What I Spend on Clothes and How I Do It

Here’s a fashion-y looking picture. – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Hola! This is the third post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, check it out here. I plan to go into detail on every category with a post on one each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $700 per year on clothes and I believe I could spend a reasonable minimum of $100 per year if I had to.

Clothing is in a seemingly unique position amongst expense categories. That’s because there is so much of it in the world that even very poor countries have all they need and then some. So theoretically, you could spend next to nothing in this category. That would probably involve shopping at places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. You might not get exactly the style or fit you wanted, but it would be adequate to serve the purpose of covering the areas of your body our overly puritanical society deems necessary to cover as you went about your day to day activities. I’d estimate that would cost about $100 per year, per person. But for just a little bit more than that “bare bones” budget, you can have your cake and eat it too.

I only buy high quality clothes that are always in style but not necessarily “fashionable.” My closet contains mostly polo shirts (mostly Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein), long sleeved button shirts (both dress and casual), jeans, and khaki pants. I also have a handful of suits I almost never wear (if I did, I would probably go out and spend a grand or two on a couple of really nice ones to replace what I have and leave it at that) and five total pairs of shoes that give me every option I need. I also have some winter clothes in case I ever visit Wisconsin in the winter (that’s October through April, or sometimes May) again – which is very doubtful. I’m trying to be better about only buying clothes I love that fit exactly as I want them to and returning them if I decide I failed with a particular purchase.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve done more and more of my clothes shopping at Costco to the point where now it’s fairly rare for me to buy something anywhere else. I’ve mostly stopped buying Ralph Lauren stuff because I hate the “tennis tails” on their shirts, their quality control seems questionable (I have over a dozen of their shirts, all in the same size and in one of two styles, but they are a fairly wide range of lengths and fits), their stuff is overpriced unless bought at an extreme discount (which is, of course, the only way I ever bought it), and finally, I already have their polo shirts in almost every color I want and they last about a decade. These days most of my polo shirts come from Costco and are both high quality and cheap like almost everything else the store sells. That’s where I started buying the Calvin Klein ones for about $15-20 each. I also have some of the 32 Degree Cool brand which is great for southern weather, decent quality, and even cheaper. I buy all my socks, underwear, undershirts, etc there now. I even buy most of my shoes there – usually for $20-30 a pair. So far I have yet to be disappointed with any of this stuff.

I’ve just about finished my obligatory post divorce closet overhaul, which took about three years. So now I’m transitioning from that phase to a “one item in, one item out, upgrades only” phase I expect will last for the foreseeable future. As a result, my spending will likely decline to probably $2-300 a year or maybe even less. And again, these will be only high quality, great fitting purchases to replace either lower quality/worse fitting clothes or worn out ones.

I don’t really do anything revolutionary in this spending category but my spending is low and getting lower. I do acknowledge that things will almost certainly be more expensive for women. Not only are they judged more on their appearance than men are, but they have much more unique bodies, which makes getting clothes that fit well into a much more complicated process. Plus, their clothes are much less durable in most cases. But what can I say? If you want the fun of a sports car, you have to accept the realities of paying for premium gas, nearly constant repairs, high insurance premiums, etc, that all come with it. However, there are ways to moderate those costs and still have your fun – with both cars and women. The same general concept of buying more high quality, timeless styled clothes and less “fast fashion” or very outfit specific items would probably also help women. My ex-wife was pretty good at doing things that way and she certainly always kept herself looking good. And gentlemen, that is a very rare and valuable quality. Almost every woman I’ve dated since has spent much, much more to accomplish the same feat. But I feel like we’re blurring the lines between this topic and a totally different one. Anyway, have an awesome day, folks! Kick some ass out there!

Happy Friday!

I don’t know who thought of this or how, but he or she is a genius! The knife only starts the process. The real magic is done with a pint glass (not pictured).

We’ve just about made it through another week! Here are some random thoughts and ideas to celebrate.

Golf balls

Summer is finally upon us and for those in horrible climates, that means golf season (it actually seems to be a down time for golf here in Houston, probably because it is too hot for a lot of wusses fair weather only golfers)! If you’re anything like many of my customers and I, you don’t get as much time to play as you’d like. In my case, that means I’m inconsistent and launch golf balls into the woods, water hazards, and who knows where all else when I do get out. Spending $2, 3, 4, or even more per ball can easily double the cost of a round with so many of them destined for such a disappointing fate. But the world’s largest bookstore turned everything store has your back.

You can find used golf balls on Amazon for fifty cents a ball or even less. Many of them are sorted into specific brands and graded by condition. I picked up a giant bag of Titleist balls for less than forty cents each last year and guess what? They fly into the woods every bit as effectively as brand new balls. I believe these particular balls were graded B/C but to be honest, if it weren’t for many of them having companies’ promotional designs on them, most of them would pass for having been hit only a couple of times. The question becomes whether those first couple of times hitting each ball are worth 75% or more of the cost. For someone who only plays a handful of times a year, the answer is a resounding no. Definitely a winning find.

