Progress Report: Month 5

Day 165 | $15,732 paid | $72,981 till freedom

24 / 28 Total Days Biked to Work (86%) | 18 Consecutive Bicycle Commutes to Work

I just spent a lovely Sunday morning paying the October bills and updating the spreadsheets. September was a productive month, and a huge $9,400 chunk of the debt got wiped out. This is in thanks largely to my brother, who purchased my Scion xB for $8,000. Some birthday cash and our lowest spending levels so far rounded out the $9,400, even without any real cell phone profits to boost our income (thanks to the second-hand market being saturated with used iPhones once the iPhone 5 was released). I just scheduled the last September snowball payment and it brings us to 17.73% completion of our debt mountain. The ambitious timeline I set in April had us at 20.83% by this point, so we’ve still got some work to do, however, I’m very pleased with where we’re at.

Here’s how September played out:

  • Starting Cash: $200
  • Starting Debt: $82,830
  • Income: $13,521
  • Expenses (Including regular loan payments): $3,940
  • Amount paid to debt: $9,420
  • Ending Debt: $72,981
  • Ending Cash: $200
  • Total Assets: $37,613
  • Total Liabilities: $72,981
  • Net Worth: -$35,368

Predicted amount of debt at the end of May 2014: -$1942

In other words, when we reach our two year deadline, we’ll have a surplus of $1942. Sweet! However, 19 months is a long time and anything can happen, so I’m not going to allow myself to become comfortable with that number and will continue to bust my butt like I have been.

I’ve been wanting to graph long-term progress for a while now, but I didn’t feel it was worth it until several months had passed. It is exciting to see our Net Worth creeping closer and closer to zero! July and August were a little rough, and were characterized by high expenses and lower income. In August, spending actually surpassed our income thanks to  a lack of planning ahead. We had to bite the bullet and purchase two plane tickets to Chicago, supplies to setup my wife’s first classroom, more start up costs for the puppy we adopted in July (pet deposit, vet, etc.), and a huge grocery bill. I’ll actually be refunded most of the plane ticket costs later on, as the orchestra I’m performing with is currently raising the funds to reimburse musicians. Both of those months were also far busier with work than I imagined they would be, and cell phone sales went way down from what I was making in the spring. Regardless of those rough patches, I was bound and determined to get that Honda Civic paid off, and knowing that my side business was going to be slow for a while, I went ahead and ignored the dropping profits, dipped into my purchasing capital, and kicked Capital One to the curb in July. The weight that was lifted off my chest when the 9.4% interest loan was gone, made the sacrifice well worth it.

Assessment of Expenses and Revenue

Here’s a look at September’s spending. This spreadsheet has been a helpful tool in comparing my progress in different categories over time. Click once to open, and once to zoom.

