Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm Alive

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I'm sure a lot of you have been worried about my well-being. I am, in fact, alive and well...and I guess being too. This week is going to be a mental health vacation week. Just to give me time to catch up on things. By next week the health of my ment should be back in order. See why I needed this week off? Until next week, cheers!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Financial Fact Friday #2

Well, it's finally Friday and you know what that means, it's time for the second weekual Financial Fact Friday. Or for those of you that like saying part deux, Financial Fact Friday Part Deux. I found today's financial fact while checking into SaveUp to see if I could get a bonus free play for the day. I'm still winless by the way.

Anyway, now to the fact. Ireland has the highest savings rate by its citizens with 19.3% of income saved. The SaveUp article looks at a comparison by 24/7wallstreet of the top ten countries with the highest savings rate by its citizens. Here's the top ten...


Where does the U.S. fit in? Well, the article didn't specify the ranking, but we save 5.8%. I'm guessing that's quite a ways down the list.

Which country does your savings rate line up with?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What To Know Before Buying A Small Business

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Strawberry Ice Cream ConePhoto by TheCulinaryGeek
No, seriously, what should I know?

Today I'm going to be meeting with a realtor to get information about the local ice cream shop that is for sale. Why? Because it's an ice cream shop, duh, and who wouldn't want to own an ice cream shop? Well, maybe someone in a town of only 1,000 people. Or maybe someone who already has a full-time job and can't run the day-to-day operation themselves. Or maybe someone who knows nothing about the ice cream business, at least from the selling side. Anyone else beginning to think this might be a bad idea?

To see how bad exactly, I compiled just a few of the questions I thought I should be asking myself.

1. Is now the right time to start a business?
   - Um, sure, why not? Although Mrs. K and I both have full-time jobs that we aren't planning on leaving anytime soon. So probably more towards the not side of things, but is there ever really a right time? Hm, ending a question with a question probably isn't good.

2. Do you know anything about running your own business?
   - No, but I would say that having one would make me very motivated to learn quickly.

3. Who is going to run the business?
   - We're eyeing up a family member as our source of cheap, yet awesome management.

4. Why is the seller selling and do the numbers add up?
   - Hopefully going to find this out later today. I'm guessing that one of these is probably going to answer the other.

5. Who buys ice cream in the winter?
   - Probably only the crazies, but that's why we're already thinking we should expand into the coffee arena.

It appears that I have no business buying a business, see what I did there? However, I can't help but be curious as to what potential is there. Hopefully, after the meeting I will have some real numbers to determine just how unrealistic this purchase would be.

Any thoughts on other questions to ask the realtor? Anyone out there purchased a small business before?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Free Money...For A Limited Time Only

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I know I've covered how to use credit cards to make money in the form of cash rewards. Now I'd like to cover how to use credit cards to assist in eliminating credit card debt. Fighting fire with fire, if you will.

The way to do this is with a balance transfer credit card, essentially just a new credit card account to which all existing balances could be transferred. One immediate gain is getting all your debt in to one easily managed place, assuming it fits within the credit limit of that new card. Lately, there have been some even greater benefits to these balance transfer cards like 0% APR for a promotional period and no balance transfer fees.

The Chase Slate is one such card. Right now there is no balance transfer fee for any transfers made within the first 60 days and 0% APR for the first 15 billing cycles which works out to be Novemberish 2013. Meaning you could consolidate your debt into one card and owe no interest for a little over a year. Giving you lots of time to combine the interest savings with other savings to pay off the balance transfer card before the promotional period ends.

Which makes you wonder, why do so many people still have credit card debt at such high interest rates? Well, turns out it's not all ponies and sunshine. To qualify for a balance transfer credit card you need to have a decent credit rating. According to Credit Karma, the average approved credit rating for the Chase Slate is 714 with the lowest approved rating at 674. Also, you have to be careful not to miss a payment. With most balance transfer cards, once you miss a payment you can kiss the 0% APR goodbye. Last, but not least, you should be sure you can pay off the balance by the end of the promotional period. If not, odds are you'll be paying a much higher APR than what you currently have.

Having said all that, I think that a 0% APR with no balance transfer fee is a great way to start getting out of credit card debt. I would transfer whatever debt possible and not put any additional purchases on the card. Then start saving at whatever rate is required to pay off that card by the end of the promotional period. If that means Ramen and no cable, then you eat Ramen and stare at the wall. Easy for me to say. In the end, once you are done with credit card debt, it will all have been worth it.

What has your experience been with balance transfer credit cards?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Budgeting And Dieting

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When you think about it there really are a lot of ways that budgeting and dieting are similar. To start with, you can only make so much money in a day just like you can only burn so many calories in a day. Then on the other end you have the amount of money you spend and the amount of calories you consume. There are some items that you have to spend money on, taxes, insurance, the wife and some things you buy just for fun. The same goes with eating, breakfast, lunch, dinner versus Oreos, chips, and ice cream. In the end, eat way more calories than you burn and you get fat, spend more money than you earn and you get poor. Pretty simple stuff.

