Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

There’s An App For That: How I Cut $25/Month Off My TV & Internet Bill

January 25th, 2010

$46/month for DSL?!?

When I looked at my phone bill I couldn’t believe it. We gave up the cooler, faster Internet a while back because we were on a budget kick, but now AT&T’s basic phone/DSL package was running at nearly the same levels.

E.T. Don’t Phone Home

Just call my cell instead. We technically have a home phone number, but never even physically hooked up a phone since we switched! We are truly a mobile-only family.

App: DSL Without Phone
DSL no longer needs an actual phone line activated to connect you to the Internet. So why not drop the phone? I chatted online with a service rep, who directed me to a tech line to call. After confirming my identity and an attempted up-sell, AT&T removed the basic phone charges, which amounts roughly to $15/month.

Dish Network Customers Save $10/month

In case you missed it, I wrote an article a few months ago on how I saved $10/month on my bill.  Basically, Dish changed their HD package options, rendering one option included in another. So all you have to do is go online and “fix the glitch”.  Check out the link in the previous sentence for instructions.

What About You?

Have you tried these, or other tips to save on your monthly phone, TV, and Internet charges? Let us know below!

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There’s An App For That: Low-Cost Life Insurance

January 25th, 2010

Many people dismiss life insurance because they think it’s too expensive, or already have a policy and feel stuck paying an exorbitant premium. But life insurance can be had for a modest price, and provide security for your loved ones if the unthinkable happened.

Who Should Get Life Insurance?

Single, Ready to Mingle
If you’re young & single without many financial responsibilities, odds are you need little or no life insurance at all. If you had student loans, car notes, or any other debts where a co-borrower is involved, they would be on the hook for your debts. When you’re young, that co-borrower is usually a parent; so be nice to your parents and take out a policy that will cover your debt expense, and list your parents as a beneficiary. And if you want to sail right through purgatory on your way to sainthood, take out a bit more to cover funeral and burial costs.

Married… With Children
If you’re married, and/or have children, take out a policy roughly 10-12 times your salary. That way the beneficiary (your spouse and kids) can live on the income generated from investing the policy pay-out.

Easy example: if you make $50,000/year, you’d want roughly a $500,000 premium, when invested, would provide about $50,000/year to replace the lost income.

Real-World Application: Term Life Insurance

There are plenty of debates between buying whole life or term life insurance, and that’s a topic for another day. What you should know now, is term insurance can be bought for 5-10% the cost of whole life. And in this series, we’re all about saving money in your budget. It is not an investment vehicle, it is an actual insurance against your death for a fixed amount of time.

Term Insurance
The theory behind term is that you buy a policy for a 20-30 year period. If you outlive that timeframe, your kids will be out of the house and your family finances will be under control; therefore you have no further need for life insurance.

Where To Get Term Insurance

I bought mine through Zander Insurance, an independent agency that can price shop for the best rates. For $75/month, both me AND my wife have 20-year policies that pay out $1,000,000 upon death. We’d better sleep with one eye open!

Does anyone have term, or other life insurance products? Are you satisfied cost-wise?

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There’s An App For That: ‘Universally’ Slash Your Health Care Costs

January 25th, 2010

Don’t Wait for the Government to Fix Your Health Care!

Previously, I gave real-world applications to help trim the food & dining budget. This seems like the obvious place to drastically help your financial well-being each month, since food expenses can literally vary by hundreds of dollars each month if not held in check.

Not so obvious, but just as dramatically punishing to your budget, is the cost of Health Care. In my household, I do project-based, temporary work, while my wife has the “stable” job. Her health care is covered by the employer, but adding me onto the policy has cost us nearly $400/month. Agh!!! Talk about a budget buster!

Auto-Deduct = Passive Mentality

To tell you the truth, fixed costs are often harder to be motivated to fix. It comes out of your check automatically, so you never see that money deposited into your account. At least with food, you see all the restaurant tabs add up!

A New Deal: How I Found New Coverage

$400/month for a relatively healthy, 30 y/o non-smoker like me should not cost so much. I was determined to find health insurance at a lower cost. Luckily I didn’t have to go very far. 

I logged onto financial guru Dave Ramsey’s website and requested an Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) for health insurance. Within minutes I got an email from a local agent. I called him back on my way home from work, explaining my situation, and asking questions about my potential options. He was extremely helpful, and e-mailed me quotes before I even got home. How’s that for efficiency? 

