101 Goals in 1001 Days: List Published


I finally completed my list and am done tweaking it. I had a difficult time coming up with all 101 goals but I think they are all good. I have published my list and it is accessible from the permanent link at the top of the page!

I will post regular updates of my progress, most likely monthly, as I work through it. I will also update the list page with completed items and progress of my money and number based items. I will be posting on the business day closest to the 20th of each month.

I am excited to get started! It should be a fun, tough, and interesting journey to get through it all. I start on Monday, March 1 2010 and end on Monday, November 26 2012. Wish me luck!

Got a raise? Avoid lifestyle inflation!


Every year most of us will get a raise (hopefully) of some sort. A lot of us have the impulse to just spend it on stuff we want. I am here to say we need to combat that urge! There is nothing wrong with getting things you want but only in moderation.

Example: You get a $200 per month salary raise. Possible steps to take:

  • Pay down debt! (if any): If you have debt outside of a mortgage pay it down with the extra $200 per month. Add it to your monthly payment amount.
  • Increase retirement contributions: This is easy and comes directly out of your paycheck so your never miss it. Maybe add $100 of your new raise to your contributions or set up automatic deposits to your IRA account(s).
  • Send directly to savings: If you are still working on an emergency fund or other savings goal adjust your direct deposit to have it go directly to the savings account.
  • After the above are satisfied it is OK to use some of your raise for wants.
If you make a conscious effort to direct your increased earnings to the proper channels you will always come out ahead. The key is to make the adjustments immediately so you don't procrastinate or forget. Laziness and indifference are the enemies of the rich!

How public transit can save us money


I live in Atlanta. I admit that the public transportation system here is dismal at best. That said it does have some limited uses and if the money makes sense I will use it if I can. The problem is poor, infrequent bus service combined with a small, inadequate rail system. It is difficult and time consuming to use it as your only mode of transport. Sometimes it makes sense, though.

Example: I am going to a concert on Thursday night. It is in downtown and the parking lots jack their rates up to $20-30 because of events. The venue is accessible by the train system. I decided that parking my car for free at the train station and paying $4 round trip was much better.

You also have to consider the hidden savings by doing this. I used less gas. I put less mileage on my car which means less worn tires and breaks and I will not need to change the oil as soon. I also had to walk a few blocks from the station to the venue so a very small health benefit of extra exercise could technically be added in.

The point is that if your city has transit options and you own a car you can still come out ahead by using it from time to time. I also find that public transit can be good people watching sometimes. You could also catch up on some reading while en route. Research your local system and see if it would be beneficial to you!

Review: SmartyPig Savings Account


I have read a lot about SmartyPig lately and decided to have a deeper look at their service. They are an online savings bank that works based on goals. You open an account and set up automatic monthly deposits to reach whatever goal you set. It is a good idea and a great way to get started saving or to save more!


  • They currently offer 2.01% (as of 2/23/2010) interest rate which is the best I can find at the moment.
  • Friends and family can add to your account via "gift cards" which are essentially online deposits from them
  • You can have multiple goals set up. Examples: emergency fund, new car, new house down payment, etc.
  • You can redeem the money in the form of gift cards. Some with up to 12% bonus on top.
  • No penalties to withdraw or close account.
  • You can add one time deposits at any time to boost your goal progress.
  • You are stuck with automatic monthly deposits. If you are looking just to park money to earn interest SmartyPig isn't built for that. The minimum monthly deposit is $10.
  • You must have at least 1 goal. Along the lines of the above item you have to have a target amount and date to reach the goal.
  • Another 1099 each year. One more form to remember and wait for at tax time.
  • They don't offer CD's. I think this would be useful for longer term goals to have part of it in a CD earning more interest
  • Quarterly interest payments. I like monthly better personally.
Overall I like SmartyPig. They offer a great, albeit specialized, savings account service. I intend to use it myself as long as they stay competitive on the interest rate. The disadvantages of it are far outweighed by the advantages in my mind. It is nice to create goals and have the money earmarked and all in the same account.

