Coupon Cravings!


In light of my recent pay drop I am looking heavily into coupons and cutting down my variable costs. has allowed me to do exactly that. They post great deals every day that I otherwise would not know about and possibly miss out on. It updates throughout the day so I recommend checking at least twice.

Here is a few examples of what I have gotten from the deals:

  • FREE Arby's Sandwiches w/drink purchase
  • FREE after rebate Windex and Scrubbing Bubbles
  • $0.25 per can for Campbell's "Cream of" soups
  • FREE movie premiere passes
  • Various free product samples
  • Lots of printable coupons for just about anything
This site is a great resource for saving money on everyday items. They do a lot of the homework and math for you. It saves time and money!

Entertainment: Red Box DVD Vending


Since my recent pay cut I am paring back my non-essential expenses in my budget. Unfortunately entertainment has to be one of them. I have decided to give Red Box a try since they are all over Atlanta and only cost $1 per day to rent the movie.

I signed up online at and they give you a code for 1 day's free rental only good that day. I used it and it was great. Get your movie, watch it, return it. Cost me $0! I like this better than Netflix as I don't watch them too frequently and I am not stuck with a monthly charge.

Every now and then you will find more codes for a free movie online. I keep an eye out for them and use them when I can. This definitely saves me money over the long haul since I don't have cable TV. Netflix is a better option if you watch a lot of movies or shows (more than about 6 per month) as it is unlimited use.

I prefer Red Box as they are close by, no monthly fees, and cheap. It fills my entertainment needs nicely. Also no need to wait in line and it is all done electronically. You can browse their online movie catalog and find the one you want locally before you leave home. It is a great service!

The Grocery Game!


Over the weekend I decided to give the Grocery Game a try. It has a 4-week free trial so I have nothing to lose. I was very impressed with my results so far. If it is consistent enough I could save a lot of money every week!

Here is the idea: The webmaster of the site, Teri, does research into all of the major chain grocery stores and drug stores including Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Publix, and the list goes on. She has a database that tracks prices and trends every week. She combines this data with available coupons from various sources to save lots of money. It works!

Aside from the site you will need these to get started and maintain the grocery game:

  • Loyalty card from your store of choice (if they have one)
  • The sunday paper every week (buy it or subscribe)
  • Visit her online coupons section for printable coupons and electronic coupons
  • Discipline to keep track of all the coupons available and collect them
The "fine print": Teri claims it takes about 12 weeks (the alleged cycle of pricing at grocery stores) to fully utilize her system to save the most money. The service does cost money. It is $10 every 8 weeks ($65 a year) for 1 store's data. The price goes up in smaller increments if you want to track more than 1 store. I am running on a 4-week trail (free) on Kroger to see how it goes.

Every Tuesday afternoon she releases the list for that week. She color codes the items. Some are free after coupon(s) (you just pay tax) and others are highly discounted when using more than one coupon. It is a very interesting concept and I am willing to try it. She denotes the items that are near the historical "rock bottom" and you should stock up on them that week (Saturday is the last day for weekly prices).

My experience thus far? I have saved a good bit already. I got 8 cans of Del Monte tomatoes for $0.37 each and 2 boxes of Success boil-in-bag rice for $1.50 per box. Versus the normal prices my first $10 fee is already "paid for" via the savings. If this keeps up I will continue to utilize the system indefintely.

The only downside I see is that every week you MUST get a Sunday newspaper to get the coupons. Obviously you will save more than the cost of the paper but it takes time to clip and sort them and build up inventory. I will be slow at first but will get faster as time goes by. I will report again after my 4 week trial (April 26th) with my true savings.

Have you tried this?

Renewed goals and visions


I am overdue for a post on my life goals and progress. Over that past few months I have made a lot of changes to where I want to go and how I want to get there. I am shifting my focus on getting to where I want to be faster. Here is what I have done so far:

  • Started my 101 goals in 1001 days list
  • More intense focus on debt pay down and emergency fund building
  • Increased efforts to get more contacting side work
  • Revamped my budget due to a work pay cut
  • Spending my free time more wisely than before
Starting the "101 list" has really got me focused on getting a lot of things done. Having the pay cut at work was a small wake-up call to get my finances in better shape as fast as I can. I am now eating at home a lot more and being more money conscious when I go out. I also try to start every day with at least 1 small goal that I want to achieve that helps out my "big picture" in the long run.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the small things and lose sight of what you really want in life. It is never easy to stay focused all the time but having this blog, my 101 list, and the correct mindset I find I am able to get more done in less time and feel like I am gaining ground. A little sense of achievement goes a long way in life!

