Eccentric Cute Aunt’s College Days

This is a guest article written by Eccentric Cute Aunt.

I grew up with a family of engineers around me, so it was time for college, I knew I was going for an engineering degree. In fact, my dad is a civil engineer with 3 Bachelor’s degrees (Mechanical engineering, civil engineering and computer science). He got the latter 2 degrees while working full time. I still remember days when I was a little kid riding with my dad on his bike touring his university. My dad helped me pick Purdue University (Boiler up!) for its reputable engineering school. His other rationale included that climate in Indiana is similar to my hometown which will help me adapt to new college life. He was right, the climate for my hometown and Indiana suck equally.

Luckily, my parents covered all my tuition and expenses in college, so I didn’t have any financial concerns. I had never worked before prior to college, so I was eager to find a job and be an adult. My first job was in my favorite dining court on campus. I absolutely loved my job. Now that I think about it, the job was nothing more than mundane minimal wage manual labor. But when I worked there, every day was so exciting with loads of fun. Part of it was because it was the first job ever and the other part was the people I worked with. 7 years later, today, I can still remember the smile from the faces I worked with and how kind everyone was to me. I worked there only for one semester as I needed to make time for things that better prepared me for graduate school.

My plan for the first summer was to be in Purdue’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. However, things did not work out. I missed the deadline for a recommendation letter, as I asked for recommendation from my academic advisor who did not qualify for a faculty. I was quite upset at the time, but it must be the best thing that has happened to me! I found a summer job in the resident hall and met Eccentric Rich Uncle, my future husband.  Our paths would never have crossed if I did not work there.

Then the new semester started, I became an undergrad teaching assistant (TA) for a physics class which I was super proud of. This was the highest paid undergrad job on campus ($9/hr vs. $7.5/hr everywhere else). I enjoyed being a TA and leading the physics labs. At the same time, I interviewed a few research assistant (RA) jobs. My goal then was to go to graduate school right after my undergrad to get a Master’s in Engineering, so research experience was crucial. My job as an RA was to genetically modify mint plants. (Yes, I love GMOs. It is GMO that makes it possible for the world not to starve) I had so much fun nurturing baby mints and cutting them under the fume hood. Most importantly, I loved my boss and we became good friends. She was a great inspiration as she is continuously curious of the world and eager to explore. We would make handmade soup together using the mint essential oiling distilled from the mint we grew too.

With the TA and RA experience in semester 2&3, a professor agreed to sponsor me for my graduate school. The plan was to be enrolled in an accelerated program that allows me to graduate with Undergrad and Master’s in 5 years total. The second summer, I finally got to be in Purdue’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program sponsored by the professor realizing my dream from the first summer. This is also the summer I got married to Eccentric Rich Uncle.

Semester 4 was quite uneventful as I continued working as TA and RA. At the end of semester 4, I realized with the current speed, I would graduate one semester before Eccentric Rich Uncle. I saw a brochure about  Disney World internship in Florida. Since our relationship was at all time low due to some conflicts about the past wedding and I had the extra semester, I decided to take the semester off from school and go work for Disney. I enjoyed the time in Disney (truly happiest place on earth) but did not like the job. I worked in a fast food restaurant right next to Tower of Terror. I was not strong enough to lift the French fries from the hot oil and I had to stand all day long. I am always glad that I went to Disney, as during my internship in Disney, Starbucks Corp interviewed me for the upcoming summer internship opportunity and they were really pleased to hear I was interning with Disney.

The third summer I flew to Seattle and interned in the Starbucks Headquarters. This was my first corporate job using my engineering degree and it completely changed my path. The last day of the internship, I was given a full time offer for me to return after graduation. I was so excited that I had to give my HR manager a big hug before she showed me my offer letter.

I returned to Purdue starting Semester 5. By then, Eccentric Rich Uncle and I had been apart for 8 months, so it was great to be together again and we got over the relationship trough. The last 2 semesters (5&6) was stress-free and easy except I had to tell my professor that I will not continue with my Master’s degree. It was hard as I had great respect for the professor and I am grateful for his support in my change of mind. I became the lead undergrad TA for physics class. I also tutored 2 students math and physics and became good friends with them.

