Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2017

Four Resources for Investing on a Budget

I once had a friend make the following overgeneralized statement. As a paraphrase he stated that the poor don't have money, the middle class buys "toys" (meaning things like boats and quads) and the wealthy invest. for some reason this stuck with me.

While I do not necessarily aspire to be wealthy, I would like to provide a means for my family to be comfortable; especially in my old age. Throughout American history investing has been a means of growing that money. The stock market is somewhat volatile, but bonds are generally minuscule and you might as well ditch that savings account (in respect to interest). The higher the risk, the higher reward. The lower the risk, the lower the reward. How do you get started when you feel as though you don't have a lot of dough to spare?

1. Vanguard

Vanguard is a huge financial company that specializes in mutual funds and ETFs. Their real strength for me is in management of retirement and index funds specifically. Their expense ratios are low and their returns are at least on par with any other financial institutions. The low expense ratios allow more money to stay in the account and be invested which has huge implications when speaking to the exponential growth that happens with long term investments. One down side is that you need to put in the time and research to decide which funds you would like to invest in. There are target retirement funds that start more risky and become more safe over time for those that like to set it and forget it. They don't have individuals micro manage most funds, but the expense ratio is so low and diversity so high that it mitigates risk. Another potential barrier is that most funds require a minimum initial investment of $3,000. While this is pretty small in terms of long term investing, it may be a lot for someone to do at once. If you can put in an initial value of $10,000 you can invest in Admiral funds which are the same thing, but with an even lower expense ratio (a fraction). I personally use this to manage the bulk on my investments that I self manage. Also, since it is so big, there is a lot of information about their various offerings so the research is relatively easy. Check out for more information.

2. Prosper

Prosper is a peer to peer lending site that allows individuals to request personal loans at rates that are generally  lower than traditional brick and mortar establishments. This allows individuals to invest in other individuals loans and benefit from the interest incurred. Prosper is just the middle man. What is really interesting is that the loans are crowdfunded. This means if someone is requesting $3,000 for dental work, for example, that you don't have to give them all $3,000. Instead, you invest in a $25 portion for that loan and you make your interest based on your investment. This means that you can buy many different loans instead of just one and really diversify. The minimum initial investment that Prosper will accept is $25 so it is very easy in terms of barrier to entry. You may need to check your state because it is not available everywhere. On the down side, personal loans are a little on the risky side. When someone defaults on their loan you are just out. They state that they have credit services that go after the money, but I've had quite a few default rather quickly. I started with 100 notes ($2,500) because their website stated that nobody has lost money with that much diversification.  To date, after about 3 years, I am at about 8.15% annualized return, which means this is a solid piece of the investment pie for me.

3. Robinhood

Robinhood is one of my newest and most exciting adventures. It is a phone app only, resource and it allows individuals to trade stock during normal trading hours completely free. Seriously, no commission, transaction fees, nothing. It is legitimately completely free. They do offer a Gold program that allows after hours trading and other benefits which is not free. The app is clean, easy and has enough information that I have been comfortable buying and trading quite a few stocks. There is no minimum initial investment (other than buying a specific stock) and the response time to buying and selling has been immediate. For me it feels a bit like fantasy football, but with money. I started by just buying and selling a couple little stocks and then have steadily been tinkering and building a portfolio. The research withing app is pretty much limited to a line graph with performance back as far as 5 years. It is pretty useful if you want to look at general trends. This would require you to do a lot of your own research if you are looking to get an edge of what to buy and sell and when. It links to your bank account and funds are immediately available once you place them in Robinhood. Potential downsides would be that you have to really put in the work to know what to buy and sell, and when you don't have a lot of diversification there is more risk. Luckily, there is a lot of information out there about stock trading (thank you Internet!).  If you're interested in trying it out (you could seriously buy one $2 stock) please click here. It will give both you and I a free stock as a promotion.

