Currently browsing Posts Tagged “Money”

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Money Is A Tool, Not A Goal

Posted by Daniel in Finance, Frugality, Gen-Y, Jobs, Life, Uncategorized

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Recently someone asked me what my financial goal was, as in; “how much money do you want to have?”  I was stumped, so I thought about it and said “I don’t have one.”

Admittedly this probably seems hypocritical since I write a blog called Young and Frugal where I have constantly advocated saving and planning, but in all honesty I don’t really have a number. Money isn’t a goal for me, so the concept of a “financial goal” doesn’t mean anything.

On the other hand life goals mean something to me. For instance, a few of my life goals are to live comfortably, travel with my family, and put my kid(s) through college. Of course all of these goals cost money, but money isn’t the goal, and as a result I feel better about my ability to make these things happen.  I have other goals that require tons of money, but money isn’t the goal. I think a lot of times we lose sight of the fact that money is not (and should not be) a goal. Money is a tool to obtain a goal.

Whether your goal is to travel, own a house, or own an island; work for the goal, not for the money.

The Playful Entrepreneur

Posted by Daniel in Advice, Entrepreneurship, Jobs, Life, Uncategorized

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I have a friend who is a very successful entrepreneur, so successful that at 24 he is the youngest CEO listed in the 2009 Inc 500 (a listing of the 500 fastest growing, privately held companies in the country). He is the person who instilled in me that entrepreneurship isn’t about what you are doing, it’s about the fact that you are doing it. (Something that I also wrote about in Entrepreneurship: Just Do It). This phrase is something that I have really taken to heart, and as a result I’ve gotten the ball rolling on multiple projects. But I want to add something crucial to the phrase: entrepreneurship isn’t about what you are doing, it’s about the fact that you are doing it and having fun.

Having fun may very well be the most crucial aspect in the entrepreneurial process, because if you aren’t having fun you won’t stick with something long enough to see where it can go. The following examples are all people who started out by playing around, tinkering, experimenting, and flat out having fun.

In Steve Wozniak’s autobiography iWoz, he writes about how everything he did in inventing the personal computer was fun for him. He recalls how much fun it was when he played a game where he would try to design a computer using one less chip than he used the time before. Each time he would come up with a more creative way to accomplish his goal. To me that seems impossible, but to him it was playing around. Steve Jobs was the same way, he didn’t have a solid grasp on the engineering side of things, but running the business was his playground.

Michael Dell always loved computers, he loved them so much that he started making them for friends and family. By the time he knew it, he was running a successful business out of his dorm room at the University of Texas…and he was having fun doing it.

My friend in the Inc 500 started out experimenting to see if he could leverage a house he bought to buy another in order to rent it to his fraternity brothers. He had so much fun in the process that it spiraled out of control and by the time he graduated college he was running a $2 million business. 

My wife Mary loves to bake, she describes it as her labor of love. She looks forward to playing in the kitchen, baking for our local farmers market, and we both have fun doing a great deal of work to fulfill some orders that we now have from stores. We are by no means a successful business, but we are having fun doing it and making some extra money. For the time being that’s good enough for us.

Another friend of mine, Chris Anderson, combined the three things he loved to play with: wakeboarding, fluid dynamics, and working with his hands; into literally building a best in class wakeboarding boat in his driveway (article) and founding Epic Boats. In fact, he had so much fun doing that, after he found a manufacturing plant for the boats, he wanted to get his hands dirty again, so he started playing with aero dynamics and working with his hands again. This time around his play turned into one of the hottest electric car companies around: Aptera.

Too often we think of entrepreneurs as huge risk takers, but I hope that by looking at the few examples above you realize that often times they aren’t. In many instances it is just someone tinkering and playing around while having fun. When they finally look up they realize they have something great. That’s how Apple, Dell, Epic Boats, Aptera, our struggling bakery, a successful real estate venture, and even this website came to be.

What are you waiting for? Start playing.

Why Is Money Taboo?

Posted by Daniel in Advice, Finance, Frugality, haggling, House, Jobs, Life, Uncategorized

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Today my wife told me that she gets embarrassed when she is around and I try to haggle. I guess I can understand, I used to be like that too, and only over time have I grown bolder. With this in mind, I have to ask why is it that in America, money seems to be taboo?

In other cultures around the world, you are considered stupid or odd if you don’t talk money. In most parts of the world if you buy something without haggling the salesman will probably make fun of you for being a sucker as soon as you walk away. In America haggling is only considered acceptable in 3 scenarios. The first scenario is if you are buying something from a street vendor (like in New York), the second when you are buying something off of craigslist, and finally, haggling is OK when you are buying a big ticket item like a car or a house.

For some reason society has deemed it alright to negotiate and talk money in these scenarios, but if haggling is acceptable in these scenarios, why isn’t it acceptable in your daily spending? If just by asking for a discount you could get one would you go against this social norm?

I frequently go against this norm, it doesn’t always work, but when it does it feels great. Think about it from the salesman’s perspective, if 5% or 10% off will close the deal and allow them get on to helping the next customer why not? And if 10% off saves you $5 will it be worth the awkward moment? The worst thing that could happen is that they will say no.

