All My Money Experiments!

by J. Money -

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The principles on money have pretty much stayed the same over the past hundreds/thousands of years, so every now and then you have to change it up a bit to make sure those epiphanies happen.

This is where money experiments come in :)

I did my first one over 7 years go by not buying a single thing outside of the bare necessities for an entire month (these are called “no spend” months), and after it saved me a cool $200/mo going forward (I had no idea I was spending so much money randomly?) I’ve never been one to shy away from experimenting more.

This page here showcases all of these experiments, including the ones I’m currently trying now, as well as those I’ve since hit pause or retired. I highly suggest trying out any that sound interesting to you!

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Current experiments going on (last updated 3/2/16):
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“Challenge Everything”

This is where I’m challenging all my monthly bills to see what I can cut down for real without affecting my quality of life much. So far we’ve hit our cable/phone/internet, car insurance, and the whopper of them all – our cell phone plans (bye bye iPhones,*gasp*). And to keep us motivated, we’ve thrown every last dollar saved into a brand new separate savings account to watch it pile up and show us what a difference it’s been making. After all, “saving money” doesn’t count unless it’s actually SAVED!

You can read more about what we’re doing here: Challenge Everything!
Total saved after year 1 complete! $5,484.07 (going towards maxing out Roth IRA)
Total saved in year 2 so far: $2,103.45

Weekly Craigslist Rule

In an attempt to cut out clutter and make a little money on the side, I’ve decided to list *one* new item up for sale every Friday on Craigslist.  Not everything always sells, but it’s the habit that’s important and getting into the right mindset (ie. NO MORE STUFF!). We’ve been going for months now, and have since made hundreds of dollars while freeing up the mind… It’s SO much easier than trying to sell a whole bunch of crap all at the same time!

You can see our main experiment page here: Weekly Craigslist Rule
And here’s how much we’ve earned so far: $1,127.67

Let’s See How Much Digit Saves Me!

This is one of the easiest of them all as it requires absolutely no effort once it’s set up. All I did was sign up to my new favorite financial company out there, Digit, and now every few days it xfers over a few bucks into my account based on what it’s algorithm thinks I can safely save without noticing. It’s all automatic, and it’s all awesome (and FREE!). If you suck at saving, this could be the solution for you :)

You can check out my review of Digit here: Digit review
How much I’ve saved so far here: $3,284.70

Let’s See How Much Acorns Invests For Me

Similar to my new obsession, Digit, above, Acorns is automatic too – only it *invests* money for you behind the scenes instead of saving it. Every time you make a transaction with your money, it rounds up to the nearest $1.00 and drops the difference into your account. So the more you spend the more you invest (though hopefully you’re not trying to spend TOO much! :)).

You can check out my review of Acorns here: Acorns review
And here’s how much I’ve invested so far: $336.66

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Retired experiments:
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The Baby Expense Tracker!

As soon as I found out we’d be having our first baby, I took it upon myself to track every last penny spent on the little guy to prove once and for all how much it costs to raise a baby :) I intended to go from conception all the way through age 18, however the Big Man upstairs had other plans for me and I called it a day as soon as baby #2 arrived on the scene. Capping my record at a respectable 29 months, and freeing up my time to be spent more wisely ;) It was a fun experiment while it lasted!

You can see the running total of everything spent here: Baby Costs Tracker
And the final summary and category breakdown here: The Grand Finale – $28,185.49

Operation Mortgage Pay Off

A few years ago I had the urge to purge our mortgages once and for all and become completely debt-free. We had a surge of income for a nice period of time, and I figured if we plowed an extra $2,000 against them every month we could get rid of one of our biggest expenses and live scott-free forever! I mean, who doesn’t want to shed their mortgages or rent?? Well, we did great for a solid 18 months or so knocking out a cool $35,000, but sadly times changed and it didn’t make sense anymore to continue. We were starting to make room for a new baby in the household, and we knew we didn’t want to live there forever. So we hit pause, moved out (it’s now a rental property by default), and now just pay an extra $150+ towards it every month by rounding up the payments. We didn’t make it past the finish line, but at least we got $35k of debt knocked off! That’s a win, yeah?