Analysis: Expenses

  • Internet – $7 – Because of the whole AT&T fiasco that involved several reimbursements, I ended up overpaying in August, and they were kind enough to subtract it from September’s bill.
  • Cell Phone – $41 – Switching to Ting has been great, as we’ve reduced our monthly bill considerably. However, we still haven’t gotten usage down to the target levels which would net the planned $30 bill. These bills are one month behind, so I already know that October’s bill DID make this $30 usage level for the first time since switching to Ting, but August had some long phone calls that I could have easily made through Google Voice to save some minutes. After factoring in the start up costs of buying new phones and activating, October will be the first month where we’ll actually be saving money when compared to what we would have spent in the long-term with our previous cell phone plan.
  • Rent – $723 – Fixed, and as budgeted.
  • Electricy – $57 – This was well underneath the budgeted $74, and I attribute that to the recent switch of energy companies and the return of cooler temperatures. If this trend continues, I may need to lower the budgeted amount.
  • Water – $82 – I was shocked when I received the water/sewer bill in the mail. I had budgeted $58 based on our average usage at the last apartment complex, yet this month’s amount was $20 higher than any bill we’ve received in the past 12 months. The only difference I can think of, is that our current living arrangement has separate water bills for each apartment, whereas the previous place divied up each building’s total usage. That, and our toilet’s flushing mechanism will sometimes jam and cause the water to run indefinitely. The news caused me to make at least one immediate, drastic change: taking MUCH shorter showers. We’ll see if that’s enough to make a difference.
  • Tithe – $444 – As budgeted.
  • Gym – $32 – Fixed, and as budgeted.
  • Misc – $193 – Some new clothes, bike helmet and gloves, symphony tickets for my birthday and a couple of other miscellaneous items. This is a win relative to my $200 budget.
  • Groceries – $398 – This is a huge win relative to my $470 budget. However, the fiscal month ended one day before a big shopping trip, so I’ll likely see a much larger figure for October. Our grocery bills fluctuate a lot from month to month depending on whether we take 4 or 5 shopping trips.
  • Eating Out – $11 – I am maybe the most proud of this figure here. We committed to spending under $50 a month at restaurants and eating out less. There were zero fast food lunches to be had from either of us, and the one $11 meal was very much a situation where either one of us cooking was just NOT going to happen.
  • Dog – $123 – A loss relative to my $75 budget. Little H should be good on medicine and vet visits for a while, so this bill should settle down into a lower monthly average.
  • Work Expense – $32 – Now that my wife is teaching in her own classroom, we’ve been having to front the cost of some supplies and lesson materials. This is typical of most elementary school environments, and I think it’s unfortunate that she isn’t given some sort of a budget with which to buy things for her room. This spending category is new, and I think in the future we can keep it under $25.
  • Fuel – $133 – A loss relative to my $100 budget. However, we are getting VERY close to having a sub-$100 gas bill. Each tank fill-up costs us a figure in the low $30s, so if we can manage to only fill up three times, we’ve got it made. It’s hard to believe that five months ago we were spending $120 more a month on the stuff. What a waste.
  • Auto Repair – $75 – A fixed monthly amount transferred to an ING savings account. I really enjoyed the stress-free experience of buying a new set of tires this month using money I’ve been setting aside. ING accounts are brilliant for this purpose.
  • Running – $40 – A fixed monthly amount transferred to an ING savings account.
  • Rental Insurance – $15 – a fixed monthly amount transferred to an ING savings account in order to pay the premium in full next summer.
  • Wife’s New Bicycle – $600 – An unplanned expenditure, however, it was a high-qualtiy 2010 Trek road bike for a good price on Craigslist that will save us money in the long run. This was partially funded by the selling of my wife’s Trek mountain bike for $160 to a friend of ours.
  • Out of Budget – $261 – I decided to get some regular service done on the Scion, as well as order a replacement back door hatch. Normally, I would have waited until the ING fund had enough to cover the maintenance, but I wanted to give it to my brother in good condition. Effectively, I sold the car to him for $261 less than $8,000.
  • Student Loan Snowball – $8,420 – I was able to knock out the first post-Civic student loan at $6,156 in one fell swoop, and was able to sock a good hunk of change at the next loan in line as well.
  • Family xB Loan – $1,000 – I still owe my mother for the original price of the Scion. Although she is not charging me any interest, she is trying to pay down her mortgage, so I thought paying off 8% of what I owed her would be a good gesture.

Analysis: Revenue

  • Salary – $4,444 – This amount is typical, and rarely fluctuates.
  • Sale of xB – $8,000 – I maybe could have got a better deal selling this private party via Autotrader or Craigslist, but I was happy to sell to my brother for a few hundred less than the Kelly Blue Book suggested price for the mutual convenience. It took 24 hours of both of us thinking it over instead of weeks of dealing with scams and flaky buyers from the internet.
  • Auto Insurance Refund – $721 – I received this hefty credit back to my account when I switched insurance providers and no longer had to place two cars on a policy. This experience warrants it’s own blog-post in the future.
  • Sale of Bike – $160 – As I stated before, we sold her old bike to one of our friends.
  • Birthday Cash – $120 – It never hurts to receive cash for no other reason than growing older. I also received a gift card that is not included in this total which is bound to come in handy soon.
  • Misc. Deposits – $85 – I sold a couple of other things on Craigslist, and deposited loose cash a few times.
  • Cell Phone Business – $0 – I actually did sell $250 in phones this month, however I am currently dedicating profits to 2012 income tax (which I’ve neglected to set aside in favor of a faster car loan payoff) and building back up my capital reserves for future phone purchases.









October Outlook

The outlook for October looks promising. There are no major expenses on the horizon, and hopefully the trend of lower spending levels continues. I’ve had to accept that maybe the $1,000 a month goal for my cell phone business was a little unrealistic over the long-term, due to the time constraints of my day job and us moving 20 minutes further away from the city (and a higher concentration of Craigslist listings). Regardless, I’m still going to strive to make as much as possible to accelerate the pay-down. It’s hard to believe that 5 months has already passed, and we’re nearly 1/5 of the way to the goal. I can’t wait until 2014 when we have zero monthly payments and have 50-60% of our combined incomes available to invest. Dreaming of that future is what keeps me motivated on a daily basis. I’ll leave you with the full 24-month outlook posted below:


