Category: Saving Money

Today’s topic is a little lighter. If you’re looking for a game to try out without hurting your budget, there are many “Free2Play” games out there. Since I am a Blizzard fan, I thought I’d post my thoughts on their free games Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. I’d also like to share some tips and tricks I’ve found to get the most out of the games without spending any real money. First, I’ll cover Hearthstone.

If you don’t know, Hearthstone is an online card game that pits iconic Warcraft characters against each other. You can cast spells and summon minions to reduce your opponent’s health to 0. Winning games earns you in game gold that can be spent on card packs to strengthen your deck. So, I’d like to share my tips for playing Hearthstone for free.

I tried getting into Hearthstone when the game first released, but had some trouble. The main issue was that players that had gotten into the beta had a significant advantage over new players. The beta players had months to earn in game gold and buy card packs, so new players were competing on a completely uneven playing field. This was made worse by the fact that the only way to earn gold was from actually WINNING a game against another player.

I tried again a few months ago, and still found that it was too difficult to compete with players that had been collecting cards since the game’s launch.

This all changed when the new Whispers of the Old Gods expansion came out in April. First, Blizzard decided to give away 3 packs of the new cards to all players that logged in after the launch. Second, All players received the C’Thun legendary card and 2 cards that support it, between the free packs and these cards, any player could build a deck that was capable of winning on some lucky draws. Finally, they also introduced the “Standard” game mode, that only allowed use of the most recent cards, so new players no longer had to worry about cards collected by people who have been playing through every expansion to come out.

My initial attempts for some wins in standard mode did not work out well, I had been using my old decks which really didn’t hold up. So, I instead decided to just scrap my old decks and start from scratch focusing on the new C’Thun related cards. This allowed me to get the 2 wins I needed in standard mode to get 5 more free WotOG packs. The cards in those packs propelled my decks even further and I started to feel like I had a fighting chance in a game I had always gotten crushed in.

Blizzard obviously wants to get you hooked so you’ll pay real money for packs. However, if you want to try playing for free, here are some tips:

1. Complete the Tutorial and play against the AI to level each hero to 10. Doing this will get you a good deal of packs and gold to build your collection.

2. Build a C’Thun Deck. You can do this easily with the free cards you’ve acquired up to this point, this is your best shot at getting wins as a fresh player. Those wins (in Standard mode) will get you more packs and gold to build a more robust deck. I still am using C’Thun in all of my decks because I don’t have any other legendary cards.

3. Play “Ranked” instead of “Casual.” This is completely counter-intuitive, but for some reason, the players in Casual have way better cards than the players you’ll battle in the early ranks of Ranked play. I’m not sure if it’s a match making issue, or if the really high ranked players just hop in Casual for some easy wins.

4. Try the weekly Tavern Brawls. I just found out about this today, but each week you can get a single free pack by winning a Tavern Brawl. These matches are completely different, and in some cases, you may not be at that big of a disadvantage for having a smaller card collection than the other players.

5. When you get 100 gold, save up another 50 and try the Arena Mode instead of simply buying a pack. In the Arena you construct a deck with random cards that you might not even own. There are 2 reasons for this: 1. Your card collection has no affect on the deck you build, so you have a better chance of completing your daily quests. 2. You will always get a card pack at the end, but if you get enough wins (and refer back to the first point here) you will also get some bonus gold and goodies.

Next, I’ll tell you all about my favorite of these 2 free games: Heroes of the Storm!

This year should look very different to you investors than the past few. In the past few months we’ve seen a couple big dips in the market, and you may be starting to worry. It’s an emotion we haven’t had to deal with for some time. Until recent weeks, there was little fear involved with entering new investments which made things pretty easy. This is the time that will show your true colors.

I firmly believe in my Buy Smart Never Sell mantra. If you are investing regularly and intelligently through this year, you will do better in the long run than if you panic even the slightest. Am I predicting a crash? No. Am I predicting a rebound? No. I am predicting that nobody knows what the future holds. If you’re making speculative trades that you hope to make 10-20% gains within a year, this is the wrong blog for you anyways!

Here’s why I believe you should stop worrying and continue your strategy, you will win in every scenario that you don’t sell.

Scenario 1: The market rebounds, by not selling you haven’t lost a single thing, and probably made more money, huzzah!