You can check out the whole payoff plan here: Our Mortgage Payoff Plan
As well as the follow up on our thoughts one year later here: Do I Regret the Payoff Plan?

The “Active” vs “Passive” IRA Test

After I left my 9-5 to blog full-time, I had the decision of what to do with my old 401(k) at the company. I wanted to roll it over into my own accounts over at USAA instead of left tied to my company who later went out of business and screwed me (fun times!), but I didn’t know *what funds* exactly to roll them into. So similarly to other experiments I enjoy doing, I decided to break up my $180,000 into three separate traditional IRA accounts and then track its performance.

  • The first was invested into a portfolio that USAA recommended, but didn’t manage
  • The second was invested into a portfolio that USAA recommended, but DID manage – with only USAA funds in it
  • And the last $60k was invested into a portfolio that USAA recommended, managed, but had both USAA funds and outside funds included in it

At first it was a close call, but after three years of leaving it alone (and, quite frankly, being too lazy to move all the money over), we had a clear winner. Want to guess which one? :) The portfolio I left alone and wasn’t actively managed. Here were 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

You can learn more about this experiment here: The Ultimate IRA Test. I eventually dumped them all into a single Vanguard account which finally streamlined everything and became MUCH more efficient. It was a fun experiment to say the least though… And the folks at USAA had a good kick out of it too. Well, most of them ;)

12 Months of Love Drop

In 2010 I sucked about giving back, so I partnered up with a philanthropy buddy of mine (Nate St. Pierre) and together we challenged ourselves to affect one family’s life every month for the entire 2011 year. We built a site around “micro-giving” (if thousands of people only donated a dollar we could make a big impact in someone’s life!), and traveled across the country showing up on peoples’ doorsteps to “drop the love” our community put together for them. Each of these “drops” were filmed, along with the story on why we chose to help these families, and we then shared them back with our community to show them the power of their generosity. After all, it’s one thing to donate a few bucks, but a whole other to watch the faces of the recipient receiving it!

It was hard to pull off month after month, but we completed the mission and when all was said and done Love Drop had raised over $90,000 of goods and services (and money) for our 12 families, and it’ll be a project we’ll never forget. The highlight was when a recipient of these gifts later turned around to launch her own version of Love Drop to pay it forward :) Little acts of kindness can be powerful in life!

You can check out the entire site here: LoveDrop.us
And what our community did for each of our 12 families here: Love Drop Recap

The $2.00 Savings Experiment

This was when I realized that the more $2.00 bills I came across, the more I ended up saving because I never wanted to spend them! So I started a “rule” that every time I passed a bank I had to go in and “buy” whatever $2.00 bills the teller had at that time. Sometimes I’d walk away with 3 or 4, and others 20. Over time my stash grew like crazy and it was definitely working, but then it got to the point that I didn’t want to have so much cash just laying around my house and not banked somewhere or invested :) So I ultimately stopped (I think I had $600 or $700 by the end?). If you’re having trouble holding onto money though and not spending it, def. give this idea a shot!

You can read more about this trick here: The $2.00 Bill Savings Trick

The $100 Lottery Experiment

In 2009 I was a big lottery ticket guy, and I couldn’t  have asked for more entertainment out of those $1.00 scratchers ;) So I thought it would be fun to engage our readers here and pick up 100 tickets in one fowl swoop to see just how good the odds actually are. Up until this point I had done so-so with winning over the years (definitely more losing than winning, but not enough to deter me, haha…) and my guess was that I’d come out with $125 in my pockets afterwards. Was I correct? Well you’ll have to click to see, but a cool twist that came out of it was when readers decided to match my earnings and donate them to charity. So I ended up doing the same and we made a big ol’ event out of it :) No one loses when the $$’s going to charity!