Application: High-Deductible, HSA

The answer for me is to purchase a high deductible health policy, and fund a Health Savings Account (HSA) to help pay any medical costs up to my deductible amount. You can fund an HSA pre-tax, and qualified health expenditures may also be tax free. The best part about an HSA – it’s not a “use it or lose it” account, which means you can continually fund it and grow it tax-deferred, essentially turning it into something similar to a retirement account. 

My Quote

Two of my agent’s quote allows me to stay with Blue Cross:

(1) With a $2,500 deductible, policy cost is $88/month. If I exceeded my deductible in a given year, I pay 25% of the cost of the next $2,000 in expenses ($500). So basically, the max out of pocket per year is $3,000.

(2) With a $5,000 yearly deductible, the price drops to $71/month. There is no additional out of pocket expenses; $5,000 is the ceiling on your expenses.

Funding the HSA

The IRS allows you to fund your HSA tax-free up to $3,000/year. To fund at that rate, you’d be saving $250/month. Add that to the cost of the plan, and I’m still better off by $50/month. Also, once you’ve saved your maximum yearly out of pocket expense in your HSA, you can reduce your HSA monthly savings rate, freeing up hundreds per month in your budget!


I will purchase Plan (1), the $88/month policy with the $2,500 yearly deductible. I plan on fully-funding the HSA since we have funds available. This will leave us with $300/month savings in our monthly cash flow. How’s that for a real-world budget buster?!? 

Do you have questions, or currently have an HSA or high-deductible health insurance policy? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

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There’s An App For That: 2 Ways To Slash Your Dining Budget

January 20th, 2010

We all know the best way to slash your food budget is to stop dining out, make your own food, take a sack lunch, and eat at home for dinner. That’s why my first “App”-posts in this series center around cutting your grocery bill using The Grocery Game:

Part 1 – Review of The Grocery Game
Part 2 – Personal Interview with Julie, a GG user

Eating every single meal at home is not only HARD, sometimes it’s darn near impossible. Long commutes, work schedules, and social activities often get in the way of your plan. Or maybe you just want a break from home cooking and want to get a meal out.

Luckily, you have options to eat out that won’t bust your budget. One tangible way to succeed is to buy coupons from! partners up with local dining establishments to provide gift certificates at reduced rates. These local shops get publicity, and the consumer gets a deep discount. A win-win all around!

A typical certificate worth $25 at a particular restaurant can be purchased for $10 – a 60% savings!  Quite often, will run sales upwards of 80% off of their normal sales price. So in otherwords, a $25 certificate can cost you as little as $2 – insane!

Current deal at

Currently on their website, is offering certificates for 70% off regular sales price ($25 for $3) PLUS a $50 certificate off of a trip from Use the promotional code FEAST when checking out, and of course, see their website for details.

There Really IS An App For That!

I came across an iPhone app to help you find restaurant coupons, called Upon initial inspection, it appears not to be directly affiliated with, but only provides a list of establishments listed on Basically a 3rd party app for

The Pros
It’s a free download, and can use your current location to help you find restaurants in your immediate area that take coupons. This is really helpful when you’re on the go and don’t have time to figure out what restaurants are nearby when surfing through

The Cons
They charge their own $1.00 convenience fee when purchasing a certificate through their website.  But like I said, this is a 3rd party app and they have to make money somehow.  I consider them the Ticketmaster of restaurant coupons.  If you are already out on the town and can’t use the regular website, looks like the next best alternative.

I Need Your Comments!

Have you ever used or the iPhone app What was your experience? How else do you save money when eating out?

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There’s An App For That: Personal Account – The Grocery Game

January 18th, 2010

Last week I reviewed The Grocery Game, a real-world application to help trim your household food budget.  To give personal insight, I recently interviewed my neighbor, Julie.  A teacher by trade, Julie has transitioned to stay-at-home motherhood with the addition of her first child.  Moving from duel-income to a sole breadwinner while adding an extra mouth to feed means big sacrifices and careful planning with your household budget.

Julie is the textbook definition of a home economist, and a big winner in The Grocery Game.  Here’s what she had to say about her experience in coupon cutting:

Why did you start using The Grocery Game. Were there rough patches initially?

I have always loved to save money and get a bargain. I had tried in the past to use coupons, and at times got great deals. The problem I ran into was that I was spending a tremendous amount of time finding the deals and then trying to find the coupon I was sure I had clipped. I had heard about the Grocery Game and a couple of years earlier I actually gave it a trial run. I wasn’t successful at it then because I didn’t have a good system for organizing my coupons, and I didn’t understand the idea of stockpiling.

