Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

2016 How Much Were Our Household Expenses?


It might not look like much, but that 10 foot vinyl fence gate cost about a thousand dollars. It was one of the few remaining costs to prepare our forever home for retirement. It will last longer than we will, barring a hurricane. The fence was the big project this year. If you remember we put on a metal roof in 2015. So the only thing left to buy big is a new vehicle before we retire. Actually, our 2004 Camry would probably last the rest of our life, but we feel like we deserve to have a new vehicle to travel around the country. It will be our last vehicle and we expect it to last over 20 years.

Some of you may wonder why or how we bother to track our expenses. Actually, it is critical for anyone who is frugal and wishes to spend less than they earn. And if you are retired, you don't earn much from pensions and social security and your investments, so awareness is essential. As an Analyst by trade, I know you can't improve what you don't measure. If you can't even bother yourself to measure where you're at; you have little hope to improve. This philosophy applies to finances, health, exercise and diet.

If you monitor your expenses, there is immense peace and lack of anxiety about money if you have a good idea what goes in and out of your household moneywise. We use two different applications - both are free. Mint to monitor our spending and calculate our year end expenses. Personal Capital has some really nice retirement calculators and you can add in different income streams and expenses for certain amounts of time to really get a good idea of your readiness for retirement. Both can be accessed from your computer on their websites, or thru apps on your tablet or smartphone.

2016 was an expensive year, very expensive with the fence and shed purchase over $11,000. I'm not adding this to the budget because the projects were paid with our savings account. Even so we spent a lot on miscellaneous stuff. Way to much was spent on clothing. And our stockpiles are getting depleted so more was spent on household supplies and groceries. And of course we spend way too much on beer, it is over half of our grocery spending. We eat out two times a week on Friday and Saturday at our favorite little pub (The Firehouse) where we enjoy the best Buffalo chicken wings and a pitcher of Bud - this expense is from our allowance. We each pay for one night, its $21 including tip for 20 wings and a pitcher. Quite the bargain, its hard to go out anywhere else. Anyway, it turns out we spent more this year than last, about $45,000 for our household.
We do not have any debt, so we don't have any car payments (our cars are 13 and 19 years old), our house was paid off six years ago and now our home is completely ready for retirement as we have remodeled all rooms, fence, roof and appliances. Our dog died this year too so that expense has disappeared. Our health expenses were higher this year due to dental costs, we each had a crown replaced and we had some cleanings. Our health insurance remains inexpensive as we pay $30/month for a PPO plan through the State of Florida, our employer. The home expenses don't include the cost of the fence and the shed, but they do include the costs of removing some trees along the fence line, paint to remodel the doghouse into a nice sun porch, and AC service, a new dishwasher, plumbing maintenance and carpet cleaning.

The biggest category that needs to come under control is the Cash and ATM category in miscellaneous spending. We like to use cash to stay off the grid, but it doesn't show up in any of my apps (like mint, or personal capital). We also spend quite a bit on haircuts for DH, but I'm afraid he is too vain to let me cut his hair every 3 weeks (@$19 a pop). He is going bald so maybe in a few years this expense will diminish. We did cut back on our auto insurance coverage level, going from 300/100 to 100/50 since we drive so little (opting to walk, ride MC or ride bicycles to work).

We are already very frugal and generally do not employ home services, instead electing to take care of our own lawn, pool, house cleaning, tree maintenance, obtaining and splitting of firewood, home maintenance jobs such as plumbing, electric, carpentry and painting. With the excellent videos available on Youtube, one can really do almost any task with some basic training. I figure if a person who doesn't even have a college degree or HS degree can do a job, I certainly should be able to figure it out. The one exception is when special equipment is needed that is too expensive to rent. We did hire a tree guy to remove a 40 ft tall tree that was too dangerous for us to do ourselves.

Anyway, our expenses every year have been trending higher, but just barely, I'm going to attribute this to higher prices of goods and services. But we must remain vigilant these last few years before we retire to keep our spending in check, I would actually like to keep it below 40K per year.

2013 we spent 32K
2014 we spent 34K
2015 we spent 43K
2016 we spent 45K

Our plan for this next year 2017 is to start adding cash payments into mint.com as a manual payment. I also want to be better at always assigning and splitting ATM transactions so they are all accounted for before we forget and move on. I'm going to try to not buy any clothes or shoes this year, because I have plenty to last for years. We have a decent deal on cable/internet at $124/month but that contract will end in March of 2018 and it will be time to shop. DH will not give up his live sports channels, so until live streaming is "easy" on the big TV, its an expense we'll have to keep.

Well, that's about it for 2016, another year on the books.
 
