Improve your personal finance whilst having fun!

Unfortunately, most everyone will experience a difficult time financially. While this can often seem to be an insurmountable obstacle, the internet provides numerous possibilities to help ease one’s financial burdens. These are some fun options to consider.

Language Learning

Online learning has soared thanks to the internet with a multitude of courses being offered. This demand has naturally created a need for instructors covering many topics including language acquisition. One’s skills in their native tongue or even in a second language can translate to cash. Different online sites let prospective instructors register to offer their services. Typically, there are certain qualifications that much be met but this can provide a great way to supplement one’s income.

Clean out your Closets

We have all heard the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. This idea can also translate into income as well. We all have those unwanted items cluttering our lives that can be sold on various online auction sites. Of course, the most well known is eBay. However, many social media outlets, such as Facebook, offer virtual local marketplaces where you can sell your items without having to go to the trouble of shipping.

Online Gaming

This is a terrific way to add to your bank account while having fun at the same time. Players can opt for either an online casino like gamblinginsider.ca or perhaps a bingo website. No matter the game, many of these sites also provide further ways to increase winnings with bonuses as well as online tournaments such as slot machines. The great thing about this option is that it can be done anywhere which means you can fill certain chunks of time with gaming.

Whether you are experiencing financial difficulties now or may in the future, these ways can provide some additional income which can help improve one’s financial outlook.

I could make a full salary on Craigslist.

I’ve blogged many times about my love of Craigslist, and how I’ve used it to save money over the years. Over the last six weeks or so, I’ve been flipping furniture on CL and am shocked at just how profitable that can be. Spefically, when you are wheeling and dealing mid century modern furniture. Let’s look at a few case studies shall we…

Case Study 1: 

Girl Ninja and I had been using a black ikea cube bookshelf thingy as a storage space behind our couch. I hated how cluttered it always looked and decided it was time to look in to getting an actual credenza for our space. I came across this guy for $120 on CL. I offered $90 and the seller accepted.

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After realizing it was waaaaaay too small for our space, I decided to put it up on CL for $350 and see what happened. I’ll tell you what happened. Someone paid me $350 and bought it.

Profit: $260

Case Study 2: 

I made $260 in profit from my first credenza so figured it was only logical to roll that money in to another credenza. One that better fit our space. I paid $250 for this Lane Rhythm credenza…

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I did a little refinishing. About 30 minutes worth of work, sanding down the top and staining it to make it shine. I sold it for $650 less than 24 hours after buying it.

Profit: $400

Case Study 3: 

I wanted to dabble with two tone furniture, so I was on the hunt for a mid century dresser. Found this guy for $200 on CL (paid $150 for it after negotiating)…

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I put about two hours worth of work in to this guy. Doing some light sanding, priming, and then painting, with leftover white paint I had on hand. This is what it looked like when I was done…
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I was super happy with the end result and felt like I just Pinterested the crap out of the dresser. I posted it up for $400, and it sold quickly.

Profit: $250.

Case Study 4: 

I had a tree taken down in our backyard a couple years ago and saved one of the rounds that was leftover, figuring I could make something cool out of it. Originally my plan was to make it a centerpiece for our dining room table, but then I decided to turn it in to a live edge, side table. I paid about $45 for some hairpin legs and simply screwed them in to the bottom of my tree round. This was the final product…

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I posted it up on CL for $180 and it sold shortly after listing it.

Profit: $135.

Case Study 5:

I paid $65 for this credenza.

IMG_4925Can you believe it! $65 for this diamond in the rough. The seller was using it as storage for his kids toys in their playroom. He decided he wanted it gone. Within 20 minutes of him posting it, I was on my way to meet him and take it off his hands. It had an ugly wood base that had pretty nasty water damage to it, so I hammered off the ugly bottom and was left with the picture you see above.

I got the bright idea to buy some mid century modern angled legs online and dress things up a bit. The legs and angled brackets set me back $90. That’s right, I paid more for the legs than I did for the actual credenza.

I rubbed the piece down with some teak oil to bring out the woods natural tones and this is what it looked like after…

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My total investment was about $165. I probably could have sold this for about $800 on Craigslist, but a friend of mine loved it and needed a new TV stand. I gave him a friend deal and sold it to him for $400.