Back in the day when weight was becoming an issue, the first thing we did (after vowing not to let it happen again) was start tracking our calorie consumption. Thanks to the LoseIt app, we were able to see what areas were having the biggest impact on our...personal inflation (fat finance humor, is anything funnier?). After making some adjustments, we're now leaner and meaner (at least I'm meaner, probably shouldn't say that about the Mrs.). It isn't really dieting anymore, it's just being a frugal eater.

I figure if something so simple was so effective with eating why not try it with spending. Determine what we are "snacking" on that is costing us the most and do a little cutting. Turns out there's this thing called budgeting. Who knew?

Well, we did actually. We tried recording purchases for awhile, but I guess we must spend more than we eat because we always would forget to enter things in.

Now I'm trying a new approach of breaking things down by the month. As you can see by the image above, it's a work in progress. I'm pretty sure that most proper budgets don't have a randomness category. Or at least they don't have a randomness category the same size as the mortgage. Groceries and gas, among other things, are buried in there. Hopefully, I'll have an updated version to share with this divvied up a bit more. Stay tuned!

How does your monthly spending compare? Does any of our spending stand out as being too high? Any categories that I overlooked?

Monday, September 10, 2012


Swag LosAngeles Graffiti ArtPhoto by anarchosyn
In the interest of bringing you all things easy in savings, or in this case earnings, I present Swagbucks. What is Swagbucks? It's an online rewards program that gives you virtual credits for things like searching, surveys, shopping, watching videos/ads and more that can be redeemed for gift cards to a variety of businesses.

Now, if you're anything like me, you're thinking this must be some kind of gimmick. Which is exactly what I thought when Mrs. K told me about it. I've signed up for survey sites in the past only to end up wasting a few hours for a handful of pennies that I couldn't get out of my account. I can tell you from experience that Swagbucks is not like that.

I signed up for an account a little over two weeks ago and I already have $25 in Amazon gift cards. Pretty sweet for just doing my normal Internet searching, watching a couple ads, and maybe filling out a survey or two every day. I earn my swagbucks while watching TV. Instead of watching commercials, I use that time to grab a couple easy swagbucks.

You can be as active or passive in earning swagbucks as you want. The simplest thing is to just use the search engine and you will randomly get swagbucks when you search. If that's not enough for you then you can start watching some of the short videos. If you're looking for even more then you'll want to get into the survey taking. There is also a daily goal, say 50 swagbucks, that changes each day. If you reach the goal you get some bonus swagbucks. The best part about the goal is consecutive streak bonuses.  So if you continue to reach the daily goal for a week you get 25 swagbucks, two weeks 100 swag bucks, etc, etc.

I basically do what needs to be done in order to meet the daily goal and keep my consecutive streak going. Then I plan to use my earnings to fund the awesomeness of freshly ground whole bean coffee via Amazon. A nice, easy way to lower my monthly grocery bill.

If you feel like showing me some love, feel free to sign-up using one of the above links. I would then get a few swagbucks when you do for a little while. If you're having a bad day and don't feel in the love showing mood, that's fine too, we all have those days. Just google Swagbucks and sign up from there.

Are you already getting swagbucks? Are there any other good rewards programs that you're using?

Don't forget to vote on the weekly poll question.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Financial Fact Friday

Congratulations. Today you are witnessing the birth of a new series of posts. Like any birth there's probably going to be pain, screaming and someone might even pass out.

I actually just learned this first fact yesterday. Employee matching 401(k) contributions do not count towards your annual 401(k) contribution limits. Which is super fun because you can stuff even more money into your 401(k)! I feel like I probably should have known it before, since I have a personal finance blog and all. So if you already knew that, well done, well done indeed.

Here's another. I just read in Forbes magazine that Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz and Eduardo Saverin (three of Facebook's founders) lost $11 billion since the Facebook IPO, as of August 16th. If you don't know why they lost that money, or even if you do, watch the video below. Caution: there is a little salty language in a few spots.

Speaking of Forbes, one final fact. You know you're reading something out of your league when you come across an advertisement for chartered personal jet service and you drive a car without working air-conditioning, only one side-view mirror and a driver-side window that doesn't roll down. FACT!

What financial facts do you have to share this Friday?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Property Tax Assessment Day

Yesterday there was a strange man wandering through our home and, for once, it wasn't me. The real estate assessor had finally arrived. I say finally because we had received a letter in the mail three weeks ago that stated someone in a red car would be stopping by in a week to reassess our property for tax purposes. So we made the house look presentable and decided I would stop working in my pajamas until he arrived. After waiting patiently by the window for a week (after working from home for awhile people stopping by excites us, sort of like a dog), nobody showed. Another week went by, and I was ready to start working in my underpants, I mean pajamas, again. Good thing I held off one more day.