The Only Two Bicycle Commuters In The County

So far, the month of September has been an extremely busy one. My job has me working 10-17 hour days (I’m on salary pay, and unfortunately there’s no overtime), and my weekends are seemingly non-existent and will remain that way until mid-November. Knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of adolescents is the only thing that makes the effort on my part worth it. Needless to say, blogging our latest financial progress has been difficult to stay on top of, although I have been keeping close track of it all via my spreadsheets. Month 5 of this journey is concluding next week and some big changes have taken place lately from when we started this in May, so stay tuned for a large Month 3-5 update coming next weekend. Lately, we’ve both been biking to work, I sold one of our cars, we’ve all but stopped eating fast food, and buying used on Craigslist has become our new norm. I can already sense in myself a major ideological shift. I view the world differently, and see for the first time how outrageous and disgusting the habits of American people are (myself included). I feel as if I’ve become unplugged from the social fabric, and am the only one who sees the truth. [Insert obligatory Matrix reference here]. These thoughts are reinforced on a daily basis as the largely overweight population of our town speeds past me in their pickup trucks wasting their hard-earned money on Whataburger and gasoline, while I cruise at 15 mph on my 1982 Schwinn World Sport.

As a challenge to myself, I’ve been keeping track of the number of work days this school year where I’m commuted via bicycle instead of in a car. So far, I’m at 17 bicycle commutes out of 21 total work days and have biked the past eleven days in a row. To take this even further, I’ve challenged myself to complete as many errands as possible without using a car. To illustrate how absolutely feasible this is, here’s a list of distances from our apartment to our most common destinations and the amount of money the IRS estimates we save in the long-term by not driving to those locations ($0.51 cents / mile).









I find it motivating that every time I strap my helmet on, I’m keeping money in the bank. This amounts to TONS of cash every month, when you factor in the amount of 6.8% interest that will be saved by having extra money to throw at the debt, and ultimately the 7% long-term compound interest growth of this money by having it regularly invested over the course of my lifetime. Given these cold, hard facts, I simply can not believe why I have not seen a single bicycle commuter in the entire 15 months that I have worked in this town. My wife and I must be the only two-wheeled commuters in the entire county

Taken by one of my students, who should have had his eyes on the road.

Another thing that empowers me is how intrigued people are by my bike-riding habit. My co-workers, students, and their parents love to comment on what I do. Most of my students think it makes me “cool” and they are always quick to point out when they saw me riding somewhere in town. Those that ask why I do it get it an earful from me about frugality and fiscal responsibility, as I know 95% of them won’t learn that lesson at home or in school. I also feel accomplished when the bankers at the Wells Fargo show shock and amazement that someone could actually get to their bank WITHOUT DRIVING! Riding is a habit that is public and noticeable, especially when done in a community where you both live and work, and if I were to stop, I would be fielding questions for weeks as to why I gave it up. Because of this, I suppose I am obligated to continue, and that obligation is solid motivation for those mornings where I really want to just drive to work “just this once”.

Lastly, I’m pleased with the benefits that I’ll receive for my health. The first time I rode the all-uphill route to the school back in August I thought I was going to die and nearly dismissed bicycle commuting as another crazy pipe dream of mine. Fast forward to yesterday where the ride, although not “easy”, was certainly not physically taxing for me, and was evidence that I’m making progress. My wife even commented for the first time last night on the beginnings of muscle definition in my thighs. That means a lot to a lanky guy with virtually zero muscle who has never worked out in his life. So here’s to a long life full of riding and hopefully free of Diabetes, Heart Disease, Blood Pressure and their associated costs.

How I DIDN’T pay ATT $216.66

One of the many joys of moving to a new apartment is getting to set up your utilities all over again. My goal was that no matter what new companies I ended up using, my monthly bills would either stay the same or decrease. I easily found an electric company that charged 5 cents less per KWH and I had no say in the water provider, but the debacle that was achieving a reasonable internet rate is a story long enough to warrant the composition of this blog post.

The first option I chose to pursue was an attempt at sweet talking Time Warner into renewing my 12-month Roadrunner promotional rate of $30.59/mo (with taxes) for another year. They were planning on bumping it up to $41.48, which I found to be unacceptable. Despite their customer service agents’ best sales tactics (which mostly consisted of offering me cable TV and home phone packages), I remained unswayed. After multiple threats to permanently disconnect my service, they finally transferred me to the loss prevention specialist who was someone I could finally negotiate with. When I had made it clear that I had no intention of staying with Time Warner unless my rate would remain constant, she eventually conceded and granted me my request. It only took speaking with three customer service agents and 50 minutes of my life to save $130 over the next 12 months. Unfortunately, when I called the next day to inform Time Warner of my new address, they were sorry to let me know that their service was not offered in that zip code. Hindsight is 20/20, and I realized that verifying a service connection should have been the first step, and I was now back at square one.

