Savings Update + My Old School $$ Experiments!

by J. Money - Published May 18, 2015

aurora lights trees

Well, friends – we had our lowest savings yet from this Challenge Everything adventure. Only $253.37 banked this month which is a hard fall from the $800+ levels we were at just a few months ago. Still a nice chunk of change considering it was all free, but it appears my hustling in this department has since waned…

Am I mad at myself? Yes and no. Yes in that I started slacking in my Craigslist postings and I STILL haven’t gone outside of my 3 main bills there to cut down (I should start calling this the “Challenge Some-things” mission! Hah!), but no in that my time has been redirected in other – much more income producing – areas of my life in exchange. Such as taking on that high paying writing gig from last week, as well as other areas more linked to my online projects. It’s hard to swallow the fact that spending just a few hours on writing one article can produce more money than 7 months of selling my junk on Craigslist! But I guess it’s just the way the money crumbles…

So I’ve really been trying to focus on that old adage of “working smarter, not harder.” And when you do that – as I’m now figuring out – it means dropping the ball in other areas/goals of your life and stinging a little. Even though it makes the most sense, and I’d highly recommend it all day, every day ;) If you don’t allow yourself to adapt as time goes on, you’ll stay stuck in your ways forever. Even if they’re solid ways… Gotta keep tweaking and swapping in *better* avenues as you come across them so your cash continues to grow! Hustling 2.0!

Regardless, hard to complain when you’ve got an extra $250 for doing absolutely nothing. And I challenge all you new readers to the site to really stop and think about where all your money’s going too to see if there’s a better path for it! The beauty with cutting your recurring expenses is that it then becomes recurring savings EACH MONTH. And if you bank it all away into a separate savings account as I’ve been doing, you’ll find it really stacks up and motivates you along the way.

Here’s what our balance now looks like:

challenge savings usaa aprilAnd here’s the progression over the past 8 months to show you the power in this:

That’s $4,000 towards maxing out our Roth IRA – BOOM! Which I only know because I separated it all out from day 1. Just like what Chenell said last week on having multiple savings accounts, if this was merged in with my main savings I wouldn’t be able to see what an effect this mission has been making. And even more so now that I attached a purpose to this money! Makes all the difference in the world.

Here’s the breakdown of how April went:

challenge savings- april

Cell Phones — $100+ savings every month totaling almost $1,000 now since switching over to Republic Wireless. The iPhone was nice, but cash money early retirement is better!

Cable/Internet/Phone — Haven’t changed much in this account lately, so just laying back and enjoying the savings… I am considering upgrading our internet though once we start podcasting as I hear that’s key. I’d consider nixing cable again too if it was massive savings, but it only costs $20 or so more to keep it around since we need internet already, so it’s worth the value in entertainment it gives us. I love me some escapes from reality for a little each night. Can’t be hustling 24/7!

Car Insurance — This was the easiest of them all – literally took 15 minutes to save 15% 47% on a single phone call. And I didn’t even have to  use Geico!

what you did there - i see it

Found Change — $0.48 in total, I’m getting better at this! :) Finding almost as many dimes as I am pennies – much more efficient this way, haha…

Found Birthday Money — This was my favorite find of the month. $30 stashed in a birthday card I had lost in our car – oops! But the best part was that I had mentioned that Drop Stop invention from Shark Tank in my article about this, and then their fine social media team reached out and sent me a few to test out for free :) It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Haha… And I’ll let you know how I like them, btw. Maybe we’ll even give some away… I hear they’re great at stopping change from going down in the cracks, so it would probably pay for itself! :)

Craigslist Sales — #FAIL #FAIL #FAIL #FAIL

In other news, I’ve updated our Money Experiment page!

Last year I put together a page on all my crazy experiments I’ve done over the years with money, but every couple of months I come across some new ones I’ve forgotten and I then update it.

