Author Archives: Christine

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Going Paperless with your Financial Documents

I’ve noticed more company are offering incentives for customers to go paperless – receiving statements, notices, and other paperwork electronically, as well as making payments over the internet. In addition to saving trees, going paperless can also save you money. Consider these reasons for trading the snail mail documents for electronic ones.

Going paperless with your financial documents offers several advantages for customers.

Cost Savings
Paying bills online eliminates the cost of postage. You can utilize your bank’s bill pay feature to send payment via electronically. Many companies are set receive a direct payment from your bank within two days, maximizing the time your money is earning interest. Also some banks are offering incentives for you to go paperless. Wells Fargo is holding an Online Statements Sweepstakes where you could win $25,000 or one of ten $2,500 prizes for switching to online statements.

Reduce clutter
All those paper bills, notices, and statements tend to pile up, and they need to be stored somewhere. When you finally sort thru those documents, they will needed to be shredded before discarding them. Electronic version don’t take up any space – except on your computer hard drive.

Convenience
You might be able to search and sort electronic bills and statements or import the data info financial programs, such as Quicken®, for analysis. Bank statements often contain interactive features that let you find out more about a charge and reconcile your checkbook or spreadsheet records. And electronic documents are portable (it is very convenient for me to keep my records on a flash drive). Having your documents categorized and sorted makes things easier come tax time. And filing your tax return electronically can speed up your refund.

Environmental benefits
PayItGreen, a coalition led by an electronic-payment industry group estimates that by eliminating paper statements, bills, and payments alone, the average household would save 6.6 pounds of paper each year, avoid the release of 171 pounds of green house gasses and 63 gallons of wastewater, and cut gas consumption by 4.5 gallons. Who knew?! The estimates take into account paper, transportation, and disposal.

Still not sure if you want to take the paperless route with your financial documents? Consider these tips for giving up paper.

Secure your computer
Back up your hard drive and keep a copy of your data in a different location from your computer in case of a fire or other calamity. Consider an online storage service like Wells Fargo’s vSafe. Make sure you have updated antivirus and antispyware programs (I highly recommend PCTools).

Download copies
Consider downloading copies onto your computer for safekeeping and future reference.

Record scheduled payments
If you set up online bill pay, especially if its automatic, be sure to record the payment in calendar, financial software or checkbook well in advance so you don’t risk overdrawing your account.

Retain confirmations
Whether you are paying a bill, making a deposit, transferring cash or anything else, save a copy of all confirmations. On your computer’s hard drive, consider setting up a folder called “Bill Confirmations”. Extract attached documents from your e-mail and save them in the appropriate folder.

Keep information current
Notify businesses if your change your email address. Otherwise you might miss bills or other important documents, exposing yourself to late charges and other problems.

I am 98% paperless with a few straggling prospectus coming via snail mail. Where as my husband is still pro paper. Vies that having a hard copy in hand lends for making sure bills are paid on time. Have you gone paperless with your financial documents? Why or why not?

Further Reading: Automating your Finances by Ramit Sethi

{photo credit: midcontinent}

Alternative Health Care Approach

In my last post, 6 Steps to a Satisfied Retirement, I questioned myself about the ability to be able to “retire”. As Merriam-Webster defines, “To withdraw from one’s occupation, business, or office; stop working.” Granted, I am not talking about completely retiring from my occupation. But rather to seek out the self-employment option.

My main reason for wondering if I could retire: health care insurance. I treat it like gold. I pay about $150 month for medical insurance for the kids and me (or $1,800/year; excluding co-pays). If they get sick, I simply take them to the doctor’s office for some medication and wha-la! they are better.

But I sometimes wonder about the option of seeking out alternative health care approaches over paying expensive insurance premiums. I mean popping a pill every time something aches cannot always be the answer, right? Especially with all the righteous side effects you hear about on TV.

Here are some alternative health care methods to consider (for a full list, click here):

Acupuncture – involves the insertion of extremely thin needles in your skin at strategic points on your body. Traditional Chinese theory explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance. (my aunt swears by this to get rid of those headaches!)

Yoga – Yoga is a practical aid. It is a system of exercises based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. The continued practice of yoga will lead you to a sense of peace and well-being, and also a feeling of being at one with their environment. Definitely gets rid of a back ache.