Profit: $240 (could have been $600+ if I posted on CL).

Case Study 6: 

Found this mid century dresser on Craigslist Sunday morning for $200…

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I didn’t do a single thing to the dresser. I reposted it on Craigslist as soon as I got home for $450, and it sold six hours later for $450.

Profit: $250.

Case Study 7: 

If you haven’t noticed the theme, I like to stick to credenzas and dressers that could be used as credenzas. It was time to mix things up a bit so I decided to flirt with a new piece.

I saw this coffee table listed on CL for $60 (I paid $50 for it)…

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I brought it home, staged it, took some photos and back on to Craigslist it went. It sold 24 hours later for $200.

Profit: $150.

Case Study 8:

Picked up this Broyhill Brasilia Tallboy dresser on Sunday for $200…

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Haven’t done a single thing to it (except stage it and take some photos). It’s on craigslist right now for $750, and should sell somewhere between $500-$750. I may end up keeping it though because it’s so freaking pretty. I mean look at it…

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So beautiful, and a pretty rare piece at that.

Case Study 9, 10, 11, and 12: 

Picked up this Lane Acclaim credenza for $450 on CL…

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I sanded down the top and stained it to make it shine. I posted it for $800 on CL and had a slew of people wanting to come see it. Girl Ninja freaked out and pulled a trump card saying I wasn’t allowed to sell it. So for now, this is the credenza that we are keeping behind our couch 🙂 Unless I can find someone that is willing to pay me $950 for it, then I’m gonna trump her trump and sell it 🙂

Here are a few other pieces I could sell for a couple hundred more than I paid for them, but Girl Ninja has trumped…

Paid $220 for this white leather chair, could probably sell for around $400…

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Paid $150 for this mid century leather chair. Should sell for $300-$400. 00X0X_jUxBqGVeL1u_600x450

Paid $250 for this desk and chair. Posted it for $500 and had multiple people asking to come see it. That was before Girl Ninja told me I wasn’t allowed to sell it…

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Conclusion:

In the last month, I made about $1,700 by simply buying furniture on Craigslist and selling it a few days later (or sometimes the same day) for double or triple what I paid. And that’s without even trying. It just kind of organically happened. I bet I could triple that income if I really got serious about it.

If you’re interested in flipping on Craigslist here are a few pointers I have for you:

1. Look for crappy ads. Most of these items only had a single cell phone picture of the furniture piece and there was barely any description of the item. Craigslist posts like these tell me the person just wants the piece gone and doesn’t care about getting top dollar. If the furniture is staged and has a detailed description, the seller probably knows exactly what their piece is worth, so there isn’t much room for profit.

2. Always offer less than what they listed the piece for. ALWAYS! Most of the time I can save $25 to $100 by simply asking the seller if they’ll consider taking less. About half the time they agree, the other half they stay firm. Any money you save on the purchase, increases your profit come time to sell.

3. Stage your photos and use a nice camera to take pictures (your 12mp cell phone camera isn’t going to cut it). You’ll notice each of my listing photos are edited to really make the piece stand out. I increase the contrast and sharpness, bring out the natural colors of the wood, and blur the background to make sure the furniture stands out as the focal point. Great photography translates to great profits.

4. Don’t budge on price. You’ll notice in just about every instance I negotiated a lower purchase price from the seller. But I’ve never once budged on my asking price when I’m the one doing the selling.

By the time people have taken the time out of their day to drive to my house and see the piece, I’m almost positive they are emotionally attached to the piece. They ask if I would consider accepting less, and I respond with something like “Sorry, I’ve gotten a handful of other emails on it and am confident it will sell for asking. But I understand if you want to pass. No pressure either way.”

They fear missing out on it, and they end up paying me full asking. Worst case, they walk away, and the next day someone else is knocking on my door to pay full price.

5. Look often. Craigslist gets thousands of new listings every day. I’ve gotten very good at sifting through CL to discover the diamonds in the rough. Search terms, sorting by newest items, and putting the layout in “grid mode” will be your biggest helpers. There is an art to Craigslisting and if you spend enough time on there, you’ll figure it out.

Now get off my blog and go make yourself a little extra money!