Saving Money:


Recently I have become a big fan of Groupon. The server many large cities around the USA and offer great deals. Recently I landed $10 for $25 at one restaurant and $15 for $35 at another. This brings the cost of eating/drinking out down to a very reasonable level.

Groupon is great as the deal changes daily. They do a lot of bars and restaurants but also do spas, stores, car care, etc. It is a great way to save money on the things we enjoy. They also make great gifts and a cheap way to try a new place without paying full price. If I am traveling to one of their covered cities I will monitor that as well to see if I can pick up some deals before I go.

The coupons allow me to plan ahead and bank a few pre-discounted meals and outings. I can go out with friends and not spend an arm and a leg. Suddenly places I could not normally afford are affordable. I like investing in experiences and this is one way to do it cheaply! Check it out today!

Tech: Use Google to save you time and headache!


Everyone is familiar with the search engine. Google is now a verb in the dictionary! What most people don't know/utilize is their free services that can save us a lot of time and headache down the road.

Useful FREE Google Services:

  • Documents - You can store, edit, and share access to documents online. It includes word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. You can even export them to Microsoft Word, Excel, or Powerpoint!
  • Contacts - You can load all of your contacts into your Mac (Address Book) or PC (Outlook) and have it synchronize with Google automatically. It's a free online backup of your contacts that you can access anywhere! If you have an iPhone it will sync over the air to it too!
  • Calendar - You can set up Google Calendar and also have it sync with iCal on Mac or Outlook on PC. You can change it in one place and it gets sent to all others automatically. Again if you have an iPhone you can sync this over the air
  • Gmail - This is the best online email I can find. Great spam filter, fast site, and easy to use. No need to change email addresses if you move or switch internet providers. Gmail works everywhere!
  • Reader - If you read a lot of blogs this is great. It automatically updates when new posts go up and you can read them all in one place. Ditch the bookmarks and save time!
Using the above tools allows you to save time, money, and creates backups of all of your important info. Another added bonus is you can access it anywhere you have internet access around the world. Centralizing all of your important data makes things easier in the long run.

How to deal with a pay cut


We recently had some bad news at work and lost a large amount of revenue. As a result I have to take a 10% pay cut. It could have been a lot worse! I am now re-evaluating my expenses and budget to make sure I can still cover everything. Debt has me on the edge financially!

I calculated my new take home paycheck and adjusted my budget in excel accordingly. Luckily I have paid down my debts with my tax refund and another windfall incomes which has lowered my minimum payments. I should still be OK financially without too many drastic changes.

Here is what you should do if you take a pay cut at work:

  • Examine variable expenses: Cut back on the "extras" such as starbucks, magazines, eating out, etc.
  • Recalculate your budget: Run your current expenses against your new lower income and make adjustments. Look for ways to cut back and lessen the pain
  • Look for side work: If you can find some work to do on the side to help make up for the lost income. You can also sell stuff on ebay, craigslist, etc.
  • Adjust your tax withholding. If your pay cut is large enough you may be able to adjust so that less taxes are taken out. Check and see if you now fall into a lower tax bracket.
  • Get a second job: If the cut is really bad you can look for a part time second job to help make up for it. This is a last resort for those who really get cut back financially. It may also be good to look for another job too
Some of these options can be done immediately while others take time. If you have an adequate emergency fund you should be able to make it for a long time without feeling the sting too much. Always cut any expenses you can before tapping into savings. Once you get adjusted be sure to refill that emergency fund!

Financial Happiness Formula


I have been doing a lot of reading on getting my finances in order and also being happy. Debt is a big burden and is the source of much unhappiness for me. I am looking at the big picture to find out what I can do to be happier once I am done paying it. I have seen many formulas and this is what works for me:

60% of income goes to needs
20% of income goes to wants
20% of income goes to savings

The above is what I aspire to reach. I think it is a balanced breakdown of my income to make sure I am happy and reach my goals. This is the ideal target to reach once I am over the mountain of debt that I still have to climb slowly. Currently my breakdown is more like this:

70% of income goes to needs
< 1% of income goes to wants
24% of income goes to debts
5% of income goes to savings

The problem is I have almost a quarter of my income going to debts. Any extra income I get also goes to debts so I can get it paid down faster. I spend very little on my wants, by force, since I have no income left for it. This is most certainly why I am not as happy as I want to be. Right now the only solution is to wait. It will take time to pay off the debts.

How does your current financial formula measure up? Are you over/under in these categories?

Vending side business update


It has been a while since I have reported on my vending side business. For those who forgot I own a three-head quarter candy machine on my office building. It sells M&M's, Peanut M&M's, and gumballs. It does pretty well!