Chiropractic – A system of diagnosis and treatment based on the concept that the nervous system coordinates all of the body’s functions, and that disease results from a lack of normal nerve function. Chiropractic employs manipulation and adjustment of body structures, such as the spinal column, so that pressure on nerves coming from the spinal cord due to displacement of a vertebral body may be relieved. Also consider massage therapy.

Hypnosis – is a mental state (state theory) or imaginative role-enactment (non-state theory) usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a long series of preliminary instructions and suggestions. Used commonly for assisting one to get over phobias or to quit smoking.

Natural Medicine – (aka – Naturopathy) is an alternative medical system that focuses on natural remedies and the body’s vital ability to heal and maintain itself. Naturopathic philosophy favors a holistic approach and comprises many different treatment modalities of varying degrees of acceptance by the medical community; diet and lifestyle advice may be substantially similar to that offered by non-naturopaths, and acupuncture may help reduce pain in some cases. (Or there is Natural Remedies like peeing in the ear to heal an ear ache – ewww!!!)

Tai Chi – The ancient art uses gentle flowing movements to reduce the stress of today’s busy lifestyles and improve health.

Aromatherapy – A form of alternative and complimentary medicine based on the use of very concentrated “essential” oils from the flowers, leaves, bark, branches, rind or roots of plants with purported healing properties. There are many benefits to using aromatherapy.

Doula – Hiring a doula to aid in the birthing process. A doula is an assistant who provides various forms of non-medical and non-midwifery support (physical and emotional) in the childbirth process.

Chinese food therapy is a practice of healing using natural foods instead of medications. We all know the chicken soup remedy for the common cold. And lemon & honey in our tea for a sore throat. Cinnamon, peppermint, or ginger ale for an upset stomach.

What I am getting at is… we all hear that daily exercise, eating organic foods, and having a good social life are keys points to living a healthy lifestyle. Yet most of us don’t invest in the holistic approach, although such practice(s) been around for thousands of years.

Could you feel comfortable in investing (both financially & physically) in nature’s intent (that has been around for thousands of years) rather than paying out for expensive health care premiums?

And should you get sick, could you take yourself to an alternative medicine doctor (like a naturopath or a chiropractor) when you are feeling out of sorts?

Note: I am still on the brink of debate about this one. I truly believe in alternative health care approaches and am aware that they can be budget friendly. However, if something like my kids break a bone or something then my only option is to pay out of pocket expenses for the hospital. Now, if I thought how many times I’ve utilized the hospital for an emergency situation.. it’s enough to count on one hand. I assume maybe I could go with this option if I make sure to have a medical emergency fund in place.

(picture credit: Integrated Supplements)

6 Steps to a Satisfied Retirement

Discipline bears fruit over time when discussing the retirement savings. But if you’re like many people who are still working but are closing in on retirement, there is still hope for a happy retirement. A recent Consumer Reports Retirement Survey, of more than 24,000 online subscribers, found 6 steps that work to obtaining a satisfied retirement.

  1. Live Modestly

    This was the top “best step” listed by retirees who said they were highly satisfied with their lives; 39 percent said they did not spend beyond their means. One way to rein in spending is to create a budget using store-bought software such as Quicken or a free online service such as BudgetPulse (https://www.budgetpulse.com/). Those programs help you track your spending and your progress toward meeting saving goals by consolidating your financial data from banks, credit-card companies, and brokerages.

  2. Maximize your savings

    Even if you don’t have a defined-benefit plan, regularly contributing to a 401(k), 403(b), IRA, or other investment vehicle pays off, our satisfied retirees told us. (Saving too little was a regret of 27 percent of dissatisfied retirees.) At 50 and older, you can put as much as $22,000 into a tax-deferred, traditional 401(k) plan or after-tax Roth 401(k) or their 403(b) equivalents in 2010.

  3. Reduce debt

    Thirty-eight percent of retirees owed $25,000 or more on their mortgages. But 74 percent of retired respondents who were free of major debt reported being highly satisfied with their retirement. For greater peace of mind, pay off your debts before retiring. Even a low-rate mortgage can be a burden if other expenses rise and your income-producing assets falter. Notably, debt-free retirees had a higher median net worth than those with debt: $843,000 compared with $717,000.

