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Posted on Apr 12, 2013 | 0 comments

Digging a Little Deeper

Sure it can eat through mud and snow...and your wallet.

Sure it can eat through mud and snow…and your wallet.

Now that we’ve taken care of most of our “big-ticket” items to improve our savings, Dan and I are trying to tackle the smaller ways that we can find extra dollars in our budget. Not only is this important for increasing our savings to maximum levels but it also is helping to prepare us for living more frugally while cruising. If we want to have any kind of decent chance at living on $1000-$1500 a month than we have to get serious about knowing where each of our dollars goes and how to cut that down as much as possible.

The tracking part is made much easier by the online financial website that we use: Mint.com. We have all of our bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and investment accounts tied in so they automatically update whenever you long in. We’ve used this program for a few years and we’re pretty happy with it, though it can be a lengthy process to set everything up and figure out what budgets you want to set for yourself. Once you have been using it for a couple of months, it can really help to show you where your money is going every month. For some time now, it has been giving us a pretty clear indication that we have been spending too much in the Food and Gas departments, so we’ve finally decided to get those under control.

Food was first and it was somewhat daunting to me to be honest. Not to play the martyr working mom bit, but it is really hard to provide home cooked meals during a working week. There’s just not enough time to be able to figure out what to make every day and go pick things up from the store so I had to find a different approach. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that we have purchased a subscription to 5meals1hour.com for five dollars a month. Well, we’ve completed the first months’ worth of recipes and I can honestly say that we are way ahead of where we were last month, but I can’t give all the credit to the menus. We only used about 1/3 of the recipes on the menus, but we have still been eating at home on average of 5 days a week, which is a huge deal for us. I think just the change in mindset about grocery shopping every two weeks for actual planned meals has been the biggest positive change that 5dinners1hour has made for us. We can still improve a lot in this area, especially because I’m not a very experienced grocery shopper yet so I think we’re paying too much for our groceries, but we’re seeing a definite change in attitude and habits.

Gas spending is our other cash hog. Like a lot of people we know, it’s just something that we haven’t taken seriously before. But looking at our accounts, we have spent almost $1300 in gas alone since February 1! That’s averaging $18.50 per day, yikes! Here are a few strategies we are implementing to help us cut down this silent killer.

  1. Drive less…obviously. Eating meals at home isn’t just saving us money in the food department, it means less driving too.
  2. Walk and Ride Bikes, and not just for leisure riding. Dan has started riding his bike to work most days and we are planning to use our bikes for trips to the grocery store, library, and other close to home errands.
  3. Get rid of the gas guzzler in the driveway. We’re still working on this one, but the goal is to eliminate one of our 15 mpg SUV’s for a 30+ mpg compact car. Even if we have to spend some money over the sale of our Jeep, we should get most of it back in the end when we sell it in a year. This one has the potential to save us in the realm of $250/month!

Hopefully, we’ll find some good success using these strategies and find others to help us keep our everyday spending in check. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the comments!

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Posted on Jan 30, 2013 | 0 comments

We Interrupt This Winter…

Strictly Sail Chicago 2013Whoever first started scheduling Strictly Sail Chicago in the middle of January was a genius. Winter has never been our favorite part of the year (hello, planning to move to the Tropics for more than just the piña coladas) but this year has been doubly hard with the knowledge that we could have moved to Florida instead of staying here to pad our purse a little more. This past Saturday we were able to leave winter behind for a few hours and spur the excitement we’ve been missing for the last couple months. Just one day of being able to talk openly with people about our dream of cruising does wonders for our attitudes.

Three Cruising Budgets, Snapshots from the Life of Jimmy Cornell, and Perspectives from a Cruising Couple seminars filled our schedule. These seminars weren’t really intended as fact finding for us, in fact we hardly learned any really new information at all. What they lacked in new information, they made up for in validation and motivation. It’s one thing to read a bunch of cruising blogs and forums and compile a $1000-$1500/month budget that we think is realistic; it reaches the next level to hear the founder of Blue Water Sailing confirm that for us in his Three Cruising Budgets seminar. (He actually described four budgets, but the highest was labeled “Silly and Unnecessary” aka why are you even in this seminar, just go hire a 5 man crew for your million dollar yacht.)

