Financial Update: May 2015

I know it’s been a while since I gave everyone an update on my own finances. The reason for this is that shortly after getting engaged, my fiance and I combined finances, and my Mint account was therefore a huge mess of “Is that mine or yours? What category is this Amazon transaction on your account from two months ago?” We then proceeded to move on buying a house, which means a lot of uneven spending on things like inspections. Now that things are a little more settled, here are the highlights of the last three months of my finances:

  • We spent $800 on home inspections. Man, did that hurt. We initially had one house picked out that was a bit of a fixer upper. Spent $400 to get it evaluated and learned it had serious foundation problems, decided we couldn’t deal with that (which meant we also lost our $200 in option money, booo). Moved on to the house we’re now planning to buy, spent another $400 to get it inspected. The $400 we spent lead to negotiations which got us $1,000 back in closing costs from our sellers, so that was money well spent! If you ever buy a house, spending some money on a trusted, thorough inspector is definitely something I recommend. I don’t regret it.
  • Spent $1917 on food including eating out and groceries for two people. That’s about $640 per month for the last three months. I know, it’s pretty high… cut us a break, we went out for a really nice dinner to celebrate our engagement!
  • Spent $1215 each month for rent. Luckily, we found our house just in the nick of time so we don’t have to go month-to-month on our lease while we continue to search! If we’d needed to do that, rent would have been almost $1400 for those months.
  • Got an “A” in our grad school class! Hello, several-thousand-dollar tuition reimbursement!
  • Spent $313 on car stuff–soon to be much less! No university parking fees over the summer, and we sold our second car since we figured out we get almost no use out of it!
  • Spent $550 or so on utilities. Yeah, we could maybe stomach leaving the AC off a little more frequently, but for the most part this was an OK expense for us.

In general, we’re continuing to spend at a rate amenable to high levels of saving. We’re both maxing our Roth IRAs and Roth 401ks and beginning to build quite the nest egg! Things will continue to be messy next month due to closing on and moving into the house. Lots of random expenses like buying refrigerators and necessary furniture and etc. On the bright side, we’re doing the low-cost option of “bribe your friends with pizza” to get all our stuff moved from our apartment to our new house! I’ll keep you all posted as my situation continues to shift.

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Building Credit from the Ground Up

Turned down for credit cards in the past, or scared that you will be? This post is for you.
Turned down for credit cards in the past, or scared that you will be? This post is for you.

A friend of mine asked me for some advice the other day. She admitted to me that she hadn’t ever had a credit card, but was starting to think it might be a good idea to start building her score. She is certainly not alone! A whopping 63% of millenials have never had a credit card (read more). She, like many others, has always felt she gets along just fine without one. She also mentioned to me concerns that using credit cards would make her more cavalier with her spending, citing recent studies like this one. While these were very valid considerations, equally valid are the advantages of building a good credit score. My friend decided that at this point in her life, it might be good to start building her score to prepare for her future. However, having been rejected for the first card she applied for through her banker, she wasn’t sure how to proceed. Read more to find out the strategy I laid out to help my friend get started in the world of credit, despite her lack of previous cards and existing student loan debt. Continue reading

A Nice Mint Mojito

Mint.com is not always as good as it could be, but there is hope on the horizon!

If you don’t already use the Intuit web software Mint.com, you should strongly consider it. Mint is the best tool I have found, by far, to keep good track of your spending in a relatively hands-off manner. The highlights are:

  • It automatically pulls data from all your accounts (credit cards, checking, savings, investments) and allows you to view their balances all on one page
  • It auto-categorizes all your transactions, and is pretty O.K. at it.
  • It offers beautiful visualizations of all your spending
  • It allows you to set budgets and goals that it helps you track

Mint, however, often leaves much to be desired. Sometimes the interface is a little clunky and doesn’t do quite what you want, and the developers don’t update it as often as the users wish. As an avid Mint user, I was excited to find the Google Chrome Extension, Mojito. It has several awesome features, like allowing you to sort your accounts from highest balance to lowest balance, hide credit cards that have a zero balance, and pulls your recent transactions onto the homepage. He also finds ways to make the ads on Mint less obstrusive, and combats Mint’s way-too-short page timeouts. It’s a really great extension and makes my frequent Mint-using experience much better!

The developer is just one guy, he even has a wordpress blog (though it’s a little stale), but he put his code up on github which means we might see even more active development. One can only hope. It seems from the comments on the extension that it is being actively updated. What he has done thus far makes Mint infinitely more usable and beautiful.

Digit: Intelligently Automate Your Savings

Digit: Save money without thinking about it

A friend recently introduced me to the tool Digit, a “digital savings assistant” which helps you squirrel away money. It works by linking to your checking account and analyzing your spending patterns. When it notices you have a little extra money that you’re not using, it sucks it away into your FDIC-insured Digit savings account.

This smart little service is really great for both meticulous savers, and those who haven’t gotten the hang of budgeting yet.

If You’re a Saver: If you, like me, like to keep immaculate control of your finances, Digit could be a huge help! Every payday, I spend a lot of time figuring out how much I can send to my savings account versus how much I should keep in my checking. Even setting up automatic transfers can be cause for worry. What if I transfer too much and there’s a bill I’ve forgotten about? I could overdraft and get hit with a bunch of fees! Digit has a no-overdraft guarantee to assure you that you’ll never make that mistake. It’s like setting up a smart auto-transfer to savings–one that is guaranteed to never get you in trouble for trying to be responsible with your money

If You’re a Spender: Digit will pull money from your account in small increments when it realizes you don’t need it. If you don’t have the discipline to tuck away that dollar for a rainy day, Digit will help you do that. In turn, this could help you spend less on frivolous things, since you won’t have that big chunk of cash sitting in your checking account!

What else is good about Digit? It has an awesome interface that you can communicate with via text messages. It will let you know how much you’ve saved, and even help you keep track of your bills! If you need to withdraw money, it will have the funds in your account within a day–much faster than conventional ACH transfers. It’s also just as secure as your own bank account.

Any downsides? Well, there’s no interest on their savings account. However, this doesn’t seem like a big issue to me unless you already have a huge amount of savings, with savings rates being what they are these days. Also, if you don’t use texting, you miss out on a lot of the friendly communications the platform offers.

All in all, it seems like a great product that will help me save some dough for my next vacation!