    In the current economic environment, accelerating payment of your mortgage can be a wise investment. Most certificates of deposit, bank accounts, and other safe savings vehicles are paying less than 2 percent, so putting your money into additional payments on a 5 percent mortgage instead offers a better return (though you’ll give up some tax deductions on mortgage interest). By making extra principal payments, you can whittle down your loan’s interest cost and term handsomely. For example, adding $100 per month to payments on a 30-year, $150,000 mortgage with a fixed rate of 5 percent reduces the total interest by almost $35,000 and cuts the loan’s term by 6½ years.

    I agree on this one! My husband and I participate in an accelerated mortgage program. Not only is it nice to make our mortgage payments weekly and the life of the loan is reduced significantly, but we’ll also save over $40,000 in interest!

  4. Don’t invest too conservatively

    Taking on even a moderate amount of risk pays off. Median net worth for retirees who said they took a middle-of-the-road approach was $836,000 vs. $671,000 for conservative investors. Notably, the difference in net worth between self-described moderate and aggressive investors was relatively small: a $57,000 advantage for the more aggressive. The lesson: You don’t have to go out on a limb to get the best return. Diversification will help reduce your risk.

    I will have to let my husband know the results of this one. Being so close to retirement, he believes in investing agressively to play catch up on the missed years. With a relatively small advantage I don’t think it is worth it. I fear there would be potentially much more to lose if their was another crash. What’s your thought on this one?

  5. Study your options

    When you design your dream retirement, also devise a Plan B in case you’re forced to retire early or can’t sell your home (a predicament of 8 percent of surveyed retirees). Your alternative plan might include a more restrictive budget or a different retirement location. To determine your Social Security benefits at different ages, go to www.ssa.gov.

    A major issue will be health-care coverage. You can move to your spouse’s insurance plan, find a new job with health benefits, extend your own employee coverage under the COBRA law (go to www.dol.gov and type “cobra” in the search box for details), or look for private health insurance. If you go that last route, try to get group coverage through professional or other membership associations.

    What about becoming an expat for Plan B? I heard their are some nice places to live on way less money. Anyone have experience with obtaining healthcare as an expat?

  6. Take the intangibles seriously

    Stress affected overall satisfaction in retirement even more directly than net worth, our survey found. A quarter of retirees cited nonmonetary stresses such as family relations, poor health, a loss of identity, and boredom. So before you retire, develop hobbies and line up volunteer work, trips, or part-time jobs. Strengthen your personal connections outside the workplace. And, of course, do what you can to maintain good health.

    I agree on finding a hobby before retirement. I have seen too many people get bored. But I have also seen people enjoying their retirement thru volunteering.

Retirement planning is not solely based on a person’s financial net worth. The survey found a happy retirement was about the same between those with a net worth of $500,000 and $1 million. Having more than $1 million did not make a notable difference in their level of happiness either. And if your net worth at retirement will be lower than $500,000… or even lower than $250,000, more than 50% of retired individuals were still statisfied with their retirement.

Are you ready for retirement? Just in case, do you have a plan B?

(photo credit: Mississippi Family Law)

Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecans

A vegan inspired “stuffing” for Thanksgiving (or anytime of the year).

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about mindful eating, sharing recipes, and pretending I can cook. Oh ya, pretending I can take food pictures, too.

And if you are vegan – you’ll be happy to know this recipe is 100% vegan. This is my test recipe for an upcoming family gathering. You see, when our families get together for the holidays, my aunties opt me in to, “bring a green salad”. Granted, I make awesome mixed green salads – filled with cranberries, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, sprouts, purple onions, seasonings, the list goes on. But who wants to always bring the salad? That’s like being the designated soda person.

I wanted this year to be different. Flipping through my cookbooks and paging the web, I found this delicious Autumn inspired vegan dish, Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecan ‘stuffing’. It reminds me of a stuffing. In fact, if you want to be ultra creative, you could stuff this wild rice mixture into halved acorn squashes and roast them for 25 mins or so at 400 degrees. It would make for a pretty plate.

