Eager to know how to retire rich? It might be surprising that Dave Ramsey's site has one of the best money hacks I've seen recently. Drive Free, Retire Rich explores the impact of carrying a car payment, and offers ideas on how your money can be used more wisely. Though the sentiment is familiar, I find Ramsey's approach novel.
You want a brand-new sports car that would normally cost you $475 a month. The car you're driving now is worth around $1,500. If you take that $475 and pay yourself instead of paying the dealer, you'll have $4,750 in just ten months. Add that to the $1,500 you can get for your current car, and you can pay cash for a used $6,250 car. That's a major upgrade in car in just 10 months — without owing the bank a dime!
Christmas is over. You received some thoughtful presents, but also got some duds. That collection of cooking spices from your Aunt Madge? You hate to cook! Here's some sage advice from Marie, a self-confessed re-gifting addict.
Regifting has a tarnished reputation in today's consumer-driven society. Perhaps it's driven by businesses hoping to convince us to spend more money, or by a misguided quest to shower our loved ones with extravagances we can't really afford, or simply by a fear of seeming cheap. Regifting can not only be appropriate, but frugal and fun. Regifting is recycling elevated to an art form. Here are a couple points to keep in mind before you put away this year's Christmas presents.
The number one rule of regifting is: Mark who gave it to you and when you received it. While regifting in itself is nothing to be ashamed of, shame on you if you give it back to the person who originally gave it to you! I usually try to avoid regifting within the same social circle. If I got scented potpourri from someone at work, I may regift it to someone in my book group, but not to another co-worker. Marking items is crucial because you probably won't remember who gave you the gift six months later. Nothing kills a regifting possibility faster than forgetting the giver — that potpourri is going to sit there until I meet someone from another continent who couldn't have possibly given it to me in the first place.
Warren Buffett is one of my heroes. He's the second-richest man in the world, yet he lives more frugally than I do. CNBC recently broadcast an interview with Buffett. Naturally, it's been posted to YouTube. Here's the show in its entirety (with notes and excerpts I made while watching). [Update March 7, 2018: The show is no longer available online]
As a kid, Buffett would go door-to-door selling chewing gum and Coke. He'd buy six bottles for a quarter, and then sell them for a nickel each. He bought his first stock at the age of eleven. He bought a 40-acre farm at the age of fourteen using money he had saved from a paper route.
Some of his fundamental tenets for investing are:
Some personal finance books promise to show the reader how to become a millionaire. The Millionaire Next Door (by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko) is different. It is built on years of research, on a body of statistics and case studies. It doesn't make hollow promises. Instead, it profiles people who have already become millionaires. This is a subtle but important difference.
Many people who earn high incomes are not rich, the authors warn. Most people with high incomes fail to accumulate any lasting wealth. They live hyperconsumer lifestyles, spending their money as fast as they earn it. In order to accumulate wealth, in order to become rich, one must not only earn a lot (play "good offense", according to Stanley and Danko), but also develop frugal habits (play "good defense"). Most books focus on only one side of the wealth equation: spending less or earning more. It's refreshing to read a book that makes it clear that both are required to succeed.
It's as if people can be classified based on the following table (which is my own invention based on the authors' findings):
Winter weather has arrived in Oregon — it's rainy and cold. This time of year, Kris and I search for ways to keep warm. A lot of guides to saving money on heating contain impractical advice: "consider heating with solar energy!". They offer good suggestions for the long-term, but they aren't useful if you want to save money now. Here are some frugal ways we stay warm in our drafty old house.
- Let in some light. Open blinds on south-facing windows during the day to let in the sun. Close them in the evening to add a bit more insulation. This provides just enough mid-day warmth that we don't need the heater.
- Use rugs on bare floors. We have hardwood floors above a poorly-insulated basement. These floors are cold in the morning and the late afternoon. An area rug does a fine job of keeping my feet warmer.
- Block drafts. This is best done with weather-stripping or other forms of insulation, but even a blanket in front of a door helps. Because our house is so old, nothing is level. This makes it difficult to install weather stripping. The bottom of our mudroom door, for example, has a one-inch gap on one end but is flush with the floor near the hinge. By laying a blanket in front of the door, we can mitigate some of the heat loss.
- Use space heaters. According to Michael Bluejay's energy guide, this is the single best way to save money on electricity. As I learned from my tests with the Kill-a-Watt, a portable radiator-type oil heater uses a lot of power, but not nearly as much as a furnace. We have a couple of these heaters. They take a while to get warm, but once they're going, the can heat a small space cheaply.
- Bundle up. I love cold-weather clothes: long underwear, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves. Some days we simply bundle up and turn down the heat. It's cozy. And don't forget: house slippers go a long way to keeping you warm!
