Xtreme Budgeting

So funny thing about that hackathon…. I didn’t need to worry about Android appcompat afterall, because the hardware my team decided to work with ended up having NO ANDRIOD API.  WHAT?!  So we decided we were all there to learn anyway, so lets just see if we can bust out some iOS app… Holy shit was that scary/stressful/fun. Especially because…Objective C… what the fuck!?  Anyway I had a buddy on that part of the project (who also had no Objective C or iOS app experience), and we worked together and somehow got it working! It was fun in the masochistic way that programming is usually fun. And the web guys were awesome and got their part working, and then we all got it working together in time for demo. And then we got 2nd place overall and are going to Vegas to pitch at the final round! INSANITY.

And now, for our main post today on Xtreme Budgeting and Lifestyle Hacks!

One thing I really like is the idea of “lifestyle hacks.”  It is easy to get caught up in buying/wanting more of…well…everything.  But if you step back for a moment, and do your best to analyze situations from an outsider’s perspective, you can drastically reduce the amount of money you spend and things you amass, while still living a relatively ‘normal’ modern American life.  It is pretty phenomenal once you realize this, and it becomes an addicting game.

For example, I have a smartphone.  Most of my friends have smartphones too, but most of them also pay a shit ton of money every month for this privilege.  I paid $100 for my phone, and I pay $20/month for unlimited everything, no contract.  (I am on Republic Wireless, if you are wondering).  These kinds of deals are everywhere, you just have to be willing to put in some research, wait for the opportune moment, and make a few sacrifices.

As you discover these “hacks,” your mind will be blown because they are EVERYWHERE.  Once you unplug from the matrix, you will be constantly shocked at how much people spend, simply because they assume there is no other way!  I know that I spend too much on everything still, but I am definitely making progress and learning more to spend less every day.

My most recent hack is attending a professional conference.  As I weasel my way into Android App development, I have found myself wishing there was a better to learn than just banging my head against a wall, scouring Stack Overflow, and attending once a month meetups, begging people to look at my code with me. It would be cool if I could take like a 1 or 2 week extreme class or something, to kind of give me a boost.  Then I found out about this awesome conference which is basically a week of intense classes and networking. SWEET.  The main problem is that it was a million billion dollars just to walk in the door, not including airfare, hotel, etc.

So I told the conference organizers that my company wasn’t sponsoring me, that I am new to the industry, and could they maybe give me scholarship for the conference tuition, if I volunteered for them throughout the conference.  The worst that could happen was, they say no.  And then, they said YES!!!!!!  I am so grateful! Because there is no way I could have afforded this trip without that aid.

I am really excited to see how much I can save while I am in San Francisco.  It won’t be easy, since its such an expensive city, but I think I can do it.  My boss made a comment that it doesn’t really matter too much how much I saved on tuition, because the trip will end up costing me $3,000 anyway just for everything else.  Not sure where he got that number!  But I quickly told him that so far I’ve dropped about $400, which covers everything except dinners and maybe some entertainment costs.  He was pretty shocked, hahaha!

I think it will be fun to do a budget run-down when I get back from the conference.  I am so excited!!

Weakness!

So the other day I went to a concert.  I had a really bad day at work, so I felt like I needed a few beers.  In the end it cost me $13, a plastic cup, a can, a plastic wristband, and several calories.  Bummer!

In other news, I am going to my first hackathon tonight! It is going to be scary. I still haven’t got appcompat working which SUCKS because I want to be able to do all the fancy stuff like in 3.0 and higher.  This wouldn’t be such a problem if MY PHONE was at least 3.0!  But since hackathon is all about the demo… I am going to either (1) get appcompat working or (2) just do stuff the old way.  

I thought about buying a newer phone for the hackathon and just returning it on Sunday.  But then I decided that was a kind of douchey thing to do, so I am just going to suck it up and use my phone.

I am not holding my breath for app compat…   But I am making do with the knowledge and the hardware that I have…

August Smackdown

It finally came!  Today is the day we got to do a major smackdown on those student loans!  We’ve been saving up all month, since we couldn’t make payments while the transition from Edgeucation to Mohela was going on.

Well, the transition is now finished, and let me say I am shocked to say it, but it looks like Mohela has got their shit together way more than Edgeucation did!  What?! I know.  Mohela even sent us an email confirming our payment was submitted! Crazy!

Even more good news, my balance transfer for the loans went through just fine, so I don’t have to worry about all that money being lost in oblivion.  We made the big payment this morning and damn did that feel AWESOME.  We are now officially 80% paid on the loans we owe to the government!  80%!!!!

I am so happy with the progress that we have been making.  Though, at the same time, Mr WWW and I have been talking a lot about the idea of lifestyle creep, and how we could be paying more on our loans if we hadn’t improved our lifestyle.  Back 2 years ago when the loans were all first due, we had to scale our lifestyle back a ton, just so we could make the minimum payments.  Now, our minimum payments are way smaller, and each month we are able to put a ton more towards the loans, simply because our income has increased.

