Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Accumulate more savings in 4 steps

The key to accumulating more savings isn’t only to spend less; it’s to spend less without sacrificing your quality of life. 

Saving more doesn't mean that you have to stop having fun, or stop shopping, or stop eating out.  Cut costs on the things that you don't care about.  This gives you more money to spend on things that you do care about. These are the 4 main changes I did that you should also consider:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Keep your intentions realistic

"I'm going to work out at least 5 days a week."

"I'm going to stop eating sweets."

"I'm not shopping at all this month."

How often do you make vague ridiculously overambitious goals that get you nowhere?  

Every January, gym membership skyrockets.  People promise that they will go to the gym everyday for at least 1 hour.  Late February, early March settles in, and the same people are sitting at home watching television, promising that they will go to the gym tomorrow, or during the weekend, or next week, for sure.

How many people around you have claimed that they’re going on a crash diet?  When was the last time you noticed them losing any weight? 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in 1-5 years

Too much too soon is a setup for disaster.  

When your intentions are not realistic, they will not become reality.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Retirement: Roth IRA

"Retirement?  I'll worry about it when I get older"

"My parents are rich, I will inherit my retirement!"

"I know I should be saving up for retirement, but I have too much stuff going on right now.  I'll worry about retirement when I have more free time."

"Before I invest any of my hard earned money, I want to learn as much as I can about smart retirement and investing so I don't make any mistakes."

If you're working and making an income, you need to already start thinking about retirement.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ditch the Diet Coke

Why do so many people love diet Coke? Or diet drinks in general?

"Drinking diet Coke is healthier than drinking regular Coke"

"I don't like regular soda because it tastes too sweet"

I started drinking Diet Coke 3 years ago.  I lived with 3 girls at the time.  All of them constantly nagged about how I would eat unhealthy foods and how I would always drink regular Coke instead of diet sodas like they did.  Being around the 3 girls constantly watching their weight, I was convinced that Diet Coke and other diet sodas were the way to go.  They even convinced me to add Splenda or Sweet'N Low to my coffee instead of regular sugar.   I like to keep fit, eat healthy, and exercise regularly.

Artificial sweeteners would only enhance my healthy routine, right?  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Always Pay With Credit

I love credit cards.  How else can you get a free loan (up to one month) with 0% interest?  Some cards even give you a loan for 6 to 12 months with 0% interest.  

How else can you get paid to spend money on everyday purchases?  

Credit cards throw free money your way.  You just have to take advantage of it.
These are the credit cards that I own, and I use everyone of them on a regular basis

Credit cards offer an incredible amount of protection, benefits and rewards. These rewards are so good, that you should be paying for everything that you possibly can with a credit card.  If you are presented with an opportunity to pay for something with either your credit or your debit card, always go with the credit card.  And no, paying for something as a "credit charge" with your debit card is NOT the same as using your credit card.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goodbye DirecTV; Hello Roku

This article is going to be about how I ended my relationship with DirecTV and why I consciously chose to pay $230 now in early termination fees to save thousands of dollars later.
When I first signed up for DirecTV, I was super excited.  They had this huge promotion which gave out hundreds of HD channels for only $29.99 when the original price was $61.99.  They were also throwing in free professional installation, free handling and delivery, no startup costs and no equipment to buy.  Wow.  Sounds great right?  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spend extravagantly on things that make you happy

...but cut costs drastically on everything else.

For the last 6 months, I've made some drastic changes in my spending habits.  I've successfully cut costs on all categories and aspects of my finances.  In future posts, I will periodically detail how I have ruthlessly made these cut backs on useless expenses.

The thing is, by cutting costs mercilessly on things I don't care about, I am actually spending more money on the things that make me happy.  This is what conscious spending is all about.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Where is your money going?

"I just don't know where all of my hard earned money goes."

"I have no idea how much money I have.  I only find out when I get my bank statement each month."

"I opened my credit card statement and I could NOT believe I spent THAT much on eating out this month!"

"I want to start budgeting someday."

"I have so much debt I don't know how to pay it off."

How familiar do these statements sound?