The kick-off of the experiment: The $100 Scratch-off Lottery Experiment
The results of the $100 lottery experiment: The Results…

The “No Spend” Challenge

This was one of the first challenges I ever tried when I was ready to get serious with my money. I actually lasted over 40 days doing it over Lent, and it was a hard wake up call realizing I had a nasty habit of spending aimlessly at the mall and other stores without even realizing. I’ve since saved anywhere from $200-$300 a month scaling back these unnecessary shopping trips, and from that point forward I was cured :) The trick? NOT GOING INTO STORES!

You can learn more about this challenge here: No Spend Challenge
And what I learned here: 4 Stages of a No Spend Challenge

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Failed experiments:
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The “Non-Spending” Tracker

This was the quickest experiment of them all, only because I completely forgot to do it the second I blogged about it – d’oh. The idea was that I’d track every purchase I *didn’t buy* that I REALLY wanted to buy, which would in turn motivate me to keep spending less and saving more :) It would look something 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 forgot about it. Killer idea though, right? You can read more on this idea here: The Non-Spending Tracker

That’s it for now! Continue checking back as we add more experiments to the list, and as always, feel free to knock off any of these yourself. It makes money stuff a LOT more interesting, believe me :)

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[George Washington design by my friend Flannel Guy]

 

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bridget February 17, 2015 at 3:36 pm

hahaha amazing list — the lottery ticket win was the most interesting. I won’t spoil it here but can’t say I’m surprised ;)

My money experiments right now are “trading options” (that’s a fun one) and “throw a wedding without setting a budget first” (less fun)

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2 J. Money February 17, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Hah! And even when you set a budget (as we did) you can still go way way over (as we did).

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3 Brittany February 17, 2015 at 6:34 pm

I love the idea of the No Spend Challenge during Lent! I’ve been looking for something to give up this year and I couldn’t have come across this at a more perfect time!

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4 J. Money February 17, 2015 at 9:40 pm

You know what’s funny? I read your comment and thought “Wow – she’s getting an early start this year!” and then realized it’s already Lent!! Ack! I’m halfway tempted to try this challenge again just to see how different it was from 7 years ago! :) Glad you’ll be trying it out now – let me know how it goes! I bet it totally changes your mindset going forward.

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5 Broke Millennial February 18, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I love the comment about doing the No Spend Challenge during Lent. I’m going with alcohol myself and perhaps I should bank all the money I’d usually spend on happy hours. Merges challenge everything with no spend!

All these experiments are so cool and makes me want to pick up my game. I’m currently doing a cash diet myself (two months in) and the results are what I imagine are similar to “No Spend.”

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6 J. Money February 18, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Love it!

You should totally merge them for Lent :)

And interesting experiment with going “cash only” too! I’ve wanted to try that for YEARS and still have yet to pull the trigger… I even want to pay my mortgage/rent in cash too, haha… but that’s probably taking it way too far.

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7 Amber Tree July 27, 2015 at 2:50 pm

How is your dividend experiment with motif going? What have you learned so far about DGI?
I am also all in to indexing, but recently went into a dividend investing experiment with a twist. I added options to, it. Why? Because I am curious and want to learn. Because I am into new things. Because it is fun.

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8 J. Money July 29, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Hah! You’re braver than I :)

I think the only thing I’ve learned so far is that I really REALLY like all my money in index funds just cuz I don’t have to think or do anything. I love the concept of dividend investing but not quite sure it’s for me. Kinda like real estate investing. I know how incredible it can be and have tons of friends making a boatload off it, but it just doesn’t fit my personality all the way. I think if I weren’t into indexes so much right now though I’d probably choose the dividend route over other types of stock picking. It def. has its benefits.

