Goodbye free cell phone

Friends, I have very sad news for you all today. A tragedy is unfolding right before our very eyes. I’m afraid my days of free cell phone service are numbered. My parents, and Girl Ninja’s parents, have formulated an evil scheme to ruin my financial future. They are kicking us off each of our families cell phone plans. The horror!

Unfortunately the majority of cell phone companies only allow five people on a family plan. There are five in my family, and six in Girl Ninja’s. That means there is no room for either of us to join on one of the exisiting family plans. Major bummer.

I know, many of you probably hate that I have leached off of my parents and enjoyed the benefits of a free cell phone. But hey, you’d probably do it to if your parents offered.

I’ve been out of my ATT iPhone contract since October. Girl Ninja’s Verizon contract is up in February. That means next month we will be starting our own plan. I love my iPhone, but just don’t know if I love it enough to pay for it myself. The thing is sexy as heck, but it’s also freakin’ expensive. It’s SEXpensive!

I’m pretty sure Girl Ninja’s phone is from the 1950’s as there is no touch screen, internet connectivity, or QWERTY keyboard. She’s stylin’ and profilin’ with an old school Motorola brick phone. Not only are our phone preferences completely different, but we are on different carriers. There are some serious decisions to be made. Let the arguing negotiating begin!

Do we go with modern technology and get iPhones (or Droids)? Or should we kick it old school and get a phone that is really designed to do one thing…make phone calls?

It’s looking like we’d be facing about $190/month if we hopped on an iPhone plan (that is unless Verizon has crazy low prices for their recently announced iPhone). I bet, though, if we just got super basic phones, with unlimited texting (but not data or other services) we’d probably be able to get our bill down to about $100/month.

That makes the iPhone an extra $1,080 a year (really $2,160 since you have to sign a two year contract).

As much as I love this little computer/lifeline/iPhone thingy, I just don’t know if the cost is worth it. Should be interesting to see how the next month pans out πŸ™‚

What kind of cell phone do you have (smart phone or unsmart phone)?

How much do you pay for your cell phone plan (include # of people on plan)?

Anyone else receiving any type of parental hook ups, like Girl Ninja and I were with free cell phones?

Chase Sucks

I opened my first checking account with Washington Mutual when I was 16 years old . I loved the bank and loved having a debit card in high school (it made me feel cool, even though I really wasn’t). Fast forward, eight years later. WaMu goes under, gets bought out by Chase, and the whole world comes to an end… almost.

I recently received a letter from Chase indicating they would be making some changes to my checking account. I usually get letters like this every few months, but the changes are almost always minor things I don’t care about. This letter was different…

As of February 8th, 2011 those who have a Chase Checking account will be charged a $10.00 monthly service fee.

Hold the phone?! Let me get this right. You are going to charge me $120 a year to access my own money? Heck No Techno! That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

If you want to avoid paying the monthly fee, you have to meet one of the following criteria…

– have at least one direct deposit of $500.00 (or more)
– or keep a balance of $1,500.00 (or more) in your checking account
– or keep an average balance of $5,000.00 or more across multiple chase accounts (checking, savings, investments, etc).
– or pay at least $25.00/month β€œin other qualifying account fees (not including the $10 monthly service fee).”

Could I meet Chase’s demands and avoid the $10/month checking account fee? Of course. But I’m a man of principle (and stubbornness) and I refuse to negotiate with financial terrorists. That’s right….terrorists!

My solution to the problem is quite simple. Change banks. Girl Ninja and I are now proud customers of Wells Fargo. It’s probably the second best decision I’ve made (the first best was starting this blog, the third best was marrying Girl Ninja…kidding…kind of).

I’m a firm believer of voting with my dollar, and in this case, I’m taking my dollars to another bank. Have any of you seen any changes to your financial accounts recently? Did anyone else get this letter from Chase? Let’s pretend your bank gave you the same letter Chase gave me. Would you just suck it up and make sure you meet one of their demands, or would you say “Screw you Chase” and move on to another bank that doesn’t have requirements for free checking?