You can find the page here: J’s Money Experiments

Long time readers will remember some of these down below from back in the day, but thought I’d re-share again for all the new readers here and also because I have a habit of not following up on some of these things once my excitement is gone ;) Just like how I handle my money, I tend to only focus on the stuff that’s interesting to me at the time w/ this blog. Which is why you don’t find every “how to” in the world here – if I’m not actively participating/experiencing a particular financial thing, I won’t write about it! Helps me stay as “real” as I can here. And plenty of other kick-ass bloggers cover the rest anyways :) That link there goes to my blogroll of fave sites – check ’em out sometime.

Here are the recent experiments we’ve since shut down and added to the list:

The $2.00 Bill Trick

two dollar bills

There was a brief moment in time where I was obsessed with $2.00 bills and realized the more I came into, the more I was saving and not spending them. Which lead me to a light bulb moment: the more I actively pile up these bills, the more I’ll force myself to save and have fun at the same time! :)

So every time I walked by a bank I had a rule where I’d have to walk in and “buy out” any $2 bills that the teller had in their drawer. Sometimes this would be $4.00 worth, and other $40.000 (they’re super common at banks, even though you NEVER see them in the real world – isn’t that strange?). After a couple of months I had like $600 or $700 I wanna say, and ultimately decided that it was dumb just holding onto all this cash in my safe not earning or growing anything.

So I slowly started using them up instead of taking out cash at the ATM every month like I do (I always pull $100 or $200/mo to be used as “blow money” where I don’t have to account for it and give my brain a break :)). I gave them out as tips, gifts, stocking stuffers, you name it. They’re literally only worth $2.00 a piece, but people just love receiving them! And a fair number of them also asked me if they were “real” money, haha… Yes. They are definitely real. They don’t really serve a purpose, but they’re real. And if you’re having trouble keeping money around, consider giving this a shot yourself!

The “Active” vs “Passive” IRA Test

This was one of my crazier ideas… After I left my 9-5 to blog full-time, I had the decision of what to do with my old 401(k). I wanted to roll it over into my own USAA accounts so it wouldn’t be tied to my old employer anymore (who later screwed me), but where to put these funds were beyond me as I hadn’t discovered the joys of Vanguard yet.

So I did what any normal person would do – I split up all $180,000 of my money into 3 separate IRA accounts and pinned them against each other in a friendly competition :) These 3 accounts looked like this:

  1. A portfolio that USAA recommended, but didn’t manage (I set it up once and then left it alone)
  2. A portfolio that USAA recommended, but DID manage (with only USAA funds in it)
  3. A portfolio that USAA recommended, managed, but had both USAA funds and outside funds in it.

The test ran for almost three years, and we had a clear winner throughout almost the entire time. Wanna take a guess on which one won out? The final results:

  • IRA #1 (NOT Managed): $79,141.43
  • IRA #2 (Managed, USAA funds only): $73,199.26
  • IRA #3 (Managed, ALL different funds): $74,024.92

The unmanaged (and no fees) one beat out the two other managed ones by $5,000+. Not a scientific test in the least (and three years is a horribly short amount of time to compare anything in the stock market!), but still a fascinating thing to watch. At least to me ;) Only some people over at USAA appreciated it, haha… (they were nice to get on the phone with me afterwards to explain why they performed as they did – which made sense to me at the time – but unfortunately I have since all forgotten the reasons why…).

While I still have love for managed/mutual funds, nowadays I have my entire portfolio in one main index fund at Vanguard and it’s nice and streamlined. Most people consider this an even crazier experiment – hah! – but for now I’m happy with its home and will take average gains any day of the week vs trying to chase the next “hot thing” every other month. I much prefer betting on the market as a whole.

The “Non-Spending” Tracker

non-spendingThis was the quickest experiment of them all, basically because I totally forgot to do it the second I hit publish on the post :) But I still think it’s actually a pretty damn good one!

