promotions like additional points to keep my account open and what do you know hiding in the dark corner of the room just happened to be a promotion of  5,000 bonus points!  Do the math and 5,000 points = $50 worth of travel!  I accepted the bonus points which were credited immediately to my account.

For the Chase/British Avios points, I did not ask because I had only opened up the card to get the 40,000 promo points and planned on closing it only if I had to pay the annual fee.

Step 6: Bask In The Glory That Is You

I kept the CapitalOne Venture open, which added 5,000 bonus points to my current balance, effectively reducing the $59 annual fee to $9.

The Chase/Bristish Avios card had already transferred the 40,000 promo bonus along with 11,000 in additional points to my British Avios Executive Club so I already had all of the points I’d planned on getting.  I just wanted to try my luck.  Because they wouldn’t refund me the full amount, I closed the card.

I also didn’t want to keep it open as I’ve already opened up a Chase Sapphire* to get 40,000 promo points for a business trip I leave for tomorrow.  All of this was done while sitting in the comfort of my stretchy pants sipping my morning coffee.  Add savings money to the situation and if that’s not heaven I don’t know what is!

How’s your weekend going!?  Negotiate anything good lately?!

*I am not affiliated with any of these providers nor do I receive commissions from them.  I just liked the offers!

Image: claudiajacques.org

Great Expectations – Let It Go & Lead

Conferences and cancer

I’ve been missing in action for the past 3 weeks.  I had a work conference in Denver, caught a cold which took me out for a week and spent the last week wanting to kill everyone I work with.  I’ve also accepted the fact that my dad’s dying of cancer.  He was diagnosed with cancer and given 4 weeks to live (without treatment) about 4 weeks ago.  

This sucks – sure.  Death sucks and if you’ve lost a parent you know that it causes you to deal with a lot of your own shit.  To make a long boring story short, there’s a cycle of unhealthy behavior in my family.  My dad causes it and we all seem to fall in line.  Some people just don’t change even if their life’s given a due date.  

I’m not one to dwell on my past because it doesn’t define me.  I know who I want to be and the behaviors I don’t want to inherit from my parents but I find myself unnaturally angry. I’m not sure where it’s coming from but it’s feeding into my frustrations at work.  

Be Patient 

My company created a new department; a department in charge of continuous improvement, business strategy, etc.  I’m part of that department and I was sold on the position because I want to be an agent of change.  I want to help people and mostly I want to build towards a bigger cause which adds value to our organization.  Not too crazy right?

Problem is it’s hard to change old habits.  It’s hard to get people aligned with a new vision when they’re too busy trying to just make it through their day.  Our company is self-described as “scrappy”.  Scrappy means do your job regardless of not having the resources or time just get it done and, by the way, make sure your rock that customer’s face off!

Problem is people don’t want to perform heroics every damn day.  We’re not saving lives here!  People don’t want to deal with fighting corporate fires all day long.  The economy is coming back and frankly we’re going to lose a lot of people.  

They sold me on a vision and mission that they weren’t prepared to fund – at least not right away.  When I voice plans for the future, they agree but I’ll say we need to be patient.  They get carte blanche on that one because they’ve also put “patience” as a challenge area of opportunity in my development plan.

H.A.L.T

I’m the middle of this frustration and anger fest, I was offered another job.  I’d be able to do all the things I want to do, without relocation and working from my house at least 50% – my choice

I sat down with one of my mentors and vented my frustrations.  At the end of my venting he said I seemed angry.  He told me about H.A.L.T.  Don’t make decisions when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  In that moment, I was 3 out of 4.  When I calmed down I knew I didn’t want to leave my company.  I don’t know if I’ll have the career I expected to but I do know that staying and working on my patience, frustration, influencing skills etc. isn’t going to hurt my career either.

So now what?  

I’ve got to change my emotional state and how I react. I don’t want to be known as the girl that stuck it out but man was she a huge bitch! There’s a lot of value in my doing a job everyone knows you hate but doing it with a smile on my face the damn whole time.  I have to change my expectations.

The 4 Noble Truths

The first of these truths is that ordinary existence is suffering. The second is that suffering is caused by ignorance and craving. The third is that suffering can be transcended. And the fourth Noble Truth is the way and means to transcend suffering…

Why do people get angry?  Because someone/something didn’t meet their expectations.  It sounds incredibly simple but it’s true.  Example – well I’d be angry if someone killed a baby!  Of course you would.  You have the expectation that normal people don’t go around killing babies.  