Ya! totally bad lighting. Where’s the daylight when you need it?

Wild Rice with Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Pecan
adapted from Tasty Palettes

Ingredients

1C wild rice mix
2C butternut squash, cubed
2/3 C pecan, chopped
½ C white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 stalk celery, sliced thin
1 Tbl thyme, fresh
½ C dried cranberries
1 pinch Red Pepper flakes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper

With a French accent, repeat, “Mise en place” or Putting in Place. It means to prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. Measure, wash, chop, cut, and place ingredients in individual bowls. I love this step before cooking. Like pulling off the fresh Thyme leaves by pinching the stem with your fingers and railing up so the leaves fall off. Or chopping the celery in thin slices. It my mini-therapeutic Zen session. Weird, I know.

Wish I had a better pic of the Thyme and red pepper flakes together. It reminded me of Christmas with the red and green. Holidays on the mind.

Directions

  1. Steps 2 and 3 take similarly the same amount of time to complete. Prepare these steps at the same time.
  2. Heat Oven 400 degrees. Place cubed butternut squash on a sheet pan. Roast for 30-35 minutes.
    Roasting the squash gives the dish a delectable taste due to the it caramelizing. Alternatively, you could steam the squash for 15 minutes or boil it in water for 10 minutes.
  3. Cook the Wild Rice. One cup of wild rice, add 2 – 2½ cups of water and a dash of oil. Bring to a boil. Then turn heat down to medium-low and cook until water has been absorbed. About 40-45min.
  4. After the rice and squash are cooked. Heat a wide skillet on medium-low. Gently toast chopped until aromatic. Watch carefully that they do not burn. About 1 min. Transfer nuts to board and reserve.
  5. Turn heat up to medium-high, add oil, and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent and soft. Add celery, carrot, and red pepper flake and stir-fry for a three minutes. Then add cooked rice, squash, thyme, cranberries and pecans. Add salt and pepper to chef’s taste, toss to combine. Pair with a green salad. Enjoy!

Oh ya, I said to pair it with a green salad. Well, looks like I’m bringing the salad, too! The dish? It is rather tasty. I almost forgot to add the salt and pepper. Geesh on me. But enhanced the flavor of the dish right at the end. It’s a good tasting dish. And I look forward to the flavors developing even more overnight.

Keeping your Pet Safe with Spot-on Flea & Tick Control

I tried so hard for it not to happen. And many years I have been successful, but I just couldn’t keep them away this time. The fleas are popping up around around house. DRATS!

When you have a household furry friend there are many preventive measures you can take to keep the fleas away.

The EPA’s following tips may help to prevent, reduce, or eliminate flea infestations:

  • Vacuuming on a daily basis to remove eggs, larvae and adults is the best method for initial control of a flea infestation. It is important to vacuum the following areas: carpets, cushioned furniture, cracks and crevices on floors, along baseboards and the basement.
  • Steam cleaning carpets may also help as the hot steam and soap can kill fleas in all stages of the life cycle. Pay particular attention to areas where pets sleep.
  • Wash all pet bedding and family bedding on which pets lie in hot, soapy water every two to three weeks. If an infestation is severe, discard old pet bedding and replace it with fresh, clean material.
  • Flea combs are very effective tools in the suppression of adult fleas. They allow hair to pass through the tines but not the fleas, removing fleas as well as flea feces and dried blood. Focus combing on those parts of the pet where the most fleas congregate, usually the neck or tail area. When fleas are caught, deposit them in hot soapy water to kill them.
  • Consider keeping pets indoors.

The last one, riiiiggggghhhhhhttttt. Try telling my cat to stay indoors. Mr. I-Own-the-House-I-Will-Do-What-I-Want. Cody has his own Cat Door mounted in the screen (works really cool. Just watch your pet, because they start bringing their prey indoors, too. Ewww.) 😉

I do a good job keeping things clean around here. And I know when spring and summertime comes around, its vital to take a bit more precaution. But the fleas are waging the war this time and I need to stop it quick. Now its time to look into topical flea treatments, specifically spot-on products (i.e., the one that generally comes in tubes or vials and is directly applied to specific areas on the pet’s body to control fleas and ticks).