You know all the times you find a killer deal on something, or even just something you REALLY REALLY want, but you hold yourself back and don’t get it, feeling awfully proud of yourself? Well, the idea with this Non-Spending Tracker would be that it would serve as a place to give yourself a pat on the pack and just motivate you even more to continue saying “no” to stuff you don’t really need or can’t afford. You’d just list each item you passed up on one side (like in a spreadsheet or piece or paper or something), and then on the right jot down the price tag.

It would look like this:

  • Flower oil painting: $20.00
  • Hand-painted table from Peru: $40.00
  • TOTAL SAVED: $60.00

Those are literally the only two items I listed before I unintentionally gave up on this. Killer idea though, right? I hope some of you do try it out and then share your results with me at some point :) At the very least it helps you stay cognizant of where all your money is going!

That’s all of them for now, but I’m sure more will pop up in no time ;)

I share these with you just to show there are soooooooo many different ways to manage and save/ invest your money, and the more you experiment the more you’ll stumble across the tricks that work for YOU. Money is a very emotional thing, but it’s not untamable. Just takes a while to find what clicks!

What awesome experiments are you currently immersed in? Anyone else challenging their expenses and totally whooping me? Lay it on us!

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UPDATE: Y’all are good luck – had two sales today off Craigslist! We’re back in action, baby!!

Jay loves talking about money, experimenting, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his two beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at jmoney.biz. Thanks for reading the blog!

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

1 MyMoneyDesign May 18, 2015 at 6:22 am

It’s no surprise to me that the un-managed IRA ended up making the most money. It just goes to show that passive income investing is the most efficient approach.

I love the $2 bill! They are pretty common – but you’re right! Why don’t we see more people using them in everyday life?

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2 Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank May 18, 2015 at 6:25 am

J Money, I can still the results of your hard work and determination. I think I am gonna start being obsessed with $2.00 bills from now on to partly experience that change in your mindset and financial life. Congrats J.

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3 Emma | Money Can Buy Me Happiness May 18, 2015 at 6:40 am

Well done – although $40 for a hand-painted table from Peru sounds like a pretty good deal. But you didn’t need it. So, go you!
I’m tracking my spending with YNAB this month. The change is profound. I really thought I had this frugalist thing nailed. Boy, was I wrong. Having to enter every single transaction sucks and it makes you HYPER aware of your spending. It’s going to change my life, I just know it.

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4 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:04 am

Oh yeah! That was the first thing I did when I was ready to get down to business – tracked it all for 30 days straight. Best way to REALLY see where it’s all going!

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5 Brian @ Debt Discipline May 18, 2015 at 6:54 am

I have a few $2.00 just sitting on my dresser, just don’t want to part with them. I saw a guy hand a cashier one at a fast food place one time and the cashier had to call his manager because he didn’t think it was real.

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6 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:05 am

haha yeah – I get those looks too sometimes. really surprising that they still make them since we rarely see them in circulation? Same w/ half dollars.

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7 Elise @ Simply Scaled Down May 18, 2015 at 7:41 am

Wow, the difference between the unmanaged and managed accounts is interesting. I’ll be curious how they keep performing! Keep up the awesome experiments!

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8 Chris @ Flipping A Dollar May 18, 2015 at 8:11 am

We’re in the streamlined version too. Most of our money is with Vanguard but there’s still a chunk that’s in some weirder funds (like my current 401k). And to me, it’s not surprising that the managed funds did worse. Imagine if there had been a major downturn. You’d be paying fees to lose money!

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9 Amanda S @ Passionately Simple Life May 18, 2015 at 8:18 am

One time a table left me my tip in $2 bills and we all were wondering if they were real or not. I have not used them because they are so crisp and clean!

I’ve gone back to putting all my purchases in my planner and it is really making me look at the crazy things I buy after work everyday!

