Monday, November 14, 2011

Why We Switched To PerkStreet

We recently decided to switch to a PerkStreet checking account even though we were fairly satisfied with our current checking accounts. Why? Rather than have our money sitting in an ING savings account earning 0.9% interest annually, we decided it was worth it to move part of our money to PerkStreet so that we could earn cash back rewards worth more than the 0.9% we are currently earning at ING.

The Details
In order to earn 2% cash back rewards on debit card purchases (without a PIN), you must maintain a minimum $5,000 balance in your checking account at all times. If your account falls below $5,000 you will earn 1% cash back (which is still pretty decent). In addition, there are certain rotating retailers that allow you to earn 5% cash back (limited to $250 a year). To use PerkStreet's example, if you maintain a $5K balance and spend $2,500 a month on your debit card, you can earn $600 in annual rewards.

ING vs. PerkStreet
Here is why we decided to take the plunge. Beware, Math Nerd logic ahead.......I compared my annual rate of return on $5,000 using an ING savings account and Perkstreet checking account rewards.

ING annual rate of return on $5,000 = $45 ($5,000 * 0.9%)  If you want to get technical and include compound interest, then add a whopping 19 cents.
Annual debit card spend to equal ING rate of return = $2,250 ($45 / 2%)  If you look at these numbers, in order to earn the same amount of money as ING using PerkStreet, I will need to spend

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shot of Happiness Week 2: Accountability
This is the second in a series discussing the book How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People--Their Secrets, Their Stories.Last week we discussed Intention as the first step in choosing happiness. This week we move on to

Choice 2: Accountability
"If intention is an inner-driven desire to play in the ball game of happiness, accountability is its natural outcome - the urge to step up to the plate and hit the ball."

No Victims Here
The kind of accountability that Foster & Hicks are talking about is the ability to be in control of our lives, the ability to move ahead no matter what life throws at you. A big part of the message in this chapter is that happy people don't see themselves as victims. Rather, happy people focus on finding solutions and looking for what they can do to make their lives better.

"Happiness depends on ourselves." - Aristotle

The authors' research shows that blame along with greed, envy and jealousy are some of the biggest indicators of unhappiness. So how do you overcome the "blame game" and move closer to accountability. Always consider your part in a situation and ask yourself what you can change and what you have learned from this experience. By addressing the one thing that you can change (yourself), you will get yourself out of the useless cycle of trying to change others.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Money Crashers

I stumbled upon Money Crashers last month during one of my many periods of web surfing procrastination.  Money Crashers is a comprehensive personal finance site that discusses pretty much anything and everything on the finance sphere. Budgeting, extreme coupons, finance book reviews? They're all there. How about learning about winterizing your home or getting out of your T-Mobile contract without a fee? Check and check. Even better, you can find a listing of the top personal finance blogs out there on the Internets (even The $60K Project is on the list!) - all the great personal finance bloggers you could ever want!

Some Great Money Crashers Articles
How To Make An Efficient Weekly House Cleaning Schedule Template & Checklist Chart
14 Unique & Inexpensive Host and Hostess Gift Ideas
How to Find a Job Online Using Craigslist - 16 Step Process
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) History & Fraud Cases
Give Better Gifts This Holiday Season

Monday, November 7, 2011

Financial Update - October 2011

So somehow our October net worth is about $20,000 more than September's update. Here are my two guesses as to why:
1) Kelly Blue Book increased our car values by about $2,000 each. Not really sure why because I went through the same process as last month and even made sure to note wear and tear where applicable. I'll take it but am not really convinced.
2) Our retirement funds had big gains - partly because we significantly increased our contributions but also because there have been some decent gains since the last time I looked at our net worth.

Challenges: We spent quite a bit on medical expenses and travel in recent weeks so our checking account is a bit slim this pay period. Fortunately, we just got checks in the mail for some of our side hustles and will be using that money to catch up and get back on track. Until then, beans, rice and veggies will be a part of our diet.

The upcoming holidays also mean spending a little more than a typical month due to gift giving, travel, holiday parties, etc. We already have most of our travel paid for so we're in pretty good shape. As far as gifts, I find the best thing to do is make sure you communicate with your family and friends in terms of gift buying. Some years my family has enforced a spending limit, and other years we have only purchased gifts for the kids. Depending on your financial situation, it might be in your best interest to start the gift buying conversation. You may find that others have financial concerns as well but may not want to speak up about it.