Since my last update I have had $78 in gross sales. I am still in red since my original gumball machine was stolen and now I have to recoup costs on 2 machines ($400). Sales have slowed down a bit due to less tenants in the building. I am still making money which is the important thing.

There is a company that trains security guards in the building. They are my number one customer with a high turnover of people who seem to like my candy! The classes have become less frequent and therefore my sales slowed as a result.

I also now have a bit of competition. Another tenant has installed a big snack vending machine that is also popular. He keeps it well stocked and does well too. My main advantage is price. I am 25 cents and he is .55 and up. We sell different things too so we don't have too much direct competition.

At this point I just want to break even but profit is always nice too!

Your personal economy: what really matters to us!


These days there is a lot of talk about the economy, recession, depression, or whatever you want to call it. Some say it is improving and some say it is getting worse. It is all a matter of perspective. We are all affected by the economy as a whole. What really matters is how your economy is doing.

Your personal economy consists of:

  • Your job/income
  • Your net worth
  • Your expenses
  • Your ability to weather bad times
  • How you are managing the above factors
You can have a surplus or shortage of any of the above. In this case we all want a surplus in all of them except expenses. If we have a shortage in any of them it affects our daily lives and what we focus on as we move forward in life.

Personally my "economy" is in a long recession since I am digging myself out of a lot of debt (surplus expenses). My job/income is OK for the moment and my net worth and ability to weather the bad times (emergency fund) are growing each month. I am on my way to recovery and hopefully growth!

There are many things that can cause a change in our personal economy. Here is a list of the major events that can make a big change positive or negative:
  • Job Loss
  • Raise
  • Inheritance
  • Buying a home
  • Running up a credit card you cannot pay
  • Having a child
  • Getting Married
  • Getting a second job
  • Being frugal
The above list can go on forever. All the choices we make in our lives affect our personal economy in some form or fashion. Some will help us out financially in the long run while others will hurt us financially. It's a fact of life. The goal is to have more positives that negatives so we come out on top!

Doing an annual financial review is a good way to gauge your personal economy. Its a yearly "how am I doing" and "where am I going" exercise that we all should do. I find that tax season is the best since you are already digging into your finances from the past year anyway to file your return. Give yourself a personal economic checkup today!

5 ways to lower your grocery cost


One of the most expensive things we consume is food. With so many convenience foods out there the cost can rise quickly. It's no secret that $100 worth of groceries today is not as much food as it was 10 or even 5 years ago. Here are 5 steps to take to keep your food costs down:

  1. Make a list and stick too it. Impulse buys increase your food cost and are usually not healthy choices. Make a list before leaving home and stick to it at the store
  2. Check the weekly specials handout. Look only for items on your list. If they are on sale and don't perish quickly stock up. Sale shopping, done correctly, saves you money in the long run.
  3. Use coupons. Look online, in junk mail, and newspapers for coupons for items you normally buy. Compare after coupon price to generic brand versions also.
  4. Plan your meals. Make a list of meals for the week to help create your shopping lists. Always check for near-end dated meat on sale if you can use it quickly. They are marked down a LOT!
  5. Don't go hungry. EAT before you go grocery shopping. Even if you have to get a burger at McDonald's you will save way more than the $1 it costs at the store. Going hungry makes you buy bigger and more prone to impulse buys.
I have been guilty of doing or not doing the above and have always spent more as a result. The above 5 steps are easy enough to do and laziness is not an excuse! Don't waste money on food so you can save for other more fun stuff!

Are you spending too much on groceries?

10 Items that an emergency fund needs to cover


Lately I have been putting a lot of focus on my emergency fund. I am working hard to get it up to the level I want: 1 year of expenses covered. I have done some thinking and realized that yearly expenses are more than just bills and groceries. There are a lot of bases to cover!

Here is what an adequate emergency fund should cover:

  1. 6 to 12 months of monthly bills (utilities, food, rent, gas, etc)
  2. ALL insurance deductibles (home, health, auto, etc)
  3. 5x doctor visit co-pays
  4. 2x prescription co-pays
  5. $500-$1000 car repair fund
  6. $500-$1000 emergency home repair fund (plumber, electrician, locksmith, etc)
  7. $1000 travel emergency fund (death or sickness in family, etc)
  8. 6x minimum debt payments (for all non-mortgage debts)
  9. $500 pet emergency fund (if you have pets this is for non-budgeted vet visits)
  10. $500 catch-all slush fund for random items (parking tickets, smaller unexpected needs, etc)
Some will argue this is excessive. Obviously some of these items will not apply depending on your own financial scenario. Pick the parts you need. I may be over-thinking it here but I want to be sure that just about any disaster that life can throw at me will be covered. Having too much savings is a great peace of mind to me. It is always better to oversave than the opposite.

