Thursday, August 20, 2015

Paying Off $30k of Debt in One Year

I've had a lot of good responses from my post a few weeks back, and I really need to be a bit more consistent and frequent with my updates. Life has been a tad busy helping my parents move, so I haven't had a chance to write much.

Most people are anxious to know more about how I managed to live in my car. Where did I shower? How did I sleep? Where did I keep clothes? Honestly, I should have answered these questions long ago, but I never spent the time to take quality pictures and document things as well as I would like. I fully intend to answer these questions, but today is not the day, and I have something to share that I believe is far more important and helpful.

The first year I decided to live in my car, I was focused primarily on paying off my debt. I had college and car loans that amounted to roughly $30k, and I would spend just about my entire paycheck to get rid of it. Being an engineering-minded individual, I like to be as efficient (lazy?) as possible. There are a number of debt payoff and consolidation methodologies out there like tackling the largest loan first, consolidating debt to the smallest interest account, etc. While some of those ideas have their merits, I went about things a bit differently.

By way of example, let's pick on the "largest loan first" methodology. Say you have a $10k loan at 2% and a $2k loan at 8%. With this methodology, you should pay the minimum to the $2k loan while allocating as much money as you can to the $10k loan. Sure, this is a simple way to attack the problem, but there is one little flaw, here: interest is not being taken into consideration. The biggest loan also has the lowest interest. As Einstein supposedly once quipped, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. While you're busy chipping away at the $10k loan, that $2k loan is growing at an advanced rate.

So, what am I suggesting - pay off the highest interest first? No, by doing so, you introduce the same problem, only in reverse. As you're rapidly paying off the smaller loan with the highest interest, the effect of the 2% interest on the other loan is multiplied by the large principal. Once again, interest is not your friend.

What I did is put together this spreadsheet that calculates what percentage I should allocated toward each loan by weighting the principal and the interest together. This way, I'm chipping away at all loans equally regardless of the principal size or interest rate. By the time I paid off my debt, I paid off all of my loans on the exact same day because I was paying them off in parallel. It worked pretty well, and while I could have done some consolidation work to get rid of higher interest loans, I think this is one of the most logical approaches to paying off debt.

There is a downside with my methodology. In order take this approach, you often need to allocate a lot of extra money to certain loans when taking into account the weighted percentage, and this may go far beyond what the average person is able to pay in a given month. Therefore, I added some extra calculations to my spreadsheet to take this into account. Once you populate the principal, interest rate, and minimum payment fields for each loan, the most efficient total amount of money is calculated. If the total payment that you are able to make is below this amount, then the spreadsheet will adjust by only making minimum payments to certain lower principal/interest weighted loans and splitting up the remainder amongst the rest. It's not as efficient, but it takes into account the reality of most peoples' lives.

I'd really like to try to add in things like investment accounts into the mix. For example, if you want to add $5k to a Roth IRA over the course of the year, it makes sense to allocate more toward the end of the year and less at the start so you can focus on paying off loans. However, investment accounts do appreciate at a (fairly predictable) rate, and there is still something to be gained by putting away money earlier rather than later. Maybe I'll figure out how to add that to my spreadsheet later on, but for now, I've had enough with formulas for one day . . .

One final note. My spreadsheet is obviously rather static in nature. The principal and interest rate for a particular loan is recorded for a snapshot in time, and the principal is not recalculated based on elapsed time. It may be necessary to update these fields every month especially if you can't allocate the full and most efficient amount as calculated. Things will get out of whack, and you may not be doing things as efficiently as possible.

Well, that's it! That's how I managed to pay off my debt, and I hope it helps some of you out there. I'd really like to make an app out of this, but despite my technical background, I've actually never written an app in my life. If anyone is interested in helping me create one, that would be pretty fantastic.

For those of you who missed the link to my spreadsheet:

3:54 PM Posted by Unknown 15

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Three Years Homeless: Lessons Learned

Three years. It's been three years since I started this crazy project. When I hit my first anniversary, I couldn't believe I'd made it that long. Never did I think I would be writing about living in my car for three years, but here I am.

