Category Archives: Money

Car paid off!

Tonight, Amy and I submitted a final payment of $2,002.42 for her 2009 Toyota Corolla. Neat! It feels amazing getting out of debt. The debt snowball works, and we’re fairly gazelle–intense.

It’ll be great to get past baby step 2. Soon enough.

Exciting times are ahead.

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Taxicab in Budapest

When we arrive in Budapest, Jeremy directed us to the small taxicab building HQ outside the airport doors. We wouldn’t need to get cash at the airport since most places around the city take credit card.

I showed them my destination address, and they printed out a slip for my driver.

Removing a credit card from my wallet, I asked, “Do you accept credit cards?”

“Yes. No problem.”

After a quiet thirty–minute drive, we arrived about fifty meters from my apartments. My driver pulled over onto the left side of the narrow street, right before it veered in another direction.

Budapest Taxicab 2014-03-30

I handed him my credit card, and he said he couldn’t take it. Only cash.

Rage and disbelief. Panic, really.

I would sprint into the apartments to get my friends. Reluctantly, he nodded, and off I went.

At the reception office, and asked if Jeremy checked in. I couldn’t use my cell phone (no SIM card yet). I ran around and failed to find the room, blaming the lack of signs. Then, Elizabeth and Karen magically appeared! After waiting a couple of minutes, Elizabeth found Jeremy, who paid the driver and saved my evening.

Thanks friends! Yay Automattic meetups!

P.S. The driver explained his credit card machine wouldn’t work because the batteries died. Ridiculous. :)

Track shared data usage for two with DataMan Pro

I installed DataMan Pro on my iPhone on January 2nd. While it was slightly uncomfortable ditching my unlimited (grandfathered) data plan from Verizon Wireless when I upgraded my phone, this app makes it a breeze to track my cellular data usage.

From left to right, and top to bottom:

  1. Current usage from this month
  2. Smart Forecast estimates usage for the rest of the month1, while the Balance displays how much cellular data I can use for the rest of the day.
  3. Stats: Usage by day
  4. Stats: Usage by hour
  5. Settings > Data Plan
  6. Settings > Data Plan > Add Usage
  7. Stats: Usage by month

Setup Tips and Observations

Data Plan — Review a few monthly statements. If your billing cycle starts on the same day every month, use the Monthly plan type. (e.g. 14th of the month)

For Data Cap, I just switched it from 1,000 MB to 1 GB (screenshot not shown) because 1 GB = 1,024 MB. Every bit helps!

Add Usage — To start accurately, log into the account with your service provider to verify your current data usage.2 Add the largest unit byte (whole number), then convert the decimal (probably from MB to KB) to add that last portion.

Multiple people — Amy and I share 2 GB of data, so we’re splitting that in half for each person.

Notifications — DataMan Pro includes push notifications at four configurable thresholds (called Usage Alerts). The defaults are 50%, 70%, 90%, and 100%.

Verizon Wireless can send email or text notifications when you reach certain preset thresholds (50%, 75%, 90%, 100%). I’m going to disable them because they reflect shared usage. We’re only concerned with individual usage.

In context, if I’ve used more data than Amy in a month, it’s up to me to ease up. She shouldn’t stress about it. :)

Turn off Percentage Badge — If you’ll primarily rely on push notifications, you probably don’t care to see the percentage badge on the app icon, so you can turn that off in Settings > Advanced.

Interesting trends — When I’m home for most of the day, which is usually the case, I don’t use much cellular data.

However, when I’m out and about, Rdio, Day One, and Tweetbot can use up quite a bit if I’m not careful.

I’ve since disabled cellular data for the following apps in iOS 7 (Settings > Cellular):

  • Rdio
  • Day One
  • App Store
  • Netflix
  • Newsy
  • Scanner Pro
  • TuneIn Radio

Quirks

I always forget:

  • Swipe left goes to Settings
  • Swipe up displays your data usage over time.

Conclusion

I’m blessed to be able to work from home with a fairly solid internet and Wi–Fi connection. When not traveling, I don’t need to pay another $10/month for another 2 GB of shared data.

DataMan Pro will help us stay strong or realize when it’s time to fork over some extra cash. I gladly paid $4.99 for DataMan Pro, and will buy a second copy for Amy’s iPhone.


