In my continued quest to find free personal finance software, I checked out Yodlee. It’s actually the software behind Mint and the online software packages at several banks. Like Mint, it’s completely secure. In fact, you travel through several identity confirmation screens before you enter your password. The only odd thing about it was how hard it was to find the Yodlee MoneyCenter registration page. Rather than going to their primary site, I had to Google it.

How Yodlee Works

After checking out Mint yesterday, I was surprised by how much more robust Yodlee is. It isn’t as pretty to look at it, but it has much greater functionality. My guess is that they keep it sparse so their corporate customers can customize it with their own logos. As with Mint, it was very easy to import data for my accounts. In addition to banks and credit cards, it can read pull from loans, investment accounts, even Gmail and PayPal.

Yodlee Account Setup Screen

It offers several different views of your spending habits, including spending compared to income and expenses categories. I haven’t customized it yet, so my biggest expense is checks. That isn’t terribly helpful at first, but you can edit the categories to indicate which one each check belongs to. It not only shows the pie chart, but also dollars and percents of total spending for each category.

Yodlee Expense Analysis

I could also view specific transactions. It labels transactions when it downloads them, but I could re-label them if it had chosen the wrong title. In addition to built-in categories, you can create and rename the categories.

Yodlee Transaction Register

The Positives of Yodlee
As with Mint, Yodlee was simple and seamless to set up. It pulled in the data effortlessly. Of course, I was using a bank account and credit card from their primary list, which probably helps.

It offered a very detailed overview page where I could set up my own alerts in a variety of categories and view my Net Worth. It didn’t offer me any advice about saving money, but those aren’t tools I need at the moment.

It does offer the most important element I need: the ability to manually enter transactions. It took a bit of looking around to find the small “manual transactions” button, but at least it’s doable. I could imagine the entry screen becoming tedious if you have a lot of transactions to enter, though.

Yodlee Manual Transactions

The Negatives of Yodlee
It had fewer negatives than Mint, at least for my needs, but it wasn’t perfect.

  • Difficult to add a cash account. In the current version, it tells you can add manual accounts, but then won’t let you. Finally, I visited their forum where I learned that you can track cash by going to “Portfolio Manager” and selecting “Add manual accounts for offline assets.” They’re working on a simpler method for the next update.
  • No help search box. The help screens are only FAQs, there isn’t a way to search for the answer I need quickly. I had to join the forums to find the info I needed.
  • Tiny font. I didn’t see a way to easily adjust the font size. I’m not old, but staring at this tiny front would make my eyes swim after a while.

Final Thoughts
I was impressed with Yodlee. I like that it can track all of my accounts seamlessly and provide me with very detailed information about my overall financial picture. It’s not as intuitive as Mint, but I’m okay with that. As with Mint, there were a couple things missing that I’d really like to have, but maybe I could figure them out with a little more time. I think this one is a definite possibility for us.

We’ve been using Quicken 2005 for several years, but recently it alerted us that it will no longer download our banking transactions after May 1. That means we either have to upgrade to Quicken 2008 or switch to one of the free personal finance software packages. I decided to check out Mint, Yodlee, and Wesabe to see how they compare against Quicken. Today I’ll cover Mint.

How Mint Works
Knowing that Mint is free, I expected some limitations, but I was surprised by how simple and robust it actually is. It took me less than five minutes to sign up and import both a credit card and a bank account.

Mint Account Setup Screen

It automatically pulled in data for the last 60-90 days (whatever was available from the financial institution). I could view an overall spending pie chart.

Mint Spending Chart
I could also view specific transactions. It labels transactions when it downloads them, but I could re-label them if it had chosen the wrong title. (For example, it labeled one of our credit card payments as a mortgage payment.)

Mint Account Transactions

The Positives of Mint
The simplicity of set-up was the part I liked the most. Quicken 2005 can be a bit wonky about pulling in data, but Mint made it seamless.

I really liked the alerts and budget tools on the Overview page. It informed me that my paycheck had cleared and that I’d overspent on food for the month (based on past spending.)