 

 

 

I’m about to save you 10% on life!

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Thanks to you bullies, I decided to splurge the other day and buy a $450 Weber grill. I wasn’t able to bring myself to a point where I could justify the purchase, but after a bunch of peer pressure from some of my readers I felt I had to.

Okay, that’s a lie.

I just really wanted a new grill, and your encouragement was just the nudge I needed. So thank you for that. 

I don’t know if you keep up with the comments that I get on my blog posts, but on my previous post there was a comment made that TURNED MY WORLD UPSIDE DOWN!!!!

Buy the grill. Yours is toast and you can afford the Weber. If buying at Home Depot, go to giftcardgranny.com and buy some discount Home Depot gift cards to cover the purchase. That will reduce the price by 8-10% which will ease your pain–especially if you get a Memorial Day sale price.

What is this sorcery? 

It sounds too good to be true… ONLY IT IS TRUE!!!!

Intrigued I hopped on over to Giftcardgranny.com (GCG) punched in Lowes (since that is closer to me than Home Depot) and BAM, hundreds of gift cards were being sold at a discount.

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GCG doesn’t actually sell the gift cards, they simply point you to various websites that do. Kind of like how you don’t purchase your airfare from Kayak, but they simply show you prices for all airlines. 

I was lucky enough to find a $400 Lowes gift card being sold for $359.96.  There may be similar deals on Home Depot coupons.

A 10.2% savings!!!!!

I was a little sketched out by the process and was fearing it was all a scam, but I decided to be your guniea pig and give it a try. The gift card I bought had an e-code associated with it (so I didn’t have to wait for a physical gift card to be mailed to me).

I punched in my credit card information, submitted my payment, and sure enough, 5 minutes after being notified my transaction went through, I got an email with my Lowe’s gift card code.

The moment of truth

I was so nervous that I just got suckered out of $360.

I clicked over to Lowes.com, added the $450 grill to my cart, and on the billing screen punched in my gift card code.

IT FREAKIN’ WORKED!!!!

In less than 5 minutes I saved myself 10% off an item that almost never goes on sale (Weber grills are like iPhones, they’re almost never sold at a discount because they don’t need to be).

My life has been changed forever. 

Why pay full price for anything when I can save between 2% and 10% at virtually every big box store?

Answer: I won’t.

So thank you PDITF commenter for sharing that gem of a website, and enlightening me and my readers.

Oh, and on a random side note. I think the BBQ gods wanted me to get this grill for free because in the mail yesterday I got a $500 Chase bank promotional offer. I get $300 for opening a checking account with them (I’m currently with Wells Fargo) and setting up a direct deposit. And $200 if I open up a savings account and transfer over $15,000 that I leave there for 90 days. Totally worth it as this promotion covers the full cost of my Weber!!! WOOHOO!!!

Will you be using discounted gift cards in the future?

What’s your next move.

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Personal finance, well really life in general, is often about the next move. You go from elementary, to middle, to high school, and then to college. You finish college and get a job, only to find yourself looking for a new job after a couple of years.

My entire personal finance journey has always been about the next move.

First it was getting a job so I could earn money.

Then I used my new income to start paying down $28,000 in student loan debt.

Once my debt was paid off, I focused on saving for a down payment so we could buy a house. When we reached $100,000 in our savings account, we bought a house.

This year, Girl Ninja and I have turned our focus to contributing more significantly to our taxable investment account, in addition to maxing out my 401k ($18,000) and Roth IRA ($5,500).

Even though we are in the wealth building phase (heavily investing as opposed to paying down debt or saving for a house) of our personal finance journey, I still don’t really feel like I know what our next move is.

Am I investing simply for the sake of investing? 

Shouldn’t I have a plan, stated goal, or purpose for this wealth I’m trying to create? I need a next move if I want to stay focused.

I need something to look forward to.

But what? Here are a few of the things that sound appealing, but I’m not quite sure are for me…

Early retirement.

We could build up our retirement and taxable accounts to such a great number (probably around $1.5 million) so I can retire a decade before I’m supposed to. That’s cool and all. But I honestly don’t think I would quit my job even if I was financially able to. The pay is too good. The work life balance is second to none. And I legitimately enjoy my job. It’s weird, I know.

