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July 19th, 2014 at 04:23 pm
Having fun does not have to be expensive. Heck, having fun can actually cost almost nothing or even nothing at all. Being retired, I have more free time to fill than the average person(1*). And I do fill it -- without having to resort to endless hours of tv watching or rocking chair napping. I have no trouble finding interesting fun activities to pursue without having to spend an arm and a leg to pursue them. The thing is I think anyone can do that. Using me as a case study, here is how and why.
Having a low-cost hobby is a big first step. Something that you enjoy doing, that you can do for hours at a time, and that does not require the constant spending of substantial amounts of money. Preferably, something that is also good for you -- whether physically, mentally or spiritually. Something to keep you engaged and your wallet out of trouble!
For me, that something is actually several somethings. I hike(2*), which only costs me the price of gasoline to get to one of my nearby parks and trails. I read history(3*), which -- if I wished(4*) -- could cost me nothing more than the cost of fuel to occasionally drive 5 miles to the library. I play pc strategy games(5*), which costs me nothing at all as long as I stay happy (which I do) with the 4 games I bought 10 or more years ago for a total of less than $150. And I blog(6*), which also costs me nothing other than the price of yellow pads and disposable mechanical pencils because I prefer to do almost all my writing that way.
Taken together, these activities can more than fill my free time. They keep me interested and mentally involved on a daily basis. They can be mixed and matched depending on the weather and my mood so that I always have something leisure to do. And they do not drain my wallet.
But there are many other frugal fun hobbies to pursue. For a modest one-time cost for the equipment, one can do bird watching... digital photography (no cost for film or print paper)... biking... surfing... skateboarding... rollerskating... astronomy... playing an instrument... just to name a few at random. And for no money at all, one can visit art galleries and museums... take online courses at sites like Coursera... and so on. There are many other frugal leisure options besides what I do.
So it is totally possible to have lots of fun without crashing one's budget(7*). Oh, I of course also do fun things that cost money((8*). Like eating out, traveling, going to concerts, etc. But still my typical week is filled with daily leisure activities that cost little or nothing. For less than $10 a week (mostly for gas) and without a single minute of mind sucking tv programming, I get 35 or more scheduled hours of rewarding leisure blogging, hiking, reading and pc game playing -- not even counting evening library-DVD-movie-buffing and classical music listening. And that is a heck of a lot of frugal fun my way.
The takeaway: There are obviously many fun things to do that do not require the constant spending of money for fees (like golf), or materials (like most crafts), or a major piece of equipment (like a boat). Frugal fun that anyone can afford to have is all around us for the doing. And anyone can make life fuller and richer by doing them.
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(1*) Making Time For Fun:
(2*) My Love Affair With Hiking:
(3*) Time Traveling With History Books:
(4*) My Books -- A Huge Frugality Exception:
(5*) My Strategy Games Rainy Day Passion:
(6*) 200 Words A Day That (Hopefully) Matter:
(7*) My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
(8*) A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
June 15th, 2014 at 11:40 am
Last year, I had to choose between spending $350 for a new laptop computer or spending $113 to get both my desktop pc and my laptop back into service.* Of course, I went the frugal route** and regained the use of 2 computers for one third the cost of buying just one. Unfortunately, my Gateway laptop has now developed new problems that actually make replacing it the frugal way to go. Luckily, I have found a way to also keep using my old Gateway that makes the cost of my new laptop tax-deductible. Here is how.
My Gateway laptop's screen suddenly went black. It had been flickering slightly for a few days, but this was finally the end. One second I had a fine screen image and the next I had nothing. My local pc repair shop offers free diagnostics so I took my poor pc there. The tech confirmed that my screen was dead... priced out an installed replacement screen at $170... and showed me the keyboard command to shunt the laptop's image signal to an exterior monitor. And that would give me a frugal solution. But...
My laptop's operating system had become another problem. My Gateway's operating system is Windows XP. I knew Microsoft had stopped "supporting" Windows XP in April. But I did not realize what that meant until the tech explained it to me. No support means no more software updates automatically downloaded and installed when you shut your pc down. And no software updates means no software "patches" to combat new hacker threats. My XP system had become an open door for hackers to access my laptop anytime I went online. All my financial accounts and passwords were now at serious risk of breach.