Today is a big day for this blog beyond just commemorating my third year. First, I'm posting on LinkedIn for the first time under my personal account (and in doing so, revealing my identity). I'm curious to know what my colleagues will think when they find out that I've been homeless for three-quarters of the time they've known me. Were they suspicious? Could they tell? Are they surprised and intrigued to know how I did it? I suspect it will be interesting to see how they respond.

It's also the first time in about a year since I last posted, and I wanted this post to be a response to my rather lengthy hiatus. There are a number of reasons such as not seeing as much readership as I had hoped, but the larger reason is what I wanted to address. This past year, I became overly-focused on my work and career, leading many of my personal projects to fall by the wayside. I was put in a position of more responsibility, and I had been told many times that it was only a matter of time before I would receive a promotion. To that end, I stepped up my efforts, focused on demonstrating my capabilities to my management, and put most parts of my personal life (including my ambitions for this blog) on hold.

The result? In no way did it pay off the way I had hoped. I didn't wind up getting recognition at work. I spent less and less time with my friends and family. I became stressed, ate more junk food, gained weight, and kept telling myself that it was only a matter of time before my hard work and dedication would pay off. More than once, I've told my friends that I wished I had spent more time keeping up with this blog in the hopes that it might garner greater a greater following and recognition.

I'm not writing to complain about my career or whine about not having enough time. Rather, I want this past year of my life to be an example that seriously challenges those who espouse the notion of a "work/life balance." That's a cliche that is just about as overused as talking about the "cloud" in the IT industry right now - everybody says it, but I don't think that they really understand what it means. I don't think that I've met anyone who actually has a good work/life balance.

So, what am I suggesting? I can't claim that I have a 12-step solution that will help you achieve a better work/life balance, but I want you to consider this: if your career is the most important thing to you right now and where you spend the majority of your time and effort, you're doing it wrong. Your career will never bring you success in life. Let me say that again in the hopes that it will sink in: your career will never bring you success in life. While we certainly need to work to live, we do not live to work. It's far more important to be successful in your personal life than to be successful in your career. Have you found yourself sacrificing more and more of your personal time, hobbies, and efforts in order to be successful in your career? Stop. It's not worth it. Maybe it's time to find a new job that allows you to be successful both in and outside of work. Like I said at the end of another post, time isn't money because you can always make more money; you cannot make more time.

How do I plan to take these words to heart? Well, for one, I'm no longer at my previous job (so technically, I'm the homeless AND unemployed, right now). I decided that it was time that I focus on the plans and projects that I've always talked about but never managed to take action on in the hopes that it will lead to a meaningful income. I saved enough money living in my car that I'm at the perfect place in my life to do so. I also want to try to be more regular with this blog. Even though I'm currently living under a roof and may not go back to living in my car at this point, I still have a lot to share from my experiences that I think would benefit the average person. So, provided that a) I don't let my life get out of control again, and b) I see that people still have an interest in reading this, I'll keep posting.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully, I'll be writing again, soon . . .

2:00 PM Posted by Unknown 0

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DIY or Don't? Time is Everything

It's been far too long since I've posted - I bet some of you wondered if I'd given up! No, I'm still here, living in my car, showering at the office shower room, and pinching pennies because I can. Work has just been pretty crazy, and it's kept me from doing what I REALLY want to do: post a video walk through of my car. I'll make that happen soon, hopefully.

Where I live, it's started to get a bit warmer the past few weeks, and I've been able to do things my girlfriend nags me about work on a lot of projects that I've been putting off for awhile. While covered in grease and laying under a car, I started thinking: when is it worth doing things yourself versus paying someone to do it? I know a lot of people that will go to extremes to save pennies and do everything they can not to pay someone. For instance, my sister started making soap and "tooth powder" for her family. On the flip side, there are people that would rather pay someone to do even the smallest tasks just to free up their time and get it professionally done. One of my good friends who doesn't mow his lawn, refuses to work on his car, and would rather buy a bottle of water than wash and clean a water bottle fits firmly into this category. Each of them have their own valid logic, but really, when is it worth it? Is there a line?

