Spring Cleaning

Spring is nearly here and with it comes a renewed sense of energy and possibilities. If you’re like me your garage could use some spring cleaning and once it warms up a bit more I plan to be out there digging into things to shed my life of items we no longer need or use. Now that I write this it would appear that I’ve happened upon the meaning of the word “shed” when it comes to getting rid of things as in getting things out of sight and mind is shedding them which merely puts them aside, outside in the shed.

Okay, that may be a stretch but it’s not far off so let’s run with it. If you have items in your possession that you no longer need and/or you’ve simply grown tired of seeing them every day then you might be inclined to move them out of sight. Doing so in the short term is easy enough and perhaps a good move but follow through is important. Sure, re-acquiring something can be more time and cost intensive than just hanging on but taking the time to evaluate an item right here and right now can save you time and might even make you some money as you go. The trick is having a plan and an approach. Here’s what works for me.

As you examine an item you just need to ask yourself a series of questions in a particular order to arrive at a plan. In reality it’s a decision tree which can actually be fun to follow.

Question #1 → Do I use it?

You may note the questions is “use” not “need”. Need can be clouded by emotion and to bolster that emotion it’s human nature to justify that you need it (nor really, it’s want) which means that you’ll lose and the thing will stay. Don’t be your own worst enemy here, just evaluate the use it or not question at face value.

If the answer is yes then easy enough, set it aside, decide how you’re going to store it, care for it and protect it then move on.

If it’s “no” then you need to step to the next question which is how to get rid of it. Getting rid of something can be as easy as tossing it a trash can but if the item at hand is useful – just not to you – then you should do the earth a favor by not filling up a landfill and yourself a favor by gaining from it’s exodus. The good part is you can gain without actually making cash in the process but more on that in a bit.

It really comes down to three choices:

  1. Throw it away
  2. Give it away
  3. Sell it

Tossing it
Throwing it out is the easy path but can be hard on both you and the planet. If you’re at all attached to the items and the once upon a time usefulness they had in your life then tossing it carelessly into the trash can well up emotions that trick you into wanting to keep it. In order to avoid that pitfall only toss something if it’s A) broken beyond reasonable repair or B) it’s not anything that anyone would be interested in taking off of your hands, free or not. If it passes those two tests then by all means get rid of it but in responsible manner. If it’s recyclable in any way then please do so.

Giving it away
Giving it away can help someone else and dependent upon the item and it’s value will make both you and the recipient feel good about the transaction. In short, it’s a win-win situation. Since “Free” is a popular price point there are many ways to rid yourself of one or more items.

  • Craigslist (People will even come take it from you saving you time to deliver)
  • Non-profit groups (Goodwill, Churches, volunteer fire companies, etc.)
  • Friends, extended family and neighbors

Selling it
If you’d rather sell it to get you closer to a full buffer or further on the path to paying off debt that’s okay too. It’s just a bit more work than giving it away, but not much. Here are a few ideas and I’m sure you can think of others:

  • Craigslist
  • eBay
  • Classified ads
  • Lawn sale
  • Flea market

The best part about selling items that you acquired long ago is that it’s all free money in a way. Sure, you spent actual hard earned cash on it long ago and now that you get to transform these items back into cash. All without any upfront cost so to speak making it seem like you’ve located an all night ATM that never runs out of bills or drains your account.

To summarize:
Use it? Yes → Store it
Use it? No → Toss it? Give it? Sell it?
Toss it? → Do it right then before you set it down, forget or give it time to grow on you.
Give it? → Who? Start through a mental list then set it in a designated area awaiting it’s trip out the door.
Sell it? → Where? Choose the path then take steps to get it listed or lined up for sale including proper storage until it actually leaves.