Scenario 2: Bear Market, by not selling, you don’t realize any losses, your dividends are reinvested at a discount speeding up the compounding process, you continue to buy great companies at a discount as well. Maybe it takes a year or 2, but the market WILL eventually come back to where it was and you’ve made even more money by continuing to invest and reinvest.

Scenario 3: It’s just choppy for a year with no major gains or losses, you pick up deals where you can, and presumable this will be followed by scenario 1 or 2.

Scenario 4: Armageddon. All money becomes worthless and you’re no better or worse off than anyone else because society is collapsing and your new worry is finding beans and gathering weapons to fight zombies. Haven’t you always wanted to fight zombies?

The media gets its jollies by preying on your fears, but the truth is you have nothing to fear if you stick to your strategy (except maybe the zombies, especially if they’re the fast kind).

This isn’t to say you won’t get stressed out seeing your portfolio drop double digit percentages. It will be hard to stay strong and do the right thing, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded.

Stay strong investors!

So, as much as I hate to, I need to keep myself accountable for the goals I set last year. Let me start by saying “GOOD RIDDANCE” to 2015. This was a rough year, so while I didn’t achieve my goals, I still feel like I gave a valiant effort given the circumstances.

2015 Goals Review

1. Achieve 50% savings rate for one month
To be honest, I’m not sure if we did this or not. We might have had a month where our expenses were only 50% of our income, but for the most part, 2015 was a rough year with many unexpected expenses. Believe it or not, December was a really good month for us, so I’m going to call this one a “Maybe” because any success would have been offset by other terrible months.

2. Save $18,000
Not even close. However, we slightly changed this goal half way through the year to be me maxing out my IRA contribution (which I ended the year $1000 short) and paying off my wife’s student loans. We haven’t fully achieved those goals either, so this is still a fail.

3. Try cooking a new healthy dish every month
I experimented a little in the kitchen, but really didn’t achieve this goal to its entirety. I’m beginning to feel a lot like the person that makes their goals and doesn’t follow through on them, but I honestly did put in a reasonable effort throughout the year.

4. Lose 10 pounds by June
I’m pretty sure I didn’t achieve this in June (or since). However, I did successfully establish the healthy habit of working out every morning before work. There is the possibility that I have lost 10 pounds of fat throughout the year, but I’m still pretty heavy. I did a lot of experimenting throughout the year on portion sizes and workouts, and I believe I have the ammunition to make this goal a reality going forward (holidays excluded). So I’m still going to call this a pseudo-success, because while I didn’t lose the weight, I have establish habits and have a plan that I know works going forward.

2016 Goals

Now, it’s time to outline my goals for 2016. I have a good feeling about this year.

1. Save $15,000 in our Joint Account
Last year, I had a lofty savings goal, and life required that I change that. This year, our goal is a little more reasonable. It will still take work to achieve this, but I think this will be a good year. This means saving an average of $1250 per month, which should be quite achievable on our usual budget. A lot of the big stressful expenses of 2015 are behind us, so 2016 should be a good year.

2. Break $600 in annual passive income
If I’m sticking to my valuation standards and achieve the $15,000 goal, this one should be easy. This will mean we’ll have an average of $50 per month in dividends, and that will continue to grow.

3. Try a new brown bag lunch every month
I have been making burritos for lunch for the past year, and in the interest of variety, I’d like to try some different options. This is basically the same goal as last year. I’ll also be cutting portion sizes and making changes to lose some fat in 2016.

4. Reach a zero margin balance in my personal investing account.
I have been doing more speculative trading lately than I should be, and I’ve been risking money I don’t have by using margin debit. My goal for this year is to cut that crap out, and either inject more cash, or sell the speculative trades to bring down my margin debit. This is basically a gambling problem backed by debt, and I’m getting to old for that kind of behavior. It only started being a problem last year, and I’m looking to make that the end of it too.

5. Place in the top 500 in a Diablo 3 Season for one class.
At the end of the last season, I reached rank 846 on the Hardcore Crusader leaderboard. In 2016, I want to finish a season in the top 500 on the hardcore leaderboard for whichever class seems the most fun. The first season will start on January 15, but I’m going to miss a few key weekends, so I’m aiming for the second season of the year, most likely starting in April.

