Friday, April 3, 2015

March 2015 Expenditures

Out like a lion!

Getting back into the swing of things with another post this week! Whoo!

Trying to find some good FI blogs. Still have some of my favorites (see the sidebar to the right), but always looking to feed that hunger for more!

As a reminder to you, our readers, our goals for our financial journey:
Our immediate goals are simple:
  1. Pay down our $12,000 in credit card debt. We're now down to $9,605. So, we've paid off (including extra interest payments) almost $3,000 in three months. The majority of that being in March.
  2. Increase our Emergency Savings from $100 to $1000. Longer term, we'd like to increase this to 6 months of our salaries. We've put this goal on the back burner for now in order to pay off debt more quickly.
  3. Save for our vacation in November ($1000-$1500). We had the money set aside for this. We put it toward paying off the debt up front now, so we can reduce the amount of interest we're paying. We know that we can set aside roughly the $120/month for our vacation in November.
  4. Save for a possible down payment on a new car ($2000-$2500). I think we're at the point where we're comfortable pushing this goal out until next year, so that will help our financial goals.
It's good to see that we're making progress on the biggest goal (debt repayment), but at the same time, it's frustrating to see a lack of progress on our other goals. In reality, we're putting all goals off in order to pay down our debt.

Well, at the very least, let's see how we did.

Mortgage: $1,116.91

Back to our normal mortgage payments this month. I also included a couple small house-related payments here - home improvement type stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary here!

Heat/Gas/Electricity/Utilities: $398.99

Gas - $89
Electricity - $103
Gas - $92
Water/Trash - $114

I put the breakdown for this category because it was almost twice as much as February. Two reasons. 1, we paid our bi-monthly city municipal bill which includes our water bill and trash bill. The second reason it was higher was that we paid our April gas bill a couple days early, and I continued to keep it in the budget for March to reflect when the money was actually taken out of our account.

Internet/Netflix/Cable: $264.54

DirecTV - $102
DirecTV - $107
Internet - $55
Netflix - $8

Like the utilities category, we paid ahead on our DirecTV bill. Kept it in the budget for March to reflect when it was actually paid.

Cell Phones: $122.10

Since February, we've had a lower Verizon bill because of the changes I made in January

Auto: $279

Back to the normal auto loan payment. Boo!

Car Insurance: $73.59

Back on track on this one.

Window Loan: $281.40

No change here.

Web Hosting / Adobe: $80.13

Bought a new domain and one month of hosting, in addition to normal expenses.

Fitness: $63.64

Weight Watchers. Registration for Half-Marathon in June.

Medicine / Therapist: $75

A couple visits to the therapist and normal medication payments.

Groceries: $406.05

Seems to be our normal area. We actually budgeted for $400 here, so this was spot on where we wanted to be.

Takeout: $276.65

Less than February by about $10. More than our $200 budget, though!

Date Nights: $96.25

Less than our budget by $24. 

Clothing / Makeup / massage: $227.13

Mrs. Corn Fed bought some new spring clothes, and has also been losing weight (due to Weight Watchers), so needed better fitting clothes! A good problem for us to have!

Dog Expenses: $216.86

Normal vet visit for the puppy and a couple bags of dog food. Also includes new treats and some new toys - puppies go through toys quickly!

Gas: $234.60

Had some longer weekend trips this month, so we had larger gas bills.

Other: -$821.63


What this actually means is that we gained $821.63 in the "other" category this month. How did we do that? It's basically our tax refund. We applied this to our credit card, so it was basically a wash, as you'll see in the next segment.

As you can see, we've basically removed any savings. For better or for worse. But due to a combination of reducing our spending, our tax refund, and some extra cash, we put almost $1900 towards our credit card this month! Whoo!

Like I said in the previous write-up, "Our priority, right or wrong, is paying down the credit card as fast as possible."

So how did we do overall?