4. Betterment

Betterment is also pretty new to me. I've had it for a few months and it is very intriguing. In general, Betterment has some goal based bot traded funds. That's right; bots! Their computer algorithms work diligently to buy and sell stock at the right times to maximize investment returns. While my sample time hasn't been long enough to make a conclusion about returns, their past returns have been a little better than similar funds that are managed by humans; so that's pretty cool. There is no minimum investment and it links up real nice with existing bank accounts. There is a small maintenance fee at 0.25% a year. This is probably because that bot isn't going to be asking for a raise. I just plunked $600 in a retirement growth fund and I'm just going to keep an eye on it and see how it does for now. I'll be able to compare it to similar accounts I have with my employer and through Vanguard to make a decision if I'd like to add more in the future. Either way, I just kind of nerd out over the idea of the bot and I pray it doesn't turn into a Terminator situation. The only negative I can currently see with Betterment is that it is still linked to the volatility of the stock market. But, all investments with potential of quality return are somewhat risky.

So, what are investment resources that you are having success with on a budget? What kind of success have you found with the ones I am sharing?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How to Buy a Beater Car for $5,000 or Under

You feel smug don’t you?  Those tinted windows, that sound system, the leather seats, that victory at beating the car next to you at the green light.  Don’t lie: you have an unnatural connection to your car, like it somehow defines or compliments a part of your lifestyle – never mind that’s exactly what the marketing people want you to think.  Wear LL Bean and drive a Subaru? Pine for Edward Cullen (Twilight) and have a Volvo in your garage? Trust fund tushy only comfortable atop German-sourced leather? 

America has a problem: people spend more time thinking about their ride then planning their retirement.  How do you stop being a car diva?  That’s your problem, but get a grip: a car is a depreciating asset (i.e. it won’t make you richer) and  will one day: A) end up in a junkyard; B) sold to some weirdo on Craigslist;  or C) worse case, traded-in far below market value for a newer model.   The purpose of this post isn’t to shame you into trading your metal idol for something insanely practical – you’re way too much of a car diva for that.  Instead, this article is meant to provide a quick how-to guide for someone that needs/wants transportation, but would like to minimize depreciation expenses. Welcome to the world of beater shopping.  

Car divas have lots of excuses for eschewing beaters:
D for – definitely need to spend more money to get something reliable.
I for – I wouldn’t be caught dead driving that!
V for – Very unfair, I work hard and want to treat myself to something decent
A for – Am I going to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood/company/family?

My response to these excuses:   Yes, you can (an AAA membership can give you peace of mind).  Get over yourself. Put your money into something that will work for – not against – you. And lastly, who cares?! 

Again, this article is a life-hack shortcut to choosing a beater (read: used) car. The information presented is based on years of personal research, ownership experience, and review websites such as,, and Consumer Reports.  Note about Consumer Reports:  they mostly cater to snobby New England car divas who prefer new or slightly used vehicles with “soft touch” interior materials.  Additionally, their reliability statistics have subtle inconsistencies and I believe the organization and its readers (who provide the reliability data via survey) have an unfair bias against domestic automakers. 

(Dave purchased a 2001 Toyota Sienna van for $1 (pictured).  Yes you read correctly:  a functioning vehicle, with wheels an engine, transmission, doors, seat belts and 2 air bags.  It was acquired from family who would have otherwise donated it. With nearly 240,000 miles, the van has been on the road for almost 2 years after its $1 valuation.  The Silver Bullet, as it’s called, can handle 7 passengers, swallow tons of cargo, and take a collision with minimal damage – it was in a low speed accident last winter.  Dave’s other vehicle is a 1999 Buick Park Avenue (PA) purchased for $2,700.  The PA currently has slightly over 170,000 miles.  Dave has performed most repairs and all basic maintenance on the vehicles by reading online forums, visiting junk yards, and watching YouTube videos.)