Kitchen tricks

One part of my cooking hobby I find surprisingly satisfying is buying different types of produce and figuring out how to use them in both new and existing recipes. And in order to do that, sometimes I need to start by figuring out how to separate said produce from its natural packaging in the best way possible. I’ve found some awesome tricks on Youtube – a great place to learn almost anything by watching (sometimes) experts demonstrate it. This week I learned how to efficiently cut an acorn squash and it actually worked very well on the first try. But easily my all time favorite discovered method has been the mango pint glass trick. Want to give it a try? Type “mango pint glass” into the search tab on Youtube and prepare to have your mind blown. The picture above is a recent example of how incredibly effective this method is; literally nothing but skin is left behind and it is so easy! If you’ve ever done this, you’re probably nodding knowingly right now. If you never have, you’re welcome!

Squash as a snack

Sticking with the same theme, I’ve been experimenting with making squash as a snack. It’s fairly easy, cheap, tasty, and much more nutritious than chips or anything made primarily of the precious sugar I recently decided to try going mostly without for a while. I’ve been using basic “roasted squash” recipes and using nothing beyond salt, pepper, and olive oil for seasoning. Some types of squash definitely work better than others but in general, there is a natural sweetness that is really brought out well by those simple additions. One thing I’ve discovered is that I like the squash slightly darkened/crispy, which usually means leaving it in the oven a little longer than the recipe says and then doing a little extra broiling at the end. But your results may vary. I’ve been making a panful over the weekends and then snacking on it throughout the week. So far, I’m very pleased!

That’s all from me this week. Have a great Friday and weekend and I’ll see you on Monday!

How Much I Spend On Auto Maintenance/Repairs and How I Do It

The elder statesmen of my former fleet of vehicles – the legendary Ford Ranger…before Ford stopped making the model for years and then brought it back as a slightly smaller F150

Happy Monday Everyone! This is the very first post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, check it out here. I plan to go into detail on every category with a post on one each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $1300 per year on auto maintenance and repairs and I believe I could spend a bare minimum of $500 per year if I had to. This, in particular, is an expense I am able to spend a lot less than I otherwise would on because I do as much of my own work as possible. I try to only do that in areas of life where it is worth my time and with most shops charging at least $70-80 an hour for labor alone, not including marking up parts, this is definitely one of those. Here come the details.

First off, that $1300 number would be significantly lower if I hadn’t done what I consider a minor overhaul on the truck I had until near the end of 2017. At a total cost of roughly $1500, I replaced all four sets of brakes (pads and rotors on the front and all drum components on the back), the two front wheel hub assemblies, and most of the steering and suspension parts. This would likely have cost at least two to three times that figure if I’d had a shop do the work. That said, there would have been some cost savings since there was a lot of overlap in the labor. That was why I did all that at one time; not everything needed to be done right away but it made sense to do it all as long as I was going to have everything apart. Whether you do your own work or pay someone else to do it, this is something I recommend you think about. It usually won’t make sense on a newer vehicle, but on an old dog like my truck, it certainly did since anything that wasn’t already bad was definitely likely to be before long.

I wasn’t able to do all of it myself, mind you. When doing steering and suspension work, an alignment is usually required when you’re finished and that requires expensive equipment and know how. But by doing most of the work myself, I got basically everything done that my high mileage truck would need to keep running reliably for at least a few more years, aside from basic maintenance. I’m not a mechanical genius by any stretch but with auto repair work, you can find instructional videos on just about any repair for your specific vehicle on youtube. If you are at least a little bit mechanically inclined, have a basic set of tools, and particularly if the repair is on the less complicated end, like brakes for example, I highly recommend this route to learn a new skill and save a ton of money.

What do I do in a normal year? I spend roughly $200 on oil changes with what I believe is the best oil money can buy (Amsoil), I clean and lubricate my performance/reusable K&N air filter and cabin air filter for free, I have the tires rotated every 5k miles or so (done for free at Discount Tire, the best tire store I’ve ever found), and that’s about it for routine stuff. I also spend money on other maintenance items like brakes, coolant, transmission fluid, etc, but none of that has to be done every year. I went into detail about those kinds of items here. I highly recommend you keep all the basic maintenance up to date on your vehicles. It will cost you some money and time on the front end but in the long run, it will save you tons of both. While your costs will vary based on which additional maintenance items need to be done in a given year, if you keep up with it, your average annual cost should be around $500. Note that this is for one regular vehicle. If you have a truck or SUV it will be more and if you have a giant diesel truck or you buy a vehicle that is known for mechanical issues (avoid that by checking out this post), it will be a lot more.

I do spend a little extra keeping my vehicles clean and waxed/polished because I can, because I like the look of a clean car, and because keeping the paint looking good will keep the resale value as high as possible. In my case, this costs me $20 per month on unlimited, high quality car washes, and maybe $5-10 per year on wax and polish. These aren’t things you would absolutely have to do for a car to operate properly, but if your car looks nice now, keeping it that way will most likely more than pay for itself when you end up selling it.

That’s about it. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or send me an email at admin@healthwealthpower.com. Next week, Monday, I’m going to be covering my Cash Donations category in this series of posts.

Happy Fantastic Friday (I Wanted to Up the Ante From Last Week)!