This is a little skewed because of how much we put towards the credit card this month. We put more towards the credit card than we actually pulled in, hence the difference in the overall monthly budget.

I looked at Mint to see if we're on the right track. So far for the year, Mint is pretty accurate with a positive cash flow of $1865 for the first quarter of the year. That accurately portrays how we've been able to contribute so much to our credit card debt in the first three months!

Frugalwoods Method of Non-Mortgage Spending.

March - $4,155.23
February - $3,924.79
January - $3,538.65

A bit higher than February. We obviously contributed much more to our credit card debt, but on the other side, we had a full mortgage payment this month. So, overall, we did spend quite a bit more than we have the past two months. 

We're 25% done with 2015! What?! Are you 25% of the way to your goals for the year?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

February 2015 Expenditures - LATE

Better late than never?

Taken quite the break from regular postings here. It's been a crazy couple of months on the home front. Lots of puppy training, volunteering, and other activities that have kept us busy for the last few months.

I've continued to read my favorite FI (Financial Independence) blogs over that time, continuing the inspiration from the beginning of this journey three months ago.

Back in January, I wrote about our goals as we started on our FI journey.

Our immediate goals are simple:
  1. Pay down our $12,000 in credit card debt.
  2. Increase our Emergency Savings from $100 to $1000. Longer term, we'd like to increase this to 6 months of our salaries.
  3. Save for our vacation in November ($1000-$1500).
  4. Save for a possible down payment on a new car ($2000-$2500). I'd like to push this out further, but Mrs. Corn Fed prefers newer, lower maintenance vehicles.
I want to keep at least some sort of continuity in our blog posts, so I'll save the updates on those goals for the March Expenditures post (which will be written right after this one!)

Keeping track and staying positive.

As it was in January, it's important for us to remember that even though three months feels like a long time, we are only beginning this journey. Our focus continues to be improving our finances month-by-month. 

So, let's see how we did this month!

Mortgage: $541.20

No! This is NOT a mis-print. I called our mortgage company and asked to change our withdrawal dates to be semi-monthly, rather than bi-weekly. The bi-weekly was causing our checking account to be extremely low at weird times of the month. This was one step towards managing our account better and timing when our bills go out of our account. So far, it's helped us avoid several overdraft fees which were common in the months prior.

Heat/Gas/Electricity/Utilities: $206

Yes, this was higher than last month, but if you remember, we paid our bill a little late, so it was going to show up in February instead of January. That's what is reflected here in our higher line item.

Internet/Netflix/Cable: $110.60

Nothing new here. Still waiting to get out of our contract with DirecTV.

Cell Phones: $122.10

Yay for data tracking!

As I wrote in January, Verizon temporarily dropped their prices by $10/month. I took advantage of that and dropped our plan down from 4GB/month to 2GB/month based on our average usage. Saved us almost $25 this month!

6-Month Data Usage - February
6-Month Data Usage - March
As you can see, our average use is now hovering around 1.3GB/month. Switching to podcasts instead of Spotify Premium has definitely helped cut down on my data usage (as I'm the data-hog in the family.)

Auto: $0

No auto expenses this month. One more month of no auto payment - thanks to a nice Christmas present. 

Car Insurance: $73.59

Back on track on this one.

Window Loan: $281.40

No change here.

Cleaning Lady: $140.00

Last year, Mrs. Corn Fed hurt her back, so to keep up with chores we hired someone to come clean our house every two weeks. We had her come two times in January, but she didn't cash the checks until February. Double ugh.

Web Hosting / Adobe: $93.94

More than January because of timing of Adobe Creative Cloud payment.

Fitness: $142.43

Two expenses for this. Weight Watchers for Mrs. Corn Fed. Marathon fee for me. It's still several months out, but registration opened in February, so I was able to get the cheapest registration that'll be available.

Petsitter: $70.00

Transitioned this month to having the petsitter only a few days a week, then Mrs. Corn Fed and I started coming home every day to cut back on this expense. 