The boats were what we really wanted to see. We won’t be buying a new boat when we leave, of course, and we probably won’t even be looking at buying a used version of any of the brands available to tour due to quality and dependability recommendations; what we wanted was to feel the size of the living space. Last year, we hadn’t done a lot of research into boats when we came and toured all of the boats. We left that day saying, “yeah, the smaller ones are okay, but I think we should look at boats in the 40-45′ range.” And look I did…at the price tag. There are hardly any good boats on the used market in the 40-45′ range that are under $50,000, and especially not ones that are close to being ready for ocean voyaging.

This year we needed to go in with the question “what can we do” instead of “what do we want to do”. It’s amazing how much that question changes your perspective, because we quickly realized that 30-35′ boats would probably do just fine for us and one little boy. (Depending on the boat, of course.) We are now looking for boats in that range with one cabin/quarter berth layout or two cabin layout (which is much harder to find in older boats that size). To be honest, I was a bit shocked to see how much that downsize of 5-10 feet slashed the price tremendously. If you search yachtworld.com for boats 38-45′ in the US between $30k-$50k, you get 197 boats boats to choose from. And let me tell you, they aren’t exactly the cream of the crop most of the time. If you search 30-38′ instead, you get 757. That’s a significant difference in selection, making it much more likely for us to be able to find what we are looking for in our budget.

While we had intended to stay for 2 days of the show, winter fought back and forced us to return home early with a nasty ice storm that came through Chicago on Sunday. We didn’t want to brave the ice in my mom’s car that she let us borrow – Thanks Mom! – because my brakes went out just as we were getting to their house Friday night. (Whole story in itself.) It seems that we will have to wait until next year to get a good second day, since last year Dan spent most of the day on his back on the floor outside of the bathroom of Navy Pier or puking his guts out inside of said bathroom. Even just one day though was enough to refuel our systems until the end of the dreariness when we can start sailing and diving again.

 

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Posted on Dec 5, 2012 | 0 comments

We sold our house… now what?

Last Thursday Michele and I received the call that we had both hoped would come, but had nearly given up on… a legitimate offer on our house. The offer was over 9% less than our asking price but at least we had some action! Let me back up a bit… We had grown disheartened at the numerous showings, followed by exceptionally minimal second showings, followed by a complete lack of offers. “The street is too busy,” “loved the house,” “buyer showed interest,” “great kitchen!” were all followed by a noted lack of action on the buyers’ parts. With that in mind, you’ll understand why we were excited to get any offer (even one that was almost 10% lower than asking price). We had talked about the price and had settled on 93% as our lowest acceptable price, definitely in range for this buyer. Our goal was 97%, however. After a few tense rounds of negotiation we were able to come through with our exact goal… right on the dollar.

We now are faced with weeks of inspections, tests, and (hopefully not) the possibility of more negotiations over any requested repairs. Our house is in exceptionally good condition so any requested repairs are most likely nit-picky (that doesn’t sound biased, does it?). Thankfully we were able to get the buyer to agree that no repairs would be made as a result of these inspections.

We looked at each other once the last counteroffer was accepted and Michele said what we were both thinking, “Now what?” We had been focused so much on getting our house sold that we hadn’t thought about the actual possibility of it selling. Crazy, I know. Now we are at a cross roads. We can find an acceptable apartment for a couple hundred dollars less than we were spending on our house, providing a decent boost to our future cruising kitty. We can also purchase a “starter/rental” house and spend almost nothing, we’re talking less than a normal car payment here, per month. The second option saves money over time but is also the riskier option. We would have the opportunity of renting the house after we are done with it, or selling it and (hopefully) making a profit. There is, of course, that nagging possibility that it wouldn’t sell or sell for less than we bought it for. Either way the bottom line is we are making progress.

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