How do you go about finding a used car for $5,000 or under?  
·         Always pay cash
·         Buy directly from the owner (no middle man). Find owners who: are trading up for a larger vehicle for growing family, are moving, have service records, and/or have snow tires (it’s shows they’re responsible)
·         Yes, you’re going to be the Craigslist weirdo
·         Create a checklist before you test drive and push every button – horn, radio, trunk release, etc.  Come up with a driving route and routine before testing the vehicle.  My favorite maneuvers simulate desperate scenarios: panic stops – do multiple, slalom, and peddle to the metal.  Does the car make any strange sounds, pull to the side, emit blue, black or white fumes, or clunk like it has arthritis? 
·         Bring a flashlight, find the hood release and *gasp* open the engine bay.  Funny thing, you don’t need a mechanics license to do this – get used to it: you’re going to be doing the majority of your own car maintenance after you buy the beater; YouTube and free online forums are great for this.  For added peace of mind, a pre-purchase inspection is highly recommended; check out this past Practically Frugal Family post.
·         Search the internet for common problems and maintenance intervals for the model(s) you’re considering: focus on these areas.  Do the records indicate completion of significant maintenance (e.g. timing belt) and common repairs?

Generally sellers of $5,000 and under cars just want to make a quick sale.  In their eyes, the car is on its last legs and they’ll likely feel sorry for the buyer – “they must be desperate if they’re considering driving this.”  Use this mentality to your advantage and barter.  Does the car need new tires – subtract the cost from the purchase price.  Dented fender or body panels; light surface rust?  Perfect – you’re likely not going to fix them, but each one decreases the value further.

Some key characteristics about your $5,000 or under beater before we begin.  Ideally it must meet all (if not most of the following criteria):

·         Mass produced – meaning many were sold – there should be enough in junkyards to provide cheap, plentiful parts
·         Use engines/driveline systems in production for several years – longer time to work out bugs
·         Reasonably reliable (engines, transmissions, electrical systems not prone to catastrophic failure)
·         Does not require premium fuel and gets decent mileage based on your driving characteristics.  Fuel economy is better compared in the form of the inverse of mpg (as gallons per mile). Unless you drive significantly more miles than average, the difference between 20 mpg and 25 mpg is negligible at current fuel prices, especially at the $5,000 and less purchase price.  
·         Has an acceptable amount of life left (end of life is likely 250,000 – 300,000 or 18 – 20 years)
·         High depreciation and reasonable alternatives should not cost significantly less
·       Priced at a point where you can self insure for collision and comprehensive insurance (i.e. you’re only going to carry liability and if the car is totaled, you’ll get a new one)
·        Minimal mechanical complexity - avoid AWD, 4x4 or any other marketing derivative of all four wheel propulsion –it’s complex, costly to maintain/repair and overrated. Get snow tires if you need good winter traction.
·         Has a good safety rating, equipment (air bags, ABS, etc.), and won’t crumble like a tin can. It needs to “take a licking and keep on ticking.”  Translation: if you get in an accident, you want something that can still operate with minimal rehabilitation cost because the insurance you buy will not cover collision.

Vehicle that best exemplify the above requirements:

·         Buick Park Avenue (avoid air suspension)
·         Buick LeSabre
·         Buick LaCrosse (with 3.8 liter V-6)
·         Ford Crown Victoria – avoid police interceptor version
·         Mercury Grand Marquis
·         Toyota Avalon
·         Toyota Sienna (pre 2004)
Runners-up: consider if you can get a good price on a low mileage model in better than average condition and your circumstances warrant it:
·         Buick Century/Regal - price is the only selling point over above list
·         Chevy Lumina – ditto above
·         Honda Accord (1999 and before)
·         Lincoln Towncar  - only if you can’t find a better deal on a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis – avoid air suspension.
·         Toyota Camry ( avoid models with 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine)

Below is a highly opinionated overview of various car companies highlighting models of particular interest/disinterest.  Maserati, Mini, Porche, and Tesla are not even discussed; if you have to ask why at this point in the article, then you shouldn’t be driving in the first place.   

