Making Space For Roommates: Are the Savings Worth the Hassles?

Please enjoy this post, originally published in January 2011.

Currently, as I have since my freshman year of college, I am living with roommates.  I just moved out of a place where I had 3 roommates (plus one pesky dog) in a small, four bedroom apartment in downtown New Haven.  It was a cramped little place, with only 4 small bedrooms, a mini-kitchen, and 1.5 baths, all on one floor.  I now live in a slightly larger place, but it’s definitely not my dream apartment, either. Despite this, my rent is less expensive than anybody I’ve talked to in New Haven and I’m located about one mile from my job.

While the location is great, having roommates the past 7 years is starting to wear on me.  I’m torn on what to do next when I move out this summer.  Here just some of the many factors I’m considering:

The case for roommates:

I can afford a location I would not be able to otherwise.  From my experience, single bedroom apartments are anywhere from 50 – 100% more expensive than renting out a room in a multi-bedroom apartment.  This makes the cost prohibitively expensive with my income in areas like Boston and New Haven.  In order to find a cheaper, single bedroom unit, I would need to move into a less-desirable area.  At this stage of my life, living somewhere with restaurants, bars, and other fun things around is important.

Utilities are shared.  Not only is rent more expensive in a single bedroom apartment, but, if I’m living alone, I have to cover all utilities myself.  Internet, electricity, and heating can ad up to a a lot when it’s no longer split three or four ways.

Roommates provide company. While I haven’t enjoyed all of the roommates I’ve lived with, I’ve had many that I’ve gotten along with very well.  I like having other people around to talk with, and I find it lonely when I’m all by myself.  It’s a bit of an unknown when moving in with roommates that I don’t know ahead of time, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The case against roommates:

Some expenses are out of my hands.  I’m typically a very energy conscious person.  I turn out the lights whenever I leave the room, make sure my computer and other electronics are turned off when I’m not using them, and I like to keep the heat around 62 degrees.  But roommates don’t always share the same values that I do.  They leave lights on, forget to turn the TV off, and prefer the thermostat stay around 70.  While my energy savviness often translates to savings on utility bills, I’m essentially helpless since my roommates just aren’t on board.

There’s less space.  With roommates, I obviously have less space to myself.  My bedroom is my own, but the other 80% of the apartment is shared.  In a smaller apartment with little storage, this can be tricky to maneuver.

But more noise.  Roommates can be noisy and may have a different sleep schedule.  At my last apartment, I had to sleep with earplugs every night simply because my roommates liked to stay up late.  The wall were also paper thing, and I could hear just about anything going on in the room next to me.

Other considerations: unwanted guests, damages, dealing with leases, cleanliness (or lack thereof), clash of personalities and all-out disaster.

Roommates are always going to be cheaper, but there will always be drawbacks, too.  I will probably continue to have roommates in the near future since I still prefer to live in popular and expensive areas.  If my income increases to a level that I can afford to live alone (or if I move in with my girlfriend), I’ll definitely consider moving to a single bedroom apartment.  For now, I’ll do my best to choose my roommates carefully

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photo by: army.arch

Financial Minimalism to Simplify and Save

minimalist-financesSince I first heard of the term “minimalist,” I’ve been intrigued by the idea and have at least loosely attempted to follow it in my own life. A true minimalist only owns few things (often less than 100 items). Minimalists have various reasons for doing so, but they often include their desire to simplify life or travel while carrying everything they own on their back.

While minimalism isn’t for everyone, there are a lot of lessons we can learn and apply to personal finance. Here are several minimalist-inspired ideas that I’ve applied to my own finances.

1. Use cash as often as you can, and keep as few credit accounts as possible. I’ve given up credit cards. I’ve done this mostly to simplify the number of accounts that I have open.

I hate having to track the balances I have on 5 different credit accounts and 2 debit accounts. Instead I’d rather just check one account to know exactly how much cash I have available.

If you’re set on using credit, try carrying only one credit card at a time. Then you simply have one balance on one card. It makes things easier for preventing identity theft, too, when you don’t have as many cards around.

2. Buy only as much as you need. Minimalism and frugality go hand in hand. The less you own, the less you’ll have to pay for. You won’t have to keep track of all your stuff, either.

