Saving money on auto insurance

I remember about 7-8 years ago taking a defensive driving course offered by my employer to get a 10% reduction on my auto insurance. The course was boring and who wants to give up 4 hours a night for 2 nights when there is so much other stuff you could be doing? Well one thing I’ve done recently is take a defensive driving course again, however, this time the defensive driving course was all online. I haven’t gotten any tickets (well there were a few window tint tickets in my younger days) however nothing that would give me points on my driving record. I just wanted that 10% discount on my insurance again.

Right now I pay $393.28 every six months for auto insurance. That’s $786.56 a year that I’d love to have for something else other than auto insurance. Well if you’re like me and have a vehicle you’re stuck paying for auto insurance. You can take the online defensive driving course for New York at http://dayscarafileread.com/insurance/personal/ which is $24.95. I also decided to do some googling and look for a promo code for the website which I found $5 off at retailmenot.com. The promo code at the time of this writing is “NYMerchant” without quotes. The course will take you a minimum of 6 hours but took me closer to 8 hours. The nice part is you can take up to 30 days to finish the course so you can do a half hour here, 45 minutes there, etc.

The 10% insurance reduction lasts for 3 years and applies against your liability, no-fault, and collision insurance premiums. Another thing that this can be used for is if you have for example a speeding ticket. The online defensive driving class can take up to 4 points off of your driving record. This course ended up costing me $19.95 and will save me $215 over 3 years. Not bad since you have to pay for auto insurance no matter what if you’re driving your automobile legally on the streets. Your savings may even be greater if you drive a truck or nicer vehicle than a 2008 Honda Accord and have a higher insurance premium.

There is no test at the end of the class however there is a short test at the end of each module. The test questions were in my opinion mostly common sense and all of them were multiple choice. After you complete the course they will mail you a certificate to send in to your insurance company. You can also take the course on a tablet device so you can do it right from the comfort of your couch or bed if you prefer.

All in all I would say that taking this course was painless and definitely worth the time it took for the savings. For me it took 8 hours, so with a $215 savings it was like saving $26 an hour for my time to take the course. Maybe your time is more valuable than $26 an hour and it’s not worth your time to take the course. I know that for me, every little bit helps and I’m sure if you’re reading this blog you may be looking at ways to save a little extra cash also.

Another thing you may want to consider is getting a few different quotes from different companies for a lower premium. You would be amazed at how many people don’t do this. You could save a decent amount of money just by checking out a few websites in under an hour. I personally go through http://dayscarafileread.com/ for my auto insurance because they looked at a bunch of different insurance companies for me to get me a lower rate.

If you have any helpful way to save money on auto insurance please comment!

A recap of 2015

2015 came to an end and 2016 will have great things to come. This past year has been a huge one for me personally and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings with it. Since I’ve started writing my blog I’ve learned a lot about saving/investing for retirement. I’m also trying to get into the hobby of photography. I’ve had a lot of big changes throughout the year which I’ll go over in this blog post.

In April I became engaged with my beautiful fiancé. We had a lot of fun over the summer/fall since being engaged which involved doing a lot of camping, riding on boats with family/friends, going to the state fair (which was the first time for me since I was a little kid). We also did some hiking (maybe I can get her to do a high peak with me next year), some bike riding, went to Florida for one of her best friend’s wedding, and did a lot of house maintenance/upgrades.

In November I became a Microsoft Certified Professional. I passed the 70-411 test which is the Administering Windows Server 2012 test. The test was a lot of studying however investing in yourself is a great way to add to your skill set and makes you more desirable to your employer. Also for people like me who work in a constantly changing field, it shows that you can still learn and not become stagnant with older technologies. Also with new knowledge becomes greater opportunity in your career and better efficiency which leads me to my next achievement this year.

MS Cert

A huge achievement for me this year is I started a new job this December. I can say I was very comfortable with my old job of almost 7 years, enjoyed what I was doing, and wasn’t really looking for another job. When it comes down to it though, I work so that I can provide for my future wife, future family, and someday enjoy my life doing whatever I want to do (being financially independent). My new job will allow me to start putting away even more money towards my retirement than I was able to before getting this new job. I plan on living the same type of lifestyle and putting most of my extra money that I’m earning towards my retirement and savings goal this year. I’m sure that kids will be right around the corner after being married so I want to be used to not having a lot of extra money to blow on things I don’t need. Also with my new job I work 30 minutes less per day, have a 30 minute shorter lunch break, and 10 minutes less travel time to and from work. Therefor I’m getting back 80 minutes per day. That’s 6.6 hours a week which is equal to 346.6 hours a year. That likes getting an additional 8.65 work days off per year in extra time.

