Month: July 2016

Maintaining an older car

Maintaining an older car

Back to school time also means back to work for my husband, who currently works for a local school district. Over the summer, he spoiled me by driving me to and from work everyday. It was great to be dropped off right at the front of my building instead of parking a mile away and either walking (not wise to do while pregnant during Arizona’s extreme summer months) or hopping a free bus.

It was also nice that we could spend a little more time together. We usually spent our ten-fifteen minute car rides in the morning making plans for that evening or the rest of the week, and after work, we would run errands before heading home.

Unfortunately for me, our nice little trips are coming to an end as a new school year begins, and I will once again drive myself into work. At least for the month of August, because I will be going on maternity leave at the beginning of September.

That said, my car — a reliable 1998 Ford — was in desperate need of a tune up and the air conditioning has not worked for three years. So Bradley and I took the car into the autoshop yesterday morning and chatted with the mechanic.

I have been preparing myself for the air conditioning to be quite expensive and we did not know if there was anything else wrong that would also require immediate attention. This is one reason why we chose to wait to take the car in. Another reason was that Bradley’s vehicle, which we use more often and for longer distances, needed a few major repairs earlier this year. So we waited to work on my car until we had saved up enough money in our Vehicle Maintenance Fund to cover whatever repairs might required.

To our surprise, the mechanic quoted a significantly lower price than I anticipated, though we knew it could go up once they got under the hood and poked around. Still, when Bradley dropped me off at the office, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

About lunch time, Bradley received a call saying that the air conditioning damage was more extensive than they had seen in a long time. Yes, my poor car experienced an incident three years ago that caused a bit of damage, and yet it has continued running faithfully. Sometimes old cars are better than new ones! Especially old cars that are completely paid off and just need a little extra care to get it back in proper working order.

After work, we swung by the autoshop to pick up the car. I was actually surprised they were able to fix the air conditioning in one day. In addition to the AC, they did the usual check up and an oil change. The mechanic did let us know that a few other items will need to be replaced down the line. For example, the radiator reservoir has a big dent in it. No cracks or leaks yet, but it probably should be replaced in awhile. The final price, including labor, was actually a tad lower than the price we were quoted in the morning. Praise the Lord!

Driving home was amazing! The car drove nice and smooth and the cool air was heavenly!

You have to understand, I have been without air conditioning in this car for three years, and I live in Arizona where temperatures in the summer often stay above 110° and it is even hotter inside a car driving on asphalt in rush hour traffic. Mornings were always fine, but driving home in the afternoons, I would be soaked in sweat and have to shower!

Now the vents are blowing lovely and wonderfully cool air! It is also powerful. I actually had to turn it down to low before I arrived home. Driving into work for August will be a breeze now, and once our little son is born, I will be able to take him on errands during the day instead of having to wait for Bradley to get home.

Maintain an older car or get a new one?

So how do you know if an old car is worth maintaining or if it would be more cost effective in the long run to trade up?

Here are a few things to consider before ditching your current vehicle and rushing out to buy a new or new-to-you used one:

Current monthly payments

Is your current vehicle completely paid off? If it is, than the only monthly expenses you have is your insurance and gas. Every once in a while, you may have to take the car in for a tune up or repair, but you are free from the burden of large monthly car payments.

I love that my car — old as it is — is completely paid off! I only have to pay for the insurance on a monthly basis, routine maintenance once or twice a year (which I admit I had neglected over the last two years), and repairs rarely.

Tip: If you are not already, you should start tracking your monthly expenses so you can get an accurate idea of how much you are spending each month and where that money is going. Learn more about tracking your expenses with our Budget Guide: Tips for Saving series!

Total maintenance costs

How much have you spent in the last year or two maintaining your current vehicle? Sure, a few hundred dollars here and a thousand there can feel huge when you are on a budget or, like us, want to pay cash and not use credit cards or loans. However, even if you spent $3,000-$5,000 on your vehicle in the last two years, that is significantly less than you will pay on a new car. Even if you get a new-to-you used vehicle, you do not always know upfront what the cost of maintaining that vehicle down the road will be.

Tip: You can have your local, trusted mechanic give you a list of items that may need to be addressed in the near future but do not have to be repaired immediately. This can help you decide whether or not it is worth keeping your current vehicle and also help you properly save up for those repairs. Learn more about creating a Vehicle Maintenance Fund in your savings account!

Reliability of the vehicle

If properly maintained, how reliable is your vehicle? Does your car have a history of unexpected breakdowns? Is there a major repair looming in your near future that you will not be able to afford even with the savings from your Vehicle Maintenance Fund? Depending upon the past reliability of your car, you may lean towards keeping it or trading it in.

