Money To Live

August 17, 2013

Create money to live

Hmmmmmm… I sat down to write this blog post at my usual schedule. Ideas popped in, but none flowed into writing. I willingly spent a few hours procrastinating. I reminded myself, as any writer knows, that you just have to do it.


Today’s blog message is simply this: to create money to live, you just have to create money to live. Do you know how to earn more money? Do you know how to save more money? Do you know how you can improve the quality of (the value you experience from) your money? Go create money to live!


July 7, 2013

Grow your own

Filed under: cost analysis,home,savings,simplify — by moneyconsciously @ 11:20 am

Assuming an already-established garden spot, i.e. neglecting start-up infrastructure, growing your own fruit and vegetables can be extremely cost effective.

Arugula / rocket lettuce: Half a dozen healthy plants in the garden provided my salads every day or every second day. Cost of seedlings: ~$4. Cost of arugula: $8/month. Savings: $4 in the first month, then $8/month.

Kale: I’ve just planted kale and estimate at least the above savings.

Kumquats: A mature tree in citrus season produces a lot of fruit! Cost of a small tree: ~$10. Cost of a jar of marmalade or relish: ~$5. Savings over three jars/year for five years: ~$65.

Herbs: A variety of herbs can be used for garnishes, flavour, sauces… Cost of four varieties of herb seedlings: ~$15. Cost of one store-bought fresh herb per month over a year: ~$30. Savings: ~$15.

Sweet potato: When a sweet potato in the kitchen started sprouting, I sliced off the sprouting piece and nurtured it. Cost of starter slip: free. Cost of half a dozen sweet potatoes: >$5. Savings: >$5.

Gardening can be yummy, fresh and cheap!

January 23, 2013

Relaxing: spending and saving

Filed under: budgeting,savings,simplify — by moneyconsciously @ 11:35 am

[You might also be interested in Money To Live’s post on the Costs associated with working full time.]

Recently a friend asked me: how do you manage to travel more and work less?

Over a cup of tea, we agreed that work could be a stressor. When we responded to work demands by feeling stressed, we both tended to spend more money either to relax or save time. My friend relaxed by going out; she spent her money on drinks, clubbing and taxis. I spent more money on eating out and going to cafes. With more money coming in, we worried less about spending the extra cash…even though the little things added up over time.

When I am relaxed or not working, my lifestyle is different. I entertain myself (and others) in different ways: I spend more time at home, I cook more. I spend less, I save more. Rather than working more to spend more in ways that I don’t actually prefer, currently I am choosing to relax, spend money more consciously and formally work less.

October 15, 2012

Read the Fine Print

Filed under: banks,investments,savings — by moneyconsciously @ 9:38 am

We all know we should read the fine print. But how many of us actually do read the fine print…and does it make a difference?

After reaching my savings goal, I planned to close a savings account. I wanted to use the funds, and I did not want to be charged the withdrawal fee. Since I was not planning to use the account again within the coming months, closing the entire account seemed a fair solution.

My bank assistant recommended that I simply withdraw the funds instead of closing the account, insisting — even after I expressed doubt about withdrawal fees — that I could do so without penalty.

I went home and checked the account terms and conditions. For my account situation, there was indeed a fee. If I had not read the fine print earlier, I would have followed the advice of the bank assistant and been charged this fee.

Reading the fine print ahead of time saved me money.

September 19, 2012

Clothes Swap

Filed under: entertainment,philanthropy,savings,spending — by moneyconsciously @ 12:13 pm

A friend organised a clothes swap. She collected friends’ clothing items that were ready for a new home; sorted and hung them on racks; and hosted a party during which we could try on and buy clothes at $1 per piece. We all left with ‘new’ pieces of clothing, donated the remaining clothing, and raised over $300 for charity.

I acquired a year’s wardrobe for $20. My new wardrobe included: professional workwear and dress items, all still in good condition, that would have normally cost a hundred times more; clothing experiments that I might normally not have tried at retail price; and a few frivolous extras just for fun.

This was a great win-win. Apart from enjoying a good spring clean and a good party, we saved money ourselves and raised money for charity.

August 16, 2012

Pet-sitting and House-sitting

Filed under: home,savings,travel — by moneyconsciously @ 3:25 am

Do your friends enjoy vacation? Great! Do they have plans for taking care of their pets, garden, mail, car or home while they are away? Perhaps you can be of service…

Over a one year period, I committed to approximately half a year of pet-sitting and house-sitting. In exchange for taking excellent care of my friends’ pets and homes, I lived rent-free. Without my own home, I eliminated my home rent expenses whilst on extended travels. In experiencing different home environments and housewares, a try-before-you-buy opportunity that informs my purchasing decisions, I will save money in the future too.

My friends saved money on board for their pets (who stayed stress-free at home). They received continuous maintenance of their home, garden, car and mail. They didn’t worry about the unexpected, including fixing damage after a storm or replacing low batteries in a fire alarm.

Pet-sitting and house-sitting arrangements can be a fabulous win-win. Collectively my friends and I saved money on rent, pet board and maintenance expenses. Plus, my friends enjoyed their vacation with peace of mind.

February 6, 2012

Secret Savings

Filed under: family finances,savings — by moneytolive @ 8:22 pm

Some people stash money away secretly from a partner, but that’s not what I mean by secret savings. I’m talking about keeping it a secret from yourself. My mom and my husband both do it; I don’t.