At the end of the day after the item has left you’ll find yourself with more freedom, more room, a sense of having done the right thing as well as perhaps a little more cash. All in all a good days work. ツ

Paycheck-to-Paycheck for free

It’s almost a new month and with spring on the way – despite how much of a chokehold winter may have on us now – my book is free to download all this weekend to help get you started on a new budget! Included with the book is a free bonus that you’ll want to check out so if you haven’t grabbed your copy yet please download it now.

P.S. Please be sure to tell your friends. ツ

If I had a nickle…

We own an Xbox 360 but since the boys moved out a few years ago it fell into disuse (as I’m not a gamer) and sat gathering dust still hooked to the TV. The controllers however made their way to a plastic tote and ultimately to the garage some time ago in an effort to just get them out of the living room I suppose. Yesterday Amelia (our 13yo daughter) had Fable pop into her head for one reason or another – perhaps devouring Harry Potter night and day helped? – and wanted to play it. Easy enough task but we didn’t know where the controllers were. Well, not exactly. We knew they were out in the garage but that’s where the trail went cold. Combine that with the chokehold winter has had on us it was very cold Saturday and I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in going out there to hunt for them. I was able to avoid it then but when the mercury finally inched up above 20 degrees midday today we headed out.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m okay with the cold. I’ve been colder longer and can stand it enough to look around in the closed in garage but when you take the gloves off the fingers tend to numb up quickly so… But I digress.

As it turned out the hunt was a relatively short one and only required us moving a few boxes about until we found what we were looking for. What I couldn’t help but notice though as I peered into a few boxes of stuff was the sheer number of things that we own. This isn’t to say that we’re buried amidst thousands of things but then again it likely surpasses that number were I to count it all up. The downside of which isn’t so much that each and every item cost us money at one time but more that it’s costing us still today.

Sure, we could have kept the Xbox controllers tucked away in the house but even if this journey didn’t involve them the fact of the matter remains that with each item that comes into our lives we sign up for a life long chore of time spent with or for the items. Like children dropped off at our doorstep in the dark of the night these things need our care. First we spend the time researching the item to see if it’s worthy of our love, then hunting the best deal, then the trip to get it, etc. All in all it’s a long list when you think about it.

  1. Research – to know it’s exactly what we want and need (careful, the word “need” can cost you).
  2. More research – to find the best deal.
  3. Checking the budget to make sure you have the money before you spend it.
  4. Taking the drive to get the item – or pulling the trigger online instead.
  5. Unboxing the new thing and discarding the box or container it arrived in.
  6. Finding a place for it on your home.
  7. Getting rid of the original thing should this amount a a replacement.
  8. Caring for it once it’s in place – this lasts for as long as you own it.
  9. Insuring it – if it’s of high value.
  10. Protecting it from theft.

I concede that 9 and 10 could be lumped into number 8 (caring for it) but you get the picture. Multiply it by the thousands of items you own and before you know it they’re robbing you of your most precious commodity and that is time. Today as I peered in some boxes and moved a few about looking for the controller it was like reading court documents sentencing me to prison time, and I was not only the prisoner but the judge and warden as well.

Unfortunately, to free myself from this sentence I need to take action which while it is more time the payoff is huge which is more freedom! I’ve already adopted the lifestyle choice of less stuff when it comes to new purchases, I just need to eliminate more of the existing inventory to get to where I want to be which is a minimalist lifestyle. The full phrase that I used as the subject line in this article reads “If I had a nickel for every time that happened, I would be rich” but in my case I’d apply it to things. If I had a nickle… Perhaps I will as eBay beckons and spring approaches. At least according to the calendar anyway. ツ

My new book is live!

Book coverAfter 2 months of self learning what I needed to do to get an ebook written, formatted and published my book “Paycheck to paycheck budgeting with YNAB” is available now on Amazon.

The cover pretty much tells what you’ll find inside but I’ve included steps on importing and reconciling as well to help new users cover all of the bases they’ll need as they get up to speed.

