Category Archives: How To Guides

How to Live on One Income and Still Live the Good Life

The dual income family is quickly becoming the norm. According to one study, even as long ago as 2002, only 7 percent of U.S. households were single income families in which only the husband worked. In 2017, the demands of debt, car payments, and other money stress have made it even harder for families to live on one income.

The dual income family is now normal. But you can live on one income without poor quality of life. In fact, you can live the good life! Read how we lived on a single income while still having fun!Dual income households have some advantages over single income households, but I firmly believe the choice largely comes down to personal preference and individual circumstances. But the choice to live on one income doesn’t have to be as restricting or depressing as it may sound. It’s very possible to live well on a single income even if it is modest.

My wife and I are proof that it is possible to thrive, have fun, travel, and live on income all at the same time. Today, we both work multiple jobs – like Dave Ramsey says, Live Like No One Else So Later You Can Live AND Give Like No One Else – but our life was radically different in 2010.

Operation: Live on One Income

My wife, Meg, and I were married in July 2010. I had completed my first year as a music teacher and she was a college senior. I was laid off by my school district because of crippling budget cuts shortly before our wedding, so when our pastor said the whole “richer or poorer” line during our vows, it took every ounce of strength I had in me not to laugh out loud.

I spent the first month of our marriage collecting unemployment and interviewing for jobs without any luck. One week before school resumed a huge weight was lifted our shoulders when I was offered a return to my old job out of the blue.

Getting my job back was a major victory, but it still gave us one income stream. Some people in our lives doubted that we could live on one income, but to be honest, we were just thrilled to have an income! Still, we knew that life wasn’t going to be perfect or easy.

How We Did It

At times, living on one income was stressful and even depressing. I wasn’t bringing in fat stacks of cash as a second year teacher, so we had to be very intentional about how we spent and saved every dollar I earned. We also decided to focus on the big things in our budget and doing everything we could to keep them in check. We didn’t overlook the little things, either, but we knew that we could find more bang for our bucks by focusing on the big things.

First, we made a unique budget every month and pledged to stick to it. I tracked every single transaction every single day using Gazelle Budget so we could always have an accurate picture of our spending for the month. When all of the budgeted money had been spent for a category, we literally didn’t spend another cent. If it was crucial, we decreased the budget for another category to add more money to categories in need.

Related:

Second, we constantly looked for ways to save as much money as possible on groceries. This category was the second largest part of our part next to our rent, and we knew that keeping food spending under control would be important. We shopped mostly at Aldi and picked up sale items at a few other local stores. Leftovers became our go to meals a few nights per week, and we never went out for lunch. On average, we spent between $350 and $400 per month on groceries. Some months we really stepped up our game and spent as little as $250.

Recommended Reading:

Third, my wife and I found a place to rent for far less than the average rental price in the area. Before we got married, I spent at least five hours per week searching listings and making phone calls about available apartments and condos. My hard work paid off when we found a nice 3 bedroom, 1.1 bathroom condo for rent for 25% less than the area average. Avoiding corporate apartments saved us thousands of dollars over the four years we rented.

What We Didn’t Do

Now that we both work and own a home, I often think back to the days when we lived on one income. We were definitely frugal in many ways, but we could have cut back even more in many areas.

First, we paid for cable TV and DVR service with Comcast. It was one of the few luxuries we allowed ourselves, to be honest, and even though our cable and internet cost us around $90 per month at the time, it served as our main entertainment. We rarely went out to the movies, checked out concerts, or even went bowling.  So even though cable was expensive, it probably helped us avoid temptation to spend more money.

Related:

Second, we still ate our at restaurants once or twice per month. Looking back, I can’t really justify this spending. It would have been cheaper to cook at home, but we honestly cherished the few nights out each month. And most of our meals out were using discounts found on Groupon or Restaurant.com, which usually helped us eat out for under $20.

Related:

Third, we still stopped for an occasional trip to Starbucks each month. It’s obvious that drinking coffee is much cheaper when you do it home, but we did a good job of keeping coffee spending in check overall. Again, we knew that focusing on the big things would have a bigger impact on our budget so we didn’t sweat the occasional $4 latte.

You Can Live Well on One Income

If you gain anything from reading this article, I hope you see that it is possible to live on one income without accepting poor quality of life. My wife and I only lived on one income for a little less than a year, but we could have done it much longer. We didn’t suffer or go without necessities. We didn’t even pursue ways to make extra money!

Related:

21 Simple Ways to Make Extra Money Even If You’re Busy

Maybe living on one income is your choice, and maybe it’s not. It’s important to remember that more money isn’t always the answer to your problems. Dual income households have problems, too. How you will live comes down to personal preference and individual circumstances whether you have one income stream or several.


Do you live on one income? What tips and tricks help you to do so?

How to Cut the Cord, Save Money, and Still Watch TV

Confession time: I really like TV! I don’t watch much TV these days, but I have a few shows that I hate to miss. We still have cable and DVR service, mostly because it is one of the few luxuries we allow ourselves to enjoy in an otherwise strict budget. One of the most asked questions I hear is “How can I cut the cord but still watch all of my favorite shows and sports?”

Cable and satellite are expensive! We'll show you how to cut the cord and save money while still watching all your TV shows, movies, and sports - legally!Today, there are more options than ever before to say goodbye to cable or satellite, save money, and still watch most or all of your favorite shows and teams. You’re probably familiar with many of the options, but when it comes to saving money, you should always gather as much information as possible, weigh the pros and cons, and go with the solutions that work best for your family.

Side Note: Word has it that there are also plenty of illegal ways to watch your favorite shows and teams online. That’s called breaking the law, and it’s not a smart move – even if it helps you save money!

Check out the following ways to cut the cord and still watch your favorite TV legally and free up some serious cash in your budget!

Common and FREE Ways to Cut the Cord

Thanks to the wonders of the internet and bandwidth growth over the past decade, you can watch many of your favorite shows and even sporting events for FREE online. Here are some of my favorites:

WatchESPN 

According to their website, live and archived content on WatchESPN is available to anyone who subscribes to a participating TV or internet provider. You can stream events using their mobile app or webpage as soon as you have authenticated an account – this process only takes a few minutes. In many cases, you can stream the event to your TV using your Apple TV, Roku Streaming StickRoku ExpressRoku UltraPlayStation®4, Google Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV.

CBSSports

Similar to WatchESPN, you can stream content through CBSSports after authenticating your participating provider. I recently watched NCAA tournament basketball games through the app with my brother-in-law and was impressed by the quality.

HD Antenna

In many areas you can access a surprising number of channels using a standard HD Antenna. The 1byone Amplified HDTV Antenna, along with other options, has a 50 mile range and excellent ratings. Most users can access most of the standard area networks in crystal clear HD – and it’s FREE.

The Next Step Up

If over-the-air network television and streaming sports networks available through your internet provider aren’t enough, subscription services are your next best bet.

Netflix

Netflix has become the leader in streaming TV content in many areas. An HD plan costs only $11.99 per month, and it allows you to stream HD and Ultra HD content on up to 4 screens, download select content to watch without an internet connection, and watch unlimited TV and movies. You can also get a FREE one month trial.

Netflix also has branched out in the last few years and has produced compelling original content (Making a Murderer, Stranger Things, Fuller House, and countless others). It is our favorite streaming service.

Hulu

Hulu is emerging as a strong competitor with other rivals. They offer two plans: the Limited Commercial Plan, which includes -shocker of shockers -limited commercial interruptions for $7.99 per month, and the No Commercials Plan for $11.99 per month. You can try both with their FREE one month trial.

If you prefer TV over movies, Hulu has a better selection than Netflix overall. They also offer quicker access to TV shows during a current season, while users have to wait a while for shows to hit Netflix.

Amazon 

Not to be outdone, Amazon also offers its own streaming service via Prime Video. Users can stream thousands of TV shows, movies, and original Amazon content for $8.99 per month.

On a related note, Amazon Prime members also receive the benefits of streaming music, FREE shipping on Amazon purchases, Kindle books, and photo storage. You can receive a FREE 30 day trial when you sign-up here.

More Advanced Options

Despite the affordability and convenience of the previously-listed services, many TV viewers still want more. This is the exact reason that many people are afraid to cut the cord!

SlingTV offers viewers access to popular cable/satellite channels without the hassle of contracts, hidden fees, and poor customer service – all without the high prices of cable or satellite.

Here’s how it works:

  • Users can stream SlingTV at home or on the go on their TV, computer, tablet, or mobile device.
  • Shows are available via live stream, and some shows are available on demand.
  • Users can customize their channel lineup to receive only the channels they want and need. The Sling Orange Plan is only $20 per month, while the Sling Blue Plan offers more channels for only $25 per month (see channel line-ups below).
  • Video replay is available
  • New customers can take advantage of current deals on devices
  • Extras and add-ons are available for premium sports networks, movie channels, and international content. Most add-on content starts at an additional $5 per month.

Cable and satellite are expensive! We'll show you how to cut the cord and save money while still watching all your TV shows, movies, and sports - legally!