Someone once said to me that the adage of "time is money" is dead wrong because you can always make more money; however, you cannot make more time. Time is EVERYTHING. This same person told me that when a job requires minimum wage labor, it's not worth doing it yourself. Pay someone to do it. However, I'm obviously no spendthrift, so that's where I draw my line. If it's a time-consuming task that will only save me a few dollars to do myself, it's simply not worth it. However, if it's a task that would cost me hundreds of dollars in labor to do, I'll generally do it myself (even if it is time-consuming). I have one caveat to this rule, however. If it's something that I'm not good at or it will take me more time to learn than it will to do it, it's worth paying someone.

A few examples. Car repair. I know, a bunch of females just stared reading ahead because they're not willing to do that or think they can't. To be quite honest, my father has no patience for working on cars, so I never learned how to do it growing up. What I did know was that the cost of a mechanic's labor is extreme and that I could learn how to do just about everything I needed to do from EricTheCarGuy's YouTube channel. I'm serious - need to know how to change struts and ball joints without a garage full of fancy tools? Eric will show you how. Seriously, it's not that hard, and you're saving hundreds of dollars in most cases, not just pennies.

What about my sister making her own soap and tooth powder? Okay, maybe this is too easy of an example, but seriously . . . soap? Soap is cheap. STOOPID cheap. She probably spends a few hours rendering the ingredients to make this stuff when she could be doing something else (like changing her brake fluid, something which is much needed on her car). Half the things you've pinned on Pintrest probably fit under this category if you really think about it. Is it worth building that shoe rack from spare bamboo when you could buy one for $5?

I'm guilty of doing things like this myself, though. I once spent hours taking the bumper off my car to try to patch a crack in my windshield wiper reservoir because I didn't want to spend $50. Several frustrated hours and wasted bottles of glue later, I spent the $50 and wanted to reclaim the time I wasted.

So, I guess those are my guiding rules. If it costs you more to do than minimum wage and you can easily figure out how to do something and do it reasonably well, then by all means, DIY. However, if you're going to end up spinning your wheels just to conserve a few precious pennies, either you have too much spare time and you should be out changing the world or you don't recognize how important time is.

Time is everything. You cannot make more time.

5:53 PM Posted by Unknown 0

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mortgages, Homeownership and the Debt Ceiling (and My First Video!!!)

Click the big, stupid YouTube logo to watch my first video (there goes some of the anonymity, I suppose . . . ) In this video, I decided to talk about something that happened yesterday: Congress raised the debt ceiling. AGAIN. To $17.2 TRILLION. Let me put the zeros on that for effect:

If you were to stack that many dollar bills on top of each other (each dollar being 0.0043 inches thick according to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing), a stack of $17.2 trillion would be 1,167,300 miles long. That is almost 5 times the distance to the moon and would loop the earth nearly 47 times. A dollar bill weighs about 1 gram, so a stack of money that big would weigh 37,919,500,000 lbs, which is equivalent to 85 times the weight of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago. Am I getting through to anyone???

So, in this video, I tackle debt as one of the motivation for me to live out of my car, and I specifically talk about mortgages. You see, when people say that they are "homeowners," they generally mean that they are paying on a mortgage for a home that they live in. That doesn't mean that they own it. Actually, the bank owns it. The "homeowner" is really a "mortgage owner." We've become so desensitized to debt that we shrug it off as ownership.

We often talk about the percentage of people that are homeowners, but this is once again talking about people who have a home with a mortgage. One topic that I didn't touch on in the video is the percentage of homes that are owned free and clear (that is, without a mortgage). According to Zillow, in 1940, 55% of non-farm owners in America owned their homes free and clear. However, in 2013, that number has dropped to 29%, nearly half what it was less than a century ago. That's pathetic! It's no wonder that we report the percentage of "homeowners," which was at 67.4% in 2009 (year of the last census).

So, I live in my car for a good reason. I don't want to be one of those statistics if I can help it. Call it pride, but I want to actually own the things that I have. I own my car. I own my degree. I'll fight as hard as I can to one day own my own home.

. . . now THAT'S dreaming big.
9:57 PM Posted by Unknown 0

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons I Learned from Grandma

I'm back from vacation to see my grandparents in Florida, and I have to say, this article was partially inspired by them. You see, they live in one of those retirement trailer parks. By "trailer park," I don't mean sketchy places on the outside of town; no, I'm referring to those really nice double-wides that are basically real houses, only smaller.