So what changed where The Grocery Game became a success for your family?

Well, two years and a baby later, and down to one income we needed to lower expenses, and I decided to do it again. I did a bit of research and figured out how to set up a coupon binder, and went at it whole heartedly. I have gotten our monthly grocery bill down to $130, and in the last 5 months I have saved over $5,600 while spending under $1,500.

How do you like it so far?

I love it!!! Many people hate the idea of paying for a site to help you have money. Please, please, please believe me: it is worth every penny! The site does all the work for you, all you have to do is clip your coupons, print your list, and head to the store. The time savings is huge. I want to spend all the time I can with my daughter, not looking at sale ads. The GG has allowed me to do this. Plus, how can you not love saving TONS of money!

What were you spending on food each month, and what are your spending goals with GG?

I had a monthly budget of $500 for all food and supplies, including going out to eat, previous to GG.  I have gotten our bill down to $130/mo, and it is only that high because I choose to go to Sprouts once a week and spend between $10-$15 on fresh produce and nuts. It’s kinda like my little treat for saving so much money. My stockpile could last 3-4 months, possibly longer. We only go out to eat 1-2 times a month. Now I put $250 in my food envelope per month, and I have money left over at the end.

Was it a rough transition learning to sort & cut all those coupons?

When I began GG I was buying 4 newspapers a week. This way I could build my stockpile faster. If you have a larger family you may want to buy more, but 4 is a good place to start. Setting up your coupon binder is really important. I watched You Tube videos to get an idea and then set it up in a way that made sense to my brain. I got a heads up from other couponers to pull apart the inserts and stack them, then cut them. This is a HUGE time saver! Do this and you will never go back! It also allows the coupons to be sorted before you clip! Now I spend about 30 min. a week clipping my coupons and putting them into the binder. Not bad.

How much time per week would you say you spend preparing (coupon cutting, list sorting, etc.) and how much time actual shopping?

I spend 30 min. cutting and sorting, and shop for about 2 hours (including travel). I get my list together, and only buy what is on the list. I go to Sprouts on Wednesday’s because it is double ad day and more is on sale. This is where I am at now. However, when I began I probably spent 10 hours a week. I also spent $500 getting my stockpile going, and I would hit every store each week. There is a bit of a buy in, but just set your budget and do what you can. If I had understood CVS and thier ECB (Extra Care Bucks) program, I probably would have spent half of that. Oh well, live and learn.

What stores are in your shopping rotation?

Currently I shop at Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Albertson’s, Tom Thumb, and Sprouts. I go to Target 2-3 times, Kroger 2 times a month, CVS 2 times, Walgreens 1 time, Albertons twice, Tom Thumb once or bi-monthly, and Sprouts weekly. Of course it does vary, but I would say that is about average.

2.5 hours?  That’s not long at all!  Do you have any other tips on saving time cutting coupons?

Many people wonder how I do it in such little time. I have found sites that post the deals and then I mimic them. This saves tons of time! Here are the best sites for me:

A Full Cup (visit the forums)

Swag Grabber

Hip 2 Save

Christine’s Coupons

Happy Couponing!

Feel free to comment or ask questions below on this interview with Julie.  If you’d like to sign up for The Grocery Game, use her e-mail address as a reference: sharpjulie [at] ymail [dot] com.

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#027 — Don’t Laugh, It’s Paid For!

March 16th, 2009


We paid off our car!

It is definitely tough economic times out there for everyone, so I wanted to share a bit of positive news on the home front.

While the Lovely Miss H has permanent employment, I have been working in project-based, temporary employment.  The bad news is that it is temporary.  The good news is I can work nearly as many hours as I want.  So the past few months I’ve worked a lot of hours.  I finally figured out how much we had spent compared to our February budget, and the surplus was enough to finish paying off my wife’s car, a 2004 Saab 9-3.  I just logged off of an internet chat with a bank representative confirming we had paid in full, and that the title will be mailed within 10 business days!

Consumer debt is gone

Just want to send a small thank you to Dave Ramsey and his debt snowball methodology.  Yes, there may be mathematical flaws within a particular snowball of debt, but the psychology of “quick wins” in reducing debt cannot be denied, particularly when you’re married and you need two people to consent to a financial plan!