I was looking for a picture of destruction. I found this picture of hurricane damage. It will do. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Holy cow are we in some suddenly dark days! I’m seeing some genuinely good people and businesses getting hurt and some being taken down altogether and it is all happening so quickly. And this, of course, only intensifies my problems. I’ve seen this recession coming on paper (or at least screens, the 2019 equivalent) for a couple of years now and while I may have made some early calls, I would much rather have been early than late. And more importantly, I believe we are now almost definitely in it. I see more real world signs of it every day and I hear similar reports from my contacts all over the country. If you haven’t started preparing yet, I strongly recommend doing so right now because you won’t get a better opportunity. Anyway, mercifully, another Friday is upon us and here are some random observations and anecdotes from the week.

Don’t Let Car Dealerships Take Advantage of You Because You’re Lazy

In spite of what I wrote above, I have been quietly watching the market for my next vehicle for a while. I’m not saying I will pull the trigger any time soon, but as I believe I’ve mentioned before, I typically watch the market for months before I so much as set foot on a dealer’s lot. I don’t just want to take the internet’s word for it; I want to know for a fact whether a price is good or not. Plus, I predict some amazing recession discounts on cars this time around. Plus, I enjoy the research. Yes, because I’m weird like that.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that these “no haggle” dealerships have gotten very popular. I’ve also noticed something else; their prices are absurdly high! I’m talking 10-15% higher than average in most cases! After doing a little googling and perusing some forum posts, I’ve confirmed that this is exactly what it appears to be – another example on the long and growing list of times American companies have had the balls to fairly openly exploit laziness for profit – and succeeded at it. Two quick notes on this.

One – and I know this doesn’t apply to all of them, but only some of the very most millennial-ly ones that may as well be throwing in a year’s supply of avocado toast with their overpriced cars – but any dealership that will not let you inspect a car in person first at a minimum, needs to be avoided at all costs. Cars, particularly used ones, are not commodity items. If you aren’t going to test drive one before you buy it, you deserve whatever you get. And if you’re not willing to spend a hundred bucks or so to have a qualified mechanic check a used car out, you’re taking an awfully huge risk. Sure, you may get lucky. But you could also wind up out thousands and thousands of dollars. And sure, some of these “dealerships” allow returns. But do you really want to stake that kind of money on these policies being honored? Better you than me if you do. But then, I’m just a car freak who has done extremely well with car purchases over the years. Not only have I had to do almost zero repairs beyond preventative maintenance, I have even pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of selling one car for a profit after driving it over a year and another for exactly what I paid after driving it for several months. But then, I don’t like to toot my own horn…

Two, these dealers literally believe they can overcharge people by thousands of dollars because the average person either doesn’t even have the courage to sit and talk to a salesman (or woman), or is too lazy to do so. Are you really willing to validate that theory for them? For the sake of all of us, I hope not. But based on the fact that some of these companies appear to be extraordinarily successful, it would appear the mob has already spoken. In any case, at the risk of sounding like your parents, do you want to get ripped off just because a million other people have been?

Aldi Now Accepts Credit Cards

This could be old news, I don’t know. I stopped going to these stores years ago because I didn’t like playing roulette with the possibility of getting stuck waiting in line for fifteen minutes because there was one employee in the entire store. Also because I don’t do business with anyone who doesn’t accept credit cards outside of incredibly rare, possibly life threatening circumstances. Anyway, I stopped in to an Aldi for the hell of it recently and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the company has joined the rest of the civilized world in accepting credit cards. Someone must have had a eureka moment and realized that not accepting by far the most popular payment method on earth to save a few nickels per order, which could easily be accounted for in the pricing of everything (again, like the rest of the civilized world does it), might not be quite the brilliant business tactic they had once thought it was. No, no sarcasm here at all. And by the way, speaking of spare change, I genuinely believe the quarter deposit thing they do with their carts is brilliant. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one freely roaming a parking lot en route to damaging someone’s several thousand dollar vehicle because someone else is a lazy, entitled asshole. My goodness, I’m in an interesting mood today. But I promise this is happy, if cynical. Remember, Friday.

Anyway, the line thing still happened. As it turned out, the only employee in the store was in the bathroom. There was a line about half the length of the building when he came out. I probably won’t repeat this experiment anytime soon. But if you’re looking for absolute bottom line grocery prices, this store may be worth a visit for you – especially now that you don’t lose out on 3% of the purchase price (it’s actually 5% until the end of June with Chase Freedom) because management doesn’t believe in pricing its products according to the costs of doing business with the vast majority of all possible customers. Seriously, charging credit card users extra is basically like installing pay toilets in the bathrooms since a few people may have a phobia of using public bathrooms or something. Or in the case of shady gas stations, who tend to discount their cash prices by several times anything approaching a possible credit card merchant rate, putting up a giant “IRS, please audit me!” sign outside one’s place of business. And not accepting them at all? Well, it’s their business, not mine. Yes, as old fashioned as I can be, I get incredibly irritated when people fail to adapt to the overwhelming convention of the times in this particular area. We are all hypocrites; the only difference is that some of us are at least willing to admit it. Anyway…

Time to Make a Dietary Change

Sugar is the devil. We all know it deep within our sad little souls and just in case we’re intentionally ignorant anyway, there are about forty million studies rightly screaming it. Recently, I finally accepted that I’m weaker than I need to be at standing up to its cocaine-esque charms. So I’m cutting it out. No, not all of it. We all have to find a balance that works for us in life. In this case, I need to be somewhere between excessive, gluttonous consumption at will, where I have been for much of my life, and eating only what I grow on my isolated, non GMO (if that is even possible given the selective breeding that has gone on with just about all crops for hundreds, if not thousands of years – but I digress), 100% organic farm in the middle of some God forsaken backwater town no one ever visited, let alone lived in, on purpose.

