Digital Diet: update 3.

Week 2 was the hardest so far and now all is calm again in week 3. I’m not sure why but I really started to create excuses and reasons to why we would need the Internet at home. What if I need to complete a business need? What if my wife needs it to work from home? I have a global company, I can’t be disconnected at all? These are a few of the reasons I concocted in week 2 but have settled into week 3 comfortable with the idea of no home Internet. In fact, I’ve begun to look at this as another step in my minimalist lifestyle. Un-wiring my house from the digital world. Here’s what’s been done thus far.

1. Internet disconnected.
2. Apple TV swapped for an iPod Touch with a composite cable.
3. Apple Time Capsule moved to my office to backup my iMac.
4. Sold 3 extra iPhones. I had a backup device for myself to use while my everyday iPhone would be charging. Didn’t want to miss an iMessage.
5. Our iPad Mini does not see as much use nowadays.
6. I’ve been playing more Legos with Porter.

Last thing I need to do is swap out my Nest thermostat for a none networking device and then our house is back to analog. It’s really weird to have a disconnected house but it feels good. This move has sparked some ideas for home products for those of us without Internet. I’m currently gathering a team to construct a prototype.

All in all, I’m happy with the change and my wife could care less. I was the one who was all geeked out about not having Internet. We’re saving nearly $800 a year and we made some decent cash to put towards a deep freezer for this seasons wonderful harvest of fruits and vegetables.

Now that I’m not distracted by pixels I’ll be out back making mud pies with Porter.

UPDATE: Digital Diet

Well, since my original Digital Diet post my wife and I have taken some very positive steps toward disconnecting ourselves as well as lowering our monthly expenses. So we have:

1. Sold extra, unnecessary electronic devices. iPhones, Apple TV and more.

2. We cancelled our home Internet

3. I successfully unlocked an iPhone and it is now on the Straight talk network for half of what Verizon cost

Since we started we’ve made about $225 selling some things and we are now saving $150 per month. More cuts to come.

Feeling Abundant

Frugal living can lead to frugal burnout.  Sometimes it is hard to see or imagine real or fictional people spending money on vacations, cars, clothes, food, or activities, even though I am happy with my life and I am choosing to not buy things so that we can pay down debt and I can stay home during this season of our lives.  I’m very thankful that my family is in a position where we have choices and I don’t take it for granted.  Even so, the daily messages to spend, spend, spend, get to me too.  Not having TV and mostly watching Netflix has helped tremendously because I don’t see many advertisements.  Also, I try not to look at catalogs or window shop at real or online storefronts unless there is something I am seriously planning to buy.  But I have also found a few positive actions I can take that help me feel the abundant side of my life.

Borrowing tons of books from the public library.

Nothing makes me feel richer than lugging home a bunch of books from the library.  My local library recently started offering an RSS feed where I can browse through all the newly purchased books.  I request whichever titles are remotely interesting and then they call me and tell me when they are ready to pick up.  Not everyone knows this, but most libraries offer interlibrary loan programs.  Even though my library is fairly small, if they don’t own a book, I can ask them to borrow it from another library in Pennsylvania.  Occasionally, I keep a book too long and have to pay a few cents in fines, but it is worth it and far less expensive than buying even a few used books a year.

thiscrunchylife_bookpile

Sharing with others.

I’m always pinching pennies.  But being able to share some of the rewards of pinching pennies with people and organizations that we care about is great too.  Lately, I’ve been enjoying bringing meals to families with new babies.  I loved getting meals when we had a new baby and I love being able to give this gift to others. The act of giving of my time and food to others reminds me to be grateful for time, food, and family.

Discovering fun things to do for free.

Matt and I have been finding and doing fun free things together since our first “official” date: ice skating for free at college.  Over the last 10 years, both before and after adding children to the mix, we’ve cataloged hundreds of free activities including holiday parades, free zoo or museum days, library programs for adults and children, free university sports and cultural events, community festivals and concerts, neighborhood walks, visits to state parks, picnics, backyard camping, using coupons or gift cards for free coffee or other treats, free tours of public or historic buildings, mother-to-mother support meetings, sports or board games, and sharing meals or playtime with friends. In fact, we’ve found so many free or almost free events to choose from that it is an exceedingly rare month that we would spend $15 on entertainment.  Our social calendar is so full of nature walks, parades, concerts, library visits, and so on that we don’t (usually) feel left out of the more costly choices out there.  Of course, not all experiences can be had for free, so we’ll continue to use the money we save to afford museums, zoos, travel, and so on that require a fee.  You had better believe I’ll be looking for a coupon though!