Cable and satellite are expensive! We'll show you how to cut the cord and save money while still watching all your TV shows, movies, and sports - legally!

Currently, SlingTV does not offer any DVR-like functions, but there have been rumblings that a similar feature could be coming in the future. You can try SlingTV for FREE with a 7 day trial when you sign-up here.

Options for Displaced Sports Fans

When I first moved from Michigan to Chicagoland, I became an even greater die-hard fan of my Michigan teams. I used to go to great lengths to watch the Detroit Lions, Pistons, Tigers, and Red Wings, and it was expensive!

Cable and satellite are expensive! We'll show you how to cut the cord and save money while still watching all your TV shows, movies, and sports - legally!If you’re a fellow displaced fan and still want to watch your favorite team without spending hundreds of dollars on NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL packages, there is an affordable solution.

The Slingbox allows users to take their TV content in HD with them anywhere there is an internet connection. My parents live in Michigan and technically are the owners of the Slingbox that I use. I connect to the device on the Slingbox app and can stream live and recorded (via DVR) Lions, Pistons, Tigers, and Red Wings games (and anything else on TV in Michigan) directly to my TV through my Apple TV console. There is even an on-screen remote control that looks exactly like the one my parents have at their house!

The Slingbox 500, the highest-rated model, currently sells for  a retail price of $250, which means that the device pays for itself in one season when compared to the purchase of the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL packages. I have saved at least $1,000 over the past several years thanks to my Slingbox.

If you’re not a major sports fan, you can get by just fine without a Slingbox. If you are a sports nut like me, the Slingbox is HANDS DOWN the best way to watch your favorite out-of-town teams.

Useful Devices

One of the best parts about cutting the cord and still watching TV is quite literally that you don’t even need a TV to do it! You can watch content just fine on mobile devices, tablets, and computers.

If you’ve already invested in that stunning 70-inch LCD TV and don’t plan to part with it, there are plenty of affordable ways to stream content to your TV through the services mentioned above.

Here are a few of the most popular devices:

Depending on your circumstances, you could get by with just one of these devices; some users might not need one at all depending on their existing equipment.

You CAN Watch TV Without Spending a Fortune!

Cable and satellite costs have risen drastically over the years, but there are more options than ever before to cut the cord, save money, and still watch your favorite teams and shows. Free apps, streaming services like Hulu and SlingTV, and countless other devices have leveled the playing field for consumers.

If you’re looking to Take Back Control of Your Life and Money, the decision to cut the cord can help you accomplish both! Use this guide to check out and evaluate what solutions might work best for your family, take advantage of free trials, and start saving money today!


Have you cut the cord? What services and devices do you use? What other tips did we miss?

If you haven’t cut the cord yet, what is holding you back?

11 Fail-Proof Grocery Hacks to Save on Food

It’s a cold, hard fact: food is ridiculously expensive! The average household spends anywhere from 5-20% of its monthly budget at the grocery store. Why exactly is it so hard for most families to save on food?

Food is expensive! If poor habits have you spending too much money on food, there is hope. These 11 tips are easy and can help you cut your grocery spending and save on food each month.Like most life and money problems, poor habits are often to blame. You and I have great intentions to be the hero our spouses and kids deserve, but it can be hard to change and transform new practices into permanent habits. You may need to step back and re-evaluate your routines from time to time. Your grocery list is no exception.

The solutions to spending too much on groceries may surprise you. Extreme changes are rarely lasting – that’s why most diets fail – but smaller, manageable changes can make a huge difference. So skip fasting, fad diets, and eliminating occasional sweets from your grocery list and try the tips below instead. As you’ll see, you can save on food without suffering!

How to Save on Food – 11 Tips to Tame Your Out of Control Grocery Spending

If you’re struggling to save on food, find yourself staring at a full pantry yet have nothing to eat, and can’t figure out why there is always too much month left after your grocery money runs each out each month, read on. These 11 tips will help you save on food costs, eat better, and save time each month!

1. Create a Plan – and Stick to It!

If you’ve ever found yourself grocery shopping without a list, you have probably experienced the pains of shopping for groceries without a plan. In my experience, this leads to

-wasting money buying ingredients you already have at home
-wasting time back-tracking throughout the store
-buying expensive prepared food items on impulse

Before grocery shopping, take stock of ingredients remaining in the refrigerator and pantry. If you have items that will soon perish, plan meals which will make use of them right away. From there, continue to make a list of the items you will need to cook your remaining meals – again, be sure to buy only what you need.

2. Buy Diverse and Purposeful Ingredients

I’m sure I can’t be the only one who has opened up the pantry to door to find 8 cans of diced tomatoes, a bag of croutons, olive oil, two boxes of saltine crackers, and a can of baked beans. Staring into a full pantry yet seeing nothing to eat is an awful feeling. You can save on food every week and curb hunger by making sure you keep diverse and purposeful items in your pantry at all times.

These go-to items may be different for your family, but they are consistent in our household. At any given time, our pantry and freezer contain:

-spaghetti/other red sauce
-white and brown rice
-various frozen vegetables
-frozen chicken tenderloins
-chicken broth
-farfalle noodles (or similar noodle)

At any time we are able to prepare 5-6 unique meals from these on-hand ingredients alone. These items have a long shelf life, and they are usually purchased on sale (see number 3). A diverse stash of in-stock ingredients helps eliminate costly last-minute trips for missing ingredients.

3. Buy In Bulk During Sales

The best way to keep diverse items on hand and save on food is by buying in bulk during sales. It’s important to avoid going overboard, but savings add up quickly during sales. For example, we have taken advantage of buy-one-get-one-free sales on frozen vegetables and purchased bulk family packs of meat to save money.

4. Use Ibotta to Save

If couponing is too time consuming and boring for you, thank your smart phone. Ibotta is a free money saving app that helps you save money on food, other groceries, new clothes, or ordering food.

Saving with Ibotta is simple. First, sign-up for free using my link - you'll receive a $10 welcome bonus just for signing up. Then download the app (available for Android and iOS) – you’ll need it later to scan your receipt. Next, find your go-to stores (click here for a list of 365 participating stores) in the app, link store loyalty accounts, unlock available rebates, and go shopping. When you’re finished, scan the bar codes of items featuring a rebate, snap a picture of your receipt, and submit. You’ll receive cash back into your Ibotta account within 48 hours.

Ibotta offers rebates on a wide range of products, including $2.00-$5.00 rebates on many varieties of beer/wine, toiletries, snack foods, and over the counter medicine, among other items. Again, Ibotta is FREE to use and you'll receive a $10 BONUS if you sign-up today.

4. Shop at Aldi

If you haven’t visited Aldi recently, you might be pleasantly surprised if you give it another chance. The growing grocer has expanded its offerings, including organic options, to help shoppers save money on food and live a healthier life.

Across the country, Aldi stores are being renovated and redesigned to compete with grocery giant Whole Foods. Aldi is currently investing $1.6 billion to remodel 1,300 of its 1,600 stores by 2020. Low prices and won’t be affected by these changes, the company insists.

5. Shop Locally For Meat

Balancing the desire to support local farmers with the need to save money on food can be difficult for families on a budget. Zaycon Fresh is aiming to change that one community at a time.

Zaycon Fresh provides high-quality, farm fresh meat directly from local farmers to your table – and their prices typically beat even Aldi and Wal-Mart! When you sign-up for FREE, Zaycon will leverage the buying power of several local families on your behalf and help you save money on food by purchasing items in bulk. They send daily e-mail alerts on local sales events, and when you place your order, they take care of the rest. When your order is ready, you bring your receipt to a designated pick-up location near your home and collect your fresh, inexpensive meat without even leaving your car.

Zaycon Fresh is currently available in 1,200 communities nationwide, and you can sign-up for FREE to save money on food today.

6. Ditch Family Style and Plate Portions For Family

Have you ever prepared enough food to last for two meals only to have hungry family members take seconds or thirds, leaving you with you no meal for the next day? This was my wife’s biggest complaint about my eating habits when we were still newly-weds.

You can save money on food and ensure meals are stretched further by plating meals yourself rather than allowing family members to serve themselves family style. Controlled portions will ensure that your kids don’t waste half of their dinner, and as a bonus, everyone will avoid overeating.

7. Shop the Perimeter of the Store

Ever notice that fresh produce, meat and dairy, and seafood are located on the edges of your favorite grocery store? Marketers don’t want you to know this, but most grocery stores are designed to funnel consumers toward the middle of the store and keep you there until your cart is full. If you shop the perimeter of your grocery store, you will avoid expensive processed and prepared foods and save money on food by filling your cart with nutritionally-dense food.

Ready-to-eat foods are convenient, but the cost is steep, both financially and nutritionally. Fresh foods will make your wallet and body happy.

8. Eat Breakfast for Dinner Once Per Week

Experts claim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not have it twice? Eating breakfast for dinner is an easy way to save money on food simply because many breakfast foods are inexpensive.

For a few dollars per person, you can make pancakes, American fries, and eggs into a great dinner. Steel cut oats and breakfast sausage or bacon can also satisfy even the biggest appetites at a minimal cost.