Acura/Audi/BMW/Cadillac:   Most (if not all) require premium fuel.  If regular fuel requirement didn’t exist, I would recommend Acura TSX – it’s a Japanese and European spec Honda with a high price markup for people who buy on brand.  Audi & BMW are notoriously unreliable and expensive to maintain as they age.  Avoid.  Cadillac’s have spotty reliability and Buicks are reasonable alternatives that cost less.

Buick:    Yes, people are going to assume you’re an old person. Find one with the ubiquitous 3.8 liter V-6 which has been in production for decades.  Best models are: Park Avenue and LeSabre – likely to be good in a crash, mass produced (lots of spare junkyard parts). Considering their size, they get reasonable gas mileage. Avoid Park Avenue models with air suspension – it will fail and is costly to fix.    LaCrosse is worthy mention too.   Consider Century or Regal with 3.8 engine if you can get a really good deal, but be warned that Century and Regal models are dreadful to drive and generally have cheap interior parts that fall apart easily. 

Chevy:  In the majority of cases, the Buicks mentioned above are better alternatives. Trucks are generally reliable (except S-10) and parts plentiful, but they are gas guzzlers. Although Impala shares 3.8 liter V-6 engine with Buicks mentioned above, it’s not well built.  Lumina with 3.8 engine might be a good bet if it can be found for $2,000 or less.  The venture vans have bad crash test ratings for a family vehicle and are not reliable.

Chrysler:  Only vehicle worth considering would be the Chrysler 300 with V-6 engine, but you’re unlikely to find one $5,000 or under.  Buick Park Avenue and LeSabre are reasonable alternatives and much less costly. Trucks suck fuel and front wheel drive cars are cheaply constructed and are typically rated among the worst vehicles: 200, PT Cruiser, etc. 

Dodge:  Cars are same as Chrysler: low rent.  Trucks guzzle gas and Jeeps are just dumb. 

Ford:  the Crown Victoria is built like a tank, mass produced, engine and drive train have been around forever, and can probably take an accident better than anything.  Highly recommended given low maintenance, repair and operating costs. Two caveats: 1) avoid any Crown Victoria used for police duties (interceptor) – it likely had the crap beat out of it; and 2) snow tires are a must if you live in a cold climate.  Other car, SUV and van models, though mass produced, don’t make sense due to reliability issues.  Ford trucks are generally reliable, but like GMC and Chevy trucks, they do not get good gas mileage. 

GMC:  With the exception of the Sonoma, GMC trucks and their carbon copy Chevy twins last a long time.  However, they have uncomfortable and cheap interiors and generally do not get good gas mileage. Additionally, there’s little sense in dealing with an uncomfortable truck with a cheap interior unless you own a contracting business.    

Honda:  I think Hondas are generally overrated and command unjustifiably high used prices.  1999 – 2005 Accords are among some of the most problematic vehicles (see  Transmission issues abound in Accord and Odyssey models. A pre-1999 Accord is probably best way to go, but may be near end of life.  CR-V feels cheap to drive and commands too high of a price; reasonable alternatives exist for much less.  Civic and Fit have questionable crash resilience when compared to the average SUV driven on America roads. Element is an appealing concept, but the 600 lb load capacity is a serious shortcoming.  Ridgeline and Pilot have mechanical complexity of 4WD and are too overpriced.  The Passport is a rebadged Isuzu product and although Isuzu did not receive any mention in this article, I’m here to tell you it’s not pretty: questionable reliability and manufacturer has left US.

Hyundai:  Hyundai used to produce trash, but has improved its models considerably in the recent past. This presents a catch-22: older models are unreliable and newer models suffer from high depreciation (good for us) given past reputation. At the time of this writing, there aren’t enough in junkyards to warrant making our beater list.  Additionally, they are difficult to work on – replacing headlight bulb requires removal of the entire headlight assembly.    

Infiniti/Jaguar:  Low production volumes, premium fuel, avoid.

Jeep: Almost all are 4x4 – transmission issues, avoid.

Kia: Somewhat related to Hyundai models, most are unremarkable.

Land Rover:  Laughable.  Expensive, not economical, and not reliable.