Once he finished I decided to go back and see how much the property taxes on our...property have changed over the years. Over the past five years, our fair market value has dropped 11% and our assessed value has increased 6.5%. That seems a little fishy. This year our assessment ratio, the ratio between the assessed versus market value, is 1.0217. Meaning we are paying property taxes on 2% more than our home is worth. Our mill rate, the amount taxed per dollar of assessed value, is .02159. So for every dollar our property is worth we are paying just over two pennies in property tax. This year our property taxes were about 2.17% of the market value of our property.

So do we want the assessed amount to go up or down? No, really, what do we want it to do? I kind of want it to go up so when it comes time to selling I can point at that number and say give me more money because it says so. However, then the property taxes will be higher for me and for a prospective buyer. Then the other part of me wants it to go down so that we have lower taxes to pay. But realist K knows that isn't going to happen. If our assessed value goes down I'm sure the mill rate will go up to make sure that the man gets his money.

How do your property tax figures compare?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Man With A (Meal) Plan

How many times a week do you look at your wife, husband, kid, dog and ask, "What should we make for supper?" Only to be asked in return, "I don't know, what do you want?" or in the dog's case "woof?". Then after going back and forth a few times you decide, screw it let's go get take out. Well, if this happens to you a lot, I have a potential solution. If it doesn't, you're a better man/woman/dog than I am.

Meal Planning

I'm sure there are a lot of different methods out there for planning meals for the family. The family, heh, sounds like the mafia, mmmmm italian food... Anyway, so yeah, lots of different methods available, here's what we do.

First we wrote down a list of all the meals that we make. Then after a week or so of meal planning we lost the list. It's still MIA. So now we have an electronic version. It's still a work in progress, but it shouldn't get lost anytime soon.

Now that we have a list we sit down on a Saturday or Sunday with the kitchen calendar (that's a calendar in the kitchen, not a calendar with pictures of kitchens because that's disturbing) and place meals we want to eat for each day over the next week. We usually plan on supper being enough for a leftovers lunch. Since we work from home, it makes a quick, easy lunch.

Once we have the week filled up, we make our grocery list based of what is needed from the meals on the calendar and BAM, all the supper questions are answered for the week, plus you have a grocery list made.

To further motivate you to join the meal planning club, I give you a list of benefits you will or should receive from doing so.

Save Money

  • You will go out to eat less often, assuming you aren't including fast food restaurants on your list of meals you make and then adding them to the meal plan calendar. Hint: don't do that.
  • You will save money on groceries by knowing what you need to get for the coming week and not just randomly throwing things in the cart.
  • You will save money on extra trips to the grocery store for missing ingredients.
  • You will save money by making your own meals from scratch and not buying prepackaged items.

Save Time

  • No more staring blankly at the wife/husband/kid/dog trying to decide what to make for supper.
  • No more staring blankly in the fridge searching for what to make after the wife/husband/kid/dog was less than helpful.
  • Less time spent grocery shopping because of your super awesome focused list of items.
  • Less time spent making extra trips to the grocery for missing ingredients from unplanned meals.

Save You

  • Cooking your own meals more frequently because of a meal plan should result in healthier food intake because you are eating out less and eating less prepackaged grossness.
  • It's a lot less stressful coming home from work (or upstairs from work, in my case) and already knowing what needs to be done to make supper happen.
I'm sure there are many other reasons that I'm not smart or awake enough to think of right now, but do you really need anymore?

What's your go-to meal? We've been on a garden-fresh veggie pizza kick lately.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apple Butter Recipe

Apple ButterI can't believe it's not...oh wait it is.
We used Labor Day weekend to get caught up on some of our canning. You'll be hearing more about it in the next week or so whether you like it or not. So let's make it easy on everyone and just like it.

Last night we wrapped up the canning weekend by making some apple butter. I wasn't aware that this deliciousness even existed until last year when Mrs. K's sister gave us some that they made. We ran out of it pretty quickly, so this year we decided to make a little for ourselves.

First step is to get some apples. You'd think this would have been the easy part, and it should have been. We were planning to pick apples from Mrs. K's grandmother's apple tree. Simple enough, right? Well, we were so busy canning that before we knew it, it was dark out. You've heard of midnight golf or midnight bowling? We did some midnight apple picking. It's actually pretty fun. I'd like to tell you what kind of apples we have, but I have no idea.

Once you have your apples you have to peel and core them. One of those fancy torture-looking handle things is probably good for this, but we used the old-fashioned peeler and knife. After coring and peeling just throw them in the crock pot on high. Mix your sugars and spices in a bowl and add them to the pot. Then after an hour turn the crock pot down to low and let it sit for nine hours. We stirred it occasionally. I took a hand mixer to it at the end of the nine hours and, after splattering myself and 1/4 of the kitchen, decided to switch to a whisk.

Then it's just your basic canning that's left. They only need to be processed for five minutes and BAM you have a semi-healthy suit (or dress) to put on your toast.

Here's the recipe...

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar

30 small-medium apples - I'm going to say it was one full standard issue sized crock pot

Note: We haven't sampled our apple butter so until I give you the go-ahead, proceed at your own risk. It does smell fantastic though.

What did you do on your Labor Day weekend?