Being Nimble – Financially Flexible

Money Tree

The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

Over the past several years as I have become better at managing my finances, one trick that has kept me on budget is being nimble or flexible.  I have written in the past how flexibility has helped me to stay within my budget.  The topic has come up again recently.

Our Canceled Trip

My wife and I have taken a small vacation without the kids the past couple of summers.  The trip has consisted of a couple of nights staying at a hotel, a few dinners out and activities during the day.  We always budget for the getaway, usually with money from my annual bonus.

This year was the same; we set aside $1,000 for the trip.  We ended up not going on the getaway.

What this means is that we had $1,000 budgeted for travel expenses that we are not going to use.  Since we already fund retirement sufficiently for us and our emergency fund is at an acceptable level, we needed to decide what we were going to do with the extra money.  As always, here is a peek at what we are planning to do with the money.

How to Use the Extra Cash

Some of the money is being spent on vacation related expenses.  I typically take a week off during the summer.  We travel to my in-laws vacation place.  It is in a community that has a lake and pool, so the kids have a lot of fun.  By doing this, we are able to save money by not having to spend money on lodging.

With some of the unused travel funds, we are taking the kids to an amusement park somewhat near where we are staying.  The expense will be significant, probably $200-$300 with the tickets and food that we will buy while we are at the park.  Since we have the money, I did not have to figure out where the money was coming from.

We also took the kids to see one of the kid movies that are out this summer.  When you factor in the tickets and popcorn, the cost ran up to $75.  That cost would normally have been absorbed by our entertainment bucket, but came out of the travel bucket instead.

The wife and I still went out for dinner and some entertainment, but the cost was only about $100.  All in all, we will only spend about $700 of our vacation budget.  So, what are we going to do with the remaining money?

The remaining money is going to something for the kids.  Recently, we got one of my daughter’s older toys working again.  When my daughter was younger, my sister-in-law bought her a motorized toy car.  The car is suitable for a 2 or 3 year old.  Since my kids are turning 4 and 8 this year, the have out grown the car.  We are thinking about buying them a new car.  The models that we are looking have two seats.  We figure two seats would help to cut down on the fighting between the kids.

Do the kids need the car? Certainly not, but since we have the extra funds from our travel bucket we can use it for something else.

Financial Flexibility

That is where being nimble comes in handy.  Just because you have money labelled for one purpose does not mean you can’t use it for another purpose.

When gas prices declined over the past year, I did not change my budget for my gas expense.  I figured that someday gas would go back up and I did not want my budget to be impacted.  I simply transferred some of the extra money into my general savings bucket every month.  When gas prices go back up, I can just change things back.  An overall plan has been what has kept me growing my net worth.  The individual details seem to change quite frequently.

Being nimble has allowed me to keep following the overall plan while still staying within my budget.

Five Ways to Save Money on Your Car Insurance


Car insurance is one of those unavoidable expenses unless you want to walk or ride a bicycle everywhere you need to go. Here are seven ways you can save money on insuring your car, no matter where you are.

Tip 1: Check Quotes Before You Buy Another Car

According to the New York Times, 16.5 million new cars were purchased in the U.S. in 2014. Adding a new car to the family can be very exciting, whether it’s brand new or slightly used. One thing people forget to do is to check the cost of insurance for that particular vehicle. The cost of your insurance premium can vary widely depending on the car’s value, safety features, average lifetime repair costs, and how many of that particular model are stolen each year.

Tip 2: Compare Insurance Companies

It may help to get recommendations from friends and family, but they can’t give you quotes. You should also call at least three insurance carriers or get quotes online. Make sure to ask about the same amount of coverage and the same deductibles so that you can tell exactly what each company charges for the same product. You can also call the Department of Insurance in your state. They should be able to give you information pertaining to major insurance carriers including any complaints filed against them.

Tip 3: The More You Drive, the More it Costs

Insurance companies focus on risk factors, and it’s pretty logical to figure that the more miles you drive, the more likely you’ll be involved in an accident or at least a road hazard. The less you drive, the cheaper your insurance policy can be. Low mileage discounts are out there, but sometimes you have to ask. Where you live also plays a role in your rates, so take into consideration that the cost of auto insurance in Greenville could be far different from the cost of it in San Francisco.