I had an expectation of what my new role would be and how people would react to my new department.  I expected that it would be easier and everyone would know that, long term, this was a great thing for us.  This isn’t happening and I can’t make it happen.  I can only control how I react by changing my expectations.

I don’t prescribe to any religions but II love studying them specifically Buddhism.  Letting go of my expectations reminded of me what I’d read about transcending suffering by changing my view:

Wrong view occurs when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we hope things will be, or about how we are afraid things might be. Right view occurs when we see things simply, as they are. It is an open and accommodating attitude. We abandon hope and fear and take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.

Look at the CEO’s and leadership articles focusing on meditation.  I’m not going in the direction I want to go in – not in my career or my life.  When I get angry now, I try to identify the expectation I had which wasn’t met.  So far it’s been very helpful and I plan on refining this along with all the other skills I need to be – at best – a great leader and – at minimum – someone my co-workers want to work with.  I don’t know about the patience but I’m definitely going to add this new skill to my development plan!

Image: http://blog.smartypig.com/

Who Says Girls Are Bad at Math? February Financial Review!

Check out January if you haven’t yet to give you some background on our 2014 goals & progress.  Below is a download from our Mint.com account which I threw together along with commentary for your viewing pleasure of our second month’s budget to actual analysis!

feb review

We Made Our Budget!

You should see a few things right away:

  1. we got a large unexpected amount in income from an additional bonus program and
  2. we’ve got enough money left over in my budgeted income and expenses that I should up my savings budgets.
  3. we didn’t contribute the full $2k to our Roth because we maxed it out for the year.

We also finished our desired asset allocation with this last purchase.  If you haven’t already check your asset allocation based on desired risk out on Personal Capital portfolio analysis feature.  It was a great way to confirm I was on the right road for now.

We only budget for after tax regular paychecks excluding bonuses.  You should always budget for your worst case income scenario.  We aren’t matching out 401k’s out.  We’re at 15% so I have a few more basis points to go until then and my husband has quite a bit of ways until he’s maxed out.

Savings Rate

So we made our budget which means we’re closer to spending $36k per year but what did we put into our f-you fund?  We only spent $1600 of the bonus with the remaining of the net income number above (~$4k) going into savings.  This means we saved approximately 54% of our income after taxes ($4k + $1.1k / $9.7k)!

Add this along with our 15% contribution to our Roth and we’re at about 69% savings rate!  This blows my mind because I can show you months in 2013 where we only saved 20 – 30% of our money.  I’m not even including the $50 for each us us going into our HSAs either!

Where’s your savings rate at?  How did your February finances turn out?

Happy budgeting!

Snoop-Dogg-Price-Is-Right

Mad Money – Drop It Like It’s Hot!

Mad money – money to be spent FOOLISHLY, for some- thing you DON’T NEED, on the SPUR OF THE MOMENT or FRIVOLOUSLY, indeed CRAZILY

I came into some money a couple weeks ago.  No gold coins but not a pretty sizable chunk – 9% of my base salary all in one little check!

My company has a confidential (shhhh don’t tell) bonus program for key performers.  I received it last year and got a larger bonus this year for continuing to add value to the organization.

Drop It Like It’s Hot

 

When you talk to people who aren’t frugal or even conscious of their spending, they attribute savings with sacrifice.  Essentially you aren’t happy because you aren’t spending your money.  I don’t put much stock in that because I came from a household where material items were purchased to fill an emotional hole that just wouldn’t quit.  I saw it didn’t work – not even close.  I remember reading an article from MrMoneyMustache experiment where he wasted $1,000 to see if spending money made him happier.  You probably know the answer – no.

In the spirit of MMM experiement, I gave myself and my husband some mad money.  Now to be fair, this mad money came after 14% into my Roth with the remaining 35% going to taxes which meant I netted ~50% of the original sum.  Of that remaining 50%,  I put half into savings with the second half left for myself and my husband to split and go fucking crazy on!

carrie

I love shoes.  I love clothes.  I love fashion.  This was the hardest area for me to get my spending in control.  I took a good hard look at my spending and realized I didn’t have shit in my closet to justify what I spent.  I bought random pieces when I felt badly about myself.  When I didn’t like the way I looked I assumed I just hadn’t found the right pair of pants.  I never did find those magic pants but I did figure out that I had to stop this bad habit.