I’m not always a big fan of buying in bulk simply because I end up wasting more. When this happens, you lose money instead of saving it. Buying multiples means that I’ll have to store things, hoping that I won’t lose things.

Get rid of as many things as you can that involve recurring payments. This is why I don’t own a car. Cars are a money pit that seem to never end.

3. Automate. Right now I have automatic payments of $1,100 coming out of my account until I finish paying of my student loan debt at the end of 2011. It’s the first thing that comes out of each paycheck so I don’t have to think about where to send my money first. It’s a foolproof plan.

I also have automated transactions to fund my Roth IRA, an account for bicycle expenses, and to send spending money to my PerkStreet account. I plan to create automatic savings and separate accounts for even more things, too, since it makes saving easy and cuts down on stress

4. Keep a simple budget, and make tracking expenses as easy as possible. I hate budgeting, so setting up a complicated budget with 30 different items just isn’t going to work for me.

Initially I set up a quick spreadsheet to track expenses, which was a great start and got me to do the bare minimum to see where I spent my money and stay on a budget.

I’ve since graduated to using Mint and the Mint App for iPhone, which allows me to add transactions in only a few seconds. Mint really does it all for me (although I’m excited to give the Adaptu App a chance to take on Mint, too).

5. Make your entire financial plan as simple as possible. I’m not always a fan of Dave Ramsey, but, when it comes to simplicity, his plan is best. Simply follow his seven baby steps, which are crystal clear, and you’re in great financial shape.

I prefer a slightly less-minimalistic approach than Dave’s, but for those that are buried in debt and don’t have a clue, Total Money Makeover is easy to follow and solid advice.

Check out this post on Minimalist Money on Get Rich Slowly where I got some of my inspiration for this post.

How do you make your finances as simply as possible?

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photo by: mockstar

Getting in the Mindset with the Millionaire Fastlane

millionaire-fastlane-coverI just finished reading the Millionaire Fastlane by MJ Demarco. I’d been looking forward to reading this and was excited to see it was a free giveaway from the Financial Blogger Conference.

A lot of people are skeptical about this book. After all, the title makes it sound like a “get rich quick” book, which it is, in a way. MJ calls himself the “anti-‘get rich slow’ guru.” But he’s not a scammer, not selling crappy products to get rich fast, and he’s successful millionaire (and not from selling “get rich quick” books and the like).

I’m not 100% focused on money by any means, but I’m almost always focused on living a remarkable life and not getting stuck in the grind forever. That said, I was pleasantly surprised with this book.

Here’s my take on the Millionaire Fastlane:

Fresh concepts

I’ve read a decent amount of personal finance books, but a good amount of the material and concepts in this book were still new to me. Here are a few points that I enjoyed:

  1. MJ points out that there’s simply no way a 9-5 job can lead to real wealth. The numbers just don’t work, and he proves this in a variety of ways.
  2. You can be a millionaire within 10 years with extremely hard work. I liked this point specifically because a) it’s realistic since it’s not promising riches tomorrow and b) it sounds much more promising and exciting than working a 9-5 for 40 years before retirement.
  3. “Do what you love” alone simply doesn’t work for building wealth and success.
  4. Many “businesses” are just like being enslaved at a job and are reliant on time. Sure, you can chase your entrepreneurial dream and open up a coffee shop or restaurant franchise, but you’ll still be putting in hours for limited wealth.
  5. “Slowlane” jobs have limited leverage available to accumulate wealth.

Great for adjusting mindset

As you can probably guess, there book doesn’t lay out specific ideas for how to get rich. But that’s not what I was looking for nor expecting anyway and would be a lot to ask out of a $15 book. However, I really enjoyed the the main message of the book: everyone who goes through life working at a job and funding 401ks is traveling through life in the “slow lane.” But business owners who are “producers” leverage their time and money more effectively to get in the fast lane.

MJ tells us a bit about how he got to where he is (although his story is a bit vague). He’s very careful to point out that it’s not easy and not quick, at least not in the sense that it will happen in mere weeks or months. I found this advice to be realistic, and if nothing else, this book will definitely make you think and get in the mindset of how to get ahead rather than just settling into the status quo.