9. Cut Empty Calories

Isn’t it ironic that some of the least nutritionally-dense foods are the most expensive? Soda, candy, and ice cream are the biggest culprits, and even though they are delicious, they may be killing your grocery budget. Cut your spending in half in this area and you’ll notice a big improvement.

10. Use $5 Meal Plan

If you’ve tried all of the previous tips without success, it may be time to get more help – that’s where $5 Meal Plan comes to the rescue. If you’re skeptical, try it for FREE for 14 days and see for yourself.

The $5 Meal Plan process is simple. Each Friday at 11 AM ET, you’ll receive a meal plan in your e-mail inbox. The meal plan includes a shopping list and a detailed menu complete with the following:

  • Five dinner entrees with sides – Each week they include one freezer friendly, one slow cooker, and one 20-minute meal.
  • One lunch and one breakfast, plus,
  • A random goodie each week – sometimes dessert, sometimes a beverage, and sometimes it’ll be a snack (sometimes more than one!)
  • Gluten-free options (upon request)

When you sign-up you’ll receive access to a private Facebook group to share recipes and tips with other subscribers.

If meal planning just isn’t working out, I recommend giving $5 Meal Plan a try. Again, you have nothing to lose when you sign-up for their FREE 14-day trial.

11. Use the Cash Envelope System

I know many people who make a plan, shop with their list, and overspend their grocery budget week after week. If you find yourself here, don’t lose hope – the cash envelope system may be the solution you need to save money on food!

Food is expensive! If poor habits have you spending too much money on food, there is hope. These 11 tips are easy and can help you cut your grocery spending and save on food each month.The cash envelope system is simple. Divide your monthly grocery budget by the number of weeks in the current month (or shopping trips you plan to take that month), place that amount of cash in an envelope prior to leaving for the store, and leave your debit and credit cards at home. You may only spend the cash you have in the envelope during your trip – and not a cent more!

This system is extreme and not for the faint of heart, and it will require discipline. It may cause embarrassment when you have to take a few items off the conveyor belt in order to stay under budget. But if you follow the system it is guaranteed to help you save on food simply because you cannot buy groceries with money you don’t have.

YOU CAN DO THIS!

It can be challenging to save on food, but you can do it if you follow the tips above. Extreme changes to your grocery habits will likely be short-lived, but the above tips are easy to implement and maintain over time. Print this list, implement a few suggestions, add in a few more, and your grocery budget will be in great shape in no time!

Don’t forget – check out Ibotta, Zaycon Fresh, and $5 Meal Plan!


What are your best tips to save money on food?

[arrow_forms id=’1792′]

How to Build A Paver Patio – A Comprehensive Step By Step DIY Guide

When my wife and I bought our current home in May 2013, we were ecstatic. The house was beautiful, even if the landscaping needed some help. We lived with the sad state of the yard for one season and gradually made improvements each month. I resurrected the lawn, tamed the overgrown shrubbery, and even planted a few rose bushes. This was fun, but my mind was on one grand idea from the start: I wanted to build a paver patio. 100% DIY. With my bare hands.

I did my research and learned the project could be very budget friendly if I selected quality, affordable materials and went with a basic design. The techniques seemed simple enough as well, even for someone who isn’t very handy – like me.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Build a Paver Patio

After months of planning, scheming at Menards and Home Depot, and buying several pallets of materials, I got started on my patio project on the first day of summer vacation. If a teacher like me – with modest DIY skills – can build his own paver patio in a matter of days, you can, too. Follow my step by step guide below to build a paver patio and begin enjoying your own backyard oasis this spring.

Step 1: Purchase Tools, Calculate Materials Needed, and Apply For a Permit (if required)

Good news – you won’t need too many tools to build a paver patio. Make a list of the following tools, check out your inventory in the garage, and buy the rest.

Tools List

  1. Garden spade
  2. Garden shovel
  3. Hose
  4. Mist nozzle
  5. Wheelbarrow
  6. Landscaping gloves
  7. Hand tamper
  8. Landscaping stakes
  9. Landscaping string
  10. Tape measure
  11. Level
  12. Rake
  13. Push broom
  14. Sharpie markers
  15. Marking paint (Rustoleum Marking Spray Paint or similar)
  16. Plate compactor (optional – rent locally)
  17. Safety goggles
  18. Landscaping fabric
  19. Landscaping nails
  20. Celebratory beverages of your choice (Summer Shandy worked for me)
  21. Rubber mallett

Materials

  1. Paver stones (*Note: I chose tumbled Belgian pavers for aesthetic reasons.)
  2. 1 inch PVC pipe, cut to length of widest walkway (Quantity will vary – minimum 2 recommended)
  3. Paver base
  4. Paver leveling sand
  5. Paver locking sand
  6. Paver sealant (optional, but highly recommended to preserve your hard work)
  7. Paver edging and/or paver edging stones
  8. 2”x4” wood joist (cut to appropriate length)

Materials Calculation

Full transparency – the materials calculation can be the most difficult part of building your paver patio. I fully recommended visiting your local Home Depot, Menards, Lowes, or other home improvement store to seek out their assistance. Provide a drawing/blueprint of your intended design, and they will be able to help you calculate the number of cubic yards of paver base and leveling sand you require. Calculating the number of paver stones needed will depend heavily on your design. I recommend purchasing an additional 10% over your minimum calculated needs to protect yourself from extra trips when pavers inevitably break or have color inconsistencies.

Guidance on Permits and Dealing with HOAs

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.If you live in a non-HOA neighborhood and have an understanding and easy-going local government, congratulations! The rest of us officially hate you, but you’re one lucky guy/gal. Youre ready to build a paver patio, so move on to Step 2!

For the rest of you: my best advice is to be patient. Your HOA and local building department will ask you to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop before they’ll give you a permit. Contact them well in advance of the date you plan to start your project, and play nice with them at every step of the way. You will get your permit if you follow the rules.

Step 2: Choose and Prepare the Area

When I decided to build a paver patio, I had a few possibilities for its location. In the end, I decided to build it adjacent to an existing concrete patio. This choice helped me determine the dimensions of the area which I needed to prepare. With my dimensions decided, I marked the area using a tape measure, landscaping stakes, and line marking spray paint.

PRO TIP: If the area you plan to build upon is currently covered with grass, use your lawn mower to cut the area as short as possible after measuring.

You will need to remove additional grass and soil beyond the eventual boarder of your patio, so be sure to include an additional 12-16” on all sides of the dimensions as you mark them.

Step 3: Remove Grass, Sod, and Soil

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.
Hero removing sod and cursing Mother Nature

With your measurements complete and construction area prepped, you are ready to remove the grass and soil. Depending upon your soil type, you may be able to complete this step using hand powered landscaping tools and lots of elbow grease. Using a sharpened garden spade, I recommend removing square foot sections of sod by outlining sections and lifting them individually into your wheel barrow – in my case I also used a trustworthy Red Flyer wagon.

PRO TIP: If you have unusually dry soil or, as in my case, find yourself dealing with rocky and dry clay, run a sprinkler for 30 minutes the evening prior to excavating the grass and soil. It will make it easier to loosen the sod.

With all of the grass/sod removed, you are ready to remove an adequate amount of soil. Depending upon your local building requirements, you may have to remove up to 12” of soil to allow for adequate space for paver base in the next step. Especially if you live in a cold climate, you will want to be sure to provide a base which more than adequately supports your patio.

As your soil allows, aim to remove soil in a manner consistent with the desired grade of your planned patio. Contrary to popular belief, it is usually best to design your patio with a very slight pitch angled away from the foundation of your home to ensure that water runs away from the foundation of your home – a level patio is only desirable in rare circumstances.

Step 4: Add Paver Base

If you purchased bags of paver base, move them into the now excavated area using your wheelbarrow. Dump the base in consistent, even layers throughout the entire area and rake the base to spread it evenly. Periodically pause and use your hand tamper to ensure that the paver base is tight and compact. You will also went to lightly wet the area as you tamp it.

I saved a significant amount of money by using a hand tamper rather than renting a plate compactor, but my forearms and biceps paid dearly for this decision. If you are using a hand tamper, I recommend tamping each square foot of your base approximately 100 times to ensure that your base is firm and secure. Need I remind you about the man who built his house on shifting sands?

PRO TIP: When your base is secure, measure, cut, and place your landscaping fabric over the top of the base. Secure it using landscaping nails. This step is optional, but it will greatly cut down on weed intrusion in the future.

Step 5: Add and Level Paver Sand

Place your pre-cut 1 inch PVC pipes on top of your firmly tamped paver base. Carefully pour leveling sand in between the PVC pipes and on all sides in two to three feet increments. Then place your 2”x4” on the PVC pipes and screed, or drag, the board across the pipes gently to level the paver sand. While you can access the area, gently lift out the PVC pipes, fill and level those voids with leveling sand, and replace the pipes along the path. Continue this process until the entire patio area is covered with paver leveling sand.

Step 6: Place the Paver Stones Individually

Prior to placing your paver stones, pick a corner or side to start in and very lightly mist the paver leveling sand. Begin laying the paver stones according to pattern you designed while being careful not to drag the stones across the leveling sand. Set adjacent paver stones to be snug against neighboring stones. I recommend gently tapping them into place using a rubber mallet.