I had lots of cool jobs along the way when I was in college. Although I was never paid very high, all the jobs were very meaningful and help build who I am today. It makes me smile going down the memory lane and thinking about the various jobs I had.

Pay Off the Mortgage or Invest?

Eccentric Cute Aunt and I hate being in debt.  I’ve always hated asking for a loan, even just borrowing a buck or two from someone.  And anytime I’ve had a loan in my life, I’ve tried to pay it back IMMEDIATELY.  In college, I was forced to take a few Stafford student loans which I started to pay back well before graduating, and was fortunate enough to end college with around $8,000 in loans which we promptly paid back before the grace period ended (whew! No interest!).  And although I have never found it difficult to save up enough money to buy anything that I need, including cars (I’ve never had a car loan and I’ve always owned, never leased), saving up enough money to buy a house with cash was not something that seemed reasonable.  So, we got a mortgage…

We bought our home in October 2013, with a down-payment of around $80,000 which we had saved the prior year and a half after graduating.  We were debt-free at the time, and then suddenly, $225,000 in the hole.  Of course, we owned the house too, but if you’re like us, that somehow feels like a small consolation (I know it’s irrational).  So, with our obsession to be debt-free, we started to pay down the loan.  Today, the balance sits at just under $48,000 and we are extremely far ahead of our 15 year timeline.  If we don’t make any additional payments, the mortgage will be fully repaid in April, 2019, 9 ½ years before the original December, 2028 timeline for our 15 year mortgage.  And knowing us, we will almost definitely be putting in more, so it will likely be paid off within the next year!

All this is great, but was it the right choice?  Is continuing to pay down the mortgage the way to go, or would I be better off investing that money?  I looked at how much and when we put in extra towards the mortgage and compared it to the amount we would have made by investing this money into the S&P 500 with reinvested dividends.

Here is what we actually did (approximately) for the past year: 1

And here is the theoretical alternative would have been for the past year:2

5

I used this calculator to determine the gains on the S&P 500 for each month.

From the theoretical version, if we were to take the total value of the portfolio and use it to pay down the loan at the end, we would end with a loan amount of $55,893.  Compared to the actual value of $57, 611.  Therefore, we would be about $1,700 better off investing just over the past year.

The discrepancy gets a little bigger when I look at the entire life of the loan.  When I go further back and do my “what-if” scenario, I found that we would be around $6,000 better off if we would have been investing the extra money instead of paying down the mortgage.

So in the end, we could have been a little richer by investing, but we have earned a greater peace-of-mind going the safe route and getting that mortgage off our backs.  I’m not sure which is the best choice.  What would you do?

Food Expenditure Update

It’s been long enough since I last wrote that it was worth looking at an aspect of our finances, specifically, food.  It’s one of the largest categories of expenditure for us and therefore deserves a lot of attention.

Last year, from January 2015 through December 2015, we spent about $4,440 on food and dining, giving an average of around $370 per month.  From January up until today, we have only spent $2,380 in food and dining, giving an average of around $340 per month.  These expenditures generally include anything we buy at grocery stores including non-grocery items, fast-food and restaurants.  The vast majority of the spending was $2,000 at grocery stores so far this year ($285/month), $270 at restaurants ($38/month) , and $105 at fast food restaurants ($15/month).  Comparing these from last year, we spent around $253/month at grocery stores, $66/month at restaurants, $43/month on fast food, and $3.80 on coffee shops per month.

Food Expenditures Table Aug 2016

Without trying very hard, we’ve been even more frugal this year than we were last year.  We have spent more on groceries, which makes sense since we’re cooking more at home and eating out a bit less.  It seems that Eccentric Cute Aunt has not been going to Starbucks at all this year either, although it was never really a habit for her, so we have no coffee shop expenditures.  She also seems to eat out even less, opting to pack her lunch nearly every day.

I have also changed my lunchtime diet a bit.  I used to do cold meat & cheese sandwiches, but I have switched to home-made flatbread and hummus for most lunches.  It’s a good meal and since I make the flatbread at home, super cheap.  I also generally get the hummus at Grocery Outlet, a discount grocery chain in the area, saving a few bucks further.  My cost for lunch for a week is about $5 currently (4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of yeast, 2 teaspoons of salt, 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, and a 9oz container of hummus), and it’s healthier, so a win-win.  I’ve also picked up baking, making my own bread which is both extremely cheap and extremely delicious!