This is a great tool for those out there looking to start an emergency fund. All you need is the $25 minimum deposit and a minimum of a $10 monthly transfer. Most of us can handle that to start with. It takes the hard math of "I need to save $10,000 in 5 years. How much do I need to contribute each month?" away from you as their site does it for you!

Happy saving!

Cash out on old stuff when you buy new


I have used this trick for years and was surprised how few people do it. For example, I just bought a new hard drive for my laptop. It arrived and I installed it and everything is working great! It cost me $125 for the new part. Most people stop here.

I take it one step further and sell my old hard drive on eBay or craigslist. I quick search on eBay shows that the going rate for my old hard drive is $40. I can assume that I will get close to that so the net cost of my new drive is $85.

Selling stuff right away, especially electronics, reduces waste, costs you less out of pocket, and goes a long way to prevent clutter. This extra hard drive would sit for ages before I use it or sell it for even less down the road. If you keep up with the "turnover" of your stuff then you will have a lot less in the long run to deal with and more financial flexibility.

You can win the battle against clutter and waste!

101 goals in 1001 days list almost complete!


I lack 1 item to complete my list. Once done I will review the entire list, make adjustments, and start it on March 1, 2010. My finish date is November 26, 2012. I have some very lofty goals in it that I hope to reach!

I will publish the list in it's final form on March 1st. It took me a lot longer than I thought to come up with all the goals and I admit I took some from other people's lists. I found some goals that hadn't crossed my mind until I read them so it was a good exercise in self evaluation.

Just by creating this list I have learned some things about myself and where I need to improve. It is also pushing me to do stuff outside my "norm" and get ahead in life. I will give regular updates to my progress as I go along!

Save money on shipping!


It is inevitable that one day we all have to ship something. Whether it be a gift, returning an item to a store, or even for business. It is also well known that the UPS Store and Fedex Office are expensive to ship from and I personally hate the Post Office and skip it. I have a solution:

Create and print your shipping labels online at UPS.com!

You get a better rate than at the UPS store and you can pay online with a credit/debit card for the shipping fees. You then simply print the label at tape it to your box(es) and you are good to go. It also has the option to save addresses in an address book for future use. You can always log back into your UPS account later to track the shipments which is easier than trying to type it off a receipt printout from the UPS store.

You can then take the packages down to any UPS Store or any other UPS drop-off location (such as Staples). This saves you their "handling" charges of up to $6 per box! Another trick I use is to go to department or liquor stores for boxes (free and better for the environment) if you don't have one. I do my best to keep a few in my closets for times like these. Don't waste money on shipping when you don't have too!

Never buy an extended warranty!


I get asked this all the time by friends. Should I buy the extended warranty on my computer, tv, etc. The answer is always no. These have a high profit margin for the sellers of the warranty as not many of it gets used. That is why you are always asked when you buy things.

Instead take the money you would have spent on the warranty and put it in your emergency fund if you are really that worried about it. It will earn interest, be there for other uses if the need arises, and can go towards buying a replacement if you end up actually needing it. If you end up not needing the "warranty" in your savings account then you just keep the money!

In my experience I have found that if I did buy the extended warranty it would have been wasted money about 90% (if not more) of the time. So a good practice would be to take 10% of the cost of each electronic item and put it in savings. It will be covered! No need to tie up your money in extended warranties and insurance. Do it yourself!

Mortgage Escrow Surplus! ...and reminders!


I got notification that I have a mortgage escrow surplus from last year. I will get getting almost $800 back from Chase which I will in turn throw against debts immediately. This is a nice surprise and a great boost for my net worth. I also like getting unexpected checks in the mail!

This brings me to the point that it is important to read your annual escrow statement from your mortgage lender. It can go the other way where you might have to actually send them more money. I always check the accuracy of their calculations and the actual numbers they use. Does the property tax, insurance, and other escrow items match what you have? These people do thousands of these a month and mistakes do happen!

