EC Aunt’s Fav #4 – After a long day at work

Although the blog is intended for ER uncle to share his personal finance ideas, I decided to hijack his blog to share my fav items that bring me constant joy. Every time I pick up the item, I get this immersive feeling of satisfaction and can’t help to think “I am so glad I got this”.

Check out previous posts

EC Aunt’s Fav #1 – Lip Steal vs. Splurge

EC Aunt’s Fav #2 – Make up in the Car

EC Aunt’s Fav #3 – Tropical Vacation

My work has been really busy these days. I am working about 9-10hrs a day. So not crazy long hours compared to lots of other people. But that combined with all the craziness at work can be very stressful and exhausting. Here are some things I love after a long day at work.

Continue reading “EC Aunt’s Fav #4 – After a long day at work”

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EC Aunt’s Fav #3 – Tropical Vacation

Although the blog is intended for ER uncle to share his personal finance ideas, I decided to hi-jack his blog to share my fav items that bring me constant joy. Every time I pick up the item, I get this immersive feeling of satisfaction and can’t help to think “I am so glad I got this”.

Check out previous posts EC Aunt’s Fav #1 – Lip Steal vs. Splurge & EC Aunt’s Fav #2 – Make up in the Car.

We had our first snow this week. This totally makes me miss all our tropical island vacations. It’s funny that I always love packing and preparing for our vacation. Writing this post about my favorite things for a tropical vacation is a good opportunity to re-live all the sweet memories.

Continue reading “EC Aunt’s Fav #3 – Tropical Vacation”

EC Aunt’s Fav #2 – Make up in the Car

Although the blog is intended for ER uncle to share his personal finance ideas, I decided to hi-jack his blog to share my fav items that bring me constant joy. Every time I pick up the item, I get this immersive feeling of satisfaction and can’t help to think “I am so glad I got this”. Check out previous post EC Aunt’s Fav #1 – Lip Steal vs. Splurge.

Today we are going to talk about my make-up essentials to quickly complete a cute look for work. These items are compact and easy to apply. In the morning, I carpool with ER uncle and I am able to finish my make up within 15 mins sitting in the car. They fit into a small make up bag that I pack with me when I travel.

Continue reading “EC Aunt’s Fav #2 – Make up in the Car”

EC Aunt’s Fav #1 – Lip Steal vs. Splurge

Although the blog is intended for ER uncle to share his personal finance ideas, I decided to hi-jack his blog to share my fav items that bring me constant joy. Every time I pick up the item, I get this immersive feeling of satisfaction and can’t help to think “I am so glad I got this”. ER uncle and I are all about spending on things that truly matters to us (video game for ER uncle, fashion and beauty items for me, and experiences for both of us). I do splurge quite a bit more than ER uncle. Every time I splurge, I try to make sure I get the highest happiness return for my $$. Here is a series of successful items and I share it a Steal vs. Splurge format.

Continue reading “EC Aunt’s Fav #1 – Lip Steal vs. Splurge”

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.