Talking money does not only mean haggling, it means sharing your salary, something strictly forbidden in America.

In other cultures sharing your salary is not about bragging, it’s just normal everyday conversation. Xin Lu over at Wise Bread wrote a great post about how her Chinese culture influences her money habits. In the post she talks about how her father once helped a friend get a 20% raise, something that would not have been possible had they not been talking about salaries.

If by sharing your salary a friend could tell you that you are undervalued and try to help you get a higher salary is it OK? If you got a 20% raise I’m pretty sure you’d think so.

Recently I started a new job, and by talking about the offered salary and benefits of the job with someone else, that person helped me to effectively negotiate the offer . Does it feel odd for me to know that someone else knows my salary? Yes a little, but the person who helped was glad to do it and I am extremely grateful to him for it. Sure, at the end of the day I was the one doing the negotiations, and yes, it was a bit awkward, but it was well worth it.

The point here is that Money shouldn’t be taboo. Not everyone is rich, and there is nothing wrong with that, but our culture has ingrained in us that money separates us and defines us. Nothing could be more wrong. Money is something that needs to be talked about by more people, finances cause people more stress than anything, and they are the number one cause for divorce; but if we would all be more open about money we might be able to help each other and it could all change.

Do you talk openly about money? Why or why not?

The Opportunity Cost of Home Ownership

Posted by Daniel in Advice, Debt, Finance, House, Life, Uncategorized

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I was recently called and asked to participate in a Gallup survey, and for some reason I agreed. Eventually, after wading through questions about political beliefs and the economy, the question about my personal happiness came around. I thought about it for a second, and didn’t have anything to complain about. I felt content with life so I answered “Yes, I am happy” and I finished the survey.

After I hung up the phone I kept asking myself, “Am I truly happy?” and “What could I do to make myself happier?”

…and thus a personal journey of self discovery began.

I could bore you with an endless array of what I found about myself, or I could answer it for you in a simple sentence that might contradict the American dream: the opportunity cost of owning a house at 23 sucks.

No, we aren’t hurting financially like many Americans. We bought a house that we could afford, we got a low interest, fixed rate loan, and we put down a good sized down payment (10%). We have an almost fully funded emergency fund, we are both employed, and we live a frugal lifestyle. The issue comes when I look at the opportunity cost of home ownership, or what we could be doing if we didn’t own a house.

The thing about owning a house is that no matter how much financial knowledge you have you can never really account for the opportunity costs of this often emotional purchase that is deemed a “necessity.”

I think about how much money we spend each month on our mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, and HOA dues and I cringe when I think about what else we could be doing with half of that money if we had bought a less expensive house, or even if we were renting. One of us could work while the other focused on entrepreneurial ventures or attended grad school. We could work for a year, save up, then quit our jobs and travel the world for a year. Even if we waited another year we could have saved up enough money to put an even larger down payment on a house, thus lowering the future monthly burden.

I look at our house as the reason why we have to work. I feel like I work a job not because I want to (even though I do), but because I have to, and this feeling of burden makes work seem like a chore instead of a learning experience.

So I challenge you, as you are tempted by a free $8,000 first time home buyer credit, to truly think about how much money you want to spend on a house, and the opportunities that you will give up as a result.

For the record, my wife disagrees with me. Her rational (and mine at the time of purchase) was that we bought a house in which we could grow into and start a family, while this is true, I believe that the only thing that would make me a happier person right now would be owning a less expensive house that wouldn’t feel like a burden.

Control Money or Money Will Control You

Posted by Daniel in Budget, Finance, Frugality, Health, Jobs, Life, Planning, Time, Uncategorized

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Since I began writing, about a year ago, “Frugal” has become quite the buzzword which is practically a 180 from when I wrote “When Did Frugality Cease Being a Virtue.”  I even read an article in the Wall Street Journal last week that proclaimed Frugality is once again a virtue.

When I began writing, I’m not quite sure if I had the knowledge of frugality that I do now, but after a year of writing and adapting my frugal lifestyle I think I’m finally able to give a good explaination of what frugality is.

First, in order to give a good view on frugality we need to remember that being frugal is not being cheap.  A cheap person refrains from purchasing until they absolutely have to, even then they might wait to buy.  When they do buy they buy the cheapest thing with no regard for quality.  A frugal person may hold off making a purchase, but it’s usually to make sure they get the best deal (not necessarily the cheapest).  Case in point: Would you rather spend $400 every two or three years on a piece of furniture from Ikea, or would you rather spend $1,000 on a nice good quality piece that will last you a decade or more?

Now we need to analyze the day to day lifestyle of someone who is frugal vs. someone who is cheap.  A cheap person tends to not buy things unless they absolutely have to, a frugal person makes calculated choices about what is important to them.  You may frequently see frugal people at starbucks or going out to dinner.  Cheap people typically don’t like to put money into maintaining what they have, they will use something until it is broken, and then might keep using it.  Frugal people put money into maintnence.  We take care of our vehicles by do regularly scheduled maintnence, and we take care of our bodies by staying fit and going to the doctor for checkups.  We keep our houses nice and frequently do minor improvement projects so that we don’t have to do major ones later.

