Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Five Favorite Products of 2014 (FREE, CHEAP, or WORTH THE MONEY)

It's been forever since I've compiled a list of my new favorite things. And lately, every time I've been using one of the below items, my head explodes with a chorus of, "This is AWESOME. People need to know about this." So maybe you already know about all of these things. If not, you're welcome in advance.


1. Stuff You Should Know Podcasts (You'll especially dig these if you love Malcolm Gladwell books) - Free

Even though I love being a stay-at-home parent, sometimes my brain feels like Jello. Enter podcasts. I now feel connected to the outside world again. I'm learning, even though I rarely have time to open a book or laptop (without being attacked by my little ones). Back in the day, downloading podcasts was a pain. Now with smartphones, it's a hundred times easier:
(1) Download the "Podcasts" app
(2) Search for awesome podcasts. My favorite podcast is "Stuff You Should Know." It took me about three episodes to get hooked. Josh and Chuck are my new besties. They've taught me about everything from CPR to Willpower to Trickle-Down Economics. (Speaking of economics, the "Freakonomics" podcasts are also excellent. Start with "The Economist's Guide to Parenting.")
(3) Listen to them while you're getting ready, driving, or cooking. Last week, I started making dinner when my 3-year-old demanded hearing a "story" (podcast) on my iPhone.
p.s. Any other podcast listeners out there? I'd love any recommendations.


Alert: If a runner is on your Christmas shopping list, this is a good one:

2. EARBUDi Clips for iPhone ear buds - $9.99

EARBUDi Clips for iPhone ear buds
If you use the iPhone earbuds, I have no idea how you live without these. Last spring when I started running again, I began an intense search for the right earphones. One criteria I had was an attached microphone and control button (did you know you can use that button to pause/skip/go back while listening to music?). Anyway, after buying and returning a couple pairs of earphones, I realized what I really wanted was my good old iPhone earbuds, but I wanted them to actually stay in. Enter the EARBUDis. They attach to earbuds and keep everything perfectly and comfortably in place. My only complaint is that they have a habit of disassembling when they're rattling around in my (super messy) purse. But as long as I have them in a pocket, they stay intact. They're not fancy, but I've had them for over eight months now and they're still going strong. I can't stand using earbuds without them.

3. Nuk Silicon Spout Active Cup - $6-$7

This is the best for babies switching to sippy cups. My sister recommended this when my little guy was having a hard time making the switch. Worked like a charm. They have several designs available (I kind of wish I had a girl because the Hello Kitty design is the cutest).
My little guy loves his Nuk Active Cup. But you probably shouldn't trust his judgment because he also prefers this ratty bear to all the new, nice bears given to him to try to replace the ratty one.


4. New & Improved ProMist Microfiber Spray Mop (Better than Swiffer) - $27.99

Besides the fact that the ProMist has a superior design, I'm sold on it because: (1) It has washable pads (as opposed to overpriced one-use pads) and (2) you can use whatever cleaning solution you want. Cha-ching! I did end up buying a spare refill pad since I only do laundry once a week. I'm happy with the ProMist. It cut my mopping time (over my old sponge mop) by 75%.

5. YouCopia SpiceStack - $29.99

Okay, maybe I was the last person on earth to organize their spice cabinet, but since buying this baby, I'm pretty sure I've gained hours of my life back. Seriously, I just did the math-- if you spend 2 minutes a day digging around for the right spices, that's over 12 HOURS per year. I can't believe I used to dig around my spice cabinet like a sucker. It comes in several different sizes. Whether you buy this or not, I highly recommend organizing your spices somehow. I think my blood pressure dropped significantly since I did.

And that's it! Write any questions in the comments below or on our Facebook page and I'll get back to you ASAP.

What products have you discovered lately that you're loving?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Budget Boot Camp - Cutting Expenses (It's Not What You Think)

Pin this article for later here.

This is not going to be a regular list of suggestions about dropping cable and eating out less. If you've read one of those articles, you've read them all (our list is at the bottom of this link). The truth is, if there was an easy way to save money, you'd have already done it. Who doesn't like saving money? The purpose of this article is to help you figure out what matters to you and to convince you to let the rest go. Budgeting is not about blindly slashing as many expenses as possible, it's about making conscious choices about what matters most to you personally and spending accordingly. By the time you're done reading this, you'll know exactly what changes (if any) you need to make to your spending.

Step 1: What Does "Rich" Mean To You?

One of the best takeaways I got from the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich is that it's important to first figure out what "being rich" means to you. If you were rich, what would it look like? Maybe you want be able to take a trip to Disneyland every year. Maybe you couldn't care less about vacations, you just want a home with a yard. Or all of your kids in piano and dance lessons. Or a weekly date night. Maybe what you really want is to have a room full of gold coins you can swim in daily à la Scrooge McDuck. Whatever your goals are, write them down. The more specific, the better. It's okay to pick more than one, but make sure you order them from most to least important. Being rich isn't about having it all, it's about having what matters most. 
Note: I know "Saving for Retirement" probably wasn't on your list of financial priorities, but unless one of your goals was to "work like a dog until the day I die," you should go ahead and add retirement savings to your list. How much should you be saving towards retirement? I'm going to throw out the guideline 15% of your income and refer to my favorite article about saving for retirement.

Step 2: Figure Out Per-Month Cost

For each financial goal, figure out what it would cost you per month.
Example: Save for Retirement.
Annual income: $50,000 x 15% = $7,500 per year / 12 months = $625 per month.

Example: Piano Lessons for kids.
$75 per month x 3 kids = $225 per month.

Example: Disneyland Trip
$1,200 / 12 months = $100 per month. (I'll be honest--I just threw $1,200 out there. I live in CA and my sister works for Disney, so feel free to hate me for how economical Disneyland trips are for us).
From our last Disney trip. Yes, I'm a grown adult and yes I wore that crown in the park.

Step 3: Target Expenses to Eliminate

Now whip out your budget and figure out where you stand. How close are you to being able to achieve your goal(s)? What could you do to make it work? For some reason, trying to cut expenses arbitrarily (just because it's good to cut expenses) isn't very motivating. But if you have something specific you're working towards, cutting expenses suddenly becomes a meaningful, motivating goal.
Method 1: Pick Some Easy Targets
Look are your budget line by line to analyze your spending and then pick some easy targets. Maybe you really want that Disneyland trip and you're spending $125 a month on random shopping trips. Done. Now the next time you want to buy yet another purse you don't need, you're not denying yourself by not buying it, you're making a conscious choice to go to Disneyland instead.
Method 2: Make Some Meaningful Trade-offs
Maybe you'd be willing to ditch cable so you can put your kid in gymnastics. It's all about trade-offs and priorities. So pick your goals, pick which expenses you're willing to cut back on or eliminate and get to work.
When You're Out of Expenses to Cut
Maybe you are already in debt or you've already eliminated all discretionary spending (eating out, shopping, clothes, vacations, memberships, cell phones, etc.). Now it's time to look at the bigger expenses. Can you live in a more affordable apartment or home? Think about switching to pay as you go electricity, gas and water as this will allow you to budget and control your monthly bills. Or maybe it's time to look at last month's Budget Boot Camp ideas for increasing income. It may take putting a long-term plan in place, such a getting additional education for a better job, but you can make it work.

By the way, if you're trying to retire early, I recommend checking out this couple who built a FatFIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) and are set to retire in their 30s.

Have any questions? Need help figuring out how to reach your goals? Comment on our blog here and we'll get back to you ASAP.

p.s. My product recommendation of the month is my mattress pad heater because it's getting chilly out there. I've had mine for years and years and I'm still obsessed.
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