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10 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:06 am

Love that :)

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11 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life May 18, 2015 at 8:34 am

I love being able to give up less lucrative projects in favor of more profitable gigs. That’s why I gave up on selling things on ebay (plus I suck at it :) )

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12 Dee @ Color Me Frugal May 18, 2015 at 8:48 am

It cracks me up that the folks from USAA felt the need to call you up to explain why their managed portfolios did not do as well! I’ve also been thinking about taking up $2 bill collecting, but mainly because I’m thinking that, when the day comes, there’s a chance that the tooth fairy might like to give those to our daughter when she loses her teeth. I think she’d love it because they aren’t commonly circulated (except at banks!), and I’d love it because I think $20 for a tooth is crazy. Which is what I’ve heard the tooth fairy sometimes gives out these days :-)

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13 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:09 am

Woahhhh talk about inflation! Haha… I think I used to get like 50 cents or something :) $2.00 bills are perfect for that, you’re right. Same with half dollars or even $1 coins!

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14 Kalie May 18, 2015 at 9:34 am

It definitely gets hard to keep up with the savings pace when you continue to challenge everything. But that’s just because you’ve already trimmed of a lot of the fat. So that’s great! And the thing about cutting expenses, even if it doesn’t pay as much as income, is that you continue to save monthly, like you said, and that means you need less income in the long run.

I love the investment account race. Super fun, even if it isn’t conclusive.

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15 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:12 am

yeah, those recurring savings are where it’s at. the extra $$ from selling on CL is nice, but still requires labor :) I’m gonna keep going though until I’ve gotten through all my belongings. I’m learning that some of them I say “no way” to when I consider listing them, and then a few months later I’ll start reconsidering. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m running out of things, or if because I’m trying to up my challenging here, haha.. But either way I like it :)

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16 Tiffany May 18, 2015 at 10:35 am

Thanks J! I think Craigslist is a great idea to earn extra money even-though as a woman its a little scary meeting strangers. Maybe, eBay is a little safer just my thoughts…I just started my business and I have big big revenue goals and projections it helps too that I am in Accountant so I totally understand your concept that money grows over time..

Have a joyful day~

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17 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 11:15 am

Meeting at public places – and during the day – helps with that :) I never meet at my house myself, just out of privacy.

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18 Will May 18, 2015 at 10:40 am

The non-spending tracker is what every kid needs! If I had a kid, I’d totally make them do that. When I was younger, I wanted everything under the sun. Luckily, I bought hardly anything. It would be insane to see what all my 15-second desires would tally up to! 5-figures for sure. I dodged one heck of a bullet not buying hardly anything as a kid. I was thiiiiiiiiiiis *holds fingers a hair’s width apart* close to buying a racing ATV when I was 15.

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19 J. Money May 19, 2015 at 5:01 pm

Hey, that ATV could be an antique now and worth thousands! *NOT*

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20 Carol in Mpls May 18, 2015 at 11:19 am

My car was totaled (but still drivable) back in March. My payout check is accounted for and waiting for my next vehicle purchase, probably this summer/fall.

The best outcome from this “event” (hit by a semi), is that my car insurance portion (w/USAA) went down $35/month. So I upped my monthly transfer to savings. Making a little lemonade out of the lemon experience.

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21 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 1:50 pm

oh jeez, so glad you’re safe! that sounds scary!

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22 EL May 18, 2015 at 11:36 am

It makes sense to follow what is the most fiscally responsible money making gig, how can you pass up 750 writing gig for a 30 sale on craiqslist. (You cant) Yeah I stopped collecting my foreign currency as well, because it is not earning interest. Whenever I go to a new country I bring back 1 bill, and that’s it. (No more hoarding bills)

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23 jestjack May 18, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Don’t beat yourself up too much on the craigslist results. For some reason stuff just isn’t moving on CL. I don’t know if it’s because the Recession is over and folks can afford to buy things new OR that things are worse then everyone thinks and everyone is watching the wallets.
AND an observation of the fine folks in the airline industry. About 2.5 weeks ago I priced a one way ticket from the West to the East Coast….came back $195….I waited and watched as the prices slowly creeped up… Well today I got to buy the same ticket I spied 2.5 weeks ago….for just south of $500. In the airline industry, he who hesitates loses…BIG TIME…

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24 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Ouch. I hear Tuesdays are best for buying ‘cuz it’s when they discount the most? But it’s similar to Amazon’s 80 million price changes every day for sure – they probably targeted you as a late buyer and knew they had you on the hook from the first time they got your profile, hah.