Not everything has been an decrease though.  EC Aunt has been spending more on fresh fruits this year than last year by my estimation, eating more blueberries, watermelon (which she eats about 1 large one a week!), and lychee rather than fruits like apples.  After reading about the various health benefits of drinking in general, I have also tried to pick up red wine.  I pretty much only used to drink once a month or so with coworkers on the rare occasion, but now I’m drinking more frequently at home (probably 3 days a week on average).  I’ve also picked up home brewing hard cider, which was not very successful on my first batch, but I’m giving it a second chance currently!

All-in-all, I don’t think we’re at the absolute rock bottom of frugality on our food expenditures, but we’re doing quite well!  We are well below the USDA’s “thrifty” plan of $389.90/month (which we were last year as well).    We’ve also managed to avoid the dreaded “lifestyle inflation” which up until now, we’ve experienced very little of even with increased wages.  I think the biggest factor for us is that neither of us really enjoy eating out.  The food is rarely better than what I could have made myself, it takes a long time, and it’s expensive!  Fast food is convenient and cheap and tasty, but it’s horrible for you.  So, we just make our own meals.  Luckily, it’s also the most frugal way to go!

Plugging a Tire DIY

 

Recently, I picked up a self-tapping screw in my tire.  Not sure where it happened, but I’m betting it was in the parking lot of my work.  Fortunately, the screw itself made a pretty good seal, so I wasn’t leaking air very fast, (about 7 psi overnight), so I went and bought a tire repair kit.  The kit I ended up getting has everything you might need to plug or patch a tire and cost me just around $10, but it’s pretty common to find just a plug kit for around $5.  Once I had my repair kit, I grabbed a few other tools and went to work!  It probably took me about 10 minutes to do it, but I got lucky that I didn’t need to remove the tire.  I decided to just plug the tire for now since the hole was pretty small and I don’t have a tire changer, but next time I go get an oil change, I may very likely patch it then.IMG_2348.JPG

Tools used:

Flat-head screw driver

Vise grips (pliers would be fine too)

Tire reamer (comes with repair kit)

Plug Hook (comes with repair kit)

Utility Knife

Gloves (not needed, but keeps your hands clean)

First, I used my screw driver to get the bolt out far enough to grab it with my vise grips.  I didn’t need to take the wheel off the car to do this, I just parked it in such a way that I had access.  I just put the car in park, but I should have probably used the e-brake too since the car moved a few inches when I put in the plug.  Once I got a good grip on the bolt, I slowly pulled it out.  I didn’t let out any air or anything so, air started escaping pretty quickly after doing this.  I then inserted the reamer into the hole and pushed it in and out a few ti

mes.  This is just to clean the hole and make it big enough to put the plug in.  I left the reamer in the hole to keep the air in while I prepare the plug.  I took out a plug and threaded it through the eye of the plug hook.  The one I bought actually splits apart when you pull it out, others are actually more hook-like.  I tried to push in the plug, but the hole was a little too small, so I reamed it a little more.  I then pushed the plug in, with some effort, until only about 1/3 of each end of the plug was showing.  I then very quickly pulled out the hook, leaving the plug behind.  The last step is to cut off the tails of the plug, I left a little bit on assuming that it will be smashed while driving.

IMG_2351
The offending screw.

And that’s it.  It was really easy.  You can get this done at a shop for pretty cheap, so it’s not an amazing way to save money, but you will save a buck or two by doing it yourself and maybe some time.  I know that Costco does this for around $11.  I’m sure other places are about the same, but for how simple it is, and how little time it takes, it’s a nice little DIY repair that I think pretty much anyone can do and I would personally much rather do it myself than wait for an hour or so for a shop to get around to it.  It might even be a good idea to keep a kit in the car in case you need to plug while on a trip.  Of course, if you are unsure, always err on the side of caution.  If the hole is too large or in the side-wall of the tire, the damage may not be repairable.  If the steel rings in the tire get damaged, or exposed, they can rust and the tire can fail catastrophically later too due to rusting.

