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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 Feb 27, 2013 | 0 comments

Stop Being and Start Doing

I don't think that smile could be any bigger.

I don’t think that smile could be any bigger.

Our son Carter has had an obsession with toothbrushes since he was six months old. Not trucks, helicoptors, or trains…toothbrushes. He wants to hold them and brush his teeth, carry them around the house, and he knows exactly which brush belongs to which person. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, “That kid is going to be a dentist someday.” Being a dentist would certainly not be a bad career path for my son to aspire to in the future, but my real hope would be not just that Carter would find a profession he wanted to be, but find something he loves to do. 

I believe that our culture is a little too stuck on this idea of being. I am a Mom, Engineer, Waitress, Police Officer. I want to be a Ballerina, Teacher, or Baseball Player. What if instead of aspiring to be someone, we aspire to do something instead? What do you want to do? Teach, scuba dive, sail, help people, save lives, play baseball, dance…you name it. Now, instead of trying to fit your actions into your label, just forget the label and do the actions. When you are doing what you love, who you are to other people becomes a lot less important all of the sudden.

That’s all nice and fluffy to think about, I know. What about food, and house payments, and my student loans to get that label, you say. Well, the beauty is that usually the people who are really loving what they do are the ones who are the most successful at it. And, unless what you want to do is own a fancy sports car and million dollar yacht, you probably need a lot less money than you think. So let me ask you, what do you want to do? Then go do it.

Follow your Dreams. Follow the Horizon.

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Posted on Feb 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Blue Water Boats

Not a blue water boat you say? This baby crossed the Atlantic. All 5 feet 4 inches of her.

Not a blue water boat you say? This baby crossed the Atlantic. All 5 feet 4 inches of her.

For anyone who has ever tried to get decent information on sea-worthy boats will know, it’s not exactly an easy task. As I mentioned in my post about Strictly Sail this year, searching in our new price range of below $50,000 and in the size range of 30′-40′ boats, the results are a bit overwhelming…like 3,602 results overwhelming. For some people out there who have been around sailing for a while, winnowing down that many choices to something more manageable would be no problem at all. But for us, we were at a loss. How can we figure out which of these boats would serve our family well over a considerable amount of time?

What we really needed was a good list of boats that fall into the acceptable range for durability and safety on the open ocean, aka Blue Water Boats. “No problem!”, we say, “let’s just search for blue water boats and see what we get.” Yea…right. Search that phrase and I promise you that you will find a million different opinions on every boat on the market, and that’s because the idea of a blue water boat is so subjective. There are boats that have safely crossed oceans that other cruisers wouldn’t think of using farther than 5 miles from a coastline. After doing quite a bit of research, we’ve found that our top requirements are a stable boat preferably with a full keel (though other types are still an option), as much tankage as possible for fresh water and fuel, good storage, good construction, and preferably one having 2 private cabins so that Carter can have his own space (and so can we!)

But which boats fit that description? Well, that’s where the Mahina Expeditions crew comes in. This group has a lot of experience with helping people choose cruising boats, and even does a day long seminar that we will probably attend at next year’s Stictly Sail. One of their best resources (in my opinion) is a listing of every type of boat that they consider to be blue water quality, along with information about how to distinguish different qualities of boat systems. We’ve been able to use this list to help narrow down the choices quite a bit, and have a much smaller grouping now of boats that we think would be really good for our family. It is nice to have some extra reassurance that we aren’t going to have to settle for a lesser quality boat due to our reduced budget.

Now all we have to do is wait until we can make one our new home! Its not as easy as it sounds, trust me.

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Posted on Feb 14, 2013 | 1 comment

Midweek Musings: Sacrifice

Is this worth it? We think so.

Is this worth it? We think so.

Between New Years resolutions (those that have survived this long) and the beginning of Lent, this is the time of year that everyone is trying to straighten up their act. Some people are giving things up, i.e. fast food and cigarettes, and some are adding something like a new exercise routine. Whether the change is meant to be permanent or temporary, it is always a struggle to change old habits and the way we think about them.