Medicine / Therapist: $30

$10 for medication and $20 for therapist co-pay.

Groceries: $326.75

Much, much better than January. About $400 better.

Takeout: $287.05

Um, this was 2x as much as January. Guess we spend that food money somewhere!

Date Nights: $208.67

Had a few extra date nights during the month of February. We did take a weekend trip, and so there were some additional travel costs with that trip that are included here. The other big one here was we went to a movie out and got treats as well, so that was $40 just for movie and theater snacks.

Clothing / Makeup / massage: $120.11

We adjusted this category in February to better reflect how we were spending the money. Chiropractor visit and message for Mrs. Corn Fed's back.

Dog Expenses: $776.01

Normal puppy shots for Corn Fed Hound Junior. Corn Fed Hound Senior had some health issues this month. We took him to the veterinarian because he was sick, and the vet found multiple tumors growing off his internal organs. So, we incurred some major expenses with those tests/scans, and then euthanizing him as well. They give us a week or so tops, so it wasn't really a choice of what we could do. It was just a matter of when. :( 

Gas: $94.09

Pretty much normal commuting here.

Other: $100.05

We need to evaluate the "other" category. Too easy to place anything here and not think about it - "out of sight, out of mind." Just several miscellaneous items that add up over the month.

A main focus of ours in our budgeting is increasing our savings, and paying down our debt. We've made sure to include these in our monthly budget so we don't use the "we'll use whatever is leftover" method, which doesn't work for us.

As you can see, we did good for both our "Car and Travel" account and paying down more than we budgeted for the credit card. We ended up not putting anything towards our Home account, nor our Emergency fund.

Our priority, right or wrong, is paying down the credit card as fast as possible.

So how did we do overall?

Much better than January!

Even with some large unexpected costs (putting our old dog to sleep), we stayed on track. What a relief.

We've pretty much lowered our Stationary Bills to their lowest amounts, so we're solely focused on lowering and keeping track of our flexible bills.

Frugalwoods Method of Non-Mortgage Spending.

February - $3924.79
January - $3,538.65

A bit higher in February, but this is mainly due to two changes. One, our mortgage payment dates changed, so we only payed $541 towards our mortgage this month. Second, we incurred almost $800 in vet bills this month. Can't wait to see how this looks for March.

So that's our February! How did yours go? How did the shorter month affect your budget?

Friday, March 20, 2015

How Getting New Windows Affects Our Budget

Window Leaks are NOT fun!

Last summer, Mrs. Corn Fed and I decided to take the plunge and look at getting new windows for our master bedroom. For the first two years in our house (our first home!), we put up with random leaks from the corners of our half-circle window in our master bedroom. Not fun.

We had a couple people come out and recaulk the outside of the window, but they couldn't find any other reason for the leaks. Given the fact that the leaks were random in nature, we couldn't help the contractors with any details either!

Where do you get replacement windows?

I started looking around at the big box stores for windows since we've had good luck so far with them for our new storm door and new sliding patio door. Let's just say that big box stores are not the best place for getting replacement windows, at least in our area (upper midwest).

Google saves the day!

A Google Search eventually put me in touch with Renewal by Andersen. You may have heard of Andersen Windows. They're kind of all over! Well, Renewal by Andersen is an in-house brand that handles all the sales, manufacturing, and installation of their windows. This differs from buying actual Andersen windows/doors where you need to hire someone else to install your new windows. The other major difference is that Renewal by Andersen windows fit your existing opening, instead of a complete rip-out to the studs of your wall. (I'm not the best at explaining that!)

Needless to say, we eventually replaced about 10 windows in our house with new fiberglass, double pane windows. Holla!

This was in October, just as things were starting to cool off in the neighborhood.


We were expecting savings on our heating bill this winter, but we certainly weren't expecting differences like this!