Does your emergency fund cover everything you need?

March 2010 Prosper Lending Update


It is the middle of the month again and it is time for my update on lending. I had 2 more loans payoff and 3 have 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: 43

Closed Loans:

Charged Off: 3
Paid Off: 12

Open Bids: 1

Total currently invested: $1,481.13 (Principal Value)
Cash in Account: $96.19 (includes open bids)

Total Principal: $1,577.32

Which mutual funds should you choose?


Their is much debate on what types of mutual funds one should invest in. Their is also the debate of how much to put into small, medium, and large companies and also international versus domestic stocks. The same is true for domestic and international bonds and short, medium, and long term. It is a lot of information to take in on a very important subject. Our investment choices affect how and if we reach our goals.

Index funds are the best choice no matter what your goals are. They come with the lowest cost, follow the overall stock market, and you can quickly see how you are doing. Most other types of funds come at a much higher cost, cannot outperform the market in the long term, and frankly are a waste of money.

They key is to have a good mix. You first have to determine what mix of stocks and bonds is right for you. I will use 80% stocks and 20% bonds as an example. These two have to be broken down into subcategories. Stocks - International and Domestic. Bonds - International and Domestic. The exact percentages you will use are based on your beliefs and risk tolerance.

From here you have to break down each one into small, medium, and large cap stocks and short, medium, and long term bonds. This goes for international and domestic. Index funds do exist for all of these types. Vanguard is a good place to start looking. Index funds of the same type do not vary so you should choose based on expense ratio. Invest in the ones with the lowest expense ratio for each type.

Once you have your percentages set and your funds picked you are ready to being investing or adjusting your current investments to match. Once you have your plan in place you can adjust yearly as needed and re-balance. This part of the process takes a while but is the most important. Do your homework and you will be well on your way to meeting your goals!

The personal cash flow chart


In a past job I was working at a financial planning firm. We did a complete financial plan for our clients and I had a hand in the process. One of the items we created was a cash flow chart. It made it very easy for them to see how the money flows and where it goes. They are a good idea to create for yourself to give you a "big picture" of where your money goes every month. Here is an example:

In this scenario the person is funding a SIMPLE IRA and Emergency Savings directly from their payroll. They also have an automatic transfer from primary checking to "Bills Escrow" Savings to cover irregular bills such as insurance. Their investment accounts are also listed with no cash flowing currently.

This particular chart was created in Microsoft Word for ease of editing. You don't have to be as fancy and can simply draw one on paper. The point is to see where your money is going, understand why it is going there, and decide if any adjustments need to be made. It is useful in helping you meet your financial goals and understand how your money is saved and spent.

Do you have a cash flow chart?

Health Care Flexible Speding Account Explained


Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts, created by the federal government, are a great tool if used correctly. You can deposit money pretax to cover medical costs that come up during the year. The rules on what exactly you can use it for are a little fuzzy so I will do my best to explain it.

What can the money be used for?

  • Co-pays and deductibles for doctor/hospital visits
  • Prescriptions
  • Over-the-counter medicines (Pain reliever, cold medicine, etc)
  • Uncovered dental expenses
  • Chiropractic services
  • Uncovered eye surgery and eye glasses/contacts
  • Hearing aids + batteries
  • Infertility treatment
  • Expenses deemed medically necessary (with official Letter of Medical Necessity)
Special Notes:
  • Vitamins and supplements are NOT eligible
  • Insurance premiums are NOT eligible
  • If you don't use all of the money it is forfeited to the government (you lose it all!)
  • Usually offered as part of a benefit package
  • Elect to have amounts deposited to the account pre-tax form payroll
The Health Care Flexible Spending Account is a great tool to save some money on health care expenses via tax savings. You do not have to meet the 7.5% income threshold to deduct them. There is a yearly maximum of $5,000 and minimum if $250 to keep in mind. The best bet is to figure out your average yearly spending on health care that is eligible and use that as your target. If you have money left near the end of the year use it up if you can.

The Health Care Flexible Spending Account is a widely underused tool. I think it is in part due to it being slightly complicated and fuzzy rules. I also think that it has not caught on in the mainstream benefits package offering yet. If you have one available to you I suggest getting on board. Why pay tax when you don't have too?

Term life insurance - The best kind!


Life insurance is a hot topic in the financial world. Lots of folks need it and it is widely available in many different forms. You have term life, whole life, annuities, and all sorts of hybrid. I am here to tell you that you only need to concern yourself with one type: term life.