If you do find any mistakes you need to bring it to their attention immediately as underpaying over 1 year's time could lead to having to cut a big check the next year. Also if you personally receive bills that are covered by escrow funds be sure to send them onto your lender so they get paid on time. Most of them have a mailing address and/or fax number to send them too. A little paperwork now saves a big headache later!

February 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on prosper.com lending. I had two loans payoff and 3 has recently gone slightly late. I am no longer bidding on prosper loans unless they come from my lending group. I am drawing down my account for now. I "write off" all loans in collections as a loss.

Here are my stats as of today:

Outstanding Loans:

Late: 3 (< 30 days)
In Collections: 2 (written off)
Current: 44

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 2
Paid Off: 10

Open Bids: 1

Total currently invested: $1516.25 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $ 157.13 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $1673.38

What should you include in an emergency fund?


A lot of people go with the general rule that you should have an emergency fund of at least 3 months and preferably 6 months of living costs. I take mine a step further and break it down so that other specific emergencies are covered with extra cash. Here is my list of what I have reserves for in my emergency fund:

  1. 6 Months (12 if self employed) of living expenses. I can pay my bare bones, needed to live bills for 6 months without earning a single dollar.
  2. 50% of ALL insurance deductibles. I chose 50% as it is unlikely you will need all deductibles at the same time. This includes homeowners, car, health, dental, and any other insurance that has a deductible. Surprises will be covered here!
  3. $500 car repair fund. Up this to $1,000 if your car is 7+ years old. This will cover any unexpected repair that may be needed. Accidents are covered by insurance and deductible fund above.
  4. $500 slush fund. This is a pad for little stuff that I may not have though of that can be just big enough of an expense to throw off the budget.
Having all of the above in your emergency fund will make sure you are covered for just about any unexpected event that comes up in life. It is not a question if something will happen but when. Be prepared and avoid financial mayhem!

Things to consider when starting your own business


I am in the process of starting my own IT consulting business as a part time gig. I have been doing research into the local market and am sure I can make some extra money doing it. I have also discovered that owning your own business is a lot bigger commitment than most people realize. Here are a few things to weigh if you are thinking of venturing out on your own:

  • Taxes: Any income you make is not only taxed at the federal and state and local level but you must also pay the full amount of FICA (Social Security and Medicare) tax on it. This amounts to 15.3% of the income on top of normal taxes!
  • Time: You have to factor in that not only will you be spending time on doing the actual work but also marketing, accounting, errands, phone calls, sales, etc. Make sure you have the time to do it all or can afford to pay someone to help you!
  • Savings: If you are venturing out on your own full time you need 1 year's of living expenses saved over and above your emergency fund. I recommend this to total 18 months of living expenses to be on the safe side. You also have to keep up this amount at all times!
  • Office Space: You need to have a proper office space in your home dedicated to just business. A rented office is even better but not always feasible. It helps to keep you organized and allows you to separate home from work (very important!).
  • Dedication: You have to be behind your ideas and your business 110%. If you can't put in the time and effort to be successful you should look at other options. It is not easy to run your own successful business and keep it running!
If you can agree to all the things listed here it may be worth a try to have your own business. I suggest starting part time at first before quitting a job. Allow it to grow to the point where you have to quit in order to keep it going and go for it! It is not easy but can be very rewarding both financially and emotionally!

