Simple trick to pay down debt slightly faster

We’ve got one last debt to pay off… our mortgage. We’ve made pretty good progress, but I wish it were paid off yesterday. A while ago I came up with a plan to pay it off slightly faster than we were, but without messing up our budget or putting us in a crunch.

I ran by my wife the idea of increasing our mortgage $2/month every month. It doesn’t sound like much, but $2 is enough that over the remaining payments, it can start to add up. It’s also small enough, that we don’t really have to find something to cut out each month to make it work. We just slowly keep putting a tad bit more on there. One month it’s $2 extra, then $4, $6, $8 – you get the point.

Every month I put it into the amortization calculator (because I’m that guy) to figure out the type of impact that extra $2/month has. So far, it has dropped an extra payment off at the end of the mortgage almost ever time if we were to stop adding anything more and just keep going at the new amount forever.

It pretty much follows the rule that if you do a small change over a long period, it has the potential to make a big impact. In this case, the impact is on our mortgage.

You could use this technique with any debt payoff, building savings, or investing. Are there any techniques you’ve found to pay off your mortgage faster? Let me know in the comments below. I’d definitely be interested in hearing about them.

Photo by GotCredit

How to potentially save a fortune on a big-ticket appliance

Old OvenOur oven was old when we bought our house, but it worked. Then we got 8 more years of life out of it. During that time, only a couple burners worked consistently, we replaced some missing knobs and the heating element in the oven had to be replaced. That cost us about $100, which wasn’t too bad at the time.

Recently, we’ve spent more time trying to get the burners to work than we do actually cooking food on them. Not cool.

We started looking around for a new oven, and they’re not cheap. We thought we found a pretty good deal on a slide in, but when we had measurements done it turned out the only type of oven we could fit into our space would be another drop in. They cost more because there aren’t a ton of them made anymore.

I found one that would work at Lowe’s for $1349, with a regular price of $1499. They would have to order it for us. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but I had already resolved myself to the fact that we would be spending somewhere between $1000 and $1500 for a new oven. We didn’t want a top of the line one since we’re putting it into an older kitchen.

It was at this point that I remembered the Sears Outlet store in the area. I decided to do some searching on SearsOutlet.com to see what was available at the local stores. Nothing.

However, I did find the same model that Lowe’s had at several other Sears Outlet stores around the country and for a lot less, like $700 off the list price of $1499. We’d have to pay about $212 to have it shipped, but it would still come out to be much less than what we would have paid somewhere else.

So how do you buy an appliance sight unseen? Below are some tips.

  • The prices at Sears Outlet stores are low because they’re usually open box, refurbished, or scratch and dent. SearsOutlet.com includes pictures of the items on their website in most cases so you can see the exact appliance that you would get.
  • If you have a question about the item, call the store and ask some questions. We did, and the guy was very helpful. He looked it over and told us exactly what he saw wrong with it, which was pretty much nothing.
  • Even though ours was a display model, it still came with the same warranty that we’d get if we bought it brand new at the store.
  • The price you see online isn’t the price you have to pay…you can pay less. SearsOutlet.com has a “Make an Offer” option. I put in a price and it showed the probability it would be accepted. After submitting, I got a counter offer immediately and saved another $25 or so off the list price.
  • If we needed to return the oven, we could take it to our local Sears Outlet store. We wouldn’t get the $212 shipping charge back, but we’d at least get the cost of the oven back worse case.
  • After accepting the offer, I picked a delivery date and they delivered it about a week or 2 later.

So that’s how we bought our new oven for 25% off the Lowe’s sale price. Our total cost was about $1012 before taxes, which included the shipping charge. We installed it Monday and have enjoyed it the last couple of days. If you’ve got a Sears Outlet store near you, you could do even better without the shipping charge, assuming they have what you’re looking for.

So what do you think? Would you buy a big-ticket item sight unseen? Let me know in the comments below.

You Need A Budget!

Unless you’re independently wealthy, we all have a limited amount of money to go around each month. Without paying attention, you can easily run out of money before you run out of things you need to spend it on.