Term life is the simplest form of life insurance. There is a set time period (term) that the insurance covers. 20 years is the most common term for those looking to cover income for children and spouses. It has a set amount ($1 millon dollars, for example) that will be paid upon your death to whatever beneficiary you select. It has a fixed cost throughout the term.

You will have insurance salesmen try to sell you other types. They will try to scare you with horror stories and other gimmicks to get you to "upgrade" to another product. DON'T do it! They only have their interests at heart (commission) and you almost always lose in the long run. If you want to invest money take the monthly cost difference between a whole life policy and term life policy and invest it yourself.

By investing the difference in premium you get to choose how it is invested, keep all of the returns, and have easy access to it should you really need it. You can invest in IRA's, 401(k)'s, taxable accounts, savings accounts, and anything else you desire. Keep your money in your pocket.

Bottom line here is that term life insurance fits the needs (cheaply) for most of us. If you are really interested in the other products I suggested studying them (and their fine print!) carefully and make a well educated decision. Get the coverage you need and get on with life!

Quick 101 goals in 1001 days update


It has been a week since I have started my list. I keep it in the back of my mind a chisel away at it when I get a block of free time. I have already crossed a couple of things off! Here they are:

  • Increased my 401(k) contribution to 5%
  • Went to Alice in Chains concert
  • Started automatic monthly savings transfer
  • Working on: Retirement Timeline
  • Working on: Cross Country US road trip (May)
As always you can see my list here. I update is regularly with my current progress.

I feel pretty good about knocking 3 things off the list on only 1 week's time. Even though they are small items they are still important. Having the list keeps me focused and gives me a good sense of direction. It's going to be a fun ride!

Account opened with SmartyPig!


I have finally opened an account with SmartyPig. I am going to use it for my savings goals and for the great 2.01% interest on the savings. I am going to start small but increase as I pay down debts and raise my income. This is part of my 101 goals in 1001 days list to increase my savings and make it automatic.

It only takes $25 initial deposit and $10/month minimum deposit to begin. I will start by slowly adding to the account to bring my emergency fund up to 12 months of expenses. Once I have that in place I will be able to breathe a lot easier and not fret over money as much. I am "buying" some peace of mind with a large cushion of savings!

I plan to use them for other goals too as long as they stay competitive with the interest rates. I really like the layout of their site and the calculators they provide for you. Check it out for yourself!

Upcoming Travel!


Today's post is off topic. I am very passionate about travel and that is what I plan to do once I achieve financial freedom. Every dollar I earn I try to put toward that ultimate goal.

I have some upcoming travel that I want to share. I am going to Michigan for work for a few days later this month and in May I am doing a fun trip. I am flying out to San Francisco to drive back with a friend who is moving here to Atlanta.

It will be a test in frugality as we plan to stop a long the way and do it as cheaply as we can. We are going to take a southern route hitting Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Austin, New Orleans, and maybe some spots between. We will have 9 days to do it.

Should be fun!

What should be included in your will?


I am going to answer this question. I am working on my own will and have done some research into what all should (or can be) included. An adequate last will and testament will include the following:

  • A specific list of your assets and who is to receive them in the event of your death. This covers everything from your clothes to your houses, boats, cars, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. The more specific the better. The list is usually and addendum to the will itself.
  • A specified guardian for any minor children or adults currently under your direct care. It is also good to name a second "backup" person in case your first choice passes away before you.
  • An executor of your estate. This is the on in charge of transferring your assets per your wishes in the will. It is also good to have a second choice here in case the one you select passes away before you.
  • Optional: You can have all or part of your assets going into a trust that starts the day you die. Trusts are complicated and you should consult legal counsel if you plan to do this.
  • Optional: Burial instructions. You can detail here if you want to be buried or cremated, where your grave is to be if any, and other details.
It is also good to understand the estate laws of where you live. This is usually driven by the state. If you have no will at all the law will decide who gets your assets when you pass away. It is always best to have a will and keep it updated so your wishes are carried out!

Is your will up to date?

March 2010 Net Worth Update


It is the 1st of the month again and it is time for my net worth report card. I had a great month this month financially. This was definitely a deviation from the norm in a good way!

As of today my current net worth is ($18,688.34). That is an increase of $2,342.97 over last month. The major contributing factors were my tax refunds coming in to significantly reduce my debt, a small work bonus, and some extra side work.

I expect next month to be a slower month since I am not expecting any windfall income. I have made some adjustments in my personal life to help my budget stay in tact and keep me moving forward. My home remodel is about 90% complete now so I am nearing the end of that extra spending! My dream is to have it all done by April 1, 2010.

Alternative Income:

$60 - IT Consulting