This is my favorite time of year. During the holidays, everyone is hawking their gift cards. Including my favorite local eatery: Taco Bell. This year, their deal is a large drink and 2 supreme doritos locos tacos for free when you buy a $20 gift card.

This is one of my favorite techniques. I get to rack up some extra points/miles/cash back on my credit cards, some free food, and a gift card I will absolutely use. That last part is especially fun in January where it looks like I spent a lot less than I did.

‘Tis the season to keep an eye out for deals on the things you enjoy regularly. I am not condoning taking advantage of a deal just for the sake of the deal. If it’s not something you already would have spent money on, you’re falling for their trap. So be smart, but take advantage of the opportunity this season provides.

This is a Guest Post from my friend over at BeerNBling.com.

I met Kevin about a year ago. We both work for the same company and became friends over our common interest in living a frugal lifestyle, investing, and just general shit talking.

In 2013 I started dabbling in dividend stocks. Although my portfolio is in its infancy, I’m doing better than most single women in their 30’s. Between my Roth IRA (which I started in my 20’s), my 401k (which I also started in my 20’s), my rental property (that I’ve owned since 2006) and my E-trade account (recently created in 2013), I’m hoping to retire well below the current median age of 62.

As I mentioned before, Kevin and I have a few other common interests, one that includes my real passion, beer.

I moved to Seattle almost 2 years ago and shortly after began a mission to visit all breweries in the state of Washington. As of August 2015, I’m up to 59 and counting. In addition to touring local craft breweries, I home-brew and started a mostly beer blog called beernbling.com. I am a gemologist by trade and the blog includes pictures and reviews of the breweries I visit, food and beer pairing suggestions, fun interviews with fellow beer lovers, links to local beer events, random beer related shenanigans that can’t be categorized and last but not least, bling. Seattle is an amazing city with a strong craft beer and art culture. I am never short of content. In fact my writing struggles to keep up with my activities.

So, how does drinking beer relate to living a frugal lifestyle? Well, beer is my main hobby and what I choose to categorize as my entertainment budget. I rarely spend money on going out to eat. I make my lunch and other daily meals. I have little need for things since I’m living in a relatively small 553 sq. ft. apartment just outside of Seattle. I don’t own a car and have a short 10-minute bus commute to work. I have no debt other than the mortgage of the rental property. I make it a point to live below my means. This affords me the ability to save for retirement while enjoying my beer drinking and brewery tours. Did I mention I’m flying out to Denver this September to attend the Great American Beer Fest (GABF)!

To give you an idea of my monthly beer expenses, let’s take a look back at the first three months of the year where I spent a total of $292.66 on beer related activities. This averages to less than $100 a month. There are many different sources one can reference on the subject of entertainment expenses, including the definition, but on average sources agree, Americans spend approx. $2500/year in this budget category. This equates to a little more than $200/month.

In the month of January I spent a total of $91.99 on beer, which included 6 new brewery visits and a few happy hours.

In the month of February I spent $80.17 on beer, which included 2 new brewery visits, a couple beer tasting at a local bottle shop, and the purchase of a growler from one of the breweries.

In the month of March I spent $120.50 on beer, which included 3 brewery visits, a trip to a bottle shop for some unique beer purchases plus tastings and finally celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with co-workers for happy hour. Yes, I did pick up the tab.

It is possible to drink great beer on a small budget. Here are a few ways I make it happen.

Flights
If you’re like me and want to try everything a new brewery has to offer, check out their tasting flights. Flights are a relatively inexpensive way to try many different beers. Most flights include 3-5oz pours and range from $1-$2 per sample. Many breweries have set tasting trays. For example No Li Brewery has their “Usual Suspects” sampler which includes 6- 4oz tasters for $7.

Bottle Shops and Brewer’s Nights
The weekly tasting at The Beer Junction bottle shop in West Seattle that I attend every Thursday night costs between $4-$5 each evening. The tastings consist of 5-6 different 4-oz samples and feature a different craft brewery each week or sometimes a theme (such as Belgian Beer Week). Check local bars for their Brewer’s nights which have similar events with discounted tastings.

Event Nights
Many breweries also have special weekly discounted event nights such as “Tuesday Nights – Enjoy $6 Growler Fills.” A growler is equivalent to 64oz (a six pack is approx. 72 ounces for comparison). With a $6 growler, that’s less that $0.10/oz.  