But what is the best way to safely keep your pets free of fleas when buying spot-on products?

Surely, we all have heard complaints about topical tick and flea treatments. In fact, in 2009, the EPA logged some 600 pet deaths and about 44,000 reports of harmful reactions, including skin irritation, vomiting and seizures.

So the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an advisory warning consumers who use specific types of flea and tick control products on their pets to take precautions. The advisory applied nearly 70 “spot-on” products, including Frontline and Advantage products, that contain registered-pesticides (yup, pesticides – scary stuff).

What can you do

The Natural Resources Defense Counil (NRDC) published a pocket guide to flea and tick treatments, which provides the group’s assessment of chemical used in pet pest control products along with safer alternatives.

If you do decide to use spot-on treatments, follow these safety tips when treating your pet for fleas and ticks:

  • Always read the label carefully
  • Use protective gloves when applying
  • Follow the directions exactly.
  • Monitor your pets for side effects
  • Call you veterinarian if your pet shows symptoms of illness after using a product
  • If you pet experiences a bad reaction from a spot-on treatment, immediately bathe the pet with mild soap, rinse with lots of water, and call the vet.
  • Do not apply a product to kittens or puppies.

What I did

We went to the pet store to pick out a spot-on treatment for our friendly feline(s). Sixty dollars for a 3 month supply?!?! Ouch. So we checked out the cheaper brands and compared.

Zodiac Spot On Plus: $10.99 for a 4-month supply
Contains (S)-Methoprene: 3.6%, Etofenprox 40.0%, Other ingredients 56.4%

Sergeant’s Sentry PurrScriptions: $12.99 for a 3-month supply
Contains Pyriproxyfen 2.20%, Etofenprox 55.00%, Other Ingredients 42.80%

Etofenprox was not listed on NRDC’s pocket guide (discovered after I got home). However, I thought with the chemical being in the same ‘prox’ family (as the Pyriproxyfen) I went with the first choice for three reasons, it was $2 cheaper, contained the same ingredients, and I received an extra month supply. Great deal, right? NOT!

After researching Etofenprox, I found out some disturbing information. Etofenprox is a Pyrethroid (aka permethrin). Permethrins should NOT be used on kittens or cats. I found this alarming shout out on various websites. So why do various companies, like Bio Spot, Zodiac, and Seargent’s use this pesticide in their flea products???

I discovered the answer (yes, this post is longer than intended but I had to share the info). I discovered a product performance evaluation review in regards to etofenprox and discovered it works just as well as the high priced Advantage for Cats containing imidacloprid) and FrontLine Top-Spot for cats (containing fipronil). BUT products containing permetherin (like etofenprox), while have a good range of safety on dogs, a few drops of concentrated permethrin could be lethal to a cat. The signs commonly seen with permethrin toxicity in cats include generalized tremors, muscle fasciculations, and seizures. Signs can develop within hours or may be delayed up to 48 hours.

What this means

Companies can produce a cheaper product proved to be just as effective as the top brands despite the fact its harmful to cats (but they don’t have to tell you that).

Conclusion

Shame on these companies developing such unsafe products!
Cat Owners: stay away from products containing etofenprox!
While I didn’t price out the products for dogs, if they contain etofenprox your animal is safe under directed guidelines.
Research proved to a valuable lesson.
And in this case, quality is much better over quantity.
I am returning my Cheap-O product and coughing up the $60 for Frontline Top-Spot for Cats.

Another Option: Anyone have some green friendly pet practices they use for keeping the fleas away (like using flea treats) or a eucalyptus collar?

How to Control Emotional Spending

Emotional spending… we’ve all played victim to it when situations arise in our life. But how do recognize they symptoms before they happen and control the urge to spend?

What is emotional spending?

Emotional spending is when you buy something you don’t need, in some cases, don’t even really want. This happens because it improves the mood. Some people allow this to occur:

to cope with stress,
bring one out of a bored or listless mood,
to increase self-esteem,
to feel special

In fact, we even spend when we are happy. Do you remember what you bought yourself last time you got a raise or when you found out your BFF was going to have a baby?

The problem with emotional spending is that it happens on impulse. And when it’s allowed to keep happening then we spend more than we need to.

