How to make a shittier Mint.com

Spending less money is actually pretty easy once you realize it has a lot to do with mindsets and habits and less about willpower. In my last post I told you about how I was able to cut down my spending habits and stay on budget for the month by simply writing down my total month to date spend on a whiteboard every day. This worked well, but it took a lot of discipline to keep up. To be fair, getting yourself to do anything everyday requires a lot of discipline, until it becomes a habit.

The whiteboard technique worked pretty well because of two reasons:

  1. I forced myself to recognize every single thing I spent money on
  2. I was constantly reminded of my MTD spend since it was on the wall in my room

I’ve since developed an even more effortless technique that is even more fail proof. Here’s how it looks.

Every time I buy anything I punch it in to a Google Form on my phone

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Twice a day, I get an automated e-mail from myself giving me my MTD spend
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Combating Lifestyle Creep

Ymasterou’re probably a victim of lifestyle creep. It only makes sense. I’ve always been pretty good at saving, but it’s so hard to fight that goddamn creep, man. In an effort to combat this, I’ve essentially kept my income the same since I was 22, meaning, whenever I got a raise, I would direct deposit the incremental raise to a separate bank account. It is important that this account is at a completely different bank, making it annoying to transfer funds. My theory was, if I don’t see it, I won’t use it.

For the most part, this plan worked pretty well, but it’s not foolproof. While I never touched that outside bank account, I still found myself transferring money in my main bank from my savings to checkings every now and then because I kept going over budget. This kind of negates the entire purpose of my plan.  It’s hard to stick to a tight budget when deep down you know there won’t be any real repercussions if you don’t.
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FSA Loophole

Oh hey there. I see I’ve caught you admiring my picture there. Yes. I played a mini game of chicken with my credit card company and came out on top.

cc fee referal

 

Anyway, last Tuesday was an awesome day for me. I got LASIK and a new job offer on the same day. While I’m super excited about this new perfect vision and career opportunity, I am equally as excited about a third thing: I was put into the perfect situation to test a long time theory I’ve had.

I’ve always wondered (but never researched) what happens to your FSA if you leave a company. Basically, once you leave the company, you lose your FSA. Also, since you’re no longer employed, they can’t fund it anymore from your paycheck. This means that if you spent all of your FSA money for this year, you don’t need to pay the difference back once you leave the company.  
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Target Prepaid REDCard

redcard

Oh my god, Becky…

You ever hear that story of that guy who bought dollar coins online from the government with his credit card? He just kept repeating the cycle of buying dollar coins, cashing them in at his bank, using that money to pay off his credit card bill, and earning hundreds of thousands of free points.

I’ve always been jealous of that guy. Anyways, today I discovered something almost as equally as good, even though it came out a year ago. It is called the Target Prepaid REDcard aka “RedBird”. Don’t get this card confused with the Target Credit or Target Debit cards.

Basically it’s a prepaid Target card that gives you 5% off everything at Target and free online shipping from Target.com. But that’s not all… it allows you to load it by charging your credit card AND allows you to withdraw money from it directly to your bank account… FOR FREE!!

So yea… you can basically just get a ton of free credit card points this way. It’s also a really easy way to hit any spending requirements you might have.
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Get 10,0000 Southwest Points and a Companion Pass

The Southwest Credit Cards are back! This is exciting because they make it super easy for you to get a Southwest companion pass.

Actual screenshot from when I qualified back in 2013

Actual screenshot from when I qualified back in 2013

What is a Southwest companion pass and why is it awesome?

A companion pass allows you to bring someone along with you for free any time you fly on a Southwest flight.

How do you qualify for a companion pass?

You must take 100 one way flights or obtain 110,000 points within one calendar year.

How long does the companion pass last for?

It lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which you received it, and the entire following calendar year.

Can you change your companion?

Yes, you can change it up to three times a year.
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2015: Your Year of Austerity

When-You-Refuse-to-Check-Your-Bank-AccountDamn, is it February already? That can pretty much only mean one thing. You’ve already given up on your new year’s resolutions didn’t you? I know I did. My resolution was to update this blog more, but as you can see, that hasn’t really been happening. Anyways, more likely than not, one of your resolutions this year was probably to become more financially responsible and save more money. If that’s the case, I think I can be of some help.
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Save On Your Six Pack

beer1This is my third week in SF. And considering I’ve lived in the ‘burbs my entire life, I think I am transitioning to city life fairly well. I even gave someone directions last week like I knew what I was talking about. Also, yesterday I witnessed a hobo breaking into a van that didn’t have its windows closed all the way. After one of the weirder conversations I’ve ever had, we agreed that he would put everything back if I gave him $2. I’m pretty sure he just went back and took everything again after I left but I’ve never had anyone ask me if I wanted to blow him that many times in a row before and I really didn’t want to find out what would happen if I pushed it.
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Level

levelmoneySo, I think I was somewhat sexually harassed last weekend. I was peeing at a urinal at the airport when some old dude goes to the urinal next to me and starts chatting me up. I answered his questions about my flight and stuff and when I go to zip up, I look over at him and he’s straight up stone cold staring at my penis. He also had some weird smile going on. I’m pretty sure that was the first time some random guy went out of his way to stare at my private parts and the whole experience actually wasn’t too bad. It was kind of flattering even. I don’t know why girls complain about it so much. (jk)
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How to Never Worry About Saving Money Ever Again

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Saving money is boring. It’s unsexy, uncool and the alternative is way more fun. It also provides zero instant gratification, which is probably why our generation is so shitty at it. The thing with saving money though, is that it’s kind of like losing weight. You can’t just go on a crash diet and expect to see long term results. You need to make permanent lifestyle changes that are easy to keep up with. Luckily, unlike with losing weight, we have the ability to automate our savings. We can set up our finances in a way to automatically put away a healthy amount of money each month without having to think about it. Below are a few tips on how you can automate your savings today.