Being frugal is about controlling your money and making choices so that you can allow yourself to splurge.  It’s about not doing X so that you can do or buy what you love.  In fact, you will frequently see people choose to give up Starbucks so they can afford a nicer car, or give up a nicer car so that they can afford a nicer house.  We all need to splurge, if you don’t you’re letting your money control you, and you will eventually lose.

Finding Opportunity in Disaster

Posted by Daniel in House, Life, Planning

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I am the luckiest guy in the world, I’m married to my high school sweetheart, today I turn 23, and yesterday I closed on my house an hour after I found out about a leak that flooded the front bedroom. 

Why do I consider myself lucky after closing on something that most people would have not closed on?  I consider myself lucky for two reasons.  The first is because I’m much luckier to have it happen before I move in, than to have it happen later, ruin furniture, and interrupt my life.  The second reason is because it allowed both sides to come back to the negotiation table. 

I wrote last week about how once the builder had my earnest money, I had no negotiating power.  This leak allowed me to get more.  Mary and I maintained a calm demeanor, we expected random issues like this (in fact almost this exact thing happened to my cousin’s new house after they moved in).  We decided what we wanted and went back to the table.  By no means were we greedy, but we decided that we wanted an extended warranty on the house and a guarantee for when everything would be fixed.  We got both, and closed.

If it had happened in two weeks I’d still consider myself lucky, because I have a fully funded emergency fund, a home warranty, and insurance for occasions like this.

Ten Tips for Saving Money on Gas

Posted by Daniel in Advice, Finance, Frugality, Life, Planning, Uncategorized

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As gas passes $3.50 per gallon and rapidly approaches $4.00 per gallon (or it’s already there…sorry CA), Mary and I can’t wait to move into our new house and cut our commute from 32 miles to 15. However in the meantime, we have taken measures to get the most out of our tanks of gas. So here are 10 tips that could help you increase those MPGs and decrease those gas bills!

1. Carpool. Mary and I are lucky enough to work at the same company, so it makes sense for us to carpool. By our calculation, we are saving at least $200 per month by this little step. Sure, it sucks sometimes when one of us has to work later, leaving the other with nothing to do, but we always remind each other how much money and time (Carpool lane) carpooling saves us.

2. Change the oil on time. Staying up to date on engine oil changes helps your car run better and get the most out of your gas. I make sure to change the oil in our Acura every 5,000 miles (Oil Co’s recommend 3,000 miles, car makers say 5,000), and every 7500 miles in our Volvo (synthetic oil).

3. Get a high performance air filter. K&N air filters are expensive, but they pay for themselves in the long run. They come with a 1 million mile warranty because you clean them instead of replace them, plus you can get up to 10% better gas mileage because they allow your engine to breathe better and give you better performance. I received 10% better gas mileage in my old Jeep when I put in a K&N filter. Note: Mr. Dave points out in the comments, that high performance filters are not recommended for some engines like the VW TDi engine.  Though if you have that engine you’re beating all of us on MPG anyway.

4. Inflate the tires. Making sure your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI will increase your gas mileage because a fully inflated tire offers less resistance when you are coasting.

5. Coast. If you have an onboard computer, have you ever set it to give you the instantaneous MPG? You will probably notice that when your foot is off the gas your MPG skyrockets. So if you see a red light ahead let off the gas, there is no need to speed to a stop, it’s just a waste of gas and you’ll have to replace your brakes sooner.

6. A/C or Windows Down? It’s summer, it’s hot, so what do you do? This all depends on what you are doing. If you are driving at highway speeds, roll the windows up and use the A/C, because the drag of the windows being down really hurts the gas mileage. Driving around town? Roll ‘em down!

7. Don’t carry around extra crap! Weight directly affects your gas mileage. The more stuff you have weighing down your car the worse MPG you get. So lose the golf clubs, toolbox, and other random stuff unless you need it.

8. Plan your routes. UPS saved millions of dollars a year in gas by rerouting their trucks to limit the number of left turns, and you can save money too! Plan your routes in the most efficient way possible. Generally right turns are faster and they use less gas waiting at lights than left turns, so why not try it out!

9. Get a gas card! Many credit card companies offer cash back on gas purchases, so why not!? You’re going to be spending the money anyway, so you might as well earn up to 5% cash back. Or even better get a gas company card, brand loyalty pays you in savings!

10. Don’t use E85. What? But the government said it’s going to be our saving grace and I want to help save the environment! I’m all for saving the environment when it is in my financial interest (like compact florescent lights that will pay for themselves), but if it will cost me more money, I’m less likely to do it. E85 is cheaper, and your car may run on it, but according to AutoTrader it contains 27% less energy than 87 Octane (the cheap stuff). That means you get 27% less MPG using E85. The only time it’s in your financial interest is when E85 is less than 73% of the cost of 87 Octane. At my local station, E85 is about 30-40 cents cheaper per gallon than 87 Octane. $3.20 / $3.50 is 91%… not in your financial interest.

I hope you can put these ideas to good use, and if you’ve got any more, feel free to leave them in the comments!