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.If you’re looking to build a paver patio featuring an easy design, a basket weave or herringbone pattern is classic and timeless. These designs are also time-savers, as they don’t require any cutting. I went with a modified basket weave pattern (see picture to the right) to add character. Continue following your design pattern until all stones are in place while ensuring that you lightly sections of leveling sand before continuing. It is also very helpful to have another person hand you stones of varying colors while you complete this step.

When all of your paver stones are in place, step back and be sure that you did not make any errors with your pattern. When you’re ready to move on, add edging stones or other edging materials to ensure that your paver patio retains its shape. Secure them using landscaping nails.

Step 7: Finish the Job!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.When all of your paver stones are in place and edging is completed, you are ready to secure the paver stones in place. Pour a fine layer of paver locking sand on top of your patio and use a push broom to fill all of the gaps between adjacent paver stones. When all of the gaps are filled, gently sweep away excess paver locking sand. Then spray a very, very light mist of water over the patio. The water will activate the paver locking sand and help your patio retains its form.

Repeat the procedure above again when the paver locking sand joints appear to be dry. You may need to perform this step several times until all the gaps are filled. If you’ve rented a plate compactor, gently run the compactor across the patio service. Make a single pass in each direction to uniformly compact the paver stones.

It’s time to bask in glory! Grab a beverage of your choice, pull up a chair, and celebrate. You just built a paver patio!

Step 8: Seal Your Paver Patio

This step is optional but highly recommended if you’ve taken the time to build a paver patio. Using a commercially-available concrete or paver stone sealant will add many years to the life of your paver patio. All products will come with slightly different instructions, and it is best to follow them precisely. I applied my sealant using an all-purpose roller and have since re-applied once each year. Nearly four years later, my paver patio still looks new!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.
The finished paver patio in the FinanceSuperhero outdoor oasis

After you have finished this step, you will want to ornament the patio with soil, small annuals, mulch, and perennials (see above). This extra touch will complete the process of transforming your drab backyard into a new outdoor oasis!

A paver patio can transform a boring backyard into an outdoor oasis. Follow this step-by-step guide to build a paver patio in your backyard on any budget.

Get Started!

Now that you know how easy it is to build a paver patio – even if you have limited DIY skills – it’s time to start planning your project. With the right amount of patience, planning, and preparation, you can transform your boring backyard into an outdoor oasis!


Could your backyard use a face lift? What’s holding you back from building your own paver patio?

Improve Your Health – Financially, Physically, and Mentally – With These 9 Tips

Financially-minded people – like me – spend a lot of investing in their finances, and with good reason; breaking away from the rat race requires daily diligence. But what use is good financial health if you lack good physical and mental health? Money is important, but it is only one piece of the pie. Even if you have one area under control, you can improve your health by taking steps to grow grow in all three areas.

Most financial experts attest to the value of also maintaining physical and mental health. You only live once and you deserve to be happy. Make new habits and improve your health - financially, physically, and mentally - by following these 9 tips to live your best life.Pete Adeney, better known as Mr. Money Mustache, swears by regular weight lifting and almost constant movement to maintain his physical health. Sam Dogen, the mastermind behind Financial Samurai, is a 5.0 rated tennis player. Even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, though largely driven by data and logic, carefully monitors his rational self for any signs of irrationality. The three have different backgrounds and experiences, but they similarly demonstrate the importance of healthy balance – financially, physically, and mentally.

Improving your health doesn’t require an expensive gym, a psychiatrist, or an investment broker. These can be great places to start, but you can improve your health by taking conscious stops to cut bad habits, replace them with healthy practices, and make those changes a permanent part of a healthy lifestyle.

9 TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

We all have to start somewhere; the key is to start now! These 9 tips will help you improve your health – financially, physically, and mentally – and live a happy life.

1. Drink lots of water

Did you know that the average human body is 65% water? Your body needs water, and drinking lots of it is the quickest way to improve your health.

I love coffee and an occasional soda, but nothing primes my mind, body, and soul like water. Dehydration occurs anytime you take in less water than you use, and performance suffers even due to mild-dehydration. On the flip side, proper hydration increases energy, aids in healthy weight loss, and reduces stress.

So pour yourself a glass and keep reading.

2. Start Running

Humans have been running since the beginning of creation. In a sense, we were born to run. Children instinctively know how to run and start running shortly after learning to walk. So why do people begin to see running as a chore as they age?

After a long day of teaching, showing houses, and writing, I look forward to running. It is the best medicine for clearing my mind, reducing stress, and thinking creatively. In fact, I have written many of the posts on this blog while out on a run.

All you need to get started with running is a decent pair of running shoes, headphones, and athletic shorts/shirts. Later, if you want to get fancy, you can use a FitBit or Garmin GPS watch to track statistics like mileage, heart rate, calories burned, and split times. I’ve used the Garmin 405 CX for five years and it still meets all of my needs; it has even survived -30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, monsoon-like rains, and a few unfortunate falls on icy trails.

3. Eat Healthy Food

You’ve heard all the complaints about healthy eating.

  • It’s too expensive to eat healthy food.
  • Healthy food is boring!
  • I can’t give up my (insert junk here). . .

Bad habits and good marketing have made sure that these ideas stick in our brains. Healthy food can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And if you know how to cook effectively and use basic spices, you can turn perform stove top miracles with only lean chicken, broccoli, and potatoes. Say goodbye to junk food cravings!

This year, my wife and I have completed one round of the Whole 30 diet. (Super fans have now thrown an apple through their computer screen, because Whole 30 isn’t a DIET. It’s a LIFESTYLE!) We ate chicken, lean beef, pork, potatoes, eggs, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. I use even learned to drink black coffee like an adult. We lost weight, improved our moods and concentration, and saved money by staying away from restaurants.

Recently, we started using Zaycon Fresh, a program that has made our healthy eating efforts even easier and cheaper. Zaycon partners with local farmers to provide high-quality, farm-fresh food at prices which beat your local grocers. Their online ordering system is easy to use, and your local economy benefits because you are shopping locally.

When a local sale begins, Zaycon will send you an e-mail with all the details – this week they sent deals on bacon straight to my heart inbox! Because they focus on a select number of meats and eliminate middle men, we’ve saved a lot of money and still managed to eat well.

If you are a blogger and would like to join the Zaycon Fresh referral program, it is easy! It only takes a few minutes to get started.

4. Automate Your Financial Life

Most of friends are always stressed out about money. If you’ve ever been surprised by forgotten bills, late payment notices, or overdraft fees, you need to automate your finances as much as possible. I automate any payments which can be automated, from utilities and savings to my mortgage payment and investing.

You only live once and you deserve to be happy. Make new habits and improve your health - financially, physically, and mentally - by following these 9 tips to live your best life.My favorite automated savings tool is Digit. It is so effective that my wife and I were able to use our Digit savings to pay for a trip to Las Vegas last fall. The secure mobile app links with your checking account and uses sophisticated algorithms to help you save money only when you can afford it by moving funds to an external savings account. You can pause savings and transfer money back to your checking account at any time with quick text commands. Digit is FREE to use, currently pays bonuses every 3 months, and ensures that you save money each month. And if you refer a friend who signs up, you’ll receive a $5 bonus when they complete their first transfer!

If you’re looking to finally start investing for your future, you can automate that, too! Betterment is a sophisticated platform designed specifically for busy  people who don’t have time to research individual stocks or mutual funds. Their advanced algorithms and Smart Rebalancing methods can help anyone develop a portfolio designed to meet their investment goals and minimize tax losses. You can open an IRA, taxable brokerage account, or even roller over an existing account and receive one month FREE if you deposit more than $10,000.

Perhaps you’ve already been saving and investing diligently for several years but have grown tired of managing and monitoring a variety of investments in your IRA, 401k, and taxable accounts. Personal Capital is a FREE tool that can help you monitor all of your investments in one place. If you need personalized guidance, they will even provide more affordable advice tailored to meet your personal goals.

Personal Capital is the only tool I trust to monitor all of my financial assets in one central location. Start your free account today!

5. Read Every Day

Did you know the average millionaire reads at least two non-fiction books per month? This statistic has remained my motivation to read daily and commit to my personal growth. At any given time, I have a stack of books on my nightstand, with topics ranging from leadership to entrepreneurship, money, running, and spiritual development. I know my ability to grow on my own is limited, but learning from others and emulating their success can lead to unlimited growth.

Daily reading stimulates healthy thought and ensures that you maintain an ability to look outside yourself. If you know the names of the last few people who were eliminated on reality TV but can’t name three ideas you’ve read and implemented this month, that needs to change if you want to improve your health.

6. Be Mindful During Mindless Activities

You probably spend several hours each week performing tedious, mindless tasks like laundry, dishes, yard work, and house cleaning. Are you using time to improve your health?

When I do laundry, dishes, and yard work, I often to podcasts. I used to dread these tasks but now find myself looking forward to them because I learn something new that I can apply to better myself.