Satisfying needs

Does your current vehicle still meet the needs of you and your family? Sometimes, an individual or family simply outgrow a vehicle. Perhaps your current vehicle can no longer accommodate your growing family or changes in your profession, hobbies, or budget. However, if the car is still satisfying your needs, you may want to keep it longer and save the money that would otherwise go to a new car, monthly payments, and higher insurance.

After taking all of these things into consideration, you will have a better idea on which course of action is right for you. There may be unavoidable and practical reasons that necessitate a new car. Or perhaps you realize just how reliable and cost effective your current vehicle actually is — despite its age, quirks, and odd looks.

I understand. My Ford is, unfortunately, not the most attractive anymore. Hard water when I lived in California years ago damaged the paint pretty badly, but despite its looks, the extremely low maintenance costs, no monthly payments, and reliability of the vehicle make it a keeper! I think we can get a few more years out of it.

Budget Guide: Your Children’s Future

Budget Guide: Your Children’s Future

Budget Guide series - tips for saving
In the previous three posts, we discussed general finance and budgeting tips that, with some minor modifications, could be applied to almost any individual and/or family. Today we are going to look specifically at saving money for your child or children’s future. My husband and I are expecting our first child this September so this is particularly important to us.

In addition to the day-to-day expenses of raising a child, my husband and I recently discussed creating a savings account for our little one after he is born and depositing a set amount into it each month.

Even if it is just $50 a month, that money will grow to $10,800 by the time he is eighteen-years-old (plus a little extra from the dividends and other sources). This is a good savings for a young adult to have when he or she leaves the nest and enters into the world.

I was blessed that my parents set up a savings account for me when I was young, and my maternal grandmother gave to me a gift from investments or bonds (I don’t remember the details) she had set up when I was very little. So when I entered college, I had a nice amount of savings to tap into. I used half of it to finance two study abroad trips that I thoroughly enjoyed, I used some of it to send a child to school in India for many years through a trusted non-profit, and the rest was the basis of my savings once I started working.

Now I want to point out: I did not take the gift of my grandmother and parents for granted. I knew it was a precious gift that not everyone is given. I used the money wisely, frugally, saved money from a part-time tutoring job, and worked very hard to maintain a 4.0 GPA all the way through three Associate Degrees and a Bachelors. I was very aware that I was blessed to have been given a “leg up”, sort to speak, and I worked very hard to be worthy of such generosity.

I believe giving a child the gift of some savings when he or she is starting out as an independent adult is a blessing that he or she will cherish.

Think about it:

  • $25 a month for 18 years will become $5,400.
  • $50 a month for 18 years will end up $10,800!

If you have multiple children, it may be difficult to put aside a larger amount for every child. Perhaps $25 per child is good enough and maybe grandparents might be willing to supplement with $10 or $15 a month for each child. If your kids have two sets of grandparents, that might add up to $45 or $55 per month and that is $9,720 to $11,880 by the time the child is 18.

And how many times do we waste $25 or $50 dollars on unnecessary things? While this is for our children’s futures. No matter how big or small your monthly deposits are, the money will add up over eighteen years and be a very nice gift for your child or children.

He or she can decide to use the gift money for whatever journey his or her life takes: to travel, buy a car, learn a trade, go to college, invest, buy real estate, start a business, whatever! These figures do not even take into consideration any money he or she has saved up from part-time jobs as teenagers or from their first “real” jobs as young adults!

If you don’t have children, you can still use this idea to set aside a certain amount each month towards a long term goal: perhaps it is a dream vacation or a down payment for a house or a business venture or extra funds for retirement.

3 Ways to Make Facebook More Enjoyable and Secure

3 Ways to Make Facebook More Enjoyable and Secure

Facebook. Founded in 2004, this revolutionary social networking site had 955 million monthly and 552 million daily active users at the end of June 2012. This site allows you to connect or re-connect with family and friends separated by distance, make new friends, swap information, share hobbies (photos, music, sites, etc.), and even play games. For many, Facebook is the first site they log into in the morning and the last site they log out of at night. Yet it is not always fun and games.

Due to the nature of the social networking site, misunderstandings and arguments have arisen from status events, sometimes even relationships have been broken, and even jobs have been lost. Facebook, like most modern media, is a double-edged sword: it can be used for good or could be misused and cause great harm. If you use Facebook or have considered jumping on the bandwagon, what can you do to keep from being sucked into the black hole?

