June 2014 Financial Update

This is a little bit late because we were traveling back to see my family over the Fourth of July. It was a great trip, and I was sad to have to come back to work, but such is life!

June was a great financial month, because I got my semi-annual bonus! That always makes the end of June a financial picture that I look forward to reviewing. In addition, I changed up a little bit of my tracking, which I will go into. As a reminder, here are last month’s numbers.

House – At the end of May, we were 59.2% of the way to our goal. As noted with my bonus, this took a nice leap forward! At the end of June, we are 73.1% of the way to the goal! Plus, I got a raise which will be kicking in with my next paycheck, which should allow us to put a little more in here each month. Hitting this goal by the end of 2014 is still a little bit of a stretch goal, but still something that I think is do-able.

Car – During June, I combined my car/emergency funds which had been in a savings account, and moved them over to a Balanced Fund at Vanguard which is in 60% stocks and 40% bonds. For the purposes of ease of tracking, this goal is 100% reached (and the emergency fund, which I haven’t been tracking here, took a hit). Kind of cheating, but I feel good about the movement of the money.

Kid – This still has a very long way to go, but June was a month that at least saw a little bit of progress here! At the end of May we were 8.1% of the way there, but after June we are now 11% of the way to the goal! Making progress!

Income Goals

June was the best month of the year for a few reasons, totaling $330.44, woohoo! The biggest portion of this (about $190) was due to dividends from a dividend fund at Vanguard, which comes quarterly. That was a nice boost, and something I wouldn’t have had even a few months ago before I started to put money into the fund.

I also got a payment for some old advertising I had on a different site. I finally reached the payment threshold, which was nice! Last, my Adsense on various sites had their best month yet, totaling a little over $20. Not huge, but it had a couple down months so it was nice to see! Hopefully that momentum can continue!

How was your June?

Trying Out Republic Wireless

Well, like so many others, my wife and I are taking the plunge and trying out Republic Wireless! We ordered our phones yesterday!

We went with the Moto G, which was $149 each. They also have the Moto X for $300 which seems to be a little nicer, but considering we are coming from flip phones, we are quite certain that the Moto G will provide a nice upgrade anyway!

Then, we signed up for one $35 plan, and one $10 plan. After taxes, this will cost us about $42 per month, which is a far cry from the $112 per month we were paying at Verizon. We calculate that with the cost of new phones plus the cancellation fee for Verizon, we should make up our money within about seven months. After that, it is just a clear saving of $70/month. Not bad for an upgraded phone service!

I imagine the phones will ship out soon, and then we will begin the process of changing our phone numbers over to the new phones – anyone with Republic Wireless, is that pretty easy?

After we have used the phones for awhile and get a good feel for how they will work, I will definitely have another update here!

My Friend That Retired Early

Last night, we ate dinner with a buddy of mine along with his girlfriend. The reason that I am writing about this is that my buddy, in a sense, is retired. Of course, I should note that he is about a year older (I am 27, so I think he is 28).

How did he do it?

Well, after college, he went and worked in the oil fields. He has an engineering degree, so I am guessing that he didn’t have the typical “grunt job” (which still pay well), but was a little higher up on the food chain.

Also, I believe he bought a house around that time in that area, and then housing prices skyrocketed (western ND has some of the highest rents anywhere in the country, even rivaling NYC, which tells you a little bit about the market there), which I am sure helped his bottom line. A couple of years ago, he was planning a climbing trip to Argentina, and his boss wasn’t going to give him the time off he needed, so he just quit his job, having enough in savings to not have to worry about money.

Plus, it goes without saying that he is very frugal, and did whatever he could to cut his costs. He is also in the National Guard (and has been for a few years), which gives him a little bit of an income boost. But, before any objections – he is not in the National Guard for the money purposes, and is doing it more because he wants to, not for the sake of having a job.

He confessed to me last night he is starting to get a little bored of not having a job, and might go back to school. He is also potentially going to be deployed to Afghanistan next year. All in all, a cool story, and it always inspires me to think about how he was able to become financially free at so young of an age! Even with a high income, it’s always impressive for me to think about it!

April and May 2014 Financial Update

We are back with two months of financial updates! In short, things are about the same ol’ around here… savings are moving up like clockwork, and still just making a little bit of side income. Let’s dive in.

As a reminder, for our financial goals, I will mainly be tracking three here currently: House savings, Kid savings, and Car savings. We do have some other savings goals (for example, we are saving for retirement… but that is mostly on autopilot in terms of contributing the max to a roth IRA and contributing 9% to a 401K, but I am not changing that so there is not really a need to track the balance on this site every month).

House – This savings is coming along nicely, as we have been able to keep up with automatic savings and plugging a little extra in when there is some extra cash laying around. As of the end of May, we are now at 59.2% of the way to our goal here. It’s a bit of a stretch goal but I would like to reach this by the end of 2014. It won’t be easy, but I think it’s do-able.

