My Emergency Fund

If you do any kind of reading in the personal finance space, surely you’ve come across the idea of an emergency fund. But just in case you haven’t, here’s a real quick and dirty rundown of what it is and why it’s so important.

The idea behind an emergency fund is that you want to have cash stashed away in case of an — you guessed it — emergency. This can be a job loss, medical emergency, car failure, your roof collapses, etc. Basically, there are things that we can budget for on a monthly basis — groceries, cable bill, cell phone bill, etc. — and we know roughly how much that will cost us each month, and we know where the money is going to come from to pay it off.

Emergency expenses are a different animal, because they’re entirely unexpected, you don’t know when they’re going to happen, and you have no idea how much they will cost you. As you can see, it can be tricky — and a little scary — thinking about how to best approach this.

But the solution to the problem is still quite simple — you just need to stash away a chunk of money each month, and DON’T TOUCH IT unless you absolutely need it? How much should you save each month? Well, you’ll hear different amounts from different folks, but really you should save as much as you can with any money you have left over every month.

When I get paid, a certain percentage (12%) goes to my 401k, and then I have an automatic transfer set up in my checking account where 10% of my leftover paycheck goes into an ING emergency fund. And again, the most important part is that you don’t take money out of it unless it’s an actual emergency. And no, a new cell phone, or flat screen TV, or trip to Bermuda does not count.

I like this “set it and forget it” method because it really does take the thought out of it once you have it set up.

How I Save Money with a Home Gym

01As a personal finance guy, I am always — always — thinking of new ways to save some money. It drives my wife crazy, because I will be throwing out ideas all the time, but I think in the end she realizes how good it is for our financial future.

So a few months back I was going over our credit card statements, and I noticed the two separate chargers for our two gym memberships: $75 each! And that’s a recurring monthly charge! So we’re talking about $150 per month, which comes out to a whopping $1,800 per year! This is serious money we’re talking about. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking next: so he just went ahead and canceled the gym memberships. But no, that’s not what happened!

You see, while I am a pretty frugal guy, I can also see the value in some of the more extravagant expenses. And a gym membership is one of them. Well, let me rephrase: I believe it’s worthwhile to invest in exercise, because what you’re really doing is investing in your health. And there are very few things in life more important than good health. So I was thinking, how can I take this $1,800 per year we’re spending on gym memberships, and re-purpose that money while still being able to exercise? And if the title of this post didn’t give it away, the answer I came up with is that I would start to build out my own little mini home gym.

So what I ended up doing was I bought a couple of pieces of equipment for our basement. The first item I bought was a rowing machine; you may have seen Kevin Spacey use one of these things in House of Cards. This thing is a beast — it exercises many muscles in your body, and really does provide a great workout. I find myself using it at lest four times per week, and I always work out a great sweat.

Another piece of equipment I bought was an inversion table, which may seem a little strange, but this thing really helps out with the back. One of my biggest health fears as I get older is developing back issues; it can just be so debilitating — so I really want to keep my back in great shape and really stretched out. And this thing helps so much. I researched both pieces of equipment, by the way, on Jane’s Best Fitness: I recommend checking them out, great reviews.

So that’s what I’ve started out with with my home gym. Yes, it ran me several hundred dollars upfront, but having no more gym membership means that they will pay for themselves in just a couple of months.

I can’t wait until I add a few more pieces of equipment.

Money Saving Tips for your Next Camping Trip

picI don’t know about your family, but mine absolutely loves the outdoors. Every summer, we trek on up to the Pocono Mountains for a weekend of camping, fishing, hunting, and all kinds of outdoor goodness. Lately, though, we have been trying to come up with ways to make this summer routine a little easier on the wallet — when you have two kids, things can get pretty expensive.

So this year, my wife and I outlined a little plan of sorts that we’re going to try to follow that we hope will save us a little bit of money for our next camping trip.

Lodging. Staying in a hotel for 3-4 nights is always our biggest expense here, running us several hundred dollars. (Yes, you read that right — even though we do go “camping”, we still stay in a hotel). This year, we decided to look into Airbnb. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically a place for people to rent out their homes/apartment to strangers looking for a place to stay. It sounded a little sketchy to me at first, but after reading a lot of reviews, it seems legit — and the prices for a full house are much better than a cramped hotel.

Food. Usually, we just buy take-out food on our way to and from the hotel, and keep some snacks for during the day. This can get a little expensive, so this year we’ve decided we’re going to try to kill our own meat! Yes, that’s right — we’re going to do some serious hunting! My son and I will shoot our deer or boar meat, cut it up, and grill it over an open fire. Now only will this be awesome, but it should feed the entire family for a fraction of what we typically pay.

Travel. Some years, we’ll go camping with another family or two — it’s a great way to get a big group together and have some quality time. Stupidly, however, we ending up taking a car for every family, even though there’s only 3-4 people per family. This year, if we do end up with a bigger group, we’re going to do the obvious — car pool! I don’t know why we didn’t do this before. It will end up saving us so much in gas, and we’ll have some quality time with our friends.

What I’m Investing in Recently

marketI’m a personal finance freak, and a big part of that — aside from the budgets, and emergency fund, and saving on the little things — is that I love to invest. Investing, for me, is at the heart of personal finance, and how any Ordinary Joe can truly become wealthy.

So here are some of the companies I have been putting my money into these past couple of months.