Nov 07, 2013 - Dec 10, 2013 - $96.74
Nov 07, 2014 - Dec 10, 2014 - $85.87
Savings = $10.87

Dec 10, 2013 - Jan 13, 2014 - $147.53
Dec 10, 2014 - Jan 13, 2015 - $108.29
Savings = $39.24

Jan 13, 2014 - Feb 12, 2014 - $154.87
Jan 13, 2015 - Feb 12, 2015 - $77.50
Savings = $80.37

Feb 12, 2014 - Mar 14, 2014 - $139.28
Feb 12, 2015 - Mar 16, 2015 - $80.92
Savings = $58.36

Total savings (4 months) since new windows = $188.84

Not too bad!

Now the cost.

We paid roughly $11,500 for our new windows. As we were low on any savings during this time, we got a home loan from our credit union. We got a 5-year, $15,000 loan, creating monthly payments of roughly $280.

So, with our lower energy usage, we've saved roughly 2/3 of one loan payment in lower heating costs from this year to last year. We also did have the luxury of a more mild winter than last year, but we also were opening our patio door a whole lot more due to our new puppy in December.

Tax Credits

A nice surprise came when it was time to do our taxes this year. I was pleasantly surprised when TurboTax asked me if we made any home improvements to our house during the year. I thought, hell yes we did! Putting in the relevant costs and improvements came back with a tax credit of roughly $315. Applied to our deductions, this helped us avoid any further

The next step in savings is during the summer and seeing how the UV protection and double-pane windows help with our AC bill. Our master bedroom normally gets super hot during the summer as the windows face to the west and get sun from about Noon-9pm during the summer.

Have you made any energy saving improvements to your home lately? How did they turn out?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Net Worth - February 2015

First, what is net worth and why should I measure it?

Net worth = Total Assets - Total Liabilities

Fairly simple, right?! So, why measure our net worth?

The biggest reason for measure is to not see how much we are worth, but to give us another stick to measure progress against. Is our net worth higher or lower than the previous month?

Step 1: Add up Assets

Using our handy-dandy iPad and Numbers app, I used the built-in Net Worth template to calculate our net worth. While I have already started entering numbers for March, I did the same process for January and February. Here's our numbers so far for March to give you an idea of how the spreadsheet works and looks.

As you can see, Assets are easily calculated by adding up the value of your possessions and more liquid assets (like bank accounts).

Step 2: Add up Liabilities

Our liabilities are fairly easy to add up, as there's only a couple accounts! That debt is quite high! That's why we're doing our budgeting!

Step 3: Calculate Net Worth

While it's really easy to subtract Liabilities from Assets, our Numbers template did the "hard" work for us!

Now you know how it works for us, how have we done so far this year?

With our preliminary numbers from March, we've so far seen an increase of roughly $2,300 in our net worth from February to March.

Most of the increase was driven by contributions and increases in our retirement accounts. While we did remove a bit of debt, the debt needle only moved about $1000 as you can see in the Liabilities row.

Moving forward

Like I mentioned at the beginning, for us measure Net Worth is important because it provides another stick for us to measure ourselves against. We might be so caught up in the daily budgeting and looking at our large debt numbers that we forget the large picture. And in the large picture, we're doing fairly well, considering. Although, we could always do better!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

4 Reasons you DON'T need a new computer

If you're in a similar position to where Mrs. Corn Fed and I are, you're probably recently removed from college (say, in the last 10 years) and have been chugging along with the computer you bought during college. If you're a little bit better off, maybe you're chugging along with the computer you bought when you got your first job and your "big" adult paychecks.

Which brings me to my next point: your computer is getting old. Isn't it?

Our was. It was definitely getting long in the tooth.

Most people's reaction to this situation would be to make due with what you have, or to buy a new computer. These were totally our first thoughts. But, they weren't what we decided.

So, why don't you need a new computer?

Reason 1: Your smartphone.

How often do you use your home computer these days? Not often, most likely. Email? Phone. Facebook? Phone. Youtube? Phone.