What can you do with what’s in this book?

While I already pointed out there aren’t super-specific ideas in here, I think the book is great for adjusting mindset and finding motivation to do it. Here’s what this book is best for:

  • Realizing that jobs aren’t the path to (quick) wealth and seeing the math to prove it.  MJ is extremely critical of jobs, working the 9-5 for 40 years, and banking retirement on the stock market. He also uses a lot of great examples of how it’s simply impossible to get ahead living a workaday life and investing in the stock market, and he’s right. If you want the cold, hard truth about working for a salary for the rest of your life, MJ lays it all out there.
  • Adjusting mindset to get in the “fastlane” to wealth. MJ points to a lot of examples of how he and others have accumulated wealth at a rapid pace. He also shares examples of how to examines needs that others have and turn them into a product or business.
  • Introducing basic business concepts and putting them into motion. MJ gives some background on structuring businesses, and he dispells some entrepreneurial myths and mistakes, too.

I wouldn’t say this book totally passes the scammy/gimicky test. While I can’t prove it, I did feel like MJ wasn’t telling the whole truth with some of his stories as I got a bit of a “Rich Dad” type vibe from his writing style. While he doesn’t sell anything else directly from the book, MJ does plug his Millionaire Fastlane Forum often in the book (which is free but has ads).

I’d say the book is definitely worth the $15 price tag or a borrow from a friend, so check it out!

Pat at Smart Passive Income did a great podcast with MJ, so check that out, too.

p.s. – no affiliate links for Amazon in this post

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photo from

Home Workouts To Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

home-workout-insanityI’m a big fan of home workouts. HUGE, actually. But just like online dating (which I’ve also had success with), I never thought it would be something I’d really be into. I’m glad I gave these DVDs a shot one day. At a cost of less than $150 between the DVD set and the equipment, it was a total bargain given how great everything worked. Now, I recommend them to just about everyone. Here’s my story.

P90X and the Best Shape of My Life

When I first heard about P90X I was somewhat skeptical. Up to that point the only at-home workouts I had heard of was either 8-Minute Abs or the Total Gym, both of which I doubted would work. But after looking at my friend who completed the program, I was convinced it would work. This guy was truly in great shape and a walking testimonial.

After hearing more about the program, I realized it certainly wouldn’t be any cake walk either. And once I started, it definitely wasn’t. P90X required working out at least 6 days a week. Most workouts were 60 minutes, but some went as long as 90 minutes. And I did all this for 90 days (where the “90” in the name comes from). These weren’t Wii-Fit style workouts either. These DVDs have you moving constantly, doing dozens of pushups, and lifting big weights.

Despite how hard it looked, I just jumped in, stuck with it, and finished the 90 days.

When I finished (which was just over 2 years ago now), I was undoubtedly in the best shape of my life at age 23. I wore size 32 waist pants for the first time ever in my adult life. I felt great and looked it, too.

I succeeded with this program (and not with others) for a few reasons:

1) It was well-structured. I knew exactly what I had to do on each day that I had to do it. Each DVD is timed, so I knew exactly how long it would take. Plus, the program was 90 days, so it was an easy goal to get to the end. Having someone talking to you on the DVD is almost as good as having a personal trainer in my book, too, which really kept me moving.

2) I made the time to do it. I knew that I couldn’t make excuses and skip workouts. It was a serious time commitment that I knew I would have to make form start to finish.

3) I didn’t have to leave my house. This was a huge advantage compared to going to the gym. I didn’t have to convince myself to head somewhere else before or after work each day.

4) It was fun. I enjoyed doing it and felt really good about myself since I knew how hard I was working. I was very pleased with the results, and that kept me going, too.

5) I could afford it. I paid just as much for a few personal training sessions in the past, yet I got much better results with P90X. Generally I’m willing to spend just about any amount for great results, but under $150 is a great deal financially, too.