2011 Goals: Two of our goals this year include creating a $15,000 emergency fund and maxing out our 401(k) contributions. Unless some sort of miracle occurs in the next month or so, we won't be accomplishing these goals during 2011. But that's okay. Considering we just started saving in September we are still doing pretty well - halfway to our $15,000 emergency fund and a significant increase in our retirement contributions. I think it is safe to say that we will complete our emergency fund in early 2012 and will also be able to fully max our retirement next year.

What's Ahead: We are still annoyed at our last student loan and have been thinking about starting up our debt payoff program again so we can finally get rid of it and be debt free! Maybe after our emergency fund is fully funded? We'll see!

Stay tuned,

Friday, November 4, 2011

Your Shot of Happiness

I have been thinking about the concept of happiness a lot lately and even wrote about it in a blog post a few weeks ago. I decided to read the book "How We Choose To Be Happy" and write a series discussing the 9 choices of extremely happy people.
Formerly consultants who solved personnel issues, authors Rick Foster & Greg Hicks decided to turn their attention towards happy people. As part of an extensive research campaign, they set out to talk to happy people and learn their secrets. What they discovered was that these people all seemed to create happiness by making the same nine choices. This blog series will explore each of these 9 choices as discussed in the book. Why am I doing this? Because I think a lot of us tie up money with the concept of happiness and one of these does not necessarily precede the other. I also believe that many of us are always searching for something to make us happy when maybe all we need to do is choose to be happy.

Choice #1: Intention - "the active desire and commitment to be happy, and the fully conscious decision to choose happiness over unhappiness"

According to Foster & Hicks, the intention to be happy is what drives us towards living as happily as we can while also driving us toward the other 8 choices of happy people. This is why intention is at the center of the wheel (see above). If we don't intend to make happiness a reality in our lives, then we have by default chosen something other than happiness. In addition, the authors believe that we do have control over our happiness - just as I can "make myself miserable," I can also do the opposite.

"Those who wish to sing always find a song" - Swedish Proverb

How To Create Intention
Rather than just trying to get through your day, create a story each morning about the day you intend to have. Through these stories you will create your own realities which ultimately drive your feelings and actions. The most important take away from this chapter is that you can learn to be happy and intention is the first step in that direction - "at the heart of happiness is the realization that we can always choose our reaction."
"Why not seize the pleasure at once? 
How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?" - Jane Austen

Action Items
1) Set your intention and revisit it throughout the day
2) Make a list of your most important intentions. Evaluate your list and eliminate the items that are responses to other people's expectations or what you feel you "should" do
3) After every item write the following phrase "...and I intend to feel happy doing it." 

"Joy has nothing to do with material things, or with a man's outward circumstance. A man living in the lap of luxury can be wretched, and a man in the depths of poverty can overflow with joy"
- William Barclay     
Stay tuned,

What do you do in your everyday life to make sure you live with the intention of being happy? What struggles have you encountered when trying to remember this intention?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October Budget Review

Did you listen to The $60K Project podcast interview at The Consumerism Commentary? Download episode 131 to your iTunes and take it with you wherever you go! And don't forget to tell your friends!

Have you reviewed your budget to actual spend for October yet? You can learn a lot from looking at a past month's spending habits. Action: Find one category where you feel you could have spent or budgeted better in October and incorporate that change into your November budget.

Recurring Budget Items
October was a rough month for us. Our recurring expenses came on track when taken as a whole, but a trip to the vet for Duke and the addition of another monthly medication put our projected vet expenses over by $165. Luckily we were under budget in some other areas so it evened out.. Note to readers: Pets are expensive, especially as they get older.

As a general rule of thumb, your recurring expense section shouldn't see too much variance each month since these should be expenses you can reasonably estimate

Non-Recurring Expenses
No complicated Excel spreadsheet necessary - we paid a boatload of medical and travel expenses in October. Mike and I both have recurring doctor appointments at this point so we are just going to have to tough it out. Travel expenses were related to my trip to Chicago to the Financial Blogger Conference so at least I will get a business deduction on my taxes. The toughest part of the month was when we decided to transfer money from our savings back to our checking account. This is the first time we have had to do this and it almost feels like we failed in some way.. But it's tough to stay within budget with such a large amount going towards medical bills. On the bright side - at least we have savings to dip into when we need it!!

November Budgeting Process Changes
One major change to the November budgeting process - Mike is taking over the budgeting/bill paying process for the time being. I have been in charge of documenting our progress for the past year (with Mike's input) so I thought it would be a good idea to get Mike more involved. Last time I checked he had turned my 4-column Excel spreadsheet into a 10-column and counting, but he swears he's "simplifying" the process. Can't wait to see how simple it is!!

Stay tuned,

Does your partner in crime understand your budgeting process and bills that need to be paid? It's important that everyone involved understands the process and goals that you want to achieve.
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