How to Get Cell Phone Service for Free!

A large bill that can pretty easily be avoided every month is a cell phone bill.  According to J.D. Power and Associates, the average monthly cell bill was $78 a person in 2010.  I pay $0 per month.  Here’s how I do it:

Get a Google Voice Number

Google Talk

Google has a service called Google Voice.  You can get a phone number through this for free which can receive calls through Google Hangouts, sends voicemail to your email and transcribes the audio, and can send and receive SMS messages.  You can make and receive calls using your computer’s microphone and speakers as well.  The quality is generally as good as your connection though, as long as you have DSL or cable though, it works great.  You can use Google Hangouts to make calls from your favorite web browser, so you don’t need to download any apps or anything.  You can also get hangouts on iOS and Android, so you can use it with a smartphone or tablet and use it on the go.  This way, as long as you have wifi, voila~ you have a free working phone!

If you need to make international calls, you can do that too, but Google charges $.10 a minute.  I haven’t tried this aspect, but I’m betting it works fine.

FreedomPop:

Of course, you won’t have wifi everywhere.  The way I get around this is I have a mobile hotspot (MiFi) with FreedomPop.  This is not completely free as you need to buy the hotspot, but once you have it, you can use it to connect to the Sprint LTE wifi network for free for each month.  You are limited to 500 MB for the free plan, but I only use around 250 or so a month, so it works well for me.  Still, service is a bit spotty and the wifi likes to drop for no reason.  My phone is also getting old too, so I’m sure that has something to do with it.  I only paid around $80 total for having FreedomPop for the last 3 years or so, so I can’t really complain about price!  The hotspot is also supposed to work internationally now.  I haven’t tried it yet, but that alone might be a good reason to get a hotspot.

FreedomPop also has a free phone plan, so you can just skip all this and just get one of their phones.  Or you can bring your unlocked phone over.  I haven’t personally done this, so I can’t recommend it, but I will probably do that when I’m thinking of upgrading.

I think these are the rock-bottom ways to save money on the cell-phone bill.  Have you heard of any better?  If so, leave a comment!

Time Does Not Equal Money, Time = Time!

Everyone knows the saying that “time is money”.  The idea has been around for ages, but it was Ben Franklin who wrote it in this form in his “Advice to a Young Tradesman”.  Why then shouldn’t we take the advice of the man on the One-hundred dollar bill?
1024px-usdollar100front
Because he omits a very basic, very simple question…  Why do we care about money or time?

The main problem with the saying is that it is not advice for the vast majority of us.  It’s advice for a business owner, a tradesman.  The sole purpose of a business is to make money.  If a company is not profitable, it ultimately fails.  And for a company, wasted time means that either goods or services are not being provided to as many customers as possible, or that unnecessary wages are being paid to workers.  Wasted time is a throttle for a business’s cash in-flow and a leak for its cash out-flow.

However, unless you are Mitt Romney, you wouldn’t call a corporation a person.  The average Joe/plain Jane is not out to make as much money as they can.  We work for a living.  Five or six days a week, we wake up, go to work, and convert our time to money.  Most of this don’t do this because we want to.  In fact, most of us hate our jobs…  We would rather be at home with our loved ones, playing a game, watching a movie, reading a book, but we must work to earn enough money to get by.

We need to buy things that will sustain us, food, shelter, etc.  Once we achieve the basest level of human existence, we are able to buy things that we want a-la-Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  For us, time we spend at work is converted into money so that we can do the things that we really want to do.  Money is just the intermediary, it’s just a tool that we used to convert our time into the things that we really need or want.  But what happens if you don’t want to work?  What if you want to retire?  If money is the intermediary tool, it becomes obvious.  We spend time in our jobs today so that tomorrow we can live a carefree life.  Conversely, every time we spend money, we must delay our retirement.

Some of us may love our jobs and our jobs may even define a few of us.  But ultimately, what’s important for us is the time we spend doing what we love.  And for most of us, money is just the tool that allows us to do it.