Now that it’s live I’m going to focus on another book (details soon) and with any luck it won’t take as long to go live. ツ


It’s the acquisition, not the possession

I have a 13 year old daughter and like many teenagers she is (unfortunately) in love with stuff. As much as I’d rather keep things to a minimum I can’t begrudge her desires for items but when she does get the new shiny I’ve noticed a trend. For that matter I’ve noticed it in myself at times.

What I’m talking about is the fervent want that goes into the lead up to acquiring a new item of any sort followed soon after by the near lack of interest in the item. In other words, it’s the thought of the new item that grabs hold of us like an addiction that we think can only be cured by the acquisition of it. The trouble is though once you have it in hand it takes very little time before it starts to gather dust. Or, as the title above suggests; It’s the acquisition not the possession that really matters. Actually owning the item is nowhere near as emotionally important as acquiring it.

Now this isn’t true for everything you buy of course but if you look around your life you may well be able to see examples of this in your own life and it applies to both tangible items as well as digital. For example I’ve found myself longing for software that would complete a certain task for me to make things easier. Since it’s so easy to justify items in your mind – I’m an expert at it unfortunately – I’d run off scouring the web looking for what I needed until I found it. After some due diligence in vetting it out by way of user reviews and video demos I’d plop down my hard earned cash for the fix. The high of that acquisition wouldn’t always last though and buyers remorse would set in sometimes sooner than later.

You may have noticed that I used the word “need” above when describing the quest for the fix. Sure, I needed it for the task in mind but let’s be honest, it was a want and wants will rob you of your money.

This isn’t to say that that everything you desire should be avoided. Some items that you convince yourself that you need can be both wants and true needs that fill a niche in your life and provide the comfort and ease you expected them to provide. Those items are fine and are worth both your time in researching them as well as budgeting for them. I’m merely suggesting that you give yourself more time before pulling that trigger and getting the item.

The missing link

I was never taught money. Or more to the point, I was never taught how to handle it. As such when I starting earning money I used it for what it was designed for – spending. At first it was a powerful experience as I was in charge and could, within the limits of my $100/week income, buy whatever I wanted. The problem with that though is I would quickly run out of cash and have to wait until the next payday to get more only to repeat the cycle.

After many years of this rather painful existence I started to come around to the idea that I was doing it all wrong so I started to seek out answers to get away from the roller coaster ride and all of the difficulties that come with it. The answer of course was budgeting, but you know that much. In fact you may know it all too well but you just can’t seem to connect the dots to make it work for you. That was the case with me back in 2001 after I first discovered Dave Ramsey on the radio one-day. After listening to him for just a short while I realized his baby step approach to getting out of debt made perfect sense but I just could not get the budget figured out. At least not the way Dave does it with a forward-looking crystal ball approach where you guess at how much money you’re going to receive. But I digress, the missing link I’m referring to above isn’t how to budget but is instead what specific element might make a difference for you to finally apply what you already know you need to do.

In other words, you know you need a budget, you might even be working at one, but it never seems to completely gel.

For some people it’s as simple as watching a video on how it’s done. For others reading a manual tips the scale. For others though I think the missing link that makes the difference is person-to-person motivation. Being able to sit down with someone else who is going through the same issues you’re having and being able to bounce questions off of them while they do the same to you. Would that work for you? Or is the thought of bearing your financial soul to others too scary to comprehend?

During my tenure at YNAB I often asked for and received the budget files of people who had questions and concerns. Some were in great shape, while others we’re barely scraping by. In every single case though I never judged them as a person but instead worked with them to help them better understand the YNAB methodology and what they could do to get ahead.