Pulling out of Prosper.com lending


Today I have decided, after much internal debate, to halt my investments and bidding on prosper.com loans. I did a lot of math and back and forth in my head and decided this is the best choice for now. I have a multitude of reasons for doing this:

  1. I am in debt. I can use the money I earn from this to pay down my debts. It makes financial and emotional sense for me to do this.
  2. Prosper is in money trouble. They are on the edge of bankruptcy so I need to get my money out of there! Chances are they will survive but it is an added risk!
  3. I have some bad loans. I am starting to see more defaults in my loans. I understand the recession has something to do with this but losses are losses. I expect more in the future as well.
  4. Not enough market data. Prosper is a young company and a new type of investment. It needs to evolve a bit so us lenders can make better decisions. We need more data to see what kind of returns to really expect from it.
  5. Time is an issue. I am trying to start my own part time business and have other commitments now too. I am running low on time researching loans to bid on.
That said I do like the idea of Prosper and would consider borrowing through them for future needs that I may have. I will continue my monthly updates as to my performance here on the blog until my last loan is finished. Good luck to all those lenders out there!

Using social media to get ahead


The big buzz word in business today is Social Media. Advertisers are scrambling to get onto facebook, twitter, linkedin, and many others to convince you to spend money. Luckily for us it can actually be a useful tool to help us reach our goals once we get past the ads!

Examples of how it helps us:

  • Finding a job: LinkedIn is the big one here but not the only. Simply contacting friends and acquaintances via any social outlet can help you locate opportunities. Many jobs are gotten through friends and colleagues.
  • Staying in Touch: I have friends all over the world and the USA. Facebook and the like make it easy to communicate, share pictures, etc. Staying in touch with the ones we care about is important and these sites certainly do just that.
  • Discounts: This is the one upside to the advertisements. A lot of places offer coupons and discounts through these sites and can be taken advantage of. I have gotten free coffee, free hot sauce, half of dinner, and many others. Take advantage!
  • Events: A lot of the sites today allow you to organize events, parties, and get-togethers via the sites. It makes it easy to track who can and cannot come and send out free invites. Saves time, money, and effort.
  • Networking: This is great for everyone! As mentioned before you can land jobs through the sites but also great for finding side work, more contracts for your small business, and finding more customers.
  • Finding old friends: A lot of people have reconnected after years of no or lost contact. Facebook has been particularly successful in this area.
Social Media sites do have their uses. They are a lot of fun to spend time on playing games and the like but also have a tangible use in real life. Be sure to use these sites to your advantage!

Electric Bill: How I keep mine at a consistent $30 per month!


Just about everyone I have spoken with is impressed with the fact that my power bill is at a low $30 per month (average). It is the result of a lot of frugal moves that I made while remodeling my new house as well as new habits that I have formed.

Steps I took to get my power bill low:

  • CFL Bulbs - This is a BIG one. I installed all CFL bulbs in my house and they burn around 7 watts instead of 60, 75, or 100. That means compared to 100 watt bulb I am using 93% less power!
  • New appliances - My house needed new appliances as it had none when I bought it. Everything I bought I researched the Energy Star rating to be sure it was on the lower end.
  • Unplugging - This habit of unplugging anything I don't use regularly helps a lot. Simply having a cord plugged in uses power.
  • Turn off lights! - Even though I only burn a few watts I still turn off all lights religiously as I enter and leave rooms. I do this for all other things that draw power too.
  • Thermostat - My new thermostat is programmable so I don't have to remember to adjust it manually every day. I also keep it a couple of degrees outside my "comfort zone" and use fans or jackets accordingly.
Following these basic steps will dramatically cut your electric bill. The investment in CFL bulbs pays for itself many times over in the form of energy savings and a much longer life. Outside of that more efficient appliances and good habits take care of the rest!

Reminder: Adjust payroll exemptions!


It is a new tax year and if you overpaid or underpaid taxes last year now is the time to adjust your W-4 and state income tax withholding. In my case I overpaid slightly for both but I got a lot of tax credits this year which you have to file a return to receive.

When deciding whether or not to adjust you have to look at your real tax numbers and ignore credits. Credits come and go and change all of the time so they are not to be relied on. If you got no credits at all would your tax bill be covered?

Once you have the "real" number calculated you can adjust your payroll accordingly so you pay as close to the correct amount as possible. The goal is to get as close to a $0 refund as possible without owing money at tax time.