Rent or Buy and Why

Huge disclaimer:  I’m not classifying as financial tips or advice, buying a home is a huge financial decision and all options should be considered.  In many cases, renting is actually the best way to go, but I own a house and here’s why:

Eccentric Cute Aunt and I moved into our current home on Halloween of 2013.  We live in a brand new townhouse in Seattle, WA, about 3 miles from downtown Seattle.  It has 2 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms and about 1400 square feet with a detached garage.  We are the first owners of the home and purchased it while it was still under construction.  We didn’t get to customize much, all we had a choice in was the color scheme used for the cabinets and floor, but it came out quite nice and the floor layout is good, so I can’t really complain.

THE BREAKDOWN:
We purchased our home for $301,000 with an original loan amount on the mortgage of $226,000.  We locked in a 15 year loan at 3.375% with a down payment of $75,000 and closing costs of just around $5,000.  Our monthly payments are just a tiny bit under $2,000 a month with $380 escrow for property taxes.  Our home insurance costs $375 per year.  Last year, we paid $4700 in interest and $3,400 in taxes, in 2014, we paid $6150 in interest and $2130 in taxes.  We also have a $150 quarterly payment for sewage capacity charge which is charged to new buildings in Seattle.  We are also required to be in an HOA which has a monthly charge of around $170.  So, for 2014 and 2015, the cost of the house has been $21,660 or about $10,830 per year, or $450 per month.  In addition, we have paid around $300 a year for trash pick up ($26/month), $150 a year for natural gas ($12.50/month), $360 a year for electricity ($30/month), $460 a year for water ($38.50/month), and $450 per year on internet ($37.50/month).

HouseCosts

TO-DATE MONTHLY COST OF OWNING AND LIVING IN A HOUSE:  $1,065
MONTHLY COST OF OWNING A HOUSE (EXCLUDING UTILITIES):  $890
AVERAGE MONTHLY COST OF RENT IN SEATTLE:  $1284 

CAVEATS:
Other than the fact that this is completely my personal situation and it may not reflect your experiences with home ownership, there are a couple of other caveats to bring up.

In my cost calculation, I’m ignoring the premium of my mortgage.  I assume that over time, my home will gain value (and it has).  My actually monthly payment is more like $2,750.  This payment may unfortunately be a little too high for many people…

I’ve ignored income tax savings on interest and real estate taxes paid.  This reduces the monthly cost by around $190.  Rent can also be deducted, which for my tax bracket would reduce the monthly cost of rent by around $360.  Therefore, the monthly cost of the house becomes $260 and the cost of renting becomes $924 before utilities.

As I write this (January 2016), we owe just a tiny bit over $100,000, our next bi-weekly payment will put us into 5-digit territory.  We’ve basically paid half the loan in two years and could easily pay it off fully in two more, but we have decided to slow down our repayment a little bit and invest our money in higher-return investments since the cost of the interest on the loan is fairly low, but we may change our minds looking at the current market.  Our accelerated repayment has considerably lowered the amount of interest we’ve paid, so that should be taken into account when trying to determine the cost of owning a home.

I have also not taken into consideration home improvement or maintenance costs.  Some of these are covered by my HOA such as gardening and the exterior of our home.  The average annual cost is around $3,435 according to Zillow.  I expect that my home maintenance costs will increase over time as the house ages, but it won’t be quite as high due to some of the coverage from the HOA.

THE VERDICT:
We started renting a 500 square foot studio apartment pretty close to where we live currently and were paying $860 per month before utilities.  We could have kept that apartment indefinitely for $1060 per month after our lease expired on a month-to-month basis.  If we would have stayed, we would have basically paid the same amount we have thus far for owning our home (which is much bigger and nicer).  Furthermore, after we pay off the loan, the monthly cost will be more like $615.  It might be worth it to consider the lifetime costs of housing between renting and owning, which for us makes owning worth it.

Also, I have neglected to mention the fact that our home value has increased tremendously since we bought it.  We were lucky to be able to buy a home when we did, its value has nearly increased by 150% from the time we bought it.  In addition to that, we put the spare bedroom to good use by renting it out on Airbnb which also generates a decent income and is generally something you cannot do if you rent.  But of course, these again are both very situational.  Perhaps renting is truly the best option for you, do the math and make sure it is truly the best investment.

