Category Archives: Family

Reduce Electrical Bills – Improve your Budget

Reduce Electrical Bills with these simple tips

I have been trying to find ways to reduce electric bills. It is one of the largest expenses every month for our family. Following are some tips I have found.

Washing – Do not run washing machines (dish or clothes) until you have a full load.

Drying – Clean the lint trap on your clothing dryer. Not only will this help reduce electrical bills, it can help your dryer last longer. Modern dryers measure the temperature of the air to adjust how hot the heating element needs to be. If your lint trap is plugged, it can cause the temperature readings to be incorrect. This can cause excessive electrical use.

I also found out the hard way, lint buildup can cause your heating element to run hotter than it should. At best, this can cause the heating element to overheat and need early replacement. At worst, it could cause a dangerous lint fire. Thankfully in our case, I just had to replace the heating element, which was partially melted.

Line Dry – Hang your clothes outside. Reduce electrical bills while getting fresh air! If you are embarrassed about your underwear hanging outside, buy a laundry pole that will hold three to four lines. Hang sheets and towels on the outer lines. Hang your unmentionables on the inner lines, so that the sheets will hide most of them.

If your clothes are stiff when line dried, it is likely that not all of the detergent has been washed out of the cloth. There are many recipes for making your own laundry at home (another money saving tip). Most of the home made laundry detergents will not leave your clothes feeling rough and stiff when dried on a line.

Hot Water – Put an insulation blanket on your water heater. Better yet, get an instant hot water unit or a solar pre-heater. Turn down the temperature on the water heater a few degrees is another suggestion to reduce electrical bills.

Climate – Adjust your thermostat, and run a ceiling fan in conjunction with your HVAC unit. This can help reduce electrical bills year-round. During the summer, our temperature inside is around 78*, and during the winter, it’s about 65*. We wear shorts and lightweight shirts during the summer, and socks, flannel pants, and warm shirts or sweaters during the winter.

Heating – Maintaining creature comforts can be tough in the winter. Use a room / space heater to reduce electrical bills. This will heat only the room you are using. This allows you to leave the rest of the house at a cooler temperature. I do this in my DJ practice area, and in our bedrooms at night. Of course, if you have an open concept house, or on the weekends when everyone is home and in different rooms, this may not work as well.

Upgrade – Replace your old mercury switch thermostat with a new smart or programmable unit. I’ve never used one, but the Nest is very popular. I replaced our old thermostat with a programmable unit. The thermostat was around $100, IIRC. We had a heat pump system, so the thermostat was more expensive. However, being able to program the temperatures to our schedule, I was able to reduce electrical bills, which paid for the thermostat very quickly. Since I did the work myself, there was no installation cost.

Lighting – Simply replacing lightbulbs can reduce electrical bills. New LED bulbs are expensive, but you can sometimes find good deals on multi-packs. Replace halogen floor torch lamps and incandescent bulbs. Don’t buy the CFL “curly Q” bulbs, as they are filled with mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

Reduce electrical bills without using candles

Reduce electrical bills?

I buy lights made by CREE, rather than GE for a couple of reasons. Not due to their lighting specifically, but because of GE’s business practices, and tax dodges.

Instead of leaving the light in the hallway on, or the vent-a-hood light over the stove on, use LED nightlights. These use pennies of electricity each year, which will reduce electrical bills while still providing area light for safety.

Use fluorescent light tubes in your shop, garage, or basement. They produce little heat, use very little electricity, and provide a nice even lighting for safety in the shop.

Charging – Charge your cell phone and laptop at work or in the car, rather than leaving them plugged in at home all the time.

Vampires – Get power strips, so you can flip one switch to kill all the power to several devices at one time. This will reduce electrical bills by preventing “vampire” loss. Modern electronic devices, such as TV’s, DVD players, computers, and microwaves all stay in a constant “low power” standby mode. The devices must have power to operate the receiver for the remote control, as well as the clock and calendar (used by your game console, for example). This causes the device to draw power, even when “turned off”. All this power being used by all these devices will add up each month.

Security – You can reduce electrical bills while still providing safety and ambiance outside your home. Consider installing outdoor lights on timers, light sensors, or motion sensors. Buy solar lights for walkways.

Windows – If you don’t have insulated windows, and cannot replace them, you can still prevent drafts and air leaks. We are currently renting. The house is old, with aluminum framed windows. It doesn’t make sense for the landlord to replace the windows, since they are functional, and the landlord doesn’t pay the light bill. I went to Lowe’s and bought a few packages of the plastic sheeting that goes over the windows inside the house. For less than $50, I was able to reduce electrical bills. I left the plastic up over the past year. We had less pollen and dust inside in the spring, and the interior stayed cooler in the summer. Winter will be here soon… The cost of the plastic will be divided by two years of service.

Doors – You can also reduce electrical bills if you make sure your doors are weatherstripped properly. Our doors are warped, so even with proper “real” weatherstrip, they still leak air badly. I need to work on them this autumn. Last winter, on REALLY cold days, I used “gaff tape” to seal around the cracks. It was too cold to remove the doors and try to fix them properly. Gaff tape looks like duct tape, but doesn’t leave adhesive, and won’t pull the paint off the walls or doors. It is about $20 per roll, but I use it for my DJ business to tape down wires at events. I just stuck it to the doors, and at night, stuck it to the door frame to seal off the gaps. Since it didn’t peel the paint, when we left in the morning, we could just open the door.

What tips have you found to reduce electrical bills?

A Great Budget is… YOUR map

A Great Budget is all about you

Part of the reason I created this blog is because I am starting to use a family budget again. I wanted to have some accountability, so I’m sharing my personal journey. I also wanted to help others who are considering a budget for their family.

On a long trip, especially if you have never been to your intended destination before, it is a good idea to have a GPS or map. A great budget is like a GPS or map for your financial journey through life. A well made budget can enable a person to be more financially responsible over the long haul. A great budget directs your finances in the most efficient path to your destination. A winning budget keeps you on the right road to success, no matter how you define “success”.

On a long trip, to be sure you stay on track, you must review the map frequently, adjust for detours or traffic, and watch for road signs. Let’s look at some of the traits for a great budget.

Individualized – A great map is individualized. Your destination may be different than mine. If you are going from New York City to Houston, and I’m going from Savannah, GA to Atlanta, GA, we will need different maps.

