ROI for Life

How often do you examine the return on your investment of time and money? A dear friend once spent 3 hours in the waiting room of an auto shop to save $15 on an oil change. When I asked, she refused to sit quietly in the corner for an hour in exchange for $5. That’s an inefficient exchange of time for money.

Last week, a close relative spent $2000 repairing a car that’s worth about $500…after buying the replacement car. That’s a poor exchange of money for value.

Why do people make decisions like that? They seldom take a look at the values being traded. My friend knew she would have to work to replace the money she wouldn’t have saved, but didn’t think about the time she could never get back. My relative was emotionally fixated on the sunk costs of the repairs she had already put into the older car and couldn’t bear the thought of losing that “investment”. Neither was an example of rational decision-making, but rather a case of allowing emotions to rule.[Continue Reading…]

2 comments

Failure! 30 Day Project Summary – March

My 30 Day Project for the month of March has been to do 100 sit-ups in a single set.   Based on February’s results, I had a plan.

I will be doing 5 sets, morning and night, as follows:

Set 1:  Half of my maximum amount.

Sets 2-4: 3/4 of my max.

Set 5: Do sit-ups until my abs start to cramp, thus setting my max for the next session.

I failed miserably.

It started off perfectly.   My base amount was 20 sit-ups.   I had a plan.  I’d proven, at least to myself, that I was able to follow an intense workout plan, even through pain.    I was encouraged by February’s results, so I dove in.

The first 3 or 4 days went well.   I had some muscle strain, but that was expected.   I hadn’t done sit-ups for years.   I discovered muscles I actually hadn’t known existed, just from how they hurt.   This was the good pain, the pain that shows progress.  After doing the push-ups in February, this pain wasn’t as bad as I had expected.   Push-ups are an excellent ab workout.

Maybe I became complacent.  Either my form slipped, or I was going too fast and “bounced” through the sit-ups, but I pulled a muscle in my back.   This was the bad pain, the pain that warns of fundamental problems.   My form, my size, my history of back problems, who knows?   One or more of those possible problems reared up to turn an excellent idea into a disaster.   March’s plan got sidelined for a few days.

When my back was better, I started again.   Again, everything was fine for 3 or 4 days.  Then my back betrayed me, again.   Another break, another try, another strain and I gave up.    I made it to 50, then just stopped.   Too much more, and I wouldn’t be able to tolerate sitting at my desk.   Or maybe I just wimped out, afraid to hurt my back again.

I’m disappointed.   I haven’t done a single sit-up in the last week.

To make matters worse, without the sit-ups to do in the morning, I’ve been letting myself snooze my alarm clock instead of getting up at 5.   March has been such a slacker month.

Lesson learned:  Always listen to your body.   Don’t get tied into a specific routine–even one you created for yourself–if your body is demanding to stop.   Watch your form and make sure you aren’t putting undue strain on anything that can cause long-term damage.

Lesson learned, part II:  Push-ups are more fun and less painful than sit-ups.   They will be getting incorporated into my ongoing routine.

Ending the sit-ups did leave me enough energy to get an early start on April’s 30 Day Project.   The goal for next month is to declutter every room in the house:   Every closet, every dresser, every drawer.

Loft Bed

Loft Bed

To start, we replaced our son’s dresser, bed, and desk with a loft-bed that combines the three.   While transferring items from the desk and dresser to the new bed, everything was sorted to make sure it still fit and was used and useful.  If it didn’t meet those criteria, it was either tossed or priced and boxed for a garage sale.

In the girls’ room, we removed a dresser, the changing table, a toddler bed, a convertible crib/toddler bed.  It all got replaced with a set of bunk beds and the dresser we took from our son.   Everything got the same garage-sale check before it was put away.

Both of these changes easily tripled the usable floor space in each room and all of the kids love their new beds.   Using the magic of Craigslist, I think we got the new furniture for 10-15% of retail, and have old furniture to add to our sale, which will further defray the cost.

This leaves the master bedroom, the bathroom, the front closet, the kitchen and our entire basement to go.   Shoes and jackets that have never been worn.   Books that will never be reread.  Bye-bye.   Some of it will be painful, but we all realize it’s necessary.  We’ve already filled more than 2 dozen boxes of stuff to sell.   None of it is coming back in the house.  If it doesn’t sell, we’re donating it.

More to come as we progress through the mountains of crap.

4 comments

5 Ways to Force Your Spouse to Get Frugal*

Communication is important in a marriage.  If you can’t communicate, how are you going to get your way?**  I’ve helpfully compiled the best possible ways to get your spouse on board with your budget plans.