Prolonging the journey

I’ve been in the personal finance game for a little over two years now and it’s been a ton of fun. Many of my goals, during this time, have ebbed and flowed (much like my mother’s love for me), but home ownership has always been an urgent necessity. It would validate my significance and success in how I managed my money. At least, that’s what I thought.

Does home ownership really indicate one’s financial stability? For my wife’s parents it does. They own their home outright and it has significantly increased in value over the 20 years they’ve owned it. For the thousands of Americans facing foreclosure’s and short sales, not so much. “The American Dream” should not be owning a home, but owning a home when you can actually afford to own one. Novel concept right?

Renting seemed like the stupidest thing in the world to me. Why would I throw away $1,500/month, when I could own a home instead? Well, it turns out renting has quite a few perks of it’s own.

It allows me to put more in the savings vehicle of my choice. Taking on a mortgage forces you to save a sizable part of your income in your home, and as we all know, the real estate market is not always stable. I would rather throw $1,000/month away in rent and put $1,500/month in to my savings account, than just have a $2,500 mortgage.

It allows me total flexibility. If I get fired tomorrow, I am not limited to a 50 mile radius when hunting for my next job. Not only can I move wherever and whenever, but I can also determine how much I want to pay. If I ever feel like my rent is too high, I can always ask the landlord to reduce rent. How many homeowners can call their banks and say “Please lower my mortgage for no reason besides I’d like you to.”? And if my landlord says tough luck, I can pack my bags and begin looking for a new place.

But the real reason I most likely wont own a home in the next five years is this. It wont be a good time to buy one. If someone gave me $150,000 right now I’d sign a mortgage tomorrow. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to happen. This means that I will keep on saving and saving and saving. Who knows where interest rates and home prices will be a few years from now, but if either are at crazy highs (to counteract the current crazy low) I don’t think I’ll be buying.

Renting isn’t a bad gig and one I won’t mind doing for a while longer. One day I’ll join the ranks of you homeowners, but I hope to do so at a time where I am financially able and at a point in my life where I am ready to commit 10+years of my life to one area.

Anyone else care to chime in with their two cents on renting vs owning? Do you think renting is “throwing” money away? For you homeowners, what lead you to the decision to quit renting and begin owning?

I think we can all agree that both renting and owning are stupid when compared to the third option…. living at home with the parents. You hear that Mom Ninja, the wife and I are moving in!!!! Muwahahahaha!!!!!

Pickin’ up the tab

I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post a while back titled “Wife = Asset or Liability.” I asked the question as bachelor Ninja, but now that I’ve been married just shy of a month, I’m pretty much an expert on the topic (haha, yeah right). So, to answer my own question, “Is Wife Ninja an asset or a liability” I’ve come up with a few areas of my life where she has added (or subtracted) value…

Stuff (liability):

I can not process the amount of stuff Wife Ninja has. The number of purses, shoes, candles (lots and lots of candles), picture frames, etc she brought in to this marriage are staggering. Her clothes alone have exploded, out of her closet and in to baskets under the bed, baskets in the linen closet, and of course in to my closet space. I always heard women come with a lot of baggage, but I didn’tΒ  know it literally meant women come with A LOT OF BAGGAGE!!!!

Food (Asset):

Seriously one of my favorite things about living with a girl is my meals. When I was living alone I typically ate, spaghetti, PB&J, and chicken. Since Wife Ninja is all in to being healthy and stuff, we make sure to whip up some well rounded meals. We have a salad with dinner just about every night as well as one or two other sides. She is the primary grocery shopper and meal planner, but when it comes to the preparation we make sure to implement some teamwork. Cooking with her has been some of my favorite times together.

Insurance (Liability):

Wife Ninja is a substitute teacher (but we are keeping our fingers crossed for a teaching contract) which means she gets absolutely NO benefits. Since she is under 25, she was able to stay on her parents plan. That is until we got married. The torch has been passed and she is now on my insurance policies. Across health, dental, and car I think the insurance expenses have increased about $250/month. Which means my take home pay is smaller. Not super excited about that.

Dual Income (Asset):

Today is the first day of the school year and Wife Ninja is already at a school subbing. We are hoping, of the 20+ school days in a month, she will get called to work at least 15 of them (So keep your fingers crossed a lot of teacher get sick, just kidding). If she could work at least 15 days she’d bring in about $1,500 to $2,000 each month, which I would then use to buy ridiculous man toys like a jet ski or a tiger.