That’s where a budget comes in. For quite a long time, we used Microsoft Money or Quicken to keep track of what we had in our checking and savings accounts, but we never really did a budget.

I ended up creating a spreadsheet for us to track what we spent on groceries, eating out, fuel, and other things. We used this method for a while.

When Quicken recently decided to start making yearly updates, I decided it was time to start looking again at all my options. I wanted something that had the following features:

  • We could enter transactions on a mobile device and it would sync up with the desktop software.
  • It had to track both the budget and the amount in our accounts so we only had to enter a transaction in one place.
  • The budget amounts had to roll over from month to month. A lot of programs have a “budget”, but it resets at the beginning of each month back to $0.
  • I didn’t want to have to buy it again each year to get the latest features.

After some research, the product that best fit what we were looking for was You Need A Budget. It took a little while to make the conversion, but after using it for over 3 months I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll point out some of the highlights below:

  • Mobile Application – The mobile application is great. It doesn’t have all the features of the desktop software, but it downloads and syncs the budget and transactions so you can see them anywhere. When you enter in a transaction, it can track where you are using the phone GPS so the next time you enter a transaction in the same place, it will automatically fill out all the fields except for the amount.
  • Budget – The budget comes preloaded with some common categories, but you can add and delete them to meet your needs.
  • Online and Email Courses – Along with buying the software, you can enroll in a number of the classes they have to offer. Some of them are online and some are email courses where they send you new information each day to read through. These are includes at no additional cost.
  • Support – Got a question? Just send them an email. You can try emailing them before you buy the product to see how responsive they are. They also have forums where users can post questions and answers on how they use the software.
  • Backup and Syncing – The software uses DropBox to sync between different devices. This also means that you’ve always got a backup of your budget in the cloud if something happens.

While the software seems complicated, it’s actually very simple and flexible. The budget screen allows you to divide your money each month to the different categories. You’ve also got the account registers. When you enter a transaction into a budgeted account, you will pick the budget category the transaction goes against. The budget immediately updates to show the new amount available.

Everyone makes mistakes and overspends from time to time, and the software makes it very easy to move money from one budget category to another. If you can’t do that, it will simply reduce the money you have to budget next month to cover the overspending.

If you’re on the fence about doing a budget, or using software to manage it, they offer a 34 day trial to get you started. When you’re ready to buy you can get 10% off of You Need A Budget through this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/NG5M8W2 (Full Disclosure: I’ll earn $6 for the referral somehow if you use the link.)

Do you have a budget? How do you manage your budget? Do you have any question about how to use You Need A Budget? Let me know if the comments!

There Are Only So Many Pieces of the Pie

I’m sure we all hate paying taxes, but to me, income taxes bother me the most.

With property taxes, you can choose to live somewhere more modest to lower your tax burden. With sales taxes, you can choose to buy a cheaper option, or not to make a purchase at all.

While it may not sound exciting to live in a smaller place or not buy something, with an income tax the only way of lowering what you pay in taxes is to make less money, and to me, that seems worse.

Let’s look at our income as a pie divided into 100 pieces (or 100%). Right off the top, more than 6 pieces of pie goes to Social Security. More slices go to pay your state and federal income tax. You may also have a city or school district income tax taking some slices of the pie.

Those pieces of the pie are gone and you can’t get them back. So when a new income tax appears on the ballot or is proposed, even as small is at may seem, I look at it as a slice of pie that can’t be used to feed something else like retirement, college savings, or replacing a vehicle.

The bad thing is that even if the pie gets bigger (like you make more money), the number of slices doesn’t increase. You can’t get a slice back after it’s gone.

So, if you go out and make more money you’ll never get a full pie back. No matter how hard you try, all you’ll be able to do it increase the size of the pie that you’ve got left. As more pieces of the pie are taken away, the increase in the remaining pieces seems like less and less.

This is just my interpretation of income taxes and one way of viewing them. How do you view them? What comes to mind when a new income tax is proposed?

Photo by 401(K) 2013

No Cricket’s chirping here

It drives my wife crazy when I change things up on her, but when I find a good deal, it’s hard to pass up.