Next Up: Insanity

After finishing P90X, I failed to stick with it and I’m not in as good of shape as I was when I completed the program. Now, Beachbody (the company that created P90X) has created Insanity. It’s a similarly-structured program, but the workouts are different. I already tried it out, and it’s much more geared towards someone like me that doesn’t want to get big and bulky but prefers a fit and toned look instead. Pat Flynn has had a lot of success with this program, as have my cousins who convinced me to do it this time.

I posted my goals over on Crystal’s latest post on fitness. They’re pretty simple:

1. Complete Insanity by Feb 15, 2012
2. Weigh 155 lbs by March 1, 2012

Now that I’ve doubled up on my accountability, I’ve gotta get it done!

Give it a Shot Yourself!

I’m confident that this can work for a lot of people, especially if you’ve never been a fan of going to the gym like me.

There’s really not much to lose by trying one of these programs, as just about all of the Beachbody programs (not an aff link) are for sale used on Amazon for less than $100. If you don’t like it, you can sell it back in the Amazon Marketplace and get back what you spent to buy the DVDs (which is what I did once I finished P90X). There are different programs for all levels, so, seriously, GO FOR IT!

Have you tried or completed these programs before? If not, what’s stopping you?

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The Unhappily Employed: Are Some of Us Meant to Be Entrepreneurs?

cubicle-workersToday is my grandfather’s birthday, so I want to dedicate this post to him. It’s a very fitting topic for that, too. Happy birthday, Gramp! It’s also my 100th post!

I’ve been on a bit of a quest to understand more behind the mentality of jobs and what makes workers like or dislike what they do 40 hours a week. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the jobs I’ve held so far, and I don’t plan to have one for the rest of my life either. But others seem more resigned to their fate in the working world. Some even say that they love what they do. I’m really big on math and statistics, so here’s some studies and surveys that I dug up about about jobs and how we feel about them.

Many Americans Hate Their Jobs, Now Maybe More Than Ever

One of the studies I looked at, which is detailed in this 2010 CNN Money article, describes how unhappy many Americans are in their careers. Here’s some of the main points:

  • Job satisfaction is at a 22-year low (and the lowest level since these stats have been tracked) with only 45% of workers satisfied with their jobs
  • Satisfaction has continued to drop despite an increase in vacation days over the years
  • Workers under age 25 were the least happiest
  • 25% didn’t expect to stay at their jobs for longer than a year from the survey

Perhaps I’m just looking for the answers that I want to hear that jobs are terrible, but I feel like this is hard to ignore. Besides, I would predict that if I polled friends and family, the results would be consistent this 45% satisfaction statistic. That’s still far from everyone hating their jobs, and it’s more of a flip of the coin as to if someone likes what they do or not.

I came across this tool, which Payscale created to show the “Happiness Index” for certain careers and jobs. My major of Civil Engineering, which I’ve yet to hold more than in internship in, ranked pretty low at a 40.8 out of 100. That’s not very encouraging and certainly isn’t getting me excited about a career in that field.

Salaries and Job Satisfaction Aren’t Always Correlated

Many love to utter the phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness.” But many articles and posts allude to this study that shows that day-to-day happiness increases up until you hit a salary of $75,000. After that, there’s almost no increase in happiness with salary increase. However, “life assessment,” or how someone feels about their life, does increase beyond $75k. While this does show some relationship between salary and happiness, it’s clear that it’s not true in all cases.

And it’s definitely not all about the money. This study explains that “money is not enough to keep good employees happy.” It turns out that workers care more about other factors related to their jobs, like day-to-day tasks, control over their work, and relationships with coworkers and customers.

I attempted to find more stats for how job satisfaction increases when salary increases as well. Most of the top results I found in Google said something like “Should you choose job satisfaction or higher salary,” which hints that it’s not possible to have both or at least there’s a mentality out there that says that.

Are Some Born to be Entrepreneurs?

I haven’t really loved any of the jobs that I’ve worked at so far (and definitely hated several of them). I’ve often thought: am I just not cut out to be an employee? I’m definitely not lazy nor unmotivated, but it’s always been hard for me to imagine loving a job and wanting to do it for years and years.

Based on research, perhaps there is some truth to this. According to one study, outlined in this Business Week article, tendency towards entrepreneurship is about 48% “heritable” or related to genetics. While this doesn’t indicate that anyone is born a pure entrepreneur or not, it is interesting to note that it’s related to our genetic makeup.