Hair/Bobby Pins (LIABILITY!!!):

You have got to be kidding me women. I mean I can’t believe all the random places your hair and your bobby pins end up. No joke, somehow a hair from Wife Ninja managed to embed itself in my belly button. When I discovered it, I almost threw up. I don’t know how she isn’t bald, because I find globs of her hair in the most random places all the time.

And why is it, she can’t seem to keep bobby pins in her hair? I’ve found them on the floor, in the shower, on the couch, and even in the refrigerator. IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!!! I’ve decided I’m going to start collecting these stray bobby pins, and then at the end of the month, I will sell them back to her.

Great Smells (Asset):

Alright, I have to give credit when credit is due, and Wife Ninja always smells phenomenal. Even when we return from a 4 mile run (where I smell like hot garbage and death), she still manages to smell of roses and angel food cake. While this wonderful smell comes with a price, the cost of the various lotions, cremes, and products, it is well worth it in my opinion. I seriously am addicted to her perfume, in fact, I think I’m going to go take a hit of it right now πŸ™‚

So, without all the scientific mumbo jumbo, I think I’ve pretty much proven that Wife Ninja is both as asset and a liability to my life. I, however, am probably just a straight liability. I’d love to hear what “assets/liabilities” your significant other brings to the relationship.

Frugal mans paradise

As I shared in an earlier blog post, I am the proud owner of a 46″ flat screen HDTV. It’s pretty much the most glorious thing I’ve ever owned and it was definitely my favorite wedding gift. But with a great TV comes great responsibility. One of those responsibilities is ensuring I’m putting that television to use. Only problem is, I’m not a huge TV guy. In fact, now that I think about it. I haven’t turned the thing on in over a week.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t figured out how to put it to work for minimal cost. I thought I’d share with you all, a few ways I try and get the best bang for my buck.

TV:

Like I mentioned, neither Mrs. Ninja or myself, are the biggest TV fans, but that doesn’t mean we don’t poke in from time to time to see what’s on. I called the local cable companies and the cheapest “decent” package I could get (with ESPN, HGTV, MTV, etc) was $60/month. Even if I wanted just the basic local channels it would still cost $15/month. So instead I spent $20 to buy an HDTV antenna. It’s awesome. I still get all the major local channels, in high definition, with absolutely no monthly cost. It’s seriously legit. Sure, I may not get the cable channels, but I bet I could find them online if I really wanted.

Movies:

I’ve known about Netflix for a real long time. In fact, Mom Ninja bought their stock a long time ago because she knew they had something good going for them. I never really felt like I needed it because I could rent at redbox for $1/day. But then Sister Ninja got me a sweet Blu-Ray DVD player that streams Netflix, Pandora, Blockbuster, etc. Since I can watch a ton of movies via Netflix streaming, I figured it is worth the $9/month cost. I signed up yesterday for a one month free trial. I hope it is as awesome as I’m thinking it will be. Any suggestions on what to add to my “Must watch list?”

Phone:

Goodbye landline and expensive cell phone plan. Hello MagicJack. This thing is legit. It plugs right in to my computer and operates like a normal phoneline. I have a cordless phone plugged in to it and can make unlimited nationwide calling! The best thing about the MagicJack is the price. The service is only $20 for the year. That’s right. For the year!!!! That’s less than $2/month for unlimited calling anywhere. The local cable companies land line plans start at $19.99/month. You’re probably thinking “I don’t need a landline, my cell phone works just fine,” but I’d be willing to bet you would be able to lower your cell phone plan minutes, which in turn would save you a ton! MagicJack isn’t the only internet phone option, but it’s the only one I’ve tried, and I like it a lot.

I’m sure these three things are nothing knew to you, but I can’t help but share how awesome they are. They truly are a frugal man’s paradise. Now if only I could figure out a way to get internet for cheaper. Perhaps steal the neighbors? Just kidding.