Most cruising and simple living literature on the market today have the same advice for people who are thinking about drastically changing their lifestyle: start small and work your way up. Can’t give up your fancy car? Start by making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks every morning. Maybe you’ll find that you didn’t miss Starbucks after all, especially when you see how much extra money is in your pocket by the end of the week. Here are just a few of the items and activities we’ll have to relinquish when we move onto a boat:

  • Cars
  • TV
  • Frequent eating out
  • Easy internet
  • Steady income
  • Family nearby
  • And many more…

Some of these things will be easier to give up for us than others, like watching TV (we don’t). But others will have a major impact on us that will be felt more acutely. I’m sure when we are walking uphill to the grocery store, the eating out and lack of a car will burn a little more (mostly in our thighs!) and it might get frustrating if we can’t find good enough wifi signal to Skype with our parents on Christmas day. So, why would we go through all of this if we have to sacrifice so much? Because we think the reward will be worth it.

If you are thinking about cruising, and even if you’re not, I would encourage you to think long and hard about what you could give up that would produce a greater reward. Spend a whole weekend without your cell phone…yea I said it, give up the cell phone. Checking Facebook every five minutes really isn’t that crucial to your survival. Try turning off the TV for a week and go to the park, read a book, or learn something new about your spouse and kids. Ride your bike or the bus to work for a month, and save the money you would have spent on gas on a weekend away (yea, you probably spend that much on gas.) You might be amazed at how much you didn’t miss the things you thought would be a sacrifice.

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Posted on Feb 7, 2013 | 0 comments

Passive Income: The New American Dream

Live on the Margin websiteWhen people, including ourselves, first start looking into cruising there is one big question that everyone wants an answer to and is for some reason difficult to find. How much is this going to cost? aka How much longer do I have to scrounge and save in this boring life before I can gtfo? Most people cruising today count on some form of savings to finance their cruising plans and once that “kitty” (as the community likes to call it) runs out, they have to stop and work either permanently or in temporary jobs until they can keep going. Pat Schulte (of Bumfuzzle fame) and Nick O’Kelly have found another solution: Live on the Margin.

Disclaimer: The book is really good, but remember trading stocks and options isn’t like gambling, it is gambling. If you read the book, follow the advice, and lose your butt, don’t blame us. We just found the book entertaining.

Pat and Nick have been traveling throughout the world for many years while making money in essentially one way: trading stocks and options in short term trades. And lucky us, they’ve written a book about it so we can all do the same thing. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Really? You want me to read a book about trading stocks? I think I’ll just go count the blades of grass in my front yard instead.” Normally, I would agree with you, but this book is easy to understand and actually funny. That’s right, I said funny. I actually laughed out loud a few times while reading it clandestinely in my cubicle. If you’ve ever wanted to learn the basics of trading without wanting to blow your brains out afterwards, this is the book for you.

Here are a couple of my personal favorite quotes from the book:

The stock market is brutally sincere when it tells you that it wants to suck every dollar out of you. The guy on the other side of the trade wants your money. He will lead you by the hand and mug you and take your money.

When describing what happens when a “celebrity” stock crashes and takes a long time to go back up:

Nobody wants to dance with the popular kid who just crapped his pants on the dance floor in front of the entire school, and that’s the problem you run into with celebrity stocks.

After reading the book I took their advice and opened an account with an online brokerage that allows you to trade fake money as if you were making real trades to help get accustomed to the ins and outs of trading before you start risking real cash. So far, I’ve learned three things from trying it out myself:

  1. I actually know nothing about stocks. I’ve had to reread parts of the book a couple of times while looking at a trading platform to figure out how to make it work.
  2. If ice in the veins is what is required for making good trades, I think I might have hot chocolate. So far, I’m waaay too reactive to little things that happen and get hyped up waiting for the market to move. This causes me to make stupid decisions and act like a member of the “anxious herd of sheep” that I’m trying to avoid being.
  3. I’m pretty sure that Dan will be the one doing all the trading in this family.

I’ll admit it, I totally suck at trading. I have yet to make any fake money in my lousy trades, but at least I’m learning and not using real cash yet. I just hope I don’t run our fake account into the ground before Dan can finish the book!

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