Car – At the end of May, we are 75.4% of the way to this goal, but I think I am going to change things up. In addition to our other savings, we also have an emergency fund. However, after doing some reading (MMM talks about this), I have come to really realize it is a bit of a waste to have this sitting in a savings accounts (currently at Capital One 360, formerly ING), especially since I am not sure when it will be used. So, I will be transferring the bulk of the amounts in our car fund and emergency fund into a balanced Vanguard fund (VBINX), which I can talk more about it later. In short, I know there’s a risk we could lose a little bit, but I’m OK with that. It’s not a huge chunk of money, but with the uncertain timeframe, I like the idea of moving it somewhere with a little more upside.

Kid – This is an account where I am just throwing any extra money into, and hoping that it slowly grows where we need it to be by the time we need it. We are 8.1% of the way to the goal, but I think we will make a little better progress next month.

Income Goals:

Here is what the past two months looked like:

April = $69.67
May = $240.54

In May, I got paid for some freelance work I did in March, so that was nice. I will also get paid for some work in early June (already over the $50 mark for June). Additionally, I have been working one side income that is time intensive, but can get me a consistent $100-$150 per month… not a huge win, but it’s something!

Also last month, I posted an ebook available for sale on Amazon Kindle, which was kind of a fun and interesting process. It hasn’t had a lot of success yet (sold about 5 copies), but I have some ideas for promoting, which I haven’t had enough time to do yet. This whole process is something that I am planning to learn more about, as it seems like there could be good potential in it.

For the first five months, my side income is at $868.91. Just a little ways from $10,000! Still, I am learning all the time, and hopeful in the potential.

How has your financial life been going?

Thanks to Mr. 1500!

If you are at all interested, I answered some question (10 Questions and a Pizza Place) over at 1500 Days, and Mr. 1500 was kind enough to post my responses! Many thanks to him, one of the best personal finance blogs out there, in my opinion!

2014 Books Read

I love to read, and always have. When I was younger, I would read Goosebumps books all day long, or other type of detective fiction books. These days, I usually read non-fiction books, as that is what I find most interesting.

My goal for the year is to read at least two books per month. I plan to keep this post updated throughout the year, because I love to create lists and track things… so it’s only natural to combine these two loves!

01. Dan Buettner – The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest – I did a full book review of this one, but I loved it. It is a great look into other cultures, and the things that made them happy (and healthy).

02. Dan Morrison – The Black Nile: One Man’s Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World’s Longest River – To be honest, I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted to, but it was still enjoyable. It is an interesting look at a world that I really didn’t know much about – life in Uganda, South Sudan, and Sudan, along the Nile River.

03. Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – I hope to write more about this book (and there have been many words written on the book), but it was a great book, and one that everyone should read.

04. Sudhir Venkatesh – Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets – In this book, the author is a grad student at the University of Chicago, and essentially lives in the projects for a number of years, most notably befriending and following around the gang leader (JT) and one of the building leaders (Ms. Bailey). It was a great book in part because it was a world so foreign to me – a place where they wouldn’t even call the police, or call an ambulance, because they weren’t sure they would come. I love to read about places and situations that I don’t really know anything about that, and that is what made this book excellent.

05. James Altucher -Choose Yourself! – I enjoyed this one a lot, and learned some valuable things, as well as it just making me think about how I spend my time, and my attitudes. One section I particularly enjoyed was him talking about how to generate ideas, or become an “idea-generating machine.” It was an unconventional book in the way it was written (it was self-published), which could turn some people on or off to the message. Personally, I enjoyed it.

06. Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises – I think I am not a huge Hemingway fan. I have read this and A Farewell to Arms and did not love either one, though I think that could be because I tend to prefer non-fiction to fiction.

07. Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster – I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever – It’s an entertaining book about two guys that go to 30 baseball games in 30 days… a remarkable, terrible, fantastic road trip. If you like baseball, you should enjoy this book, as it was entertaining to hear about the different stadiums, and their impressions.

08. Jean Giono – The Man Who Planted Trees – This book is short and sweet – meant to inspire. It really shows the impact that one person can have on their surroundings. I would highly recommend this book.

09. JRR Tolkien – The Hobbit -As expected, it was a great book, and it’s easy to see why it’s as famous as it is. I’m only mad at myself that it took me this long in life to read it!

10. David Roberts – Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer -If you like Into the Wild, you will enjoy this one as well. While I found the background a bit dry, it’s vital for understanding the rest of the book. All in all, quite captivating, especially if you like the outdoors.

Have you read anything good recently? Anything you suggest I should read?

How I Use Swagbucks To Earn Extra Cash

You may have heard of Swagbucks, or at least sites like it. Basically it is a rewards site that allows you to get gift cards (or money in your paypal account for doing normal things that you might already be doing, such as searching the web, or playing games.

