How to use fewer and healthier chemicals in the home

Well, well.  Look what the cat dragged in.  If it isn’t your old pal (nemesis?) FG ROI.  A lot has changed since my last post nearly 6 months ago, but I’m back, at least temporarily (see… I promised to update still from time-to-time).

Most importantly, the big change in my life is that, assuming all goes according to plan, my wife and I are expecting a little girl (!) in early September.

And like most first-time well-to-do western parents, I get a vague sense that we’re hyper-obsessing already.  Along those lines, one of the first things we tried to do after we found out was to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in our household, food, and personal care products.

Portland jokes aside, there is good reason to do this.  For example, one of the first things we heard from our maternity center’s nutritionist (PhD) was that we should try to avoid most all plastic food products.  And it’s not just BPA; the BPA replacements are turning out to be just as bad, especially for babies and kids, where the effects of toxic endocrine disruptors get amplified during development.

glass bottles
glass and stainless steel bottles are the way to go

Read moreHow to use fewer and healthier chemicals in the home

Happy hour at the stock market

Happy Hour Neon Sign

Here in Portland, OR, we have our fair share of happy hours.  I don’t go to them so much anymore, but the general idea is that restaurants or bars will offer discounted food and drinks to fill seats during slow business hours.   The great thing about happy hours from a customer perspective is that you get more value for your money.  It’s a sale on food and alcohol… what isn’t to like?

The same can be said for the stock market as well.  Stocks can be expensive, and stocks can be cheap.  You want to buy when stocks are cheap and sell (or just maybe buy less) when they get expensive.  The goal of getting a good deal on stocks is called value investing, and trying to buy when stocks are cheap and sell when they are expensive is called market timing.

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Finding a better job

paper clips

Last week I wrote about how much easier it is for people with above-average incomes to retire early.  For people with low-to-average incomes, it takes significantly longer.

After optimizing expenses as best as possible, it makes sense to also chase higher incomes, particularly for those that don’t already make a killing as it is.

Here’s the thing though, it’s not all about money and escaping the rat race.  Money is simply a means to an end, not an end in-and-of itself.

Some people LOVE the rat race.  For these people, work might be more like a joyful daily stroll through Candyland.  And as long as work is fairly secure for the long-run, it doesn’t make much sense for the Candyland crowd to sacrifice on spending so they can retire early.  They might as well keep doing what they love.

Candyland
hey, hey!… just kickin it! (credit: John Morgan)

Read moreFinding a better job

ETFs vs. mutual funds

fruit stand

Previously, I showed how low-cost, passive mutual funds can save you money versus actively managed funds that try to beat the market.  And in this post, I am here to tell you that ETFs can accomplish the same thing, and maybe even do it better.

Giving credit where credit is due, this article wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t come across Green Stream Money’s post about the difference between ETFs and mutual funds.  Granted, I was already aware of a few differences, but I wasn’t aware that for a lot of people, ETFs can be even cheaper than low-cost mutual funds.

As info, both ETFs and mutual funds are simply bundles of publicly traded securities, such as stocks and bonds.  So instead of buying a bunch of individual stocks and bonds, you can just buy a group of them that someone else has already picked out.  And clarifying the distinction between active and passive funds, active funds generally try to beat the overall market by hand-picking certain securities they think will grow quicker, while passive funds simply seek to approximate overall market returns, which is a lot easier to do.

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Cutting your own hair to save money

cut your own hair
dapper dan probably pays for this ‘do

Man, I am impressed with the middle gentleman’s good-looking beard/mustache/hair combo. But that is beside the point.

Today’s post is about saving money by cutting your own hair (I apologize for the short hiatus, but I was celebrating the end of my third decade with family).  I’ll cut to the chase and say it can be done, but it probably isn’t your best bet for putting a little extra cash in the bank.

This post will focus mostly on men because my wife assures me that very few women would be willing to cut their own hair and that I would be ridiculed for suggesting as much (but I will still drop a financial summary for the curious).

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Cutting the cord: getting rid of cable

game of thrones

Cable should go, but Jon Snow should definitely keep Ygritte around.

Some thoughts and background

The average american apparently pays upwards of $50 per month for their cable television package.  But we wouldn’t know in our household because we stopped that ish a long time ago.

First, cable television is a dying business, albeit a behemoth.  According to MarketWatch, cable television advertising revenues are about 30-60x higher than online video advertising.  So it might take a while, but eventually this giant is going to fall.  Each year it becomes more and more apparent that online video is the future.

Netflix is publishing original content, ESPN has an online-only subscription.  Many people’s favorite shows are now available for free on Hulu.  Not to mention bit-torrent downloads and pop-up streaming sites.  Needless to say, you don’t have to look very far to see what direction things are headed.  As politicians say, you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history.