Sources:
Rent costs – http://www.seattletimes.com/business/seattle-area-apartment-rents-climb-to-average-1284-a-
Home Maintenance Costs – http://zillow.mediaroom.com/2015-06-17-U-S-Homeowners-Can-Spend-More-Than-9-000-Per-Year-in-Hidden-Homeownership-Costs-and-Maintenance-Expenses
month/

Resistance is Frugal! – 5 Ways to Get Your Impulse Buying Under Control

If you want to embrace the financial freedom lifestyle, getting your impulses in check is an important first step.  Stores (both brick and mortar and online) are specifically designed to get you to spend as much money as possible.  Getting your impulses into line can save you a small fortune.  Here’s my top tips for resisting the temptation to buy.

1) Be patient.
Not everyone has this virtue, but it truly is a blessing to have.  I’m lucky enough to just be patient by nature, it doesn’t take any effort on my part to have patience because I know that good things really do come to those who wait.  Patience is important in many aspects of our lives, but when it comes to shopping, the main thing to remember is that when you want something, you don’t need to buy it right then and there.  Once you’ve identified something you want, the best thing you can do is step back, determine if you really do want it, shop around for it, find the best deal, wait to see if its price drops, and then after a while buy it.

2) Make *Not* Buying the Default Action.
The checkout line is an easy place to lose a buck or two each time you visit.  The allure of that Snicker’s Bar, that pack of M&Ms, that bag of beef jerky is almost too much to bear.  The first and most common advice given is to shop on a full stomach so you don’t give into your hunger pangs and buy the junk, but I have another suggestion.  Make not buying things the default.  The easiest way to do this is to shop from a list and make a commitment to stick to your list.  If you see something along the way that you didn’t have on the list, you can add it while you shop, but you must justify adding it to the list.  If you can’t justify it, don’t buy it.  For instance can you really justify putting that $.75 cent candy bar on the list when you could buy a pack of 6 of them for $2.50?  If you really want it, don’t buy it on impulse, plan for it.  Furthermore, you really don’t need to be eating that junk anyway!

3) Resist the Siren Call of Sales.
The plain and simple, not all sales are equal.  Different stores have different base-line prices and even with huge discounts on their normal price, they still might not beat their competitors.  Don’t hastily rush into buy something just because you see it “on sale”.  Without doing the research you don’t know if the store is just trying to instill a sense of urgency to get you to buy the product, or if the prices have been artificially jacked up and then lowered to a normal price like J.C. Penney was found doing.

4) Be Aware of the Tricks Stores Use.
This is enough for an entire article in itself, but I’ll keep it brief.  Everything from the lighting in the produce section, to the location of the bakery, to the background music, to the size of shopping carts and then some!  Study your enemy, know what psychological tricks stores are using against you and you’ll be better equipped to fight them.
Some quick tips I’ve thought of:

  • Wear headphones and listen to high intensity music, or force yourself to listen to music you hate while in stores.
  •  Skip the cart, use a basket instead.  It’s hard to buy things when you can barely carry it all.
  •  Generally ignore the displays at the ends of aisles.  Those are more often than not things the store really wants you to buy, therefore, it’s probably very profitable for them and more expensive for you.
  •  Keep your eyes low or high.  The best deals are almost never on the eye-level shelves.
  •  Keep yourself busy while waiting in line, read a blog on your phone or something, just don’t look at all the candy.

5) Know Yourself.
Everyone reacts differently to different stimuli.  Keep track of when you fail to resist your impulse to buy things you don’t need and try to avoid those situations in the future.  Try new strategies if the old ones aren’t working.  Find something that works for you and train yourself to be good at following it.  Seek support from friends and family, talk to your therapist about it.  Financial independence is not something that comes easily.  It’s only through hard work and perseverance that you can achieve such a goal.

Remember, it’s not easy for everyone to get a handle on spending.  Don’t feel ashamed if you fail and give in to temptation and buy that knife specially designed to get every dab out of the Nutella jar, or the as-seen-on TV veggie pasta maker that you’re never going to use.  Mistakes are a great learning opportunity, it’s not the end of the world!  But always remember resistance is not futile, it’s frugal!