My wife and I also have mastered efficient meal preparation. We prep for the entire week on Sunday afternoon after church. By working as a team and using Crock Pots for many meals, we are able to free up several hours during the work week. Our budget benefits as well because we aren’t making frequent runs out for fast meals out of convenience.

7. Adopt a Dog

There are countless dogs in your local community shelter just waiting to find their forever home and humans to love. My wife and I bought our two dogs because she is allergic to all but a few select breeds, otherwise we would have adopted dogs in need. Adoption is affordable and easy, and what you invest in vet bills and bags of dog food will be regained ten fold in improvements to your physical and mental health.

8. Practice Silence and Solitude

Silence and solitude seem counter-intuitive to people who aim for efficiency in everything, but they are crucial. The truth is that rest and relaxation help us to recharge.

Many people wear busyness as a badge of honor – you know the type I’m talking about. I find these people usually end up burned out and unhappy. A few of my close friends seem to be unable to rest unless they are on vacation. A planned getaway can be a great time to rest and see the world. But a staycation is often just what I need to recharge and avoid burnout – and it is financially smart.

I’ll be vulnerable for a moment – between teaching full time, my real estate business, and this blog, I appear to be the poster child for busyness. But I rarely feel stressed because I set boundaries to protect my mental and physical health; planned solitude keeps me revved up for whatever is next.

9. Limit TV Time

There is a strong correlation between success and low TV consumption, as countless studies show. Most of the time I am disciplined enough to limit TV time, and sometimes my subconscious lures me into watching three hours of Breaking Bad re-runs – yeah science!

Literally unplugging your TV is a simple way to improve your health. By making it a bit tougher to mindlessly run to Stars Hollow every time you feel stressed, you will begin to form better habits which help you to unwind, accomplish more, and keep moving. You can always plug in the TV later!

LET’S GET STARTED!

The best time to improve your health is NOW! You can put yourself on the path toward improving your physical, mental, and emotional health today if you’re willing to build even a single new habit. What are you waiting for?

And a friendly reminder – Don’t forget to check out two FREE and easy tools to improve your health fast, Digit and Zaycon Fresh

Make the Most of Your Tax Refund in 2017

Tax refund. Next to the words “pay day” and “debt free,” these are my two favorite finance-related words. Whether my annual tax refund is a modest sum or a mid-size windfall, I am always happy to see my refund directly-deposited into my checking account. Once you know it is on its way, knowing how to make the most of your tax refund can be a daunting task.

Still haven’t submitted your 2016 tax returns? If you have a simple return, such as a 1040-EZ, I recommend completing your simple return with E-File.com today. You can complete your Federal return for FREE and receive free support along the way. And FinanceSuperhero readers can receive a discount on state returns by using this link – $6 Off State Filings With Coupon Code “6OFFSTATE”.

If you’re planning to complete a 1040A or require additional schedules, the team at Liberty Tax has local offices in your area to help you every step of the way. Other tax preparation services come and go, but LibertyTax has been helping people file their taxes the easy way since 1997.

Receiving a tax refund is a great opportunity to improve your financial outlook. Follow these 9 pro tips to make the most of your tax refund in 2017!

The FinanceSuperhero Guide to Taxes – Make the Most of Your Tax Refund

Assuming you have a tax refund coming your way, you could be on the verge of changing your financial picture.  With great opportunity comes great responsibility! The following advice will help you to make the most of your tax refund and make significant progress on your financial journey. I recommend following the steps in numerical order.

1. Give a Portion of Your Tax Refund to a Charitable Organization

Longtime readers will not be surprised that I am suggesting giving as the first step to make the most of your tax refund. As previously mentioned, Mrs. Superhero and I have placed Giving at the top of our monthly budget. Giving aligns with our values, and helping others provides us with much more satisfaction and enjoyment than buying more stuff or eating delicious food.

I strongly believe that giving 10% is the best way that we can make a charitable contribution prior to reaching financial independence (at which time we will significantly increase our giving). We have always done this, dating back to the time when we faced a mountain of debt, and we continue to do so today, even though we are only a few months away from carrying no debt other than our mortgage.

Why? As I mentioned, we believe helping others is both a calling and the most satisfying use of our money. Giving is also a strong reminder that money is not something to be hoarded out of greed. We want to value money and practice good stewardship, but we also want to remain far removed from the love of money.

Many people reject giving in favor of keeping their money strictly to themselves. Ironically, it is usually these same people who senselessly give their money to big banks and other financiers in the form of outlandish interest payments on cars, boats, and other stuff.

Personally, I would rather give in a meaningful way. Even if you give 1% of your tax refund, you will help others and begin to change the way you view money.

2. Increase Your Savings and/or Emergency Fund

When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.
When looking to make the most of your tax return, simply saving money can be a wise choice.

After supporting societal progress by giving, use your tax refund proceeds to improve your liquid savings. Unless you are an extremely high income earner or have a stable passive income stream, you absolutely must have an Emergency Fund. If you do not have one, consider this a full-blown, alarm-sounding crisis that must be addressed immediately! Statistically-speaking, there is close to a 100% chance that you will experience some form of an emergency within the next decade, so be ready!

While I recommend maintaining an Emergency Fund of at least 3-6 months of minimum living expenses, you may also wish to establish an additional Opportunity Fund. I do not specifically recommend amounts or figures for this fund, and you may wish to skip it entirely in favor of moving onto Step 3. However, an Opportunity Fund could allow you to make a fun, somewhat impulsive decision without any accompanying feelings of guilt or regret.

3. Get out of Debt – Once and For All!

After you have given and increased your security via your Emergency Fund, you are fully-prepared to take on the primary barrier standing in the way of Financial Independence: Debt.

The sooner you eliminate your non-mortgage debts, the sooner you free a significant portion of your monthly income and simultaneously gain the freedom to invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Both the Snowball and Avalanche methods are valid means to achieve debt freedom. For the purposes of this post, I am less-concerned with the method you implement to eliminate your debt; just get it done. You may get the push you need if you make the most of your tax refund in this way!

4. Invest in Tax-Advantaged Investments

The real fun begins when you no longer have non-mortgage debt. If you are free from the shackles of debt, the next optimal use for your tax refund is to maximize your retirement contributions. For the purposes of this limited space, ensure you are maximizing employer-offered plans, specifically if they offer a match, and then move onto your Roth IRA.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Opening an IRA or taxable brokerage account with Betterment is a smart way to maximize the impact of your refund.
Betterment returns vs. US Market and Typical Investor Returns (Credit: Betterment)

If you’re looking for an easy to use platform for investing, Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low financial barriers for entry.. Their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio works to maximize your earnings and minimize tax burdens across all types of accounts, including taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. It is simple to sign-up or rollover an account, select a portfolio of ETFs, and be on your way toward earning better returns right away.

Compared to other platforms, the Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help you generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor.

Make the most of your tax refund and start investing with Betterment by signing up today!

5. Contribute to Your Children’s College Funds

If you do not have children, skip ahead to Step 6. If you have children, you need to learn the nuances of the Coverdell ESA (Education Savings Account, also nicknamed the Education IRA) and 429 plan. The ESA has income and contribution limits (currently $2,000 per year), but I recommend you start with the ESA in most circumstances, if eligible.

The important thing to understand is that minimal contributions to these vehicles will place you in a position to send your children to college without the burden of student loans if you begin early.

Related PostEscape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

6. Destroy Your Mortgage Debt

Pause with me for a moment and imagine a life without a mortgage payment. If you can’t image it, check out the FREE E-book, How to Hack Your Mortgage and Save Thousands, written by my friend Andrew at FamilyMoneyPlan. This is the plan he and his wife used to wipe out their $320,000 mortgage in 6 years.

What could you do with an extra $1,000 per month? $2,500? $5,000? I just felt an overwhelming sense of excitement  and peace typing these words. The next time I visit my doctor and have my blood-pressure checked, I am going to visualize the wonders of a mortgage-free life to improve my numbers.

For the average family, mortgage interest represents the second-largest expense that they will pay in their entire lifetime. In some cases, total mortgage interest paid on a 30 year mortgage can be approximately 75-80% of total principal, even at today’s advantageous interest rates! Make the most of your tax refund to accomplish progress on an annual basis and you could shave several years off your mortgage, especially if you are already paying extra on principal on a monthly basis.

7. Invest in Non-Retirement Funds and/or Real Estate

If you have made it to Step 7, please allow me to offer my congratulations. With no debt whatsoever, healthy savings, and kids’ college covered, you are poised to generate significant wealth. At this stage, you may have achieved Financial Independence, depending upon your lifestyle.

I recommend using tax refund money to invest in simple index funds at this stage. A modest tax refund sum is enough to get you started with many index funds. Adopt a long-term approach, relax, and watch your money grow.

Similarly, this is the time to invest in real estate, if interested. Becoming a landlord isn’t for everyone, and paying a property manager could eat into your net profit from owning a rental property. However, a rental property can yield some of the highest annual investment returns if managed well and purchased at prices below market value.