How to Get Emotional Spending Under Control

Acknowledge. Notice your feelings and circumstances when you are spending. Did you just finish get into an argument with someone? Have you just been sitting around not knowing what to do with yourself? Being aware of your feelings can help you understand the desire for instant gratification received from impulse shopping.

Stay away from Retail Shops. If you recognize the feelings that tempt you to spend, then it’s not a good time walk into the store or mall. Perhaps, its not time to peek online, too. Instead occupy your time with other inexpensive or free activities. Maybe going for a walk, spring cleaning, or talking with a friend.

Keep the Ads away. Less advertising, less spending. The ad campaigns on TV and paper are psychologically designed pull your full attention to their products. Deliberately, keep your exposure to the ads at a minimum.

Here is a list of things you can do to help keep the ads away:

Opt-out of credit card offers
Unsubscribe to catalog mailings
Sign up for the Do Not Mail Registry
Block TV sites like QVC, the Shopping Channel, etc…
Install an ad blocker on the computer

Be aware of the small purchases that can quickly add up. A person will rationalize that small purchases are okay because it is cheap. The problem is when we buying items at small totals and think it’s okay. You’ll be suprised when you add up the sum of them all! (this is my total weakness!)

Budget for the cause. Set up a category for emotional spending (or the self fund) and budget a small amount of money towards the cause. It’s okay to occasionally spend for a ‘moment’ when its planned. 🙂

Try finding other activities. Go to the library to check out a great book to read. Have a friend over for lunch and a rental movie (highly recommend seeing It’s Complicated – Hilarious!). Give yourself a home spa treatment. Take a walk. Play a game of basketball with the kids. Get a group of friends and bring out the board games. There are many great ways to spend without spending any money.

We’ve all succumbed to emotional or impulse spending at sometime or another to try and lift a week moment or make up for a bad day, but when we make purchases we can’t afford, we end up feeling worse instead of elated. The next time you have a bad day or want to eleviate stress, try to acknowledge your feelings before you spend and question your motivation.

How do you cope when tempted with emotional spending? And if you did partake in impulse shopping did you bring back the item for a refund or take the financial loss?

Early Retirement Extreme Day 1: Finding a Place to Live

When you go to Las Vegas, do you pay for a nice luxurious suite or a minimalistic room with a bed & a sink? I opt for the latter {because we’re out partying 18 hours of the day ;)}. And it is this type of mentality we are going to use today in looking at options for finding a place to live. We will be discussing the first half of Day 1, up to ‘location’ and complete the rest later in the week.

If you are new here, we are exploring our options for reaching Financial Independence with the Early Extreme Retirement {21} Day Makeover.

I will be using my living situation to reference in this analysis. Thus, we are a family of 4 {pa, ma, & the two inklings}. Please map out your personal living situation to see what scenerios may work for you.

The Basic Necessity

Even thought the song does not have relation to money, the beginning lyrics to Ludacris come to mind, “How low can you go? how can you go? how low can go?”

Jacob recommends $200-$300/month/person for living arrangements. I can see why if you consider the true cost of your living arrangement.

To strive for Financial Independence (FI) at the upper limit of $300 for living arrangements you be required to save:

$300/month = $3600/year in living expenses. This needs $3600/0.04 = $90000.

Family Scenerio

We live in Southern California {cha-ching}, specifically in the Inland Empire. What does that mean? The family is located in the outskirts from major cities like Los Angeles and Orange County. Decreased housing costs.

  • We pay $1100 month for a 4 bedroom 1277 sq. foot home
  • We are bound by a mortgage
  • The husband and I are responsible for our children’s living arrangements
  • We have a boy and a girl {aka: need their own rooms due to gender}

We are living pretty low in costs on the So. Cal totem pole. Pretty dang good deal for us! That is $275/person/month – (but the children are not paying their rent – YET ;)). So, $500/adult/month.

We are required to save (adult/month) :

$500/month = $6000/year in living expenses. This needs $6000/0.04 = $150,000.

If you share your expenses, then double the numbers. With these figures, it may explain why some say to financially prepare for children before having them.