  1. In other words, if I don’t change anything with my service provider or data usage habits (like disabling cellular data for certain apps), I’ll use too much data on my account. With Verizon Wireless, overage costs $15 per GB. 
  2. Note the timestamp. That doesn’t update in realtime, so you may need to check several times and make multiple adjustments with Add Usage until it matches up. After that, DataMan should match exactly with your service provider. Should. ;) 

Later 2013, what’s shaking, 2014?

In 2013, I worked a lot, traveled a bit (mostly for work), and enjoyed quality time with Amy.

We’ve continued to reduce our debt, and I still think we’ll be out of debt by June 2014. Amy is hopeful it’ll be sooner. :)

For 2014, I’d like to:

  • Be less anxious. Relax.
  • Spend more time with Amy.
  • Hang out with friends more often.
  • Be more efficient.
  • Be a great example for others.
  • Exercise.
  • Track the right stuff so I know what to change.
  • Purge.
  • Read my backlog of articles and books.
  • Publish 156 posts (three times a week).

That…is a lot.

Reviewing the list, many are related to the concept of budgeting time. Here’s a shorter, revised list:

  • Budget my time so I can be with people — or do the things — I love and enjoy.
  • Be less anxious. Relax.
  • Be a great example for others.
  • Track the right stuff so I know what to change.

On that note, off I go. Happy new year!

A zero-based budget: my long lost friend

A few weeks ago, I decided I should read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. I was tired of money slipping through the cracks, and didn’t want to continue along the same way, so I’ve read through about eight chapters so far.

Before we could consider step number one (build a $1,000 emergency fund), we needed to create a budget. Having money for bills and food is not enough, and there needs to be a plan.

While the templates provided in the book would work fine, I’d prefer spreadsheets to automate calculations. (I don’t like my hand writing as much.) I spent some time trying to create my own spreadsheets from scratch in Google Docs, but got frustrated after awhile because I didn’t know what the balance column stood for — it seemed like something really important.

I remembered seeing YNAB (which stands for “You Need A Budget”) somewhere before, and I felt compelled to revisit the software — anything to make budgeting less painful!

We spent a few hours watching the videos, then we excitedly purchased a license for our laptops and installed the YNAB app on our iPhones. (I later found out I could’ve saved $4.99 by using my Apple ID to install two copies. Oops. See “Buy the app for multiple installs”.)

The YNAB method consists of four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2. Save for a rainy day
  3. Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month’s income

Finally! Zero–based budgeting explained very well, and an awesome way to implement saving money without actually needing multiple accounts.

The second rule will involve us building the $1,000 emergency fund before moving onto attacking debt. We’ll focus on one thing at a time (as Dave Ramsey suggests).

When were setting amounts for our various categories (expenditures), the value of creating a budget finally made sense. Rather than relying on the dollar amount in our checking accounts and mentally calculating the numbers, we can see exactly where our money needed to go. While we had our calendars for bill reminders, having a budget means it’s one less thing to think about.

Since we don’t have a buffer to live on last month’s income (yet!), we’ll be entering our paychecks as we receive them and budgeting those dollars, rather than forecasting what we’ll get for future paychecks. (Amy receives a paycheck weekly, while I receive a paycheck twice a month.) This will mean that we’ll set our budget more often, directing us to use the money we actually have. Wow, that’s an awesome concept that should be taught to everyone.

I’ve considered using envelopes and putting cash into our separate categories, but it’s convenient to pay with my debit card, so YNAB really helps keep our numbers accurate. My wife feels the same way.

Oh, I forgot to revisit the balance column. When you don’t spend some (or all) of the money you’ve assigned to a category, it rolls over to next month. We don’t necessarily need to have two separate accounts as long as the money is allocated to the category or categories in our budget, so that’s how we’ll be saving for things in the future without creating a separate savings account, which has a turnaround of two days per transfer. (My checking account is with Wells Fargo, while my savings account is with ING Direct.)

If you’re intrigued, here’s the summary of what we’ve done so far:

  • Read The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey. One of my coworkers also suggested The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. I haven’t read the second one yet.
  • Go through the YNAB website, watch as many of the videos and read all their support pages.
  • Once you’re convinced, buy YNAB 4 for your computer (and smartphone, if you want to add transactions on–the–fly), set up a zero-based budget, and track your money.

Our first goal: the $1,000 emergency fund. Here we go!