I called the office of my new apartment complex, and was given the good news that I had only one option for internet, take it or leave it. Knowing that I was being forced to go with AT&T U-Verse made the decision-making process easier, but it also meant I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to get a good deal. It took a while for the initial sales rep to understand that I ONLY wanted internet and that I DIDN’T want the fastest (read: most expensive) plan. She found it hard to believe that I didn’t play online games and that a 24-year old male might actually have more important things to do with their time. When the options were finally laid before me, I chose the $43/mo 6 mbps plan at the 12 month promotional rate of $24.95. Sweet, a 5 dollar decrease in the monthly internet bill! Or so I thought…

Once the plan was chosen, the fees and additional costs began to pile on. I was to pay $100 for a “gateway modem” and $50 for an “installation charge”. When I explained that my previous 3 providers did not charge me for a modem or installation she said that I could always return the modem and receive credit back and opt for a “self-install” to waive the fees. I asked if simply not purchasing a modem was a choice. Surprise, surprise… it wasn’t. Remaining skeptical as to whether or not I would actually be able to return the modem later on, I bit the bullet anyways and signed up for service, telling her that I would choose the self-install package.

While waiting for my line to be activated and for the modem to arrive, I took to Craigslist and Amazon to see if I could find a used U-Verse modem for cheap. After a quick search, I spotted a 2Wire Modem Craigslist listing for $25 in a town 30 minutes away. That was farther than I wanted to drive, but I figured I could make it worth it if I purchased a cell phone while I was in the area. Five minutes later someone selling an iPhone 4 agreed to meet me at the same time and same place where I was meeting the Modem seller. The next day I sold the iPhone for a $30 profit. $25 Modem + $5 in gas – $30 cell phone sale = net cost of $0. Success!

Things were looking up, that is, until I attempted to get the modem up and running. After 20 minutes of fiddling with wires and turning things off and on (I’m no tech-guru) I was getting nothing except red lights. Tech Support spent 30 minutes on the phone with me trying to identify the source of the connection problem. He was about to send a technician out to me (at my cost), when I informed him that I was using a used modem off of Craigslist. As it turns out, the 2Wire U-Verse modem I was using was not compatible with the newer fiber optic line that had been installed at my apartment complex. This is after I had earlier confirmed with TWO tech support agents that the 2wire modem would indeed be compatible with my U-Verse connection prior to purchasing it off of Craigslist. The latest tech “expert” informed me that I needed to use the Motorola modem that I was mailed. Not one to give up, I would need to seek help from the internet once again.

In the mean time, my first bill arrived in the mail. I was pleasantly surprised to be charged $8.25 in sales tax for the $100 modem and $49 for a “service activation” fee ($53.41 with taxes). It took me a while, but I was finally able to get through to a billing rep to whom I disputed the $49 charge, saying that the original sales rep never mentioned this over the phone. I did some quick research and found this charge very clearly spelled out on the AT&T website, but I didn’t use the internet to sign up and the sales rep, in fact, did NOT tell me about it. I was a little shocked at how fast he was able to remove the $49 charge from my account, as I was expecting to put up a fight. The old adage of “it never hurts to ask” rang true for me that day.

While in the process of searching for a reasonably priced Motorola modem, I was able to resell the 2Wire modem on Amazon for a profit of $22. Since the modem effectively cost me nothing, this $22 would help to offset the cost of a new Motorola modem. I found one later listed on Amazon for $36.49 and wasted no time in ordering it. When my wife and I move again in 11 months, I plan to make at least a $15 profit reselling this modem, rendering the effective cost of Modem #2 $0 as well.

To wrap this story up, the Motorola modem arrived, and it worked like a charm. I sent the other one back to AT&T hoping they would actually refund my $100. When this month’s bill finally arrived, I was pleased to see a $53.41 credit for the activation fee and a $113.25 credit for the modem. Sweet! So not only did they refund every unnecessary cost, but I ended up with a bonus $5 as well. Another happy ending, that seems even happier when you break down the savings:

Charges I didn’t pay:

$50 – Installation Fee (by the way, self-install was literally as follows: 1. plug power cord into outlet. 2. Plug green cord into phone jack.)

$53.41 – Activation fee

$108.25 – Gateway Modem

$5.00 – AT&T error? Bonus?

So a total of $216.66 was kept in my pocket. Spread over a year, this would have amounted to an additional $18.06 a month! The most interesting fact of all is that $24.95 + 18.06 = $43.01 a month… 1 cent more than the original “non-promotional” rate of $43! See what they did there?

Persistence has once again paid off, and my utility troubles are over until they attempt to increase my rates 11 months from now.

Progress Report: Month 2

Long time, no blog. The summer ended up being more busy than I had ever imagined it being. It seems like school just let out, yet here we are halfway through July. Even after this brief hiatus of blogging, I can already feel the effects of how a lack of self-accountability can render one aimless. I was more or less on autopilot this month, allowing my attention and focus towards the goal to be redirected towards other things. The result was a mediocre performance all around that leaves much room for improvement in July. Unfortunately, the car was not paid off like I had hoped, so we’ll have to knock it out next month.