Tip 4: It’s Also About Service

Hopefully, you won’t need to file an insurance claim, but the possibility still exists. In the event that you do need to deal with your insurance carrier, it’s good to know how their service rates before you sign the paperwork. This can save you money if you find out that the company has a less than stellar reputation. The money you spend on premiums with them would be better spent with someone else if they aren’t going to treat you with expediency and honesty.

Tip 5: Consider Raising Your Deductible

It’s tempting to choose the lowest deductible on your policy. That’s the cash you will have to pay out-of-pocket if you get in an accident. However, if you raise your deductible by a thousand dollars, you could shave off huge percentages on your overall coverage costs for the year. Play with the numbers when you’re checking quotes. You can always put some of the money you’re not spending on insurance into savings so that it’s there just in case. Later, you can always lower your deductible.

This list should provide a good starting point for you to save some money on your car insurance. If you concentrate on price and benefits, you should be able to find a great rate for the coverage you need.

HSA Check-In


The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

Since open-enrollments may be around the corner for most folks, I thought I should write an update on how my year has been going with my HSA.

Quick Summary

A quick refresher on the choices I made for my medical insurance this year…I opted to continue with my HSA-eligible plan, but opted for the highest deductible. The plan had two main components for me to be concerned about, a deductible and out-of-pocket maximums. The deductible is $7,000 and means that I cover all expenses (both doctor visits and prescriptions) until the deductible is met. The second, the out-of-pocket maximum, has an individual level, $6,450 and a family cap of $12,900. Overall, I had calculated that I was better off financially, so long as my claims did not go much above the $6,000 range. So, how am I doing?

HSA Update

As always, the little guy is leading the pack with medical expenses. For those not familiar with his history, he required an emergency heart procedure just two days after he was born. Since then, it has just been keeping an eye on things to make sure his condition hasn’t deteriorated.

Thus, his annual check-up with his cardiologist usually leads the way. The cost for his echocardiogram, EKG, and doctor totaled just under $2,000 this year. I was actually a little surprised by this number. I had anticipated more along the lines of $2,500 which is about what we had paid last year. I certainly won’t complain and am happy to pay $500 less. Thankfully, that has been it for the little guy. He has had the occasional cold here and there, but nothing serious enough to require a doctor’s visit.

Coming in a close second on the list has been my daughter. She had an ear infection early in the year. That by itself wasn’t bad, but it led to some lingering fluid in her ear. What my wife and I learned is that the fluid build-up can remain for a few weeks. We didn’t know that at the time and felt like she was having difficulty hearing, so we got her hearing tested. The initial testing and the follow-up ended up costing us just over $900.

The next biggest expenditure for her has been a new prescription. So far, we have just been filling it monthly until we find the right dosage. The way my plan works is that prescriptions are cheaper if you fill them through the mail for 3-months at a time. Once we find the correct dosage, the prescription won’t be too bad. Until that time, the cost is about $135 every time we fill it. So, far we’ve spent just over $400 for 3 months. Once we can order it through the mail, the cost will be only about $400 for the year.

The wife and I have had no major issues this year. Unlike in years past, where I’ve either had a root canal or broke my ankle, my health has been pretty good this year. My wife has had no major issues as well. Fingers are crossed that this continues for the rest of this year and beyond.

All in all, the year has gone about how I was expecting. Assuming no major issues between now and the end of the year, we should finish under the $6,000 making choosing this plan the right financial choice. Final expenditures should be right in line with what they were in 2014. I essentially took a chance that we as a family wouldn’t have any major medical expenses this year. I will probably take that gamble again next year. My hope is that when the bad year inevitably strikes, that the HSA balance will be high enough to cover it all.

How are you budgeting for your future medical bills?

How to Improve Your Credit after it Has Been Damaged


If you have poor credit, there are things that you can do in order to rebuild it. You have to start by requesting a copy of your credit file from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, so that you know where you currently stand.

Once you have your reports, you can look at whether there are any inaccuracies on there. If there are, you must dispute all of those. You should also try to dispute each of the debts that are on there, even if it is just because if you do not get a response, they will be removed from your report. After that, you should start taking proactive steps to actually rebuild your credit, which you can do with the following methods.

Secure Credit Card

A secure credit card is the type of card on which you have to pay a deposit first. While this may seem to defeat the object of a credit card in the first place, they do actually help to rebuild your credit. There are many providers for these credit cards and they have been designed specifically for those with a very poor credit. Usually, you will have to make a deposit of between $300 and $500 and will require you to make monthly payments. They also often have quite high fees (annual and monthly), so it is best to not actually use the card other than for a tiny purchase each month, which you will then pay back on time.