You might even have a tablet in the house. Now you can watch your Netflix, have a bigger screen for email or other word processing. You don't need to pay for Office on any device, anyway!

Reason 2: You can upgrade. (More than likely.)

Do what we did and spend only 1/10th the cost of a new computer and upgrade your old one! You can make your computer like new without hitting your wallet too hard.

Reason 3: Clean up your computer.

If you've had your computer as long as we did, there is probably a lot of photos, resumes, programs, and other files clogging the hard drive. Back up your files. Then clean your computer up, start from scratch. Erase your hard drives, reinstall your Operating System, and load your files back on the computer.

Now, all that is obviously easier said than done, especially since this is a finance blog and not a tech blog. So, I took the liberty of compiling the best resources on "starting over" for both Windows and Mac computers.


OS X: How to erase and install (Apple Support)
Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard: How to Erase and Install (Apple Support)
OS X Yosemite: Erase and reinstall OS X (Apple Support)
OS X Mavericks: Erase and reinstall OS X (Apple Support)
OS X Mountain Lion: Erase and reinstall OS X (Apple Support)
OS X Lion: Erase and reinstall Mac OS X (Apple Support)

Stop Trying to Clean Your Infected Computer! Just Nuke it and Reinstall Windows (How-to Geek)
Installing and reinstalling Windows 7 (Microsoft Support)
How to perform a clean installation of Windows 8 (Microsoft Support)

Reason 4: This is the more drastic route, but it's possible. The library.

Most libraries these days are the technological battle fronts in our communities. They offer Internet access, free computers to use, and our local library even offers tablets to families to borrow!

Yes, it stinks if the library is not convenient for your family, and even more, it stinks that you would need to make a family trip any time you need to use the computer.

But, if you are in a place where you absolutely can't afford a new computer, your local library is probably a good bet.

Make the choice that's right for you and your family.

I'm certainly not advocating NOT getting a new computer if you need/want a new computer. These are merely the same roads that Mrs. Corn Fed and I traveled down when we had to make this decision recently. By not buying a new computer, we saved ourselves over $2000 and a bunch of headaches. Not buying a new computer focused our energies and attention on what truly mattered in our computing lives, and not "wanting" the latest and greatest that we didn't need, or more importantly, couldn't afford.

Is your computer slowing down? What's your family plan on when your computer bites the dust?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Create a Money Date in 5 Simple Steps

Maybe you've heard of a "money date" before, and maybe not. I'd like to set the stage for you and show a little bit of what our world looked like before we discovered the incredible money date.

Our world before "money dates" meant our date nights - and I mean real dates, dinner, movie, romance - usually had some money component to the date. By that, I mean that at some point during the date, I'm sure one of us would bring up one version of the following statements:

"Where does the checking account stand?" 
"Hey, how much can we afford for our honeymoon?" 
"Could we do this excursion?" 
"I was thinking about our next vacation, do we have the money?"

And then our romantic date becomes a heated conversation about what each of us are doing wrong with money, getting frustrated that the other person doesn't understand us.

We're not exactly sure how we learned or heard about the idea of "money dates," but the basic idea is pretty simple.

Set aside time in your schedule to talk about money. A money date.

Now, the best result you can get from this is pretty wonderful. Not only do you get a better understanding of your finances, but you get your date nights back! Double huzzah!

So, how do you go about starting money dates?

It's pretty simple.

Set a time.

Originally, we tried to do our money dates once a month. It would work okay for a couple months, then we would let it slide until something bad happened. Then we would have money dates again, let it slide. You get the idea.

Our money dates work a lot better now that both of us regularly (semi-weekly, if not daily) check our bank accounts and see what we've spent. We've gone to a semi-monthly schedule for our money dates, meeting around the times we get paid, the middle and end of each month.

Gather any resources.