With Amy’s permission, I’m putting this out there in case you might be in a similar situation. If you decide you want to give this a shot right now, leave a comment and, if you’d like, link to your blog post about your story. I’d love to hear about it!

Saving money on U.S. Passport photos

I almost got charged the CVS passport photo fee ($7.99) when printing a 4″ x 6″ photo with two 2″ x 2″ photos on it.

With the help of my friend, James, I took my own passport photos. I showed James how to compose the photo, stood in front of an off-white wall, then James pressed the shutter button. After making a few necessary color and lighting adjustments in Lightroom, I exported the file as a JPEG. Lastly, ePassportPhoto.com helped crop a single JPEG to output five 2″ x 2″ headshots on a 4″ x 6″ print.

I went to my nearby CVS (0.5 mi away), knowing that they charge $0.29 for an instant 4″ x 6″ print. All they had to do was take my $0.29. The kiosk did the rest. When I got the the register, cute cashier said they might charge the passport photo fee of $7.99 because of the intention of my photo. She called the manager to the front, and he told her to charge me the $0.29.

Cody, who used to work at CVS, explained that the passport photo price applies only when they take the photos for the customer.

When I went to the Temple City U.S. Post Office, I had no problems. Barbara carefully cut two photos out for me, reviewed my application, made a few corrections, then took my payment.

I submitted all that on Monday, May 10th. I’m not going anywhere, so there’s no rush. They estimated five weeks, but hopefully it won’t take as long.

P.S. I forgot to link to this blog post, “The Stupid Passport Photo Ripoff.”

Update May 28th, 2010: I just received my U.S. Passport book. That’s a turnaround of 14 business days. (Nice.) According to the information slip in the envelope, my passport card will arrive will arrive separately. None of this matters because I’m not planning on going anywhere out of the country anytime soon. I just wanted to have a a passport on hand, just in case.

12 Tips for Better Sales on eBay

After recently selling a few things on eBay, I’ve compiled some suggestions for you in hopes it’ll increase legitimate bidding activity.

Readability

  • Use a large, readable font. On a 22″ wide screen LCD monitor, 14 point is ridiculously small. Try 18 point and the Georgia font.
  • Create sections in your auction description with bold headings. (e.g. what’s for sale, why you’re selling, item condition, shipping or local pickup, retail pricing)
  • Check for spelling, especially in the title.

Completeness and/or full disclosure

  • Explain yourself. Most auction descriptions are too brief or simply repeat the item name. Why are you selling the item? How long have you had it for? What comes in the box?
  • Even though eBay auctions have a built-in shipping, return policy, and payment tab, repeat the shipping, handling, and payment details in the description. (You know, for redundancy and decreasing miscommunication.)
  • Don’t use stock photos. The bidders will usually ask, so save them time.
  • Display several clear photos of the item. If you know someone with a DSLR camera, get a white foam poster board and take the photos of the item(s) on it. Try to take the photo in some shade. If it’s too bright, get a friend to hold a diffuser over the item(s). For best results, make a light tent. (See “How To: DIY $10 Macro Photo Studio” or “How to Make An Inexpensive Light Tent – DIY“)
  • Link to a few glowing reviews of the item.

Don’t pay unnecessary fees

  • Host photos elsewhere. There’s no need to pay eBay more money for photo hosting. If you have Flickr, WordPress/WordPress.com, or Tumblr, create a set/page with a gallery of photos for your item(s). Don’t forget to link to the photos within the auction description!

Increase views, watchers, and bids

  • Use eBay’s first free image so it shows up in the listings.
  • End the auction around 9:30pm, and if possible, on the weekend. This will help get more buyers looking at your auction, especially for more expensive items. If you end the auction at 3pm on a weekday, it’ll be more difficult for people at the office to participate in the last few minutes of a bidding war. Don’t forget to calculate the time zones you want to cover. (For example, if you want to end the auction at 9:30pm EST, start the auction at 6:30pm PST.)
  • For a fee ($0.10), eBay can schedule your auction to start at a certain time and day. If you want to save that ten cents per auction, and you’ll be at a computer when you want to start the auction, fill everything out and save as a draft. You can post it later.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take some photos of some more items I’m going to put up for auction.

Do you have more time-tested suggestions? Please take a few minutes to share them with a comment, and explain how it’s helped you. Thanks! (Back off, spammers. I’ll nuke comments and ban IP addresses without hesitation.)