Lexus: Reliable, but too many characteristics violate our rules: premium fuel requirement, Toyotas offer reasonable alternative for much less, not mass produced.

Lincoln:  TownCar is the same as Ford Crown Victoria and only Lincoln worth considering. Look for one without the air suspension – it’s prone to leaks.

Mazda:  I think most Mazda cars have a cheap factory finish/construction and develop significant rust and suspension issues over time.  Millennia and 626 models in our $5,000 or less price range are plagued by problems. Protégé models may be the only exception to the bad Mazda lot.  Depreciation on these vehicles is likely to be high (better prices).  However, I consider the Protégé to be too small to provide adequate crashworthiness. Overall, our mass produced requirement casts a cloud over the whole Mazda line as there are not large numbers of these vehicles on the road. 

Mercedes-Benz: Don’t make me laugh.  Any Benz model you can find for $5,000 or under is going to either be a complete piece of trash or over 20 years old.  These vehicles violate most of our requirements.

Mercury:  All models are Ford posers.  Only one worth consideration is Grand Marquis. 

Mitsubishi:  Automaker is likely to be the next manufacturer that leaves the US market.  Very low production volume on models translates into sky high replacement parts cost.  Reliability for Outlander models is enticing and pre-2007 models can be found for less than $5,000, but beware replacement parts cost.

Nissan:  Trucks guzzle gas, the Quest in our price range is unreliable and has low production volume.  Buying other Nissan models is like spinning the clunker roulette wheel. Although the company may be associated with reliability due to its Japanese heritage, it is aligned with French company Renault, which has questionable reliability; vehicles share many components.  Maxima models 1999 and earlier are reliable, but are likely too close to end of life.  Altima is a mixed bag not worth the risk when better alternatives exist. 

Pontiac:  Although many models can be found in our price range and are mass produced, crash test ratings on most models are not good and interiors are embarrassingly cheap.  Buicks offer better alternative in most, if not all cases including: Grand Am and Bonneville.  A notable exception to the Pontiac line is the Vibe.  Underneath the body cladding is a Toyota engine and drive train which is subject to higher depreciation on the basis of its Pontiac nameplate.  If considering Vibe or Toyota Matrix, go for a Vibe model and avoid the following: 1) the 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine in model years 2009 – 2010 easy to do because it’s likely out of our price range; 2) AWD – these models are less reliable and have a frequent maintenance cycle.  The Vibe did not ultimately make our list due to relatively small size and scarcity of junkyard parts availability.

Saab:  Weird, not mass produced, high cost of replacement parts, manufacturer has left US market- enough said! 

Saturn:   S and Ion models are relatively reliable, but I’d rather take my chance of a collision in a Buick.    L, Relay, and Vue models are notoriously unreliable. The Aura and Astra models are enticing for a moment, but are transplants from General Motors’ European division and as a result are low volume, high replacement cost used cars. 

Scion:  I love the concept of reliable, inexpensive, and utilitarian (hatchback and wagon-style) vehicles this youth-oriented branch of Toyota promotes.   Scions can be obtained in our price range and have fuel efficient drive systems that have been around for years, but there are a couple of flies in the ointment: the questionable durability of the 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine found in the Tc and 2008 + model years of the Xb, and the crashworthiness of the remaining models: xA, xD, and 2004 – 2006 xB.  I owned two xBs for a couple years; they were driven exclusively on city streets in a small town.  Both were sold when commutes changed to heavier driving in a larger city (with crazier drivers). I consider the gutless performance from the dinky 100-horsepower, 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine, small size (the xB actually bounced off the crash test barrier in an IIHS safety test) and lack of side airbags to be a major safety issue.  The 2004 – 2006 Scion xB is worth considering if and only if you don’t do much high speed driving in a low population area.  The xA isn’t worth considering when the more cavernous xB can be had for the same price. 

Smart:  No, they’re dumb.