My family history definitely includes entrepreneurship. My grandfather built a golf course in 1963, and it’s been a viable business ever since. It’s possible that some of his entrepreneur genes have been passed to me, and I think he may have passed on some of the business-owner mentality through lessons and stories over the years, too.

Are Freelancers Happier?

When I think about the alternatives to having a job, freelancing often pops up as the next most viable alternative.

I came across this Freelance Industry Report the other day and was excited to see how a survey of 1,200 freelancers would turn out. Before you think that I’m going to go on and on about freelancing again, I’ll start out by saying that the report wasn’t all roses. Results were somewhat inconclusive about feeling more financially secure as a freelancer and preferring freelancing to a job. About a third are still working more than 40 hours a week, so it’s not like everyone has freed themselves from a full week of work. But, overall I’d say the results were very positive.

About 59% of freelancers surveyed said they were definitely happier than they were when employed at jobs, which is encouraging. 45% earn between $20 and $59 an hour for their services, with many earning even more. Even better: 78% said they were optimistic about their freelancing outlook over the next year. Only about 1/3 of freelancers earn more than when they were employed, but I’d guess that the flexible scheduling and other benefits are positives to the freelancers that don’t make more. I’m pretty sure that I won’t immediately make as much freelancing as I do currently as an employee, but I’m definitely looking forward to working on what I’m passionate about and having a more flexible schedule, too.

The Consensus

I’d love to say the consensus is that jobs suck for everyone, but that’s not exactly what I found. There’s no clear answer based on my research and satisfaction with jobs in general. While I was hoping to find more results to discourage jobs, I’m okay with the split consensus since I know that not everyone is like me. Even if results showed that 99% of people loved their jobs, I’d still question if I was in the 1% that isn’t going to be a happy employee forever.

Are you happy with your job? If not, do you think it’s possible to love a job?

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photo by: Jake Sutton

What I’m Doing Now So I Can Leave My Job in 9 Months

quit-my-jobAs I mentioned in my recent post about taking time off, I’ll be leaving my job in May 2012. It does seem kind of weird to be talking about this since I haven’t really started yet (that’s later this month), but I’ve always planned to peace out of New Haven once my girlfriend finishes her grad program at Yale.

I’ve got some grand plans in the works (with more announcements to come soon), but I plan to leave my job and never look back to the working world. I’ve decided I’m going to give it a go on my own as a freelancer. But that’s not something that I could just do on a whim. I consider myself somewhat fearless when it comes following my dreams and defying conventions, but I am a bit of a planner too. Here’s what I’m working on so I can comfortably make the transition:

1. Paying off all my debt. Luckily for me, there’s really not much to pay off. Thanks to an education award of $5,200 once I finish up AmeriCorps, I’ll have only about $3,000 left of college loans to pay. I’m confident I can get that get rid of that debt by the end of 2011. I’m free from any kind of consumer debt, which feels great already! Having no debt allows me the flexibility to take some chances and not have to worry about making payments when income may be limited.

2. Saving aggressively. Okay, so I haven’t actually started doing this yet, but I’ll get right to it starting with the very first paycheck. My ultimate goal: Save $10,000 by May 31, 2012 and save it strictly to sustain myself after I leave my job. I’m not sure yet if my new salary alone will allow this, but I’m also ramping up the freelance work on the side to supplement. I want to save this much so I can devote all my time to my SEO freelance work without pressure to earn a lot of money up front while I transition out of my job.  I think achieving this savings goal is definitely doable if I maintain my current lifestyle (maybe with just a minor upgrade). I already got rid of my car, which will be a huge source of savings for me.

3. Learning new skills and developing income outside of a job. I just recently signed on for Location Rebel, and it’s exceeded all my expectations. I’ve tested many (paid) courses before this, but this is, by far, the best and most applicable to me. Plus, out of all the bloggers out there, I relate most to Sean Ogle and definitely hope to live a life as awesome as his someday soon.

The key with Location Rebel: I’m already learning new skills that can earn me side income. While I’ve chosen not to go after just money right now, I know that there’s plenty of work I could take on if I needed to simply find a temporary source of income.