Head over heals for your credit score.

So many of us are head over heals for our credit score. Many of us nurture that number as though life depends on it. We actually believe that life would not exist without good credit. We’re wrong.

My wife and I have come to realize that our credit score means nothing except we’re playing “kissy-face” with the bank. Yep, a good credit score is not a reflection of financial stability but rather a reflection of how good you are at paying back borrowed money.

I used to worry and work diligently to keep my score around 740 but I work at it no longer. We’ve cut up all credit cards and are intensely working to pay off debt as quickly as possible and one day we will have a credit score of 0. Yep, I won’t need it again. I’m done cuddling with the bank.

Keep this in mind. If you were to invest the average car payment of $475 into a Growth Stock Mutual fund with a 12% rate of return, in 30 years you’d have $1.6 million. I don’t know about you, but I’ll keep driving my beat up van. After all, it’s only a transportation appliance.

Debt and a digital diet.

A mere 18 months ago my wife and I finally got fed up with making payments to the man. Before that we were worried about our credit score which is not an indication of financial stability but rather how good you are at borrowing money and making payments. Our score was awesome but our new goal is to someday have a credit score of zero. Inside of 18 months we have payed off $15,000 in debt, saved over $6,000 and purchased a new furnace in cash. How? Well we made huge changes to our lifestyle and I picked up as much side work as possible. Paying off debt and saving money like that does not come easy, it’s a huge commitment and must be something you really want. There’s no magic bean.

We’ve done so much to cut back the money we had going out the door as previous to this we were spending more than we made. Cable was one of the first things to go. I sold my truck and opted to drive an old company work van. Sure it’s not pretty but it’s paid for and considering how terrible of an investment cars are I’m fine with it. Not to mention I really could care less what others think. Going out to dinner is for special occasions or date nights only. We budget each month to the penny, we know where every dollar is going usually before the month begins. We’ve saved tons of coin by buying used kids clothing. My wife has saved hundreds of dollars by finding great deals on name brand kids clothes. Why pay $29.95 for one Gap Kids shirt when you can get one for a $0.25? These among other things are what is helping us to pay off our stupidity.

So, what’s next? Well our desire is for my wife to be at home with the kids. Our oldest would attend preschool part time still as there are so many benefits to your kids being in a school setting. With a new business that I started less than a year ago debt freedom and my wife at home is clearly in the future and to get there quicker we will cut our spending even more.

One of the first things to go is Internet. I am far too connected to the digital world so our home Internet service is going bye, bye which will save $65 monthly. Our monthly pest control fee of $42.40 will be cut, they just come and spray chemicals all over your house anyway, I’ll search for a healthier, crunchier way to keep pests at bay. The last big cut will be my wife’s cell phone bill. By switching to Straight Talk she will still have an iPhone with unlimited data, text and talk but will pay only $45 which is half of what we currently pay to big red. So these 3 cuts will save us $150 monthly plus we have several other small cuts and the big savings of day care.

So my digital diet will rid me of my Apple TV, Nest thermostat and wireless printing but it’s for the greater good. My life is becoming far too involved online and I’m ready to take it back to the crunchier days. Perhaps I’ll crank up the Phish while we garden as a family.

Get disconnected.

Three ways our house saves us $$ every day

thiscrunchylife_house

Owning a home is not without its share of expected and unexpected costs and hassles.  Fortunately, years of frugality primed us to approach house hunting with an eye toward avoiding unnecessary future costs.  Here are some important choices we made when choosing a house that save us money every day:

1. We bought a house close to where we work.

There are many costs to consider when choosing your house location and proximity to your workplace is one of them.  After experiencing the pain of a 3.5 hour daily commute, we knew that we wanted to live close to where Matt was going to work.  Also, at the time of our move, we were a one-car family and by choosing to live within biking or walking distance of Matt’s work, we were able to continue our one-car lifestyle.  Having one car saves us every day on insurance, gas, and maintenance. Additionally, by being so close to home, Matt never needs to buy food because he forgot to pack a lunch.  Plus, me and the kids get to see him more and he doesn’t lose productive time to commuting.