Happy Hour
Also, don’t forget to check out local bars for their happy hour selections. A local Seattle bar, J&M Cafe offers 50% off happy hour beers (which makes most of their pints $2.50-$3.00 each) and they have a decent selection of some local craft beers as well as the usual suspects that consist of Stella, Bud Light, Miller, Guinness, Manny’s and Mac & Jacks African Amber. A pint is equivalent to 16 ounces. Pretty inexpensive way to socialize with coworkers. I also happen to be a slow drinker and can enjoy two pints within the short happy hour discount window.

Rewards Programs
If you’re a regular, check on rewards programs or Mug Clubs at local breweries and bottle shops.

Beer Fests
Another great way to enjoy lots of beer. On average these festivals range from $20-$40. If you purchase early some events offer discounted tickets or extra tasting tokens. One of my favorite events in Seattle is the Bacon and Beer Classic. The ticket price was a little higher than most beer fests at $59/ticket. But this event included all you can eat (delicious bacon inspired treats and appetizers hosted by 31 different restaurants) and beer (with 50 different breweries on tap) once inside the venue.

Trivia Nights
Trivia Nights at local pubs – Check out your local watering hole for event nights. These usually offer discounted drinks and chances to win free beer or prizes.

Free Beer Tours
Many Breweries offer tours that are free or really inexpensive. Mac N Jacks Brewery offers free beer tours. The tour includes free tastings and a commemorative pint glass. Red Hook Brewery offers their brewery tour for $5, which includes 5 tastings and a free commemorative pint glass.

Kegerators!!!
I have a friend that has a kegerator for home use. When it’s time to refill the keg, I will tag along for the tastings. Many breweries offer free tastings if they know you are purchasing a keg. Not only do I get to drink for free and sample each beer, but I have the very important and difficult job of helping to make the next selection.

Beer Blogs
Follow beer blogs for listing of other local events, giveaways for beer fest tickets and other fun and free beer related happenings. Here are some of my favorite in Washington: WABL, Washington Beer Blog & Seattle Beer News.

Don’t forget Pub Crawls
These events will be similar to a Beer Fest with either tickets to the crawl or discounted drink selection for those participating.

This is the first in a series of posts on Frugal advice. I haven’t had a lot of excess money to invest lately, so I figured I could share some strategies for a frugal lifestyle. I hope you find my insights helpful.

For those who aren’t in the marketing industry, I just want to take a moment to share a trend that marketers are using as an excuse to overcharge you. This can apply to anything from plumbing services to retail video games.

The key phrase to watch out for is when someone starts talking about “the value they provide.” I used to work for a company as a developer for less than $15 per hour who resold my skills to clients for $175 per hour. These clients would often end up spending hundreds of dollars to have minor text changes and image changes on their websites. The company charged this much because of “the value provided” by these services.

The source of this phrase is from one of the world’s most renowned consultants, Alan Weiss, and his book “Value Based Fees” (Affiliate Amazon Link). The thesis of the book is to charge fees based on the value that you perceive your clients/customers will attribute to your goods/service as opposed to your cost times a multiplier, or a fee that is competitive in the industry.

If a good or service is actually unique and superior, this pricing and marketing method is justified. However, 90% of the time in a competitive market, the quality to price ratio (what most people would call value) of the goods/service is on par with the rest of their industry. When someone starts talking about “the value” they provide, they’re usually trying to convince you that the quality of the goods or service is higher than reality to justify the price. Additionally, if they’re literally using the word “value,” it’s because they can’t think of anything that actually makes them stand out to provide that boost of quality. At this point, you’re paying more so that you can fund their marketing team and sales people, and not for anything you will actually receive.

If you understand the goods/service you’re seeking, and your initial reaction is that something is over-priced, you’re not wrong. Find another provider, and get a competitive quote. A service provider who is passionate about providing excellent service, and is willing to do what is necessary to make you a happy customer, doesn’t need to tell you about “the value” they provide. It will be obvious.

If you’re being sold to, you’re also going to be charged for that sales process.