4. Expanding my network. I’m now trying to attend as many conferences as I can afford to. I just came back from WordCamp Boston a few weeks ago, which was a great time. I’m signed up to head to the Financial Bloggers Conference in Chicago in October, and I’m already stoked that basically EVERYONE in the personal finance realm is going to be there (seriously, name a big name and s/he is going). I’m already eying the World Domination Summit and SXSW 2012, so I’ll be heading out to those if I can find ways to afford it. Plus, I have my Meetup group for making location connections, which has been great so far, too.

5. Preparing mentally. While I’m only just getting started in the entrepreneurial world, I know there will be many ups and downs. I’ve already experienced that with Money Spruce. There have been days that I’ve known everything will turn out great, and then there are the days when I feel like I’m getting no where and want to quit. I don’t expect other ventures to be much easier or different. Luckily, there are a lot of sources of encouragement out there. I’ve been building up confidence to test the unknown, and I’m a big fan of the “what’s the worst than can possibly happen” scenario. None of the “worsts” seem bad to me, and the upside of succeeding is really great motivation for giving this a shot. I’ve got great support from my girlfriend and family, too. To top it off, I’ll have my savings along with a lifestyle that’s fairly frugal.

The Future of Money Spruce

I’ve thought a lot about different directions I could go with this blog. I never wanted it to be a personal finance blog with posts on general topics with no real focus. But now, I have my own objective: “Personal finance for leaving the working world and becoming location independent.” That’s the basic idea (although I might need to work on that tag line a bit), but all my future posts will relate to that in some way. I’m going to be planning, researching, and generally getting excited for that, so I hope you’re up for the journey with me.

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photo by: leesean

Why I Buy 99% of My Food At Trader Joe’s (Plus My Favorite Products)

trader-joes-my-favorite-productsI don’t mean to go on an all-out Trader Joe’s lovefest here, but it is truly my favorite place to grocery shop. While part of that is due to the fact that I’m pescaterian and a healthy eater, there are many other reasons, too. Hear me out:

1) The stores are small and manageable. It’s easy to find everything I want, and I can literally shop through the entire store in less than 30 minutes. There’s not much knick-knacks and other filler stuff like other grocery stores have. Trader Joe’s is nearly 100% food, with a few personal care products mixed in.

2) There’s a limited selection. I happen to hate making decisions between 5 or 6 different brands that are really the same product. I think it’s insane and annoying to have whole aisles of salad dressing. Trader Joe’s basically offers one option of everything they sell. After all, TJ’s stocks only about 4,000 items, compared to 50,000 at the traditional supermarket, so I don’t have to wade through everything I’m not interested in.

3) Trader Joe’s sells mostly “real” food. I’m not just talking healthy here. There are still plenty of (tasty) junk foods at Trader Joe’s. The main difference is that a lot of their products are all-natural or at least contain a reasonable number of ingredients. I hate looking at nutrition labels to find that I have no idea what 90% of the ingredients in my food are. If you don’t typically notice this, check out your cereal, bread, or snack foods next time you’re shopping and you’ll be in for a surprise.

4) It’s not overly expensive. I know that Trader Joe’s is not the cheapest option, but it does rival my regular supermarket on a lot of things. For example, I can get tempeh at Trader Joe’s for $1.69 where it costs over $3 at the other grocery store. TJ’s is definitely cheaper than Whole Foods, and it probably falls in about the middle of the cost spectrum overall.

5) The foods are unique. Trader Joe’s has a lot of private label stuff, and much of what they have isn’t foynd in the regular store. There’s lots of different ethnic foods as well as traditional foods with a twist, too. Here are my favorite unique Trader Joe’s products:

  • Charles Shaw wine – Also known as “Two- or Three-buck chuck.” At $3 a bottle on the East Coast, this wine is a great value with very good flavor. People tend to buy this by the case.
  • Seaweed snacks – I’ve become addicted to these little cartons of seaweed that make a tasty and healthy snack.
  • Paneer Tikka Masala – This is a tasty frozen dish to snag for lunch at work for only $3. For frozen food, there’s a reasonable amount of ingredients, plus it tastes great. Gotta love the cheese!
  • Vegetable Gyoza – these potstickers are super easy to heat up. People actually thought they were homemade before! I just steam them for 10 minutes, toss on some teriyaki sauce, and done!
  • Cheese Crunchies – a lot like Cheetos, but without gross extra ingredients and with 1/3 less fat!