But, even though the loans are getting paid off at a faster rate, we still spend more on fun stuff than we did 2 years ago.  Many of our acquaintances think we are still obnoxiously frugal, because we don’t constantly go out to eat, or to the movies, or to the bars.  And it is true that we are pretty exacting with what we spend money on.  But at the same time, we are treating ourselves a little here or there, more than we would have in the past.

For example, Mr. WWW and I have a membership to a climbing gym.  We found a way to get a huge discount on the membership, it is something that we love doing together, and it keeps us in shape.  On top of that, we have a lot of friends with memberships as well, so it allows us to spend time with our friends without constantly spending money on eating out and movies, etc.  So you can see that this was a very well thought out expense.  We cover a lot of bases with this membership.  But, it still is money that is leaving our bank account.

Another example is our residence.  We could be paying a lot less in rent.  We recently inherited a piano from Mr WWW’s mom, and we needed a bigger place to store the piano.  I really wanted an apartment with an open floor plan, where the piano could be in the main room instead of in a bedroom.  So, we are paying more than our last place for having this piano in our front room.  I have to say, it is amazing.  We play the piano nearly every day, and it is so much fun to have the piano in the main room when we have people over.  But it still money that is leaving our bank account, and not going towards those loans.

Lifestyle creep is tricky, because it happens so slowly and gradually.  I think it really is the determining factor of financial success in the long term, though, so we need to be careful.  I think the pie graphs are helpful here.  Our goal is to put 50% of our take-home pay into “Smart Money,” which is loan payments, savings, and investments.  I think as long as we focus on keeping that at or above 50%, our lifestyle creep won’t be too bad.  For example, we continue to maintain our 50% goal, even with our climbing membership and more expensive apartment.

What do you guys think?  Is it safe to go off percentages of take-home pay alone?  Or is it better to allocate a dollar amount for Needs and Wants, and then everything else goes to Smart Money?  That way, as you earn more and more, you are only investing the extra money.

Maple Leaf Rag

So today one of my most favorite bloggers ever, Mr. Money Mustache, wrote a great article titled “The Surprising Effects of Small Efforts Over Time,” about how doing little things over a long period of time really starts to add up.  This makes sense in terms of money, with compounding interest.  But I like how his article frames this up in terms of tangible things. For him, it was building an addition on a house.

I immediately thought of an experience in my own life: learning a song on the piano.  I played the piano a lot growing up and at the beginning of college.  When I moved and no longer had easy access to a piano, I really fell off the bandwagon.  But recently, Mr WWW and I acquired a piano in our home, and have both been playing again.  The issue is that my schedule isn’t as open or flexible right now as it has been in the past.  Meaning, I can’t block out significant time to practice, like an hour each day.

I started out just playing for 10 minutes or so before I left for work in the morning, and then for maybe 30 minutes on lazy Saturday mornings.  After getting up to speed on several easier songs I had learned in the past, I decided to learn a new song I’d never played before: The Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin.

Ragtime has been something I’ve always loved, but never had played.  And it has such a learning curve!  But I started just one hand at a time.  And now I can play the first page of the song with both hands together. What?!?!  I remain surprised every time I play it.  It was weird because, every time I would end my practice session I felt like I had barely made progress.  I felt like I wasn’t respecting my music, because I should put more of an effort on practicing longer and harder.  But in the end, I was respecting my music a whole lot more than if I had just given up.  It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing;” more like “slow and steady wins the race.”

So that’s pretty cool.

It is a good thing to be thinking about now, as I am embarking on an adventure to shift my career more towards a software edge (versus firmware).  I have been working through some tutorials on Android app development, to brush up on my Java while simultaneously pick up some app dev skills.  I was up late working on it last night, and getting a little overwhelmed.  There is *alot* of new material to remember in app development, and I started to ask myself “Why am I even trying this? There is no way I will be able to actually ever do anything with this. I will never be able to remember all of this.  Who am I kidding.”

So all this negative self-talk is a pretty bad thing.  And frankly, it is also silly!  I am doing this for me!  To learn!  To have more skills to market around.  To maybe do some fun freelance work and learn even more.  So, who cares if it is confusing right now?  When I started Maple Leaf Rag, I was like “Who am I kidding, I never learned how to play ragtime with a teacher, so I don’t think I will ever be able to get the hang of this song, ever.  Why am I wasting my time?”  But the thing is I WASN’T wasting my time at all! I can play the first page now!  One day soon I will be able to write a baby little Android app on my own.  I just need to give it time, and have fun learning a little more each day.