Likewise, a great budget is individualized. If you are a single, mid-20 something living with the Parental Units, your budget will be different than your married, father-of-four, mortgage-toting brother’s budget, or your retired grandparent’s budget. Your budget should be specific to YOU. It’s ok to start with someone else’s budget, or a generic budget from some website, but over time, consider customizing it to fit you and your situation.

Detailed – A great map is detailed. Your map needs to show road names, turn directions, and distances to be traveled on each road. It should show approximately how long you will be on each road, in case you forget to check the odometer. On a long trip, a printed map and turn-by-turn directions may take several pages.

Similarly, a great budget is detailed. Your budget should reflect ALL income, and ALL expenses. I like doing my budget in an Excel spreadsheet. If something changes during the month, I can immediately adjust.

Your budget should have expense categories, based on your life.  A great budget will let you see how much you are spending in dollars for a specific category. It should also let you see those categories as a percentage of your income. Within each category, you can add specific lines for more detail. For example, on my budget, the category “Utilities” includes a line for each of the following: Electricity, Water, Cell phone, Internet. The total for each line is added together to give me the total expense for Utilities.

Simple – A great map is simple. If your map is 14 pages, front-and-back, in 9-point font size, with hand-scribbled notes all over the margins, and a coffee stain, you will have a hard time following the map on the open road, much less when you are in rush-hour traffic in a big city. Consider a condensed overview page for a quick glance in traffic.

A great budget is detailed, but it should also be simple enough that you can understand what you are looking at. Budgets can generally be one page. You could show a great budget to a teenager and have them understand the basics of your budget. If your budget is too complicated, you will find excuses to put off using it.

Try to keep a simple overview, even if at various times you need more detail. You can always drill down to get more information if you need it at that time. For example, I keep my budget simple by having the Categories bolded, and all the Categories add together (since I use Excel) to provide the total expenses right next to the total income.

Realistic – A great map is realistic. If your GPS said your trip time from New York City to Houston will take one hour, is approximately 43 miles, and requires 6 gallons of fuel, you would probably look for a new GPS. Even if you haven’t made the trip before, you would probably know that is not realistic.

A great budget is realistic. It should address all of your needs, priorities, income, and expenses. It should have every dollar allocated somewhere, to a specific purpose. Otherwise, any additional income simply “vanishes”, and you are left wondering what happened to it.

If you are trying to pay off debt, a great budget will show approximately how long that will take. If you use a computer spreadsheet, you can update the budget easily and quickly, so it stays realistic and current throughout the month.

Using these four tips can help you to have a great budget that works great for you!
How is your budget? What tips do you have to help me (and others) to develop a great budget?

 

Car Insurance – I’m on the hunt

Car Insurance – Looking for a new provider

Car insurance is a necessary evil if you drive. I have had car insurance most of the thirty-ish years I have been driving, but I have never filed a claim. As much as I’ve paid for car insurance, I probably could have bought a very nice car. I think I have been made the insurance companies a profit.

All of my cars have been used. Most of my cars have been older. Only one of my cars had full coverage; the 1997 Ford Escort had full coverage until my one and only car loan was paid off. As soon as I had the title in my hands, I dropped the coverage to the state required minimums.

I’m not complaining. I’m glad I never had a claim, because that would mean I had been in an accident, with a damaged car, or injured body. However, I still feel like the insurance companies have gotten the better end of the deal.

The reason for this post is because I have been researching car insurance. Our six month policy is up for renewal. I have been with Progressive the past two years. We ended up with them because of a crazy incident, which I may talk about some day. I wanted to see if we had the best coverage for the money.

To give you some background, I’m 44, R is 43, and we both have good driving records. Currently, we have three vehicles – a 1997 Ford Escort, a 2001 Ford Windstar, and a 2006 Honda Odyssey. R is a home-maker, home-schooling our youngest, so she doesn’t drive much. My day job is 5.5 miles one way, so I drive less than 3,000 miles per year commuting to work in my Escort.

I do have my “side hustle” DJ business, but I only drive the Windstar if I need all my gear; I believe I drive it less than 5,000 miles per year. The Windstar currently serves as a “portable storage unit” as much as it does a “vehicle”. I can fit a basic DJ rig in my Escort, which gets 30+ MPG, compared to the 18+ MPG of the Windstar. Most of my events are close to home.

I add less than 12,000 miles per year to the Escort, including my commute and DJ business. We have the state required minimum car insurance coverage – 25/50/25. In case you are not familiar with what that means (I wasn’t before I started researching), following is an explanation:

  • Bodily Injury (BI) – $25,000 per person – If we were at fault & injured someone
  • BI – $50,000 per accident – if we were at fault & injured more than one person
  • Property Damage (PD) – $25,000 per accident – if we were at fault & damaged stuff
  • No Uninsured Motorist (UM) BI – if an uninsured person hit & injured us
  • No UM PD – if an uninsured person damaged our car (or drove through our house, etc)
  • The UM coverage is supposed to protect you from hit-and-run drivers also. This add-on to your car insurance policy protects you, for example, if you came out of a store to find that someone had backed into your car in the parking lot and left without leaving their information on your door. Your car is damaged, and you have no way of knowing whose insurance to file a claim on.

We currently pay $663 per six months or $1326 per year with Progressive. Flo is either annoyingly cute, or quaintly quirky; neither is enough that I feel any loyalty to her company. Additionally, the Katie Fisher incident is enough to cost them my business. That is not how I want my car insurance provider to treat my family should something happen.

Image of GEICO Gecko

Car Insurance legend… The GEICO Gecko

I’m looking at GEICO, who I used to have many years ago. Like Flo, the Gecko is either cute or quirky. However, I currently work for a company which is owned by Berkshire, which also owns GEICO. So, I get employee pricing discounts on car insurance. I set up three plans on the GEICO website: Plan 1 –

  • 30/60/30 – more than the state mandated minimums for car insurance
  • UM BI – none
  • UM PD – none
  • $498.90 per six months – savings of $164.10 per six months or $328.20 annually

Plan 2 –

  • 50/100/30 – double the state mandated BI, and a little more than the state mandated PD
  • UM BI – 50/100
  • UM PD – 30,000 / 250 deductible
  • $670.50 per six months – adds $15 per six months or $1.25/month to our current Progressive car insurance bill, but the coverage is better

Plan 3 –

  • 300/300/100 – several times the current coverage amount
  • UM BI – 50/100
  • UM PD – 30,000 / 1,000 deductible
  • $766.50 per six months – adds $103 per six months or $17.17 per month to our current car insurance cost, but coverage is much greater

I think I will apply for coverage at GEICO, with Plan 2. It improves our coverage, for approximately the same amount we are currently paying for car insurance. This means our budget should not be negatively affected (by much… it is $1.25 per month more, so I guess that is a “negative affect”. 🙂 I forwarded this information to R, to see if she had any comment. She simply said, “OK”, so I guess I will contact GEICO and see about setting up the car insurance policy this week. My Progressive policy renews on 9/5, so I don’t want to wait. What car insurance company do you use? How long have you been with them? What was the main selling point for you?