  1. Don’t include her. When I absolutely, positively cannot afford to be working towards a different goal than my wife, I do my best to ignore her.  I don’t tell her how much we’ve paid off, how much we have left, or what we can afford to spend on groceries.   I think she enjoys not having to worry about the petty details like “Are we overdrawn?” or “Will we be eating Alpo next week?”   I’ll do anything to make her life easier.
  2. Nag. Nothing convinces my wife to do things my way like unending scolding.   If I just remind her, day and night, surely she’ll cooperate with my budgeting plans and ideas to save money, right?   Every body loves the attention, and, since we got a text messaging plan, I can shoot her a message every five minutes while she’s at the store.   In all seriousness, this is actually a problem and a source of friction at my house.   Reminding her every time she goes to the store is not an effective strategy.
  3. Whine. If nagging fails, I always try to take the advice of my toddlers and whine until I get my way.   “But Ho-uh-neee-eee!  Why’d you buy tha-at?”   It’s always been a big hit at my house.   My wife appreciates the effort I put into getting the third, screechy syllable into simple words, just to try to convince her to give up or see things my way.
  4. Obsess. This goes hand-in-hand with both #2 and #3.    If I never giver her the chance to forget about our goals, she can never stray from them.   A memo in the morning, hourly text reminders, and a daily summary of our account balances and month-to-date budget compliance just keeps us working together.    Everything we do can be tied back to our frugal choices and debt repayment, whether it’s a game of Sorry or a trip to a wrestling tournament.
  5. Yell. If all else fails, just turn up the volume.   If there’s a problem, I nag at level 10.   Whining loudly enough to wake the neighbors will convince her to comply with my wishes next time.  This has the added benefit of allowing my kids to receive the wisdom of my experience, even if they are in the basement playing games with their friends.

*This obviously isn’t a gender-specific article, but, as a man, I write from a man’s perspective and my pronouns match my perspective.

**Sarcasm.  Really.   Following these rules should result in divorce, NOT happy agreement.  If you are operating under this action plans, get therapy.

Update:  This post has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

10 comments

Fall From Grace

When you accumulate a certain level of debt, it feels like you’re wading through an eyeball-deep pool of poo, dancing on your tiptoes just to keep breathing.   Ask me how I really feel.Tip Toe

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m in debt.  We have gone over this before.   The story isn’t one of my proudest, so I’ve never talked much about how it happened.

Our debt was entirely our fault.  We messed up and dug our own poo-pool.   There were no major medical bills, no extended unemployment, just a strong consumer urge and an apparent need for instant gratification.  Delayed gratification wasn’t a skill I’d considered learning.  The idea of it was a thoroughly foreign concept.   Why wait when every store we visited offered no payments/no interest for a year?   We didn’t give much thought to what would happen when the year was up.

We got married young.   We bought our house young.  We started our family young.   We did all of that over the course of two years, well before we were financially ready.   Twenty years old, we had excellent credit and gave our credit reports a workout.   Credit was so easy to get.    By the time I was 22, we had a total credit limit more than twice our annual income.  We fought so hard to keep up with the Joneses.   A new pickup, a remodel on our house.   Within a month of paying off the truck, I got a significant raise and rushed out to buy a new car.

Every penny that hit the table was caught in a net of lifestyle expansion.   I was bouncing on my tiptoes.

Four months into my new car payment, I was laid off.  There’s me, hoping for a snorkel.  A week later, we found out our son was going to be a big brother.   Our pool had developed a tide.

We killed the cable and cut back on everything else and…managed.   Money was tight, but we got by.  I got a new job, but had we learned any lessons?  Of course not.   We got a satellite dish, started shopping the way we always had.  Times were good, and could never be bad.  We had such short memories.

Fast forward a couple of years.   Baby #3 is on the way while baby #2 is still in diapers.   Daycare was about to double.  Daddy started to panic.   I built a rudimentary budget and realized there was no way to make ends meet.   There just wasn’t enough cash coming in to cover expenses.   That’s when I made my first frugal decision:  I quit smoking.  That cut the expenses right to the level of our income.  It was tight, but doable.

There was still one serious problem.    Neither one of us could control our impulse shopping.   For a time, I was getting packages delivered almost every day.  It was never anything expensive, but it was always something.  Little things add up quickly.

Last spring, I realized we couldn’t keep going like that.   I started looking into bankruptcy.   Somehow, we managed to toss ourselves into the deep end of the pool.  We had near-perfect credit and no way to maintain it.

While researching bankruptcy, I found our life preserver.   We put together a budget.   We cut and…it hurt.     It’s taken a year, but every bill we have is finally being tracked.   We have an emergency fund and we are working towards our savings goals.    It hasn’t been an easy year, but we are making progress.    We’ve eliminated 15% of our debt and opened out budget to include some “blow money” and an occasional date night.   We are always looking for ways to decrease our bottom line and increase the top line.   Most important, we are actually working together to keep all of our expenses under control, with no hurt feelings when we remind ourselves to stay on track.

We are finally standing flat-footed, head and shoulders above the poo.

Update:  This post has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

2 comments