During black Friday I ended up purchasing a Nikon D5300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II Auto Focus-S DX NIKKOR Zoom Lens. The reason I purchased the camera is because I want to have high quality pictures from my wedding/honeymoon in December of 2016 and also to take high quality photos while doing outdoor activities in the years to come. I’ve come to realize there is a lot to photography outside of just point and click taking pictures. The features I love from this camera so far are the built in WiFi, the flip screen, and the great quality of the camera. Nikon also has a phone app called Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility which allows you to use your phone as a remote to take photos. You can also upload photos from your camera directly to your phone to upload to Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you use.

Another thing I’m really excited about is my brokerage account. I’ve really enjoyed learning about new ways to invest. I’ve only invested in ETFs so far on my own as I want to invest in multiple companies and not gamble my investments in single company stocks. Sure I’m not going to get rich overnight however I’m not going to lose all my money overnight either. Some people disagree with investing in just ETFs and not single company stocks however, I know of companies such as Enron and Volkswagen which make me not want to invest in a single companies stock. Another reason I invest in ETFs is because it doesn’t cost me any upfront fees to purchase my Vanguard ETFs and the fees are low. My fees are from .05% to .15% depending on what ETF I purchased.*The industry average ETF expense ratio is .55%. Vanguards average ETF expense ratio is .13%. If you invested $50,000 and left it in for 30 years, made 6% returns, you would save $32,801 just in expenses. Now just say you had $100,000 and left it in for 30 years at 6% returns. You would save $87,584 just in expenses just by going with Vanguard and not a different companies ETFs. Another reason I have this investment is because I’m going to need to have some sort of income from 55 to 59 ½ other than my 401K and Roth IRA. Vanguard has been my choice for ETFs so far.

This past year has been a great one for me both in terms of having fun with my fiancé, enjoying my life, and investing. I can only imagine what can be accomplished in 2016 if I keep trying to improve my goals. Next year I want to put more money into my personal brokerage account, max out my Roth IRA ($5,500 for me) and put in my company match into my 401k. I want to continue to enjoy time with my fiancé, family, and friends. Some new things I want to do in 2016 are get better at photography, learn about real estate to buy and rent a house, and also renew my VMware VCP certification. Also the biggest and best change I’m looking forward to in 2016 is to be able to call my fiancé my wife!

*Vanguard average ETF expense ratio: .13%. Industry average ETF expense ratio: .55%. Sources: Vanguard and Lipper, a Thomson Reuters Company, as of December 31, 2014.

Budgeting

Budgeting is a very boring topic to talk about. No one wants to do it because it takes a lot of work, you actually see where all of your money goes, and it’s a never ending process. Budgeting however can be very beneficial when you are trying to get your finances on track and working on retiring early. As I said before I use Mint.com to track most of my purchases, look at my debts, and to see how my investments are doing. I still like to have the old fashioned Excel spreadsheet to do my budget though because I can break it down in multiple categories such as how much I spend yearly for something (fuel oil I only buy once a year and break it down for how much I need to save monthly for that item).

Here is a copy of my budget that I’ve created in my excel spreadsheet: *Note* my fiancé buys most of the groceries and pays rent which is shown as reimbursements and the low cost associated with food.

Budget

As you can see I don’t really have must leftover (Fun Money), this is because of things such as Dish TV which I eventually plan on getting rid of and will save me $81 a month. When I moved into my house most of the appliances were old and stopped working which is why there is a high appliance cost. Eventually the remaining appliances will break and I will have to buy new ones so that expense will be lower once most of the appliances are new. Going out to lunch/dinner is a relatively high cost which can be fixed by not going out to eat as often and bringing lunch which can be healthier also. I have already started to cut back on some of my expenses such as now I cut my own hair. I dropped my cellphone plan to the prepaid Verizon plan which is $49 a month after taxes with unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB of data. I also dropped Netflix which saved me $8 a month and replaced the light bulbs I use the most with LED bulbs, which dropped my electric bill around $15 a month. See if switching to LED bulbs is right for you. (Switch to LED bulbs)

Another thing I did was I stopped buying K-Cups which is around $14 for a 24 pack and started drinking the free work coffee. I typically drink 2 cups of coffee a day so that’s around $1.16 a day, which equals $5.80 a week, which equals $23.20 a month, which equals $278.40 a year, which equals $2,784 over a decade. If I invested that same $278.40 a year and gained 8% interest on it over the decade I would have $4,349.45. Seems like a nice chunk of change saved up just for using the free coffee at work. But say you don’t want to give up your K-Cups. You can switch from the 120 channel dish package that costs me $81.30 a month to something like Sling TV that includes ESPN, AMC, HGTV, TNT, A&E, and others for $20 a month. That’s a savings of $61.30 a month, that’s 735.60 a year. If you invested that same $735.60 a year you saved and gained 8% interest on it over a decade you would have $11,508.82. Who even watches most of the 120 channels you get from the Dish package? Now say you invested that money for 20 years, you would then have $36,355.50 saved. These are just a few small changes you can make to your everyday life that you probably won’t even really miss and have save some major cash over a few decades towards your retirement.