Want to make the most of your tax refund? Investing in real estate with Fundrise is an exciting option for investors in 2017.Fortunately, today’s investors can invest in real estate without the hassle of becoming a landlord or hiring a property manager. Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low entry costs.. As of February 2017, they offer three eREITs for new investors: the West Cost eREIT, the Heartland eREIT, and the East Cost eREIT. It is amazing that technology has brought common investors like you and me the opportunity to invest in multi-million dollar buildings half way around the country!

Even if you’re on the fence about real estate investing or just not quite ready to dip your toe in the water, I recommend signing-up with Fundrise today – it is 100% FREE, with no obligation, and in doing so, you’ll position yourself to learn more and possibly avoid wait lists.

8. Improve the Value of Your Primary Home

At this stage, true fun begins. When you are financially well-poised for the future, a tax refund represents an opportunity to both invest and add joy to your life simultaneously. This is the time to make improvements around your home which increase your happiness and feature a high return on investment.

Good Investments: new front door, landscaping, deck or patio, kitchen or bath remodel, walkway lighting

Bad Investments: swimming pools, utility sheds

9. Build Sinking Funds for Bucket List Items

Last, but not least, comes additional saving for specific purchases. If you make it down to Step 9 when determining how to implement your tax refund, you are an authentic Superhero. I recommend establishing separate sinking funds for a variety of priorities, such as vacations, new car purchases, secondary homes, or major home additions.

The purpose of a sinking fund is to plan for future purchases which are far off in the future. At this stage, you do not want to be fooled into getting back into debt or be caught off guard by large, necessary expenses. With a sinking fund, you won’t be financially caught off guard when your house needs a new roof, your furnace fails, or your vehicle sputters and dies.

Are You Ready to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund?

A tax refund is a great opportunity to get ahead in your finances. I am confident that you will not fail to cover all of your bases by following these steps. Depending upon where you are in your journey toward Restoring Order to Your World of Finances, you may wish to skip steps or modify the order. For example, renters may wish to place saving for a home down payment in the Steps.

If you haven’t yet filed your 2016 tax returns, be sure to check out E-File.com or LibertyTax today. Either way, careful consideration of your circumstances will put you on the path to make the most of your tax refund this year!


Readers, did you receive a tax refund this year? Are you currently awaiting a refund? How do you plan to make the most of your tax refund?

Achieve Better Money Management in Only 10 Minutes Per Day

 

I am often asked, “What’s the key to better money management?” I always remind people that money is like unsorted laundry: it is helpless without you. If your finances require some decluttering, whether minor or major, now is the time to take control and do what is necessary to provide the organization and structure your finances desperately need.

You can start by implementing these five easy steps toward better money management. If you do, you’ll spend no more than 10 minutes managing your money per day!

1. Automate Your Finances As Much Possible

What's the key to better money management? Taking control! If you follow these five recommendations, you can manage your money in only 10 minutes per day!I value time as much as I value money. By automating common expenses, such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills (such as water, trash, electricity, gas, television/internet, and mobile phone), life insurance and disability monthly premiums, car payments, student loan payments, retirement account contributions, and even savings, you can save yourself significant time, energy, stress, worry, and, of course, money. As an added bonus, your days of writing countless checks, licking envelopes, and purchasing stamps will be over forever!

Most major banks will allow you to set-up auto-pay on these bills with very little effort involved. You can even negotiate with most providers to establish a chosen day of the month for your auto-draft to occur, which will allow you to spread out your payments to align with your pay periods. Some institutions, particularly student loan servicers, may provide a small APR reduction when you sign-up for auto draft and paperless billing.

And if you find yourself drowning in student loan debt, I recommend you pursue a better interest rate and refinance your student loans with SoFi. I no longer have student loans, but I recommend SoFi wholeheartedly. Plus, they currently offer a $100 sign-up bonus!

Related Post: Escape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

2. Sign-up for Paperless Billing

One of my daily chores is walking to the mailbox. You can restore fun to the act of walking to the mailbox each day by signing-up for paperless billing with all providers who offer this service. Doing so will literally and figuratively decrease the clutter in your mailbox and your finances.

Furthermore, with electronic copies housed by your various institutions on secure servers, your information will be protected, you will be less likely to experience identity theft, and you will not need to fear losing an important document or missing a bill in the mail.

While you’re at it, be sure you have identity theft protection in place, too! I recommend Identity Guard over all other providers due their high customer service rankings and comprehensive monitoring. See for yourself and sign-up for a free 30 day trial!

3. Use an Online Budgeting Tool

When it comes to monthly budgeting, I believe everyone should create at least one budget utilizing paper, a pencil, and a calculator. In the interest of decluttering and saving time, however, the average consumer has plenty of online budgeting tools from which to choose.

After utilizing Gazelle Budget for many years, I recently transitioned to a paid subscription version of EveryDollar, a product created by the team at Ramsey Solutions. EveryDollar is a very effective way to create detailed monthly budgets, track spending by linking with all of your financial accounts, and monitor progress on your goals. I particularly enjoy the features which allow users to create sinking funds and budget for irregular expenses. And the best part is that my wife and I can both use the app!

4. Use Cash Allowances to Pay for Basic Spending

While an automated budgeting platform can certainly ease the burden of tracking a multitude of debit and credit transactions within your monthly budget, I recommend providing cash allowances within basic categories such as groceries, restaurants, gas, and discretionary spending. You can include these cash allowances in your budget with one simple transaction on the first day of the month.

5. Eliminate Your Debts

For many families, debt can represent a significant percentage of their monthly budgeted income. When you shed the shackles of debt, you free up additional streams of income which may be re-allocated as automated contributions toward liquid savings, a home down payment, retirement accounts, non-retirement investments, or savings toward the purchase of rental properties.

Additionally, without multiple debt obligations, the sheer number of your monthly transactions will be reduced. Fewer transactions will lead to even greater simplification. You will also experience the peace that comes with no fear of missing a payment or incurring late fees and interest charges. Lastly, you will not experience guilt each month as financial institutions earn interest on your hard-earned income.

Final Recommendations for Better Money Management

If you are willing to dedicate a few hours this week, you can implement the above steps to get on the path toward better money management – then maintain a routine in less than 10 minutes per day! The sacrifices you make in doing so will pay great dividends, pun partially-intended, for your financial future. As a result, you will be free to turn your attention from fretting and worrying about your finances and onto building your future.


Readers, what are your tips and tricks for better money management?

Escape From Student Loans: How Two Educators Paid Off $17,831.65 in 54 Days

Money has a funny way of making people emotional. We are elated when we earn a raise, achieve a promotion, or unexpectedly win the lottery. On the other hand, losing money lets the wind out of our sails in a hurry. Today, the ongoing escape from student loans is one such soul-crushing experience for millions of people.

If two educators can escape from student loans - over $17,000 in only 54 days - so can you! Read on to see how they did it and how you can do it, too. In 2016, the average college graduate  graduated owes $37,172 in student loan debt; No wonder many pundits believe the student loan bubble may be the next to burst!

Since April 2016, I have been free from the shackles of student loan debt. No longer sending hundreds of dollars to Sallie Mae each month is a great feeling. My wife and I are now able to invest more freely, increase our lifestyle spending, and stress less about money.

I wish our escape from student loan debt were nothing but rainbows and butterflies, but good things rarely come without a grind.

The Back Story

In May 2014, I graduated with an MA in School Leadership. When I entered repayment that November, I owed $19,724.96. My first statement revealed that a ten year repayment plan would cost a total of $27,178.23In that moment, I was determined to ensure that my $18,000 educational investment would not become a $27,000 one!

The problem? I still owed over $5,000 on my undergraduate student loans. Yes, I was stupid. The kind of stupid with several zeros and even a comma involved. I took on additional student loan debt without paying off my existing student loans.

The Escape Begins

In the summer of 2015, I began a new job as an entry-level school administrator. In October 2015, we got down to business. That month we paid just over $4,300 toward my undergrad loans and tacked on an additional $829.00 in November to wipe out these loans for good! A three paycheck month, combined with extreme frugality, provided the funds for us to do so, even on two educator’s modest salaries.

Our momentum was halted a bit in December and January, but we paid an additional $2,338.79 on the grad school loans in February 2016. I don’t remember seeing the inside of a restaurant, Target, or Banana Republic during this time.

It was around this time that I truly began to hate my job. I realized my passion just wasn’t in this job, and I knew I had to get out. I didn’t get along well with my boss, to say the least, so the departure was going to be an easy one, even if it needed to wait a few months.

We paid minimum payments, an additional $1,100 in March and an additional $4,000 in April, thanks to another 3 paycheck month. It felt like we were on a roll in some respects, but the finish line still seemed like a faint mirage on the horizon; after all, we still owed $10,166.37 even after several months of living a scorched-earth lifestyle.

We reminded ourselves: slow and steady wins the race. I was content to push slowly and steadily toward the finish line and rest in the comfort of this phrase. 

Sitting on Savings

A quick look at our emergency fund and sinking funds revealed that we could make a final payment of $10,166.37 without exposing ourselves to the unnecessary risk of an underfunded emergency fund. Upon realizing this, I told my wife that this monster payment would be the best early birthday present I could receive. Without hesitation, she gave me the green light, and just like that, our escape from student loans was complete!