Now, when I felt badly about myself I get in shape, give myself a break or possibly both.  Clothes are just clothes.  They aren’t solutions and they sure as hell shouldn’t be treated as emotional band-aides.  Even with my mad money I still followed my clothing strategy of replacing current items with basic, quality pieces strategically purchased for my French wardrobe.  I buy in outfits – not pieces.  This means every time I buy a piece it must be easily interchanged with another piece to make a different outfit entirely.   Something like these:

 

french

Ebay

I’d never purchased clothing off of Ebay because I was worried it wouldn’t work out and I’d waste money.  I went for it and this is what I’ve learned:

  1. Know your measurements – use a tape measure and get all of your measurements down.  Don’t guess on your size.  Ask the seller if they haven’t listed the measurements yet.  Also find out how they measured the item (did they stretch it, was it laying flat, from where to where did they measure?)
  2. Know what looks good on you – I need more definition in my waist to flatter my shape.  I’m petite so I look better in jewel colors than pastels.  Try on clothes in malls without buying them to get an idea of what looks good on you.  Just because they look good on that mannequin doesn’t means they’re going to look good on you!
  3. Buy from a pet free, smoke free home – if you have allergies be careful.  Assume the garments aren’t clean.  As soon as you get them check for any obvious rips, tears, stains so you know you don’t need to return them.  If you’re good with the condition and plan to keep it, then immediately throw it in a plastic garbage bag.  Don’t bring it into your house if you don’t have to.  Throw that garbage bag in the trunk of your car and send it immediately to the dry cleaners*.  You don’t want to catch fleas, lice, bed bugs etc.
  4. Ask for more pictures, more info, etc - don’t by shy.  If there isn’t enough information then ask lots of questions before you buy.  If the seller can’t make time for your questions then they don’t deserve your money. You won’t regret missing out on that silk blouse – there are plenty of fish in the sea – but you will regret buying it without due diligence.
  5. Sleep on it and/or bid low – you can always up your bid if you decide you really do want a piece.  You can’t undo a bid.
  6. Have fun!  You’re shopping after all…

So far I’ve gotten about 8 silk blouses from Anthropologie, Ann Taylor, J Crew, White House Black Market in addition to a Calvin Klein silk cardigan, camel mini skirt from Express and Ann Taylor black pencil skirt ALL for less than $220 including shipping.  All in excellent condition too or still with tags on them!  If I had paid retail for everything I would paid 2 – 3 times more.  I’m really glad I gave this a shot and not just because it left plenty of mad money for shoes!

Did Spending Money Make Me Happier?

Obviously no.  I was happy before the mad money!  What I did find interesting is that spending this money was hard!  That even looks ridiculous as I type it out but I’m dead serious when I say that I didn’t feel like I had been going without.  I didn’t feel like here was my chance to buy everything I’d been eyeing but not purchasing so I could make my budgets.  My husband even said the same thing.  I told this to my mom and she said it was because we have a hard time treating ourselves.  She’s wrong.

We’re always treating ourselves!  We love riding our bikes on Saturday.  It’s quiet.  We have the whole trail to ourselves and we’re in the sun outside.  We don’t run errands on the weekend.  We make huge cups of coffee and just hang out together with our Pekingnese** on our laps until lunch time.  These are our favorite things to do.  We used to spend all Saturday running all over creation in our car.  Why?  I don’t know.  We call our weekends “mini vacations”.  It’s. Awesome.

I’m still grateful for the check and will absolutely enjoy what we’re buying but they are luxurious to us!  Even though we bought used or had to work to find discounts.  I enjoyed the bargain hunting and I enjoyed just window shopping!  Mostly I just enjoyed getting that check because it came with very nice compliments and appreciation for my hard work.  Everything else is just gravy.

Have you gotten unexpected money recently?  What did you do with it?!

*Assuming you need to dry clean it because you’re buying quality pieces.  If not then wash and dry on the hottest setting.

**

Lazy Sunday Pekingese

Lazy Sunday Pekingese

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Credit Card Churn – LA to Honolulu

My in-laws moved to Oahu last summer to go to grad school and start an awesome new chapter in their lives.  My father-in-law didn’t get to come back during the last holiday season because he couldn’t get a break from school or work.

My husband’s very close to his parents.  They’ve always lived within 15 minutes of each other so this is very hard on him.  In addition to Mother’s Day in May, it’s also his father’s and sister’s birthdays so of course they’d like us all to come and visit them during this fun packed weekend.  This is hard for a couple reasons:

  1. we’re trying to make an aggressive 2014 budget so we can make out FI goals and
  2. we’ve been talking about going to France together for about 8 years.