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9 Amber Tree July 30, 2015 at 4:57 pm

The not having to think or do part is a great benefit. Managing stocks and options is something that I am evaluating right now. I hope to keep it up long enough to see if it is worth the hassle.
I left real estate for that reason: to much work upcoming in the apartment. to be fair: we had some big works planned around the house and the freed up equity was quite nice

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10 J. Money July 31, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Let me know how it goes! Would love to see what you’ve learned if you last long enough :)

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11 M/M Kash August 17, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Ok…really enjoyed the list of experiments. Some your still doing, some that you know longer do and always your results. One of the many things I enjoy about your blog is your honesty….what you’ve tried, what worked, what didn’t, money saved, etc. We are doing quite a few of these experiments currently….and the one that we have decided to kick into high gear is the mortgage payoff. I have calculated by paying this sucker off in 5 years, we will save $235k in interest that we will invest elsewhere and set us up for early retirement. Seeing those numbers is great motivation for us…. $336,161.06 is the current payoff as of today…everything extra will be thrown at this beast, including selling off a property with a substantial amount of equity. So, that will be a huge help. I’ll keep you posted on this journey….this will help keep us accountable.
Keep keepin’ on!! You rock!

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12 J. Money August 20, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Hot dogs!! I can’t even imagine that feeling you’re going to have when it’s gone!! You’ll be FREEEeeeEEEeeeeEEE!!

DO it.

And then yes – please tell me all about it and write a blog post for me to share here :) No pressure…

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13 Kimberly May 8, 2016 at 10:09 pm

Ok my saving that I love is each week I put away at least $20/$25 every friday an im not touching it until the end of the year …..if I touch it then….I love it I keep just adding each week I started the first F3iday of January

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14 J. Money May 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Beautiful! That will add up indeed over the months/years – way to go!

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15 Jeffro August 25, 2016 at 8:01 pm

My wife and I did something similar with our mortgage. For about 10 months, we tripled our mortgage payments so that we could extinguish our mortgage. But, then my wife got prego, quit her job, and we had to go back to the way things were. But, then we went to refinance. And because we had paid off so much of the principle, our monthly mortgage payment was knocked down by 20%! So although we weren’t able to get rid of the mortgage, we were able to reduce it significantly.

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16 J. Money August 28, 2016 at 4:19 pm

NICE!! It’s like the gift that keeps on paying, regardless of how far you go into paying it down :) Gotta be flexible to roll with life!

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17 Lindsay Urbaitis January 7, 2017 at 1:49 am

The no spending tracker is something alot of folks need to do! I am quite aware or my spending…I will put back a pack of gum if there are mints in my purse! I try to get my fiance to do the same. A red bull or 2 in the morning=$7.00, asking his nine year old daughter if she wanted anything “special” from the gas station or store every time he went!!! $$$$$ on candy she didn’t earn or appreciate. Of course it’s not her fault, she’s 9! I pointed out to him that there were 7 milkshakes 3/4’s full in the freezer that he had gotten for his little girl, hmm let’s say five bucks a shake and the fact she didn’t truly want them and definitely didn’t need them! Walking through every isle in Walmart…Just to “look” I was ready to kill him! Lol then I did exactly what you said and had him write down every dime he spent, and on what…He was even shocked and is so much better about impulse and convenience spending!

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18 J. Money January 9, 2017 at 9:42 am

Haha I bet :) Sometimes it takes us men a bit longer to figure stuff out. We’re kinda slow ;)

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19 Lily @ The Frugal Gene May 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Omg. I missed all the fun. This is a brilliant idea!!! I was thinking of doing a lotto challenge…*for science*

Please update any more challenges! I’m gonna have suchhh fun digging through this list and trying it out myself.

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20 J. Money May 19, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Haha yeah, we like to have fun here :)

Totally try out a lottery experiment and then post about it! People love this stuff, and especially slamming tickets, haha… it’s a sure way to get comments on your blog.

In fact, maybe I need to do another one too? ;)

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