Now repairing would cost more than buying new. I could have a "late model" Windows 7 operating system for $190 installed. I could replace my screen for $170 installed. And I would have to spend $70 to clear my Gateway of any and all viruses and malware it had picked up. That all added up to $430. Instead, I bought a brand new Asus Transformer Convertible Tablet/Laptop for $374 total. With more computing capability than my Gateway. Preloaded with Microsoft Office, which I did not have on my Gateway. And perfect for my under-development hiking blog side business.***
But my old Gateway will still help keep things frugal. I have a spare working monitor! So I just connected it to my Gateway using the keyboard command the tech showed me and my old laptop became usable again. I just will not use it for financial or other password-sensitive stuff. The Gateway is now my "fun" internet computer, dedicated to Retired-To-Win blogging and web surfing. Why bother doing that? Because it makes the purchase of the my new Asus laptop tax-deductible.
My new Asus is now my "business" computer. I will use it for portfolio stock management**** and for TrailWalkers Club*** work. This makes the $374 cost of the Asus a tax-deductible business expense. And therefore brings my true cost for the Asus down to under $300. (To be exact, $296 if I factor in the cashback reward.*****) Sweet!
The takeaway: There is more than one way to skin a cat. And more than one way to be frugal. When a piece of equipment stops working, don't just run out to buy a replacement. Always look first into repairing what you have.****** Then go with the frugal flow.
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* A Frugal Tale of Two PCs:
** How I Do Frugality Without Sacrifice:
*** For Fun And (Maybe) Profit:
**** How I Stay On Top Of My Stocks:
***** Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
****** Repair It or Replace It?:
June 11th, 2014 at 12:30 pm
I drink fancy, schmanzy Tully's French Roast Coffee. I get it in little individual serving "K cups" that I brew in a Keurig coffee maker. These K-cups come in boxes of 18 that retail at $11.78 (with tax) where I get them. That works out to 65 cents per cup of coffee. But I do not pay a single penny for my coffee and have not for a couple of years. Here is how I manage that.
First step: I use cashback cards. And I always make sure that I am taking advantage of each credit card's quarterly 5% cashback promotion.* My Discover cashback card has promotions like that. So I make sure to carry that card in my wallet and use it whenever I can get that 5% cashback leverage on purchases I am going to make anyway.
Second step: I leverage my cashback redemptions.** For the Discover card, that means that I redeem my cashback Discover dollars for Bed Bath and Beyond gift cards instead of cash. Doing that gets me a $25 BBBY gift card for just 20 Discover cashback dollars.
Third step: I wait for the BBBY discount coupons. These come regularly via emails and via postal mail flyers. And they are good for either $5 off a $15 purchase or 20% off a single item.
Fourth step: I go get that free coffee. Here are the numbers from my most recent BBBY coffee raid. I gave the cashier two 18-cup boxes to ring up at $11.49 each, for a total of $22.98. Then I gave her a $5 off store coupon, leaving a balance of $17.98. Add the 2.5% food sales tax, and the final total was $18.43. To pay, I handed the cashier a $25 BBBY gift card. And I walked out with my two 18-cup boxes of Tully's French Roast Coffee and $6.57 credit still left on my BBBY gift card.
Doing the math, I leveraged 14.74 in Discover cashback dollars by almost 60% to get coffee worth $23.55 after tax. That is a nice win. And I got those Discover cashback dollars just for using that credit card on 5% cashback purchases I would have made anyway. That is a win-win. Free gourmet coffee every day. Win-win-win.
The takeaway: Playing the Frugal Game my way*** will put a smile on your face every time.
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* Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
** Leveraging Up CashBack Rewards:
*** Playing the Frugal Game is Fun!
June 4th, 2014 at 12:15 pm
Some people think that there is not enough money in cash reward cards to go to all the trouble of managing them. Of course, I do not see it that way at all.* Check this out.
I just placed a $2692 order for 16 new windows. I made sure to charge that purchase on my Discover cashback credit card, which is running a special 5% cashback promotion on home improvement store purchases.* By doing so, I got a $135 credit in cashback dollars from Discover. And I will leverage those cashback dollars** to get anywhere from $168 to $270 in good-as-cash gift cards to use on goods and services I would buy anyway.
To score all that free money, all I had to do was (1) know that Discover was running that special promotion, (2) sign up for the promotion, and (3) make sure I carried that card in my wallet when I went to buy the windows. It just took a little credit card management on my part to capture a big cashback payout. It is worth the effort. Here is more on that.
In the first place, cashback card management is just another fun round of the Frugal Game*** that I love to play to save money without really giving up anything.