Subaru:  Society seems to love Subarus, but I don’t.   Here’s why: Subaru has used the same 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine in most of its models for nearly 20 years, but it has always been prone to head gasket failure – search the internet. Additionally, I don’t think they age gracefully – rust, expensive and frequent replacement of parts (brakes, wheel bearings, etc.) were my experience owning a Subaru Legacy until end of life at 18 years old and with 220,000 miles.  It was a rust bucket when I sold it, the steering linkage was leaking, exhaust system was gone due to rust, and the wheel bearings were bad and could not be replaced due to corrosion.  Granted the transmission and engine still worked well, but the engine required numerous oil leak fixes.  The cost of maintenance was not worth the AWD hype.  You have better options.   

Suzuki:  Actually fulfilled my prediction about Mitsubishi by existing the US market in the past couple years.   Models are low volume, and replacement parts are very expensive.  Avoid the whole lot. 

Toyota:  Most used car buyers worship at the Toyota alter.  However, liking all models across a brand is similar to liking all of the tracks on a band’s CD – and I like my songs and vehicles on a case-by-case basis.  The Toyota line offers some pros and cons with respect to our requirements.  Positives first: most models are mass produced and have engines and drive train systems in production for several years.  Negatives: they are popular used cars and therefore demand higher prices.  Toyotas $5,000 or less are either going to be older or have more miles than our alternatives.  That being said, I would avoid any model with the ubiquitous 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine.  In my opinion, this power plant, appearing in many models after 2002, was cheaply engineered to increase profitability.  Stories of blown head gaskets, stripped head bolts, and excessive oil consumption for this engine abound on the internet. I briefly owned a Highlander with this engine and it was a POS. Although the 3.0 liter V-6 engine also has a bad reputation (for oil sludge), I’d say the root cause are dumb owners who don’t change their oil frequently rather than bad design.  The 3.0 V-6 has a deserved reputation for being a long lasting and reliable design if properly maintained (avoid bone-head owners or ones without documented proof of oil changes).   Large, crashworthy models with this engine and under $5,000 include: Avalon, and Sienna (pre-2004).   Ubiquitous Camry models with the 3.0 V-6 or 2.2L 4-cyclinder are worth a look as well.

Volkswagen: I like the driving dynamics of most VW models, but they are hopelessly unreliable, and difficult to work on.  Avoid the whole line.

Volvo:  Avoid: not mass produced, complicated designs (electrical issues), and replacement parts are sky high.

There you have it. Used car knowledge distilled down to a $5,000 or under price point.  Beater cars, they’re not for everybody. If you’re a car diva, challenge yourself:  is your ride really worth the total cost?

This post is written by guest blogger and friend, David Cook. Here is a little more about him:

I am a 30-something financial pragmatist: down to earth and enjoy telling it like it is.  While many of my MBA cohorts gravitated toward corporate pursuits, my path has lead to a position in local government working as an IT Business Analyst and Project Manager.   A moderate, non-corporate work schedule has afforded time in my personal life to focus on applying relatively basic financial concepts, including: paying down all non-mortgage debt, shopping for expired food, and gaining competence as an independent dividend growth stock investor.  I currently manage a 20-stock portfolio and hope to write about the experience.  

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Schooled in Budgeting: A story of how my frugality made it into the classroom

For those of you reading that do not know me, I am a teacher by profession. I teach middle school math and science across grades six, seven and eight. I often try to bring things happening in the real world into my class and make students consider real world situations or possibilities in context with their math.

I often say there are three people in this world, "Those that don't understand math, those that do understand and those that use math in their life".

I want students to be able to understand and know how numbers work in real life!

Here is how this concept played out in my classroom when budgeting and curriculum met. We were working on a unit relating to percentages. This unit even includes the ideas of mark ups, discounts, tax simple interest and commission. I challenged myself to create a project that had students use their percentage skills in a real way that can translate to life outside of and after grade school.

What I came up with is a project in which they researched a profession and made a rough monthly budget using percentages of their monthly salary. Keep in mind these are 6th and 7th graders so the monthly budget doesn't include everything.