So my question to you is this; Would you be interested in sitting down around a table or living room to talk budgeting and how you can get ahead with others? Could that be your missing link?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comments below. ツ

Monster Digital OTG Cloud review

There appear to be an ever growing stream of devices designed to allow you to expand and access your mobile empire of digital content while also allowing you to stream the content to various devices. The new Monster Digital “OTG Cloud” (short for On-The-Go Cloud) device fits the bill nicely but without being a storage device in and of itself as so many others are. Instead, the OTG allows you to use a variety of common digital storage media to connect to it and then broadcast it to multiple devices at the same time via Wi-Fi. That, and it can act as both a card reader when plugged into a Mac or PC as well as hook to a wired network cable creating a Wi-Fi network access point for you.

The OTG is thin and feels like a small, and very light, cell phone in your hand despite sporting a 2000mAH rechargeable battery. It accepts SD, SDHC, SDXC, microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC, (up to 64GB) and USB (up to 2TB) without a hitch. It has a soft rubbery feel to it that makes it feel solid and not slippery at all. Given the lightness of the product though I doubt it would be damaged even if you did drop it.

As for connectivity?
Monster has free native iOS and Android apps but even without an app you can access and enjoy the content using any web browser. Thanks to the ability to stream an HD movie to up to 5 devices at once I was able to test it out using a single .m4v video file I’d copied to the included 8GB Micro SD card and had it successfully playing without a hitch to an iPhone 5S, Android LG G3, Amazon Kindle HDX 9, Nokia Lumia icon and my MacBook Air all at the same time with the video playing at different points. This sort of flexibility means it should work for you regardless of what device you may have allowing you to create your own cloud for long road trips or just act as a central media hub at home.

It’s not all just video of course as any files can be stored and shared including music, documents, presentations and of course pictures.

One more trick up its sleeve is the ability to be used as a backup power supply for your cell phone or tablet thanks to the built in 2000mAH battery. The standard sized USB port will supply this power with the unit switched on or off. While I haven’t yet tested it to see how far it will fill up the tank so to speak I was surprised and pleased to see my LG G3 accept it as charging once I connected the cell phone to it. I say this only because the G3 is finicky when it comes to charging and will actually refuse to charge if the power being supplied isn’t powerful enough.

Last, but not least, is the included network port that is cleverly protected under a snap back cover that allows it to accept a network plug despite the OTG being thinner than the plug. Once plugged in you can configure it to share the Internet (if present on the network) while continuing to stream the data files contained on the cards or USB drive plugged into it. The only caveat being that when in that mode half of the bandwidth – of the OTG – is reserved to streaming while half is reserved to passing the Internet signal along. Overall this shouldn’t hold things up too much and you can configure it to only serve as a router if need for full duplex Internet access. When I tested it up against my DSL wireless router and an Airport Extreme around 60 feet away through several walls it had more bandwidth and signal strength than my ISP provided DSL router and nearly as much strength as the Airport Extreme.

If I had to ding it on any one point it would have to be the lack of a battery percentage level via either the custom apps or a web browser. Battery level is only indicated by the color of the LED battery light with a published range of green equaling 50-100%, orange 20-50% and red (‘nearly dead’? 😉 ) indicating 0-20% charge remaining.

The MSRP is $99.99 USD but can be had for around $70 online and as low as $29.99 at Sam’s Clubs through December 2nd making it a fantastic deal.

Overall It’s a great device that is simply crammed with flexibility and just outright ability for that matter making it a solid addition to any digital warrior’s bag of tricks. And thanks to its small size and multiple abilities it qualifies as a reasonable minimalist lifestyle purchase.

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • USB, SD & Micro SD card ports
  • Acts as an SD card reader
  • Appears as a network drive on Macs and PCs
  • Portable Wi-Fi router capability
  • Charges cell phones and tablets
  • Wi-Fi Security settings


  • Lack of battery percentage via app or browser


More information can be found via the links below.

Loans first utilities second

If you’ve ever listened to Dave Ramsey before then the title of this post sounds like it goes directly against what he would say. After all if you are struggling and are in such a dire position that you can’t pay all of your bills then this advice is wrong.

But what I’ll be talking about here is not what you should do in that situation but is instead geared toward those of you that are getting up to speed with your budgets. You are feeling good about how it all works and are looking for ways to save.  This is one of those ways.