Second of all, it is not chump change I am getting here. My annual baseline living costs are around $18,000**** and I figure about $8000 of that is credit card billable. At a conservative 2.5% average cash back on that $8000, that is 200 cashback dollars. Factor in a modest 25% average redemption leverage** and my found money goes up to $250 a year. But that is just from my baseline living expenses. I also spend another discretionary***** $10,000 a year for fun stuff. And all of that is credit card billable. So add another $300 to my yearly found money from putting in a little effort into the management of my cash reward credit cards. That means that in total I am adding $550 a year to my discretionary fund for just taking an hour or less every 3 months to check a few credit card websites and rotate a couple of credit cards in and out of my wallet. I am getting over $100 an hour for my effort.
No, I do not pay more in order to get cashback rewards. For example, I bought those 16 windows at a big box home improvement discount store. I timed the purchase to get a 15% special sale discount that saved me $475 over and above the store's already discounted price. And I used a $25 store coupon to push down my cost even further. So the 5% cashback I got from Discover was on top of the $500 I would have saved without using the card.
And, yes, I will pay off that window purchase charge when the credit card statement comes in. Which is what I do with all the purchases I charge on cashback cards. It is all good.
The takeaway: Doing cashback credit cards is worth it to me in principle because I never leave money on the table. That would not be very frugal.
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* Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
** Leveraging Up CashBack Rewards:
*** Playing the Frugal Game is Fun!
**** My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
***** A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
May 10th, 2014 at 03:09 pm
I have consciously practiced frugality without sacrifice* for about five years. It made very good sense to me to do so because this powerful personal finance tactic enabled me to arrive at much lower baseline living expenses** and drastically accelerated my arrival at financial independence.*** But I am there now, with passive income that greatly exceeds those baseline living expenses. And yet I continue to be vigilantly frugal. So I have been questioning why I am still doing this -- and whether I should continue to do so. Here is what I have figured out.
A dollar saved is a dollar earned. There is no good reason not to save money when doing so takes no effort. Like buying my gas at the lowest-price station on my normal driving route. Like paying for that gas with a credit card that returns 5% of that low cost to me.**** But what about when it (at least) seems to take effort?
Frugality can be fun. My hiking/handyman jeans are a good case in point of frugality as a game.***** I needed "new" jeans because I had shed a lot of excess weight. I could have just bought an inexpensive $10-$12 pair at WalMart with no financial stress. But no. I kept wearing my cinched up jeans on hikes and while handy-manning. I looked in thrift stores whenever I was going by one anyway. And after 3 or 4 such tries, I found jeans that fit me for $3. I enjoyed that frugality win. I still do whenever I think of it.
Frugality is good business. I cannot imagine making a large purchase or arranging for a major service to my home or vehicle without first doing some serious comparison shopping.****** And the objective of that effort is to save money -- to be frugal. No one bats an eye when a business or government agency seeks a low bidder for its purchases and service needs. I do the same. Not to do so would be to waste money.
Frugality keeps me financially independent. If I go "off the reservation" and let my baseline living expenses swell, those expenses could -- in theory and in time -- exceed my passive income. And my financial independence would end -- unless I went back to being frugal.
But frugality is not always necessary. That is the point I am at. I have no problem continuing to practice frugality without sacrifice where my basic living expenses are concerned. But I marvel that I extend that frugality to spending my discretionary funds.******* It is just NOT necessary. And I do not always do it. But it is my norm to do it.
Being frugal must be me! Somewhere along the line, I internalized frugality in principle, as a life value, as part of who I am. And I get a kick (sometimes big, sometimes small) out of each and every frugality win I score. Because to me it really is a game. A fun game I play every day as a way of life. And I have concluded that is a good thing.
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* How I Do Frugality Without Sacrifice:
** My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
*** My Financial Independence Key:
**** Raking In Credit Card Cashback:
***** Playing the Frugal Game is Fun!
****** Big Job Estimates Save Me Big Money:
******* A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
April 25th, 2014 at 07:40 pm
(I now blog weekly on frugal living, personal finance & earlier retirement at:
I am very focused on being frugal in everything I do and with everything I buy. I always do a mental check on whether I really need something before I buy it. Whether I already have something I can use to fulfill the purpose. Or whether I can fix something I have instead of buying a replacement.
But not where my books are concerned.
I could simply borrow books at the library. But I don't just love reading books*. I love collecting them. I really feel good being surrounded by books in a cozy library room. Books are my good friends.
So I make a big frugality exception where my books are concerned. I spend my discretionary money** to buy them (even though I've kept the average cost per book to around $5). I spend money on custom-built bookcases to display them. And, most expensive of all, I've spent money on having an entire room in my home dedicated as a library to house my book collection.
Since 2006, I've read 225 books. I still have them all. AND I have another 200 or so waiting their turn to be read.