Buy an investment property

I quite enjoy the the idea of putting down $70,000 or so down on a $350,000 house, renting it out for $2,000/month, and letting someone else pay off my mortgage for me, not to mention watch my asset appreciate over the years.

That said, I also quite enjoy not having to be a landlord, property manager, or maintenance man. Nor do I necessarily want to tie up even more money in another illiquid asset.

Save for our next home

Girl Ninja and I bought a cute/modest 1930’s craftsman in the greater Seattle area. We spent $350,000 for our house, even though we were approved to spend nearly $600,000 by our lender. We’ve been in our house for just shy of two years and we love our community more and more every day. That said, we also realize that 10 years from now, when multiple children are in the picture, we might want a house that meets different needs.

If we are going to upgrade in house five or ten years from now, we could start saving today to make the more expensive house less of a financial burden.

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No. Seriously. What else could be my next move? I honestly can’t think of another “next move”.

This is where you might be able to help me by sharing what YOUR NEXT MOVE is.

– Are you working towards paying down debt?

– Or are you saving to start your own business?

– Have you drank the early retirement kool-aid and you’re saving 50%+ or your pay? 

Maybe one of your “next moves” will inspire me and become my next move!

Is there any reason I should still have a savings account?

Girl Ninja and I are in the process of refinancing our mortgage. We locked in our refi rate at the end of January, which saved us 0.25% compared to today’s rates. Might not seem like much at first, but it works out to about $40 per month, every month, for the next 30 years. So yeah, I’m happy about that.

We should be lined up for closing sometime near the end of this month and as soon as closing wraps up, I plan to head over to a local credit union and take out that HELOC I was telling you about earlier. (I had to put that plan on pause since I didn’t want a line of credit on our home to screw up the chances of us being able to refinance easily.) I imagine the HELOC will provide us between $10,000 and $50,000 in immediately accessible liquidity.

The HELOC will essentially serve as our savings buffer. 

For my entire personal-finance-loving life, I’ve heavily relied on my savings account. I opened up an ING high-yield savings account back in 2007 (back when I was earning around 3% on my cash) and it was the start of a beautiful relationship. I used that savings account to pay off my student loans in 2010, pay cash for a $20,000 new-to-us car in 2012, and drop $80,000 on a down payment in 2013.

I loved my savings account so much I had four of them.

  • An “emergency fund” account
  • A “future car savings” account
  • A “vacation” account
  • An “extra savings” account.

But now that I plan to use my taxable investment account as my primary source of saving, I can’t help but think…

Is there any good reason to keep my savings account? 

I mean, I’ll be sure to keep a minimum of $10,000 cash on hand at all times in the event of an unforeseen issue (medical bill, job loss, home repair, etc), but why can’t I just keep that money in my checking account?

High-yield savings accounts used to be appealing, but for the better part of the last five years, they’ve paid virtually nothing. My current Capital One 360 savings account pays a pathetic 0.75% APY.

Or in other words, my $10,000 savings account only earns 75-ish dollars per year.

“THAT’S AWESOME.”  – said no personal finance blogger ever. 

So yeah, I think it’s about time I close out my last remaining savings account, and move that $10,000 to my one and only checking account with Wells Fargo, where it will reside for many years.

I guess the idea of not having a savings account just feels weird. It is as much a part of my personal finance DNA as this very blog.

  • Will I be able to function without one? 
  • Is there any good reason to keep it around? 
  • Am I committing a PF sin by closing this account? 

Only one way to find out. RIP savings account, you won’t be missed.

 

For Oh Won Kay.

In the blink of an eye, my overtime income that I blogged about two days ago is gone. Rest in peace, hopefully we will meet again.

Where did it go?

I’m glad you asked.

As soon as I learned the opportunity for overtime was available, I immediately began deciding how to purpose this new found income.

And like a true personal finance nerd, the result was about the most boring thing you could possibly imagine.

My 401k. 

While I’d like to pretend you didn’t see that coming, I imagine you nerds would have been just as nerdy and probably done the same nerdy thing.

Seeing that I have no idea how long this overtime option will be available to me, I want to make sure I take advantage while I can.