The logical choice seems simple. I’m not going to try to police every gram of sugar out of my life. Cutting out only the stuff that is primarily sugar (cookies, my beloved Nutella, my even more beloved Freddy’s chocolate custard concrete mixers with various mix ins, etc) will amount to a major improvement for me. I recall reading somewhere that habits take seven weeks to form so I’m going to do two months for good measure. I started on Tuesday so that means I’m going until July 28. I’m hoping that by then I won’t even want the stuff anymore. But we’ll see how it goes.

Happy Friday, Everyone! Have a wonderful weekend!

This Is How Much I Spend in a Year

My view of the famous Jerry Jones screen/dome from my trip to the 2017 Cotton Bowl, in which my Badgers narrowly defeated an over matched, but extremely motivated opponent with a bizarre team motto that was repeated almost nonstop by its fans – and yes, the expenses from this trip are included in the numbers below.

Words are all well and good. But without numbers, how much do they really mean? I’ve decided that in order to make this blog as valuable as possible for readers, I need to make it specific. As such, I’m going to give you a very intimate look at an important element of my personal finances. In particular, I’m going to show you what I spend on EVERYTHING. Obviously this is all specific to me, but to illustrate things more vividly, I’m going to go into detail on each of these “line items,” one post per week. Hopefully it will give some folks an idea or two on how to cut expenses without sacrificing anything that’s important to them.

Before I jump into the numbers, here is some basic information about me for context. I’m a male in my early thirties with no dependents (not even pets) and while I spend my share of time with certain young ladies, I live alone. The numbers below are average figures between what I spent in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, I lived in an upper middle class Milwaukee suburb with a relatively moderate cost of living. But for most of 2018, I lived in the Galleria area of Houston, which is pricier than almost anywhere in Wisconsin, but still very reasonable for a wealthy part of a major city.

I work as an outside sales rep in the commercial finance industry. That affects a couple of areas of my spending. First, since I expense around half a dozen restaurant meals most weeks, I don’t have much desire to eat at restaurants in my personal life and as a result, I spend almost nothing in that category. This also cuts down on my grocery spending somewhat, although I like to cook and spend fairly liberally on groceries for the meals I do buy. Second, in spite of my employer’s generous vacation policy, actually taking advantage of it would cost me much more in income than in any other way. Plus, I travel a lot for work, resulting in general travel fatigue, and I’m single. So this is just not an area I spend much in. However, I consider both restaurants and vacations luxury spending categories and thus, if one were trying to live as economically efficiently as possible, these numbers would still be very low.

As I said above, I’ll get more specific about what I do in each area in subsequent posts. But in general, my lifestyle (note, I said lifestyle, not spending; the difference between the two is the foundation of my financial success) is somewhere between middle class and upper middle class and I save over half my gross income. In other words, there is plenty of fat in my expenses since I pretty much do whatever makes me happy. No economic constraints limit my spending besides my desire to increase my net worth rapidly.

The first number in each category is what I actually spent; the second is about what I would spend if I needed to live as economically as reasonably possible. I will note that the most advantaged living situation is two productive people under one roof, assuming they can trust one another and are on the same page financially. When I lived with my ex-wife and we were working on paying off a mountain of student loans, we spent more than my bare bones total figure below but didn’t come anywhere close to doubling it (keep in mind the figure is for one person, not two). So it is definitely realistically achievable. If you are astute, you will notice that I’ve omitted one very large expense: taxes and fees. In the interest of keeping things at least somewhat private, I’ve decided to leave that exact figure out, at least for now. I’ll simply tell you it is less than the total of all my other expenses but not by much. Plus, there is only so much one can do to limit that number when the majority of your income is W2. I’ve been investing more of my time into improving that situation and if I find success, I may post about it at a later date. Anyway, here we go!

My Average Annual Expenses Between 2017 and 2018

  • Auto maintenance/repairs: 1300 (500)
  • Cash donations: 2100 (subjective)
  • Clothing: 700 (100)
  • Food – groceries: 1700 (1200)
  • Food – restaurants: 500 (0)
  • Fun: 2100 (300)
  • Gas: 2800 (1200)
  • Gifts: 1200 (200)
  • Household expenses: 700 (300)
  • Housing: 12,600 (6000-10,000)
  • Insurance: 3000 (2000)
  • Medical: 900 (0)
  • Memberships: 300 (300)
  • Other: 2400 (0)
  • Supplements: 100 (0)
  • Technology services: 500 (350)
  • Utilities: 1100 (600)
  • Vacation: 300 (0)
  • Vehicle depreciation: 2100 (500)

Total: 36,400 (13,550-17,550)

How did I arrive at these numbers? And why the range in the housing category for the minimalist budget? You’re just going to have to stay tuned to find out…

Why I’m Not Afraid of the Health Insurance Boogeyman

These probably won’t help…then again, you only live once! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

I occasionally hang out with early retirement minded people. Some of them have already taken the plunge, some are thinking about it more and more as I am, and some are much earlier in their financial journeys but are intrigued by an alternative to the “work till you’re either dead or wish you were” program that has been the standard for far too long. Easily the most common question I hear being asked of the people who have already retired ten, twenty, or even thirty years before the traditional age, is “what about health insurance?”

