EOM November 2013

Savings rate: 67%

Trying to finish out the year strong, since next year will be very eventful and transitional.  Saving this much is all about planning for the future.

I had a great potluck Thanksgiving with friends this year.  If you have friends that live nearby (or friendly neighbors), potlucks are a great social alternative to eating out, even if it’s not Thanksgiving.

Most of my Christmas shopping is done at this point.  A little thought goes a long way.  People love homemade gifts, and they tend to cost less as well.

Have a great rest of 2013!

EOM October 2013

My October 2013 personal savings rate was 58%.

This is because of two rather large expenses of mine this month, and there is a lesson to be learned from each of them.

Lesson #1:  Do not speed.

This month I paid off a speeding ticket given to me in NY in February.  I’m not sure if other states are better or worse, but because I was pulled over by a state trooper, NY slapped an additional $125 surcharge on top of what the ticket would have cost otherwise.  In addition, to pay online costs a whopping $29 “convenience fee” that in my opinion is predatory, and penalizes procrastinators that wait until the last week to explore their payment options.  For some reason they only accept money orders (not even personal checks).  Luckily, I was able to get one from my bank for free, and send it off one 46-cent stamp later.  Of course this all could have been avoided if I had been more careful driving on the NYS Thruway earlier this year.

Lesson #2:  Prevention is cheap.

I had my semi-annual dental checkup last month, and was diagnosed with my first-ever tooth cavities.  Six fillings in all.  The patient portion of my dental bill was about $250.  It was certainly a worthy expense, as is anything related to my health (without your health, what good is money?), but presumably could have been avoided if I took better care and flossed my teeth after every meal.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say.

 

So those were the themes of my October.  There were also a few Halloween-related money-saving highlights.  In preparation for the holiday, I walked into one of those warehouse-like costume stores that pop up every year, and NOPEd right out of there after seeing the ridiculous prices for the plastic crap they sell.  Using my own clothes and a few garments from Goodwill costing less than $20 total, I was able to put together two costumes this year with my special lady.

Poison Ivy and the Riddler

Poison Ivy and the Riddler

Velma and Shaggy

Velma and Shaggy

We also found a haunted corn maze that had shut down for the season, which we explored at night for free.  The lurking menace of an angry farmer with a pitchfork chasing us through the towering cornstalks certainly added to the experience.  Never forget: fun is free!

Virtual Coupon Clipping

The holidays are coming up, which means you can expect another season of frenzied shoppers trying to find the best deals, both in person and online.  You’re familiar with the concept of coupons, but you just can’t be bothered to browse through those coupon magazines, finding and clipping the ones that apply to you.  Maybe you’ll take advantage of a Black Friday sale, but that doesn’t require any extra effort (besides physically getting your hands on the product on that busy day).

For these reasons, I prefer to do a lot of my holiday shopping online.  Today I’d like to share a tip with you that is easy to implement and will save you plenty of money on online purchases and shipping.  Use RetailMeNot!

http://www.retailmenot.com/

Whatever website you are about to purchase something from, you should search on this website first.  It is a catalog of coupon codes that you can enter during “checkout” to get discounts and often free shipping.  No leafing through pages and pages of advertisements, and no storing them in your wallet until it is about to burst.  Just simple strings of letters and numbers that you can copy and paste to keep some savings on each and every online purchase.  After you do this for the first time, you’ll wonder how much money you could have saved if you knew about this before.

So take advantage of it!  Happy bargain hunting, as you think of creative and thoughtful gifts to give your loved ones for the holidays!

Dividend round-up

A little less than a year ago, in November 2012, I had just paid off all of my student and car loans and had accumulated just enough money to begin investing seriously.  I researched different types of accounts and brokerage services before opening a Roth IRA with E*Trade.  I contributed the maximum allowed amount ($5k) in 2012 and 2013.  Most of this I chose to invest in VTSMX, a Vanguard mutual fund, but I also invested smaller amounts in other dividend-producing stocks.  Today, after reviewing a dividend notification on E*Trade, I thought “Wouldn’t it be fun to see just how much money I’ve made over the past year from dividends alone?” which inspired me to create this post.

For investing newbies out there (20-somethings like me):  A dividend is a payment made by a company to its shareholders, as a way to distribute its profits.  Many people reinvest these dividend amounts, and others use the cash elsewhere.  Money made from dividends is to be thought of separately from money made by a stock price going up.  For example:  If you buy 100 shares of FakeCo Inc at $50 a share, that will cost you $5000.  Let’s say that they pay a dividend of 25 cents per share per quarter.  Three years later the stock price is exactly the same ($50/share) so you sell your stock and get your $5000 back.  So what was the point?  Well, over those three years you would have made (25 cents) * (100 shares) * (12 quarters of a year) = $300.  Hopefully the market value of your investments goes up also, but dividends are a nice bonus.  I heard somebody once compare trading stocks without dividends to trading baseball cards.

Anyway, after thinking to myself how interesting it would be to know exactly how much money I’ve made from dividends over the past year, I looked it up:  $287.94

This is wonderful!  To borrow an analogy from MMM, every dollar I have invested is one of my little employees, and these dividends are the bacon that they bring home.  This essentially free money that I spent no effort earning through my own labor represents an additional gain of roughly 2% of my Roth IRA savings.

And that is the power of dividends, produced by stocks and/or mutual funds that you plan on owning long-term.  As I invest more and more in the coming years I look forward to seeing this number grow.  Just because you’re young, don’t be daunted by beginning and investing your retirement savings; see what can be accomplished in just a year!

EOM September 2013

Howdy Pilgrims!