2. We chose a house where we could afford to put down a 20% down payment.

In preparation for house hunting, we checked out several books from the library about buying a home, including Tips and Traps When Buying a Home (Tips & Traps) and Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home. We learned that if you did not put down 20%, you would have to pay an additional insurance, called PMI or Private Mortgage Insurance, until you had at least 20% equity in the home.  Thankfully we were able to save aggressively for 6 months before closing on a house, add in our healthy savings account, and ask for a little help from our families to avoid this cost which can be $50-100+/month and could have added an additional $10,000 to our lifetime costs of owning a home.

3. We chose a house with a smaller footprint.

Bigger may sometimes be better, but it always costs more.  Our family size is yet to be determined, but we chose a house with a modest amount of space so that we could save money on purchase price, taxes, heating, and cooling.  People have suggested that we could “upgrade” in the future, but we can’t imagine why we’d want to move.  Our family is in the expanding phase right now, but in another 16 years, Pete will be off to college or getting ready to move out on his own with John soon to follow. I don’t want to move for more space only to downsize once again later, losing money every time to real estate agents and closing costs.

Sometimes, not buying a house is actually the most frugal choice of them all.  But once you decide to take the plunge, consider how the size, location, and price of your house will affect your bottom dollar and your way of life.

Why I need a budget

Budgeting together since '09 . . . that's how we knew we could afford this old timey photo Matt had been longing for!

Budgeting together since ’09 . . . that’s how we knew we could afford this old timey photo Matt had been longing for!

I’m a little high-strung.  So every now and again, while I’m trying to fall asleep, I imagine how I would feel if I lost some group of files on my computer.  I surprise even myself when I break into a sweat imagining if I lost access to my budgeting program and files!  Obviously I could replace this year’s budget with some work, I mainly worry about losing access to the program because it is a much earlier version of the current YNAB (stands for You Need A Budget) software and after a short 4+ years of budgeting with it, I am set in my ways.

After I calm my fears of being separated from my much-loved budgeting tool and remind myself it is stored on dropbox, I try to remember what life was like before we started budgeting.  Before budgeting, we

  • Never knew if our waxing and waning fellowship, scholarship, or loan funds would cover all of our expenses until the next semester
  • Worried about spending any money on household items, restaurants, travel, gifts, or luxury items because we didn’t know if we could afford them
  • Paid the minimum on our student loans because we didn’t know if we had the funds to pay more
  • Felt guilty when we bought anything.

If I’m being honest, it was me that was feeling guilty, and Matt that was feeling squeezed.  It caused tension in our relationship because I wanted to save the money in case we needed it later and Matt wanted to enjoy some of it.  Fortunately, despite the ever-growing student loans, we never had any other debt and we paid all of our bills promptly.

When I started working full-time, I had to convince Matt that we needed a budget.  Understandably, he was afraid that budgeting was going to make me even more strict with what I thought we could spend, but he gave it a try.  We decided to try the YNAB budgeting system because I had read about it online and it has several “rules” that appealed to my natural budgeting instincts, especially the rule that required you to live on last month’s income.

I was surprised to learn that even after four years of marriage and lots of money talk, actually setting a budget together was very difficult for me.  It was so difficult for me that I cried every single time we budgeted for months!  (I know, embarrassing!)  But sticking with it was one of the best things we ever did and has allowed us to accomplish so many things.  I feel certain that we would not have accomplished the following without budgeting:

  • Paid off more than $60k in student loan debt
  • Saved up a 20% down payment for a house
  • Paid cash for a home birth, a new oil tank, a refrigerator, and a vinyl fence for our yard
  • Adjusted to life on one, smaller income while all of our student loans are in repayment

I still tend to get panicky about money.  It will take a long time for us to get out of educational debt and I don’t like that.  I’m not sure how we will save up money for the new car that we will eventually need.  But, I know that we are chipping away at our financial goals.  More importantly for our lives and our marriage, I understand that after we decide to budget for a date night or for birthday presents for family members, we should enjoy spending the money because our true financial needs, for that month and in the long-term, are being met.

I need a budget because I never felt so free and enjoyed our money so much until I decided to record and categorize every dollar spent.  Go figure!