For now that means I’ll be throwing $1,600/month in to my 401k instead of the $600/mo I have been doing.

Since my agency matches 5% of my income each month, I have to be careful about how fast I max out my 401k.

If I hit the $18,000 limit by, let’s say August, then I would no longer be allowed to contribute to my 401k for the rest of the year (September to December). Which means, my agency wouldn’t be able to provide me a 5% match (since I’d no longer be contributing).

Or in other words, I’d lose out on about $2,000 of 100% FREE MONEY.

No way in heck I’m going to let that happen, so even though the overtime I’m working should theoretically gross me an additional $2,400/mo. I’ll only be throwing in $1,600 towards my 401k.

Leaving me with about $600ish dollars to tinker around with after tax.

To make sure things don’t get too exciting around these parts, I’ll probably just set up an auto-transfer and have that extra money go straight to my brokerage account.

Sexy by the worlds standards? Hardly.

Sexy by not-being-an-idiot-with-new-found-money standards? Absolutely. 

HELOC on hold. Refinance here I come.

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Last Friday I shared my grandiose plans to take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC) in an attempt to diversify the liquidity available to me.

That HELOC stuff is soooooooooo 1995 last week.

I’m on to bigger and better things now. And by “bigger and better” I mean, it’s time for me to play the refinance game.

 

Some Background

We put in our offer on our house in June 2013. It was accepted the day Ben Bernanke spoke publicly, for the first time, about the reserves plan to slow down Quantitative Easing. Which, in turn, resulted in mortgage interest rates taking a dramatic turn for the more expensive.

May 2013 rates were around 3.5%. By June they had jumped half a percent to 4.07%. And by July 2013 (the month we closed on our home) they were at 4.37%.

We quite literally missed some of the best interest rates in history by 24 hours, locking in at 4.125% instead of 3.5%.

Rates hadn’t moved much over the course of 2014 so refinancing was never really an option, but after my post about taking out a HELOC, some of you suggested I look in to it.

 

So I did.

 

I called a handful of banks to get an idea of what rates they were offering on a 30-year fixed refinance. Most of the large institutions (Chase, Wells, Citibank, etc) came back with a rate somewhere around 3.85% and closing costs of about $4,000 to $6,000.

I then used Zillow’s handy dandy refinance calculator to see what the break-even was on that deal. Here’s the graph…

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As you can see, I would save $44 per month by taking advantage of one of the big banks rates.

But that’s only half the story.

The break-even point was really what I was concerned with. Remember, I’d have to pay about $5,000 in closing costs to get that new rate. That makes saving $44 per month significantly less exciting. According to math, it would take me 9.5 years to earn that $5,000 back. I was hoping for a break-even somewhere around 2 years or less.

Bah humbug. 

Big banks were out of the question.

 

Next up, online lenders. 

After doing some research I stumbled upon, AmeriSave, a direct lender out of Atlanta.

For my situation (credit score, loan balance, etc) they offered the most competitive rate I could find. In fact, AmeriSave blew the big banks out of the water.

They were offering a rate of 3.75% and THEY would cover all of the closing costs. Ummm excuse me?

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Do you want to know what the break even is on the loan AmeriSave was offering? Check out the graph…

 

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That’s right. The break even point starts the day I get my new loan. I get to save $60 per month at no cost to me.

 

Is this too good to be true? 

Maybe. I read some online reviews. Some positive. Some negative.

Fortunately, Girl Ninja and I have excellent credit, all of our financials easily at hand (W2’s, pay stubs, account balances, etc), and a favorable debt to income ratio. I’m hopeful this will help our new loan close with few (if any) hiccups.

I spent quite a bit of time on Friday talking on the phone, and emailing, with my AmeriSave loan officer and so far everything has been running smooth.

side note: I may or may not have mentioned to him that I am a Personal Finance blogger who will be writing about my experience. Thinking that might scare him in to taking good care of me.

The only real risk for Girl Ninja and I is having the deal fall apart, but since we have no out-of-pocket expenses associated with the loan, if things go south we will just walk away and go find a new lender.

I’ve never gone through the refinance process before, but so far it’s been pretty painless.

Here’s to hoping it stays that way for the next 45 or so days.

Standby for more.