My savings rate for September was 59%.  This is a little disappointing to me as my current goal for 2013 is to have a higher savings rate than 2012 (which was 67%) and right now I’m hovering around 65% for YTD.  From another perspective, saving 59% is way above the American average, but if I don’t hold myself to a higher standard than nobody else is going to.

This month I’d like to share some ways that I saved money in September.

  • My fiance’s dentist offers a promotion where if you refer a new patient, you (and the new patient) each get a $50 gift card to be used at local restaurants/spas.  For the month of September they doubled the promotion, and since I had been wanting to switch dentists anyway, we took advantage of it.  Just yesterday we got two gift cards in the mail for $100 each.  That is a total value of $200 that we get to enjoy for free!  Who still believes that you have to live austerely to realize extreme savings?
  • I did not buy GTAV (although I was sorely tempted).  For the uninitiated, this is a popular video game with a gigantic production budget.  Buying this game on its September 17 release date would have set me back $60.  I hope to own and play it eventually, but I can wait for it to go down in price.  Imagine consuming something that cost $266 million dollars to make, for the low price of $15 (the current price of an earlier but not yet obsolete game in the series).  The mind boggles.  In the meantime, I’ve been taking advantage of Microsoft’s “Games with Gold” XBOXLIVE promotion, which makes a game available for free download every 15 days.  Many of them are quite good, and I may not have known about them otherwise.
  • I applied for this Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card a few months ago, knowing that if I cancel it in less than a year I will avoid the annual fee.  One of the benefits of this card are the frequent flier miles they give you.  This month, I used those miles to purchase my plane ticket home for the winter holidays.  Expedia estimates the current price of the round-trip ticket I bought to be $422.  My fiance did the same, for total family savings of $844.  The total cost to us was $0!  Incredible.
  • I saved some money on groceries and other day-to-day living expenses by eating and living at an all-inclusive Jamaican resort for a week.  My special lady and I planned and paid for this trip back in March (my savings rate that month was about 50%).  On the way there and back we avoided hotel costs by staying a total of three nights with different friends of ours in Chicago, and avoided gas and tolls to/from Chicago by buying Megabus tickets way in advance (they were $6 each, round trip).  I get that Caribbean vacations aren’t exactly a great way to save money, but I mainly just wanted to include this picture.

1240213_10103486562452815_1259775145_n

My tip for you this month is to take advantage of promotional deals, and try to make the most of your paid vacation (a little planning goes a long way).

Happy Saving!

EOM August 2013

My savings rate for August was 65%.

I spent $58.21 on alcohol, $118.58 on eating out, $65.49 on gasoline and $206.66 on groceries.

I spent $6.24 on gaming and $9.43 on other entertainment.  This last line makes me laugh because I played a whole bunch of video and tabletop games this month, and did a lot of other entertaining things as well.  I guess all of those good times were mostly free!

This alone would not have brought my savings rate down to 65%, but as you know from my previous post I decided to splurge on an artful, personal gift for the love of my life.  I can see it hanging on my wall as I write this post!

I also just got back from my bachelor party, which happened to be on the same long weekend as my birthday.  My closest friends were there, all of whom have known me for years, and most of whom have known me since kindergarten.  They make me feel rich indeed.

This month, after closing out my spreadsheet for August, I decided to run some numbers and came up with the following fun facts:

  • I created my spreadsheet in December 2011 (which was 21 months ago).
  • Since I started to track each individual transaction in my spreadsheet, I’ve entered 1339 lines representing different gains, expenses, and transfers from one account to another.
  • My total net worth has gone from negative (student loan and car loan debt greater than assets) to positive.
  • I created this blog in January 2013 (8 months ago).
  • According to my average monthly spending, my total liquid net worth (not including investment gains) would completely fund my current lifestyle for 13 months.  This is my emergency fund.
  • According to my average monthly spending, my total net worth (including 401ks, IRAs, etc… but not counting on future gains or losses) would completely fund my current lifestyle for 39 months.  This is my retirement fund.

So there you have it.  Another month done and gone.  Each month doesn’t seem like much on its own, but when I use my spreadsheet to examine the big picture I can see the snowball effect beginning.  Onward and upward!  Happy saving!

Artwork Time!

Over the past three weeks I’ve been secretly working with an artist I discovered on reddit to commission a series of images to present to my future wife as a wedding gift.  They are done in the style of a cartoon we both enjoy, and depict us doing many of the activities that we enjoy together.  The process was smooth and simple: I described what I wanted, approved some concept sketches, evaluated previews of the final work, and paid for the high-res image files.  The entire time I was very excited to see the project to completion, and was not disappointed by my fiance’s reaction.

johncommission1_web

Although I didn’t create the artwork myself, the images are very personal.  Art is a personal thing, and different pieces speak to different people.  It is the kind of thing that is hard to put a price on.  Perhaps this explains why some are willing to spend millions on a Picasso.  My position is that when you’ve cut out all of your frivolous expenditures it is very easy to justify spending hundreds of dollars on art, if it makes you happy and if you are not spending more than you are making.

johncommission2_web

I talk about accumulating wealth; after all, that is the subject of this blog.  But wealth is more than money.  Money is merely a tool, a means to an end, an end which to me is ensured security and happiness.  It is important not to lose sight of that.  Maybe I could have had a higher savings rate this month (it will still be high), or retire a year or two earlier than I am planning (which is still early), but only at the cost of forfeiting experiences that I would not give up for the world.  You can recognize the rich man by the smile on his face.

johncommission3_web

Then again, if I had any artistic ability of my own, that would be even better.  My fiance and I are of the same mind on these topics, although she is often better in the execution, having recently completed two oil canvases of her own (and the discounts she finds on her supplies amazes me).

PS.  The artist is Amy Liu.  If you like the pieces I commissioned then please check out her other work on her website or on her blog.  It was a pleasure working with her.