Category: Finances

Young or old or somewhere in-between, this section is dedicated to fostering learning throughout all stages of life. These articles focus on things that can make your daily life easier, more pleasant, or more fulfilling.

The $3 Faucet Fix

The $3 Faucet Fix

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 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!

Budget Guide: Evaluating Housing, Bills and Expenses

Budget Guide: Evaluating Housing, Bills and Expenses

Budget Guide series - tips for saving In the first post of our Budget Guide series, we shared the importance of knowing your monthly income and having a bill schedule. It is hard to set a budget without a clear understanding of how much you bring in every month and when bills are due.

Today we are taking it one step further. We are going to be evaluating our housing costs, monthly bills, and additional expenses. By doing this, we can see where we might be spending too much and what we might be able to cut back.

Affordable Housing

One of the most importance decisions you can make is where to live and how much you can afford. You need to take into consideration your work commute, safety of the location, and any needs that you cannot live without.

Many financial experts recommend that your monthly housing cost should not exceed 20-25% of your monthly income. If you can find a place that costs less, then that is more money you can save!

Unfortunately, many of us are limited in our housing options, and local housing costs can very widely across the country. Sometimes we may have to make sacrifices to be able to live within our means if we are stuck in an area with a very high cost of living or we may have to make the hard choice of moving somewhere more affordable, though this is not always feasible.

My suggestion for anyone looking for affording housing is to be patient, constantly re-evaluate what is on your priorities and housing “must haves” list, and shop around.

Re-evaluate Your Monthly Bills

Another way you can save money is to re-evaluate your monthly bills.

First, determine what you need and what you can live without. I decided a long time ago that I did not need cable or satellite television. I am able to get local channels for free (digital), I share a Netflix account, and I can get any news I may want online. As a web developer, however, I cannot live without Internet and so I opted for high-speed Internet instead. Still, choose just internet over an internet/tv bundled package has saved me on average $40+ dollars a month for over three years. That is a minimum savings of $1440!

For those bills that everyone must have, such as utilities, figure out ways to keep your costs low. When I was renting an apartment, I did not use the heat in the winter because all four of the apartments that shared walls with mine ran their heaters. As a result, my small one-bedroom maintained a nice temperature as long as I wore slippers and a light sweater on the coldest days.

To lower your electricity bill, consider keeping the air conditioning off in the spring/summer/autumn for as long as you possibly can stand it and turn off lights and unplug appliances when not in use. To save on your water bill, fix any leaky facets or running toilets, take shorter showers, turn off the water between rinses, and don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth.

Nowadays mobile phones are the primary mode of communication, and most homes no longer have landlines. However, is it absolutely necessary to have the latest iPhone on an expensive and hard to break two-year contract with all these bells and whistles that you may never even use? Carefully determine what you actually need from a mobile device and service provider. Then find a phone, carrier, plan, and price tag that is affordable.

Lower Your Monthly Expenses

Once you have determined what housing you can afford and re-evaluated your monthly bills, it is time to look at your additional expenses. This includes purchases such as groceries/food, gas, clothing/household necessities, discretionary spending money, etc. I recommend tracking your expenses for a few months to get an average of what you are spending. You can use the spreadsheet from the first post as a guide and add a new table beneath the income for expenses.

Once you have an idea of how much you are spending each month, give yourself a reasonable budget and force yourself to adhere to it for the next month to test how realistic it is for you.

I have certain food allergies and sensitivities that mean that many of my food “staples” (like bread, pasta, butter, milk) are extremely expensive compared to the average person’s staples. For a while, I knew I was spending far too much on far too little so my husband and I began shopping around to find better deals. We now get the bulk of our groceries from the 99 Store, Fry’s (with their card, we save on average $10-$15 dollars each time we shop), and occasionally Target or Wal-Mart instead of paying more for the same items at a fancy store.

By limiting our grocery shopping to every two weeks, being more picky on choosing my high-price specialty food items, and finding the best prices for the items we purchase regularly, we have been able to save $200 a month on groceries without having to do any time-consuming couponing or price comparisons that neither one of us have time for. If you do have the time and patience to take it one step further and master the art of couponing, I say go for it!

Another way we have saved money is that, before I became pregnant, I biked to work. Yes, it is five miles one way, but it saved us a lot of money on gas and parking fees. If walking or biking is not possible, look into public transportation and see if it is cost effective for your area. (It is not always.) Once I was pregnant, I saved money by parking a mile away from my office at the church we are members of because I can park there for free. I then either walk the mile in or hop a free campus shuttle. Sure, there are annoyances and inconveniences with using public transit, but it saved us a lot of money each month. Or maybe carpooling is an option for you.

After looking at all of the options available to you, you may end up determining that driving and paying the parking fees is the most affordable and/or realistic. That is okay. At least you did your due diligence and looked into it!

Tip: Curb the Spontaneous Shopping

Give yourself a very modest “discretionary” budget for those little impulse buys to help curb any spontaneous shopping. A water or soda from a soda machine one day, a bag of chips another, too many lunches/dinners out instead of preparing meals ahead of time, and you can quickly blow your budget without even realizing it. These little purchases are often more expensive then you realize at the time, especially vending machines and corner stores that market themselves as convenient but sell items at a higher than normal price.