Here’s the summary for the month of June:

  • Starting Cash: $200
  • Starting Debt: $86,547
  • Income: $6,010
  • Expenses (Including regular loan payments): $4,495
  • Amount paid to debt: $2,363
  • Money Wasted to Loan Interest: $378
  • Ending Debt: $84,562
  • Ending Cash: $200
  • Total Assets: $46,188
  • Total Liabilities: $84,562
  • Net Worth: -$38,374

Predicted student debt at the end of May 2014 (i.e. delta to goal): $21,127

Assessment of Cost and Revenue


Cell Phone Sales: LOSS – In June I spent $3,450 on inventory, $215.50 on shipping, and made $4,793 in sales. This works out to a profit of $1,127.50. I sold 20 phones and 6 Dr. Dre headphones for an average profit of $43.37 per unit. On the positive side, this is the most I’ve ever made in a single month, however I originally estimated that I could make $3,000 in the month of June. Unfortunately, I had more school obligations than I originally planned, and I did not factor in the time commitment required in preparing to move to a new apartment. Another negative is dropping over $20 in average per unit profit. That means I did far more work at a lower rate of efficiency. Had I maintained my efficiency level I would have seen at least $500 more in profits. Although, there were some unbelievable deals to be had in May, those same deals were probably available in June as well, I just didn’t have the time and commitment to seek them out and had to settle for the average deals available when buying phones was convenient for me. My disciplined procedure of regularly combing the listings all but vanished in June, and I need to step it up in July to make up for lost time. One positive change to the business in June was the addition of my first supplier. He regularly procures iPhones from different sources and then delivers to me for an agreed upon fixed price. The profits are typically only between $25-30, but the work required is practically zero. I think our relationship will stay positive because he prefers the quick cash of selling in person, whereas I have the patience to sell online for higher profits. This will keep him from becoming a direct competitor of mine.

Music Gigs: LOSS – I made zero dollars and put little effort into making any. I’m rethinking if the time I should spend marketing myself would maybe be better spent investing it into cell phone sales instead, but maybe that’s just me making excuses.

Baby sitting: WIN – When I first put together the pro forma spreadsheet, I had brainstormed possible ways that Rachel could make money over the summer, but did not put down a definite amount because I was unsure if anything would materialize. Luckily, she got a regular gig booked watching a set of twins. The number shows up in the red on the spreadsheet because the parents cancelled two of the scheduled days when they decided to extend a vacation.










Cell Phone: LOSS – Because I failed to get the ball rolling fast enough, we ended up having to extend our old plans a month longer, overlapping the start of the new Ting plan. Also, we used more texts/minutes than we ever have (largely due to increased cell phone sales activity) and had to pay $9 more for usage than the planned $26 I had hoped to keep the bill at. I went ahead and “reimbursed” our checking account for the difference though and called it a business expense. I can still strive to do more of that communication through gmail and google voice to cut down on the cost of doing business. However, even if we should “go over” in the future, it is still 50% cheaper than what we were paying before.

Electricity: LOSS – We budgeted $74/mo and spent $83. This is not over by much, and it makes sense with increased summer electricity costs. However, the bill always reflects the previous month’s usage, and I know we used a ton of a/c this month which will certainly mean taking a much bigger hit in July.

Water: WIN – We budgeted $58/mo and spent $60. Our water bill has been very consistent at this apartment complex, in which all tenants in a building split up that building’s costs. It will be interesting to see if this changes at our new place when each household is billed individually.

Groceries: LOSS – We budgeted $470/mo and spent $590. This was the biggest surprise at the end of the month. I will acknowledge that because the calendar started on a weekend we had 5 big weekly grocery trips instead of the usual 4. However, if this were the only difference, we would have seen the cost go up only 70 or 80 dollars from last month, not $150. Looking back at the logged receipts in Quicken, it looks like there were more frequent side trips in the middle of the week. We are getting much better at wasting less food and using all that we buy, and we are eating mostly vegetarian. Because of this, I don’t think the problem is as much in the consumption end of things as it is in the purchasing. Over the next few months I’m going to try and explore ways to keep eating as we have been, but using different purchasing strategies to reduce the cost. Strategy #1 is getting a membership to Costco or Sam’s and seeing how these stores can help us out.

Misc: LOSS – We budgeted $200/mo and came in at $236. There were some big purchases for things like new sheets for the king bed and some new sandals for Rachel because her old ones were falling apart. However, it’s never the big things that put you over the top, it’s the little things here and there. We need to keep a closer watch on how much we’re spending and be able to deny ourselves some things until the following month (or altogether) when we’re getting close to the budgeted amount.