6) They treat their employees well. I could tell you this before even looking at the data since their workers are always friendly and seem happy to be there. I end up having a pleasant conversation with the employee ringing me out every time I’m at the store. According to Wikipedia, everyone earns “above-union wages,” and they offer healthcare to part-time employees.

7) It’s environmentally friendly. Trader Joe’s no longer sells genetically modified foods. Although there has been some controversy in the past about the fish they sell, Trader Joe’s has now pledged to only sell sustainable seafood by 2013.

Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking TJ’s rocks. Trader Joe’s has a whopping 361 stores across the U.S., most of which are on or near the coasts. Trader Joe’s has the highest sales per square foot, and their sales are roughly double what Whole Foods does on a square foot basis.

I will admit, Trader Joe’s does have some shortcomings. For starters, their produce is typically pretty bad. I find the quality is poor and much of the offerings aren’t as fresh as at other stores. And almost none of the fruits and vegetables they sell are locally sourced. Trader Joe’s also isn’t a one-stop shop either in terms of doing all your shopping. Since it’s more of just a food store, you won’t find many cleaners or personal care products that you’d pick up at other supermarkets. This usually isn’t a big problem for me, but every now and then I’ll have to go elsewhere to get the things I need. Ideally, I can shop at Trader Joe’s for my favorite quirky items and then pick up my produce at a farmer’s market.

The source for most of this post was Wikipedia’s “Trader Joe’s” page. Check it out for even more fun info about why TJ’s is awesome.

Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Do you wish you did? 🙂

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photo by: trekkyandy

An ‘Owning vs. Renting’ Battle Ignites!

owning-renting-debateI’m a passionate defender of renting in the “Rent vs. Own” debate. Before you head for the comments to tell me I’m wrong, I’ll admit: I think renting and owning are both perfectly okay financial, and it depends on your living situation and preferences. But, recently, I noticed that someone posted a response to my post on why renting is better than owning on Adaptu. It was written by Greg and is called “Why Owning Will Always Beat Renting.” Always?! I gotta see this.

To his credit, I think Greg makes some good points in his post, and I appreciate his tactful response. Many of his arguments are debatable and there’s no right or wrong answer. Greg even admits that a few of my points are true in his mind, too. While I see where he is coming from on some of his counter-arguments, he didn’t do so great refuting other points. Here’s my response to some of his points:

Point 1. While Greg likes to point out that learning home repair skills are “valuable,” it seems he’s not arguing that renting is better when it comes down to paying for maintenance and repairs.

Point 2. Greg points out that, as a landlord, he’s never lowered rent. That’s fine. But renters always have the option to move if they want to lower their rent by living elsewhere.

Point 3. I don’t think Greg’s response makes any sense here. First off, good luck selling a home in this housing market, especially in a place like Las Vegas (which is where it appears Greg lives). It depends on where you live, but it can be impossible in some regions. Secondly, Greg is throwing the old “you’re throwing your rent money away” argument out there. He doesn’t have much to back up his reasoning for this, as you see in Point #8.

Point 4. Greg has some good points here, but I don’t think what he’s saying is true in all cases. I’ve lived in cheap places where hot water was included. Yes, it was probably factored in to the rent, but, honestly, I can’t imagine paying a much lower rent than I did where I was living.

Point 5. Greg has clearly never lived in Manhattan or anywhere else where lots of people want to live but can’t (or don’t want to) buy. Perhaps it’s costing more of your budget than it needs to to live in these places, but what if you’re 25 (like me) and want to live in a trendy urban location for a year or two?

Point 6. Greg admits I am right.

Point 7. Greg has some good points here, but I still think that, in most cases, rent will be cheaper. Maybe if we’re just talking rent vs. mortgage payment there could be an argument. But extra costs for home ownership almost certainly push it over the cost of renting.