Aside from items such as food or transportation costs, two of the big players in your budget could well be loans and utilities. Lumped in with the utilities are any regular item that makes your life easier whether needed or not. For example:

  • Electricity
  • Telephone
  • Internet service
  • Cell phones
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Netflix™
  • Audible.com™
  • HULU Plus™

Essentially any service for which you owe a monthly bill that is generally due around the same date each month. Loans of course behave in much the same way inasmuch that it’s a set payment and it is due once a month near or about always on the same day every month.

The trick is to understand the difference between the two. On the one hand you have the utilities, they provide a service, metered or not and are more than happy to wait until the actual payment due date in order to recieve the money that you owe. Paying them early is fine but honestly they don’t care and as long as it’s paid on or before the set due date then it won’t affect you (or your credit rating) one iota. The payment amount due is the same whether paid on time or paid early.

Loans however are different, the interest attached to them creeps up with every day. Paying it on the due date is perfectly okay with the lending institution of course but if you can pay it early then you gain.


Easy, allow me to explain.

In most cases loans of all types are compounded daily. The trick then is to pay the loan payments as soon as you can and maintain that pattern which over time can save you a lot of money.  Take for example a loan for $10,000 taken out for a period of 4 years. In this example let’s say that the interest rate being charged is  6%.

That being the case then it would breakdown something like this:

  • Principal borrowed: $10000
  • Monthly Payment: $ 234.85
  • Total Interest: $ 1272.81
  • Total paid: $11272.81
  • Avg Int each Month: $ 26.52

The way to understanding this is to understand how interest is calculated. The formula is generally rate divided by 12 (months in a year) times the principal balance equals interest due. In the very first month of our example loan $50 of the payment would be interest with the remaining $184.85 going to principal. The next month the same formula is applied and the interest charged would be a little less this month at $49.08 paid.

The thing is though, banks and other lending institutions don’t wait until the month is over to calculate the payment, they do it daily. If you take a close look at your paperwork or if you get a statement you will see a daily periodic rate that is simply a fraction of the interest rate being charged. In this case that amount would be around 0.0164%. Now, this may not seem like much but in the early days of your loan it amounts to over a dollar and a half per day. The meter is always running and even though it may not seem like much, knocking down what you have to pay even if only by pennies at a time is worth it and the effort required to do so is minimal.

Your goal then is to make that 0.0164% mean less and less by paying your payments as early as possible each month. When you do so you ultimately pay less over the life of the loan and at the same time you help maintain your good standing as a credit worthy person should that be your goal.

To summarize, if you are operating your budget using YNAB and you have a full buffer in place, then if it near the end of the month and you have most of your paychecks in the bank just waiting to go to work? Then take advantage of your position of being ahead and pay the loan payments due even if the due date is near the end of the next month. Even if over the life of the loan you can’t ever seem to get far enough ahead with your entire budget to pay more than the regular payments, this approach of paying early is nearly equal to paying just one extra payment over the life of the loan which will save you over $100 overall.

Not bad for simply paying loans first and utilities second.

The YNAB Buffer

If you’ve ever been to the YNAB forums before then you have more than likely heard of this thing called a “Buffer”. If I had to describe it in a line I would say that it’s simply a reserve of cash that you earned last month that you use this month to spend and save. The way to keep that going is nearly automatic since if you aren’t spending this month’s money then it is building up to become the buffer for next month.

But I digress, describing something by the scientific mechanics in which it lives just serves to confuse people. So with that in mind allow me to put it another way by painting a picture for you.

Every month bills come due.

Some are predictable, others are not, but even the ones that aren’t predictable can be guessed at with a fair amount of accuracy. Then of course there are other expenses, food and gas usually top the list followed by entertainment. After that the list begins to narrow down to saving for annual expenses or rainy days. Normally most people approach each month – and the outflows of money that will occur – with dread since they most likely have to juggle paychecks and payments figuring out how to keep them all in the air without dropping one of the payments. Some people refer to it as “timing” your paychecks to match the payments. That fits I suppose but what if there were a better way?