7 Ways to be a Frugal Gamer

videogamepiggie

I’m a huge gamer.  Most people like to watch movies or TV, and I do occasionally watch an hour or two, until I get bored, but the vast majority of my free time is used playing games.  “But Eccentric Rich Uncle, isn’t gaming expensive?”  You may ask…  Nope, you probably spend much more on coffee in a week than I do on gaming in a month.

Here are the ways that I keep my guilty pleasure on a not-so guilty price tag.

1) Play for free.
There are several very big mainstream free-to-play games.  League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Team Fortress 2, etc.  Depending on the type of game you like to play, there’s something for free out there for you.

There are also several websites that give free game giveaways.  GoG, indiegala, and several others do this.  Often the games are not great or, sometimes, they’re great, but older, sometimes much order.  Still, can be a great way to pick up a game that you might not have tried otherwise, or one you missed!

Origin, EA’s game platform, also gives games away.  Although, of course, you will have to download and install Origin…   Since EA does have some good games, you might want to anyway.  Since you’re taking advantage of the free games, I don’t think you have to feel bad about having anything to do with the only company to be voted worst company of the year for two consecutive years.

2) Never buy virtual items.
So, most of those free-to-play games out there, how do they keep the lights on?  Well, instead of selling the game or charging a membership, many of these games run on micro-transactions.  You want to have an awesome mount, a bad-ass skin?  My biggest advice for the frugal gamer?  Just don’t buy it…  If you really want it and the game allows it, grind until you can afford it with in-game currency.  For the most part, these things don’t really make the game experience any better.

3) Humble Bundle!
Humble Bundles are where I spend the vast majority of my gaming budget.  I have picked up games like DmC: Devil May Cry (2013), Crusader Kings II (with several expansion packs), Terraria, The Stanley Parable, and many more.  Of course, most of the games are a few years old, so you’re not quite keeping up with the cutting edge, it’s not quite a 5 year lag though.

cutting_edge

Source: XKCD, a very excellent webcomic
Humble Bundle has a pretty unique way of bundling too.  There are usually several tiers you can pay to get different numbers of games.  Usually there’s a $1 level where you get a few games, a beat-the-average price in which even more games are available, and then occasionally a higher level which will have a newer game or something else like merchandise.  The bundle usually lasts a week, after that time, you can’t get it, so you need to keep an eye on it.  Now, I have not bought every bundle, not by a long-shot.  But with the rate at which I play games, I am easily gaining more games than I can play with the free time I have (Maybe after I retire, I’ll catch up).  Furthermore, I’ve found that acting quickly gives a better price because the beat-the-average price generally increases over time.  Did I mention that they give a portion (which you can choose) of each purchase to charity?

4) Be Patient.
Wait for sales!  I have a basic rule where I don’t buy a game that’s over $10.  I very, very, very rarely ever break that rule, but I find that I don’t really need to.  Games I want to play eventually hit about that rate and I have a backlog of games to keep me busy until then.  Being patient is probably the biggest driver of cost-savings in any endeavor, it applies here just the same.

5) Wait for the “Game of the Year” / Definitive / Legendary / Complete Edition
Modern games have tons of DLC.  This gives the feeling that the game experience is not complete unless you buy them.  This is an obvious avoidable trap.  Just wait and you’ll get the full experience and still have a full wallet.  These editions are often almost as cheap as the standard version too when they go on sale.  I recall just a few years ago I picked up Skyrim with all its DLC for around $7.50 on Steam.  You simply cannot beat that kind of value.

6) Switch to PC.
Thanks to the fact that you don’t need to buy any physical media, games on PC can be much cheaper.  You can’t go and buy a bundle of great old Xbox games or something like that.  Your best chance to get games for a good price is Craigslist, Goodwill, or Ebay.  Gamestop is an option for used games and hardware, but good luck picking up a really good game for less than $10-$15.  This just simply cannot beat the prices you can get for those same games when buying them online through a site like Steam.

Bonus tip!  Friends and family who know you’re a gamer may give you Gamestop gift cards.  You can use these gift cards to buy steam gift cards in the store and capitalize on your gaming budget.

