Monthly Archives: March 2016

A new savings account

open signI’ve been kicking around the idea of finding a new savings account with a higher interest rate. My Capital One 360 savings has been my work horse for well over 10 years (even back with it was ING Direct) and I’d accepted the fact that it wasn’t earning much money. Having money stashed in a non-invested account that I can quickly tap for emergencies and the unexpected is important to me. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to eek a few more bucks out of it!

The total in my savings account is now near the $10,000 mark and even a small interest rate bump will make a difference over the next few years. I figured it was worth my time to investigate further. I was concerned that I’d need to temporarily lift my credit freeze when applying for a new account, the cost of which would eat up a significant portion of the increased revenue. In my research, I learned that no credit check would be needed! Nothing to stop me now!

Please note that none of the links below are affiliates. I’m just sharing my experience.

Being the podcast junkie that I am, I hear lots of interviews and ads for financial tools and websites. Stacking Benjamins took me to Magnify Money, which is a site built exactly for my purpose of finding a better savings account. It didn’t take long to decide on a Salem Five Direct eOne Savings Account, currently offering 1.10% for the rest of 2016.

Old rate: 0.75% = $75 per year
New rate: 1.10% = $110 per year

I consider that good enough to warrant my additional time. I assumed the whole process would be simple and take only 10 minutes. Unfortunately, it ended up being close to an hour over the course of a week.

  1. Filled out an online application.
  2. Received two small deposits to my checking account from Salem Five.
  3. Went to their site to verify the amounts of those deposits (less than $1).
  4. Printed and snail mailed a signature card to them (required).
  5. Applied to access my account online.
  6. Received a secure message to finish this online registration. In order to open and reply to this message, I had to register for an “envelope service”.
  7. Received another secure message, had a code texted to me that I entered on their site to finally access my account online.
  8. Received a phone call from one of their reps that I checked a wrong box (seriously?). Got another secure message with a new signature card that I was able to sign and send electronically.

And I am now the proud owner of a new savings account! Was all of this worth the $35 bucks (actually less since it’s almost April)? Not sure. I’ll have to see what happens to the interest rate in 2017 and re-evaluate whether another switch is in order.

(Image: iguanajo)

A look at my post-commute spending

smiling carIt’s been more than three months since I changed jobs and freed myself from a highly unpleasant LA commute. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at my past spending in the categories of gas and food to see the financial impact of this life change. Not only did I gain back hours of my time, but some cold hard cash as well.

With the help of my handy dandy YNAB budget, it was super easy to pull a couple of spending reports and see a clear picture of my last 12-ish months.

Groceries & Restaurants

It’s fun to see those bars going up and down, following the path of my year. Food spending begins fairly steady while unemployed, then bumps up as I start my job in April. Over the summer when the shit hit the fan on my project, I was eating most lunches and dinners catered by work, so spending drops (August is a total blur). When the dust settled, September spending gets really high as I once again have to fend for myself. My Christmas gift arrives early in December in the form of a new job with an employer who supplies free daily breakfast and lunch. There’s a difference of $300 between the October high and February. Wow!

YNAB grocery restaurant trends

Fuel

This category is much more obvious than above. Pre-commute spending is super low as I job hunt from home through March. It then jumps up over summer as I travel 40 miles per day in stop-and-go traffic and work many weekends. December rolls around and spending is back down with my current commute of 9 miles per day (plus occasional cycling).  There’s a difference of $120 between the July high and February.

YNAB gas trends

I’ll admit that this review didn’t give me much surprise or revelation. It did confirm my assumptions that the job change isn’t just great for my state of mind and free time, but also my pocketbook!

(Image: four12)

Living with less waste – Bulk shopping

DSC_0185I’m making progress with my goal to live with less waste. One facet that I wrote about in a previous post is doing more bulk shopping. And I don’t mean filling up 17 store-supplied plastic bags and calling it good. I plan to go a step further and bring my own reusable bags to fill with bulk goodies.

The first (and pretty much only) step in this process is procuring appropriate reusable bags. I searched my house and couldn’t find any that were suitable. I’ve been given a ton of large shopping bags that I use regularly, but they’re not quite right for vegetables and bulk food. I checked out online stores, but they were more fancy and expensive than I needed. Then I remembered the bag of clothes in my closet I had set aside for donation! In it were five old/damaged cotton shirts that would make perfect bulk bags. Hell yes.

before1

Now I don’t claim to be a crafty kind of gal, but I do have my mom’s old sewing machine hidden away for the occasional hemming of pants or curtains (my sewing skills are limited to straight lines). My first bag attempt was useable, but ugly. I made the rookie mistake of completely sewing up the top hem, forgetting that the draw-string would need to go through it. Dang. After a bit of seam-ripper surgery on that one, I got the hang of it and produced four more of slightly varying shapes and sizes.

after

I had put off this project for a few weeks thinking I needed to buy string or bias tape for closing my bags. Not so! My grey shirt already had a drawstring along the bottom, so I just turned it upside down and closed up the other side. I was able to use the straps of the white tank as the drawstring on that one. For the others, I just cut a strip of the unused fabric, stretched it out, and fed it through the hem with a paper clip. Far from professional, but it works for me.