The thing to note here is that your budget can help you realize where your money is really going. You can see what you can cut back on and use that money for future investments towards your retirement. I realized by making some small changes in my life I can save thousands of dollars a year and I really don’t miss anything that I’ve cut out of my life. In fact I’m happier seeing my net wealth go up than I am saving 30 seconds by using a K-cup instead of the free coffee at work. Just make sure you go back and analyze your budget from time to time as it will change often with new needs that arise and some old ones that can be cut back on or eliminated altogether.

Half.com- sell books or buy cheap books

First off in my opinion Amazon Prime day was a FAIL. I didn’t see that many good deals and most of the deals were just on random crap you probably didn’t need or want in the first place. I really do enjoy Amazon for the most part however Amazon Prime Day was not something that impressed me. Just as an example I saw an ASUS Transformer Book T100 for sale at around $270 down from $299. Gamestop has had the same tablet on sale for $200 for a week now. I hope some people found something useful for as much hype that was given to this “Massive Sale”. Enough with the rants, back to how to make or save some money!

What do you do with your books when you’re done with them? Usually they just sit on a shelf for years until they aren’t worth any money. If you’re anything like me you won’t go back and re-read the book or you didn’t even read it fully in the first place. Or you can do what someone who wants to make some extra cash does. You sell the book to get some of your money back. Well how do you sell your college books that most people don’t want unless they are going to college for the same thing as you? Where do you offload that book that you just finished and won’t ever read again? You can go to a website that is run by Ebay which is http://www.half.ebay.com/.

Once you’re on the website you just enter the ISBN or UPC and click go. The ISBN and UPC are typically found on the back of the book.

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Once you enter the ISBN or UPC you then describe the book. You select the condition of the book, add a comment, and add a description (Optional). You can click on the Quality Rating Policy to see how you should rate your book. After you enter all of the info click Continue.

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Enter your half.com account or register for an account.

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Enter the price that you want to sell the book for. Click List Item. Remember you will have to pay for shipping charges.

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You should now see a note that says “Congratulations, your item has been listed!”

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Now the waiting game. You wait until someone buys your book or you can lower your price if it doesn’t sell within a certain amount of time.

Just remember to try and ship your book within a day or 2 of you selling it.

Also from this website you can buy books as a discounted rate by people trying to sell them just like you! I hope this helps someone who is trying to get some money back from their overpriced college book or just trying to clean up the house.

Amazon Prime Day vs Walmart

Amazon announced that on July 15th they would have a sale bigger than Black Friday called Amazon Prime day to celebrate their 20 year anniversary. Amazon is only giving these deals to Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime costs $99 per year and students can get it for $49 per year with a valid .EDU account. Amazon Prime members also get added benefits such as free 2 day shipping on Amazon Prime qualified items, Prime instant video, Prime music, and Prime photo just to name a few. Today Walmart also announced that they will have a rival sale on July 15th with over 2000 items on sale.

The major difference between the 2 sales is that people won’t need a membership to get Walmart’s sales. Walmart has stated that they are reducing the minimum order for free shipping from $50 to $35 and their sales will last for 90 days. Walmart will also have “some special atomic deals,” on their website. Amazon has stated they will have thousands of deals and they will also have new deals as frequently as every 10 minutes.

If you don’t want to pay the Amazon Prime fee you can still take advantage of the sale with a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime. The deals will start at 3 A.M. Est. I personally have Amazon Prime and believe the $99 price tag is well worth it as I do a lot of online shopping with free 2 day shipping from things such as paper towels to toilet paper at prices cheaper than I can get in stores. All in all I think it will be an exciting day to see what sort of deals we can find (maybe some early Christmas shopping?)