We’ve tried several cell phone services in the past including Ting, Sprint, and Republic Wireless. Each of them have their pros and cons. However, the best compromise between price and service that I’ve found is Cricket.

Cricket was purchased by AT&T not too long ago and uses the AT&T network. Since it’s a GSM service, you can bring an unlocked GSM phone to use on Cricket. This means you have pretty good coverage in a wide range of places.

Why did we switch? Because I didn’t like watching my minutes and data like I had to on Ting. In order for Ting to be a good deal, you have need to be a light to moderate user. That’s not us anymore.

Cricket offers unlimited minutes and texts, and on their base plan you get 2.5GB of high-speed data. How much you ask? All for $40/month. That includes taxes and fees. No hidden extra charges, just $40/month. Unless you decide to set up auto-pay, and then it’s actually $35/month.

$35/month for unlimited calling and texts and 2.5GB of high-speed data? Yes! There are other plans too, but I’m sure the base plan is more than enough for most people.

What if you’ve got multiple lines of service? Well, then it gets even better. You won’t get the auto-pay discount, but you will get $10 off for each line of service you add to your account.

  • $40 – line 1
  • $30 – line 2
  • $20 – line 3
  • $10 – line 4
  • FREE – line 5

For $100/month you can get 5 lines of service, each with their own 2.5GB of high-speed data. Since taxes and fees are included in the monthly rate, it’s a flat $100/month with no surprises.

Lots of pros, but what are the cons?

When you run out of high-speed data, you’ll still get data, but at a lower speed of 128Kbps. Also, your high-speed data is capped at 8Mbps, which is plenty fast for most people. Neither one has been an issue for us so far.

My only complaint is that we have spotty service when we’re in any building in the small town we live in. For the cost savings though, it’s something we can live with since the service is great everywhere else.

If you’re interested in trying Cricket for yourself, you can get a $25 credit by using the referral link below. (Full disclosure, I will get a $25 credit as well, although that’s not that important to me.)

https://mycricket.sparkrefer.com/515bWyj

What things in your life are you willing to change to save some money? Is there anything that you wouldn’t change, even if you could get a better price? Let me know if the comments below.

What is this Home Energy Audit from Columbia Gas Anyway?

Columbia Gas of Ohio Logo

We’ve had icing issues on our roof the past few years and I know it’s because we live in an old house that lacks the proper insulation. So a couple of months ago, I called a local insulation company to get an estimate. He asked if I had the Columbia Gas audit done yet. I told him no. He explained that it’s actually a good deal and that I should go that route first.

If you’re a Columbia Gas customer, you’ve probably received several the letters telling you about how you use way more energy than your neighbors and you should consider a home energy audit. Of course when we usually get them, they get filed with the rest of the junk mail. However, this time we decided to give them a call.

The audit itself costs $50, but Columbia Gas will help to pay for somewhere around 40% of the work that is recommended by the audit if you have it all done. That can be a significant cost savings, especially if you’re already considering having the work done anyway.

So I scheduled the appointment to have the energy audit. It took a few hours and was pretty thorough. The auditor would have installed a programmable thermostat if we didn’t have one already and new shower heads if we had a gas hot water heater, all at no additional cost. He hooked up a blower door to find air leaks in the house, and used an infrared heat camera to see where there was and wasn’t insulation in the walls.

In the end, we got a report saying what we should have done and the estimated cost, the rebates that Columbia Gas would give us including an extra $150 if we got the work done within a certain time period after the audit, and the amount of time it would take for the improvements to pay for themselves. It was then our responsibility to call the recommended contractors to come and give us quotes for the work and pick the one we wanted to go with.

So, what’s the catch? I wondered that too and asked the person doing the audit, who actually works for Conservation Services Group, not Columbia Gas. He said that Columbia Gas’s lines are essentially running close to or at capacity. They aren’t as big as they should be to service everyone. They could tear them up which would take a lot of time and a lot of money, or encourage their customers to use less and pay them to do so. You’d think the gas company would want you to use more gas, right? Maybe if they were selling you the gas, but they’re really just in the transmission business of getting it to your house and the natural gas comes from another company.