- Install a programmable thermostat. My sister-in-law just received her first big heating bill at her new home. "It was $100!" she said. (She had been leaving her thermostat at 68-degrees around the clock.) Her heating bill was more than she had budgeted, and made it easy to justify the cost of a new programmable thermostat. They're easy to install and an excellent way to cut your heating costs. We set ours for 54 at night and when we're gone during the day. (Reader Adam G. reviewed his programmable thermostat last August.)
- Use an electric blanket. There's no need to heat the entire house when you're asleep. There's no need to even heat the bedroom. An electric blanket is cheaper and cozier. (A blanket with dual-controls is best.)
- Change the furnace filter. A dirty filter forces the furnace to work harder, decreasing its efficiency, increasing heating costs. We change the furnace filter at the start of the season, and once every month or two thereafter.
- Close unused rooms. Do not heat them. This winter, we closed off our guest room and shut the heater vent. That room is now separate from the rest of the house. It stays cold, but there's no reason to keep it warm.
These steps can reduce your heating costs immediately. In the long term, your best bet is to make sure your home is properly insulated. You should also check that your heat source is efficient, and that you're not losing heat in unintended locations.
For example, I went down to the cellar last night to pull out some Christmas lights. I was startled to find that the basement was actually warm. It shouldn't be. It's uninsulated, below-ground, and exposed to the cold. The furnace was pumping away, doing its thing, heating the house. But it was apparently heating the cellar, too. It took only a moment to find the problem — our ductwork is not insulated. As the hot air blows through the pipes, the metal is heating, and the warmth is dissipating into the basement. We need to fix that.
Kris and I grow our own berries. We harvest walnuts from a tree in the yard, and glean hazelnuts from a friend's orchard. We keep fruit trees and a vegetable garden. For city folk, we try to grow as much of our own food as possible. But one thing we cannot grow is our own meat. We've discovered the next best thing, though: we buy beef in bulk from a local rancher. Every year, we pool our money with three other couples to purchase an animal when it's ready to be slaughtered. In early December, we bring home about one hundred pounds of meat.
Buying beef in bulk can be an excellent deal, but not for everyone. Buying a side of beef is a good choice if you like to cook, you eat a lot of meat, you have storage space, and quality is important to you.
The advantages of buying in bulk include:
In June I shared some tips for reducing home energy costs. Most of the information came from Michael Bluejay's excellent guide to saving electricity. I was curious how much electricity invidual appliances use, so I ordered a gadget that Bluejay recommends: the Kill-a-Watt electricity meter. The official web site declares:
Connect your appliances into the Kill A Watt™, and assess how efficient they are. A large LCD display counts consumption by the Kilowatt-hour just like utility companies. You can figure out your electrical expenses by the hour, day, week, month, even an entire year. Monitor the quality of your power by displaying Voltage, Line Frequency, and Power Factor.
I've gone through our house and measured the power consumption of random devices:
Initially, T. Harv Eker's Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth seems cast from the same mold as Loral Langemeier's The Millionaire Maker (my review): full of vague promises, unsupported claims, and thinly-veiled sales pitches for products and seminars. It's true that Eker is guilty of some of these faults. But ultimately I could not help but like the book once I stopped thinking of it as a personal finance guide and began to consider it as a motivational tool.
I'm sure that many people would dismiss Secrets of the Millionaire Mind as useless. There's not a lot of concrete information here about how to improve the details of your financial life. (Though the scant advice presented is sound). Instead, this book encourages readers to adopt mental attitudes that facilitate wealth. It's about changing your psychological approach to money, success, and happiness.
How can you know what you want
Till you get what you want
And you see if you like it?
— Steven Sondheim, Into the Woods
We had some good friends over for dinner the other night. While we waited for the roast to finish, Wayne and I took the air on the back porch. We talked about work. I told him that this is a slow time of year at the box factory.
"Yeah," he said. "It's slow for us at the dealership, too. The last three weeks have been awful." Wayne works for a local car dealership. He recently moved from sales to finance. He's the hardest worker I know, often putting in six ten-hour (or twelve-hour!) days in a single week.
At the grocery store yesterday, I passed a man and his daughter in the snack aisle. She was maybe ten or eleven, a little overweight, and begging for cookies. He was tall and muscular, a blue-collar type, clearly exasperated with her. "You have no conception of how hard your mother and I work to earn money, do you?" he said. There was desperation in his voice.
This brief encounter has been in my mind ever since. It reminds me of something I read over at the Seeds of Wisdom forum. Jim Anthony shared a story about how he is teaching his six-year-old the value of money. Anthony doesn't like the idea of just giving his son money — he thought it created an "entitlement mentality" — but he doesn't like the idea of tying the allowance to chores, either.
The big problem I see with either of these methods is that most parents don't teach any lessons beyond this and their kids learn that money is for spending on stuff, period. There are no lessons about making money earn more money. There are no lessons about the actual value of money.