We all want to be happier. This is a fact of life. The inalienable rights of all people include “the pursuit of happiness” along with life and liberty, according to the Declaration of Independence. In “The Pursuit of Happiness” (2006), Will Smith’s character mentions that it’s interesting the founding fathers chose the wording “pursuit of happiness” implying that not everyone can actually achieve happiness. The problem with our culture is that advertising has brainwashed us to think that “the pursuit of stuff” is the same thing as “the pursuit of happiness.” This confusion leads us on paths that have the opposite effect. While we think the new car / tv / video game will bring us happiness, we’re making ourselves miserable by spending long hours away from the ones we love.

Working at a job you enjoy or running your own business will hopefully lower the suffering in your pursuit. However, no matter what you do for the money, there’s always something you’d rather be doing, or people you’d rather be spending time with.

This brings me to the subject of frugality. While attempting to be frugal, you will still be miserable if you do not change your thinking. The desire of material goods causes suffering, and the happiness of getting what you want passes quickly. So if being frugal means never getting that fleeting happiness even though you are still suffering from the desire, you will be even further from happiness.

Happiness is a state of mind, which means no material object will will sustain it. You need to learn to be happy with what you have instead of what you wish you had.

I challenge you to cut your budget to the bone for a month, or even a week. This exercise will remind you of what you NEED. It will also teach you what you do with your free time, which may guide you to what makes you happy.

As a gamer, I have historically always had a game or two on the horizon that I was looking forward to. This reached its peak in 2012, and it made that year miserable for me. Lately, I’ve been focusing my time on the games I already own, many of which have free online play.

So far, this has been a rough year for me. There have been a lot of big expenses that were neither frivolous nor fun, but on the other hand, they would have been even more painful if I wasn’t already so frugal.

Disclaimer: First thing’s first, I’m the realest. I’m also not a financial adviser, so anything I say here is just my opinion, and you’re responsible for your own money and returns.

With that out of the way, My goals for this year have changed recently. Some back story: My wife has student loans that are small enough that they could be paid off within a year. In the past, I had been of the opinion that the interest rates on the loans were low enough, that we would do better by making the minimum payments and continuing to invest in dividend stocks. Over time, the growth of the stocks and dividends would offset the expense of these minimum payments on the loans.

However, these loans are becoming a bigger burden than the money they represent. In the past few years, my wife has changed her name, and we’ve moved across the country. These changes, are causing the debt collector to start pestering my wife and her family for information on a regular basis. She makes her payments on time and consistently every month, so this behavior is completely unwarranted. As a result, this small amount of debt is creating a disproportionate amount of stress to her and her family.

So, we’ve decided that instead of trying to reach our goal of saving $18,000 this year, we will make an effort to 1) pay off her student loans, and 2) contribute $5,500 to my Roth IRA.

I traditionally make all of my investments in a taxable brokerage account, so this may sound a bit surprising that I would be making this change. I decided that there might come a day that I regret not taking advantage of the yearly contribution limits. Or so I thought…

My retirement strategy is to live off of dividend income from my investments. Dividends have favorable tax treatment, if your income puts you in the 10% or 15% income tax brackets, qualified dividends are taxed at 0%. Non-qualified dividends are taxed at the same rate as your income.

“What’s a qualified dividend?”
A qualified dividend is a dividend received for a stock you’ve owned 60 days before and 60 days after (without selling) the ex-dividend date. So, if I buy JNJ today, and it’s ex-dividend date is in 60 days, if I don’t sell those shares for another 121 days, that dividend will be taxed as a qualified dividend.

This is important because it means whether I put my money in a taxable brokerage account or a Roth IRA, they will both be taxed at 0%. Since I don’t plan on selling, I don’t care about the difference in capital gains tax. (This is all on the assumption that my income in retirement is under the cut off between 15% and 25% income tax rates, and that these rules are maintained)

I’ve already made 1 contribution to my Roth IRA, and now I regret it, because I’ve put limits on the usefulness of that money, with no benefit.

Instead, I will be putting the rest of my contributions in a traditional IRA, because I’m currently in a higher tax bracket than I would be in retirement.

What about you? Are you maxing out your Roth IRA, IRA, or avoiding them all together?

Before I get yelled at by people that can’t take a joke, the title is a joke.

Happy New Years!

Before I share our goals for 2015, it’s time to look back on 2014. It was a big year, and didn’t go exactly as planned.