So if your house isn’t as comfortable you’d like or you’re looking for ways to possibly save money in the long-term, you may want to consider giving them a call the next time you receive one of the flyers in the mail.

Ting Cell Phone Bill – February 2015

Ting Logo

Below you’ll find our cell phone usage for the month of February and what we paid for the service. Our bill is a bit more than last month for two reasons. We used a bit more data which bumped us into the next tier. I was also testing GSM service through Ting which meant we had another device on our plan for part of the month. If you’re paying more for the same thing or less, it might be time to reevaluate.

  • 3 devices (Nexus 5 and iPhone 5s, the third one was only a partial month)
  • 1322 minutes
  • 548 text and picture messages
  • 736 MB of data

$75.50 – for usage
$8.26 – taxes and fees
$83.76 – total bill for the month

Ting Cell Phone Bill – January 2015

Ting Logo

Starting this month, I’m going to try something new. I started to think that it’s one thing for me to post out here ways of saving money, but it’s another thing to show what we’re paying in these true life scenarios. Below you’ll find our cell phone usage for the month of January and what we paid for the service. If you’re paying more for the same thing or less, it’s time to reevaluate.

  • 2 cell phones (Nexus 5 and iPhone 5s)
  • 1894 minutes
  • 730 text and picture messages
  • 437 MB of data

$63.81 – for usage
$7.48 – taxes and fees
$71.29 – total bill for the month

Ting to offer GSM service (on T-Mobile?)

You’re probably wondering, “what does that mean?” and “why should I care?” Both are good questions.

First, GSM is a cellular technology used for making calls on your mobile device. Ting currently offers CDMA service on the Sprint network. Verizon also uses CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile both offer service on a GSM network.

There are a couple of reasons this is big news. It opens up a world of new phones. In the past, you had to either buy a phone from Ting or bring your own Sprint device. The devices you could bring from Sprint usually have to be at least a year old. Newer devices from Ting can be pretty expensive or not necessarily a great phone.

When GSM service becomes available in February 2015, you will have a brand new selection of phones to choose from. You can even bring unlocked phones from T-Mobile or AT&T to the Ting service. Since GSM devices are activated with a small SIM card, you can swap phones when you’d like by moving the card to a new phone. You can even buy new GSM phones at remarkably low prices (the Moto G can be purchased for around $100).

With this new offering, Ting will be one of the only, if not the only cell phone provider, that allows you to share minutes, texts, and data between a CDMA phone and GSM phone all on one monthly bill. That’s pretty remarkable stuff.

Based on the research that I’ve done, it appears that the Ting service will be using T-Mobile for their GSM network. Much like Sprint, T-Mobile has been moving quickly to improve their network and it will only get better over the next year. I’ve tried to confirm this with Ting, but have been told they cannot disclose that information. However, if you look at the source code of the GSM coverage page, you can see the coverage map is being pulled from a t-mobile.com address.

I’ve written in the past about using Ting for mobile phone service. We tried switching to Sprint thinking we were going to save money with their plans and offers, but after the runaround, we’ve went back to Ting.

I’m personally looking forward to use this new service when in becomes available since I like to try new phones quite often and I don’t like having to use only the phones that Sprint approves for Ting. Do you think you would consider Ting with these new changes? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any questions, please post those and I’ll get back to you with answers.

Photo by planetc1

Guest Post from the Misses

Reasons why never to buy a new car. Within a week of having our ‘new to us’ car someone already ran into it. I’m guessing the side view mirror of another van or truck. They didn’t bother to leave a phone number like a good person would. A good friend and co-worker of mine bought the same mini van brand new and when she rode in ours said it seemed identical. By not buying a new car we let someone else take the biggest hit on an item that will only depreciate. It already had a few minor scratches on it so I’m not as annoyed with the first boo boo. Plus I have two children that will be hard on it. But my favorite part of buying used is that we paid cash and it has no payments. It made negotiating (which I hate dealing with salespeople of any kind – if you are one, beware because I am your biggest nightmare) so much easier. We could make an offer and walk away not all worked up if it didn’t work out. Thankful for my very wise husband who likes to research and get good deals. There Adam Amrine I wrote your next blog post:)