Emphasis on the word smaller.

When they moved from Ohio when I was in elementary school, I remember that they actually hired a professional auctioneer to help them sell off most of their stuff in what was likely the most official yard sale in history. They simply couldn't take everything they had to Florida, so they took what they needed (including several heirlooms, of course). In their new place, they had to get extremely creative about storage because of the limited space. Their pantry is quite small, so they go grocery shopping several times a week. They have no attic, garage, or much spare closet space, so storing things like holiday decorations is challenging.

While I was visiting, I stumbled across a few things late one night that made me think of my own crazy endeavors, and it made me chuckle. I was searching through their electronics trying to find cables to help them with their TVs, and this is what I found. On the outside, these are perfectly normal entertainment centers:

Tucked away, however, are Christmas decorations, decorative centerpieces, and boxes for wrapping gifts:

My personal favorite is this next one. Keep in mind that my grandmother DOES use the microwave as intended, but when not in use it serves a different purpose:

That's just epic. Grandma uses it as a bread box. As long as I can remember that's where she's kept the bread in Florida. Why not? It's idle space when not in use - might as well put something in there . . .

Like I said, seeing this really reminded me of myself. Keeping all of my earthly possessions in a storage unit has caused me to get a little creative about where and how I store things. Not everything is in the storage unit, but a good amount of it is. In the rear, I have things that I rarely (if ever) access such as cook and bake ware, bathroom supplies, and the like. Closer to the front, I keep my clothes, tools and fluids to fix my car/home, bulk toiletries and cleaning supplies, and non-perishable food. It's not presently this neat and clean (it's WICKED cold outside right now), but I try to keep things manageable:

This next one is a bit strange. My office has shower rooms at the far end of the building that rarely get used, so I started using them rather than go to the gym (more on all of that later). I got sick of toting my gym bag in and out of the shower room every day, so I found an out-of-sight place to store them:

I know I have yet to touch on where I cook meals, but I keep a good bit of food at the office for breakfast and lunch. I also have utensils and small appliances like a smoothie maker/blender and coffee grinder (for my aforementioned French press travel mug from my last post). In order to have easy access, I keep some simple medicine on hand so I don't have to go digging through my storage unit should I become sick. All of this is neatly tucked away like so:

Something tells me that grandma would be proud - what do you think?
6:12 PM Posted by Unknown 0

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What Pain do You Want?

I've been working silently in the background on tackling the questions that lots of people have asked me since I "went public" with my blog. However, since I'm not quite ready to post some things, I'm going to shift gears a little bit and share a rather interesting article that one of my coworkers forwarded around:

This is a very interesting question, and I think it turns the tables a bit on how we should set our goals in life. It's often said that those who write down their goals are more apt to achieve them, and goals which are difficult and above what we think we can achieve are the goals which we should pursue. However, most people don't make goals by considering what areas in their life they are willing - no, that they want to suffer. Don't set goals because reaching that goal will make you happy and bring you pleasure. Set goals because that goal is so important to you that you'll take pain to achieve it. Those are the goals that will drive you, and those are the goals which you'll reach. If a goal doesn't require pain, it's either not important enough or it's not good enough to be a goal.

Living in my car has been no picnic, let me tell you. I've given up plenty of creature comforts, eaten a lot of boring food, had to give up several social opportunities, and deal with a good amount of embarrassing questions and situations. However, it's worth it to me. I paid off my college debt and my car in just over a year. I was able to give my parents and grandparents meaningful and worthwhile gifts for Christmas for the first time in my entire life. I've been able to support organizations that I've never had the funds to give to before. Day by day, I'm one step closer to ensuring that my parents won't have to worry about retiring after all they've done for me. Day by day, I'm one step closer to the possibility of having my own business. Day by day, I inch toward being able to make a real difference in this world and reach the goals that have been the reason that I've been saving money and dreaming big.