Some focuses of this project for me were prioritizing the cost of monthly budget items and giving students "checkpoints" to evaluate and make decisions based on their salary left.

Here is a link to the assignment itself:

Some takeaways that I had from the project:

  • Students were engaged in their learning and were having discussions among each other and with other teachers and their parents
  • They were forced to make decisions based on salary. Some of these decisions were living with a roommate, living somewhere else, or driving a used car
  • Some students decided to change career to have more salary to work with
  • Different students put a different priority on houses, cars and entertainment costs
  • Students made varying amounts of salaries work in general. Whether they made $30,000 and year or $200,000 a year they could make decisions to make their budget work
Some takeaways from students:

  • Many students said that more went into making their budget work every month than they originally thought
  • Students commented that they are glad they had this experience because they can see how it will translate to life
  • Students have had ongoing dialogue with parents and friends about budgeting
  • A student asked when you learn budgeting in school...I let them know that you generally do not
  • A comment that was interesting was a students said, "So if I make x amount of money I cannot just live wherever I want?"
  • Planning puts you in a better spot than if you do not plan

The fact is that budgeting and financial planning is only taught  by parents or through self-research unless those conversations happen at home. Fortunately, many of my students have those conversations with parents as it is an affluent district in general. But for the kids that don't get those experiences, it was a great opportunity to start considering budgeting. 

Perhaps the comment that made me chuckle the most was, "Man, it is tough to budget on this teacher salary". My response was, "Bro, you need to read my blog!".

Thanks for reading :)

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5 Resources That Can Replace a Gym Membership

My wife and I generally like being active and really enjoying hiking, biking, walking, and swimming together. As part of my health journey I decided to get in better shape for a better quality of life and hopefully longevity. My whole life, or at least life that I can remember, I have struggled with obesity. After eating a primarily plant based and whole food diet for a couple of years and using some of the resources listed in this post I am in the best shape/health of my life and I hope to continue this journey. When I decided to get in shape I did not want to pay a monthly gym membership (what kind of frugal blogger would I be if I did?!) and started looking for alternatives. The list in this post is a combination of resources that my wife and I use and have found useful for us.

1. C25K - This app helps those who are not accustomed to running prepare for a 5K. The C25K stands for Couch to 5K and it truly scaffolds runs in order to accomplish this. You can find C25K in the Google Play store or in the Apple Store for your smart phones or iPods. It tells you when to run and walk and gradually, week by week, it challenges you to run a little farther. It starts as simple as having you run a minute and then walk a minute and so on. The intervals are achievable and it doesn't let you push yourself too hard. I personally do not enjoy running, and still do not love it, but this app kept me on track and gave me achievable goals. Through the use of this app and a lot of determination and encouragement I have ran a 5K twice and run 1 to 2 miles 3 or 4 times a week. Before using this app I had not run long distance for almost 10 years. (Hint: when getting serious about running footwear becomes very important. I personally love my Brooks and would recommend them to anyone looking for a sturdy trainer. Keep them affordable by buying online or watching for deals at your local running store. A couple of years ago my wife bought 4 pairs of the Brooks because they were $30 don't go bad you know!)

2. Hasfit - Hasfit is a fitness organization (for lack of a better term) that specializes in workout videos and meal plans (For some healthy and frugal recipes check out our recipes page on the blog). It stands for Heart and Soul Fitness. Both my wife and I enjoy using these videos to work out. All you need is a device that can play Youtube from the internet (which I assume you do if you are reading this) a space to do the exercises, and a couple of soup cans or weights if you have them. Coach Kozak does a great job motivating you in the videos and the videos range from beginner exercises to advance. I really enjoy the kickboxing videos and there are options in terms of times and difficulty as well. We generally use the Youtube channel and videos, but there are many more resources on the website. There really is an engaging workout for everyone, and enough diversity in terms of length and types of workouts that you should never get bored! Sometimes we have to base our fitness selection merely on the length of the workout which is easily displayed on youtube. (Hint: we generally do these in our living room and if you are like me at all you are a huge sweater! A workout mat can definitely be helpful when working out at home).