Mohela

Dude! Student loans have been sold AGAIN!  Well, not technically *sold* since the Department of Education still owns them.  So some back history for you: apparently as part of Obamacare, there is this provision for student loans, saying that all student loans can now be managed by private companies, even though they are still ‘owned’ by the government.  And these private companies of course get some dough in the process.

Which, whatever.  That’s fine.  Except that our loans keep getting shuffled around to all these different companies!  And there are always mistakes made, and we can’t make any payments during the transition period which is a HUGE pain.  So yeah. It is happening again.

We were with Edgeucation Loans (and before that, with Direct Loans), and are now transitioning to Mohela.  Which, doesn’t surprise me.  I think Edgeucation bit off more than they could chew when they signed up for this whole student loan servicing thing, so it makes sense that they are now leaving the market and selling all the loans to Mohela.

Anyway, it totally sucks because August was going to be this big smackdown month, but now we are just accumulating all this money until we are actually allowed to make a payment.  I guess it is pretty badass to see this huge (growing) number in our bank account.  (But also kind of sad, because its like OMGGGGG if we didn’t have the student loans we could be billionaires!!!!!!)

I will be sure to keep you updated on how it all goes down.  Oh, and to complicate matters further, I put in a 0% balance transfer to a credit card for some of the loans, and that got processed right when the transition to Mohela started.  So my card is charged, but I don’t really know if the money ever got deducted from the loans….

Anyway!  In other news, I won a sweet contest at my work’s health fair: a massive basket of produce:

MyProduce

We all had to guess how much it weighed, and the closest guesser won all the food!  I guessed 32 lbs and it was really 31 lbs.  Woohoo!  I was so freaking excited, I wanted to win this so bad.  So Mr WWW and I have been working our way through the whole thing.  I am determined that NONE of it will go to waste!  We’ve done good so far. I will post some pics of what we did with it.

Oh, and I will be coming back here with a PFJ recap.  Spoiler: I kind of fell apart a bit at the end of the month, but I sure learned a lot and that’s something, right?

Roadtrip Update

Okay road trip update! Mr. WWW and I took a nice trip through Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota to visit my brother and sister in law.  There was a lot of beautiful countryside and happy cows, and we got to see Mt Rushmore on the 4th which was pretty neat.

Mr. WWW and I were able to bake some yummy samosas to take with us as road trip snacks.  These plus our metal water bottles and coffee cups pretty much held us over the whole trip.  I did have a breakdown at one gas station when I needed something sweet STAT. I opted for some pastries in a plastic #2 clam-shell, because at least that is down-cyclable (as opposed to filmy plastic wrap or a candy bar wrapper).  But really, it was pretty lame of me, and I actually have no excuse except that I AM WEAK. We are doing another trip at the end of this month, and I will make samosas AND cupcakes for that one.

For the most part, the only sacrifices I had to make on the trip were no honey on my fry bread, no jam on the biscuits, and no plain mustard on my sammy. I was also surprised when nobody in rural WY, SD or ND even seemed to bat an eye when we used our own coffee mugs or water bottles at the gas station! I was prepared for a ton of awkward conversations and judgement. Apparently people in the country-side are just chill, and the real problem is with us city folk, pre-judging everyone all the time. Neat.

During the road trip I was gifted a bottle of root beer by my sister in law.  It was a glass bottle with a metal cap, so we all thought I was safe.  Until I opened the bottle and found a little plastic disk under the metal cap. WHAT?

I used up one of my plastic travel shampoo bottles I collected from a business trip a few months ago. I have a personal policy to ONLY pack these little bottles when I travel by plane. I always carry on my backpack as my only piece of luggage, so everything has to be able to pass TSA. I wasn’t going on a flight, so I didn’t need to waste these little bottles on this trip! In my packing haste I guess I just forgot.

This brings to light that I need to resolve 2 issues in my life regarding plastic:

1. I need to find a plastic-free shampoo / conditioner alternative for everyday life

2. I need to find a plastic-free shampoo / conditioner alternative for air travel.

This whole shampoo thing makes me happy because I feel like this is a big point of Plastic Free July: it forces you to think through issues you never have thought through before.

I can buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk and refill my existing plastic bottles in the shower, and I can buy some little glass bottles with metal lids for travel.  Or, I can go for bar shampoo.  I think the bar shampoo sounds the most low-maintenance, but it depends on how my hair reacts to it.  I will try it out and let you know how it goes.  It looks like JR Liggetts old fashioned bar shampoo gets good reviews.  I could score a metal travel soap container and that would work great for air trips!

Even with this, I will be tossing out some shampoo and conditioner related plastic as I transition over to the new system. No point in wasting my current supply…

Finally, last night I added 3 new pieces of plastic to my inventory: the liner bag from my Corn Flakes, the plastic bag from our rice, and a plastic window from my diva cup box.