Are there any other services you all know about that help save ya’ll a buck? I don’t want to be missing out on some sweet deals. And I’m serious. I want to know what movies are on your “Must watch” list, so I can add them to my Netflix queue.

p.s. I was not paid by Netflix or MagicJack for this post, however, if they wanted to pay me for it, I would gladly accept contributions in the form of burritos or tacos πŸ™‚

Autopay gives me the heebyjeebies

Nothing on this earth scares me more than initializing auto-payments from my checking account. Actually, I take that back. If I came home expecting to see Girl Ninja, but instead saw this guy, I’d probably be more freaked out…

…but not by much. I’ve never liked the idea of giving another company permission to access my checking account. In fact, it freaks me out so much that I willingly pay extra fees to manually send the payment each month. Sure it doesn’t make much financial sense to do that, but it sure does give me a peace of mind.

The only company I’ve ever established auto-debit authority to was Sallie Mae, only because it lowered my interest rate by a quarter percent. I flirted with the idea of granting my car insurance and cable provider access to my checking account, but decided it wasn’t worth it after reading horror story upon horror story of the auto-pay feature. For example, one person tried to cancel their auto-payments with their cable provider as they switched service, but three months later, money was still being taken from their account. Or how ’bout the person who agreed for $200 to be taken out each month, but was shocked when $2,000 was extracted. Or the numerous people who unknowingly became delinquent on their car payment because the auto-debit transaction freaked out and didn’t pull the money, but said person never realizes this as the payment is suppose to be automatic, and next thing they know they’re getting harassed by Toyota for being two months late on their car payment.

No sir. I’ll gladly pay a few extra bucks if it means I keep sole access to my bank accounts. Besides, I feel accomplished when I go through each month and manually schedule my payments. I also find comfort in knowing exactly how much will come out of my account. It basically reminds me I’m in control of my money.

Do you use the auto-pay feature on any of your bills? Have you had, or heard of, any auto-debit nightmares? Am I the only one that finds satisfaction in manually paying my bills?

p.s. Did anyone else notice the creepy dude’s inner thighs are tanner than the rest of his body? Does that means he tans with really long tube socks and a long sleeve shirt so that only his groin gets tan? Awkward!

I’ve lost touch with my money

Before I get in to today’s post, I just want to take a minute to say thank you to everyone that volunteered yesterday to help me out and provide an article for PDITF while I am gone participating in wedding shenanigans. I’ll be getting in touch with each of you over the next few days to discuss details. Thanks!

I’ve been a very naughty ninja lately. I’m breaking one of my most important PF rules: Manage your money. For the first time, in probably two years, I don’t have a handle on my financial situation. It’s a very odd/disturbing/uncomfortable feeling. Fortunately after, a few hours checking my bank accounts, doing a little quicken reconciling, and a sexy date with my TI-83, I should be back to normal.

I’m totally obsessed with knowing where my money is going, and when it is going there. This means if I have $5,000 in my checking account and $2,000 in charges on my credit card bill, I would immediately transfer $2,000 to my online savings account so that money can start earning a higher yield than my checking account.Β  This would leave $3,000 in my checking. I’d eventually send another $2,000 to my credit card, to pay that bill in full when it came due, which then leaves my checking with $1,000 for emergencies.

But instead of initiating bank transfers, I’m just trying to calculate/predict how much cash flow I will have by the end of the month. I know I have a redonkulous balance on my credit card (honeymoon, furniture, wedding stuff) and an even more redonkulous sum of money in my checking account (haven’t transferred money out in over a month). I know that my checking exceeds my credit card statement, but for the first times in recent years, I don’t know by how much. And even worse, I haven’t initiated a transfer of that excess in to my savings accounts.

Right now, I’m the perfect example of WHAT NOT TO DO when it comes to managing your money. Tomorrow, I’m buckling down and figuring all this mess out so I can ease the financial anxiety I’ve been feeling these last couple weeks.

Am I going to PF hell for letting my finances get away from me? Do even you BUDGET NAZIS get a little lazy sometimes? How do you keep your money moving, even when you don’t have the time to sit down and tell it where to go? What software/method do you use? Slap some sense in to me will ya?!

I know many of you will suggest establishing automatic payments, but auto payments are not my thing…they kind of freak me out.