The first step in saving is getting a grasp of how much money you have, and where that money is going.  Most people don't know how much money they truly have and how much debt they are truly in.  Most people spend money blindly and don't have any plan of action on how to save or invest their money.

Think of running your life like a finely tuned and efficient business.  Would you shop from a store that didn't keep track of inventory?  Would you invest in a company that doesn't keep track of profits and losses?  If you want to improve your finances, this is one of the first steps.  If you don't document and monitor where your money is going, you will have no idea how to control and grow your money.

"But I don't have TIME to budget."  Yes you do.  I'll show you how easy it can be.

"But I don't want to bother with saving money."  Get off my site.

There are many different ways to track your spending.  I use 3 different methods (I'm a freak).  

Mint is the easiest way to keep track of your spending.  You simply input a login of all of your accounts: checking, savings, credit cards, IRAs, 401Ks, taxable investments, mortgage, properties, vehicles, etc and then Mint will systematically categorize how much you're earning and spending in various categories such as: bills, shopping, paycheck, groceries, dining, etc.  It does this all automatically but does require some fine-tuning every now and then. Mint displays the Zillow value of any property you own.  Mint also provides you with a free credit score.

There are very few downsides to using Mint.  Mint does not link with every single financial institution out there, so you may have to manually input certain account balances.  Also, Mint only posts which transactions have gone through.  For example if you've written a check or scheduled a bill payment, you won't be able to track this expense until the check or bill payment has been cashed.  This is why I use ClearCheckbook to manually track my expenses (read more below).

If you are looking for a simple and automatic way to track your income and expenses, Mint is the way to go.

Personal Capital
Personal Capital is a financial account aggregator such as Mint that offers free financial tools to help you manage all of your finances in one place.  The advantage that Personal Capital has over Mint is that it is more heavily geared towards tracking your investments and net worth.  Personal Capital does an excellent job monitoring your investment portfolio.  It’s easy to find information regarding your investment asset allocation and investment fees.  Personal Capital also offers a simple to use retirement planning software.
Personal Capital’s retirement planner is extremely easy to use.  You simply input your investments, savings, risk tolerance, desired monthly expenses in retirement, and your desired retirement age.  The planner allows you to plan for and add large upcoming expenses such as a home purchase or college tuition.  You can also add projected income events such as projected Social Security distributions, rental income, pensions or inheritances.  The retirement planner then calculates your likelihood of successfully retiring when you want to.  You can adjust factors affecting your retirement with the planner such as your savings rate and annual expenses.  The planner then provides you with instant feedback on how those changes affect your finances.  It’s nice to get a look at the big picture of your odds of successfully retiring.  I have not found a better retirement planner out there compared to the one that Personal Capital offers for free.

Like Mint, there are some financial institutions that Personal Capital does not like with.  In these instances, you will have to manually input account balances if you want Personal Capital to track these accounts as part of your net worth. 

Once you hit 100K of investable assets, a licensed financial advisor from Personal Capital will call you and see if they can schedule a free telephone consultation.  The advisor will take the time to discuss your financial goals and questions.  They will also discuss ways to improve your portfolio, reduce your fees, reduce your risks and optimize your taxes.  There is no obligation to speak with them and the phone call is free.  Personal Capital does offer professional investment management if you are interested. 

I highly recommend checking out Personal Capital and playing with the investment analyzer and retirement planner.  You can sign up for your free Personal Capital account here. 

For those looking for a manual way to balance accounts, I highly recommend ClearCheckbook.  ClearCheckbook is a free online personal finance web based application that has the ability to help manage every aspect of your financial accounts.  ClearCheckbook can keep track of all your checking, savings, credit cards, investment accounts, and more.  You enter all of your account expenses manually, so ClearCheckbook does not store any of your bank or credit card information.  You can access ClearCheckbook any time you have internet access.  There is an iPhone app, but I find the webpage much easier to use. 
Anytime I move money around, such as use my credit card, schedule a bill pay, write a check or use any cash, I immediately document it online with ClearCheckbook.  This only takes a moment.  I do this right away because I know that I am lazy and I will not sit down and look at my receipts at a later time.  I categorize all my difference types of expenses.  This helps me monitor which areas I spend the most money on over time.  You can easily search prior transactions.