Today I will be sharing three things you can do to make your Facebook experience more enjoyable and more secure.

Privacy

The first and most important thing to consider is the privacy settings of your Facebook account. The default privacy is Public, which means everyone and anyone with an Internet connection has access to everything you post, share, like, or comment on. If you don’t want your actions broadcasted to everyone, you need to change your account’s privacy settings to Friends.

Facebook Privacy Settings

How To Do It: When logged into your Facebook account, you will see a little upside triangle on the top right of the page (to the right of the ‘Home’ link). Click this upside triangle and select ‘Settings’ from the drop-down options.

On the General Settings page that loads, select “Privacy” from the left sidebar to go to the Privacy Settings and Tools page.

Facebook Privacy Settings and Tools page

Edit the first option, “Who can see my stuff?”, and choose your privacy settings. You can change it to Friends. If you want to have a default setting even more restrictive, you can select More Options and a dialogue box will appear. You can select the lists or individual friends you want to use as a default.

Facebook: Change who can see your posts.

Note: This default privacy setting will apply to status updates and photos you post to your timeline from a Facebook app that does not have the inline audience selector, like Facebook for Blackberry or iPhone. When you post via a computer, you can manually choose the privacy setting for that specific status update or photo from the inline audience selector, as seen in the image below.

Facebook Inline Audience Selector

Facebook setting options There are also other privacy settings that you should look at and decide upon. Under Privacy, you can decide who can contact you, who can look you up, and whether your profile is searched by outside search engines (like Google).

Timeline and Tagging controls who can post on your Timeline (previously called Wall), who can see what others have posted to your Timeline, who can tag you in photos and posts, who can see photos and posts you have been tagged in, etc.

Blocking is a bit self-explanatory but important. You can block people and apps from accessing your Facebook, block receiving messages or event invites and more.

Notifications allows you to decide what method (if any) you would like to use to be notified of Facebook activity.

Remember, the stricter your privacy settings, the more secure your Facebook account and personal information will be. This will not only keep you safe from phishing and malicious apps, but also help make your Facebook experience more pleasant overall.

Accepting and Rejecting Friend Requests

The next most important task has to do with sending, accepting, and rejecting Friend requests. Let me be very clear: You have absolutely NO obligation to accept every single Friend request that you receive.

To avoid needless drama, stress, and other unpleasantness, you need to be cautious who you accept as a Friend and you who reject. Just because you attended high school together x-number of years ago does not mean that you must let that individual into your life via Facebook today. Participating in social networking, like Facebook, can leave you vulnerable to malicious acts if you are not careful with whom you share your personal information and details about your daily life.

There are many individuals who pose as potential friends yet whose sole purpose is to steal your personal information, such as usernames, passwords, phone numbers, birthdays, etc. This is known as Phishing, and can result in your identity being stolen or worse.

Facebook Friend Request

I highly encourage you to establish a personal policy regarding what type of requests you accept and reject. For example, my personal policy is to accept Friend requests from individuals: 1.) family members, 2.) I know personally in real life, 3.) I have known for at least five years online through a safe community and we have become very close friends, and/or 4.) share similar views and I get along with.

I have received and rejected countless friend requests from strangers, I have known in the past (such as from high school or my early college years) and even people I know right now. Think carefully before accepting a request: Is this individual someone you know? Someone you can trust? Would you consider them a genuine friend? Do you share similar interests or views on the important topics?

Facebook Friend Request Denied

There is no prize for having an extraordinary number of friends. If you do not choose your Facebook friends carefully, you will suffer from frustration, stress, and unnecessary drama. Facebook should be a pleasant experience, not torture. Just as you would not allow a random stranger to walk freely into your home and start making a meal in your kitchen or be privy to intimate conversations between you and your closest family and friends, you need to be smart about who you allow into your virtual “home”, aka your Facebook account.

Use Lists

Facebook has a very handing feature called Lists. Basically, you can use the default lists (Family, Close Friends, etc.) or create custom lists that you can then group your friends into. Lists not only help you later one when you want to choose who among your friends you want to share specific status updates or photos with (through the inline audience selector), but it is also a faster and easier way of getting rid of unwanted junk from your ticker/News Feed. You can choose the update types you want to receive or not receive from each list, turn email or Facebook notifications on or off, and other important control settings.

Facebook Lists

How To Do it: When logged into your Facebook account, there is a column to the left and within that column is an area titled “Friends”. It should show a default number of lists: Close Friends, Family, etc. Hover on “Friends” and a “More” link appears to the right. Click it to be taken to the list page. Here you see all of the default Facebook lists and have the option of creating your own custom lists.