And I admit that was one of my first questions as well. Most people I’ve met answer this question in one of a few disappointing ways. Some were able to negotiate some sort of arrangement with their final employers, some have a spouse that is still working, and many are structuring their incomes in such a way as to be eligible for subsidies on individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act. None of these is workable for me. My current employer will likely be neither willing, nor able, to make any deal with me, I don’t have a spouse who can keep working so I can “retire,” and I can’t stomach exploiting badly written legislation for personal gain – particularly not when I’m currently paying a substantial share of the associated bill.

After I recently learned of some significant challenges my current employer is facing, which threaten not just my job and those of many of my colleagues, but the company itself as a going concern, I’ve been thinking a lot about my options. I could find a similar job at another company. Since I started my latest job search, there have certainly been some encouraging signs that this will be a viable option – although nothing has come to fruition just yet. But aside from maintaining the status quo as an employee/entrepreneur hybrid, I’ve been looking at other, more adventurous options. One common thread among many of them would be stepping out from under the umbrella of having an employer at all. And this has brought the health insurance question back to the forefront.

But as I’ve begun to explore the issue, I’ve actually been very pleasantly surprised by what I’ve learned. It turns out individual health insurance is both fairly straightforward and less expensive than I had anticipated. I acknowledge that things would likely be different if I had dependents. But at roughly $15k per child, per year, for as long as one is willing to keep the financial umbilical cord intact, having children is one of the most expensive financial decisions a person can make. That is one of several reasons I’ve personally opted out.

Anyway, I searched around and Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to be king of individual health insurance in my neck of the woods. By simply entering my birth date, non-smoker status, and zip code, I was presented with a menu of options ranging from the most minimalist plan at roughly $320 per month to something approaching the top of the line plan I have now at nearly $700. I didn’t see an annual payment option but if one is offered with a decent discount, it would amount to an awesome churning opportunity. One nice thing that I believe came out of the ACA is that it appears all plans now cover the one annual preventative appointment we should all be going to. Of course, that is priced into the premiums. But I digress. Beyond that, as a relatively healthy young adult, I’m almost certain to spend somewhere in the $0-1500 range per year on health care expenses, meaning paying an extra $400 a month for a high end plan that would cover most of that doesn’t make sense. I will note that there are subsidies offered for people with surprisingly high income limits. Sadly, I’m in the group that pays handsomely for those subsidies to be offered, and don’t anticipate that changing, so I’m paying full freight for my own coverage no matter what. But your results may be different – particularly if you have kids. And as the birth rate continues to decline, it is very likely that we will all see the government using more mechanisms like this to force people like me to subsidize your procreation efforts. For what it’s worth, that will likely offset at least a portion of the additional costs you would face in areas like this.

Ultimately, my choice would be a plan that costs $332 per month because it is the cheapest HSA eligible option. With a deductible of $6k, an out of pocket limit of $6650, and no prescription coverage until the deductible is met, I would almost definitely be paying all of my costs beyond the annual preventative appointment. In most cases, I would probably not even use the insurance, instead opting to negotiate directly with doctors since my insurance would effectively cover nothing anyway. I’ve heard there is often significant room on the pricing if you aren’t forcing the provider to deal with an insurance company.

But this is where it becomes important to calculate things out for yourself. If you tend to spend a lot in health care costs, it may make sense for you to go with a plan with higher premiums but more coverage. One thing to consider is that it’s not necessarily the end of the world if a plan doesn’t offer prescription coverage (it can’t if it is HSA eligible). Thanks to a wonderful website called Good RX, anyone can pay much less than retail prices for prescriptions whether or not they have insurance. Don’t ask me what kind of sorcery makes it possible, but this can be an absolute godsend if you don’t have prescription coverage and yes, I did use it back when I worked for an employer that offered a very minimalist coverage option.

I’ve mentioned “HSA eligible” twice now. Why? HSA stands for health savings account and it’s a hidden financial gem. Unlike an FSA, which is garbage unless you have health care costs you can forecast very reliably, an HSA is a tax advantaged account that can be built into quite an asset. To put it simply, it is a miniature Roth IRA for health related expenses only. This year, an individual can contribute $3500 into one. The money can be invested in whatever you want, provided you’ve chosen a good provider, and as long as you don’t spend it, it will grow tax free just like a Roth IRA. It does ultimately have to be spent on health care expenses, but given the state of the industry, I don’t believe any of us will have too much trouble accomplishing that. In fact, remember that quarter million dollars the media is always screaming about you having to pay for your health care expenses during your traditional retirement years? Well, if you contribute the max to a Roth IRA for twenty or thirty years and don’t use any until you retire, that is more or less covered – without dipping into your other assets. As usual, a little knowledge can go a long way towards putting out the fires of mainstream ignorance. The important thing to keep in mind with HSAs is that only certain more minimalist health insurance plans are eligible for them. If you have a lot of health care expenses now, you may be better off with a “Cadillac” plan paired with an FSA. No one can tell you definitively without specific information; I recommend that you run your specific numbers yourself to figure it out.