Our Escape From Student Loans

If you were expecting a magical solution to student loan debt, I’m sorry – no such solution exists.

We tackled my student loans with major aggression. It was hard work. But we also made smart choices.

First, we recognized the problem and reviewed our budget. We scaled back almost every unnecessary expense: dining out, expensive groceries and toiletries, entertainment, and beer.

Next, we pressed pause on all spending other than what was necessary to survive. During those months, we paid our mortgage, utilities, required minimum payments. And we bought basic groceries. That’s it.

In addition, we stopped investing, other than our required pension contributionsThis was a risk that worked for us, and fortunately, the markets were down overall during this brief time.

Finally, we bet on ourselves and utilized a large portion of our emergency savings. This money was sitting idly in an account while we were paying 6.5% interest. This gamble also paid off for us.

How You Can Escape From Student Loans

To be perfectly clear: nothing about our escape from student loans was special. We sacrificed, scratched, clawed, and busted our butts to do it.

You can do it, too!

It may take longer for you to knock out your student loans, or you may do it even faster. But don’t let student loans knock you down. If you worked hard to earn your degree, you deserve the chance to work for yourself now; the sooner you quit paying for that fancy piece of paper, the better!

I know many people who owe far more in student loan debt than I ever did. Maybe that’s where you find yourself. If so, accept that it’s going to take time, make a plan to break free, and also make sure you’re not overpaying on your interest rates.

If I still had student loans, I would absolutely refinance them with SoFi. For anyone paying ludicrous interest rates of 6.5% and above, a quick refinance will save you hundreds of dollars. And if you sign-up using any of the SoFi links on this page, SoFi will automatically sweeten the deal and give you back $100 cash. Currently, SoFi offers fixed rates at 3.375% and variable rates as low as 2.355% if you sign-up for Auto Pay. In a matter of minutes, they can help you refinance your federal or private student loans, consolidate multiple loans, and get on a quicker path toward freedom.  

Click here to refinance your student loans with SoFi and receive $100 today!


Readers, have you experienced any recent triumphs over debt? What were the keys to your success? How did you stay motivated? If you are still in debt, when do you plan to eliminate student loans or other debt?

13 Simple DIY Home Inspection Tips

In today’s internet-driven world, home buyers have become more savvy than previous generations. Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and a dozen or so other websites have made the process of window shopping for homes much easier. Pictures, virtual tours, and a wealth of data are available with the click of a mouse. And the average buyer can net plenty of experience living vicariously through other buyers’ experiences as showcased on the DIY Network and HGTV. Shows like Holmes Inspection have even inspired buyers to conduct their own DIY home inspection.

Yet the average realtor, myself included, can share countless stories of buyers who look at all of the wrong things when touring a home the first (or second . . . or even third!) time. I have had clients tell me that they were not interested in a home due to objections over carpet, basic landscaping, and even paint color. Other clients have happily fallen in love with homes once they mark off the “non-negotiables” on their list: granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, and an open concept. I understand exactly what it must be like to host House Hunters or Property Virgins.

No home buyer should skip a professional home inspection. But you can save time and money by following these 13 DIY home inspection tips ahead of time.As a realtor, I am bound by a code of ethics which was designed long ago to protect consumers. I do my best to educate them regarding what to look for when touring a home, and I am quick to point out both obvious and subtle defects, as well as signs of possible latent defects. Most realtors who wish to protect their clients will do the same, especially if they want to keep a job long-term. However, not all realtors are so honest, as selling you a home as quickly as possible may determine whether or not they are able to pay their mortgage premium next month.

For the buyer who is represented by this kind of realtor, the process often goes something like this:

-Tour home, fall in love with aesthetic properties, develop emotional attachment to the home.
-Discuss pricing and comparable sales, make an offer, conclude negotiations and sign the contract.
-Schedule a home inspection with a professional home inspector.
-Begin picking out furniture, paint colors, carpet, etc., for the new home.
-Attend (sometimes) the home inspection with inspector, discover a lengthy list of problems which must be addressed.
-Enter state of sadness/depression/panic, question why the realtor did not notice or disclose all of the problems diagnosed by the home inspector.
-Either A) negotiate with the seller regarding necessary repairs or price concessions or B) cancel the transaction.

Sometimes the process goes much more smoothly. Sometimes it goes much, much worse, especially if the home buyers foolishly opt to skip a professional home inspection.

Avoid Home Buying Heartbreak and Hassle: Perform a DIY Home Inspection

In any real estate transaction, the most critical parties are typically the home inspector and the attorneys. As a buyer, they are your last lines of legal defense; they serve to protect you from danger and hours of stress and hassle.

To be clear, I would never, ever recommend that a client skip out on an independent, third-party, professional home inspection, even when buying a brand-new home through a builder. With that said, I believe a prospective buyer can save himself a great deal of time and money by looking out for the following problems and defects in advance of the home inspection by performing a DIY home inspection during a home tour.

The following DIY home inspection tips are not an exhaustive list. They may not apply to every home and location, and should be considered on a case by case basis. Again, do not skip a professional, independent home inspection in an effort to save money!

1. Take in the big picture

When Mrs. Superhero and I were searching for our first home, I was still a real estate amateur. We fell in love with a home which we had toured on a weeknight in February, so it was naturally dark during our tour. When we arrived for the inspection a week later, we met the inspector at the edge of the driveway. After introducing himself, the inspector said, “So, you know you’ll need a brand new roof ASAP, right?” Ouch.

Examining the full exterior of the home during daylight hours is an easy DIY home inspection tip. Look for damage to the roof (missing shingles, bowed eaves, rotting soffits, missing gutters), siding (missing or damaged shingles, encroaching landscaping), and the entire yard. Do not neglect to examine the same components in the garage, whether it is attached or detached. Also, examine the driveway for large cracks, potholes, etc. Note concerns on a checklist and document them with pictures on your phone or camera so you can address them during a possible future home inspection.

2. Test the garage door

It can be a bit uncomfortable to operate a garage door which does not belong to you, but this is an easy check that everyone should perform unless explicitly instructed not to do so by your realtor or the homeowner. Yes, your inspector will check it, too, but it is wise to check for problems yourself.

3. Open and close all interior and exterior doors

During your tour, you are naturally going to enter and exit all rooms in the home. While you’re doing so, opening and closing all doors is a simple step that some home inspectors may overlook from time to time. If you catch a malfunctioning door which requires re-hanging, you may save yourself money at the closing table.

4. Inspect the furnace, air conditioner, and water heater

When examining these items, look for evidence of maintenance dates on the exterior of the appliances. Inspect for any signs of leaking or irregular noises. If the furnace or air conditioner are not running during your tour, it is usually acceptable to temporarily adjust the thermostat to evaluate their level of functioning. Note: Do not attempt to turn on an air conditioner unit during the winter.

5. Examine all ceilings and walls for water damage

Admittedly, looking for water damage may be one of the toughest DIY home inspection tasks on this list. However, savvy homeowners are becoming increasingly skilled at hiding signs of water damage rather than rectifying the underlying problems. Any signs of discoloration, sagging, or unexplained lines near joints where dry wall may have been taped should be noted and addressed with the home inspector.

6. Check out the basement

More and more homeowners are searching for basements, in my experience. Yet many of them don’t check out the basement when touring a home if they learn that it is unfinished. You should examine the foundation for any major structural concerns, such as cracks, as well as examine the basement ceiling for obvious issues. If a basement is finished, you should ask your realtor to inquire as to whether the work was performed with permits. This may seem like no big deal to many people, but depending upon your city or village ordinances, a buyer could be on the hook for any un-permitted mechanical, electrical, structural, or plumbing work completed without a permit.

7. Examine the grade around all exterior walls

In the past five years, flooding has occurred in all 50 states, according to FloodSmart.gov. This cannot always be prevented, yet many home floods are caused by improper grading around a home’s exterior. Examine exterior walls to ensure that the soil is graded in an appropriate manner (slopes downward away from the home). Also ensure that downspouts are adequately extended away from the home’s foundation.

8. Test all light switches

This is an easy DIY home inspection item to cross off your list, and you’ll be glad to know if any light switches are wired improperly.

9. Inspect windows for signs of moisture

If you see fogging or condensation on windows, this is a sign that the windows may require replacement or repair. These items can be very costly, so you will want to be sure that your home inspector addresses them in his report.

10. Test all sinks and toilets

Invariably, home buyers feel uncomfortable evaluating the function of sinks and toilets. When you’re preparing to make arguably the largest purchase of your lifetime, pushing past some discomfort is a must! Begin by running all sinks individually for 3-4 minutes; this will reveal any draining problems. Also, check under vanities to ensure that drains are properly vented. Lastly, flush toilets in all washrooms while the sink is still running and listen for any odd sounds in the plumbing.

11. Evaluate Your Surroundings

I have heard countless horror stories from buyers who fell in love with a home only to face some harsh realities on moving day. One buyer discovered unappealing power lines running through their side yard. Another buyer shared that they hadn’t noticed a large water tower in their backyard because it had been digitally removed from all marketing photos online. And another buyer did not notice that a train ran right behind their backyard and shook the entire house several times a day. Be on the lookout for these unsightly hazards and more!