10 Money Saving Tips for Low-Income Families

Money Saving – Practical ideas anyone can use!

Saving money is a nice thing for most famililes, but is a necessity for low-income families. Whether your family is temporarily low income because of job loss or underemployment, longer term because of illness or injury, or by choice, such as single income families, as in our case, it can be tough to meet your family’s needs. Let’s look at ten ways to help increase your money saving abilities.

  1. Transportation – For short distances, ride a bike or walk for major money saving… zero gas expense! For longer trips use public transportation, if it is available. If not, try to rideshare or carpool. Sharing your gas expense with two or three people can be serious money saving. Consolidate your trips, making several stops, instead of several separate trips. Do you have a neighbor you can borrow a vehicle from as you need it? We used to have two drivers and four vehicles, one of which was a 1994 compact pickup truck. We gave the truck to a relative this year. Now, on the rare occasions I need a truck, I borrow my neighbor’s. I have been thinking about getting rid of my little car (which is 17 years old, with well over 250,000 miles), and just driving my “DJ Van”.
  2. TV – Drop your pay TV service for monthly money saving. We used to have cable, then satellite. We never really had time to watch it, so we dropped it almost a decade ago.
  3. Movies
    Money saving with DVD's from the library

    “Rent” movies from the library!

    We “rent” DVD’s at the library. This money saving tip allows you to have family entertainment, without blowing the budget. We can keep them one week, and it is FREE. Our library is small, but they still have a few thousand titles, and many regular series. Alternatively, borrow DVD’s from a neighbor, especially one who goes to RedBox every week. 🙂 Just be sure to return the movies so there are no late fees. Our library charges $1/day per DVD if you are late, which negates your money saving quickly!

  4. Internet – This money saving tip takes a little creativity. When money was really tight, we were without internet for over a year. I would go to the library on my lunch break, research what I needed, and save the info on a thumb drive. Since I only had one hour for lunch, I would either save the webpage, or copy the text and save in a word document to read in more detail later. I would also find places with free wi-fi, such as McDonalds, Starbucks, and even the library. Many mornings, I would leave for work early, and drive past the library. I would sit in my car in the parking lot since the library was not open yet.
  5. Garden – Gardening is a money saving top to reduce your food budget, and improve your eating habits. Fresh tastes best in most cases. Research Square Foot Gardening. Start a window box for fresh herbs, or hang an upside-down tomato planter from your patio/balcony for money saving and great snacking.
  6. Coupons – This money saving tip became popular the past few years, seeing shows like Extreme Couponing. Some people say the show is bogus. We don’t have cable TV, so I have never seen the show. There are many forums, blogs, and websites that teach how to use coupons successfully. Recently, many stores have stopped doubling and tripling coupons, so the saving are not as extreme as they have been in the past, but my wife still can save $10-$40 or more on the grocery bill every week. Many department stores also post coupons online or in their circular advertisements. However, don’t buy stuff you don’t need just because you have a coupon.
  7. Water – Use a rain barrel to conserve water for your garden. Consult with local authorities, as some will try to fine you for conserving the water. Don’t water your lawn or garden or wash your car during the hottest part of the day, as much of the water will be lost to evaporation. Make sure your faucets and toilets don’t leak. Another money saving idea… Reuse your towels for a week or so; after a shower, you should be pretty clean, so your towel won’t get dirty… you don’t have to wash them every day.
  8. Phone – This money saving idea has saved us over $3000 so far. We eliminated our home phone line almost a decade ago. We realized the only calls we got at home were telemarketers and robo-politicians. I have no use for either, and don’t care to pay for the privilege of them bothering us during dinner. We pulled the plug and save every month. We use our cell phones, have “naked” DSL for internet, and the home alarm system uses cellular technology.
  9. Groceries – For a weekly money saving strategy, go to a “off brand” grocery store. Sure, those fancy supermarkets have exotic food, but you should not be eating that if you are a low-income family anyway. We shop at Kroger and Wal-Mart for 90%+ of our groceries, and if we are in the area, we go to ALDI. The selection is limited to more basic foods, but that suits our needs fine. Also, a “super” store, like Wal-Mart or Target will have more than just groceries, so we do less driving around to other stores for household repair needs, auto maintenance supplies, health & beauty, etc.
  10. Barter – This money saving idea lets you trade your skill for someone else’s. Do you have a skill that you can trade with someone for their skill? Can you swap mowing their lawn for getting three or four haircuts? Can you trade painting their living room for plumbing repairs? There are many busy professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, who don’t have time or knowledge to do projects themselves. If you have the time because you are out of work, or have the knowledge but not the cash, see if they would be willing to trade services.
  11. BONUS – Obviously, there is only so many money saving ideas you can realistically use. If possible, increase income. If you can’t do that because you are currently unemployed/underemployed, is it possible to get a part-time job, which will not affect your search for a full-time job? If you are employed, can you pick up a few extra hours? Can you start a side hustle?

At one point, I lost my full-time job. I started carrying pizza in the evenings and weekends. When possible, I tried to get shifts that were late at night, so I would not be away from my wife and children while they were awake. This provided my family with cash, a small bi-weekly check, and usually a free pizza or two each shift.

In case someone is curious about the free pizza… Usually, someone would call in with a custom pizza request, then not come to pick it up, or would not answer the door when a driver arrived. Sometimes, the manager would let the closing employees make a pizza at no charge if we’d had a profitable shift. This money saving idea was tasty! 🙂 With two hungry children to feed, the free pizza was a blessing.