I have an unconditional love for France, hence my French language skills, and I haven’t gone back since my first short visit back in college.  I’ve never wanted to do anything more than travel but instead I didn’t make it a priority and always told myself there were more important things to do before I went skipping through lavender fields in the French countryside (or any countryside really).

When I lost a huge chunk of my savings by doing business with a family member, it opened my eyes to the fact that I may not have the funds or time in the future to do any of those fun things I keep putting off.  I had been so responsible stashing that money away, sacrificing instead of splurging and then it was gone.  I decided I was no longer going to wait to do the things I loved.  That my spending, and savings for that matter, didn’t align with who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do.

I found the FI community around then which really cemented by belief that I should be buying myself more time and experiences because these are more valuable than anything material item I could buy.  So how are we going to get ourselves to Hawaii?

Churn That Credit Card

I first heard about taking “advantage” of credit card rewards from a friend who was going on a trip to Tokyo before he started college.  I completely envied him and thought there was no way I could figure it out.  A few years later, I read an article at iheatbudgets which does a very nice job of summarizing his first experience and how to get started.  I will echo his warning – if you aren’t good with credit cards meaning you do not pay them off immediately so you get charged for carrying a balance – you shouldn’t do it.  You can try to but if you’re carrying balances on your credit cards you shouldn’t be using them at all!  Unless of course you think Bank of America needs your money…

I started researching credit card churning.  A couple websites I’m going to start following are thepointsguy and frugaltravelguy.  I really like them because they have specific “newbie” sections.  You’re going to see a lot of information about going to other websites like flyertalk or similar forums where people who are trying to hack their travel or come across pricing errors are going to post it up for everyone to see.  They speak in a language you will not be able to understand.  This is too advanced for me at the moment.

I start searching specifically for ways to get from travel from LAX to HNL (Honolulu) and found this and this.  I know the articles are a year or older but this specific hack appeared in several other websites because it’s the lowest reward miles due to British Avios being a distance carrier meaning you get charged by the distance of your flight.

Both my husband and I applied for the British Airways credit card.  Before you can start playing with flights bookings you’ll need to sign up for the Executive Club which you’ll want to do anyways so you can get points not just on the credit card but also with the airline (British Airways).  After signing up for their club, I started playing with the flights for our dates.  There weren’t a lot of economy options I think because this is last minute and a popular hack so keep that in mind.

Based on our budget/current spending we can meet the $2,000 minimum but we need to book it before the reward seats disappear.  For the dates we were planning on traveling this is what we need to fly there first and back economy:

summary

This means we’ll both need to get to 50,000 each instead of being able to get two tickets on one card.  I played with the dates to find available economy out/inbound flights and confirmed the reward minimum is 25,000:

economy

Since we don’t have too much flexibility in our dates we both need to spend $2,000 this month to get out full points.

Front Load Your Expenses

I started looking up ways to “increase” or front load our spending.  We’ll be purchasing a Costco gift card for 3 months worth of our spending as well as throwing everything we usually spend onto the new card instead of our current CapitalOne.  With front loading, business trips to Denver in March & April and a little extra mad money we happened upon we should make it!

For some extra spice, if you wanted to get first class flights both ways (~75,000 avios) you could also apply for the US Airways credit card to get an additional 30,000 in points with your first purchase!  Based on American Airlines’ Codeshare and the more recent merger, you can use your points and book flights for US Airways through American!

We’re still waiting for the credit cards to come in the mail so we can get to spendin!  During the adventure I also stumbled across my new favorite blog, fifighter, check out his ridiculous hacks!  He’s pretty good at other stuff too…

Have you tried credit card churning and where did you go?!

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Broken Samsung Galaxy – No Problem Bro!

While working out my husband dropped and cracked, head to toe, his Samsung Galaxy S3 display.  The display is still working but small bits of glass are falling off it as you read.  It’s a cut finger waiting to happen.  This was great timing as we just removed the insurance from our phones.  We’d been talking about getting protective cases but were having a hard time finding them.  To be honest, we didn’t make it a priority.  C’est la vie right?

I still don’t regret taking the insurance off – for a couple reasons.  Did you know that Sprint can up your insurance charges without notifying you?  About 2 years ago it was $7 per month with a $50 deductible for a new phone.  Today it is $11 per month with a deductible of $150.  This depends on your phone but this was the information we received from 2 Sprint CS reps when my sister murdered her Galaxy a month ago.