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25 jestjack May 18, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Do you really think that happens? DD2 suggested the scenario you describe with complex computer programs. BUT I’m thinking it’s supply and demand. Being a novice I thought I’d wait to get closer to the departure date and catch a “deal”, Pretty sure that was some “flawed” thinking….

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26 Barbara May 19, 2015 at 8:49 am

Airlines are notorious for this. When they see your computer check the same ticket twice, they know you want it and prices go up. (it’s the cookies baby) I’d be interested to see what happened if you check at a different location, different computer, what you’d find. Although I’m sure supply and demand have something to do with it as well, you must be right on that. I found this article on us today about it, it’s old but hey: http://usat.ly/Yu7Gev

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27 Revanche May 18, 2015 at 12:24 pm

PiC always asks me not to spend any $2 bills and it always makes me laugh. It’s money! Why can’t I toss it into savings?

Alas, our Craigslisting has ground to a halt as well. I guess that last sale when LB was 2 weeks old (ish) was really the last one for a little while! But having lost our nanny, I’m “saving” us a chunk of change juggling a flex work and baby schedule right now, that’s pretty good money right there! It never fails to amaze how much daycare/childcare costs, as you know, obviously having just cancelled yours!

*laughs* I’d been checking out Cricket but you reminded me to look at Republic Wireless as well and I find their site’s down for maintenance. So much for striking while the iron’s hot!

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28 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 1:53 pm

that’s weird they were down – you don’t see that very often from big sites! I’d recheck if you’re still in the mood – crazy low rates :)

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29 Big Jibbs May 30, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Before tossing them $2 dollar bills into savings I’d take a looksy online and see if you can get more than $2 for each one.
If you’re gonna stick it into savings for the $$$ value it may be worth it to try and get more than $2 and then put that money into savings.

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30 J. Money June 1, 2015 at 11:06 am

They’d have to be pretty old/special to get more than $2.00 of it. Unless you’re selling them to people who don’t know better :)

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31 Even Steven May 18, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Been meaning to get on the phone with the insurance company for car/house, I actually switched to a competitor for the car insurance and then found out that the savings wasn’t worth it for the bundle package together so I had to cancel. Going to get that bill reduced this month, maybe tomorrow. Increase deductible, etc see what they are willing to save me.

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32 Hannah May 18, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Inspired by you, I started a baby cost tracker, but I swore I would keep it up. Do you know when I gave it up? The exact age you did. I guess it goes back to doing whatever is the most exciting to you.

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33 J. Money May 18, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Haha…. yes, at some point you realize the benefit of tracking gets trumped by many other things when those guys are in your lives :) But the big question is – did you spend more or less than me? I’m gonna guess less?

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34 Hannah May 18, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Less, but not by a lot. I spend much more on daycare and started earlier. I also spent a little more on healthcare. My other stuff costs have been super low and I never added food although he did start eating as much as a sumo wrestler around the time I quit tracking.

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35 Ramona May 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Absolutely love the 2 dollar hack. I could easily find here a banknote I like better and start stashing it away, it’s a great idea to save some money and have fun. Our savings took a little hit lately, since I was on a 3 week vacation at my sister-in-law, but it was a great time to spend with them and have my 1 year old have a lot of fun on the beach. So I am not that mad, it helped me unwind a bit and get ready to work better and save some more ;)

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36 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:20 am

I think we all – as a society – need to be better about taking vacations. I no longer pride myself in working 24/7 days thinking I’m the $hit! Haha… Good to remember to live :)

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37 Prudence Debtfree May 18, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Really interesting that the unmanaged IRA did best! Good thing for me to know because we are VERY close to being debt-free except for the mortgage, and as such, we’re very close to upping our investment savings (as per Ramsey’s plan). So true what Chenell and you say about separate savings accounts. It makes such a difference when you can see exactly how your savings are impacted by different strategies. And no need to apologize for “only” saving $253.37!