Would you try it?

Imagine if you will that instead of receiving a paycheck once a week or every other (or whatever odd frequency) that instead you received a check on the first day of the month that equaled all of the paychecks that you would normally get in a month? If you take that as a good thing then consider what it would be like to sit down on the afternoon of the 1st day of each month and write out all of the checks, authorize all of the electronic payments and otherwise pay all of your bills in one sitting, one day a month. After that you would set aside enough money to float you through the month to pay for groceries, gasoline and entertainment with enough left over for short and long range plans as well.

If you were to do so then you would essentially be living under Rules 1, 2 & 3 of the YNAB methodology and by doing so you would eliminate (or at least seriously reduce) money stress in your life. Then, as long as you have your budget written down (or better yet in the YNAB software) you could take advantage of Rule 4 and “Live on Last Month’s Income”.

This my friend is all there is to what is known as the “Buffer”, one full month’s worth of expenses in cash saved up for and used to do exactly as I’ve described above.

The power of the buffer cannot be overestimated, strive for it and once you get there you won’t go back to juggling ever again.

The problem with stuff

In short, I have too much of it.

You see, I was brought up from an early age to believe that more things (owning more stuff) meant more happiness. In the short term that always proved to be true, or at least it felt that way. But as I’m learning, that thinking was wrong.

I was fortunate enough to have a birthday halfway through the year in July, so twice a year, once on my birthday, and then once again at Christmas in December, I’d get more stuff! When I got on my own and got a job and started earning money that just meant even more stuff. It wasn’t so much zeal as it was necessity, at least at furst. I was living on my own, I had my own apartment so I needed pots, pans, blankets, clothing, you name it. I needed all that stuff.

As the years passed on by I’d get more and more then when my penchant for  technology kicked in it only accelerated with VHS movies, music CDs, and on and on it went. Then, I got married, her stuff combined with my stuff and we kept right on going!

Flash forward to the future, we have four children, we’ve moved many times through the years and each time we moved we purchase more for every birthday, every Christmas, even ‘just because we can’. More stuff. Now that three of four children have moved out it’s clear to see that we have too much stuff. Do we really need 15 plates? 15 cups? Not that we ever needed 15 sets of dinnerware to begin with but it just seemed to happen over time like they walked in while we were sleeping or something. Creepy, to say the least.

The problem though with maintaining all of this stuff, and worse yet purchasing more, is that it takes time away from your life. Regardless of how small or insignificant the item might have been when you purchased it you first had to decide to purchase it, research it, travel to get it, transport it home, find a place for it, take care of it, keep it clean, keep it safe, and perhaps even insure it.

This goes without even discussing moving around with it, moving around it while at home, or stressing out over it if it breaks and you need to replace it, or gets stolen, or you simply can’t find it when you need it. And don’t forget how much money it cost you over the years.

The good news is there’s a solution! I didn’t invented but I’m absolutely committed to chasing it down. In a word – minimizing. The benefits of adopting a minimalist lifestyle are irrefutable.

Here’s a short list:

  • More time – the less stuff you buy an own and maintain and clean give you more time.
  • Less stress – if you don’t have a house full of valuable items to worry about being ruined or destroyed or stolen that’s less stressful. Not to mention fact that less items mean less things to clean or take care of giving you more time to pursue your hobbies.
  • More money – this one’s a no-brainer but honestly if I had adopted this thinking years ago I would’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars through the years. Money that I don’t have to now try to come up with to save for retirement or other important goals.
  • Freedom! – Think about it. If you didn’t have all of the stuff that you have now but instead simply had high quality items in the freedom to move about in your home regardless of the size think of the freedom it would give you.