Gallup released a new poll today that really isn't very encouraging. It found that 42% of Americans say that they're worse off financially this year than they were last year. A little over a third said that their situation has improved:

Goodie. That's inspiring, isn't it? It's only January, too. I share this because like it or not, it looks like 2014 probably won't be a walk in the park for most people or businesses. You and I are probably going to have pain regardless of if we choose it or not. Are you willing to keep fighting for goals that require struggle and sacrifice? What goals are worth it to you? What pain is worth it to you?

Dream on, dear readers, and don't let pain keep you from dreaming big.

7:36 PM Posted by Unknown 0

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top 7 Things You Must Have to Live in Your Car (But Still Generally Useful)

There are certain things you just have to own if you want to live in your car. Heck, there are certain things that are still pretty nice to have around even if you're normal and live in a place with a bed and a roof over your head. At any rate, I looked back over my Amazon purchases from the last year or so and found the items that I ended up buying to solve particular problems that I'd encountered, and I think that many of you may find them to be useful suggestions. If you know anything about me, you might know that when I set out to buy something, I read reviews and compare products for literally hours before deciding to buy it (for example, once took three hours to land on the type of windshield wipers to buy). All that to say, I've done the comparing, and for me, these are the best of the best for the money.

Without further ado, here we go (in no particular order):

1. Quality Pillow

Let's face it - sleeping in your car isn't the most comfortable thing in the world. We've all done it. As children, we passed out on long road trips after exhausting ourselves by fighting with our siblings only to awaken with an imprint of a door handle on our cheek and drool soaking the seat belt. As adults, we've pulled over to "nap" for a few moments at a truck stop and either wondered why on earth car seats don't recline three inches more or why we thought curling up on "the hump" sounded like a good idea. You're supposed to be awake while in a car - encouraging drivers to sleep tends to jeopardize the interests of others. You know . . . interests like living.

I'll go into how I've managed to make my car pretty stoopid comfortable in another post, but straight from the start, I realized that I had to have a comfortable pillow. No more polyfill poufs with random stains on them that go flat quicker than a grilled cheese made with Wonder Bread. So, I looked high and low and finally found this:

I settled on the standard "brick" style because the contoured ones always seem to go flat right in the middle. Besides, isn't the point of memory foam to contour to your head or body by itself? I digress. This is "gel-infused" memory foam, so it's supposed to be able to dissipate heat better than the regular kind. Since I'd be using this in the summer, that was important. Even my girlfriend agrees that it's super-comfy (which is why I haven't had it with me for the past few months).

If you're gonna spend $50 on a pillow, you should probably protect your investment from years of slobber, dandruff, and mites, so this is probably worth your while:

Of all the brands, this had fewer complaints of making crinkling noises, feeling too thick, or holding in heat. Good buy.

2. Sleeping Bag Liner

I'll go quickly through this one before you get bored and stop reading - I promise that there are some cool things on this list! Anyway, in the summer, my 20° sleeping bag was just a little much. In the winter, I got sick of using an entire washer just on my sleeping bag. This works great for a summer bag on its own, and in the winter, I use it to line my sleeping bag so it's the only thing I have to wash. The reviews and price point made this brand the winner.

3. A Way to Make Coffee

I told you I'd get to the good stuff.

At the office, we can't have coffee machines due to fire codes, and the coffee in the break room is from concentrate. I looked inside the machine, and there's a circuit board bigger than the average motherboard in a desktop computer. If it takes that much circuitry just to brew coffee, there's something wrong.

Intro this - the French press commuter mug:

This doodad is amazing. It's made of stainless steel (instead of glass) and it fits in a car cup holder, but that's not the coolest thing about this mug. The bottom unscrews from the body of the mug to reveal a canister that fits into the tapered base section. This allows you to store extra grounds so you can make a second cup once you get to work. When you live in your car, access to convenient caffeine is a must.

4. Window Deflectors

No matter how cold it is, if you sleep in your car for anything longer than what would be considered a "nap," you MUST crack your windows. Why? Let's go back to 7th grade science, shall we? When humans breathe, they expel moisture into the air. This moisture tends to condense once the surrounding air becomes saturated. The saturation point of air decreases in direct relation to air temperature. Translation: if you don't crack your window, you will have moisture EVERYWHERE. I'm not talking about a little fog on the windows; no, you will have drops flowing down your windows onto your dashboard, and despite what Vince Shlomi tells you, there is no ShamWow big enough to mop it up.

