How To Buy A Used Car

How To Buy A Used Car

One frequently touted tenant of the FI community is that you should never buy a new-to-you car if you can help it. Since most of us know that beyond safety and the ability to get you from point A to point B, cars are mostly status symbols on wheels that aren’t a great return on your investment.

Any new car that has bells and whistles or a fancy brand name are essentially mobile trophies that people use to brag about their status in life, whether or not it is rooted in reality. So, if you’re FI aligned and you’re simply trying to find a set of wheels that gets you where you need to go, (and safely so), read on.

Set a budget, then research thoroughly

As with anything, your budget should be a good starting point to inform all you do–and a good rule of thumb is that $7,000-$8,500 is about what you need for a good used car, and you’ll still have plenty of safety features and a good 100,000 miles before it needs to be put out to pasture. Of course, this may vary–but it's a good starting point.

If you have no idea where to even begin and aren’t already set on a specific make or model, check out iSeeCars.com and do your analysis in their Car Research section to learn more about what’s available. Here you can sort by MPG, user reviews, or even known issues with that model which wouldn’t be covered by a warranty.

As a person who personally drove a 2012 Ford Focus that was well known as the “problem child” of Ford for some time, take some time to thoroughly Google “X Make X Model Year known issues.”

My Ford Focus, before it was thankfully put out of its misery by my insurance company due to hail damage, had a serious transmission issue. I took it back to the dealership no less than six times, but the mechanics said there was nothing to be done.

Getting off the line, even with a light push of the gas pedal meant the whole car would shudder as it accelerated forward. Yes, you’ll want to avoid those well known issues when you buy used!

Go to a dealership, but buy from Craigslist

If you’ve successfully narrowed down your search to one or two cars that fit your needs for MPG, family size, or really, whatever cool factor you’re willing to pay for–you may want to take some time getting familiar with this car in person.

I’ve seen many personal finance bloggers recommend buying a car direct from the seller, as a middle man (used car dealer) will likely have a steep markup, and isn’t necessarily transparent about issues with the car either! You can run your own CarFax report before you buy using a VIN number, for about $39.99.

While you may want to buy direct from a seller, you can still spend some time visiting car dealerships to take a car for a test drive and spend some time with the type of car you’ll want to buy.

While a Craigslist seller will let you test drive, they probably don’t want you hanging out in their driveway for hours as you make a decision–so spend some time at a lot to get comfortable with the make and model.

Access, aim, pull the trigger

So, you’ve researched which car to buy–but if you were to look under the hood you’d have no idea what you were seeing. Before you go to buy a car, cozy up to a friend who knows his or her way around a vehicle and bring them along.

While a CarFax report will tell you a lot about the car’s history, a wise friend or family member can tell you about the car’s future. When you look–when will the tires need replacing? How does the transmission look? Was the car cared for and maintained? A car enthusiast will know how to spot red flags or areas of neglect under the hood and their careful eye is well worth the price of lunch or a six pack of beer!

When your savvy friend has given you the thumbs up, you can see if you want to negotiate off of the listed price. Being armed with facts of upcoming replacements or identified issues will help you get money off of the asking price–but be prepared to walk if you’ve identified big issues that even a few dollars off the top won’t solve.

If you’ve ever bought a used car, we’d love to hear from you to share more tips with the ChooseFI community to shop smarter and save money along the way!

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The Best Board Games (According To You)

The Best Board Games (According To You)

You have likely heard time and time again, the love Jonathan and Brad have for a good session with a board game (take a listen to Episode 64R!). For someone who wants to be intellectually stimulated and off of their electronic devices and screens while taking in some good together time with friends and family, nothing beats a good board game.

ChooseFI Facebook group recently shared their favorite board games, and we thought it prudent to compile this list and share it with you. These games can be purchased off of Amazon, but of course- we always recommend finding these locally at a ChooseFI meetup to borrow or a friend who loves games to team up for a few rounds.

Happy gaming everyone!

1. Settlers of Catan: 3 to 4 players (up to 6 with extension). Ages 10+, up to 90 minutes a game. Players strategize to collect and implement resources and use them to build roads, settlement and cities to take over the island and win the game.

2. Mancala: 2 players. Ages 8+, up to about 15 minutes a game. Players play with small stones or beans in strategy moves to capture the opponent's pieces.

3. Exploding Kittens: 2 to 5 players. Ages 7+, up to about 20 minutes a game. Exploding Kittens is similar to a card version of Russian Roulette, with each player making moves against the other, or using their cards to diffuse attacks, until all but one are eliminated.

4. Cards Against Humanity: Up to 10 players, ages 18+, can be up to an hour or more a game. (mature!). This card game is not for the faint of heart–as your strategy is to complete sentences in the most hilarious or offensive ways possible. If your cards played are the funniest of all the players, you win a point.

5. Ticket To Ride: 2 to 5 players. Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes a game. A board game for players to collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities strategically to win.

6. Pandemic: 4 players. Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes or more per game. Pandemic puts players in a scenario of cooperative crisis management after an outbreak. Players strategize to win the game by stopping all four deadly diseases from spreading globally.

7. Telestrations: 4 to 8 players. Ages 8+, up to about 30 minutes per game. This game is a mix of Pictionary and the “whispers” game played in school. A player is given a word and it is passed around, to be drawn out and guessed.

8. Dominion: 2 to 4 players. Ages 13+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Dominion is a unique card game where players build their ideal deck through “draft” play to win the game with the best cards.

9. Codenames: 4 to 8 players. Ages 13+, up to about 15-30 minutes per game. This card pins two teams to compete against each other to see who can figure out the secret identities of all of their agents first.

10. Camel Up: 2 to 8 players. Ages 8+, up to about 30 minutes per game. This board game gets all players to bet on five racing camels, trying to see which will place first and second in a quick race around a pyramid.

11. Dutch Blitz: 2 to 4 players, Ages 8+, up to about 15 minutes per game. A fast paced and family friendly card game where each player tries to empty his or her blitz pile as quickly as possible.

12. Shadow Hunters: 4 to 8 players, Ages 10+, up to about 60 minutes per game. Each player has a secret identity. You must first figure out who is your ally and who is your enemy then attack!

13. Cashflow: 2 to 6 players, Ages 10+, up to about 180 minutes per game. A board game of Robert Kiyosaki's books on finance and investing, that puts the principles to work in a competitive playscape.

14. Jax Sequence: 2 to 12 players, Ages 7+, up to about 30 minutes per game. Sequence is a board game where players play a card from their hand and to then place a chip on the corresponding space on the games board, strategizing spots on the board to get the right amount of sequences before the other players.

15. Bears Vs. Babies: 2 to 5 players, Ages 7+, up to about 20 minutes per game. From the makers of the aforementioned Exploding Kittens, Bears vs Babies is a card game where you build monsters who go to war with awful babies and take out your opponents as the babies attack.

16. Bananagrams Cobra Paw: 2 to 6 players, Ages 5+, up to about 15 minutes per game. Cobra Paw is a is a speed recognition game to grab six tiles to win the game after a roll of the dice–which is designed to be fast paced and family friendly.

17. Phase 10: 2 to 6 players, Ages 8+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Phase 10 is a Rummy style card game with several rounds. After each round, players will add up their score based on the number and type of cards left in their hand to win.

18. Castles of Burgundy: 2 to 4 players, Ages 12+, up to about 90 minutes per game. Set in medival, Burgundy France, players play the board to collect game-changing victory points through trade, farming, city building, and scientific research.

19. Secret Hitler: 5 to 10 players, Ages 13+, up to about 45 minutes per game. Is a political strategy game, taking place in 1930's Germany. Each player is secretly assigned to be either a liberal or a fascist, and one player is the “Secret Hitler” as everyone tries to figure out who is who.

20. Canasta: 2 to 6 players, Ages 12+, up to about 45 minutes per game. A Rummy style card game where players score points by melding cards (at least seven of the same rank), and making as many canastas as possible.

Bring your loved ones together and create some memories and connection. Maybe even a little competition, and likely, smiles and laughter.

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Go Camping On A Budget

Go Camping On A Budget

Camping is awesome! It’s a great way to make a staycation into a real vacation even if you’re only 15 or 20 minutes from home. Plus, if you’re a parent–it’s a great way to teach your kids about survival skills, how to identify flora and fauna, and mainly, get them off their screens for a bit without having to beg. A win-win!

Here are our favorite hacks to camp on a budget so you can streamline your path to FI and have fun in the process!

Saving On Food

Focus on low-cost and simple to make meals. If you can buy and prep ahead of time, you'll save time and money. And by the time you get to a camping area, your options for food will be limited and expensive–so focus on things you can whip up quickly to keep everyone a happy camper. It's good to plan some meals with a heat source, but also, options for no-cooking. Some areas and seasons limit camp fires, so plan accordingly.

Whatever you can freeze ahead of time (like water bottles, meat, crockpot meals) will help keep food and drinks cold, but it also means that you likely purchased these items in bulk or on sale–so you can build a frugal stockpile in advance!

Even though they’re convenient, avoid buying “snack sizes”. Purchase regular sized trail mix bags, popcorn, jerky, and cereal; and portion them out. A side benefit is that it will reduce your trash. Anything you can make or prep ahead of time, like, brownies, cereal bars, sliced oranges, or yogurt cups will save you time and hassle at the campsite.

A great hack if you have electric hookups is to pre-prepare crockpot meals in ziplock bags. These can be thrown in the cooler and thaw out over a few days to be cooked. This also saves ice space in the cooler and keeps drinks cold. Of course, there are always camping favorites that are easy to prep with limited kitchen utility like oatmeal, trail mix, popcorn, sandwiches and hot dogs–so don’t overthink it! Pinterest is full of easy camping recipes, so start there for some easy dinners you can prep ahead and cook on site.

Be A Savvy Camper

Bringing water jugs and refillable water bottles along with some additives like Nuun or Mio, in place of soda or Gatorade, is also a great way to save in your budget, as well as keeping hydrated. Keep drinks in a separate cooler than food, since it gets opened more often.

Be sure to bring toilet paper, but keep it in a ziplock or coffee can to ensure it doesn’t get wet or dirty. Baby wipes are nice to have to freshen up hands and faces when needed, too.

Take some extra ziplock bags of various sizes. They can be used for a multitude of unexpected situations–muddy clothes, special rocks and other natural treasures, etc.

Being wise about your activity planning and food prep means you’ll have less wasted time and food when you arrive!

Crowdsource The Savings

When you camp, it’s just easier to utilize your network to borrow what you can and keep costs down. Even if you are planning on camping solo as a couple or family–you likely have friends and neighbors that can loan you whatever you need. With friends, you don’t have to really buy any camping supplies! And it's likely they can tell you the best spots for cheap to pitch a tent within driving distance.

If you want to bring friends along, this also helps economize with scale. Assign each couple/family a day to plan activities or a meal to be in charge of and chip in together for a cabin or campsite. Plus, while more people means more work, it also means more helpers for set up and tear down!

Borrow An RV & Boondock

Building off the idea that camping is even more cost effective with friends, chances are you know someone who bought an RV with great intentions but takes it out on the road far less than they’d like.

A great way to save on RV style camping is to boondock–A.K.A. park without a hookup. While having electric and water hookups are great, sometimes you just need to rough it for a night or two, but the RV helps you remain comfortable. Boondocking is free and it allows you a lot more freedom and flexibility in when or where you stop for the night, since you won’t need a reserved spot.

Camping is an awesome way to unplug, get some fresh air and even get some exercise to boot. With so many people spending hoards of money to “get away,” somewhere exotic, there’s something to be said about simply escaping to your own backyard and leaving your WiFi connection behind and connecting over a fire pit!

Happy camping!

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Look Great For Less: Ideas To Save Money On Grooming

Look Great For Less: Ideas To Save Money On Grooming

Everyone who is saving for early retirement has their own idea of what it takes to look their best. Some FI community members are recovering spenders who can’t imagine painting their own nails, yet others have gone au naturel so long they can’t even remember the last time they got a haircut.

Whatever your ideas are for saving money on grooming, self care, and beauty–you can always squeeze just a little bit more value out of your favorite grooming routines to save money.

Here are some quick ideas to do just that!

Be a beauty student, or find one

You can learn how to do just about anything on YouTube these days, so if you’re needing to wax your legs or trim your significant other’s hair, there’s likely a free online tutorial on how to do it. If you can take a lesson on how to trim bangs or apply self tanner, you can save big bucks.

If you’re not keen on learning how to trim your own tresses, you can also save by going to a beauty school to have a student do your services.

Be advised though, while this does save you some money, it may eat up a bit more time if you’re having more complicated work done (like highlights or eyelash extensions) as students will need to slow down and get sign off from an instructor as they work on you.

Be smarter with what you use

You absolutely still deserve to take good care of your hair and skin, no matter what your budget–but you could still benefit by simplifying your routine and finding multi-use products that give you more value.

For the ladies, you can find a BB cream that covers like a foundation, moisturizes, and provides sun protection. Often for makeup, investing in the right shadow palette can double as a cheek highlighter and a brow powder, so you don’t need a unique product for each.

If you find you spend a lot on trying new things and it leads to waste, create a moratorium on trying new colors and products and stick with what you know works for your skin type and color.

Simply use the right amount

Many of us use more product than we should. We waste body wash, dull our dye jobs with frequent shampooing, and and have far too many chapsticks floating around the house. Next time you squirt out shave cream or dollop on some face wash, be mindful of how much is leaving the tube.

The Huffington Post recommends the following usage:

  • Facial cleanser: Use a dime-size amount to get clean.
  • Sunscreen: Apply a quarter-size portion on your face.
  • Eye creams or serums: Use a penny-size amount of these products.

If you pay to have your hair colored, use a dry shampoo to get by in between prolonged washes. The more you wash your hair, the faster the color will dull or turn brassy–requiring a touch up. If you can stretch your shampooing an extra day or two, you’ll save on both maintenance product and dyes!

Find a good dupe

The internet is a glorious place where beauty bloggers have built entire careers reviewing high end products and create videos to find the best knock-offs for half the price. Simply search “Brand X Dupe” and you’ll likely find a beauty blogger who spent hours tracking down the best drugstore brand knock off of your favorite expensive brand.

While you might find actual knock-offs in some seedy parts of town or on Ebay, stick to buying a dupe that’s a well known store brand, not a counterfeit knock-off. While it may be tempting to pick up an Urban Decay eye palette that normally retails for $50 and get it for $5 on Ebay, it likely is made in China and laced with some really toxic products.

To save money and stay healthy, search for “dupes” not “knock-offs!”

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Four Ways To Monetize A Blog

Four Ways To Monetize A Blog

Starting a blog can be a great low-cost way to experiment in side hustling and entrepreneurialism. Since you can still maintain a day job, blogging allows you to work a day job. During your nights, weekends, or between errands with family, you can write articles, build an audience, and start conversations on social media to build your brand.

It’s a great way to also pick up some extra skills (a la talent stacking) for marketing, coding, photography, and copywriting!

So, if you’re looking to turn blogging into a side hustle, or into a full time career, or maybe simply use it as a means to talent stack in the digital age–read on!

Ad revenue

One of the most common ways that people make money with a blog is to insert display ads in the content or sidebar to generate revenue based on traffic. For clicks, you can earn higher returns, but for every impression, you can earn passive income.

Ads can be secured through ad networks like Google AdSense (that track impression activity through a pixel) or with direct ad placements for a static sidebar ad that is secured on a monthly basis with a flat fee.

While ad revenue is the easiest to implement on your blog–for it to be profitable, you would need very high daily traffic. It can be an excellent supplement to your monetization strategy, but luckily, it’s not the only way!

Related: How To Start A Blog

Sponsorships

Sponsorship opportunities include paid social media promotion, sponsored articles, or reviews and video content which is created to talk about products or brands.

After you’ve built a name for yourself and have a blog that’s updated regularly, you can start pitching for brands to sponsor pieces of content that would be aligned with your audience. Sometimes, brands will also find you and ask to send you product for free, or even pay you for promotion on top of product that's provided.

Sometimes brands want a dedicated product review, while others want you to tell a story where their new product is authentically woven in, and yet others want to simply focus on the item and do a giveaway. Sponsorships can be very lucrative and a win-win if your audience could benefit from the partnership.

Knowing how much to charge for your sponsorship packages will vary based on niche, the engagement of your audience and traffic, but you can get an idea of how much to charge by joining networks like TapInfluence or Acorn Influence to get offers and start gauging interest.

While brands can find you and you absolutely can pitch brands on your own, working with a blogger network can be a great way to get started since they broker deals on your behalf and help you get visibility to larger brands with bigger campaigns.

Affiliate sales

If you are in a niche that’s product based–whether your blog talks about fly fishing or real estate investing–there’s a high probability you will eventually talk about products that can be sold through affiliate programs.

If you review a new fishing pole on your fly fishing blog, you can insert a link with a tracking code that generates a commission every time you make a sale on that pole.

Amazon associates is a very popular affiliate program for several reasons–not only do you have access to thousands of products without having to opt-in to various affiliate programs and maintain the links individually, and you also can generate sales on products you don’t directly talk about. If you mention a fly fishing pole, and someone clicks that link but ends up buying dog kibble instead, you will get credit for that sale and receive a commission.

Creating your own product

Chances are you’ve seen a blogger promote an ebook or online course before, and it can be a great way to make money from your audience so long as your content is targeted and valuable.

If you are taking the time to build a blog around homeschooling your children, or even documenting your own path to financial independence, what are things you wish you would have known when you started or could be a specialized product that the market needs?

Identifying what your audience is craving that solves a problem–like travel hacking for larger families or sharing your lesson plans for homeschooling in an ebook, can be a great way to monetize content you’re already offering readers.

Ebooks can be sold on Amazon, or direct downloads as a PDF on your site with relatively low cost. Courses can be developed from the comfort of your home and uploaded to sites like content.ly who provide an easy framework to get launched.

While many bloggers focus on digital products that don’t require production or shipping, we’ve also seen bloggers with larger audiences develop physical products as well. Some bloggers have developed their own yoga mats, coordinated in-person workshops or retreats, and others have even created apparel with quotes or catch phrases. It’s up to you!

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Books To Kick Start Your Side Hustle

Books To Kick Start Your Side Hustle

Side hustling truly is FI’s secret weapon. Working your day job can help build security into your life, and of course–perks like health insurance, a 401k match and a reliable paycheck. As great as that security is, it can be deflating to realize you may be locked into a pay grade for some time, and you won’t be able to grow your income as fast as you’d like.

Side hustling is a great way to experiment with entrepreneurialism in your off hours to build in extra income, acquire more skills and, of course, sock away as much extra cash as you can to put towards early retirement.

Here are my recommendations on some great books to get inspired, motivated and fired-up to side hustle smarter:

Being Boss by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon

If your desired side hustle involves a bit of creativity or booking clients, this book is absolutely excellent in framing up your pursuit and defining your “why.” While it’s great to learn the tactics of finding clients, booking and billing–avoiding burnout and staying competitive is also key to your long term success.

The authors are both creative entrepreneurs who have launched successful businesses in design and consulting. They have added a highly successful blog and podcast, as well. You will learn actionable tips to build in effective workflow, build boundaries, and establish measurable goals.

Side Hustle & The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau is a slightly more approachable version of Seth Godin and really hones in on the demographic of people that don’t want to start the next Apple or Shipt, but instead build a path to self-employment or a small business with little or no capital.

Chris blogs and writes most of his content for the solopreneur who is simply working to supplement or reproduce their income by starting a side project that can be scaled to whatever level helps them get to their goals, especially without the need for investors, overhead, or a ton of risk.

Both of these books are great to get thinking and see practical applications of people who have created profitable side hustles, with little to no capital and in a short amount of time.

What If It Does Work Out: How A Side Hustle Can Change Your Life by Susie Moore

Susie crafted this book to help you get from a passion or hobby to a side hustle that’s successful on your own terms. She provides guidance to help you earn an extra source of income by doing something you love–whether it’s selling necklaces in an Etsy Store or picking up consulting work with skills you picked up in your day job.

Her style is very approachable and she takes you through all of the planning stages and potential obstacles, creating a mindset for success and how to create multiple revenue streams to ensure you’re focusing on the right things as you grow.

Entrepreneurial You by Dorie Clark

If you recognize the fastest path to FI is to earn extra side hustle money, but struggle to see yourself as someone who is an entrepreneur, or how you can fit an extra project into your already busy life, this is a great book.

Dorie dives into the mindset of a successful entrepreneur to help you see yourself beyond simply being a worker, to someone who can monetize their expertise and use it to create alternative income sources beyond a traditional 9-5 job.

Vlog Like A Boss by Amy Schmittauer

Amy has built a successful YouTube channel and knows her way around social influence platforms. While many books on blogging (and in this case, vlogging) are a bit dated at this point–Amy released this book in 2017 to help you make money on the internet as an influencer.

If you’re thinking of doing a blog or vlog as a side hustle, this is a great book to pick up!

Freelance To Freedom by Vincent Pugliese

Vincent and his wife Elizabeth started a photography business to earn extra cash as they were starting to grow their family and because Vincent’s day job wasn’t helping him scale his income or get paid what he felt he was worth.

In just a few years, they grew their photography business enough to help them pay off their debt, including their mortgage and were able to work for themselves. If you’re looking for a roadmap to do the same, check out this book.

These books are a just a tip in the right direction, with so many to choose from. What are some of your favorite books on side hustle success?

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You Can Pursue FI–Even On One Income

You Can Pursue FI Even On One Income

There are a variety of reasons why a couple might consider living off of one income, which can be a bit more challenging for both parties if you’re also striving towards an early retirement date.

If you are in a season of your life where an aging loved one needs more care, one spouse is going through some health problems or job loss, or your growing family needs more attention–it may mean that you widdle your earnings down to one income for a time, or perhaps permanently.

If you’re deciding whether or not can pursue FI on one income, or perhaps this is your new reality and you’re looking for ways to make it work, read on.

Weigh the costs and benefits

If you are facing a situation where you currently do have the choice between one income or two, it’s worth running the numbers to see how living off of one income would impact your FI date.

Living off of one income may seem troublesome, but you can also tally up how much you will save as a household on care costs by having one member do the care-taking. Caring for an aging parent can be even more expensive than daycare, even with good insurance–so do the math to see what would be more cost effective.

While at first, seeing your timeline get longer can feel disheartening, it’s helpful to remember that there’s more to FI than dollars alone. While it may be a bit deflating to see your timeline grow longer, there is something to be said about the power of even being able to make this choice.

Additionally, there are plenty of intangibles involved–like knowing you’re being there for an ailing loved one, or homeschooling your children, which money can’t buy.

Spend less and earn more

If you’re scaling back to one income, frugality is a useful tool since often, being wise about every penny spent is the most effective way to put your money to work even if that income is spread thin. Focusing on marginal gains instead of extreme frugality is a great way to make the adjustments needed without going into shock.

Each month, instead of giving up toilet paper or refusing to run the A/C, simply focus on getting 1% better with how you earn, save, and invest the money you do have coming in. How can you be a little smarter each month and get everyone involved? Marginal gains add up!

Even if one person has to leave full or part time work, that doesn’t mean that they are relegated to earning $0 whatsoever. Could a side hustle be implemented? A room rented? If you’re caring for a family member, could you also provide care to others for payment?

Several stay at home parents also have dabbled in running day care at home or dog sitting to supplement their years at home with small children.

Related: Why The Side Hustle Is FI's Secret Weapon

Remember your why

If you’re feeling stressed or nervous that living on one income will ruin your FI date, it’s important to reconnect with why you want to pursue financial independence in the first place.

  • Why do you want to reach FI?
  • Is it so that you can live life on your terms?
  • Be there for your family?
  • Have the freedom to do what you want?

If that’s the case–realize that’s precisely what you’re doing right now. Being with a family member or taking time off is a core value and your money is now being aligned with that value. FI itself is not a magical finish line where life is perfect, happy and clear–your life now shouldn’t be too different from life after FI, so stay in touch with why you choose to live this lifestyle and see that you’re walking the walk now.

For some of us, it's absolutely fine to blend our pre and post FI lives if it enables us to be the people we want to be and live the values we treasure most.  Luckily, FI doesn't have to be a number or a finish line, it can be a way of life and a journey of your own making.

Remember it’s not forever

If you’re living on one income, it's likely just for a fixed amount of time and could change. Eventually, little ones grow up and go off to school, sick relatives can get better, job markets change, and situations evolve over time.

While living off of one income can be stressful and challenging when you’re trying to hit your FI number, it doesn’t have to be forever. There will be time to play catch up later or get creative with your income streams, but you can’t buy this time back–so do your best to be confident in your decision. You don’t need to feel the FI FOMO, you’re on your own unique path!

It’s a highly personal decision, and no matter what you choose, the FI community is here for you!

We hope this article helps, but if you’re still weighing your options, come to the ChooseFI Facebook group and get some feedback or ideas.

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FI Friendly Alternatives To Expensive Weddings

FI Friendly Alternatives To Expensive Weddings

A recent article in Business Insider estimates that the “average” wedding in the U.S. is anywhere from $25,000 on up to $33,000+. Yikes! If you’re on the path to FI, that is likely not the plan you have for beginning your future together.

Some might suggest a FI-friendly wedding would be to go down to the courthouse; and your wedding will cost as much as it takes to file the paperwork and pay for parking. However, if you’d like a little bit more of a celebration (and a bigger guest list) than what a courthouse visit or elopement would cost, there are plenty of ways to have your wedding cake and eat it too!

Your dream wedding celebration can still be high in value, sentiment, and wonderful memories but low in cost. If you’re looking for a FI-friendly way to get married, read on!

First, Set YOUR Budget

Before you and your spouse-to-be get inundated with well-meaning “shoulds” from family and friends, sit down together and really get down to brass tacks about what matters most to the two of you. Starting with your priorities, and then adding your wish list, is vital before family, best friends and bridal parties get involved and feel they can weigh in without paying for it.

Your wedding wish list is highly unique to you and your partner–so first, discuss what you’re comfortable spending. Secondly, discuss what things you think you “have” to have. Not surprising, most things cost more than we think–but aligning your “I would have a stomachache if we spent X” with your “But we have to have a DJ!” ideals is a great way to get a gauge what truly, and sincerely matters.

Starting with an overall budget is key. Stick to that number and the vendors and expenses can align to fit it, not the other way around. If you approach wedding planning by Googling “what does X cost” you will quickly find that usually, it costs far more than what you want to spend overall, and frankly not every expense can be prioritized.

Trust your gut and use your budget as your anchor point for all vendors you book; otherwise, you’ll be paying all the way to the altar.

Secondly, Prioritize Your Joy

Only you and your spouse know what will give you the biggest bang for your nuptial buck. Yes, it's possible everyone will have an opinion. They might be aghast if you tell them you aren’t doing table favors or insist you really don't need fresh floral centerpieces, but they aren't paying for it.

Wedding planning will be a series of compromises, but if you know having a certain flower in your bouquet and boutonniere for the groomsmen and an open bar is essential, make that call.

Put everything on a tiered list from a “Top Prioritiy” to a “somewhat important” to “meh” and do this exercise before anyone else has a chance to influence you. Your second tier “musts” are much easier to compromise on, so if having a DJ would be helpful, but you’re not sold on who it is, you can cut costs in this area to pay for your favorite flowers or a great photographer you feel confident with. If anything ends up on your “meh” list, you can explore cutting it out completely.

Yes, it would be cool to have a limo for the wedding party, but if you’re not jazzed about it, cut it out. Table favors? Might not be necessary. Centerpieces? Can you DIY them with friends, if they don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy masterpieces, or would an alternative venue (like a restaurant or park) mean that this expense can be eliminated without any pain?

Identify Cost Effective Alternative Locations

Speaking from experience (Always a “day-of” coordinator, never a bride) some wedding venues will nickle and dime you to death with fees and hidden costs. You may love a location, but before you book–will you need to provide your own tables, chairs, cutlery, linens and even a licensed bar tender and wait staff? Many venues are simply event spaces without a running assortment of staff who are baked into the cost.

Be sure you think through the entire event–from start to finish. Double check what the venue provides, or the alternative location doesn't. Also, some venues require you to work with their list of approved vendors; this means you cannot compare prices and shop around–so be aware of this trend.

Exploring alternatives can save you thousands on staffing and rental costs. Getting married in a park or at the beach with minimal setup, but gorgeous views, and then finishing off your celebration at a local restaurant or bar, is becoming widely accepted. The more formal and traditional, the higher the cost. If you opt for a park wedding where guests can open their own beers, you will save hundreds on a bartender, glassware and mixers–plus your event will feel casual, not cheap.

Book A Package

Another alternative to avoid the hidden costs sometimes associated with event spaces that are essentially and endlessly customizable (read: expensive), is to find a resort or hotel that does wedding packages. With this option, you can plainly see what everything would cost up front.

Packages like this may not feel super personal, but you know the facility will run like clockwork and you may be able to avoid hiring a day-of coordinator to round up your various vendors to ensure they’re showing up on time. Plus, having set packages helps you really rein in your guest list–which, the more heads you have, the more expensive it gets.

You can save hours of time vetting vendors and tallying up costs by booking a location like a yacht or resort that has wedding packages that include everything from the DJ to the cleanup crew.

Plus, if you marry at a resort–you can easily coordinate a “day after” brunch for more face time with friends and family afterwards. It may even help you cut transportation costs significantly. You and your spouse-to-be can decide, whether or not, to stick around after your ceremony, but your guests may love being able to relax a bit longer at a location they’d actually enjoy.

Other Easy Ways To Cut Costs

The size of your guest list and the venue you pick are often the biggest expenses when trying to stick to your overall budget. Keeping the wedding intimate with only the closest people in your life will keep costs down, but also set expectations for those well-meaning family members who are aghast that you haven’t invited your mom’s longtime hairdresser or dad’s golf buddies to the big day.

You can also save by finding synergies with your celebrations.

  • Can the bachelorette/bachelor parties be combined?
  • Can they be done the weekend of the wedding instead of flying out somewhere?
  • Can your hotel, ceremony, and reception be all in the same place to cut transportation costs and stress?

Focusing on making your big day a celebration and not a “wedding” will be a great framework to keep costs low. A wedding cake can cost double that of a regular sheet or even tiered cake. A wedding dress or tux can be double the price of a simple white dress or a suit you’d use again in the future. Also having your wedding in “shoulder season” or on a Friday or Sunday, even during the day versus at night can temper expectations with guests and save on costs.

Want to read more from Shannyn? Check out the rest of her articles here.

FI Friendly Alternatives To Expensive Weddings

The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains

The Aggregation Of Marginal Gainsv

The aggregation of marginal gains is a concept made famous by British cycling coach Dave Brailsford, who eventually lead the British cycling team to take home 10 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Previous to this victory, the team had not been able to pull off any significant wins.

Brailsford believed that victory at the Olympics would be achieved by focusing on a 1% margin for improvement in everything they did. He decided that he and his team would focus on improving every aspect of performance and these aggregations would add up.

To quote the man himself:

We hired a surgeon to teach our athletes about proper hand-washing so as to avoid illnesses during competition (we also decided not to shake any hands during the Olympics). We were precise about food preparation. We brought our own mattresses and pillows so our athletes could sleep in the same posture every night. We searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities. Taken together, we felt they gave us a competitive advantage.  (Source)

His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement. In Brailsford’s case, this meant focusing on optimizing in areas of exercise, rest, nutrition, team management, morale, and equipment–not just time spent on the bike.

To anyone taking on any large goal–whether it be reaching FI or trying to secure gold at the Olympics, it can be an overwhelming task simply to get from where you are to where you want to be. But applying small changes along the way and accumulating optimizations, is where we can truly strike our own Olympic gold on our path to financial freedom.

First Understand the Power of Marginal Losses

Making sweeping behavior changes can be overwhelming and often, unrealistic. For someone who has battled obesity throughout their life, weight didn’t simply happen overnight–but often was the result of small choices, time after time that lead to a weight gain I wasn't happy with.

Avoid “lifestyle creep”

We often see this correlation with what we’ve termed as “lifestyle creep” where families slowly and steadily get off track as their incomes improve.

Instead of staying the course and saving money, they start spending just a tad more when they earn more–and the aggregation of all these small increases really add up to bust a budget.

Eating out just once or twice more during the course of a month, making less than stellar decisions with an increased credit limit, or simply telling yourself you “deserve” a brand new luxury car because you got a raise, are all small losses that paint a big picture of debt.

It’s one problem that most FI’ers recognize, or may have even found themselves in at one time. While the aggregation of marginal losses can paint a bleak picture, it also paints the way out to an achievable, FI-friendly path forward.

Understanding the Power of Marginal Gains

It’s easy to spend time on the ChooseFI message boards, or read about bloggers who have achieved FI and lament their wins–surely, they had a stroke of luck, were far smarter than you or, perhaps they had a rich uncle who recently died. Seeing other people’s accomplishments sometimes leads us to think that some big “make or break” moment lead them to hitting their financial goal.

Yes, it may absolutely be true that some folks hit FI because they had a long lost rich auntie who gifted them a mansion, and others did work hard, but pulled in $150,000+ a year as a nuclear engineer.

While these factors are important to consider, the truth behind any success–FI or otherwise–is that it happens as the result of the smallest decisions we make over time. Each decision can put us closer to or further away from where we want to go. That's the compounding power of 1% improvement.

Choosing to focus on even the smallest gains, when done consistently and in tandem with other positive efforts, yields results. Aggregating marginal gains makes it happen.

Applying the Power of Marginal Gains

Using this philosophy towards a victory on our path to FI, applying a 1% improvement means looking at not just the money we invest or how we invest it–but everything that impacts the goal.

For us, it means looking at our entire lives as an ecosystem that is interrelated–our health, social lives, where we live, our work and career, what we eat, what we do for entertainment and where we spend our time.

Here are some areas that can be regularly evaluated and optimized to take advantage of marginal gains:

Home: Moving to a lower cost area/closer to work, energy efficiency, refinancing your mortgage or getting a roommate.

Career: Negotiate for a raise, switch jobs that’s closer to home or has a flexible work policy, take advantage of a 401(k) match.

Health: Cut your grocery bill and eat better foods, exercise regularly, make strides to deal with stress, visit your doctor and dentist regularly.

Personal: Read finance and personal development books, surround yourself with people aligned with your goals, develop a side hustle to earn more income and build your skill set.

These are just a few examples (more to come on the ChooseFI blog) but none of them are related to investing tactics, yet they all help you move the needle forward towards FI.

Reading a book a month or joining a running club to get healthy may not seem like it moves the needle much, but combined with your other efforts to live financially free, you may make more progress in your portfolio than you think!

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The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains

 

50 Ways To Improve Your Finances By 1%

50 Ways To Improve Your Finances By 1%

Shaving 10 to 20 years off of your retirement date is one of those eye opening ideas that might keep you up at night.  It’s just so exciting! Of course, anybody on the path to FI also knows that after the enthusiasm of a new way of thinking wears off, the journey to FI can start feeling more like a slog.

If that’s you and you feel that there’s just far too much time and distance between where you are and where you want to be, let me help you get over your frustration with FI and focus on getting there with a bunch of little hacks.

While at first, it’s easy to make huge cuts in your lifestyle that lead to huge gains–like cutting back on your restaurant habit or avoiding Target without a concrete list, you might find that your forward momentum begins to slow with time.

Here are 50 ideas that you can implement (and may need to revisit a few times throughout your journey) to help you get 1% better and optimize a little more each month in a variety of ways.

  1. Round out your savings account after every paycheck, just contribute whatever is needed to make the nearest hundred whole (i.e. $178 to $200).
  2. Call your phone company to get a better rate.
  3. Call your credit card company to ask them to waive any fees.
  4. Check in with recurring expenses to insure prices haven’t gone up without noticing (like your cable or phone bills–they’re sneaky!).
  5. Pack a “go bag” to make spontaneous frugal adventures easy and leave it by the door or in the car.
  6. Look into the free programs and classes held by your local library or government.
  7. Commit to reading (or listening to) one new finance or investing book a month.
  8. Commit to learning one new skill a month that you previously paid for (like changing your oil or grooming your pets).
  9. Find free things to do that you haven’t tried in your city and tackle a new one every weekend.
  10. Plan out a new hiking or biking trail to try every week until you’ve tried every one within driving distance.
  11. Volunteer with a cause or organization that can help you fine tune existing or new skills you’d like to acquire (like gardening, photography, or help maintain a website).
  12. Start a side hustle that you can do with low overhead (like freelance writing, website coding, dog walking)  and invest the earnings.
  13. Swap sitting duty with a friend to cut down on babysitting with kids or kennel costs for pets.
  14. YouTube ways to fix appliances or home repairs on your own.
  15. Learn about hypermiling to cut your gasoline usage.
  16. Unsubscribe from marketing emails & delete restaurant numbers (or apps!) from your phone.
  17. Experiment with “Meatless Mondays” or do one vegan week a month to cut back on grocery bills.
  18. Give up alcohol or any foods that are expensive/unhealthy for 1 month to see how you feel.
  19. Build an at-home gym and build an exercise routine that requires little or no equipment (Pilates, yoga, Barre, strength training).
  20. Cancel any subscriptions you might have forgotten about.
  21. Switch up your grocery store to see if you can save (ALDI is a no-frills FI favorite).
  22. Batch cook your breakfast, lunch & dinner for 2-3 days at a time.
  23. Make a habit of buying snacks in bulk and portion out for usage (great for popcorn, pretzels, and even breakfast foods like yogurt).
  24. Cancel your Costco Membership and go halvsies with a friend or neighbor for the membership fee.
  25. See if your service providers (like a veterinarian or hair stylist) offer a cash discount.
  26. Evaluate your cell usage and see if you can get a better rate, or switch to a “pay what you use” plan like Google FI or other providers like Mint or Republic Wireless.
  27. Utilize a store’s coupon app (like Cartwheel at Target) or a multi-store coupon app like RetailMeNot every time you shop.
  28. Shop offseason. Buying school supplies, christmas wrap, winter clothes and garden supplies as a season ends is much cheaper if you have the space to store it.
  29. Check if your city provides energy audits & improve your insulation to save on electricity.
  30. Research & implement ways to make your home more energy efficient and set a goal to cut your usage by at least 10% month over month.
  31. Rent out a spare room on Airbnb or Craigslist, even for a few months out of the year.
  32. Learn to negotiate a raise effectively and ask for more money when you deserve it.
  33. Sign up for a Health Savings Account with your employer if you haven’t already.
  34. Look into any corporate discounts you can get on large or recurring purchases (many large companies offer perks of discounted insurance rates, gym memberships or appliances).
  35. Evaluate your health insurance to get a better rate & ensure your coverage fits your current needs.
  36. Learn about tax optimization to see how you can reduce your tax bill with better tracking and strategizing.
  37. Understand the Mega Back Door Roth or fine tune your investment strategies every six month.
  38. Negotiate a flexible work policy to cut back on commuting.
  39. With every raise or bonus you get, save or invest the difference.
  40. Declutter & donate room by room (yes it can save you $!).
  41. Focus on building a “capsule” (minimalist) wardrobe that can be used multi-seasonally or dressed up/down instead of unique pieces for every occasion.
  42. Learn to travel with travel rewards.
  43. Attend a ChooseFI meetup in a new place the next time you travel.
  44. Attend your local ChooseFI group or start your own (come on, we’re fun!).
  45. Gift food or experiences instead of “stuff” and commit to sharing moments, not clutter.
  46. Abstain from shopping (except food) for one month, learn to make-do without any non-essential purchases.
  47. Plan monthly wine/beer tastings potluck style at home instead of going out.
  48. Ask a friend or relative to help teach you to cook their specialty instead of going out.
  49. Host a “Naked Lady” party where you swap clothes with friends, especially great for folks with kids.
  50. Learn how to cut or color your own hair (or have a friend do it!)–the same goes for any salon services, see what you can do for yourself with a good YouTube tutorial.

These are just some ideas to help you get 1% better in a variety of categories, while hopefully being more socially energized, self-sufficient, healthy, and entertained along the way.  Truly, FI is way more fun when you can make small improvements to good things you’re already doing.

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50 Ways To Improve Your Finances By 1%