Point 8. Greg doesn’t seem to be interested in arguing with my point here.

Point 9. Greg agrees with me.

I’m guessing Greg lives in a totally different part of the country than me (judging from Twitter, looks like Las Vegas), and he probably has much different preferences about how and where he wants to live. These things inevitably shaped Greg’s responses, and just as mine are somewhat biased towards renting.

I know renting isn’t better in all cases, but there are a lot of cases where owning isn’t “always better.” I think Greg made some good points, but the evidence he presented is far from conclusive.  I never claimed that renting is “always better,” and I think there are definitely cases where renting is better financially.

What do you think? In terms of money alone, what are your opinions on which is more economic?

And be sure to check out JT’s comment!

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photo by: wlcutler

Financial Reasons to Rent Instead of Buy – Post on Adaptu

Hi y’all,

Just wanted to announce that I have another post up on Adaptu:

Top Financial Reasons to Rent Instead of Buy

Be sure to check it out and let me know what you think over at Adaptu.

What To Do At 22: Life Lessons For College Grads

Jumping off a cliffAt the time of year where many 22-year-olds will graduate college, I fittingly stumbled upon a post called “8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was 22” on  It’s written by Christine Gilbert who, at age 31, quit her Fortune 500 job to travel full-time and start a new career. Her story is fascinating and probably a bit of a fantasy for most of us.  But she did it, which leads me to question: How did she do it, and can I (still) do it, too?

At age 25 1/2, I’m about halfway from 22 to 31 now.  I’m not about to cry over getting old, but I have important career/life decisions to make this year.  I was interested in exploring Christine’s advice.  At first glance, she is definitely a lot more fearless than I am!  Here are some of the highlights from her post.

Don’t give in to the pressure to be practical

My favorite “thing” on the list: “Pick a career you love; you don’t have to give into the pressure to be practical.” I’ve always felt the pressure to follow a practical path, both at age 22 and today.  While I’m always hearing advice like “do what you love” and “follow your dreams,”I don’t think those people who say it really mean it or live by it. If I told them “Okay, my dreams are to travel the world and work remotely from wherever I’d like,” most of my advice-givers would be severely skeptical of that plan.

Others have told me that I should at least try to get a “real, 9 to 5 job” and see what it’s like before I dismiss it.  But if I’m already adverse to having a job that I’m nearly certain I won’t like, should I even bother going down that path? Will I just be wasting my time taking that job in the first place? I’m guessing Christine would say “yes.”

I would definitely encourage any graduate to at least try something you love that’s not necessarily practical and do it for a year.  Age 22 is the best time to try things out.  I’m not saying be ridiculous and rack up credit card debt.  Take a chance on something that pays little but has a huge upside for your life if you end up loving it. You have almost nothing to lose, and later in life may be too late.

Loans, debts, and safety nets

From a personal finance perspective, Christine’s points that “your student loans can be deferred practically indefinitely” and “you don’t need a safety net” are enough to make my stomach churn as I’m sitting here.  But maybe she does have a point.  Sure, your student loan debt interest will accrue, and it’s a bit scary to think about what would happen if you ran out of money and didn’t have a backup plan.  But what’s the worst that can really happen? The worst, realistic scenario I can imagine now (or at age 22) is moving back with my parents and maybe working a crappy job until I can straighten things out.

The big question in my mind: Is the worst thing that could happen worse than any regrets later in life? In my eyes, no, it’s not.  Yes, you could “fail,” which is something a lot of us are afraid of (or, as Seth Godin points out, we’re not really afraid of failure as much as we are afraid of criticism).  But one of my biggest fears is potentially regretting what I could’ve done with my life.  Playing it safe is overrated.

Adding to the list

I’m not too far removed from age 22 yet, but I’ll contribute a few things to the list:

1. Consider what you’ll do with a post-graduate education before earning an advanced degree. I may have chosen a different path given the job options in my field.

2. Do what you think is best for you. Don’t be afraid of what others will think of you for doing it. If you mess up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and continue on with life.

Do you have anything on your list for what you wish you knew when you were 22?  What advice would you give to someone about to graduate college? Post it below!

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photo by: Micah & Erin