Through that job, I met another delivery man who also worked as a delivery man for the newspaper. He helped me get a job delivering papers seven days a week. I delivered papers to convenience stores and boxes in grocery stores. I would arrive between 2 AM and 4 AM, depending on the day, and would be done by 6 AM most days. I would then run back home and have breakfast with my family before they left for school and work (my wife was a school teacher and took the kids with her). In addition to the bi-weekly check, the manager would let us have the coupon inserts from any Sunday papers that did not sell when we put out the new Sunday papers. This was another money saving help.

I later found a full-time job, where I still work almost nine years later. I continued to work the pizza and paper jobs in addition to the full-time job for over a year. I was exhausted, and slept in my car during lunch many times. However, the additional income really helped our family through a tough time. So, if possible, even if it is not your long-term goal, find a side hustle.

How about you? What money saving tips have helped you during a low-income time?

New or Used… The choice is yours

Should you buy that widget new or used?

New or used is a question commonly asked in financial blogs, around the water cooler, and in search engines. Some people prefer the smell of a new car, but some people say that is what “a sucker” smells like. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Let’s look at a few things and discuss which is better… new or used.

Buy these items new:

  1. Mattresses – Many thrift shops won’t even accept old mattresses. That should tell you something. If you see an old bed set on the curb, or at a garage sale, keep driving. Bed bugs… need I say more? If the possibility of a bed bug infestation isn’t enough to dissuade you, think of the bacteria, dead skin, and dust mites which eat the dead skin, which are probably infesting the mattress. New or used? Please, just spend the money and buy new.
  2. Electronics –As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am a mobile DJ. Much of my gear is very expensive electronic equipment… speakers, computers, turntables, etc. I have purchased a few items from Craigslist sellers, and have been happy. In my case, I know the gear, I met the sellers in a public place, and had a way to test the gear for proper operation. Still, I did take a chance on buying something which could have had an intermittent problem, or could have had been mistreated, dropped, overheated, or had spill damage inside. Instead of garage sales, consider looking for used equipment on Amazon or direct from the manufacturer’s refurbished site. New or used for electronics is a little harder to answer.
  3. Car seats – These are designed to protect your precious cargo in the case of a car accident. They are designed to be a one-accident item. If you buy at a garage sale, you don’t really know if the seat has been involved in a car accident. Damage to car seat may be hidden; you may not be able to tell just by looking that the seat is no longer strong enough to protect your baby if you have an accident. New or used… definitely go New!
  4. Shoes – Again, here is something which I have purchased in the past. When I was young and not making much money, I purchased dress shoes from Goodwill, then had them new soles put on and used shoe trees. However, if you can afford it, you may find that new shoes are more comfortable. Shoes will mold to fit the wearer’s feet, and if your feet are not the exact shape of the previous wearer, you may find them pretty uncomfortable. New or used… depends on if used makes your “dogs bark”.
  5. Underwear / Swimwear
    Funny underwear photo

    New or used? Underwear is one thing I gotta have new!

    Wash them in hot water, with bleach, and boil them on the stove if you like. I still don’t think I want to go there. Please, for the love of all that is holy (or hole-y… see what I did there? 🙂 ), think this one through. Many thrift shops offer these for sale. Now, I have worn clothing and shoes from thrift shops, I’ve driven used cars, and live in a “used house”. However, I draw the line at “nappy, ol’ draws”. New or used… New in London, new in France… please, only buy new underpants! 🙂

Buy these items used:

  1. Houses – The biggest purchase most people will ever make, a house is primarily your family’s shelter. New homes are more energy efficient than older homes, and are less likely to require expensive maintenance for a while, since everything is new. However, Trulia, a real estate website, says that new homes costs about 20% more than used homes. For a $200,000 home, that is about $40,000. That can make a significant difference in your retirement nest egg. Don’t become “house poor”, by purchasing too much house. Consider purchasing a similar size “pre-owned” home. New or used… your retirement will like used better.
  2. Autos – This is the second largest purchase most people make. However, unlike a house, which over time, generally increases in value, an automobile almost always decreases in value over time. Purchase a new car, drive it off the lot, and return it the next day, and you may find yourself losing 10-20% of the price you just agreed to pay. Over the first year, the value may depreciate an additional 8-12%. If you are a millionaire, you can buy new. Otherwise, consider buying a car at least 2-3 years old. Personally, we purchase cars that are 8-10 years old and drive them a few years. I currently have a compact car that is 17 years old, which probably has 260K+ miles on it (I say “probably” because the odometer quit working over a year ago at 246K miles). New or used? Used is how we roll.
  3. Clothes – Aside from shoes and underwear/swimwear, I don’t mind wearing used clothing. Once I wear a new item one time, it is “used”. Most of my clothing comes from Goodwill or other thrift shops. As I mentioned in another post, I purchased a navy blue, pinstriped Ralph Lauren Polo suit, and had it tailored to fit me for less than $100 total. I later saw the exact same suit at the Galleria mall on Westheimer in Houston for well over $1,000. I regularly find Arrow, Hilfiger, Polo, Dockers, and other name brands at thrift shops, often with the manufacturer tags still on them. Why pay $50 for a new short-sleeve collared shirt, when you can find the exact same shirt for less than $5? With that being said, I do generally buy my pants new at men’s clothing stores, and have them hemmed, because I’m too tall and skinny to find pants elsewhere. New or used, either is ok, but I don’t mind used.
  4. Tools – Often you can find tools at thrift shops or garage sales. Shovels, rakes, and other yard tools, wrenches, hammers, and other shop tools, and occasionally, even power tools. A quality tool that is well cared for will generally last the lifetime of the owner, and can be passed on to your children. I purchased a $50 bench grinder at a yard sale for $8 (all I had left in my pocket). That was over five years ago, and it’s still going. I found a $600 Rigid table saw for $300 at a factory refurbished tool store at a local outlet mall. New or used? Used most of the time.

    New or used tools - used, most of the time.

    Rigid table saw was selling for nearly $600 new. I found a factory refurbished unit for about $300. New or used tools? Used!

  5. Books – I love to read, as does everyone in my family. However, we rarely buy books new. Our primary source of reading material is the library. Print books can also be found at garage sales, thrift shops, and online, often for pennies on the dollar compared to the retail price for new books. eBay, Half, and Amazon are three online sources for printed materials; beware of low priced books with excessive shipping costs. A couple of times each year, our local library also has a used book sale, and often sells paperback for 10-25 cents, and hardcover books for $1-$5 each.If you just want to read, and don’t need a printed copy to keep in your personal library, you also have options for saving money. If you have a Nook, you can get a “library” app which will allow you to “check out” a book from your local library. In other words, you can read the book on your Nook without having to purchase the book from Barnes & Noble. Amazon offers a Kindle app, which allows you to purchase e-books for much less than the printed copy. I have the Kindle app on my cell phone, so I can read anytime, any place. New or used… ”Used” is the blockbuster new thriller.