 
 

2013 Financial Review of Expenses

It's always interesting to figure where your money goes. Even if you track receipts and sync up all your investments with Mint.com, its still a little blurry and murky to pin point the exact amount of money you take in and put out. Really our finances are one big game of offense and defense, with the goal being to gain in the end. That means if your offense is weak (you don't take in a lot of money), you have to be really good at defense by minimizing spending and getting the most of the money you do spend. If you have strong offense and make a lot of money, its really tempting to spend a lot and then you really aren't any better off than the household that has a weak offense.

In my opinion my DH and I don't have much offense, since we are state employees and of course the State of Florida has not been generous with wages - ever. We get paid in sunshine. So, we have a strong defense and minimize what we spend in most areas, but we get what we want in other areas. We are fortunate to have already paid our dues working in corporate America and made decent wages years ago, where we paid off all our debts - student loans, mortgage, vehicles and credit cards. I'm going to say that even though we are frugal, we are not scrooges. There are certain luxuries, pleasures and conveniences that we "want" and are willing to pay the price for. With that being said, even though there are some discretionary expenses in our budget we try to get them as inexpensive as possible. There are many things we do in our life that are absolutely free - like gather firewood from curbsides when a tree is chopped down, split it with our hydraulic splitter and enjoy backyard fires in the chiminea every weekend.


Our household expenses for 2013 were $32,177. Here is a breakdown:

  • Travel (7,037) - this was our largest categorical spending. In the past few years we've had to remodel our home, so we traveled less. This was 21% of our budget and I see this staying the same whether its for a big household project (next year is a new roof) I would like to have about 20% discretionary budget to either travel or make a big purchase.
  • Allowance (6,000) - we each get $250/month to do as we want that doesn't come out of household budget. DH buys cigarettes and goes racing. I buy electronics and victoria secret. This is also where beer kegs come out of budget. Allowance also includes dining out at our favorite pub for wings and beer on Fridays and Saturdays. This is one area we could try to cut back since most of my allowance just goes into my allowance account and is more than I need.
  • Maintenance (car/mc/home 2,876) - this is kind of large this year because we had our 15 yr old Ford Explorer painted at Maaco, and we also had brakes replaced on both cars, plus motorcycle maintenance is a rip off. Motorcycles are not frugal when you consider the maintenance and insurance costs.
  • Home Insurance (1,960) - a necessary evil, but luckily we're not in a flood zone and we're lucky State Farm still finds us worthy of insuring in Florida.
  • Life Insurance (1,860) - these whole life insurance policies are not really necessary now in our life, but we keep them because cash value is worth more than we've paid in premiums. Actually, we have pretty risky lifestyles with our daily commuting by bicycle and motorcycle, and if one of us die, it means a loss of future pension and social security income for the household. So maybe we do need these policies.
  • Electricity (1,702) - we spend way to much on electricity but with our pool pump, hot tub, chest freezer, 2 refrigerators, kegerator and electronics its to be expected. We try to unplug when we can, empty the hot tub in the summer and I'm trying to get us back to just one refrigerator if we can get rid of all our food.
  • Internet/Cable TV (1,539) - This is an expense we should work on lowering. DH will not give up live sports broadcasts, and I like good fast internet and wifi. But we should threaten Verizon FIOS and try to get them to lower our rates or something - maybe they want to sponsor me?
  • Cell phones (1,409) - this category was expensive because I upgraded to a new Samsung S4 and my plan increased to $56/month. I passed on my old Samsung Epic to DH and his plan through Ting is only $20/month. So next year we'll spend $500 less in this category.
  • Car Insurance (1,212) - our 10 yr old car and 15 yr old truck should be a lot less expensive to insure, but this is Tampa where over 40% of drivers are uninsured. The majority of our policy expense is uninsured motorist coverage which we have at 100/300. Next year we plan to lower this to 50/100 since we don't drive much. It should save us a few hundred dollars.
  • Groceries/HH Supplies (1,248) - We purchased $21,529 worth of product using cash and gift cards this year. This involved 355 trips to stores. I save every receipt and log in the spending and saving, which I have done for years. We saved 88%, which averaged out to $104 per month spent. This is significantly less than we have bought in years past because couponing is getting harder to do with stricter usage policies, increased competition for goods and smaller value coupons. I expect to continue to coupon to save, but plan to continue to budget $100 per month for groceries and HH supplies.
  • Motorcycle Insurance (1,088) - again we have maximum coverage since the probability of needing it are good since riding is risky and most drivers will hit and run if they can, its best to have your own insurance because many drivers do not, and more than likely an accident will be the fault of the other party. 
  • Property Tax (1,088) - we are protected by the save our homes legislation that prevents tax increases in homes that people have lived in for many years.
  • Shopping misc (1,064) - This includes gifts, electronics accessories, clothing, and other weird stuff that doesn't fit in any other category. There is probably some room to cut expenses here. 
  • Water/garbage (725) - provided by the city so we don't have a choice in vendors. We do have an irrigation line so all outdoor water usage is charged at a tenth of the city water cost. We use less than 3000/gal water per month which is the threshold for the surcharge.
  • Newspapers/coupons (441) - this is large because I bought Winn Dixie $5 off $30 coupons, and I also get 8 Sunday papers for coupons. I might cut the newspapers back to 4 per week since I use a lot of printables now.
  • Health Insurance (450) - includes visit co pays and rx. Just trying to stay healthy to keep this cost low.
  • Pet (435) - includes dog food, meds and vet visits. The 13 yr old dog has been healthy this year except she has gone deaf. We also have a vet surgery scheduled to remove a cyst on her eyelid that will cost a bunch in early 2014.
  • Gasoline (291) - this includes cash we have used to buy gas cards at Publix, and the occasional time we have purchased gas while traveling by car.