After 26 months, through full employment & layoffs, over-spending & saving, emergencies & good times, our consumer debt is now gone.  We haven’t been the best at paying down our bills, but we remained true to the overall goals & financial principles.

So now you’re rich, right?

No, far from it!  We’ve got so much educational debt, that I think our student loans took out student loans.  A married couple both going through college and grad school without a financial plan will do that to you!

Our next step is to build up an Emergency Fund to a reasonable level.  My car has 185,000 miles on it, hers is over 100,000.  We both commute about 75 miles round-trip each day.  We will need those replaced at some point, so I’d like to be ready with enough money to pay cash for our vehicles.  Now that our vehicles are paid off though, it makes me want to drive my lovely 2000 Nissan Maxima until it dies.  Instead of impressing people with a nice car, I’ll be impressing myself with how long this car can stay around.  This shift in thinking is much easier on the pocketbook.

The Journey Continues

There are always hiccups, bumps, and bruises along the way, but we will enjoy this minor victory, and use it as motivation to keep focused on our long-term goals.

What about you?  Have you had any financial victories or setbacks lately?  Tell me where you are in your journey.

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photo by dreamweaver1619

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#025 — Avoid “Dollar Disconnect” – Do It Yourself!

March 12th, 2009

I am SO mechanically inclined

My wife’s left headlight has been out for a couple weeks now.  We’ve put up with the warning notification on the dash panel that pops up every time you start the car.  After finding out the dealer wanted $45 to change it, I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult, even for me, to just replace the bulb myself.

So I went by O’Reilly Auto Parts and picked up a bulb for $8.  After a bit of tinkering around and undoing bolts that didn’t need to be undone, I went online and Googled directions on “how to change headlight on Saab“.  The directions made a little more sense after-the-fact, so I tinkered a bit more, then realized you don’t even have to remove the headlight set from the car — there’s a rubber cap on the backside of the headlight set that you can pop off.  Removed a fuse box attachment temporarily, and I had direct access to the bulb!  I’ll be honest — what took me probably an hour should’ve taken about 10 minutes.  Next time, I won’t hesitate to again make headlight bulb changing a DIY project.

It feels good

My dad was a mechanic for years, and even though I have replaced an engine or two, and we always repaired our own vehicles growing up, I didn’t exactly absorb all that knowledge.  It feels good to accomplish something that’s a little out of your element.  It did cost me an hour of sleep last night, but it did save us the money and time of going to the auto shop and paying someone else to do it.  Maybe I’m speaking from more of a male point of view, but most importantly, doing it yourself gives you the ownership of a job well-done.

The Dollar Disconnect

I’m not going to lie, it is nice to have someone else cook & serve you food, clean your house, walk your dogs, mow your lawn, or repair your car.  If you do not have enough time but have enough money, it’s just easier and less stressful to have others help you out.  But sometimes easier & less stressful can lead to excuses and laziness, which will hit your budget big-time. A “Dollar Disconnect” occurs, where the appreciation & satisfaction of fulfilling a need is separated by a money transaction, causing you take that need for granted.

If I would’ve sent this to the dealer to be fixed, I would have created a Dollar Disconnect and have missed out on this reminder:  sometimes, it’s nice to see that work can be rewarded, even if it’s something as simple as changing a headlight.

Have you done any recent DIY projects?  Have you experienced too much “Dollar Disconnect” in your life recently?


photo by pedrosimoes7

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#021 — Texas Independence Day & Your Finances

March 3rd, 2009

Texas Independence Day

I was listening to the news yesterday morning, and I was reminded that it was Texas Independence Day.  On March 2, 1836, Texas formally declared independence from Mexico, citing reasons including:

  • The Mexican government invited settlers to Texas promising constitutional liberties and republican form of government, but Mexico reneged on these promises and established a military dictatorship.
  • Texas’ affairs were decided in the distant provicial capital of Saltillo, without much input or understanding.
  • The right to keep and bear arms was denied.
  • No system of public education was established.
  • The settlors were denied freedom of religion.

Your Finances

Each reason for Texas’ independence cited above reminds me of being stuck in an ever-increasing household debt load.  Sure, if the only problem was they felt their voice wasn’t being heard all the way in Saltillo, then maybe it was bearable.  But you add the denial of faith, guns, and education, and Texans had enough. 

In your personal finances, maybe one credit card is manageable, and adding a $400 car payment no big deal.  But once you add monthly payment obligations for another car, a boat, student loans, and a house — well maybe then you feel as if a military dictator has moved in with you!