Play Out Different Scenerios

Our mortgage costs are relatively equal, if not below that of an apartment rental in southern California (if you rent an apartment or house, what is your rent?). I was browsing apartment/housing costs on Craigslist and found rent to be $500 higher on the low end of the spectrum. Renting room(s) from someone is out of the question.

Potential Extreme options:

  • Get a bigger house and live with another family or take on roommates only if the cost of living for us equates to less than $500/adult/month.
  • Sell the house and rent a mobile home (I did locate one, but it was still the same price in rent that we pay for mortgage. The lot price alone is $600 per month)
  • Live with our parents (maybe if we were a younger couple)
  • Move to a different state with a lower rate of living (I have legal obligations that keep me in this area until one of my kids turns 18 – maybe in a couple years we can look at this suggestion)
  • Have any suggestions?

Your exercise today, figure out how much you need to save for housing to meet the Financially Independent goal in the living arrangement category. Can you reduce your rent/mortgage rates to meet a $300/person/month? And think about different living arrangement options. Brain storm those crazy ideas. Write them all out. If you’d like to share, please comment below or try out the forum in the works (the latter offers more privacy). I have a category labeled ‘Early Retirement Extreme {21} Day Makeover’.

Get Your Debt Under Control | Reduce your Variable Expenses

The best way to begin getting the debt under control is to reduce your monthly spending. We all know the tried and true adage, “Spend Less than you Earn”. But do you ever wonder where to begin?

One simple solution, focus on reducing your variable expenses.

Variable expenses include those that can be changed or eliminated entirely.

Variable expenses are those that fluctuate each month, such as clothing, food, entertainment, vacations, utilities. And since it is easier to reduce variable expenses than fixed expenses it make for a great place to start cutting back.

Get Rid of Unnecessary Expenses

Reducing variable expenses is done by altering your daily habits. But if you can prepare meals by scratch instead of buying take-out and prepared or frozen food. Eating out is one of the most excessive categories for wasted money. Keep track of money you spend eating out for one month, you might just realize you are spending $416 on fast food and restaurants!

You might also start doing your own manicures or getting your haircuts done at a beauty school.

The goal is to reduce variable expenses to free up enough money to pay down your debt and build your cash savings or emergency fund.

Start or Join a Challenge

For those who need extra motivation or tips for cutting variable expenses, consider starting or joining a challenge. I just joined the Catfight of the Personal Finance Blogger Chicks. It’s a group of gals {Single Mom, Rich Mom, Barbara Friedburg Personal Finance, Move to Portugal and myself} clamoring for the win of who spent the least in the month of June.

We actually will all come out winning in the end, but it’s a great way to maintain motivation in paying down your debt, building your reserves or just making ends meet.

Reducing the Variable Expenses

Here are some of the ways I have started reducing variable expenses for this month:

OLD Habit NEW Habit
Eating Lunch @ Bistro Bring Lunch to Work Everyday
Cook Single Meals Batch Cook to provide several meals
Run errands several times a week Limit to once a week
Go to the Movie Theater Rent a Movie
Buy a Book Library or Kindle version

*I will need to come up with more ways, as I’ve pretty much eliminate things like subscriptions & gym memberships and I rarely go out to the bar or to a restaurant

Make your own list

Take out a blank notebook or piece of paper {or a blank Excel worksheet}. Across the top label: Expense, Current Monthly Cost, Budgeted Monthly Cost, and Monthly Savings. Then under the expenses column label the variable expense categories like, subscriptions, clothing & apparel, maintenance, groceries & food, entertainment, transportation, restaurant foods and utilities.

Consider all the ways you could start reducing your variable expenses today. List them all. Brainstorm freely. Is it turning down the thermostat a few degrees? Is it learning to fix things yourself {hey, I know how to change the brakes on my car!}. Or is it learning to darn the hem on your pants?

Now calculate the difference between paying someone to do these things versus you doing them yourself {Manicure $30 at the salon versus free if you do them at home}.

What are some of the ways you can reduce your variable expenses right now or have been practicing already in your life? Please comment and share those awesome ways. We can help each other save money if we “lead by example” – incorporate the following attitudes and practices into your life, which will help improve your own life, but also begin to fashion yourself into the kind of person that others will follow and emulate. 😉