As a girl, I remember my mom showing me her check register and how she rounded up every withdrawal a little bit. That way, there was always extra money in the account.

Hubby R has two secret stashes, at different locations. One of his stashes is in a CD and would cover 3 months of minimal living expenses, but it’s not allowed to be counted as part of our emergency fund. I think of it as his "Knight in shining armor fund." If our finances completely collapse (not likely), he can ride in on a white horse to save the day. His other secret stash is the "zombie attack fund." It’s about 3 weeks worth of living expenses stored in cash at a secure, alarmed location.

Despite these two accounts being "secret," I include them in our monthly net worth statement. Each month, R reminds me that these don’t count and that I’m supposed to forget about them. I laugh.

October 25, 2011

Four ways I track our finances

Filed under: budgeting,goals,net worth,savings — by moneytolive @ 1:36 am

Cash flow: MS Money

MS Money essentially provides an electronic checkbook register. Though Microsoft has stopped releasing new editions of money, the Sunset Edition still works fine. I plan to keep using it until either my banks stop exporting files in a compatible format or the Windows operating system gets too fancy to open the program.

I use the register to plan out our finances for the next several months. Right now, our major transactions are entered through the end of 2011: paychecks, mortgage payment, typical bills and expenses. A few times a year, I plan out our income/expenses for 3-6 months. On a weekly basis, I download all bank transactions, reconcile the accounts, and look ahead at the next few weeks in detail.

Net worth/ goal tracking: Excel

Once a month, I review all of our accounts and update a spreadsheet to track our net worth and goals. The results are aggregated and compared against the past. I print out two summary pages to show R. Sometimes he looks at them; sometimes he asks for a thumbs up/down summary.

Mortgage payments: Excel

While the mortgage is part of my monthly review of our finances, I track it in a separate Excel spreadsheet. This way, I can play with making extra payments to see how the payoff date changes.


For a long time, I did not tracking our spending by category. In part, this was due to laziness, and in part, I didn’t want to know. I don’t need it verified that I spend $150-$200 per month at coffee shops. Seattle is the home of Starbucks, you know.

Since we’ve done a lot around the house, I flag all home-related purchases in MS Money. We saved up and have money set aside in a savings account for these expenses. That’s ok for tracking one category but tedious for tracking a lot of categories. While Money does have some built-in categorization features, they’re not smart enough to easily categorize my transactions.

I decided to try for reviewing spending by category. So far, it’s great and meets my specifications:

  • Aggregate credit card and bank info
  • Intelligent categorization
  • Easy to use, useful reports
  • Not a time suck

September 21, 2010

A debtor to my future self

Filed under: family finances,goals,savings — by moneytolive @ 8:33 pm

I recently wrote about how I like my future self. I save for her to protect her from a rainy day and to give her the freedom to take risks. She’s my friend. My husband, though, has recently been frustrated with his future self.

Over the past year, R got really into saving and saved so much that he couldn’t buy groceries in the days before his next paycheck. He was living paycheck-to-paycheck because of his saving habits. What was he saving so much for? Our wedding, building up a bigger emergency fund, and his current education expenses. While saving is commendable, saving this much made him a debtor to his future self.

Becoming a debtor to your future self is not using money to live, and it can be similar psychologically to paying off actual debt. Saving so much could push a person to abandon saving altogether, much the way adopting too many frugal tactics at once can push someone to stop being frugal at all. There’s a balance between saving for the future and spending today.

Before this, I mainly thought of the differences between saving and paying debts. Having readily available cash skirts the issue of needing to borrow money and take on debt. Most of the time, saving is the better deal — eliminating interest charges and sometimes garnering an additional discount. A different way to look at it, though, is that saving money shifts the cost of a purchase from the future to the past of the object’s purchase/use. While you may get a discount by paying cash (or at least avoid interest charges), you are getting less use out of the purchase by delaying its use into the future.

As we are combining finances, we’re evaluating our savings plan so it won’t leave us feeling broke. As the wedding is over and none of it was financed, that’s one less thing to save for/ pay for. Because R was aggressively building up our emergency fund, we can now reduce our monthly contributions. While we still need to save a little more for his education expenses, we have six months until his final tuition payment is due. When all of these goals are met, we’re going to focus on pre-paying the mortgage. While it seems like there is always more that we could be saving for, at least we’re debtors to ourselves and not to someone else.

October 6, 2008

Reader Question: Money Markets

Filed under: banks,savings — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
Tags: ,

A reader wrote in concerned about having money in a non-FDIC money market.

Money markets at brokerage firms may not (and probably are not) FDIC insured. Historically, only two money market funds have lost money.  In each case, account holders lost small amounts of money (3 cents on the dollar in one case).

If you have money in a non-FDIC insured money market fund and it worries you, go ahead and move it to an insured savings account. I believe you should handle your money in a way that you are comfortable with.

In the past year or two, I opened a Vanguard Money Market fund for my “house, car, or other large expense” account. I decided to go with the Vanguard Money Market instead of opening CDs or chasing rates in FDIC-insured accounts because (1) the rates were good historically and (2) the money is accessible with a short delay. It would take about a week to get cash out, but there is no penalty for an early withdrawal.

Also, I thought that if a Vanguard money market loses money, things must be pretty bad in the world. I am surprised that a money market fund has lost money because I do not yet grasp what is happening in the economy.

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