Also you may want to check out some deal websites that day to see what deals users truly believe are great deals.

http://www.roadtofinancialindependence.com/savings-directory/

Tool to save some money

Recently I have begun seeing ants on my apple tree leaves. The leaves now have holes on them from the ants. I did a little research and found you can buy a product call Tree Tanglefoot which is a sticky adhesive to put around the tree to keep ants from climbing the tree. You wrap some construction tape around the tree about 3-5” long then you can paint the tape with Tree Tanglefoot. The reason for using something like construction tape is that the construction tape is elastic and won’t prevent the tree from growing around it. Why do you care about my apple trees and ant problem? You probably don’t however you may care about how I saved some money buying the Tree Tanglefoot Pest Barrier.

I went to my usual shopping sites Amazon.com and Ebay.com to look for Tree Tanglefoot Pest Barrier. I even checked slickdeals.com and dealchatcher.com which neither had any deals on Tanglefoot. Amazon.com had the Tree Tanglefoot 15oz adhesive for $16.89 shipped. Then I went to Ebay.com and found they had Tree Tanglefoot 15oz adhesive for $15.74 shipped. Then I installed a program in my Google Chrome browser called Invisible Hand. Invisible Hand is an add-on for Google Chrome (Also works with Firefox and Safari) that shows you compared prices from all over the web.

Once I found my item this tool pops up and has an option to Compare Prices. You just click the button and it shows you the lowest price they found from other retailers around the internet.

As you can see here a company called Midland Hardware had the same 15oz Tree Tanglefoot adhesive for $12.84 shipped.

tanglefoot

Honestly without this application installed I probably wouldn’t have ever stumbled upon Midland Hardware’s website. Therefor just by installing this application I saved $2.90. Not bad considering I didn’t have to do any work other than install the app and it did all of the rest of the work.

If you are interested in installing invisible hand checkout their website:

http://www.getinvisiblehand.com/

Save money flying!

The fiancé and I have a trip coming up this fall to Orlando Florida for one of her friend’s wedding. We are from Central New York. That means we have to travel to Florida and instead of driving 24 hours down and 24 hours back we opted to fly. Flying will cut our trip from 24 hours down to about 6 hours (3 hours of travel and 3 hours in the airport.) However this means that we have to pay for the expense of saving 18 hours of our life. (Remember time is one thing you can’t buy for the most part.) So we went searching for the cheapest plane tickets to Florida and I was quite surprised on what I found.

My fiancé said go to southwest.com they are always the cheapest. Me, being a guy, figured I could probably find a cheaper deal than southwest.com and went on my merry way to being my quest of the cheapest flight. Being a technical guy I decided to start my search by going to some different travel websites. The first website that I went to was Travelocity.com. I searched for a direct flight from Albany, New York and Syracuse, New York to Orlando, Florida. Not a single direct flight and it said that they searched more than 400 airlines! I figured surely there wasn’t any direct flights then? So I tried searching for a non-direct flight. The cheapest flights were $253.20 per person round trip with United which had 1 stop and all flights were between 4.5-8 hours + the 3 hours you sit in airports. $253.20 per person didn’t seem like that bad of a deal even if it did include 1 stop.

The next site I checked was kayak.com. I selected the option to compare vs Orbitz, Cheap O Air, Hotwire, Priceline, Expedia, and One Travel. However it didn’t say that it was actually comparing those other sites you have to click the compare button on the right hand side. Once again there was no nonstop flights from searching on Kayak.com. The price was about the same being $254 with United and flights being from 5 hours to 7 hours long plus the 3 hours you normally wait in airports. I clicked the compare button for all 6 of the websites that were offered to compare against. One Travel’s cheapest was $266.20 with United being the lowest price. Expedia came in at $253.20 with United being the lowest price. Priceline came in at $253.20 with United being the lowest price. Hotwire came in at $253.20 with United being the lowest price. Cheapoair came in at 266.20 with United being the lowest price. Orbitz came in at $253.20 with United being the lowest price.

After looking at all of these sites I guess we are flying United Airlines for $253.20 per person. I told my fiancé what I had found and she said southwest is $246 per person. So I went to southwest.com and sure enough it was. Guess I shouldn’t have wasted my time searching the other websites for flights. Not only were they the cheapest but southwest.com had nonstop flights! Wow I couldn’t believe it, southwest didn’t show up in any of those search engines I went to. Not only that but Southwest doesn’t charge for the 1st or 2nd bag where United charges $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for a second checked bag. Looks like we have a winner for our flights.

So thanks to my fiancé we went from flying united with 1 stop at $556.4 to flying SouthWest nonstop at $492 saving $64.4 combined for our round trip as we will both be checking in a bag. That’s 13% of our flight saved! Not bad considering we save time and money! It just goes to show you that even though you are searching those mega sites that claim to give you the lowest price around you might not really be getting the lowest price. Also those added fees like baggage fees can add on significantly to the overall price of your flight.