Facebook Lists

To edit a list, click the list’s name. You will be taken to a News Feed for that particular list. At the top right, there are two gray buttons: “Notifications” and “Manage List”. Since I check Facebook regularly, I turn my notifications “off” so as to avoid cluttering up my email and Facebook messaging. Under “Manage List”, select “Choose Update Types…” and a drop-down will appear. (If it does not appear automatically, click “Manage List” one more time for it to appear.) Check or uncheck the options you want. I highly recommend unchecking “Games” and “Comments and Likes”. Repeat with the other lists.

Facebook Lists

Underneath these two gray buttons, you will see an area called “On This List (#)”. This shows you how many of your friends are on this particular list and will show the profile image of a few of them. Beneath the profile images is a box where you can add friends to the list. If you want to remove a friend from a particular list, click the gray button “Manage List” and select the first option “Edit List”. A dialogue box appears that displays all of the friends on the list. When you hover on a profile image, a white X appears in the top right corner. Clicking the X will remove that friend from that particular list.

In Conclusion

Facebook can be a wonderful tool to keep in contact with your family and friends or an instrument of hurt and misery, depending upon how you use it. If you customize your Privacy Settings, choose carefully who you accept as Facebook friends, and make use of the lists feature, you will avoid needless drama, stress, and keep your personal information more secure.

Budget Guide: Organize Your Savings!

Budget Guide: Organize Your Savings!

Previously we have looked at tracking monthly income as well as lowering monthly bills and expenses. Today let us jump right on in to the best part: saving money!

Budget Guide series - tips for saving We are going to be looking at a few methods that will help you keep a buffer in your checking account and divide your savings account into “funds”. When your savings is organized, it is much easier to know how much you have saved, what the savings are earmarked for, and how much you still need to reach any saving goals you may have.

Choose a fake zero

Some of my favorite advice that my mom shared with me when I began working was to create a “fake zero balance” in my checking account. Basically, she said to pick a specific dollar amount that would act as my zero. Depending on your income, it can be $250, $500, $750, or $1000. Even if your income is very tight, it is worth saving for a month or two to get a larger padding.

This money is not to be touched unless for emergencies! You need to re-train yourself so when you see your “fake zero”, even if it is $500, you do not “see” the $500 as available funds. It looks like a $0 to you. After a few months of reminding yourself, you will discover the temptation to dip into that money for non-emergencies lessens and eventually goes away.

Keeping a fake zero in your checking account means that you do not have to worry about bounced checks nor standing in a grocery line with a cart full of food and no money in your account to pay for it. It is a safety net and can give you piece of mind that, should an emergency happen, you will be fine.

Savings

Now for the savings! Many financial experts recommend saving 20-30% of your income if possible. This may seem like a huge amount so begin with smaller steps and see how you can work it up. Based off your monthly income, determine the bare minimum you can transfer to a savings account each month. No matter what, every month you can either manually or have that amount automatically transferred into your savings.

With the savings from the other areas, you may discover that you can save more than you expected. Each month is different as well. You may only be able to save your minimum one month and the next twice that much.

Divide Savings into Funds

Though your savings are all grouped together in your account, I highly recommend creating a simple spreadsheet in the program of your choice. You will want to track the money coming in and out of your account as well as divide the balance into “funds”.

In my spreadsheet, I have one section that tracks the basic deposits, dividends, and withdraws. Above that, I have a few lines in which I have created different “funds” that I separate the total savings into.

You need to decide what you are saving for and create funds that match your needs.

Emergency Fund

The first thing you should do is to create an Emergency Fund. Yes, you have some emergency padding in your checking if you use the “fake zero balance” advice above, but this is a much larger emergency fund. Many financial experts agree that you should work your Emergency Fund up to the equivalent of three months’ income. I know it can be difficult, especially with other expenses, but each month add a little into the Emergency Fund and force yourself to never move money from it unless it is truly an emergency. This is another safety net! Should you lose your job, you will have three months income available while you apply for new jobs.

Vehicle Maintenance Fund

Another fund that we use regularly is the Vehicle Maintenance Fund. My husband and I have two vehicles.

Mine is a Ford, completely paid off, and runs well for minimal in-town errands. It is in desperate need of a paint job and the air conditioning now works does not work (which makes driving around Phoenix in the summer a miserable experience), but overall it does not cost us much to maintain.