Fuel: WIN – We budgeted $257 and ended up at only $245. It will be fun to see this expense drop lower and lower over the next few months as both of our car commutes are eliminated by the move.

Eating Out: LOSS – We budgeted $50 and spent $93. The only time we went out together was for our anniversary, so the rest of that overage was me not planning well enough for meals on trips with my band students. I spent 3 days in Commerce with them at a leadership camp and ended up eating fast food way more than I wanted to. Maybe next time I fail to plan, I’ll just go hungry instead of slowing down the debt pay-down mission.

King Size Mattress: LOSS/WIN – We took a blow here in the short term and decided to take advantage of an ongoing Memorial Day sale. We spent $114 more than we had saved up to that point. In the long run though, we spent $152 less than the $800 deal I had hoped to get. Savings are diminished slightly when you take into account the $20-$25 in interest that will accumulate due to not putting an extra $114 towards the car loan. The mattress has translated to better sleep for the both of us and I think we will see it’s true value in increased productivity during the school year.

Renter’s Insurance: LOSS – This was a loss in two ways. First, I realized that I had simply forgotten to set aside money every month to cover this expense. Since renter’s insurance is mandatory to living in our apartment complex, there was no way around forking the money over in a large chunk. I split it up, paying the first $72 half in June and the second half in July. The other way this was a loss, is that I put off negotiating the $30 premium increase with my agent and then proceeded to completely forget about it before my debit card was automatically charged. If anything, I should have seen a decrease, as this is a brand new complex with fire sprinklers installed in every room. I will try and retroactively negotiate a credit when I call him to discuss our auto insurance premiums.

Instrument Insurance: LOSS – Same story as the renter’s insurance. This was something my mother fronted last year, and as such I forgot to plan in advance and did not make it a part of my regular monthly budget. I split this $300 hit between June and July. I debated with myself as to whether or not I should continue with the policy, but I will at least extend it for another year or two. I think insurance should only be for things you cannot afford to replace. When it comes to my bass worth 16k, I can not afford to replace it at this time. This December I’m flying with it to Chicago, so I need to have it covered despite the high premium.

Galveston Vacation: LOSS – This is something that Rachel and I had planned to do for a while for our first anniversary. The money was there to make it happen, I just didn’t have any funds previously set aside for travel expenses. June and July will take a big hit because of this. This went into the spreadsheet as “Out of Budget Expenditures”

All other expenses were fixed monthly payments that remained constant in June.

July Outlook:

Revenue Challenge: I’ve got one focus: making enough cell phone sales to kick that car loan to the curb. Anything extra is a bonus.

Cost Challenge: July is going to be the most expense heavy month so far this year. There will be moving expenses, vacation expenses, insurance expenses, and the cost of getting a new puppy. These things will eat up all excess in the budget, and all debt snowball funds are going to have to be created through my business. I am also hoping we can come back to a more average grocery bill, and that June’s expense was just an outlier.

Here’s the full 24-month outlook:



Progress Report: Month 1

We operate our household budget and financial planning on a “fiscal month” system where we plan from paycheck to paycheck. For May, this meant April 28th to May 25th. Overall, I am very pleased with the progress made. Here’s how it all shook out:

  • Starting Cash: $200
  • Starting Debt: $88,713
  • Income: $5,711
  • Expenses (Including regular loan payments): $4,208
  • Debt Paid Down (Excluding Interest): $2,166
  • Money Wasted to Loan Interest: $185
  • Ending Debt: $86,547
  • Ending Cash: $200
  • Total Assets: $46,554
  • Total Liabilities: $86,547
  • Net Worth: -$39,993

Predicted student debt at the end of May 2014 (i.e. delta to goal): $17,977

Assessment of Cost and Revenue

I’m going to asses how I did with both income and expenditures in terms of wins and losses this month. Essentially, this is my way of tracking the initiatives I put into action at the beginning of April. Progress to date is shown in the spreadsheet below. Click once to open the spreadsheet, once to zoom in. The Green and Red highlighted cells depict a win or loss, respectively.

























Cell Phone Sales: LOSS – This month I spent $1,915 on inventory, $94 on shipping costs and made $2,958 in sales. This works out to a profit of $949. I sold 15 cell phones which works out to an average profit of $63.24 per unit. Although May far surpassed any previous month in terms of profit, I was still $51 short of the $1,000/mo goal. For May and June I am ignoring Self-Employment taxes in order to contribute more towards the high-interest Civic loan. Once the loan is out of the picture, I will retroactively set aside the money for taxes.