I like it because I can do it at work, when I’m on the computer all the time anyway. All I do is occasionally scroll through videos, and it slowly but surely adds up to rewards. Each month, I usually get around $25 to Amazon, and $50 to paypal (aka cash). This isn’t much, but it’s a nice little boost for something I just do here and there when I am already on the computer.

There are lots of tips out there on earning more, and I have found there to be a lot of easy ways to earn. So, all that said… have you ever or would you ever use a site like this to earn free rewards like gift cards? Or do you find sites like this to be too much work for too little payoff? I know people on both sides of that fence!

Our First Airbnb Experience

A couple weeks ago I wrote that we would be using Airbnb for the first time. I am happy to say we had two positive experiences! We stayed one night at two different places.

Night 1 – We were originally more nervous about this one, because it was just an extra room in somebody’s house (rather than the whole place). As it turned out, it was our favorite night of the trip! The host family was extremely welcoming and friendly, and made us feel right at home. Additionally, they had some great recommendations on places to see and things to do, which just added to the experience.

In short, we thought that staying at someone’s house with them still there would be a drawback, but it wound up being great!

Night 2 – We were going to an event (a basketball game), and wanted to stay as close as we could to the arena. At first, we looked at hotels, but they were very pricy (and had huge parking charges on top of that)… so, we looked into Airbnb. We found a place about a 10-15 minute walk away, for far less. It was a studio apartment, and worked out great! We were a tad sketched out by the neighborhood on the walk back, but I don’t think we really had anything to be worried about.

Final verdict: We had always wanted to try our Airbnb, and it met the expectations we had for it! It was nice to stay at a house or apartment as opposed to a hotel, and it was cheaper too for something in similar areas. The only thing that is a little bit of a pain is communicating on when to check-in, but it was really a minor issue. We would definitely use Airbnb again!

Have you ever used Airbnb? What did you think?

March 2014 Financial Update

We have been on vacation for the last week, which is why I have not had any posts here and my financial update is late! We had a great trip, and it is hard to be back and headed into work! Anyway, onto the report:

For our financial goals, I will mainly be tracking three here currently: House savings, Kid savings, and Car savings. We do have some other savings goals (for example, we are saving for retirement… but that is mostly on autopilot in terms of contributing the max to a roth IRA and contributing 9% to a 401K, but I am not changing that so there is not really a need to track the balance on this site every month). So, here is how those accounts look compared to last month:

House – We just plugged along here like normal, with regular savings go into our house fund. However, through this we did reach an exciting milestone, passing the 50% mark! We jumped from 48.8% to 51.9% of the way to our goal.

Kid – We did make a little bit of progress, but it is still rather slow. I have been hoping to contribute to that with side income, and I have, but not enough to make a huge dent in the goal. We went from 4.2% to 6.4% here.

Car – Things continue on track here. We jumped from 68.0% of the way to 70.6% of the way to the goal. It does feel good that we are getting closer and closer here, and the end of relatively in sight!

Next is my income goals, and I have yet to have a big breakthrough. However, it was a steady month:

Mar IncomeWhat went well:

- We got a dividend from a dividend mutual fund we invest in… the account is relatively small (part of our house fund) but it was nice to see that boost.

- My websites did have their best month overall, but that growth is basically at a snail’s pace right now.

What to work on:

- I have one niche site that I think really could have good potential, but I just haven’t been able to get it past around the 4th page of a google search for my target keyword. I’ll be trying to decide whether to keep working on that site or to give it up and move on to a new project.

- On our trip, my wife took some really great photos. I wanted to look into selling photos online, or something of that sort. Anyone have any experience in that?

Hope everyone had a great month!

How I Handle Stress At Work

Last week was a very stressful week of work for me.  In my industry, the 20th of the month is “settlement day,” which means that tens of millions of dollars exchange hands on that day. So, there’s a mad rush of things that happens the week before that, which can get very stressful.

It made me think about the things I do at work to try and reduce that stress level. Here are four things that I do to help reduce stress during these times:

1) Get organized (create a list) – This always helps me the most – to create a list and realize what  I actually need to get done. I can get overwhelmed if I don’t have things laid out in terms of what needs to be accomplished. Lists also help me to prioritize. This is always the first thing I do.

2) Ask for help – I am bad at this, but I am trying to learn to better ask for help. I try to do everything myself, but that usually just leads to being more overwhelmed. If there is something that somebody can help with, I try to ask, which takes a little work off my desk when needed, which is great for stress relief.

3) Think about what I’m doing it for – At work, when things get really busy, I often think about my motivations for work. Right now, that motivation is saving money so my wife and I can take a big trip around the world, and take time off to travel. When I get stressed out, I think about that, and that helps.

4) Step away – When worse comes to worse, sometimes you just have to step away and take a quick break. It can help to clear my mind and re-focus. When needed, just stepping away can have good benefits.

What do you do when you get stressed out?