#5TF: Spending & Saving

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 5 – July 22 – July 28, 2017

Over the weekend we found ourselves making several minor purchases that added up to a significant little chunk of change. For minimalists who hate shopping anyway, coming home with several bags and one giant box, was enough to create a panic, even though every item was purchased with intent (well, except for the travel spork, and I just wanted that).

We’ve walked/hiked 328.4 miles so far this year (not counting general walking about the house, yard, stores, etc.) and our shoes were clearly beginning to show the effects of that travel. The inside of my left shoe was so bad that it was starting to wear holes in my socks…my wool summer socks! And those things are supposed to be nearly indestructible. So first up on our list of purchases was new walking/hiking shoes.

The next purchase was new camping gear – specifically a small tent and tent light. We sold our large 8-person tent on OfferUp a few months back and have been debating on getting another ever since. With a rafting trip planned for next month, we thought it might be a good time to look for something compact and easy to set up. Believe it or not, we bought a kid’s tent. It was actually 12 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the smallest 2 person adult tent and a full $20 cheaper.

And finally, a larger freezer. Our biggest downsizing regret ever was selling our chest freezer when we left Florida. We’ve missed it terribly. The little one we bought on Craigslist last summer has been great but it is too small for any real attempt at storing food for winter. For now, we have two freezers, though I think the little one may be re-homed soon. My mom seems particularly interested in adopting it.

Big enough for food, yet small enough to fit in the Peanut…it’s our new freezer.

Spending money for stuff (even necessary stuff) is often very difficult for us. We usually talk ourselves out of most things or debate about them for so long that we forget why we thought we needed them in the first place. But there are times when you have to spend money to save money later on. This was one of those times…and I think all in all, we did alright.

One thing I really enjoyed this week was (definitely not shopping!). Instead, the highlight of my week was Wednesday…the whole day was about as close to perfect as it could possibly get. We had breakfast in the park, picked blackberries, took a walk at Bicentennial Mall State Park, picnicked outside the Nashville Farmer’s Market, and went to our first Nashville Sounds baseball game (on free hat night!). We even managed to make running errands fun that day…and we picked up a great CSA basket full of peaches, cantaloupe, and corn. I don’t think I could have asked for a better day.

Enjoying the “cheap seats” at the Nashville Sounds game…in our new shoes.

I am grateful for whatever it was that sparked my mom’s sudden interest in her own health this week. She didn’t say why or how she plans to do it, but she has finally decided to quit smoking. Though I have never smoked, I know how hard it is to quit and I know not every day is going to be a good one but I’m here to help in whatever way I can. Just making the decision seemed to lift a great weight off of her and she was much more active this week. She played outside with the little one on Tuesday and even helped us in the yard yesterday.

I need to let go of my obsession with minimizing our shoe collection. As much as we’d love to wear flip-flops or go barefoot every day, that’s not always appropriate (or allowed), so shoes are a must have item. The average woman in America owns 27 pair of shoes, the average man, just 12. We each have 7 pair (including our new ones, flip-flops, water shoes, bowling shoes and winter boots) and I still think that’s too many. As I put the new shoes in the closet on Sunday, I stood there staring at the rest of them, questioning their necessity until I nearly had a headache. That’s not minimalism. It’s just silly. There are no arbitrary limits to what one can own as a minimalist. The point of minimalism is that everything you own has a purpose. Every single shoe in our closet does so I give myself permission to leave them alone…for now.

We made progress on saving money…despite our little shopping spree. We managed to stay in budget on groceries and household goods, spending less than $150 total for the month, and we added $425 to our savings and investment accounts. Our CSA basket and garden are really helping on that front. Speaking of which, we put away 4 quarts of blackberries, another 1/2 dozen ears of corn, and 2 gallons of snack peppers. Angie also canned 2 more jars of pickled jalapenos and I made 2 more quarts of spaghetti sauce (though we ate most of it already). And we continued our technology time-out, leaving the phones behind for several enjoyable hours of hiking and picnicking this week.

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The funniest thing that happened this week happened at the Sounds game. Angie has such a small head that the free baseball cap didn’t fit her, even on the smallest setting. She looked kind of forlorn sitting there in our grass seats with that giant cap on her head, so she set it aside. Though I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen, I promised to fix the hat when we got home. (I would literally have sewn a brand new hat if I’d had to, just to keep her from making that sad “my head is too small” face.) As it turned out though, in the 3rd inning, a random guy stopped by our blanket with a wad of money in his hand and said these magic words, “I’ll give you $10 for your hat.” Sold! I guess it pays to have a small head after all.