But in my case, a disaster only health insurance plan and an HSA are a home run combination. The only problem is that pesky “Cadillac” plan I have now. But given that I’m kicking in well under $100 a month for it, and that’s tax deductible by the way, it’s obviously the best option available to me as long as I’m with my current employer. However, once that relationship runs its course, likely by the end of this year, it’s nice to know I will have some great options available to me and that they won’t be nearly the financial disaster the media would have folks believing they are.

Happy Friday!

Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

We’ve nearly made it through another week – at least those of us who work conventional hours have. Here are some quick tips and recent observations to celebrate the coming weekend.

Listening is a lost, but crucial art.

Back when he was just a regular NFL quarterback and not the center of a controversy the media hasn’t completely stopped exploiting for ratings, page views, etc to this very day, Colin Kaepernick was in a commercial for some incredibly overpriced noise canceling headphones that involved him easily ignoring very hostile Seahawks fans. At the end, the slogan “hear what you want” is displayed. Much like paying a premium price for very pedestrian headphones, the slogan was rather unproductive.

This week, I had a conversation with a customer that made it painfully clear he had been taking this approach quite literally in numerous conversations we’d had over more than a year. Not only had he missed some fundamental, incredibly important points, but he had apparently been operating under the assumption that what he “didn’t know” (I put that in quotes because I’m still not sure I believe anyone could have every one of the conversations we had and still not know things that were repeated so emphatically, so many different times, in so many different ways) couldn’t hurt him, and that everything would work out in a very advantageous, but tragically impossible way. Based on this wildly inaccurate view, he wanted to make a decision that would likely have cost him tens of thousands of dollars over the remainder of this year and much more in the long run. I like the guy, but the sheer absurdity of what he apparently believed almost made my head explode. It was a visceral moment that forced me to understand that my efforts are simply not accomplishing anything in his case. Anyway, when I informed him of the almost certain consequences of the decision he wanted to make, he immediately changed his mind. But clearly this was the first time he had ever listened when I told him these things and he had managed to walk all the way to the edge of a financial cliff while ignoring me repeating them again and again.

Listening doesn’t always have implications that expensive, but sometimes they can be even more important. How many relationships have broken down because one person stopped listening to what the other was really saying? How many medical mistakes has this caused? How many decisions that affected thousands of people have been made based on faulty or incomplete information as a result? The costs of this phenomenon aren’t even quantifiable. But one thing is certain; we can all do better in life if we go into conversations with the goal of gaining whatever information the other person is trying to share with us first. Not only will we make better, more informed decisions, but relationships will improve. I’m working on improving in this area myself and I recommend everyone do the same!

If you’re buying a greeting card, the dollar store is your friend!

Obviously if you want something to last a while, the dollar store is a questionable choice at best. But if you’re buying a folded piece of paper with canned words on it for the strict purpose of having something to give someone versus not, you’re about to save some money. Rather than paying the ridiculous amount of $3-5 (or more!) for something that will most likely be in the garbage within ten minutes of receipt (multiplied times goodness knows how many per year), you can buy the same damn thing for a buck – or even fifty cents if you choose certain cards! Will this turn your financial situation around on its own? Not likely. But it will save you 80% or more on this particular purchase, which happens to be repeated many times, year after year. And perhaps more importantly, it will help you stay in the mindset of being financially intentional – accomplishing 100% of your goal without spending more money than you have to. This mentality will save you a ton more money if applied to all areas of your financial life.

Game of Thrones is over.

The ending, along with the entire final season, was ever so slightly controversial. I don’t believe in ruining good entertainment for busy people so I’m not going to post my thoughts on it yet. And besides, my opinions are still swimming around upstairs as they form, almost solidify, break down, form again, etc. But rest assured, that post will be coming in the next couple of weeks.

Have a fantastic Friday and a wonderful weekend!

Mint Mobile Update: So Far, This Fox Rox!

Note the absence of a charger cord, which is very rarely connected!

A couple weeks ago, I switched from Republic Wireless to Mint Mobile, the company with the little green marketing spokesfox. Republic worked out great for me for over four and a half years and I have nothing negative to say about the company…except that it changed its pricing scheme in a way that would have effectively doubled the price for light users like myself when I wanted to upgrade my phone. So when it finally came time to do that, I first did what any financially conscious person would in that situation and re-evaluated the market. It turned out that while it was a price increase of about $5 per month from what I had been paying, Mint still came in about $5 cheaper than the new price Republic would have charged for what I do; and it offered 3gb versus 1 on top of the cheaper price. So I gave it a shot. I wanted to give y’all a quick update on how it has worked out.

So far, there isn’t much to say because Mint has done exactly what it promised to do. In almost half a month, I’ve used just over half a gb of data since I’m on WiFi the vast majority of the time. And to give it a good, fair test, I haven’t made any effort to avoid using data whatsoever beyond setting the phone to use WiFi when available. So unless I use about five times as much data for the remainder of the month as I have in the first half, I won’t hit the point where I start getting throttled. As for quality, everything has been great. Calls are clear, I’ve had zero reception issues or dropped calls (Mint uses the T-Mobile network; Republic uses Sprint), text messages go through, and data speed is more than adequate in the rare circumstances when I need to use it. The setup process was very simple and it took me less than ten minutes from unboxing to having a fully functional new phone.