The Corn Flakes liner and the rice bag can be avoided in the future by purchasing oatmeal and rice in bulk. This just requires planning ahead and bringing our glass jars to the store.  I think we should invest in more of the ½ gallon jars for this reason, that way we can purchase a significant amount at one time.

I don’t feel too bad about the diva cup window, because that little device is going to help me cut down on a huge amount of waste during my period.  And from all the raving from ladies around the world, it is going to change my life. I have been slowly getting used to the concept since I first heard about it a few years ago, and PFJ gave me the push I needed to just buy it! I am still kind of nervous about getting the hang of it (especially when I think about ballet class!), so I imagine the transition will be a bit tricky.

Plastic Free July

Earlier in June, I took an oath that I would not use single-use throw-away plastics for the month of July, as sponsored by this group “Plastic Free July.”  You can make varying levels of commitment: 1 day, 1 week or the whole month.  Also, you can choose to give up all single-use plastic or just the Top 4 Offenders: straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags, coffee cup lids.

Since we operate a fairly bad-ass household, we rarely use any of the Top 4 Offenders.  So I decided to be completely ridiculously hard core and eliminate all single-use plastic for the whole month.  Turns out we are going on 2 road trips this month, so that is going to be really tricky.  Road trips are usually where my WWW initiatives break down into snickers bars and nasty preservative choclate wax donut gems.  So this is going to be a great challenge for me!

If I have a moment where I have to use and throw away some kind of plastic, I plan on saving it, and I will post the tally at the end of the month.  I am not forcing Mr. WWW into this with me, so any trash he generates is his own deal (that he should feel super awful about!! JK).  However, anything that I share with him (milk jug, dish soap, etc), I have to count.

Okay so onto my progress thus far:

First day and no plastic thrown away!

BREAKFAST

Without thinking I ate corn flakes for breakfast yesterday, so that sucks because I am eventually going to have to throw out that plastic bag inside the cardboard box!  I had planned to eat oatmeal from bulk, but just spaced it yesterday morning (and today)! Ugh.

WALLET    : Bad; price per ounce of cereal is silly

WASTELINE : Meh; not great but not horrible

WORLD        : Bad; plastic liner!

LUNCH:

For lunch I brought leftovers in a pyrex.

WALLET    : Excellent

WASTELINE : Excellent; A great recipe from Appetite For Reduction

WORLD        : Pretty good; I know pyrex glass and the plasticky lid are going to end up in a landfill one day.  But I am deferring lots of other waste by using them for lunches now.

SNACKS:

I needed to find a replacement for Clif Bars, which are my usual snack after work, before my physical activity of choice.  On my lunch today, I took a trip to Sprouts and bought some bananas, corn nuts, and yogurt-covered pretzels.  The corn nuts and pretzels went into a glass jar, Zero Waste Home style.  The only plastic trash generated from the whole thing will be the sticker from one of the bananas. Yay! Getting the tare for the jar and paying was a little bit of a drama, as none of the employees seemed to recall how to do it.  Also, there was an issue because my glass jars are 1 lb each (wow!).  They have to select a tare weight from a list (they can’t just enter manually), and the list doesn’t include a weight as high as 1 lb.

Now, the software engineer in me wonders why the hell a program UI would be designed in this way…  Why make people search through a massive list of tares (1 oz, 1.5 oz, 2 oz, etc) and select the one that matches?  The whole point of offering tare is to allow people to bring in their own containers which will greatly vary in size. So silly!

Anyway, the people at Sprouts finally figured it out and I was able to pay and go on my way.  I am quite grateful that they allow customers to bring in containers; King Soopers here has a bulk section, but you have to use their plastic bags and tubs, which kind of defeats the whole reason I want to use bulk.

WALLET    : Great!  Total cost of $5.33

WASTELINE : Truly only the bananas are good on this one..

WORLD        : Great! Only waste generated was the banana sticker and receipt

DINNER:

A lot of our friends grab dinner after climbing, and we only splurge with them about once a month.  So, this was our big trip out for July.😉 I almost grabbed a plastic fork to finish up my falling-apart burrito, but stopped myself at the last minute and just dealt with the messy hands.  Though no plastic was thrown out for this meal, I did feel bad about tossing the aluminum foil and paper in the trash can (as they are both recyclable).

WALLET    : Pretty bad.  The mark-up on beans and rice is crazy, but I am glad to do it now and again to hang out with my best friends

WASTELINE : Um not really good… Healthier than many restaurants, but still soooo many calories

WORLD        : Decent.  No plastic thrown away; feel bad about trashing the paper liner and foil.

OTHER:

We didn’t buy anything else today, and nothing else plastic made it into the trash.

WALLET    : Excellent

WASTELINE : Excellent

WORLD        : Excellent

Overall I am pretty happy about today!  Bummed about my cereal snafu, but I will make it right!