What about you? What things do you prefer new? What do you like used? What other New or Used comparisons do you have?

Five fanciful fads for frugal fun

Frugal fun that doesn’t involve the TV

Frugal fun… without TV?! Yes, it’s possible! 🙂

Back a decade ago, our idea of frugal fun was watching our favorite shows on cable TV. After the cable no-service tech royally ticked me off, I cut the cable and went to satellite. We loved our DVR, and recorded CSI, History Channel and Discovery Channel shows, and cartoons for the kids.

However, we found that with two small (at the time) children, and full-time jobs, we would fall asleep trying to watch our favorite shows on the DVR. We were so exhausted with work and family, we had no time for frugal fun TV. After a few months, I asked R, “Why are we paying for this again?”

So, we cancelled satellite. That was at least nine years ago. Our family is living proof that one doesn’t need to have the TV on all the time. Yes, our children have survived without TV. 🙂

We have a 46” Sony HDTV, but we don’t even have rabbit ears. We use the TV for DVD’s which we check out free at the library. We also play on our game consoles; we buy used games for cheap (less than $10, sometimes less than $5). Sometimes, I use the TV with the iPad or MacBook Pro as a giant computer monitor, so we can look at photos or YouTube videos.

However, this article involves having frugal fun WITHOUT the TV. So, let’s begin….

  1. Read – Reading… the non-TV thing you can do with your eyes. Now, if you don’t have any of those old-timey things called “books”, you can also read tablets or computers. Find a good novel for a relaxing frugal fun get-away. Pick up a non-fiction and learn something new.
  2. Write – Hand-write a thank you note. Send a birthday card to a relative. Put a recipe on an index card. Even type out a quick Facebook post to let people know that you went “old school” and read a “book”.
  3. Eat – Yes, one of my favorite frugal fun things to do. 🙂 Clean out your fridge, and get rid of left-overs… by eating them. R often prepares veggies and fruits by washing and pre-cutting them. She puts them in air-tight bowls in the fridge or on the table, so it’s easy to snack on something healthy.
  4. Take a hike – Or a walk, or gallivant about the neighborhood. Make a family excursion of it. Grab the pets, and get the spouse and kids off the couch for frugal fun, fresh air, and easy exercise.
  5. Nap – Now that you have overcome your couch potato tendencies by going for a walk, return home for a short rest. Frugal fun can even be had while “doing nothing”. Set your timer and take a 20-30 minute power nap. Awaken recharged, refreshed, and ready to take on the rest of your day.

How about you? What is one of your favorite things to do for frugal fun?

10 ways to Host a Garage Sale and Win

A garage sale can be a win-win deal!

Garage sale season is coming! Want to earn extra money for the upcoming holidays? Want to get rid of some of the stuff around your house? Hosting a garage sale is a great way to do both.

A few years ago, we hosted a garage sale and earned over $500 cash in one weekend, while getting rid of things that had been cluttering up our home. None of our items were over $50, and very few of them were over $20 each. Most of them were in the $1 to $5 range. We followed several of the strategies I have listed below. Using them can help you get the most from your garage sale efforts:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What is most important to you? Do you mostly just want to get rid of excess stuff? Do you want to make a lot of cash? Do you want to have a combination of both? Do you have the time to plan and implement strategies for a successful garage sale? Would you be better served by dropping everything off at Goodwill?
  2. Start planning. Assuming you decide to proceed with a garage sale, plan your garage sale to succeed. Grab your calendar. Check family obligations, school events, and vacation/travel plans. Then check for holidays, school events, and climate trends. The longer people stay, the more likely they will buy something. Seriously, don’t plan your garage sale for holiday weekends, and don’t plan for the hottest/coldest time of the year. You want the greatest number of people to attend, so schedule your garage sale for maximum success.
  3. Start organizing. Pick a place in the house for future garage sale items to reside until the sale. When something is on longer wanted, immediately put it in that area. If you know where you will hold the garage sale, start thinking about how to organize it… clothes here, tools over there. Put large bright colored toys near the road, so they attract the eye.
  4. Location, Location, Location. Like real estate, a garage sale needs to be in the right place for maximum success. A residential neighborhood near a busy intersection is best. If your area has very little traffic, or if you live in a gated apartment complex, do you have a friend who lives in a busy area? Ask if you can have your sale there. Sweeten the deal; offer to help sell their stuff.
  5. Teamwork. Speaking of selling their stuff, a “multi-family” garage sale or a neighborhood garage sale is very popular with customers. Shoppers know they can see more stuff with less driving. Recruit your kids, or borrow someone else’s kids to help. Take shifts so everyone has time to eat, stretch their legs, or take a potty break. Have a trustworthy person stay with the cash ALL THE TIME. Team up with others, advertise together, build friendships, and sell more!
  6. Follow Rules. If you do decide to have a multi-family or neighborhood garage sale, or even if you go it alone, be sure to check with your local HOA or government officials to be sure you are not violating any laws, ordinances, or guidelines. Paying a fine from your garage sale proceeds would not be fun!
  7. Advertise. To get the greatest number of people to attend your garage sale, they have to know about your garage sale. The newspaper classifieds are the most common place to start. Make simple signs, with arrows, on bright, neon color posterboard, and put them at intersections. Use a wide-tip marker, so drivers can READ the sign. Craigslist is great option, as it is free, you can run the ad several days before the sale, it’s free, and you can add photos of some of the items. Also, it is free. 🙂
  8. Take Life Easy. Lay out your sale so that it is easy for your customers. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to buy. Think about traffic flow and parking. Think about traffic flow for the people walking around shopping. Hang your clothes up. Get a tag gun, and tag clothes with prices. Put stuff on tables, so Grannie doesn’t have to kneel down to look at it.
  9. Get Real. Even though the movie just came out, no one is going to pay $40 for a dirty, torn Teenage Mutated Ninja Tortise backpack from back when you were a kid. Ask for a realistic price. Your sentimental value is worthless to others.
  10. VIP Service. The longer people stay at your garage sale, the more likely they will buy something. Have t-shirt bags / plastic grocery bags available so they can carry their loot to the car. Offer to help them carry stuff to the car. Offer them cold water / hot chocolate, depending on the weather; sell it for a little extra cash, or offer it free if they purchase a certain amount. Have fun, upbeat music playing. Have a “free” box, especially with small things for little kids… old toy cars, etc. Give their kid something free, and a parent will feel more obligated to buy something from your garage sale.