As the feeling of joy in my domestic skills washed over me, I quickly concluded that my creations must be tested right away. With help from the Bulk app, I found a market a few miles away that would surely have something I need. I had been to this market once or twice prior, but will now be a more regular shopper with my newfound thriftiness.

I was a bit overwhelmed at the site of all those bins and barrels full of interesting stuff. I don’t eat many grains, so the isle with about 40 varieties of rice, barley, millet, and quinoa was far less exciting that the neighboring isle containing candy and coffee. I hadn’t prepared a list, so I just filled up a few bags with food I knew I would eat: popcorn kernels, 85% dark chocolate squares, and shredded coconut. I made note of the skew numbers on my iPhone.

I asked the store employee cleaning up the area where to go if I need containers weighed before filling (in case I want to bring a jar next time). He told me that I should only use the plastic bags supplied by them. Hmph. I didn’t like that answer. So upon check-out, I asked the same question to my cashier, who said that I bring my containers to her first to get the tare weight. A managerial-looking fellow concurred that it was no problem at all. Less learned: If I don’t like the first answer I get, elevate the question up the chain until I do.

Since then, I’ve brought my bags to my local farmers market and filled them up with brussel sprouts, spinach, and asparagus. On each visit, I have to turn down my farmer’s regular offers of plastic bags. I’m sure he’ll catch my drift sooner or later.

Spending my unexpected windfall

4325797829_280db25ffe_zGood financial fortune is smiling upon me this month. It turns out that I over-paid my 2015 income taxes and am due a refund! Note to self: adjust my 2015 withholding. On top of that, I was excited to learn that my employer is paying a bonus due to the company’s solid 2015 performance. Between these two surprises, it’s enough of a windfall to warrant some time to consider how to use it.

My first impulse is “What can I buy with this!?” Ugh. I’m sure that’s a natural reaction, but not productive in ways that I’d like. I will surely spend some of it, but not until other financial priorities are met. Here’s my plan:

Pay off credit card (20%) – I use one of my credit cards regularly to earn 1.5% cash back (then apply it to the balance). I pay it off in full each month to avoid interest. I recently paid my annual condo insurance using the card, and now have a larger balance than usual that will need to be blown away in the coming weeks.

Roth IRA (10%) – I automatically deposit $150 monthly to my Roth IRA ($1,800 for the year). With the annual maximum being $5,500, this is an excellent opportunity to fund it up!

Niece/nephew college fund (6%) – A portion of my Betterment account is allocated to the education of my niece and nephew. I only drop $25 per month into it, but it’s better than nothing. I haven’t decided how to use it once they reach college age. I could buy their books, chip in on tuition or housing, or even take them on an international trip (my favorite idea). With my nephew now a few years from high school graduation, dropping a larger amount into this fund would be prudent.

Fun stuff (4%) – I can’t deny myself a little treat at the mall, so just a wee portion will go to picking up clothing pieces that I’ve wanted ever since doing my capsule wardrobe in January. I’ve got my eye on a new pair of jeans, a pair of booties, and a few tops.

Plain old savings (60%) – All that remains will go into my not-too-thrilling-but-very-important online savings account.  If I want to get real about taking a mini-retirement break in the next couple of years, this needs to be funded up more.

*Bonus bonus* My automatic 401k deduction (18%) was taken from my bonus check. Woot!

(Image: TimSimpson)

Bimonthly Savings Update – March 2016

You may have noticed that it’s been two whole months since my last savings update. After a year of tracking monthly, I feel the practice required too much of my attention on the numbers. I’m in this for the long haul and I don’t want to spend so much time watching (and potentially worrying about) the normal fluctuations that occur when investing. So I’m taking a step back and will now update bimonthly to see how that feels.

Having changed jobs in December, I just made the call to roll over the old 401k into my traditional IRA (which is still in progress). I’m now contributing 18% to my new 401k and have added it to my accounts below. Overall, I’m down a bit from the beginning of the year. I am happy to report that I’ll receive a nice windfall in the coming weeks between my tax return refund and a bonus at work! Nearly all of that will be saved, but I’m still figuring out how to allocate that money.

Monthly_03_01_16

Home value: $391,150

Current net worth: $310,994