Like in our work lives, we all hate meetings where people aren't prepared! Money dates are the same. Make sure you come to the table (or couch, coffee shop) with the information you need to have a good conversation. Is this a list of transactions for the time in-between money dates? Maybe it's the amount of money in each of your accounts, including any debt. Do you have a calendar of when bills are due or scheduled to be paid? These are all things you can bring to your money date.

Stick to the plan.

Respect each other and the money date. If you say that you're going to talk about only one or two items, focus on finishing your discussion on those first before moving to other potential items. We've had one-too-many money dates derailed by heading down a different road than what we planned. Likewise, if you've both agreed to talk for an hour, respect that decision. If you can get done quicker, that's better!


At the end of the money date, quickly go over any decisions made during your meeting. Did you decide to change your automatic savings plan? Change it. Did you change your budget around for next month? Change it. Need to put a new bill in the calendar? Put it on the calendar. The worst part of this journey is getting to the next money date realizing you didn't do what you, or your partner, said you were going to do.

Change for the better.

Money dates have made the financial part of our lives infinitely better. It's a safe place where we discuss money. We don't judge each other for decisions made during the in-between time. We realize that we are two partners on this journey together and these meetings are meant to help us succeed in that journey.

What say you? Do you have money dates? Do you have fun names for them?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

To buy a new computer or upgrade?

Back when Mrs. Corn Fed and I were engaged, we jumped into the deep end of making big purchases.

Not our computer, but you get the idea!

We decided to purchase a brand new MacBook Pro, which cost us about $2500. Using that new computer, we designed a lot of materials for our wedding.
  • Save the Date Invites
  • Dinner Menus
  • Wedding Programs
  • Reception Highlight Video
Our thought at the time was we would be paying people do these things, but we already had the training and acumen to accomplish these on our own.

Fast forward almost 5 years later

We were now faced with a growing conundrum: an aging computer. It was no longer easy to edit video, use Photoshop, and edit complex HTML. In fact, even simple web browsing and Word documents took forever and were exercises in dealing with frustration. 

So, what were our needs?

Replace existing functionality

We soon realized that the functionality we needed was for three main areas:

  • web surfing, 
  • email, and 
  • word processing. 
With those three items in mind, we realized that we didn't need a new +$2500 MacBook Pro to meet those "99% of the time" needs.

Our buying options came down to three areas:
  1. Buy an iPad (with possibly a keyboard)
  2. Upgrade our existing computer. Possibly new hard drives, etc.
  3. Buy a cheaper Windows laptop.
Off the bat, #3 was never really an option. Our existing software is all Mac-based. On top of that, we have two Apple TVs, one 1st Generation iPad, and two iPhones already in the house; staying in the same ecosystem was preferable. This isn't to say we were against Windows computers. We only wanted something that would work with the software and hardware we already had at home.

Is upgrading a possibility?

I started looking at what it would take to upgrade our computer, and the best bang for our buck came in two places: upgrade to a solid state drive, and upgrade the RAM. We ended up purchasing two SSDs from OWC and installing those in our 2010 MacBook Pro. After the installation of the drives, I then installed the newest operating system, Yosemite, on the laptop. 

What a difference those two items made! And at such a low cost compared to the cost of a new computer. We ended up spending about 1/10th of what a new MacBook Pro would cost, and it feels like we have a brand new computer. And this didn't affect our personal finances as we paid for the upgrade from our separate business account. Double score!

Alright, so what happened to option #1?

Well, we couldn't join my family in England for Christmas because of our finances, so we got another present from my parents, a new iPad for Mrs. Corn Fed. We researched and tested keyboard cases and ended up with a wonderful ZAGG Folio case.

Where do we stand several months after these purchases and upgrades?

Oh, we stand on pretty good ground!

Mrs. Corn Fed loves the new iPad for work and pleasure, having taken it on both vacation and work trips.

Me? I love the upgraded computer, its speed, and increased functionality brought by the upgrade to Yosemite and newer software.

What about you? How have you approached replacing an aging computer? Is your phone the main computer in your family now?