My books are my big break with frugality. I've spent over $2000 on the books, more than $1000 on their bookcases, and dedicated a $15,000 room to them. It's all gone to satisfy a want, not a need***. But the satisfaction I get from my books is priceless!
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* Time Traveling With History Books:
** A Discretionary Fund, Not a Discretionary Budget:
*** My Financial Independence Key:
April 22nd, 2014 at 02:52 pm
I have hired moving companies to relocate our household across town, across state and across the country. No more, though. Ten years ago, it cost us $3000 to have a 3-bedroom household moved 1000 miles from Florida to Maryland. Four years ago, it cost us $1200 to move that same household just 80 miles from Maryland to Virginia. Now I have found a better way. A way that saves a whole lot of money while still hiring out the hard work of loading and unloading. Here is how that works.
A moving company provides a truck to move stuff and a crew to load it, move it and unload it. For that bundled service, moving companies charge big bucks. But there is another much less expensive way. Rent the truck. Hire the loaders separately. Drive the truck yourself. And keep the savings in your pocket. Here are the numbers on how that worked for me on my most recent 100-mile household move.
I rented a 20-foot truck from U-Haul. That cost $40 for a 12-hour day, $28 for insurance, and $154 for driving 220 miles. I picked up the truck at my new city and drove it 100 miles to the house I was leaving. There I met a 2-man loading crew that I had hired over the internet through movinghelp.com. Those guys loaded the truck in 3 hours for $150. Then I drove the truck to my new home. There I met a second 2-man crew that unloaded the truck in 2 hours for $100. (Hiring different crews to load and unload saved the $125 it would have cost to have the loading crew follow me to my new house to unload.) All that was left to do was for me to return the truck to U-Haul.
Adding the $75 cost of gasoline to the other expenses I have listed, this 100-mile move cost me a grand total of $547. That is less than half of the $1200 I paid 3 years earlier for essentially the same job. (And I reused the boxes I had saved from a previous move, so I had no out-of-pocket for that.) Playing the frugal game* again -- to win.
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* Playing the Frugal Game is Fun!
April 18th, 2014 at 11:44 am
The 65-year old was me. The ditch was a 100-foot long, 15-inch deep, 2-foot wide trench for a French drain to be installed along the back of my house. Twenty bucks an hour is what it would have cost me to have a handyman do the digging. So the question to ask myself (and you) is whether I was nuts to dig the trench myself. Here is what you need to know to decide.
My wife and I worked on the trench together. I swung a pickax to break up the hard-clay ground and she shoveled out the dirt. We dug out the trench in a total of 10 hours over the course of 2 Saturdays. Needless to say, after each digging session we were used up for the day, the balance of which was spent going out for a "reward late lunch" followed by DVD movie watching on the couch. We were tired, but not so much as to be muscle sore the next day.
Altogether it took us 20 man/woman hours to dig out the trench. Figuring that a younger (and fitter?) handyman would have been at least 20% faster than we were, we could have hired out the work for a total cost of $400. So we saved $20 for each hour that my wife and I individually put into digging that ditch instead of putting that time into going out to have fun somewhere.
Could we actually afford the handyman? Yes. In addition to having a home improvement fund holding over $20,000 at the time, we had a net positive household cash flow after basic living expenses of $2500 per month.* So a lack of money was not the reason for all that DIY digging.
What was the reason? Responsible frugality? Overboard "scroogerism"? Not wanting to pay for something we could do ourselves with tools at hand and no special skills required? And should I be regretting "burning up" two Saturdays to do the digging -- or be glad to have that $400 still in our pockets to do something else?
What really bothers me is the loss of the 2 Saturdays. We swung that pick and that shovel for 5 hours each day -- swung them until we were too tired to dig any more or do anything else. So both days went to nothing but the trench digging. At $100 per man/woman day, I would buy back those days in a New York minute. Those 2 days were worth more than $100 each to me. Much more.
I would feel differently if I had been able to do something substantial "for me" with part of each of those days. If we had limited our trench digging to 2 hours a day, we would have had enough time (and energy!) left to go somewhere and do something. And we would have had $80 "found money" (4 man/woman digging hours for the day at $20 per hour) with which to do that something.
So that is the deal I am making with myself from now on. The time I spend each day on obligatory tasks and non-fun projects will be limited so as to allow enough time each day for some enjoyable/fulfilling activity**. I will not "tucker myself out" on the have-to-do's. I will see to it that I have enough energy left for a want-to-do. Just like everyone else, I live life -- and use it up -- one day at a time. From now on, I am making sure that each one of those days counts for me.
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*My $18K Annual Baseline Budget:
**Making Time For Fun: