Monthly Goal Review and Preview: April / May 2016

New month, which means it’s time to review and share some goals!

April Goal Reviews

We got slammed in April, financially and time-wise. Besides the usual, we had:

  • both life insurance policy premiums due
  • car inspection and taxes for our Honda Accord
  • my driver's license renewal
  • our oldest's dental check-up (we pay out of picket for her visits)
  • vet visit (including blood tests and medication) for our senior cat

As a reminder, here were my goals for April along with the progress made:

  • Do a site audit for Couple MoneyAs tedious and embarrassing as it is to go back through old posts, it's been a fantastic opportunity to review, correct, and update things for readers.
  • Go green at home. We've been seeding our yard and building up a lawn area. We're also building up our compost piles. Proud to say we're seeing progress on it.
  • Pitch a podcast. So proud to have done it – I gave my best creating a proposal and sample to pitch a dream podcast.

How I'm Simplifying in May

I'm really like narrowing things down to just three things each month. Having one money goal, one work/home goal, and one completely personal goal has kept me focused.

I'm someone who likes to have a few things going, but once it's past three, I usually start dropping the ball.

Here's what's on my agenda for May:

  • Save $500. With so much spent in April, I'm going to cut things back drastically this month.
  • Create a yard plan using Sketch- Up. We've reached a point where having a clear plan for the yard is needed. Besides the budget, breaking down the big picture into projects will keep us on target. Sketch-up seems to be a great tool to help visualize and plan with what we'd like to do.
  • Read and finish a fictional book. I love reading, but lately, I've been devouring non-fiction books and pieces on permaculture, cooking, and gardening to name a few. I want to get into a book this month just for pleasure.

While Sketch-Up is going to probably take a bit of time to learn, I'm ready to play around with it. I'm hoping to re-use and build up the model for other projects in and around our place.

THOUGHTS ON SIMPLIFYING THIS MONTH

Well, there you have it. I shared my goals for this month; I’d love to hear from you. What are you up to this month?

Digit: Make Savings Your Default

Looking to boost your savings, but not sure where to find the money? Have you tried to save, but after paying bills it seems like there is nothing left over to save?

One hack that has helped me is automatic savings. I set it up so once our direct deposit comes in, some of it is set aside.

There are some wonderful tools and services that can make it even easier. One of my favorites is Digit.

Digit: Automated Savings

Digit is a free service that you connect to your checking account and every few days they transfer small portions of your money into your Digit account so you can save.

They monitor your spending patterns so their withdrawals won't overdraft your account. (The company even offers a guarantee if that ever happens.)

Its free and with Digit you money is FDIC insured up to a balance of $250,000. They support over 25,000 banks and credit unions in the United States.

 

Digit updates you by texts so you know your balance and have complete control over your money.

You can withdraw your savings 24/7 and there are no limits to how many times you can transfer back your money into checking.

Earn Rewards By Saving

As awesome as Digit is there is one downside that I have to mention – right now there is no interest earned on your savings.

They;re not a bank so they cannot offer it, but they do have rewards for keeping your money stashed away.

Set up is a breeze and your savings is all automated. You still have complete control over your money.

If you're looking for more information, go ahead and explore their FAQs or if you're ready, sign-up to open an account today!

Thoughts on Using Digit for Saving

If you’re someone who wants to save and who wants to keep their current checking account, then Digit can be a wonderful option.

Photo Credit: Hello Digit, Inc.

Simplify Gardening: How to Start a Compost Pile

Looking for ways to make your yard more beautiful and productive without spending a ton of money? Here's how you can start a compost pile that is easy to maintain. 

Creating a beautiful and productive garden and yard can be a labor of love. Depending on how you approach it, you can make it be as expensive or time intensive as you afford.

If you're lookimg for a quick and easy fix, you can go to your local garden store for several supply runs to fix up the problem spots. If you have smaller yard or not a lot to do, this can be an efficient and effective way to go.

In many cases, though, if you'r patient youcan actually build up your garden space without having to spend a fortune. In fact, you may have all the materials you need now to get started.

How? By starting your own compost pile!

Why You Should Compost

We're working on getting our yard more consistent and productive. Right now we have patches of really great soil and plenty of areas where its either a clay mess or sandy.

Considering the size of our lot (just over 1/2 acre), we knew that we had to put composting at the top of our to do list.

If you're new to gardening the composting is basically helping organic material break down into healthy nutrient rich soil (also called ‘black gold').

Some big benefits with composting:

  • great for the environment (your food trash is productively used)
  • big money saver (since you're not having to rely on fertilizer, which can get pricey)
  • easy on time (using what's around you saves you a trip and maintaining it is a cinch)

Sounds like a win all around, right? So how so you get started?

How to Start a Compost Pile (The Easy Way)

There are several ways you can compost, but one of the easiest ways to get started is using what you probably have around yard.

  1. Start by spreading a layer of leaves or straw on the bare ground. This will allow worms to help aerate the pile.
  2. Top that with several inches of dried leaves and/or straw. This layer will help with drainage.
  3. Add a thin layer of soil. Since we're trying to level some area, I simply used that for the pile.
  4. Don't forget to throw in some ‘green' material like grass clippings and clover. You can also include some used coffee grounds and food scraps.
  5. Add another layer of leaves and or straw.
  6. Moisten the pile.

You can turn the pile every couple of weeks or if you're looking for a lower maintenance option, you can try drilling some holes into a PVC pipe and planting into the pile.

Note: If you have a ton of leaves you can start another pile and compost them. Find a shaded area with good drainage.

It won't have much in nutrients, but it can used be a soil amendment.

Compost Bins

While you don't need a bin to start composting, it can be a practical solution if you're hoping to keep pests away and want to organize your yard.

You can buy a compost container or you can build one with simple materials such as old pallets.

To keep things contained, we re-purposed an old zip line tower into a compost bin. The pile on the left is made from everything around the yard and the smaller one is just the leaves.

More on Composting

I still have so much to learn, but I'm really happy with the progress we're making. Some of the bald patches are starting to sprout some life.

If you really want to get into composting I highly recommend checking these out:

Learning How to Chop Down a Tree

As we're making over our yard, we've had to learn quite a few things – starting a garden from seed, learning what poison oak, ivy, and sumac look like, and cutting back the briers.

This weekend we took on a new challenge – chopping down trees.

Chopping Trees

These two pine trees were growing right against the fence. One them was crowded in between several bushes and a mature tree while the other was shedding onto our neighbor's yard

These are fairly small trees (10 ft) so we felt comfortable taking them down ourselves. (The much larger trees are going to need a professional's touch.)

As exciting as chopping down trees sounds, it can be a little intimidating. People get injured fairly easily by not doing some prepwork and research.

It took a little longer, but the extra effort was worth it. We knocked them down, saved some money, and no one was injured. Win-win!

Do It Yourself or Call a Professional?

If you're looking to cut down some trees, here are some tips to make it easier and more safe.

Don't take on a huge tree. I'm all for doing projects myself, but there is a limit. Besides the size of the tree, you should also consider its:

  • condition– Is the tree rotting? Are there very loose branches that can come down on your head?
  • location –  If the comes down in the wrong direction, could it damage someone or thing?

If you're nervous or in doubt, please call a professional.

Safety First

First thing – make sure you at least have a helmet to protect your head from falling branches, safety glasses to protect your eyes, and gloves.

After reading some tips on safely chopping down a tree, I decided to get an ax rather than a chainsaw. I think it's the right tool for the job; we don't need to go overboard.

If you're chopping down a tree with a chainsaw, here some more stuff you'll need.

Next, you need to make sure your ax is in good working condition.You don't need any part coming off while you're chopping, so a an inspection can be a lifesaver.

Finally have a spotter with you. They can warn you of any falling branches from above and help you should something happen.

How to Chop Down a Tree

Here's the very basic process on how we chopped our pine trees. Here are some more tips on chopping down a tree if you want to read more.

  1. Cut a v-shaped notch in the direction we wanted the tree to fall (about 1/3 of the diameter).
  2. Cut another notch on the opposite side slightly above the first notch.
  3. Continue shopping that first notch.
  4. Remove tree out of area.

I should also note we also had an escape route to use should the tree fall in a different direction than expected. Neither one of us wanted to get crushed!

Thoughts on Chopping Down a Tree

As an added bonus to having less crowded yard, we got workout this weekend. Who knows, maybe I'll get some toned arms out of this makeover?

I'd love to hear from you. How many of you have some young trees that need to be chopped down?

Monthly Goal Review and Preview: March / April 2016

New month, which means it’s time to review and share some goals!

March Goal Review

As bad as March was with all the unexpected expenses, I was able to get quite a few things done.

I'm grateful that we've been able to slash or eliminate some bills, which gave a us a cushion. That said, I'm hoping this month will be fairly low key.

As reminder, here were my goals for March along with the progress made:

  • Work on my sites: It came down to the last day, but I was able to get my sites updated and cleaned up to make them more searchable and helpful for new and regular readers.
  • Fix Up and Plant Gardens: DONE! I created two spots in our yard for growing some food. We got the seeds planted and have been tending to them. Right now we're battling weeds and ivy; guess we didn't get them all as we originally thought.
  • Write 30,000 words: I can't believe I wrote this much! Becoming an early riser was a huge help. Now that's it's over, I thought I might go back to my old schedule, but this new routine has stuck and I wake up feeling refreshed.

Having achieved these goals I'm feeling good about this month.

April Goals

With things settling down, I want to start looking at giving more attention to my work (gotta pay the bills!) and enjoying our new place.

  • Do a site audit for Couple Money. I have over 800 posts written on the site and I know that some of them need to be updated so they can be useful for new readers who visit the site looking for personal finance tips.This will be an ongoing project so for April I'm shooting for 50 posts.
  • Go green at home. With all the work we have done, we have plenty of yard debris that we can use for compost. We also want to start redesigning the landscape and growing some grass so the kids can have a place to play. Not the whole yard (that wouldn't fit with our long term plans), just a chunk near the back patio area. Right now it's a mix of weeds, large bald spots, and crabgrass.
  • Pitch a podcast. I have an idea for another podcast that I would love to do. More details on it later, but this is something I'll need some support with.

THOUGHTS ON SIMPLIFYING THIS MONTH

Well, there you have it. I shared my goals for this month; I’d love to hear from you. What are you up to this month?

Challenge Everything: Cancelling Subscriptions

Not sure how things are where you're at, but pollen is EVERYWHERE over here. As much as I hate dealing with allergies, I'm happy that spring is here.

With a new month, it's time to share our progress with our Challenge Everything project.  Challenging our bills is helping us get closer to our goals.

It's been a while since I've written about it (sorry!), but I have been working on it. Actually this month's review was a doozy – we went through all of our subscriptions.

Why We're Simplifying Our Expenses

Simplifying our finances this year means we’re examining all of our expenses and seeing if:

  • they are necessary
  • we’re getting value from them
  • if there is a better deal out there for us

While it may look like we're just trying to cut expenses, we're seeing this as a way to make sure more of our money is going to what matters to us.

Evaluating Subscriptions

We have quite a few subscriptions pulling from our accounts:

  • Local CSA Delivery
  • Netflix
  • Lynda
  • NY Times
  • Skype
  • Amazon Subscribe and Save
  • Birchbox

Looking at this list, I was surprised at how much of our money is already allocated.

Our local CSA delivery service is awesome. Every week we get local sourced produce and some add-ons delivered to us. It's a time for sure, but I had to check if it made financially.

By comparing prices with local stores, I found things competitive UNTIL I looked at add-ons like bacon or cheese. Our local Trader Joe's has better deals on those.

From now on, we're going to cut back on the extra and just make a trip to Joe's to grab those tasty treats.

With Amazon I found that we could adjust what was on our subscription list. There are some items we can get cheaper at the local dollar store and now that our baby girl is becoming a toddler, we could also drop down on the frequency of some supplies.

I highly recommend using Lynda.com if you're looking to hone your technical skills. I've had gotten enormous value from the subscription which gives you access to thousands of classes.

However my schedule right now is full enough so I cancelled my subscription, at least for the time being. I'm pretty sure in the I'll sign up again when I have some more time.

As for the NY Times I went ahead and switched to a digital only subscription. I love opening up a paper and reading, but it was a waste of resources.

I'm keeping Skype as I use it frequently for work (podcast interviews) and it's the best price around.

Birchbox is  for a splurge, but we use many of the products we get so right now we're keeping it.

Go Ahead and Trim Your Expenses

I highly recommend trying this out yourself. You may be shocked at how much money you're spending.

Pressed with time? Trim finds the subscriptions on your credit card and cancels the ones you don't want. You can sign up for free.

Stash the Cash

All in all we're saving about $75/month with reviewing our subscriptions.

Since  saving isn’t really saving unless you stash it away. I’ve adjusted the monthly transfer into savings.

We like to use Capital One 360 to build our stash since they have a competitive interest rate and no maintenance fees.

I’ve also found local credit unions (like Coastal in my area) and banks tend to offer some better rates, so if you’re unhappy with where you money is at, don’t be afraid to move it.

REVIEWING EXPENSES

Have you been able to knock down or out some of your bills? Which ones?

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