12. Visit Local Schools

While the value of a professional home inspector cannot be emphasized enough, buyers must inspect local schools themselves. Do not simply rely on reputation, recommendations from well-meaning friends, or scores from third party websites. Review state report cards, attend a school board meeting, and arrange for a brief tour of the school. In most areas, your property taxes largely go toward funding local public schools, so you want to be sure your investment is worthwhile.

13. Talk to Potential Neighbors

During your examination of the home’s exterior and yard, aim to strike up a conversation with your potential neighbors if they are also outdoors. Ask about their impressions of the neighborhood, schools, and neighborhood and community amenities. If you’re feeling brave, ask, “Would you buy your home again today if you were given the chance to do so?” Any major red flags revealed during this conversation may lead you to reconsider the home purchase (or seek a closing credit to build a bigger fence!).

Don’t Take the Home Buying Process Lightly!

For most people, a home is the largest purchase they will ever make. Do not enter into such an important decision without careful consideration of the condition of your potential new home! Review your notes from you DIY home inspection and compare them to the report provided by your professional home inspector. With careful consideration, you will avoid hassle and heartbreak and find the home of your dreams.


What additional home inspection tips do you suggest?

 

 

 

Money and Marriage: How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

When it comes to money and marriage, a system of communication is vital. Money fights remain a leading cause of divorce, but there is hope! Read on and learn how to (and how NOT to) talk about money with your spouse.One year prior to marrying Mrs. Superhero, I became a gung-ho personal finance enthusiast. For the next several months, I ate, slept, and breathed money. I read financial books in my spare time and listened to podcasts during my two hour round trip daily commute. Just for fun, I began watching the now defunct Dave Ramsey Show on Fox Business and The Suze Orman show on MSNBC.

At the time, I had just started my first job teaching elementary school music. I lived with a roommate, drove a 2000 Ford Taurus with nearly 200,000 miles, and lived on a reasonably frugal budget for a bachelor. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero was completing her senior year and preparing for a similar career teaching music.

Call us old-fashioned, but we made it a priority to attend pre-marital counseling during our engagement. At our first meeting, the pastor who planned to officiate our ceremony asked us both to complete a brief questionnaire in order to develop a priority list for our sessions.

Not surprisingly, we both scored very highly in the area of personal finance. The soon-to-be Mrs. Superhero is a natural saver, and my near-obsession with personal finance had contributed to her gain of my new-found knowledge by osmosis. After asking us both if we had ever heard of Dave Ramsey or his book — we both had done so — the pastor informed us that we would be “fine.”

In reality, we weren’t going to be “fine.”

A storm was already brewing.

The First Money Talk

I will always remember our first family budget meeting. Shortly after our honeymoon, we sat down among stacks of moving boxes at the old oak dining room table in our rented townhouse. I was excited to do some intense number crunching, formulate projections, and dream about our future as husband and wife. To say I had preconceived notions about how this meeting was going to go would be an understatement.

We began the meeting by reviewing the state of our current emergency savings. Mrs. Superhero’s eyes lit up as we pored over the numbers; not because they were terribly high or impressive, but because she had worked and saved up $2,000 of our emergency fund during the past year, all while taking 19 credit hours, practicing flute and piano for hours and hours each day, and performing in the university orchestra and band. Never one to allow my agenda to be interrupted, I stated that we needed to boost our meager savings as soon as possible.

Next, we reviewed the budget I had put together the day before. I had pre-determined every single dollar of spending on paper and presented each category one-by-one in a very matter-of-fact manner. Mrs. Superhero listened intently, and when I had finished my review, I asked if she had “any questions.” Sensing the rhetorical nature of my question, Mrs. Superhero said “no.”

At this point, I’m sure I was feeling quite proud of myself for directing such an efficient meeting, so I moved to wrap-up the meeting and continue unpacking. Mrs. Superhero sheepishly agreed. Meeting closed.

In hindsight, I had no idea how to talk about money with my spouse. I could talk at her about money until I turned blue in the face, yet conversing with her hadn’t even entered my radar. There wasn’t much authentic communication happening.

Compounding Irritation

When it comes to money and marriage, a system of communication is vital. Read on and learn how to (and how NOT to) talk about money with your spouse.Prior to our marriage, I was genuinely excited about the merger of money and marriage. Call it naivete or wishful thinking, but I had no idea that it would be a challenge. A few months into our marriage, I thought things were going well. Mrs. Superhero had graduated in December and secured a long-term substitute teaching position for the spring. At our next budget meeting, I naturally came prepared with spreadsheets and figures illustrating how I had planned to utilize the coming increasing in our budgeted income. Though I deserved it, I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.

In no uncertain terms, Mrs. Superhero informed me that she had gone along with my “control of the budget” so far, but now she wanted a voice in the budget process. Immediately, I went on the defensive and argued that she had always had a voice in the process. As you can imagine, the conversation’s quality quickly eroded from this point.

How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Thankfully, Mrs. Superhero and I have grown in our ability to talk about money. We understand each other better with each passing year, and our need to discuss our finances in detail has greatly diminished. We have a system to keep our money and marriage on track.

This system took time to develop. It required an understanding of our individual financial inclinations and values. Once we came to a collective understanding — that I enjoy and value sensible stewardship and planning ahead and Mrs. Superhero values financial security and balancing the priorities of the future with today’s needs — we were well on our way toward happiness.

Money and Marriage – The Wrong Way

Needless to say, however, I made several mistakes early on, and they were damaging to our money and marriage. I have done things “the wrong way,” and it was damaging and discouraging.

1. Overuse the words “I” and “you” when discussing money.

Speaking these words frequently when discussing money is a sure fire way to create a divisive conversation. You will cause your spouse to become standoffish or even adversarial when the topic of money arises.

For example, “You spent too much money at the grocery store” and “I need a newer car” are two phrases which I actually spoke during early budget meetings. The words “you” and “I” super-charged these conversations with negative emotions. They made my wife defensive about her shopping and concerned about future spending on a vehicle.

2. Keeping your financial lives separate.

I know this will be a sticking point for many readers, but it is imperative that you and your spouse join your accounts and view your assets and income collectively. Separating money is a sure fire way to create silly fights and senseless drama. It also serves to unreasonably highlight whether one spouse is the primary breadwinner. When you decided to marry and merge your lives, you pledged to be partners, not competitors.

I believe this idea also includes the mental separation of income by source. When the primary earner holds that fact over the other spouse’s head, a fight is sure to follow.

3. Hiding debt or assets from your spouse. 

Before you marry, it is time to let all of your financial skeletons out of the closet. If you have bad debts from years of betting on horse racing, it’s time to come clean. It’s also time to share that you inherited $150,000 from Aunt Rosie. This kind of behavior is common, and it’s toxic to your marriage; according to a CreditCard.com survey, approximately 6 million people have concealed financial accounts from their spouse. Be honest so you can work together to clean-up bad debts or wisely formulate a plan for large sums of money or other assets.

Thankfully, I never had odd debts (or assets, unfortunately!) to hide.

Money and Marriage – The Right Way

1. Identify your common ground for your vision of the future.

If you’ve never done this before, it is easy. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen, and begin listing how you envision your future at various stages in life. How many kids will you have? Where will you live? Will you travel frequently? Will you support your children through college? Will you both work full-time? For how long?

The answers to these questions will provide common ground for the goals which meet at the intersection of your marriage and money; they will help you answer the “why?” questions which may arrive as you plan your financial affairs.

2. Learn to speak your spouse’s financial language.

When I finally realized that Mrs. Superhero values future security and balancing the priorities of both today and tomorrow, I learned how to frame financial discussions in a manner which actually matters to her. Now that our discussions include these perspectives by default, we are making better decisions which align with our collective goals.

Perhaps your spouse is a numbers person. Maybe he or she responds better to be emotional appeal. It is your job to discover their financial language and communicate in a manner which is meaningful yet non-manipulative.

3. Honor each other’s wishes as your circumstances allow.

This can be a difficult step for many people, especially for Extreme Frugalites, but it is important to give and take for the sake of your spouse. I, for example, have no desire to add to my already-fine wardrobe of slacks, jeans, button down shirts, polos, and t-shirts. But Mrs. Superhero enjoys purchasing a few new clothing items each month. Similarly, I enjoy trying new and interesting imported and craft beer. Neither of these indulgences is significant enough to derail us from goals, so we have learned to appreciate the little things which make each other happy.

Final Words

While the advice in this piece is designed to promote harmony between marriage and money, in the end, I must be clear: our marriage is far more important than any financial concerns, goals, or dreams which may fill our minds and hearts. It is easy to lose sight of this priority in the heat of the moment, but over the long haul, Mrs. Superhero and I have been successful in our marriage and money because the latter ALWAYS takes the back seat to the former.


How do you ensure a healthy relationship between marriage and money? How often do you and your spouse talk about money? How do you stay on the same page with your plans, dreams, and goals?