The first and most important factor to bare in mind is that we bought a house. I had been planning to make this move in at least another year or 2, but the housing market here and the cost of living is raising fairly rapidly, and I believe locking down a deal now is going to pay off in the future. I view buying a house as a necessary liability, it’s like acquiring a rental property, but ensuring that your tenant is the best tenant you could ever hope for. I’ve written about my opinion on buying a home as your primary residence here. Unfortunately, this month it feels like more of a liability since we need to make a repair to the chimney.

The next important factor that made the home buying possible, was getting a new job. My job has been a great improvement in my quality of life, both financially as well as emotionally. My previous job was bringing me nothing but stress and frustration, so getting this new position was a huge win.

All of these big transitions made it difficult to keep up the blog, but I have no regrets.

Now, down to business: the 2014 goals.

1. Cut expenses in January. At the end of 2013, we were not in an ideal financial situation due to extra expenses regarding the ’98 Jeep, and the upcoming weddings and bachelor party. We ate really cheaply and relied on gift cards in January, and as a result, we were back on track by early March. So I think this one turned out to be a success.

2. Save $20,000. Through the entire year, we were able to save about $14,500, and most of that came out to go towards the down payment on the house anyways. I think we made a valiant effort for everything that happened this year, but in the end, I must call this a failure. Some big factors here had to do with a month of rent overlap, and extra money that went to the down payment and never got a chance to be invested.

3. forward monthly dividend income of $50. Based on a rough calculation, the average monthly dividend yield from the total of our 2014 investments (had we not sold for the down payment) would be less than $50. So since we failed the savings goal, it stands to reason that this goal would also not be met.

I don’t want to beat myself up too much over only achieving 1 out of 3 goals, because this year has been fantastic and rewarding. However, 2015 should be a lot more tame and thus it should be easier to pull off some decent goals.

1. Another cheap January. We’re in a much better financial situation this year, but we’re also experiencing some lifestyle inflation with the new job. We don’t eat out too much, but I think taking a month to get back to the basics well benefit us. I think this kind of financial reset is very helpful to staying on track for the rest of the year. At some point this year, I want to achieve a month where expenses only take up 50% of our income leaving the rest to be saved. Unfortunately, we have a substantial repair bill on the horizon for our chimney, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make a new investment this month.

2. Save $18,000. After getting a dose of reality in 2014, and the before mentioned lifestyle creeping, I’m dialing back the savings goal to something more reasonable. This goal means we’ll need to save about $1500 each month. Assuming the holiday months might make this more difficult, it might be good to shoot for $2000 on good months, so there is some flexibility on the expensive months.

3. Try cooking a new healthy dish every month. I have a habit of relying on my old standby for dinner, tacos. If I want to improve my health and happiness, I will benefit from expanding my menu. Which leads me to goal number 4.

4. Lose 10 pounds by June. My 30th birthday is coming up in June, and I’d like to be in decent shape before the big day. I plan to workout and eat healthy to get my weight down to under 200 pounds.

So this is what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2015. What goals are you setting?

As 2014 is coming to an end, now is an excellent time to take a good look at our current status and our goals for next year. In a recent article, I said I was going to rededicate myself to transparency. So I’m going to take this opportunity to share the current holdings in the account I track on this blog.

This is my joint account with my wife, and we’re hoping to use the dividends from this account to become financially independent. This is what it looks like (Ticker – shares – annual dividends paid):

BP – 50 shares – $120.00 per year
CVX – 9 shares – $38.52 per year
MCD – 11 shares – $37.40 per year

My goal going forward is to share the new stock purchases I make as I make them.

I had some yearly goals for 2014 that I will talk about in another post closer to New Years Eve. However, there are some other goals I want to start tracking here for both short and long term. These are kind of milestones, but could also be though of as achievements in a video game.

Goals:

– Save 50% of our joint income for at least one month (in other words, keeping our expenses below 50%).
– $500 forward annual dividend income
– $1200 forward annual dividend income ($100 per month average)
– Own 10 companies
– Own 20 companies

These goals are obviously not massive in scope, but they are the targets I want to achieve on my way to financial independence. It’s unlikely I will achieve all of them in the coming year, so these goals do not have deadlines. However, it will keep me on track to how how much closer to each goal I am with each purchase that I track here.