Music Gigs: WIN – I had already anticipated receiving $150 to play bass for a local percussion concert. What I didn’t expect was getting $50 for a volunteer concert with my regular group, the Lone Star Wind Orchestra.

Other: WIN – Rachel got some birthday cash, and I was surprised to be compensated by our region for hosting the UIL Middle School Band contest. I hope this trend of stumbling upon random money continues in the future!











Cell Phone: LOSS – We budgeted $64/mo and shelling out $102 for two new phones killed the monthly balance sheet. Although it was a big unplanned expense, it will ultimately allow for big-time savings in the long run.

Electricity: LOSS – We budgeted $74/mo and came in at $79. The $74 is based on an average year’s spending, so I can expect this to fluctuate upwards a little as we approach the summer’s a/c costs.

Water: WIN – We budgeted $58/mo and spent $56. If we manage to stay below average every month, those savings will add up!

Groceries: WIN – We budgeted $470/mo and comfortably weighed in at $441. This is a big improvement over the $500+ that Rachel and I managed to spend when we were first married.

Misc: LOSS – We budgeted $200/mo which is what we’ve been trending at, but we overspent by $7. The only frivolous expense was a pair of tuxedo suspenders at the Men’s Wearhouse for $38. It was something that I had really been needing, but instead of planning ahead and getting a pair on Amazon for $10-$20, I waited until the day before my high school’s spring concert and left myself no other option. However, it happened to be during a “Buy one get one free” sale, so now I have an extra $38 pair of suspenders I’m trying to sell to make up for this blunder.

Fuel: WIN – We budgeted $257 and came in at $253. I am really looking forward to how much we save in this category after the move in July.

Eating Out: LOSS – I’ll take the blame for this one. When planning for the month, I didn’t figure tip into the cost of Rachel’s birthday dinner at Tokyo One. On top of that, I went out for lunch at work once and Rachel and I grabbed some Sonic on the way to my Lone Star Wind Orchestra concert in Dallas. I think that we’ll be able to maintain a sub-$50 balance from here on out.

Bicycle: LOSS/WIN – This was a loss in the short-term, but a win in the long-term. I budgeted $200/mo for 3 months to find a good bike for $600 or less. I found a heck of a deal this month and had to take advantage of it. The cost of the bicycle plus new tubes and  a tune up was $245. This frees up $355 in my budget for June and July!

Apartment Application Fees: LOSS – You would think that after four years in four different rental units I would remember all the upfront costs of applying for an apartment. This complex happened to charge more fees than I’ve ever paid before for a total hit of $185. It is for times like this that I keep a lot of extra cash in my ING savings accounts. Something always gets overlooked when planning.

All other expenses were fixed monthly payments that remained constant in May.

June Outlook

Revenue Challenge: The biggest challenge for next month will be raising the $3,200 we will need to eliminate the Honda Civic loan once and for all. Rachel has a regular babysitting job already set up with one of the families at her child-care center for a predicted $1,000 gain. Other parents have said they might be calling her at some point in the summer, which would be a bonus. I’ve also challenged myself to make $3,000 selling phones and $150 with a music gig or two. I am excited to get this weight off our shoulders and to free up $182/mo in car payments that will start off a monthly debt snowball payment. When we accomplish this goal, we will reward ourselves with the purchase of a new puppy!

Cost Challenge: In June Rachel and I will travel to Galveston for our 1st anniversary. This will be a much needed vacation, we just need to be careful to keep it as low-cost as possible. I really should have set up an ING account for travel expenses, but it was something I overlooked. I also noticed in a recent mailing that Allstate is going to bump my rental insurance rate by more than $30 this year. I’m going to have to see if I can talk them into lowering this back down. Rental insurance is something that I haven’t thought about since last July when I first got it, so I had not budgeted accordingly and am going to take a hit of $140-$170. Lastly, I need to get the new cell phone plan up and running to start reaping the benefits of the lower rates.

Final Thoughts

Barring the known out-of-budget expenses, my hope for June is to meet all of the revenue and expense goals that we have set for ourselves. We’ll need to bust our butts, but I think it can be done. Also, I’m always looking for new ways to cut costs without drastically affecting our lifestyle. I discovered a fantastic blog that has brilliant ways to just that and have been reading every post since the blog was formed. Check it out at

Here’s the full 24-month outlook:

Revamping the Phone Bill

In an effort to reduce unnecessary expenses and waste in the monthly budget, I have spent the last month researching a plethora of wireless companies and their various plans. It seems at last a clear winner has finally risen to the top. After seriously considering the $25/mo AT&T Pre-paid plan (250 min + Unlimited Text), and then almost committing to PlatinumTel’s PayGo plan (2¢/text, 5¢/minute), I stumbled across the new, recently launched wireless company Ting Wireless.