Your customers have your money in their pocket. Treat them special, make them like you, make it easy for them to shop, and they will give that money to you.

Your turn… Have you had a successful garage sale? Tell us about it. What worked in your case? What do you wish you had tried? What suggestions do you have to make a garage sale rock?

25 Date Night Ideas for Under 25 Dollars

Date Night doesn’t have to break the budget!

Date night is not just for engaged couples or newlyweds. R & I have been married for nearly 16 years. Like any couple, we have cycles of up and down, closeness and distance, passion and apathy.

In an effort to help strengthen the ties that bind, I want to begin having date night more regularly.

When we were newlyweds, we had time and money. We had two incomes, the economy was much better, and we had more discretionary funds. We did everything together. Date night was often weekend getaways. Date night was sometimes dinner at a nice restaurant. She worked for an airline, and I had a company car; sometimes, we would travel domestically. We went camping, traveled with friends, went to the beach, or went to visit family. Date night might be the movies, bike riding, or hanging out with friends.

Now, we have two children and one income. The older daughter is VERY athletic, and attends public high school, in part so she can participate in organized sports. At school, in addition to JROTC, she is on the varsity basketball team, varsity soccer, and cross country. In the off-season, she is on a travel basketball team. Her coaches expect that she will get offered scholarships for basketball, as she LOVES the game and is an

Our younger daughter is homeschooled, so her schedule is a little more flexible. Still though, she is in Children’s Choir, with practice every Wednesday night. My wife works in the church nursery every Sunday. I have my day job during the week. Some Friday nights and weekends, I have events for my small business. I’m a DJ, and do 30-35 weddings annually, plus parties, school dances, corporate events, etc.

Why do I mention this (besides the fact that I am proud of our daughters)?

Because, life gets in the way of living. Date night is now going to Target, Lowe’s, or Wal-Mart. Often we are there for something the kids need. We have no family close by, so we can’t stay gone for long. Having kids is a blessing, but they are a big responsibility. Extracurricular activities take time and money. The need to make additional income for food, glasses, clothes, school supplies, and health insurance puts restrictions on the ability for the two of us to “get away” for date night.

In an effort to balance our desire for date night with the realities of our budget, I’m looking at more frequent, less expensive date nights. This is part of the “personal” of personal finance.

Since we are on a budget, I set a ‘soft” limit on most date nights to $25. There are many options for a date night on a budget. You just need a little bit of extra creativity and maybe some planning. Following are 25 ideas for date nights for 25 dollars or less.

Obviously, not all of these date nights will work for everyone. For example, we used to live one hour from the beach. Now, we live at least six hours from a beach, and fuel prices have at least doubled. There is no way we can visit a beach for less than $25 now, unless someone else is driving and paying for the gas!

25 Date Nights for Under $25

  1. Picnic – at the park, at the lake, even your living room floor if the weather is bad… one of our favorite dates, even before we were married
  2. Visit the beach – again, this used to be a favorite date, but we can’t drive there for $25 now
  3. Local arts and crafts festival – one of her favorite activities
  4. Visit a museum on half-priced or free day – A local art museum has a free Thursday night once a month. Perfect for date night! Also, if you have a membership to a local museum, often that membership is honored by other museums.
  5. Hike in a state park – it doesn’t have to be a long hike/camping trip… just watch out for poison ivy!
  6. Find a recipe, buy the ingredients, and bake something together. Invite another couple over to share your date night.
  7. Visit a free concert at a car show – downtown, at a high school, or in a park, this date night is popular during the summer in many cities
  8. Go to a matinee movie, “movie night in the park”, or have a double-date night with another couple at a drive-in movie
  9. Go to your local zoo – We haven’t lived in Houston for years, but the Houston Zoo used to be very inexpensive, due to corporate sponsors. They also had free days during the year.
  10. Libraries sometimes have drama night, where people will dress up and act out parts from a book. Another idea is a high school drama department play or show.
  11. “Taste of your city” – Local restaurants invade downtown and showcase their offerings.
  12. Groupon restaurant deal
  13. Volunteer in your community – the animal shelter, the nursing home, the hospital
  14. Take (or teach) a class at the library – art, beekeeping, dance, guitar
  15. Visit a local fair or circus (think Shriner’s, not Cirque du Soleil)
  16. Model clothing for each other at the mall… free date night, if you don’t buy anything
  17. Go shopping at a thrift shop or resale store – Goodwill, Salvation Army, ReStore, etc
  18. Do a home improvement project together – this date night could last several nights
  19. DIY decorations for your home – get an idea book at the library or look at Pinterest
  20. Visit a new neighborhood and look at model houses – get more ideas for your home improvement or decoration projects
  21. Have breakfast or lunch at a small diner or local “hole-in-the wall” café – ask the waitress what she recommends
  22. Eat at home, then go to a four-star restaurant… for dessert only 🙂
  23. Make dessert together, and invite another couple to bring ice cream
  24. Go meet the ice cream truck and buy ice cream for the neighborhood kids
  25. Use the $25 for gas and go on a day trip (just bring a lunch)

WHAT you do is less important than WHO you are doing it with. You are going on a date night to be together, as friends and lovers. Leave behind the distractions of work, bills, homework, business, yard work, and family responsibilities. Since your little ones aren’t there to be tugging on you, and your teens aren’t there to get grossed out… kiss, hold hands, look  into each other’s eyes.

Most importantly, during date night, put away your phone. Focus on each other. Be present, be engaged, be in the moment of date night with the one you love.

Life Insurance… I HATE it, but I HAVE it

Why spend money on something I hate?

Life insurance is for those you love

Life Insurance… Personally, I hate it. I hate paying for something I will never use. Bottom line… The company takes my money, builds investor portfolios and fancy buildings with it, and gambles on when I will die.

Admittedly, I don’t have much personal experience with life insurance companies … after all, this article was not “ghost written“.