DIRECT DEPOSIT YOUR PAYCHECK INTO TWO ACCOUNTS.

By two accounts, I mean two accounts at two different banks. One will be your regular checking account that you use to withdraw money or pay bills, the other will be a checking account that you literally never touch. The reason you want these at two different banks is because it’s too easy to transfer money between your savings and checking account when they’re at the same bank. The point here is to make it as hard as possible for you to touch that money. Try to set at least 10% of your salary into the account that is dedicated for saving. The rule is, unless it’s a life or death emergency, never take any money out of this account. This is not a ‘weekend Vegas trip or summer vacation fund.’  Think about this as a tax you are paying to yourself. Get accustomed to living off of the remaining bulk of your salary.

MAXIMIZE YOUR PARTICIPATION IN 401K, ESPP, ETC.

Basically participate in any program your company offers that takes money out of your paycheck and gives it back to you at a later date with interest. The contribution limit for a 401k and ESPP (Employee Stock Purchasing Program) is $17,500 and $25,000 a year, respectively. Realistically, you probably won’t contribute the maximum, but try to get as close to it as possible (I’m talking at least 10%-15% of your salary on each). Your smug co-worker might tell you not to invest in your 401k because you can probably get higher returns doing some other investment, but you just go ahead and tell him to fuck off. Because even though this may be true, realistically, when you get the extra money in your paycheck, you’re just going to want spend it. Eliminate this urge by not giving yourself the option of touching it. Also, investing that money, tax free, will build your net-worth a lot faster and you’ll feel good about yourself.

AUTOMATICALLY DEPOSIT INTO YOUR RETIREMENT INVESTMENTS.

If you make less than $114,000 a year, you can and should put up to $5,500 a year in your Roth IRA. Set up your accounts so that your Roth IRA automatically deducts money from your checking account (the spending one, not saving one) a couple times a month, preferably once after each payday. Setting up automatic deposits into your retirement account is crucial because it is very easy to “forget” to make a deposit or “need” an extra couple hundred dollars this month so you’ll make it up next month. We both know you won’t be making it up. So find a number you can afford to put into retirement every month and stick with it. Think of it like a car payment. No matter how tight money gets, your retirement account still needs to get paid. Except in this case you’re paying into yourself instead of into a depreciating asset. If you haven’t reached $5,500 by the end of the year, deposit the remaining amount in one lump sum (by April of the following year).

KEEP A MONTHLY SPREADSHEET OF YOUR NET WORTH.

People tend to enjoy doing things more when they’re good at them. People also tend to not like to do things that they suck at it. This is probably why you see so many buff dudes at the gym with no leg muscles. If you’ve never really practiced saving in your life it can get very discouraging when first starting out. Building up that nest egg takes time so it’s important to track your progress. Take a snapshot of your total net worth each month so you can measure how quickly you’re improving. Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep a monthly snapshot of your expenses as well. This will help you figure out which spending habits to curb and it will also allow you to budget realistically. If you spent $600 on eating out last month, it’s probably not ideal to budget only $200 this month. You’d just be setting yourself up for failure.

ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS.

If you’ve been spending every dollar you make, converting to the auto-save lifestyle won’t be easy in the beginning, but I can promise that after a few months you will feel a lot more secure and a lot less stress. Prepare for your lifestyle change by expecting to live below your means because that’s pretty much what’s going to happen. And the closer your reality is to your expectations, the happier you will be. Additionally, once you get accustomed to living below your means, try not to raise it whenever you come into some extra money. For example, if you get a pay bump at work, try to allocate more into your “account for saving” or increase the percentage in your 401k. This is the safer bet, because once you raise your expectations, it’s really hard to bring them down.

Well, there you have it. Those are the tricks and mentality behind automating your savings.  The real beauty of it though, is that now you can spend the rest of your money entirely guilt free. Meanwhile, you can’t get all your financial advice from reading lists on the internet. Go above and beyond by doing your own research and asking questions for anything you’re unsure of. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know how something works; you’d be surprised on what most people don’t know.  How do credit card interest/bonuses work? How do taxes work? What’s an ESPP? What’s an index fund? The more you know now, the better financial decisions you can make for your future.

Waived

feesI turned 25 this month. Luckily, I did all of my freaking out when I turned 24, so I’m fully ready to embrace my mid twenties. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and also changed a lot since I started this blog, three years ago. One thing that I had come to realize, and am finally ready to admit to the world is that… I’m kind of a hater. The good news, however, is I think I am becoming less of a hater as I continue through my never ending journey of self improvement.
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