Johnson and Johnson. This stock will always be in my portfolio, because it’s always just so solid. This company has been around forever, and they’ve been dishing out a nice dividend for decades — and I don’t see that changing any time soon. The best thing about JNJ is that they are so consistent; you know what you’re getting when you invest your money with them. And that kind of comfort is worth a lot, too.

Google. I don’t invest in a lot of tech stocks because tech companies can become so volatile, but Google is one where I just can’t help myself. They have a veritable monopoly on the search marketplace. Just think of it — when you go to perform a search online, isn’t it almost ALWAYS with Google? And just think how vast the internet is, and how fast it’s growing — and then realize that there’s one company that effective runs the entire thing. That’s Google; and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Liberty Safe. This is a smaller, private investment, but I’m already seeing great returns with it. What is Liberty Safe, you ask? Well they manufacture and sell gun safes, and they do an awesome job of it. Guns are very big in this country right now — and they always will be, really — and most responsible gun owners need a place to store their firearm. So the market will always be around, and Liberty Safe is there to turn a profit.

Apple. This is another tech company that I will go with from time to time. Apple has become so engrained in our culture, and their products truly are so top-notch, that for the foreseeable future, they will become a safe play in the market. Their iPhone is literally the most popular and recognizable electronic product in the country today; that alone is worth billions of dollars. AAPL is also one of the best run organizations around, and now that they’re paying a solid dividend, I feel confident investing my money with them.

What I Got for Father’s Day

fdayWhile our family is still pretty frugal with our money, we’re not exactly cheap — and that means that for holidays, we will give gifts. And who doesn’t love a nice gift! So this Father’s Day, my wife and kids got me a few gifts, which they knew I’d love. Here were my favorite ones.

Movie Tickets

Who doesn’t love going to the movies, especially with the whole family? I think we will use these for a Friday night or Saturday afternoon. I’m really looking forward to seeing Jersey Boys on the big screen.

Electric Shaver

It’s funny, like most guys I know, I absolutely hate shaving. So a long while back, I switched to using an electric razor — still a pain, but less so than a regular blade. I’d be using mine for at least the past five years, so clearly, it was time for a new one. The thing I like about the one they got me for Father’s Day is that it also acts as a good beard trimmer as well, so it has a dual purpose.

Electric Toothbrush

Yes, I like my little gadgets. Basically, the same reasoning I use about shaving, I also use about the simple act of brushing my teeth. Give me the electric version, baby! The thing about one of the best electric toothbrush is that it actually does do a better job cleaning than a regular toothbrush; there’s been studies and everything.

Banana Republic Gift Card

I’m not big into fashion, and I don’t buy new clothes, hardly if ever. I will wear my work clothes until they’re pretty worn down. Clearly, my wife is not a big fan of that! So this year, they got me a nice gift card to Banana Republic, which I thought was sweet. I’ll pick out a new pair of slacks, and maybe a polo shirt and a button down.

This year, the family went a little overboard with the gifts — but I love everything I got! Most important of all, we all got to spend time together, which, as any father can attest, really is the best gift of all.

Save Money by Doing Your Own Cleaning

vacAs a person who’s constantly thinking of ways to save money, one if the most obvious areas where some people could do a better job is with regards to cleaning in and around their homes.  For example, I know multiple individuals/families who pay someone to a) vacuum and clean up around the house, b) doing their laundry, and c) cut their grass. Now, before I go any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear:

If you have the money to afford these luxuries, then by all means — continue using them! Certainly paying someone to do your family’s laundry is a big time saver, and reduces much stress, I’m sure. If you have the money, then more power to you. But this post is for those folks who continue to struggle financially, yet still won’t cut out some of the unnecessary expenses.

As I was saying, the three biggest areas I see where people can save money is around house cleaning, laundry, and yard work. Let’s tackle these one-by-one.

House Cleaning

This is the biggie here, right? Depending on the size of your home or apartment, it can take hours to clean your house! It’s a big job, and it’s no wonder people don’t mind paying a cleaning lady a couple of hundred dollars per week or so to make sure everything is all vacuumed and dusted.

But here’s what I like to do — break up the cleaning into different “patches”. Say one afternoon when I’m just lying around, I’ll mop the kitchen floor. Or one evening after dinner, I’ll go into the bedrooms and do a quick dusting. And if you do this piecemeal in such a way, it doesn’t turn into one of those monster, three-hour cleaning marathons that we all dread.

Laundry

Laundry is another one of those chores that we all absolutely hate doing. The thing with laundry is that it never stops — as long as you want to wear clean clothes, there will always be laundry to do! Some a lot of people I know bunch this is with the house cleaning duties for the cleaning lady, paying her a little extra to clean the clothes — of course, that’s also an added expense.

If you have any kids of age, there’s your first option at a solution — get them to help out! Secondly, both spouses should really be splitting the laundry duties, depending on how busy their day jobs are. Also, I approach laundry the same way I do cleaning my house — I try to find a little down time here and there to bang it out. So if I’ve got something on the TV on a Saturday afternoon, it really doesn’t require a lot of effort to run a load, and then check back on it 45 minutes later.

Yard Work

A lot of guys I know pay someone to mow their lawn, and believe me — it ain’t cheap! This one I understand less than the others. First off, lawn mowing should be a guy’s job; sorry boys, this chore is yours. Secondly, you could argue there is a little relaxation involved in mowing the lawn. You get to be outside, presumably in decent weather, with the option of carrying a cold beverage of your choice in your hand. And depending on the size of your lawn and what type of mower you have, this really should be an hour long job, max.

So there you have it — three ways to save literally hundreds of dollars of month by doing the work around the house yourself.