🙂

In my experience, insurance companies LOVE to take premiums, but HATE to pay claims. Many spend money to prevent paying a legitimate claim. Clients often get the run-around. “Oh, sorry… that’s not covered… Page 782, Paragraph 374, Subparagraph 42b… ‘Policy void if incident happens during any phase of the lunar cycle’.

Maybe I’m exaggerating… a little.

I have no problem if they don’t want to pay a fraudulent claim. However, the few times I have tried to collect on a legitimate claim, I have gotten the run-around, customer no-service, and excuses. I hope that does not happen if my survivors need to claim my life insurance policy.

Maybe I just have a bad taste in my mouth for life insurance because of the other types of insurance. Regardless, I hate life insurance.

However, I love my wife and children more than I hate life insurance.

If you are like most people, life insurance is probably not a priority in your mind. I rarely think about life insurance, except when the life insurance bill arrives. If you are young, healthy, and single, you may think you don’t need any coverage. Perhaps, you think, “I’ll worry about life insurance when I’m really old and decrepit … like when I’m 40 or whatever.” 🙂

However, if others depend on your income, TODAY is the day to think about life insurance.

Are you married? Do you have children? Would your family have a hard time continuing to live at the same quality of life without your income? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you are a prime life insurance candidate.

Please, do not put this off.

Are you are single, but engaged? Are you married with no children, but you plan to have children? If so, meet with a life insurance professional first, before others need your income.

Chances are, you will live a long life. However, accidents happen, and people get sick. There are many stories of people dying without life insurance. There are many horror stories of families left behind, without life insurance. In addition to dealing with the grief of your loss, they often struggle to eat, pay the mortgage, attend college, or simply survive.

I am the primary breadwinner for our family. My wife makes a little extra money. She keeps a baby three days each week. However, if I died, she could not afford our modest lifestyle on that small income. On the other hand, if she died, I would need to hire assistance, since I work full-time, plus have a small business. I would also need to pay for occasional childcare.

If something happened to both of us at the same time (car accident, for example), we want to provide for the children’s needs until they are 18. We would also each have final expenses.

Therefore, both of us have an individual life insurance policy.

There are many factors to consider, such as,

  • If you need life insurance
  • What type of life insurance
  • How much life insurance
  • How long do you need life insurance coverage

Even if you are single, with no children, you may need at least a small policy. If you die, your family has to pay your final expenses. These may include your funeral, burial, or cremation expenses, or any final medical bills. Here are three reasons why TODAY is the best time to get term life insurance.

The policy from your employer may not be enough
My employer provides a year’s salary at no cost to the employees. For a single person, this may be enough. Likely, all you would have is your final expenses. However, I’m married, and have two children. I suspect my children would like to continue eating after that year is up. In addition, we have rent, utilities, dog food, sports, extracurricular activities… everything my family has come to expect and enjoy about my income.

You probably need more than one year’s income replacement… Unless you only plan to be dead for one year. 🙂

You will never be as young as you are today
This may sound morbid, but each day, you are one day closer to death. You are closer to the day the life insurance company will have to pay out your policy. The younger you are, the better chance they have to recoup the risk they take by insuring you, so the cheaper your life insurance policy will be. When you are younger, you are a relatively lower risk for the insurance company. Premiums might not rise exponentially year over year, but when you are in your 40′s, you will pay much more than if you were in your 20′s.

Your health condition could change tomorrow
When people are young, generally speaking, they are healthiest. Body parts generally still work like they should, young people rebound from illness and injury much more quickly, and they are usually sick less often.

Comparatively speaking, from today until the day you die, today, you are in your prime. Each day, everything goes downhill from here. Cheerful thought, eh? 🙂

If your healthcare professional finds a single indicator of a serious illness, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, it may raise a red flag. This will likely increase your cost for life insurance. Once you have been diagnosed, from then on, you are marked.

By law, you must report your diagnosis on any future life insurance application. If you hide it, you commit insurance fraud. If your fraud is discovered, the insurance company probably will not pay your policy when you die. After all, you obtained the policy fraudulently.

So, stop putting it off. Research your needs, then call a life insurance company!

There are many resources to help determine your life insurance needs. Following are a few I found helpful:

In a future post, we will talk more about life insurance. We will also talk about other insurance needs.

If you have life insurance, how did you decide the coverage amount? What was the reason you purchased the policy? What type of insurance did you purchase? Why did you choose that type of policy?

10 HABITS TO BUILD WEALTH

WILL YOUR HABITS BUILD WEALTH OR WANT?

Follow these habits to build wealth

I have been thinking about habits and wealth, and decided I would write an article listing ten habits to build wealth. We have two children, and have been trying to teach them about self-discipline / self-control, and the habits we build.

Habits are great things in some ways, as we can do things without having to really focus on what we are doing. They can be time savers. Unfortunately, they can also be hard masters when they are bad habits. They can trap us into doing “the same old same old”, and prevent us from seeing solutions and new paths to solve problems.

I will begin using a family budget consistently again. I also plan to begin using a budget for my small business. I believe living on a budget is one of the most important habits to build wealth. It is a habit I used to have, but life and busy-ness got in the way. I got out of the habit of using a budget. I would float from month to month, knowing approximately how much money was in the bank. However, I quit regularly budgeting.

I didn’t balance the checkbook. I never really planned for Christmas, vacation, birthdays, and other special occasions when we would need to spend extra money. I would move money from savings over to checking to cover, and I had a couple of bounced checks. The money was in the savings account to cover, but the credit union did not automatically move the money, so the checking account went negative and we got hit with an overdraft fee. No more.

If you are reading this blog, I am guessing you are interested in finances and in wealth creation. So, let’s talk about 10 habits to build wealth.

1. Budget – Prepare a budget each month, before the month begins. This is something Dave Ramsey preaches as a major habit to build wealth. This is the first month I started doing that again. I remember when I was doing a budget regularly; it felt like I had gotten a raise. I knew how much we had, how much we would need to spend, when we had money coming, and how much we should have left at the end of the month.

2. Self-Control – For those of us who believe the Bible, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.

  • Be willing to say “no” or “not yet”. I waited three years to buy a new flat-screen HD TV because we don’t have cable/satellite, and we didn’t really watch much TV when we did have it. However, we do “rent” movies from the library, and we have a couple of game consoles. I had the money, and I went to various stores several times, each time, intending to buy. At the last minute, after walking the aisles, I would decide to wait.
  • Teach others self-discipline by example. I remind our children of that now… “It is ok to wait to spend your money. Daddy waited three years for a new TV.” Several times they were with us when I was looking at the TV’s. Frankly, I think they were shocked when we actually walked out of the store WITH a new TV. 🙂

3. Eat wisely – Don’t wreck your month’s budget for a few meals. Using your food budget wisely is one of my habits to build wealth consistently every month.