Being a relative luddite by design, I’ve been predictably thrilled with the upgrade from the Moto X1 to the X4 and with a little bonus I didn’t even anticipate (keep in mind that the X1 was my very first smartphone). I hadn’t realized I would still be able to use my existing phone as a WiFi device. That is a kick ass development since the only real problem I had been having was call related (and even this likely had more to do with Republic Wireless than the phone itself) and being able to continue using it this way for probably at least a few more years is worth much more to me than the few dollars I could have gotten in return for recycling it. Aside from that, I’ve particularly pleased with the X4’s speed, battery life upgrade (I only charge it every other day so far), fingerprint sensor, camera upgrade over the X1, and very fast charging.

The one downside about the phone itself is that the speaker SUCKS for listening to music. But I use a Bluetooth speaker I got on Amazon for ten bucks around my apartment so that’s not a huge deal. The only other annoyance, aside from the dramatically increased phone size that comes with making just about any upgrade these days (Why do they assume we want to carry around laptop sized phones? Or am I the one making an assumption in thinking other people don’t want that just because I don’t?), was having to add a second type of charger (USB-C) and cable to the birds’ nests of them I keep at home, in my travel bag, etc. But everything has its price and that lighting quick charging of my new phone is no exception I suppose.  

Overall, I’m very happy with this change. It sure is awesome when a company delivers on its promises and thus, I’m more than happy to recommend Mint Mobile to anyone! And as always, my recommendation cannot be bought; I’m not being compensated in any way for saying this. Even if you use a lot more data than I do, Mint is still a great option for you at $20 for an 8gb cap and $25 for 12. Happy smartphoning!

My New $16.94/mo Unlimited Everything Cell Phone Plan

RIP to my very first smartphone – even the charger cord was near the end of the line

Morning folks! Sorry this is my first post of the week. I’ve been extremely busy with a number of things, some of which I believe will turn into big news I’ll be posting about pretty soon. I also had to carve out some time to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode so it wouldn’t be spoiled for me since the whole world seems intent on doing that to anyone who doesn’t watch it the second it’s available (seriously, get a life you dicks, it’s not 1995 anymore; networks haven’t dictated our tv watching schedules to us for quite some time). But more importantly, my personal cell phone has been having an odd problem that prevents some calls from going through – both outgoing and incoming. Given that I use my work phone for most calls, this isn’t as big a deal as it may be for some people. However, given that I use my personal phone to open the security gate when I have visitors and that I’m currently in job search mode, the situation needed to be remedied. I was hoping my current phone would make it to the five year mark, if only for the sake of pride, but it appears it is not to be. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure it’s an issue with my phone. It could also be an issue with my soon to be former carrier. But given that I’m already plenty due for an upgrade and ready to switch carriers anyway, I’ve decided not to mess with it.

I’ve been paying just over $12 a month for service with Republic Wireless since September of 2014, but given that upgrading my phone would literally result in doubling that (great business practice for a carrier that markets almost exclusively on pricing…), I checked out what else is available. I eventually decided to go with Mint Mobile, a no contract carrier that works on the T-Mobile network. Supposedly Sprint is the worst network but in my experience, it performs almost identically to the vaunted Verizon network my work phone is on. So I’m hoping T-Mobile will be similarly adequate. The big selling point with Mint is that you get unlimited everything for $15 a month ($16.94 after all taxes and fees in my case).

Now I do need to qualify that statement in a way that I believe is necessary with every “unlimited” cell phone plan. Every unlimited plan I’ve seen is technically unlimited, but begins throttling data at some point. Mint Mobile is no different but unlike with many carriers, the company seems to care about truth in advertising. Its plans are advertised at the amounts of data they’re capped at. In the case of the minimum plan I got, that’s 3gb per month. However, it is also stated that data is unlimited, but simply throttled after the stated allotment. It shouldn’t matter for me anyway because I don’t watch videos while I’m driving (and thus not on wifi) – and without watching videos, I highly doubt I’ll ever come near using 1gb, let alone 3. But just in case, I got the three month intro plan so I can make a change if I need to.

One downside I’ve discovered to Mint Mobile so far is that it is prepaid. So I had to pay for my three months up front and if I want to renew at the best price, I will need to pay for twelve at that point. That’s not an issue for me as long as the service keeps working for the duration, but for anyone with cashflow concerns, $180 + taxes and fees might be a lot at one time. Another downside is that the pricing on the phones isn’t competitive in at least some cases. However, there is an easy fix there. Supposedly, any GSM unlocked phone will work with Mint. We’ll find out because I bought a Moto X4 4gb/64gb version for a steal at $200 from Best Buy (the X4 is available directly from Mint at the same price but it’s the 3gb/32gb version). And it’s even better with 1% back from Ebates, 2% back from my Citi Double Cash card, and whatever I wind up getting for recycling my current X1 (probably just a few bucks, but every little bit helps). I’ll be picking the new phone up later today and activating it as soon as the SIM card arrives.