Installment Loans

The second option is the installment loan. You can now get installment loans online regardless of your credit. The most affordable ones tend to be offered by Credit Unions, but they can be quite difficult to obtain. If your credit is very poor, you can expect to be charged high interest rates. This is why it is important to take out only a small loan, so you do not get burdened by your installments and end up with even worse credit. The payments should be taken out of your account automatically, so do make sure you have the funds available when your payment date is due.

Auto Finance

Car finance is generally very easy to obtain even if you have poor credit, because the finance is secured against the vehicle you have just bought. However, unless you can pay a deposit on the vehicle so that it has a lot of equity, it is likely that you will have to pay very high amounts of interest if your credit is poor. But, it will do great things for your credit rating.

Joint Credit Cards

If you have a poor credit rating, but your spouse has a good one, then you may want to consider applying for a joint credit card. Your other half’s good credit rating will reflect positively on you. However, your poor credit rating will reflect badly on her or him, so you do have to make sure that this is something you both agree to.

A Few Easy Ways for You to Improve Your Credit Score


Few people truly understand credit scores. This isn’t surprising, since the algorithm used for the calculation of a credit score are so complex that only a computer can perform them. Most people want to figure out how to improve their credit score, and this leads to a number of questions. Those questions (and their answers) are below, as well as five great ways to help you improve your score.

Questions (and Answers) People Have about Improving Their Credit Score

  • Should I hire a credit repair company in order to improve my score? No, you can do it yourself and save money.
  • Will my score improve if I get married? No, your score is personal.
  • Will my score improve if I make regular payments on time? Yes, this is one of the most important ways to increase your score.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which you can improve your score.

  1. Get Rid of Any Issues

This is a slightly sneaky trick, but if it works, it’s worth it. Ask for a copy of your credit report and officially file a dispute against each of the negative marks on there. Chances are that the credit of at least one of them will not respond, which means the credit bureau will remove it. Of course, do also check whether there are any marks on there that actually need contesting.

  1. Ask for an Increased Credit Line

If you have a higher credit line, then your credit utilization ratio will also improve. This is because you will use a smaller percentage of your actual limit. As a result, your credit score will improve. With credit cards, you can usually request an increase without them checking your credit score. It is always worth asking, therefore. However, if they want to do a credit check, cancel your application because that will give you a new negative mark.

  1. Pay Your Debt

You have to make sure you have as little debt as possible on your file. The less debt you have, the better your credit utilization ratio. The best way, but not the quickest way, to achieve this is by paying your debt. Always pay the debt with the highest interest rates first, as that will improve your credit utilization ratio the quickest.

  1. Use the Credit Card as Little as Possible

You may think that you are doing the right thing by always paying off your credit card, but your score is calculated on your balance once a month. If that happens to be the day before you pay your balance, it will actually look bad on you. Hence, use your credit card as little as possible so that your balance is good.

  1. Keep Your Eye on New Tips

There are always new tips out there and you should check them out. Follow things like to be kept up to date with these new tips. All in all, this will help you improve your score.

Selling Myself Short – Don’t Underestimate Yourself!

billion dollar lottery

The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

I am beginning to think that I have been under-estimating myself a little bit.  For those that haven’t seen it in previous posts, running is something that I do as part of my regular exercising.


I have been running now, more or less off and on, for about 5 or 6 years.  This past October I finished my first marathon and I am signed up for another one this coming October.  Marathons, and the training regimen that go with them, seem to be the only thing that keeps me on a regular pattern of running.  In addition to the upcoming marathon, I recently ran a couple of shorter races as they fit within the training plan.

The First Race

The first race was 15K, or 9.3 miles.  Before the race, friends and family will usually ask how I hope to finish or my desired pace.  For this particular race, I had run 8-miles the previous week at around an 8:25/mile pace, so I was hoping for anything around that pace.

I started the race near the front and it seemed like everyone was passing me.  I decided to keep the pace I was at until I saw the first mile marker.  There was a clock displaying the time and it read 8:15 as I passed.  So, I actually wasn’t running slow and was going faster than I thought.  As each mile passed, I was still feeling pretty good and my pace began to quicken.  For the last couple of miles, I was running under 8:00.  I finished the race with an average pace of 8:04, much faster than the 8:25 I had been anticipating.