3. Fitness Blender - This is another Youtube channel / website that offers a variety of levels of fitness training. From beginner to advanced the techniques are easy to replicate and well explained. A lot of the training comes in the form of intervals which is proven to be a great way to burn fat in particular. The intervals mean that there are more active and less active parts of each workout. They also have a nice countdown feature so you know how much longer you have to do an exercise as well as a little preview of what is coming next so you can mentally prepare/try to figure out the movement ahead of time. (Hint: A lot of exercises can be made more intense by using some 2 lb weights).

4. The Library - This is a general tip, and your public library has so many resources that many do not use, but in the DVD/Blu-Ray section there are many workout videos that you can do. What is available of course is going to be dependent on the quality of your public library. The KDL branch in East Grand Rapids has a pretty good selection. If you are a person that loves reading there are also a lot of books about exercising as well. The best part is that every community should have a library or two and everything is free! (It is also a great place to take the kids! It is one of the hints in our blog post about being social once you have children!)

5. Running Clubs (includes list of some in GR) - Running clubs are a great way to get and keep in shape. They help hold you accountable and you can foster some great friendships through running with the same people every week. We personally do not belong to any but have friends that are active members and love them. There are also a variety of clubs in GR that range from one that meets at Founder's, runs steps/hills, and then gets a pint after to trail running to training for the 5th 3rd Riverbank Run. (Hint: if ever running in the dark it is a great idea to get some reflective clothing and/or a wearable light that shines forward and backward for safety)

Grand Rapids Running Club
Here is a link to all teams listed on the MapMyRun site:

Thank you so much for taking time to read our humble blog. The feedback we have received has been amazing. Please make sure to comment with ways in which you are being frugal as well because we are still a work in progress and can learn from you! Also, if you have enjoyed blog posts we would appreciate if you shared them on social media or with friends who may be interested in the specific topics (or just the whole thing in general). Thanks again!

If you like what you are reading then considering reading about:

Ditch Your Savings Account

How to Save Money on Vacations

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Get a Pre Purchase Inspection When Buying a "New" Car - Quick Tip Thursday

Do Yourself a Favor and Get a Pre Purchase Inspection

For today's quick tip, I wanted to encourage anyone who is buying a used car to get a... 
Pre Purchase Inspection!!! Some day in the future there will be a whole blog post on how to save money buying a car (or used car).

(This is our new (to us) Beauty that I pretty much stole on Craigslist)

You can usually get a pre purchase inspection at any reputable mechanic. I suggest calling around to see who offers one and how much it costs.

We got ours at Christian Brother's Automotive for around $30. They meticulously went over every little detail of the car and recorded the condition. When they were finished they gave us a hard copy of the checklist that we could then take to the seller. Click here for more info about their pre purchase inspection. 

Here is why this is good:

1) You know everything that is wrong with the car before you buy it
2) You know what condition things that wear out are in like brakes and shocks
3) If the vehicle has been lacking general maintenance you can be more cautious in general
4) It gives you bargaining leverage 
5) You can more securely and confidently buy from a private source versus a dealer (cheaper)
6) Peace of mind!

A little extra tip here...PAY CASH FOR YOUR CAR!

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

Click here to read about ditching your Savings Account.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cheapest Baby Toy Ever (I think)

So my 9 month old son is quite active and seems to lose interest in toys rather quickly. For about a day now this has been one of his new favorites.

So here is how you make it:

Put some popcorn kernels (or dried beans) in a plastic bottle. It is also a good idea to clean this bottle well before handing it to you kid.

This happens to be an empty pop bottle that I obtained from a table at the public library (free).

So it really cost us almost nothing.

I can also envision some creative folks bedazzling the bottle up in ways to make it even more engaging for their children. My wife suggested adding a little bit of multiple dry food sources to make it more comfortable. I opt for the most simple route usually :)

Thanks for reading,

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the blog please subscribe by entering your email into the email update box on the right column.

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