The earlier you jump off this sinking ship, the better.  Prices are going to keep going up, customer service is going to get worse, and compared to the growing number of online choices out there, you options are probably going to shrink as well.  And that’s just the qualitative argument.

Now for the numbers.

Read moreCutting the cord: getting rid of cable

Cut your monthly bills, the easy way

Abstract:

Having professional bill hagglers (billcutterz to be precise) negotiate lower rates on your behalf is a no-brainer, especially because they don’t charge anything unless you save money.  The average amount of money to be saved is estimated to be $3,000 every 10 years, and that is after they take their cut.

If you fancy yourself an especially adept haggler, however, you might be able to recoup even more on your own, somewhere in excess of $6,000 every 10 years.  Just don’t get too confident, because companies aren’t always afraid to call your bluff or lose you (I know from recent experience).

Read moreCut your monthly bills, the easy way

The cost advantages of making your own coffee

coffee and cookies
in honor of mardi gras (even if the beignets(?) are a little overdone!)

Today’s post is about saving money by brewing your own coffee.  I will cut to the chase and tell you that you can save over $5,000 every 10 years by making your own coffee.  But if you are one of those softies that likes milk in their coffee (or even worse, coffee in your milk!), you might only save $4,000 instead (still not too shabby!).

Mmmmm, coffee.  I love the culture and ritual associated with drinking coffee and coffee shops.  Even at home, I think of lazy sunday mornings with the newspaper or a good book, listening to jazz, it is drizzling outside, dog is resting on your lap.  Or on a beach vacation, sitting on your porch with some fresh fruit, basking in the rays of the rising sun.  Or maybe battling a mild hangover at brunch with your friends waiting for the blue plate special, possibly laying the foundation for a hair-of-the-dog bloody mary.  I even get nostalgic about holiday coffee, after big dinners with the family, before bundling up and heading out of the warm camaraderie for a star-lit stroll.  Can you tell I like coffee??

Read moreThe cost advantages of making your own coffee

Should you carbonate your own soda?

strawberry cocktails
strawberry summer refresher = seltzer + homemade strawberry syrup preserves

It’s starting to get hot here in Portland (read: upper 70’s), which means creek swimming holes, cold beers, and refreshing cocktails are in order.  At my house we tend to default to vodka + soda water cocktails.  Sometimes we leave the alcohol out because bubbly water tastes good on its own.  We usually add a splash of lemon juice to both varieties, and when we’re feeling really fancy we’ll add homemade syrups like in the picture above.

Carbonated water (club soda, seltzer water, mineral water, soda water, etc.) cocktails are great because they can be pretty cheap, they are super refreshing and clean, they don’t upset your stomach, they’re low-calorie, they don’t give you bad of hangovers, and they’re very versatile from a flavor perspective.

As I mentioned above, vodka is our traditional mixer for club soda cocktails because even the cheap stuff tastes decent.  Sobieski is our go-to and we can get a 750-ml bottle for less than ten dollars usually.  Compare this to a six-pack of craft beer at about the same price or a medium-cheap bottle of wine at around ten dollars too.  A six-pack of beer is literally six standard drinks, while a bottle of wine is closer to five.  Guess how many drinks are in a fifth (750-ml) of 80-proof vodka… 17!!  Paaarrtaaay!  Haha.

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Car commuting: a bad proposition – part 2

mass transit interior
catch up on your blog reading instead of sitting in traffic

Part 2: The Fair-weather Commuter

Riding in cars can be really fun and convenient, especially on a sunny 70-degree day with the windows down and the music loud, but you will pay dearly for that privilege.  In part 1 of the car commuting series, I looked at the ROI of getting rid of your car based on various assumptions.  The most extreme scenario, which consisted of riding your bike instead of driving and accruing some life-extending benefits along the way was worth $260,000 over 10 years.  This is over 5 years of work for the typical American!  We are talking 50+% of your career here just by riding a bike instead of owning and commuting in a car!

But even with these jaw-dropping numbers, not everyone will want to nor be able to get rid of their car completely.  Maybe the weather is ridiculously bad or you just can’t give up the kicks of taking shortcuts through the really hoity-toity neighborhoods playing vaguely menacing music on your way home from work… who am I to judge?!  I am not here to judge, but simply to inform and spread the FI love.  So in this post, part 2 of the car commuting series, the expected finale in the series for the time being, I looked at the same three scenarios but assumed that you would keep your car and just use it half as often.  That is a pretty generous assumption, but the numbers are still very impressive and show that alternative forms of transportation are still big money savers even if you can’t utilize them all the time.  For example, splitting your commute time between biking and car commuting is worth about $115,000 or 2+ years of work every 10 years for the average American household…

Read moreCar commuting: a bad proposition – part 2