Next Race

The next race I had signed up for was a 10K, or 6.2 miles.  Again, my training plan for the October marathon had me running 6 miles, so the race fit in nicely.  My goal for this race was to finish at 7:50 pace; I had a stretch goal of maybe 7:45.  This time at the start, I was further back in the pack.  It took me about 20 seconds to actually cross the start line.  I was working my way through the crowd for about the first mile.  When I made it to the first mile marker, the clock was reading 8:04.  I thought to myself, that’s not good enough, I need to pick my pace up a little.  I reached the 2-mile mark at an overall time of 15:33, which means I had just run the previous mile at a 7:30 pace.  Turns out, I was able to keep that pace up for the remainder of the race.  I finished with an overall time of 46:52, or a 7:33 pace.

Don’t Underestimate Yourself

Why am I bringing this up?  I think you can translate my lesson here to your own finances.  I did not think that something was possible until I had already done it.  If someone would have told me that I was capable of running the first race at an 8:04 pace or the second race at a 7:33 pace, I would have told them they were crazy, yet I did it.  If you are sitting in credit card debt or another financial hole, you can get out of it.  You might think it’s impossible or unrealistic, but in the end it can happen.  All you need to do is go for it.

I ran the marathon last year at a 9:05 pace, finishing in just under 4 hours.  I have 2 goals this year, regular and stretch.  My regular goal is to finish at an 8:45 pace and the stretch is to finish at an 8:30 pace.  My financial goals a few years back were mainly to see daylight and climb out of debt.  It seemed like it was never going to happen, yet here I am just a few years later with a positive net worth and no credit card debt.

What are your goals you’re striving towards?  Any stretch goals?  Are you going to avoid underestimating yourself?

Using Fun Money for FUN!


This site is about debt, life, and trying to improve yourself. I’m also a huge proponent of having fun along the way so that you never have gigantic regrets. That said, you don’t have to fall further into debt to have fun!


Traveling just sounds expensive, right? It can be but that isn’t a requirement. If you are setting aside 5% of your budget for fun, you can travel, whether that is less than $100 or thousands.   Here are some ideas:

  • If you live near a port city like Galveston, off season cruises can be as little as $300 total per person for 5 days out and about!
  • If you live near state parks or any sort of wilderness trail, you could have a fantastic day of hiking, fishing, camping, etc. for the cost of gas and maybe the entry fee for a maintained park.
  • If you are close to a Megabus terminal, you can make it to other cities and couch surf to have a fun weekend for less than $40 plus food!
  • Find a bed and breakfast nearby and have a great time for the cost of gas and the B&B!
  • Road trips for just 3-4 hours will take you out of your comfort zone and feel like an adventure.


Gambling all the time is NOT a good idea. But if your idea of fun is to risk a little money to win even more, that is doable with your fun money too!   For a couple of bucks a week, you could buy your state’s lotto tickets if they have them. Or you can use your bit of fun money on online sites like Sky Vegas and see what happens. Or if you have the time and extra money for gas, you can drive to bingo halls or casinos near you.

I live in Houston, TX, so we drive to Louisiana once in a while to push our luck. In college, we wondered if we could make money online gambling? We played poker and ended up breaking pretty much even after several months. My husband and I never became professional players, lol.

Gambling can be a safe thrill as long as you always remember – never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose!

Nearly Free Fun

If you are really tight on fun money at any point, here are some ideas that are nearly free:

  • Feed the ducks near you with old bread or bird seed.
  • Walk your neighborhood or even city with your loved ones.
  • Keep an eye out for free days at the museums and zoos in local publications.
  • Go to the local library and grab a book, DVD, or audio book.
  • Invite some friends over for a movie night at home! We take turns bringing DVD’s of our favorites or some awful movie we just happen to own, and we talk all over the movies and have a great time!

Overall, you can have fun on any budget. Saving money, paying off debts, and growing your financial self are all very worthy and attainable aims. Just make sure you don’t forget that life isn’t really about money. Being self-sufficient and affording your lifestyle are very important. So is making sure that on the day you pass on, you aren’t forced to acknowledge that you never actually enjoyed the time you had here…you just survived it until you didn’t anymore. That would be the largest regret ever.

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