While Mint and Personal Capital can automatically track expenses, ClearCheckbook allows me to keep track of which checks have cleared as well as total restaurant expenses including tip.  When comparing my credit card statements against my manually documented transactions, I’ve caught small instances of fraud such as when a waiter deliberately modified my tip amount and overcharges my credit card.  When comparing my bank statements, I can track down which checks haven’t been cashed yet.  ClearCheckbook is my favorite way to manually document all of our income and expenses.

Where is your money going? 
I track all of my spending with Mint and ClearCheckbook.  I track all of our investments with Personal Capital.  Start documenting your expenses and income.  You know that you've procrastinated long enough.  You will find that once you start keeping track of your money, it will be like second nature to categorize every expense in it's own category.  Who knows, you might enjoy it. You will be surprised to see just where exactly your money is going.  Tracking what you spend isn't the secret to saving money, just like counting your calories isn't the secret to losing weight – but it’s a good start. 

Check In

Foursquare and Yelp are location based social networking sites that can link with mobile phones to nearby restaurants and venues.  Did you know, "checking in" can sometimes get you some sweet deals?

I used to get slightly annoyed by seeing people constantly "checking in" on their facebook, yelp, foursquare applications to a bunch of random places online.  It's fun sometimes, but I don't need to know where you are every moment of everyday.   I don't need to know where you are having breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7 days a week.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


To procrastinate is to delay or postpone action. 

We've all been procrastinators before:

"I've been busy with work this week, I'll go to the gym next week."
"I'll start budgeting next week... I promise."
"I really need to stop eating out so often."
"My new year's resolution is to finally start eating healthier."

"I need to stop buying new shoes... after this one last pair on sale."

Friday, January 13, 2012

You Have Less Money Than You Think

You have less money in your bank account than you think

Emergencies will always happen.  It's not a matter of if, it's when. 
According to Money magazine, 78% of us will have a major unexpected event within the next ten years.

This hit me a few months ago.  Several things hit my finances hard all at the same time.  I had 3 tenants that moved out all at once, taking their security deposits and my previously expected next month's worth of incoming rent with them ($1675 + $1675 = $3350).  I also found out that I needed to replace two tires on my vehicle ($710).  Two large trees on my property had roots growing into my plumbing system and needed to be cut down with the roots ground ($650).  Oh yes, and property taxes were due ($6636).  This all set me back several thousands of dollars all at once.  I dug into my savings, put some purchases on credit, and lived extremely, humbly, below my means for 2 months.  

I didn't think it was possible, but we cut costs mercilessly like maniacs to make ends meet.  I made some drastic changes to my lifestyle and finances, which I will detail in another post.  Most importantly to me, I didn't break the cardinal and fundamental rule of credit cards - I did NOT carry any little bit of unpaid balance over.  It was a humbling and necessary experience.  

It taught me how wasteful and spendthrift I used to be.  It taught me that I was capable of living on a lot less.

The point is that emergencies will always happen.  It could be new tires for your car, annual property taxes on your home, DMV vehicle registration fees, car maintenance, home repair, medical or dental emergencies.  It could be smaller amounts like auto insurance premiums or life insurance premiums due.    

These are things that will come out of nowhere.  These are the things that you should plan for.  These are the things that will quickly drain the amount of money we THINK we have.

Ask yourself:

- Do you have money set aside to pay all of your bills when they are due all at once?
- Do have $1000 set aside as an emergency fund?
- Do you have 3 months living expenses set aside as an emergency fund?
- Do you have 6 months living expenses set aside as an emergency fund?
- Have you started your retirement fund yet?

I will teach you how to prepare yourself for these emergencies and financial necessities.

In the meanwhile, realize that your actual worth is more than just your bank balance.  It includes all the non monetary wealth that you already have.  It includes your family and friends.  It includes your skills, talents, health, potential future earnings, and your mind.  All of which makes you wealthier than you can imagine. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


We all have more wealth than we can possibly imagine.