How to identify good spending


A lot of my posts here focus on spending. It is the one thing that most of us need to get under control in order to stay ahead and reach our goals. I have gotten into the habit of thinking about the money aspect of everything I do. I have learned the concept of good spending!

It is impossible to avoid spending money. Everything we do has some sort of cost, direct or indirect, attached to it. Good spending is the idea that you spend money in a way that helps you move forward on reaching your goals. Examples of good spending:

  • A new desk chair - If you are comfortable you will have less back pain and be more productive. Money is well spent on a good chair!
  • Synthetic engine oil - It has been proven that synthetic oil is better for most engines. Extending the life of your car by spending a little more on synthetic oil is good spending.
  • Fresh foods - buying fresh is always better for you (and also better tasting) than frozen or processed foods. It has added health benefits which could lower your healthcare costs over time
In order to fully grasp the idea of good spending you also have to define bad spending. I consider it bad spending when I am paying more simply for convenience or on impulse. If it is something I will never use or need it is also bad. Here are some examples:
  • Buying because it is "on sale". - If you don't really need the item or items and you are buying simply because the price is low it is still wasteful. Remember it is only a good deal if you will actually need it!
  • Buying milk at a gas station - It usually costs a lot more than the supermarket and the product is exactly the same. Spend the extra 5 minutes to go to the supermarket instead and save the money.
  • Unplanned purchasing - This is impulse buying. I am a firm believer that 98% of purchases should be premeditated. This means you have thought it over before buying.
I have found recently that I have become afraid of spending. This is bad and counter-productive. I have had to remind myself that their is such a thing as good spending and I have to remember that it cannot be avoided. Look at your buying habits and find the good spending and try to eliminate the bad. This is a good approach to budgeting.

I filed my taxes today and will get a nice refund!


Today I finished doing my federal and state income taxes using H&R Block at Home. I found the program very easy to use and fast. It also caught a tax credit that I did not know about! It paid for itself and then some because of it. I itemized deductions so I was able to write off the cost of the software too.

H&R Block at Home was formerly known as Tax Cut. It is for both PC (Windows) and Mac. It comes with 5 free federal e-files. State e-file costs $20 but you can print off paper returns for free. I did the latter. It saves your information so next year you save time by importing it over. I was suprised how well it worked considering I had itemized deductions, capital losses, and some fairly complicated tax credits and deductions that went flawlessly. It was worth every penny versus doing it myself by hand.

My Refund will be $1129.00 between the two returns. It is a good bit more than I was expecting but I will certainly take it. I of course will send this straight to debts and give my net worth a good push! Windfalls like these can really help me get ahead of the game.

Remember: Do things that make you happy!


Today I felt like I need a reminder of why I am budgeting, sacrificing, and flat out busting my butt at work day in and day out. I realized that I need to make time to do things that make me happy. I tend to get caught up in focusing on paying my debts off and worrying about money that I forget to live life!

No matter what your budget or debt situation you have to do something that you actually enjoy. It is the only way to stay motivated and stay on track. Those of us who make good progress on debt then revert usually forget to do this. We get burned out and go off the deep end with spending to compensate and we are back in the hole again. We have to strike a balance that keeps the train rolling.

I wrote this post as a reminder to me and all of you to be sure you take time to live your life. It doesn't have to be all work and drudgery. We all have to do fun stuff to relax and take our minds off things for a while. A little can go a long way here!

February 2010 Net Worth Update


It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I did not change much this month due to more unexpected expenses and having to tap my emergency fund a little bit.

As of today my current net worth is (21,031.31). That is an increase of $394.48 over last month. The major factors contributing were stock market gains and debt repayment. I am glad to have made any ground this month!

I expect next month to be a better month as I should be able to get my tax refund and stick to my budgets better. As long as I can get my other house projects done I should be able to get the house re-appraised and get the loan I need. I did finally get my hardwood floors in yesterday after a lot of delays. Life gets in the way sometimes!

Alternative Income:

$40 - IT Consulting