I am also trying to implement in my own life the phrase: “One thing in, one thing out.” If I see something that I really want, I force myself to take time to think it over: Do I need it? Can I use it? Am I replacing something with it?

Tithes and Donations

Each month, I set aside a tenth of my income for tithes and offerings. Not everyone tithes, so for those who do not, this also refers to donations to charitable organizations or non-profits. Donating to trustworthy organizations is a good way to help your community and others in need, and if you track your donations you may be eligible for discounts or refunds on your state and federal taxes.

Conclusion

If you take the time now to evaluate your housing costs, bills, and additional expenses, you may discover areas that are draining your money. Saving a little money on your monthly expenses will add up over the course of a full year or two.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at savings.

Budget Guide: Monthly Income and Bill Schedule

Budget Guide: Monthly Income and Bill Schedule

I believe I had been modestly frugal for most, if not all, of my life. I am the type of person that really dislikes seeing hard earned money leave my bank account, unless it is for something that I have planned for. I might, on rare occasion, do a spontaneous purchase, but then I usually tighten my belt for weeks afterward to not just make up for it but to save double the amount.

I just dislike spending money unless it is absolutely necessary. I have been keeping track of my income, expenses, and savings – in one form or another – since I moved out on my own and became solely responsible for my own rent, bills, and day-to-day expenses. I have been intentionally putting money away into my savings all of my adult life, and though by no means am I an expert or even exceptional, I feel that I have learned quite a bit from my experiences.

Budget Guide series - tips for saving The next few posts will be about finances, specifically how to set a budget and build up a savings for the future. If you do not already have a budget or method for tracking your expenses, feel free to use this as a guide.

Average Monthly Income

The place to start this journey is to understand your total monthly income, whether you are paid weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Do you have one source of income or multiple sources? Do you have a steady income that is about the same every paycheck or does your pay fluctuate from paycheck to paycheck? All of this information is very important to understand, because it is difficult to set a budget without knowing how much money you bring in on a monthly basis.

I recommend tracking your income for a few months using a basic spreadsheet. If you are in a hurry to set your budget and your income is somewhat steady, you can fill in the spreadsheet retrospectively. However, I find it easier to track moving forward. Three months is a good sample size.

Also about what time of the month do you receive your paycheck(s)? For example, I am paid biweekly so I usually have two paychecks a month — one near the beginning and one around the middle of the month. Every once in a while I receive three paychecks in a month. It sounds great at first because you think: “Oh! A whole extra paycheck to play with!” Unfortunately, this extra paycheck tends to throw my bill paying schedule for the following month out of whack.

How you deposit your paycheck(s) is up to you. Some businesses still only hand out paper checks which require you to physically go to your local bank to deposit it. Others allow a direct deposit option where the money is sent directly to your bank account. I have chosen direct deposit as my bank does not have any branch offices within a thirty minute drive so it is near impossible to get to an office before it closes without taking time off of work.

Bill Schedule

Once you have a clear idea of your monthly income, take a look at all of the bills you pay on a monthly basis and mark down when they are due and when you usually pay the bills.

Since I have a biweekly paycheck, I divide my bills into two groups: those that are paid using the first paycheck of the month and those that are paid from the second paycheck.

The first group of bills paid are rent, since it is due on the first of every month, and insurance, as it is usually due in the first week of the month.

The second group of bills include utilities, electricity, internet and mobile phone as all of these are due towards the second half of the month (usually all after the 15th of a month).

Dividing up my bill paying like this works very well as the rent is usually a huge chunk of money that is taken out at one time. I use a Google calendar to keep track of when bills are due and which ones have been paid and on what day.

How you pay your bills is your choice. Quite a few years ago, I decided to go the paperless route. This allows me to pay my bills the day my paycheck becomes available in my account and mark them as paid in my calendar without having to wait for mail and sort through papers.

Resources

To start on your budget journey, I recommend setting up a calendar for scheduling your monthly bills and a spreadsheet for tracking your monthly income. These can be a physical calendar and spreadsheet or digital. Some people really like the feel of paper and writing by hand.

For convenience sake, I have chosen to utilize Google Drive with its calendar and spreadsheets. I already have a Google account so it made sense to use its built-in features. This allows me access to my information from anywhere I have Internet access.

In the calendar, I create an “event” for each bill and have chosen a color to represent bills so I can see when all are due at a quick glance. I usually label the bills: BILL – utilities ($xx.xx) so I can easily see which bill it is and how much without having to open the “event”. After a bill has been paid, I modify the label to reflect that: PAID 6/17 – Utilities ($xx.xx).

For the spreadsheet, I created a very simple table with a column for deposits and one for each month of the year. In the rows beneath, I mark what type of deposit it is (paycheck, dividend, other) and how much is received. Using the basic formula =sum() to total the cells in a column, I gather the total for each month and then for the whole year.

Below is a sample of the spreadsheet. Scroll to the right to see all of the months.

Conclusion

Today we talked about the importance of knowing your average monthly income and having a bill schedule. Both are important when it comes to setting a budget and making plans to save more. In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at ways to lower your monthly living expenses.