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38 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:27 am

So excited for you all on that debt :) Gonna be SUCH a great feeling when it all starts adding up the opposite way!

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39 [email protected] of Investing May 18, 2015 at 5:05 pm

I love the non-spending tracker idea, and I’ve been toying with this concept recently, but haven’t brought myself to actually track anything yet. It can end up being pretty subjective, since there’s hundreds of things you could be tempted to buy but probably wouldn’t anyway – but yesterday I skipped my regular coffee purchase, and mentally recorded this saving! Would be pretty rewarding to review a tracker like this over time and see all those great examples of discipline! Perhaps I will take that extra step and get some numbers in a spreadsheet…

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40 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:28 am

I hope you do it and then share it with me so I can have fun through you :) It’s true that we want a lot of things, but you know very well the stuff you’d walk right up to the register and buy vs those you wouldn’t. I dream about ever Mercedez that crosses my path but not gonna put those on the list – hah!

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41 Robin @ The Thrifty Peach May 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm

I’m (only slightly) embarrassed to admit that I just pulled a $2 bill out of a drawer just this week that I didn’t know I had, and I may or may not have actually wondered if it was real money. It’s now sitting on my dresser in money purgatory, but I guess I’ll be taking that bad boy to my bank. :)

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42 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:28 am

hah! Well it’s real! do something fun with it! :)

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43 Heather May 18, 2015 at 7:32 pm

I’m going to try the No-Spending Tracker! I used to have a big habit of stacking coupons and buying things on sale to “stock up” but then it got slightly out of control. I think the No-Spending Tracker will help put things into perspective.

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44 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

Perspective + save more + less stuff! :)

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45 Brittney @ Life On A Discount May 18, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Wow, I am impressed! I have considered Republic Wireless, but haven’t made the switch. I am currently still on my parent’s plan (I know, shameful), but I only pay $20 a month to them for data/a line because I am the 5th user. My husband is on a separate plan at $75 a month. If we were to both be on his plan, it would cost $120 a month, so not worth it. But, perhaps we will give Republic Wireless a try.

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46 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

hah – no shame at all.

yeah – you’d probably spend about $50/mo total switching, though you do have to buy the phones outright first which is the only sucky part.

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47 Mr and Mrs Geek May 19, 2015 at 12:25 pm

It is lovely to read this report every month :)
Me and Mrs Geek we are challenging the number of meals and snacks at work! So far so good.. I will let you know how did it go with us by the end of the month ;)

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48 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

what a great way to incorporate it!

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49 Shannon @ Financially Blonde May 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Awesome stuff!!! I am currently in the process of growing my biz big time. I just got my first big investor in the door and working on more. Can’t wait to bring financial fitness to the masses!!

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50 J. Money May 20, 2015 at 11:35 am

ooh la la! investing status – that’s cool!

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51 Bryan May 20, 2015 at 12:53 pm

HELP! J. Money, I have recently stumbled on your brilliant website and have been overwhelmed, but extremely excited to start my own millionaire pledge. I have USAA, $30,000.00 in my savings account and a paid off vehicle. I make $3,800 monthly with $1,600 in living expenses. How should I start? IRA first with USAA then Vanguard?

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52 J. Money May 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Good position to be in!

Can’t really advise without knowing you/your goals/your situation, but you can’t ever go wrong w/ investing your leftover money :) Keep reading some blogs and seeing what others are doing and what makes the most sense for you, and then pull the trigger! That’s the most important part before your $$ starts flying out the door again. (or, in your case your savings account it seems like – hah – which wouldn’t be too horrible ;))

But personally, yes, I invest all my investment $$ into Vanguard these days. As well as Acorns.com just for more padding which also uses Vanguard funds as well as others.

You’re about to go down a beautiful path here, so I salute you in making it happen! And for living on less than half our income too. You keep that up and you’ll be a millionaire in no time.

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