My husband’s vehicle is a Nisson and he is still paying it off. It unfortunately just hit the ten-year-mark which means it has been requiring some expensive fixes. However, it is a great vehicle, my husband drives it daily, and we use it for all of our trips. So we decided the Nisson is our primary vehicle and worth keeping in tip-top-shape. The Ford is our extremely reliable backup.

We have decided not to use credit cards for vehicle maintenance. My husband did that with his previous car and long after he trade it in, he was still paying off the credit card. Not a fun experience seeing hard-earned money disappear for a car you no longer even have! So after we married we created a Vehicle Maintenance Fund in our savings. We had both vehicles evaluated by a mechanic so we have a general idea ahead of time what needs done, an estimate on the price, and the timeframe we have to save up for it. Every month, we add money to the Vehicle Maintenance Fund until we have enough to take one of the vehicles in.

Other Funds

The other funds you create will be specific to you and your family. Ours includes a down payment fund for a future home and a baby fund for expenses. (Our first little one will be born in September!) You might choose to create a Vacation Fund to save up for a dream vacation, a new vehicle fund to buy a new car, or whatever your goal(s) may be.

Conclusion

Tracking your monthly income and expenses, giving yourself a budget for expenses, and organizing your savings will greatly improve your financial situation. I highly recommend working towards a “fake zero” in your checking account and a three month Emergency Fund in your savings. These are safety nets that are important to have, especially during times of economic difficulty or uncertainty.

Our last post in this Budget Guide series will be about putting aside money for any children you may have.

The $3 Faucet Fix

The $3 Faucet Fix

Disclaimer: This post contains a link out to a product. I am not affiliated with the company in any way nor am I receiving any compensation. This link is used as an example for informative purposes only.

My husband and I are currently renting a three bedroom, single family home in a nice little neighborhood that is a mix of home owners and renters. The house itself was built in 1977 and has a floor plan that was exceptionally popular for houses built around that time in our area. At one time, the house was very well cared for — the kitchen was renovated and the backyard had an irrigation system. After it was turned into a rental, it has not been kept up and there are quite a few things that are falling apart.

Our landlord is nice, but unless it is an emergency (like when our water heater started spraying hot water everywhere), he is very much hands off and a bit… uh, frugal. We do not like to bother him unless we absolutely have to so we either just live with a minor inconvenience or we try to fix it ourselves.

About two months ago, I thought I broke the faucet of our guest bathroom. When using real candles in the bathroom, I always place the small candle in the sink so if it tips, it is not as much of a fire-risk. Even more so in this old house which is made of wood and extremely dried out. Unfortunately, we were trying new candles with wood wicks, and I learned pretty quickly that wood wicks burn a lot hotter than traditional wicks.

It melted the aerator!

Of course, at that time I did not even know what an aerator was. I thought I had damaged the whole faucet and was worried we would have to replace it. Since we are saving money for both the arrival of our son in September and fixing the air conditioning in my car, the thought of spending money on a faucet did not sit well with me.

So I did the mature thing: I procrastinated.

We have had numerous guests over the last month, and every time they would go to wash their hands, they would either get sprayed with water or accidentally spray water all over. Determined to try to save money and avoid having to eat the cost of a whole new faucet, I finally searched the Internet and discovered that aerators are removable and easily replaceable. Turns out, it was just the plastic screen insert that melted anyway!

So what is an aerator?

An aerator is that piece at the end of your faucet where the water comes out through a screen. It separates the stream of water so that it does not splash and spray everywhere. Aerators can also be used to limit the amount of water for conservation purposes. Learn more about faucet aerators on Wikipedia.

The Fix

Sometimes you can unscrew an aerator with just your hand, but ours was stuck tight. A few gentle taps with a hammer loosened the aerator body so we could unscrew it. I confirmed that the screen on the insert had melted and needed replacing so we took the whole thing — aerator body and insert — with us to Home Depot. We searched around the plumbing/faucet aisles until we found the section with replacement parts for sinks.

Almost immediately, we found an identical replacement insert of the correct size, and it was only $2.99!

We happily purchased the insert. Once back home, we put in the new aerator insert and chose the correct rubber washer for our aerator. Aerators either are male (the ridges for the screw are on the outside) or female (the ridges for the screw are on the inside) and depending upon your aerator, you need a larger or smaller washer for a correct fit. Our aerator was female so the smaller washer worked for us. We assembled the aerator and screwed it back onto the faucet.

Viola! The water streamed beautifully and calmly out of the faucet.

It was wonderful to fix the faucet ourselves for under $3, and now our guests will no longer have water splashing and spraying all over them when they wash their hands!