At some point, you have to say “enough is enough.”  Take charge of your finances.  Declare independence from your debt, and map out a game plan to find success.

I know for me, the moment I declared independence from debt was when I realized my student loans would be around as long as my house payment would!  It was frustrating to see a lot of hard work result in decades of student loans, without a huge benefit in return.  Our household created a list of debts, and implemented a household budget.  We now save for trips and bigger purchases and pay for them in advance.  My hope is we can do that with our next car — hopefully our current cars will stick around long enough to make that happen!

Tell me the moment when you realized you needed a Declaration of Independence from Debt.  Leave me some comments below!

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#020 — Give Up Something Financial for Lent

February 25th, 2009

It’s Mardi Gras time.  Fat Tuesday was yesterday, and in most Western Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the forty-day long liturgical season of fasting and praying leading up to Easter.

Here’s Lent in a nutshell according to Spirit Home:

The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

Give UP for Lent

Most common vices people give up are alcohol, or sweets, like chocolate.  But I challenge you to sacrifice some of your normal spending.  It can be both a religious & financial reward!

Here’s a few things you could give up for Lent that are financially rewarding:

  1. Eating out at sit-down restaurants
  2. Eating out altogether
  3. Going to sporting events
  4. Going to concerts
  5. Getting a manicure/pedicure
  6. Buying more clothes
  7. Give up smoking or caffeine
  8. ??? (add something in the comments below!)

Add something for Lent

What can you add that could be spiritually and financially rewarding?

  1. A monthly household budget
  2. Join a website that uses personal finance software to categorize & track  your expenses)
  3. Read a financial related book (The Total Money Makeover or Automatic Millionaire)
  4. Take a financial course (Financial Peace University or Crown Financial Ministries)
  5. Read the book of Proverbs
  6. ??? (add something in the comments below!)

Give TO something for Lent

This is a no-brainer.  We should give to those less fortunate or to the organizations that help them.  But I also challenge you to give your time — it often costs us more, and certainly provides us more benefit and personal reward of being intricately involved in a cause.

What will you be doing for Lent?? What would you add to the above lists??

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#019 — Would You Upgrade to 1st Class?

February 23rd, 2009

This Wednesday, I’m headed to Southern California to be in my college friend’s wedding.  I got an amazing deal on the flight — $220 including fees & taxes, round-trip from DFW!

I don’t know about you, but all I usually hope to do is avoid any disasterous experiences when I’m flying.  Except the last time I flew to California.  That was the time I upgraded to 1st class.

I know, I know.  I didn’t need to fly 1st class, but I’ll give you my excuses justifications *ahem* reasons why I did it anyway.

My Excuses / Justifications / Reasons for Upgrading to 1st Class

I went out to California to visit family for Christmas.  My wife was already out there on business, so we met up out west and spent time with family.  We ended up booking the same flight home to Texas, except her company booked her a first class ticket, and I was back in coach with all the other riff-raff :)   Being the good husband that I am, I agreed to check into upgrading so we could sit together on the flight back home.  Turns out the upgrade was ‘only’ $100.

Could I have taken that $100 and paid down a student loan?  Sure.  But sometimes it’s fun to enjoy luxuries.  We’re very careful to pick and choose ours, and always make sure they fall somewhere within our budget.  It also fell within our allotted “Christmas Trip” budget-line, so we were okay with it.

The 1st Class Experience

I loved it.  By the time everyone else was boarding the plane, you were already stretched out and a chapter into your book.  Plenty of leg room for my 6′3″ frame, hot towels, a meal on an otherwise meal-free flight, and of course, free alcoholic beverages!  And no, I didn’t try to drink $100 worth of mixed drinks to make up for the price of the upgrade! ;)

The closest experience I can relate it to is going to a professional basketball game, and sitting court-side vs. the nosebleed seats.  You just never want to go back to the cheap seats after the experience!

Taste the Snowball

Our debt snowball will be rolling for quite some time.  A quick victory of knocking out a small debt can keep you motivated to continue snowballing the larger debts.  Every so often in little ways, I like to be able to have a taste of the good life; or “taste the snow” in my snowball.  It keeps me motivated to continue my debt snowball by reminding me that today’s sacrifices will pay off with future reward and security.

Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war.

What about you?

Well I’m back to flying coach this week with a smile on my face and even more determination to knock out our debt. 

Any comments on my choice to upgrade to 1st class? 

Have you lost some financial battles to win the war??

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photo by Richard Moross

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