Verizon Prepaid Plan- Extra data for free!

So recently someone I work with told me that Verizon decided to start giving users 1GB of data for their 3g prepaid plan which costs $45 per month. However if you had the 500MB plan before, it doesn’t automatically change for you. I went onto the Verizon Wireless website and checked my Verizon prepaid plan which shows my data plan at 500MB per month.
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http://www.fxinfo.com/

Then I went into Plan & Data and saw that there is the $45 per month plan with Unlimited Talk and Text but with 1GB of data instead of 500MB of data.
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I clicked the Review & Confirm button and you can see it’s the same price, same unlimited text, and unlimited minutes, just now it’s 1GB of data instead of 500MB of data (That’s double the data for the same price.)
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Scroll down and Check the I agree to the Terms & Conditions checkbox

Check the Acknowledgement checkbox

Click Submit, and you’re all set and upgraded to the extra 500MB of data per month.
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Thanks Verizon for not automatically updating this. (Me being sarcastic)
I hope some other people who use Verizon’s prepaid phone plan find this useful and get some extra data for the same price as before!

Ally Bank Review

Recently my fiancé and I came up with a budget for our wedding. We decided we wanted to open a joint savings account to start saving for the wedding. Typically I don’t like to save money in a savings account because the APY is on average .06% for savings accounts. The average inflation over the past 10 years has been around 2.11%. This means by keeping your money in a savings account it is worth less than it was a years ago. For example $1,000 in 2005 is about the same as having $1,211 in today’s dollar value. Therefor you would have lost $211 if you kept your money under your mattress (Which I don’t recommend at all.) However if you kept that $1,000 in a savings account that offered .06% APY it would only be worth $1,006. Therefor you still technically lost $205 due to inflation by not keeping your money in something with better APY. Well to help ease the pain a little and lose less money you can put your money in a savings account with a higher APY such as an Ally Savings account.

Ally at the time of this writing offers .99% APY. That doesn’t sound like a lot more than .06% however if you kept that same $1000 in a savings account for 10 years with a .99% APY you would have $1,103. That’s $97 more than the national average savings account with a .06% APY. Not bad for not having to do any additional work other than putting your money somewhere with a higher APY. I still try to make my money do as much work for me as possible by investing it however, sometimes you need to have your cash liquid and available to you so you can spend it whenever needed. This is where savings accounts come into play.

I chose Ally Bank Savings Account for a few different reasons. The biggest reason was the .99% APY. The next biggest reason was good reviews of the bank from other users. Having great reviews helps making your decision of opening a new savings account a lot easier. Also there are no Monthly/Annual fees with Ally bank which is a big deal for me. This savings account is online only, FDIC insured up to $250,000 per depositor, has no minimum balance, and has online bank statements. Also there is no minimum balance to open the account and no minimum balance to avoid fees as there are with some other online banks. For Example Synchrony Bank High Yield Savings offers 1.05% APY however, they also charge you a fee if your balance goes below $30 and they charge you $3 if you have any paper statements sent to you by mail. Not a big deal however I didn’t want to risk getting charged fees if either of those 2 things did occur.

So now that my fiancé and I have our Ally account setup we have a certain dollar amount direct deposited to our Ally account from each paycheck. I also have the Ally account setup in my Mint.com account so I can track the account however, I have it set to hidden for now so I don’t think I have more money to spend than I really do on other frivolous things. This money is strictly for our wedding budget. After the wedding we may start using the account for a vacation fund! Just recently we had a wedding expense come up for securing our rooms for the wedding. I went on to Ally’s website and did a transfer of funds from the Ally account to my checking account which is with a different company that is linked to my Ally account. With just a few clicks the money was on its way. The money showed up in my checking account 3 days later. I put the charge on my Credit Card for now and will pay the wedding expense off as soon as it shows up on the credit card. Also I got 1.5% cash back by using my Credit Card so I saved even more money by using that and paying it off before the end of the month.

So far I’m really happy with the Ally Savings Account and would gladly recommend to others that don’t want to use a traditional savings account with a low APY. If you want to learn more about Ally Online Savings Account you can check it out here: http://www.ally.com/bank/online-savings-account/?INTCMPID=HP_NAV_SVG Just remember you should have your money work as hard as it can for you so you don’t have to work so hard to reach your goal of financial independence and enjoy your life by a nice camp fire!

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Also if you have any questions/comments please post below and I will be happy to answer.