 

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7 Ways to Quickly Improve your Finances

Last week I received an email from a company called Ooma (more on that later) which contained a neat little PDF titled 5 Tips to Improve Finances in One Week. When I opened the attachment, I immediately smiled (and patted myself on the back). We were already following Clark Howard’s (somewhat dated) advice without even knowing it! Using Clark’s tips as a guide, here’s how our week of financial improvement turned out.

Tip #1: Search for unclaimed money in your name. 

I first came across this tip on The Penny Hoarder and I must admit, I was super skeptical. How could I have money out there that I didn’t know about? Well, I did. And so did Angie. Between the two of us, we had 4 claims totaling $203.57. Angie was able to make her claims online but I had to complete a form and mail it to the State of Colorado. You can check your own status at MissingMoney.com.

Tip #2: Start enjoying free TV and movies.

We cut the cable cord in 2014 and have never looked back. The original Winegard Flatwave Antenna that we bought back then is still working well as our primary access to free over-the-air channels. Right now, we get 40+ channels, though we really only watch about 5 of them. In addition, we’ve tried almost every streaming options out there – Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, and all the network apps – through almost every streaming device made – Fire Stick, Tivo OTA, Google Chromecast, and Roku. For now, we’ve settled on Netflix and Sling TV (at least through football season). While streaming options aren’t free, they do help to significantly cut the cost of entertainment over cable or satellite and you’re never tied to a contract.

Tip #3: Get a 2% cash-back card with no strings attached. 

quicksilverThis is another area where I’ve always been skeptical. Why would I want to charge something on a credit card when I could just pay for it?? Isn’t that taking an unnecessary risk? What if I spend the money I should have set aside for paying the credit card bill? Then I got to thinking – we do this anyway with our big expenses and it’s never been a problem. We have a Capital One cashback card and for years we’ve been using it to book travel or pay for large expenses like car repairs. As soon as the charge posts, we pay it off with the money we set aside for those expenses anyway. Why? For the rewards, of course. And to have the added travel protections. If we run only our recurring monthly expenses through the card, we can earn an extra $10 per month (or $120 per year). That’s not too bad for such little effort.

Tip #4: Check all of your monthly statements line by line. 

This tip applies mostly to cable TV and cell phone carriers who are known rip-off artists with their pages and pages of billing gibberish. We avoid both. For our cell service, we use Ting. We’ve been Ting customers for years and have never had a problem with the service (they use the Sprint network). Even when we traveled frequently and had to use our phones as a hotspot for our laptops, our highest bill was only $90. Our average bill runs about $50 now for both lines. Another place to look for billing errors is in your bank and credit card statements. On occasion, I find a recurring charge for something I forgot to cancel.

Tip #5: Get free phone service for life. 

A lot has changed since these tips were first published and that was pretty obvious with this one. Clark suggests purchasing Ooma VoIP phone service to replace your landline phone. Since we no longer have to have the AT&T “bundle” that includes our home phone service, I’ve been looking into options for free calling. Yes, I know that a lot of folks have unlimited calling in their cell phone plan but we don’t. Ting allows you to pay only for what you use so we try to use the home phone for those always lengthy calls to our parents. I looked at Ooma, which is now about half the price of what it was back then, and still includes a lifetime of free calling. You can even get a refurbished Ooma device on Amazon for $69.99. You still pay FCC taxes and fees, which in our area is about $5.39 per month. That’s not terrible for unlimited, clear HD-quality calling but of course, if you know us at all, we prefer something that’s really free…so we’re looking at wifi calling. We’ve tried Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger as calling apps but the quality is lacking on both. With my Office Online subscription I get an hour of free Skype calling per month so I’m going to try that next. Any suggestions on best wifi calling apps?

If I could add two things to Clark’s list, they would be:

Tip #6: Make sure you aren’t missing out on hidden savings when you shop.

We recently downloaded the Ibotta app. Though we do most of our shopping at ALDI, we often visit the major grocers in our area and Walmart (**sigh**) to pick up sale items or items for my mom. Mom’s weekly list always includes milk, bread, and bananas, which are currently on Ibotta. Through Ibotta, we were able get rebates of $0.25 – $0.50 back on purchases we were making anyway. And to top it off, by just signing up for Ibotta, we got $10 each!!

Tip #7: Stash your cash!

stashWe’ve been doing a lot of side hustling lately to pad our early retirement fund. One of those hustles is taking quick in-store assignments through Field Agent. Each assignment pays $3-$10. We could put the money in our savings account but instead we’ve decided to invest it with an app called Stash Invest. Stash allows you to purchase ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) for as little as $5. ETFs are set up like a mutual fund (insomuch as they are comprised of multiple assets) but they trade like a stock. They have very low costs, as opposed to mutual fund investments. If you sign up for Stash, you automatically get your first $5 investment for free. That’s $5 in free money – a win even if you cash out and never use the app again!

What would you add to this list?