So that's it for 2013. We want to spend less next year than this year, a simple goal. If we could keep our expenses under 30K that would be good. Looking forward to a prosperous 2014 with hopes of increasing our networth so that retirement is a little bit closer to reality.

Wishing you a healthy, prosperous and stress free life.

Happy New Year to You! 

Can You See Me Now?

This post brought to you by Zenni Optical. All opinions are 100% mine.

Everyone is trying to pinch a penny and save on their expenses, especially my family. One of the ways we've saved is by purchasing our eyeglasses online through The cool thing about Zenni is you can just go get your eye exam (hopefully for free through a deal or coupon) and then get your written Rx for your eyeballs. Don't forget to ask the Dr to measure your PD (pupil distance) so you can order your glasses correctly. My favorite glasses for years have been the sunshade models with the magnetic attachment to your eyeglass frame. I don't need to carry a spare pair of sunglasses around for outside, just put on the sunshade. Love it!

One of the newest features of Zenni Optical is that you can upload a picture of yourself and try on all your favorite style eyeglasses. Just click and drag over to your photo on the sidebar and it shows what you would look like with those frames.

Anyway, if you need prescription eyeglasses you'll find that you end up buying 2 or 3 pair at Zenni Optical because they are so affordable. For single vision and lots of extras, mine usually cost less than $30.
Zenni has been around for years and they were recently mentioned in Time magazine the editor loves his glasses from Zenni. There was also a US soldier in Afghanistan that praises Zenni at http://blog.zennioptical.com/

You will too.

How to Write a Helpful Product Review

Usually when I'm shopping for a specific item there is a process I go through before purchasing. These steps help me understand what's available out there and how it's working out for others who have purchased the same item. For this reason, as a courtesy to future shoppers and to the vendor of course, I like to write product reviews. I'm not talking about blog reviews and giveaways, since they are compensated with free product, and incentives. I generally do not follow review and giveaway blogs, nor do I participate because I don't really believe they are accurate representations of the users thoughts on the product.
My preference is to read and consider reviews where no compensation is provided to the writer. Like the kind on Amazon, or Trip Advisor or merchant websites. I also like to give reviews whenever I purchase a product. Reading uncompensated user reviews is one of my first steps to a purchase. Then I research specifications and make sure the item will work in my situation, and then I search around with google, forums and deals sites to find the best vendor to buy it from - considering my experiences, the vendor reputation, shipping cost and speed, returns and availability. I also prefer to shop Amazon first because they excel in all categories, plus my Swagbucks can be exchanged for gift cards there.
Anyway, when writing a review with the objective of informing other consumers (not impressing the product manufacturer) it is important to state some main points:
- Why you were looking for this item
- What other choices did you consider
- What is the specific application for the item
- What difficulties did you encounter in your first use of the item, or upon setup - and how were they resolved. Also point out if you think it would affect other consumers too, and what you think is the cause of these problems.
- If you did not have any problems, explain why this item is so great, what is new and improved over your old one, etc
- Lead the reader to other sources of information about this item, for example install videos on another site, or a forum where users have experience with the item
- Its also helpful to note how much you paid, if it was a seasonal sale or discount, or if there is a rebate or other deal you used too.
- Make your statements specific and accurate, don't generalize and write plain unhelpful comments without backing them up with details.
So the next time you buy something online, take a few minutes and provide some feedback in the form of a helpful product review. It really helps others.