My mom asked why she hadn’t been notified and they said it was a change in insurance provider.  Essentially it got more expensive for them and why absorb that cost when they’ve got fools customers like you and me?  My immediate thought was shit – there goes the February budget if we need to purchase a new phone but as they say creativity before capital!

Google It & Fix It

I found a few videos and thought this video claiming to be the fastest $10 fix was the best as far as a detailed tutorial.  The repair process should take us 1 hour – fastest with 2 people.  Also had the link to Amazon but the video showed an Ebay search so I did my own to find the repair kit at $7.99.  In addition to the repair kit we just need a hair dryer, rubbing alcohol and a little patience.

We’ll also be buying from otterboxes for both our phones.  Funny how after I put a little extra thought into it I was able to find protective phone cases with a few minutes – oh well live and learn.  Even though the repair kit is cheap, I don’t want to spend the time repairing a mistake again.  After all I can’t buy myself more time.

Although a little unconventional I’m chalking this experience up as positive!  This was another great example of trying to find solutions and using a little muscle over money, frugaling, you name it!  How do you feel about calling it a frugal hack? OMG a frak!

Have you had anything like this happen to you recently?  What was your clever fix?

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I Set A Monthly Budget for Happiness

When I started looking at our past spending & set our 2014 budget I saw that groceries made up a significant spend for us.  In an effort to decrease this expense we decided to try out a two part strategy: 1. CSA 2. More Costco.

Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA)

 

I hesitated to switch to a CSA because you don’t have too much notice as to what you’re going to get in your box.  I found meal planning critical to keeping our expenses down and my sanity high as I don’t want to come home after working for 9 hours and figure out what’s for dinner.

I yelped CSA’s to see what people’s experiences were and checked out each site.  I decided on Tanaka Farms.  We get a small box of vegetables & fruits every week.  We bike from our house to the local farm and it’s waiting for us at the stand.  We throw it in the bike trailer and go home.

We used to spend about $50 per week at Trader Joes.  It’s a 8 mile RT from our house to TJs so the transportation cost of driving my car is $0.14 per mile (23 mpg / $3.33 cost per gallon) which you multiply by 2 to include wear & tear so I’m avoiding $2.03 for a 7 mile RT to TJs.

On to top of this because we’re purchasing seasonal vegetables and fruits we’re only spending $20 per week for a box which is more than enough for us.  We tend to eat meat only 2-3 times per week (still eating about 80 to 100+ grams of protein to meet our fitness goals) and we’re still freezing leftover vegetables from the prior week.  Total cost avoided from switching to a CSA – $32.03 ($50 – $20 + $2.03) per week or $1,666 annually.  This is the same as having reduced our required FI funds by $41,639 ($1,666 / 4% SWR)!

Costco

 

We started taking advantage of Costco more and more.  I even priced per unit items on Amazon versus Costco (Costco wins btw).  We purchase all nonperishable goods here so we don’t waste or fall into the trap of eating more because we purchased in bulk.  We tend to follow this rule except we don’t purchase paper towels at all and haven’t in 3 years.  So far based on both strategies, we’re hit a our monthly budget of $325 per month for 2 people 3 meals per day + snacks.

We’ve also reduced from going once per week to once per month so avoiding additional transportation costs of $316 per year ($2.03 x 3 weeks x 52 weeks) or reduced our FI fund by another $7,914.

Where Does The Happiness Come In?

 

During our last trip to Costco I walked past the flower section.  I love fresh flowers.  We were having another couple over for dinner the next day and I wanted so badly to get something for the house.  I love live plants in general.  I work in an office with no windows so plants/sunlight/life in general escapes me 45 hours per week.  I grabbed a beautiful purple bunch and brought them home.  I’ve never done this before because I didn’t want to waste the money.  Why was this time different?  Maybe because I know we’re not spending money on food we aren’t going to eat or isn’t good for us?  I’m not sure but I’m glad I did it.

I’m not advocating that you spend money as soon as you find it but you should be spending mindfully.  Financial independence is about making sure your spending reflects your goals in life and fully enjoying the money you do decide to spend.  My house is small and one of many benefits to this is that one bouquet can make my entire house smell like fresh flowers – smell like being outside on a warm sunny day.  I struggle with being present in the moment so every time I walked by my flowers I stopped to smell them.  This is a quality of life I strive for.  It’s the best $10 I can spend a month and until my garden starts growing again I think I just might do it again!

What are the simple pleasures in your life?