However, if it rains, snows, sleets, or mother nature otherwise decides to pitch a fit, it's going to get inside your car. On the flipside, if it's the middle of August and you hop inside your car, there's no chance that you'll get your air conditioner blowing cold before you sweat through your shirt. So, I got some window deflectors.

This brand was the best reviewed for the price. Also, I wanted the "in-channel" style for two reasons. First, if they ever break, they're easier to remove without risking pulling off chunks of paint. Also, they just look more seamless and part of the car. When you're homeless, presentation is everything.

5. Fogless Shower Mirror

Men - listen to me. There's a reason why women have silky-smooth legs after a shave, and it's because they have a secret. This secret is that there's nothing better on this planet than shaving in the shower. Well . . . perhaps there are a few things, but this is up there with bacon and Nutella. At any rate, shaving in the shower is more comfortable and way easier than shaving over a sink. This mirror has a reservoir behind the mirror that you fill with hot water to keep it from fogging up. It's portable, so if you go to the gym in the morning, you're set. When I wasn't a hobo, I found a permanent model at Walmart that screwed in-line with the shower head. It's the simple luxuries that get me excited these days, I suppose . . .

6. Dead Battery Protector

There's not much worse than waking up in your car with your hair matted on one side, sticking up on the other, and buzzard breath pouring from your lips only to realize that you left something turned on in your car and you need to approach a stranger in your present state of appearance to ask for a jump. The example I provided is based on (many) a real-life scenario(s).

Sure, you could get one of those battery jump-starter packs, but they take up a ton of weight, they go dead, and they also only last a few years before the battery in them doesn't hold a charge. This thing has saved me from being stranded on more than one occasion:

This thing goes between your positive terminal and your battery and monitors the voltage. If it drops too far, it cuts the power. To restore power, simply do something that would cause a large power draw such as stomping on the breaks or flicking on the high beams (followed by immediately starting your car, of course). Seriously, though - get one of these. Get one for your girlfriend/wife/less-than-significant other. Get one for your kids. Get one for your grandparents. Get one for your dog's shock collar. You'll be glad you did.

7. Portable Alarm Clock

I used to live in a small town that only existed because of the railroad, and 100 years ago, it was a stop. It's still on the railroad and it's still a small town, so that means that most houses are within 500-1000 feet of what is now a freight line. Every train that went through caused the glass in the windows to rattle and pictures on the wall to shake, and no one was fool enough to display prized China on the wall. As a result, I'm a VERY heavy sleeper. I slept through a tornado that passed through town the next road over from my house, once. Throw in some sleep apnea, and I'm a sleep-machine. 

I tried everything to wake myself up. I tried an alarm clock for deaf people that is 120 dB and has a bed-shaker module. I had to zip-tie the power plug to the wall so I couldn't unplug it, but it was too easy to turn off. So, I locked it in a box and put the keys somewhere that I'd have to get up to fetch them. Problem: after returning with the keys, I'm right next to my bed. So, I landed on one of these:

This, dear friends, is pure evil. It will make your neighbors hate you. Your dog will find a new best friend. It is a battery-powered trucker alarm clock, and you can find it at any truck stop. To turn it off, you have to use two hands to hit the cryptic combination of buttons. Since I sleep extra hard, I had to make it even more challenging. When I lived in an apartment, not only did I have it locked in a box, but I also chained the key inside a cabinet downstairs. In order to mute this wretched beast, I had to run across my apartment to fetch the key, taking me far away from my bed. In my car, I have my car keys tethered to the headrest joint of my seat, and the alarm is locked in my glove box. The rope tied to my keys is just long enough to unlock the glove box if the seat is as far forward and as far erect as possible. Not only does this get me out of bed - it basically destroys my bed.

To make sure that your supply of unearthly shrieking never ceases, throw in some Li-ion 9V batteries:

I just can't WAIT to crawl into bed with this next to me tonight . . .

Anyway, that's all for now. This is FAR longer than usual, but I hope some of the products are useful to you in real life (or are at least entertaining). As always, I value your comments, and please like/follow/+1/re-share/re-Tweet me!
8:05 PM Posted by Unknown 1