I’ll post a follow up on this once I get everything going. But suffice it to say, I’m excited. The X4 with these particular specs will be an awesome upgrade from my current X1 and I would challenge anyone to find a better phone available for $200. If Mint lives up to its promises, then I will be very happy with the phone upgrade – even if it is four months shy of my X1’s fifth birthday that I was so excited to celebrate. You know what they say; shoot for the moon so that even if you miss, you will be among the stars. I really hope you imagined me saying that in an incredibly sardonic tone. While the sentiment is valid, I can assure you that I’m not the kind of guy who goes around saying things like that. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Update: This deal just got sweeter by $20! Ebates was offering a straight $20 in cash back for Mint Mobile purchases but there was language that said it did not apply to starter kits. So naturally I tried it but since I had elected to only buy the three month plan from Mint and buy the phone from Best Buy where it was a much better deal, I didn’t expect to get that rebate. However, later the same day, I got an email from Ebates stating that I did, in fact, get the $20. So this deal was a home run all around and now I just have to wait for my Mint Mobile sim card to arrive to see how it all works out.

More Ways to Save Money Very Quickly at My Favorite Store

Sorry for the grainy quality! But seriously, what do luxury apartment complexes have against using free weights in a full range of motion? Yes, I know it’s probably an insurance thing. Still though.

Anyone who read my previous Costco post knows I love the company. But in what I promise wasn’t an intentionally malicious act, I forgot to mention some very significant ways the store can save you a ton of money. Recently I was reminded of two of them in particular. So this post is more an addendum than a standalone but I felt it was important to correct my oversight.

Do you ever have occasions to give out gift cards? Or do you just like going to a nice restaurant every now and again? Then you may want to take a trip to Costco. Somewhere in the store (sometimes near the checkout area, other times near the frozen food aisles, and still other times in some other totally random place), you will find a display with a bunch of gift cards. These won’t be that same assortment you find in nearly every store on earth. This is Costco, so most of them will be for more upscale restaurants and other services. But upscale is only half of what Costco is known for – with the other half being almost impossibly low prices. And these gift cards are no exception. Most of them are for $100 but will only cost you somewhere between $70 and $80. Many of them also come packaged in the form of two $50 cards in case you want to split them into two smaller gifts. And of course you can also use them for yourself if you want a serious discount on a nice meal or two.

But one gift card in that section has saved me more than any other – the 24 Hour Fitness one. Since I sold all my gym equipment before I moved across the country and since even the nicest luxury apartment gyms never seem to include a proper squat rack (usually just a smith machine), I needed a gym membership when I came here. Planet Fitness is the cheapest but given the company’s notorious “serious fitness people need not apply” attitude, I don’t consider that a valid option. 24 Hour Fitness seems to be the best one in the area for me. It offers all the necessary equipment at a reasonable price and has many locations, many of which have extras like swimming pools, saunas, basketball gyms, yoga studios, etc. But why pay full price if you don’t have to? A basic level 24 Hour Fitness membership is going to run $35-40 a month – fairly typical in the world of gym memberships but a tough pill to swallow for a previous owner of a commercial quality basement gym that cost only an initial investment of about $3k.

But Costco to the rescue! If you don’t need to go to a Super Sport/Ultra Sport location, and most people don’t since there are plenty of Sport and Active ones (but check your area out first before you buy), you can get a two year membership gift card from Costco for $430. That works out to $18 per month – a savings of about 50%! If you do need the Super Sport/Ultra Sport membership, Costco offers that as well at a similar savings. And as the late, great Billy Mays said, “But I’m not done yet!” If you’re a pro level Costco shopper like me, you know that just about everything is significantly discounted at some point. When I got here, I only had to wait a month or two before the membership was on sale for $370 – or from $18 a month to just over $15! This is a great example of how I live an upper middle class lifestyle while paying for a lower middle class one. I go to the exact same gym other people do but I pay less than half as much. And this stuff is available to anyone who wants it and requires virtually no hassle or sacrifice most of the time.

But there was still one loose end that had been lurking at the recesses of my psyche for some time. What happens when the two years is up and (gasp!) I have to start paying more than double for my gym membership? 24 Hour Fitness is still likely the best deal in the area even at the regular price. But still, paying full price? How could I tolerate such a travesty? Thankfully, after a little recent googling, I’m confident that I won’t have to. While it’s true that the Costco deal can only be used by someone who does not have a current membership, it turns out that this is even easier to get around than the “promotional pricing” game the ISPs play. Once your membership has expired, even for a day, you are no longer a current member. It can’t be that simple, can it? According to scores of posters online, it absolutely is. I read enough posts from people who have done this two, three, or even more times, to be confident it works. How did people do anything before the internet?

So there you have it. If you buy two or three $100 gift cards (or four to six $50 ones) in a year, your Costco membership pays for itself. If 24 Hour Fitness is in your area and you’re serious about making the most important investment of them all, the membership pays for itself every three to four months on an ongoing basis. And that means the hundreds of dollars (or more) you save on other purchases throughout the year are pure profit. Have a wonderful Friday and an even more wonderful weekend, everyone! And no, Costco still doesn’t have me on the payroll – although I should probably look into that…