Ting was created in February by one of the oldest businesses in the history of the internet: Tucows. Since 1993, Tucows has been one of the largest providers of domain name services for websites. Knowing this, the wariness I might have otherwise had for a recent start-up was lessened, and I began to research their service.

Technology bloggers and product reviewers on the internet have heralded Ting for their unmatched customer service, clear and simple interface, and for plans that charge for what you actually use each month. Ting has been referred to as: “The first honest wireless phone carrier”, “The cellular service with a conscience”, and “The new mobile phone service we’ve all been waiting for”. These people claimed that the calling Ting customer support hotline resulted in speaking immediately to a knowledgeable, friendly employee. No automated systems, no holds, no outsourced agents reading from a script. Also, they are an MVNO that operates on the extended Sprint network, meaning they have full access to the coverage of Sprint and Verizon combined. Yet, even before reading any of these reviews, I was sold after just 5 minutes of poking around their website.

Sanyo Vero – the only Ting-compatible non-smart phone

They have clear and to-the-point videos summing up their service and how it works. Also, the charts and graphs they have to track monthly usage looks really appealing to a number-crunching nerd like myself. Every question asked in the message forum was promptly answered by a staff member, something I can’t imagine being the case with one of “The Big 4” (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint). The entire feel of the website is “We’re hip, easy to work with, and professional in every way”. The only two downsides I can see is a very limited selection of compatible phones (There is only ONE non-smartphone), and not-so-great pricing for heavy data usage. These two facts don’t really matter too much, as Rachel and I have always used simple flip phones and use zero MB of data every month.

In order to comparison shop, I had to go back through the last 12 months of bills to calculate our monthly average usage of minutes and texts. I then plugged these numbers into different plans to see what the monthly cost would be. Here’s how it breaks down with Ting with our combined monthly usage of 635 minutes and 835 texts:

500-1000 minutes = $18/mo

100-1000 texts = $5/mo

6$ fee per line = $12/mo

Total: $35/mo

Now, I spend a little more than two hours a month speaking with my mom. If I was to use google voice for these phone calls instead, that would drop us down to the 100-500 minute bracket for $9/mo. This would bring our total monthly cell phone bill to $26/mo. This is $38/mo cheaper than the $64 we’ve been transferring monthly to our parents to reimburse them for our portion of their “family plans”.

One potential deterrent is the high upfront fee when you combine $102 for two phones (After applying a $50 off discount code I found online) with a $35 per line activation fee. However, this one-time $172 fee pays for itself in 4.5 months with the $38/mo savings we will be receiving.

After hashing all this out, I only see positive results to come from making the switch to Ting. I’m going to go ahead and take the plunge by ordering the phones today!

The Master Spreadsheet

Having a goal is great, but that it’s ultimately useless if there is no way to track the progress made towards reaching that goal.This is a spreadsheet that I borrowed from the blogger at, and it will guide financial decisions and keep everything in perspective. Essentially, his story is what motivated me, and I modified his income/expense workbook to fit our situation. Putting this together over several mornings of waking up before work at 4am was not my idea of fun, but the hard part is over and all I have to do from here on out is plug in numbers each month.

How to Read the Income Statement

The income statement basically shows my starting cash and starting debt in May, followed by expected monthly income and expenses for every month until May 2014. The blue section is a summary of the month’s activity: it shows my overall spending for the month, cash before debt, required cash cushion ($200), potential cash for debt, actual cash paid to debt, and the next line assumes only 70% of my regular monthly debt payments goes to the debt principal. Debt less actual cash paid to debt less 70% of regular monthly debt payments results in ending debt for the month, and the $200 cash cushion is my ending cash for the month. Essentially, my bank account should start and end in the same place every month.

On the left side of the spreadsheet, I show what my former budget was for expenses (“Old Bdgt”), and what my new budget is (“New Bdgt”). This doesn’t affect the rest of the spreadsheet, it’s just for me to compare what progress we’ve made in cutting expenses.

On the very bottom, I provided a summary of the total progress. It show how much debt was actually paid off in a month, and then it calculates our current net worth by taking our total assets less our total liabilities.

A box around a cell denotes a cumulative expense. For example, “entertainment” will be several expenses added together, as opposed to the internet bill, which is a single payment.

Exp = Expected income or expenses to pay

Actual = Actual income or expenses paid
Var = Variance to goal
% = % variance to goal

The yellow highlighted cells are points at which I expect to pay off the next debt. It’s the point at which a recurring monthly expense is taken away and added to the cumulative monthly debt payment.

My hope is that this clean pro-forma income statement will make it easier for you and I to follow my progress. At the end of each month, I’ll post a status update which will include the updated income statement as well as a review of successes and failures to meet our goals for that month.