  • Most of the time, we choose to eat at home. We gave up a lot so that my wife is able to stay at home. One of the things we chose to sacrifice is eating out. Of course, when we were both working full-time outside the home, we ate out more often because of the convenience… we would both be getting home late, and starting dinner after we got home meant that we were eating right before bed. Now, she is home and has the flexibility to make healthy, filling, inexpensive meals.
  • Creating habits to build wealth require a little bit of ingenuity. I am only partially joking when I say we read the menu “right-to-left”… we look at the prices, then see what we will be eating. When we eat out, we do it inexpensively. However, we still spend roughly 2x as much per meal when we eat out, compared to when we eat at home. Of course, “nice” restaurants, or expensive meals would cost even more.
  • We usually eat at Mexican restaurants. Why? Because, first, coming from SE Texas, we love Mexican food. In addition, they generally offer free tortilla chips. We find ourselves munching on the chips before the meal arrives, and with our meal. We end up taking ½ our dinner home. I take leftovers to work for lunch during the week.
  • Often, R and I will split a meal. At a steakhouse, we each get a side salad (one usually comes with the entrée), and often, bread is included. By the time the steak is served, ½ is plenty for each of us. In fact, we usually don’t get dessert because we are comfortably full already.

4. Treats in moderation – Treats are nice, but moderation is one of the habits to build wealth.

  • Drink water (usually free, and better for your health), instead of paying for sodas.
  • Instead of paying $5-$8 each for a dessert at the restaurant, go buy a ½ gallon of ice cream and some toppings. Bake some cookies or brownies, add your ice cream, and make your own “lava brownie”. You can have dessert once a week at home for the next month for what you would spend on one dessert per person.

5. Garden – Besides producing food, gardening teaches patience, which is one of the best habits to build wealth. Just as you can’t pull up the plants after a week and look at what is going on underground, you shouldn’t pull your investments out and mess with them on a whim.

  • Start a garden. Food from your garden is better quality, better tasting, and better for you. Once you overcome the initial startup costs, the food is also less expensive. Research Square Foot Gardening.
  • If you can’t garden (apartment dwellers, etc), find a local farmer’s market.

6. Have a side hustle – Working hard is one of the best habits to build wealth.

  • I got the term “Side Hustle” from Michelle at Making Sense of Cents. She began her “side hustle” blog in her spare time, built it consistently, and eventually, her part time work grew into a more-than full-time career. Michelle is now in business for herself, and does blog management, website management, ghost writing, web design, and freelance writing, among other things. You can hire her if you need those services.
  • Another blog I like is ClubThrifty.com. Holly is another hard working entrepreneur. I have learned a lot about blogging and ways to earn additional income from her site.
  • Long before I had heard the term, I have had a side hustle. At various times over the past decade, while holding a full-time day job, I have delivered pizza nights and weekends for Dominos, delivered newspapers seven days per week before going to my day job, and picked up many extra shifts at my current day job employer. I often worked 12+ hour days, sometimes seven days a week, sleeping in my car on my lunch hour. Not what I wanted to do long-term, but it can really help provide additional money in the short-term.

7. Start a business – Currently, in addition to my full-time day job, I also have a small business. I guess it could also be considered a side hustle.

  • I am a mobile DJ. I average over 100 events per year. It is something I am very good at, and I make excellent money doing it. I have considered doing it full-time, but I’m the sole breadwinner, the industry is feast-or-famine (at least in my geographic area), and I need to provide health insurance.
  • Finding legal ways to have a business pay for things you need is a habit to build wealth. Many things in your personal life can be tax deductible if you have a business. In my case, for example, I am able to use business income to pay for my cell phone, internet service, alarm monitoring, part of the rent & utilities, some fuel & maintenance on my vehicles, office supplies, music (as a DJ, I have to purchase music), and other things. Obviously, check with your tax professional for details for your individual situation. … Actually, having a professional to help guide you with tax and legal matters is also a habit to build wealth!

8. Give – Giving is one of the most important habits to build wealth.

  • Give your treasure. Give money and help meet the needs of others.
  • Give your time. Your time is important also.
  • Give your talents. Use your abilities and bless others.
  • Give to a local charity, where you can see that they are using the money well.

9. Education – Never stop learning. Learning is one of the most important habits to build wealth.

  • College can be a great investment in yourself, if you do it the right way.
  • The first two years of most college degrees are primarily a re-hash of the last two years of high school. If you are/know a high school junior/senior, take a CLEP test as soon as you finish a course. The material is still fresh in your mind, and if you pass the CLEP, you now have a college level credit for the class. That is one less class you will need towards your degree, one less semester you are stuck in a classroom. CLEP tests are also less expensive than the course and books for college.
  • Consider earning your Associate’s degree first. Many Associates degrees pay as well as or nearly as well as a Bachelor’s degree. If you decide later you want the Bachelor’s, the credits will generally apply, so you are already half way there. You are potentially earning an income two years earlier, and have two years more “hand’s on” experience.
  • See if your employer will cover or reimburse some of your expenses for education. Taking advantage of programs offered for free education can be a great habit to build wealth.
  • Intern for a local business. You don’t have to be in college. Do you know someone in your future career field? Offer to work part-time for/with them for 3-6 months. See what they do on a daily basis. Make sure this is REALLY the career you want, and gain practical experience in the field.
  • Educate yourself. If you know you are not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, you may not need a college degree. You can still take college courses. I am a sophomore, almost a junior, based on the number of college credits I have. I simply took courses I was interested in. You can take online courses. You can check out relevant books from the library. You can learn from YouTube. You can just roll up your sleeves and jump in for on-the-job learning.

10. Under promise and over deliver –  Surprise those you work for, whether your boss, a client, or a co-worker. Do more than you promise to do. Come in earlier than you are expected to. Stay a few minutes later. Instead of only providing 10 habits to build wealth, throw in a few additional bullet points. 🙂

What are your top three, top ten, top twenty habits to build wealth? What habits are you weakest in, and how do you plan to change? What habits are you strongest in?