An article I read the other day on CNN Money

In summary:

- Americans make up half of the world's richest 1%
- It only takes $34,000 a year, after taxes, to be among the richest 1% in the world
- Even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The To-Do List

How many times have you forgotten to do something you mean to do repeatedly?  How many times have you gone to the supermarket only to come home and realize you didn't purchase the item that brought you to the market in the first place?  How many times has someone suggested a great restaurant to eat at, or a movie to watch, and you said you would remember, but you forgot the next day?  How many important thoughts pop into your mind each day that you forget hours later?

Forgetting to do things is silly and inefficient.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Improving Your Credit Score

What's the point of having a good credit score? 

It will affect all of your big purchases in life.  Having a good credit score is what allowed me to finance my new car purchase for 1.9% APR 2 years ago (the lowest APR for this car possible).  Having a good credit score is what allowed me to get a mortgage at a rate of 4.375% last year, the lowest amount possible, and which has allowed me to refinance my mortgage at a rate of 3.75% this year.  It also made the dealer jealous when he announced that my credit score was "a very impressive 805."

You NEED a good FICO score.  One day you may want to buy a new home, or a car, or start a new business.  Your FICO score will be a major component in determining the interest rate you will end up paying.  The difference between the highest and lowest scores is about 3 points for a home loan and more than 8 points on a 3 year car loan.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Your Credit Score

Having a good credit score is one of the most important things to have in life.  Your credit score will affect so many aspects of your daily and future financial life.  

A poor score or credit report can affect:

- getting a car loan with a nice APR
- getting a new credit card that has high bonus rewards / miles / points / cashback
- getting a high credit limit
- purchasing a home with a good mortgage rate
- getting hired with a new company

A 100 point difference in your FICO® score could mean over $40,000 extra in interest payments over the life of a 30 year mortgage on a $300,000 home loan

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Relentless Self Improvement.

What an incredible statement.

This is the way that I want to live my life.  This is the way that I want to improve every aspect of my daily activities.  I've been meaning to start a blog for a while after I closed my old xanga account.  That was mostly used for pictures, but this will be used to document ways that I am trying to optimize every day.

This blog will include ways that I have been trying to change my:
- health
- finances
- personal relationships
- and my outlook on life.

By the way, I did not come up with the motto "relentless self improvement."  My friend Wayne has had it on his aim profile for a while.  I think it's some kind of slogan or theme for the fraternity that he has been associated with.  I'm not sure, I never asked.  Either way, I like it.  I'm not claiming to have come up with the phrase.  But it is a phrase that has always stuck with me and a motto that I wish to live by.

Something changed a year ago.

Over this last year, I've begun to realize how truly wonderful life is.  I've begun to cherish the most basic necessities of life that I've been provided.  Envy is an emotion I've begun to feel a lot less of.   My eyes have been opened.  The biggest emotion that I've been feeling lately is empathy for others.

I decided to stop living a meaningless existence and try to improve myself.

I decided to stop doing a lot of things:
- I decided to stop eating out everyday.
- I decided to stop wasting all my money on buying other people drinks and dinner.
- I decided to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
- I decided to stop wasting all of my life watching television.
- I decided to stop caring about the nice things that other people had that I wanted.

I also decided to start doing a few things as well:
- I decided to bring my lunch to work
- I decided to eat healthier
- I decided to gain full control of my finances
- I decided to start reading for leisure

I hope to accomplish a few things with this blog.

- Post some things that I do on a regular basis which you may want to incorporate into your routine
- Post a tip I've learned to improve something in my life
- Post any revelations or epiphanies that come to my mind
- Post an occasional book review
- Post an article that I find interesting online

Maybe you can learn a thing or two from me.  I really hope to learn something from you.

Now on to the latest post.
Update 2.23.2012:  I have decided to focus more on the financial aspects of improving my daily life.  This site has been renamed to: Relentless Financial Improvement.  

Update 2.28.2012:  The content on this blog is for informational purposes only. I am not a professional financial advisor, and the information I've provided may be inaccurate and not suitable for your individual needs and purposes. While I attempt to provide accurate information on this website, the information on this blog is not a substitute for advice from a professional financial or investment advisor.  Thanks McD.
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