7) Sell it when you’re done.
This is something I actually haven’t really done well when it comes to the games I used to play on consoles, but it’s definitely a great way to keep your gaming budget alive.  When you’re done playing a game, why not sell it and put that money into buying a new game?  For most games this route is cheaper than just renting the game anyway.  For instance, if today I went and bought Fallout 4 for Xbox One from Gamestop, I could get it for $57 pre-owned.  If I played it for a couple hundred hours and decided I was done a few months later, I could very likely sell it on Craigslist for around $40-$50.  Maybe making it worth it, but there’s major downsides since I can’t go back and play the game anymore…

Another thing you can sell is in-game items for real-world cash.  Some games explicitly allow this like Diablo III did for awhile.  I wouldn’t advise making playing your job, but if you’ve already earned something that you have no intention to use in the future, why not sell it?

One final thing that I always sell is Steam trading cards.  Many games on steam give you these trading cards you can collect to craft badges and show off your gaming cred.  The only problem is that you can never get enough cards to actually craft it just from playing, you’ll need to trade or buy the few cards you need to finish the set.  Now, if you don’t care about all that, you can just sell them on the market.  The prices vary a lot, but I’ve found that on average, I get about $.08 cents per card and about 2 cards per game on average, meaning that I can get back some small portion of what I paid for the game in cards.  Well, something is better than nothing.

So, that’s my strategy for keeping my gaming affordable.  One other item I didn’t include in my list is the fact that I do surveys on e-rewards. It’s invitation only, so I can’t recommend it as a general tip, but if you do get an invitation to join, it can be worth it.  I get a $25 gift card for Gamestop every 3 months which I usually convert to Steam Wallet immediately to actually buy my games.

So, how much do I actually spend?

Since keeping good records of my spending on video games, going back to August of 2013, I have spent $70.46 on Humble Bundles, $13.89 on Steam not counting gift card money, and $.93 at Gamestop.  I’ve also used gift cards from my surveys totaling approximately $250.  This gives a grand total of $335.28 since August of 2013 (It’s December of 2015 as of writing this).

Or, around $12 per month, $3 out of pocket, $9 from gift cards.

All-in-all, I’ve made that $335 go a long way.  While doing my research for this article, I found this website which gathers a ton of statistics on steam accounts.  Kind of fun to look at if you know you play a lot on Steam.

I also am fortunate enough to have been provided a laptop from my work which is fairly powerful and I have the freedom to take it home and play games on it.  Before this though, I had a decent desktop I built for $500 back in 2009.  I kept that desktop until 2013 when I sold it for $75 on Craigslist.  It wasn’t an amazing computer, but it was plenty good enough to play any game I wanted to.  So, for a total cost of $425 over a 4 year span, the total cost of the computer was around $9 per month.  Using this information, I can determine my realistic frugal gaming budget:

Realistic Frugal Gaming Budget: $25 per month, $300 per year.

Sure, you won’t have the latest generation console.  You might miss out on a few exclusive titles.  You might not get the latest joke about who used to be an adventurer before a certain projectile struck them in a certain joint on a certain limb.  But if you’re broke or if you’re just cheap, gaming can be an incredibly affordable hobby.

4 Frugal New Years Resolutions

It’s that time of year again!  Have you decided on your new years resolution?  If not, I have 4 suggestions for you:

1) Loose Weight – Skip the Gym.
Nearly always the number one resolution Americans have is to loose weight, staying healthy is another top choice.  To achieve this, many people get gym memberships, which average around $55 per month.  Furthermore, 67% of people never even use their memberships.  There may be some value in going to a gym, especially if they have a pool or a piece of equipment that you absolutely love, but I would highly advise not buying a year-long membership in case you get burned out and stop going mid way though. If you want to be really frugal, exercise at home.  I personally use an Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar which I just leave in a doorway and do a few pull ups just about every time I walk by.  Or, to be even more frugal, there are so many free exercise you can do including sit ups, push ups, jumping jacks, or even just walking.  If you want to loose weight the most important thing is just finding what you like to do, and for most people I don’t think a gym is somewhere they really want to be. Continue reading “4 Frugal New Years Resolutions”