Mint’s strongest point is its recommendations for ways to save. For example, it recommended that we switch from Time Warner to Comcast cable to save $212 a year. The only problem is that Comcast was purchased by TW in our area, so we don’t have the option of switching (and actually, the buy-out lowered our bill significantly.) It also recommended a Citi card rather than our current card, which I will consider.

Mint Saving Suggestions

Finally, I liked knowing whether we were keeping up with US averages for credit card interest rates and other spending areas.

Mint US Comparisons

The Negatives of Mint
Mint was not without its negatives. Since it’s free, it wasn’t launched with all the features you might want. Some of the missing features seemed like pretty obvious necessaries to me, though.

  • There’s no way to manually enter future transactions and track cash spending. Right now, you can only track account information that it can download.
  • It can’t currently track loans.
  • Finally, you can’t import your Quicken data. The fact that we already have several years of data in Quicken might be enough to prevent us from switching unless we can find software that will import the data.

Final Thoughts
I think Mint is great for people who really need to know where their money is going and spend only by credit, check, or debit card. It’s not good for people with investments, loans, or a long history of transactions. I expect the software will be more robust with time, and I might consider switching then. Because it’s free personal finance software, it would also be excellent for recent grads just starting out on their financial roads.

Until it allows us to manually enter transactions, including future transactions, and later associate them with downloaded transactions, we won’t be switching. That’s one feature of Quicken that’s a must have for us.

I’ve never leased a car, nor have either of my parents. We simply don’t believe in it. I’m fortunate that my husband agrees. I do have friends who lease, though. I ran the numbers to compare the costs. Which is better: leasing or buying a car?

Arguments for Leasing
I polled my friends who lease and these are their reasons:

  • A car is not an investment
  • They’re able to drive a nicer car than they can afford
  • They don’t have major maintenance costs.

I can see the point of some of these arguments, but I have some counterarguments:

  • No, a car isn’t an investment, but that doesn’t mean you should throw money away on it.
  • I don’t need to drive a nicer car than I can afford, and most of my friends don’t care about cars.
  • It’s true that new cars don’t need major maintenance, but maintenance costs over ten years really aren’t that high if you buy a good car.

Arguments for Buying:
There are many arguments for buying a car, but these are three I consider the most important:

  • No more payments after the loan is paid off. You can save or invest the money instead.
  • Maintenance after the warranty expires is much cheaper than a lease.
  • If you ding the car, you don’t have to worry about it.

Lease vs. Buy – Cost Comparison
The most important factor, at least for me, is the total cost over a ten-year period. That’s about how long I keep a car (although I’m currently at 11 years.)

I used a leave vs. buy calculator to compare the costs for a $25,000 car. Even with a lease, you have to pay interest (although not on the total value of the car, only on the amount you’ll use up.)

Leasing:
Down payment: $1,000
Term: 36 months
Interest rate: 8%
Other fees: $100
Residual value at return: 60%
Deposit: $500
Total cost over three years: $14,852.98

Buying:
Down payment: $1,000
Term: 36 months
Interest rate: 8%
Other fees: $100
Total cost over three years: $28,187.43

At first, buying looks way more expensive, except that once those three years are up, you own the car outright. Other than maintenance, there are no more expenses to pay. Let’s say that maintenance averages $1,500 a year. In the early years, you’ll only need oil changes, but after a while you’ll need new brakes, tires, and struts. So, figure about $10,500 in maintenance in the remaining seven years, less if you follow my tips for reducing car expenses. That brings the total cost of owning the car to $38.687.43.

With a lease, you need to get a new lease at the end of those three years. Over the same ten-year period, leasing a car would cost at least $49,509.93. When you factor in the rising cost of cars, you’ll have to pay more each time you get a new lease in order to maintain the same quality car. That will bring the total cost well over $50,000.

In summary, leasing will cost you at least, $11,000 more over a ten year period. If you buy a car that holds its value and doesn’t need to go to the shop a lot, you’ll save more. The residual value of the car can be used towards your next car, or sold for cash, while a lease leaves you with nothing. You have to come up with new cash for your next down payment.

This week I tried a couple new carnivals in addition to the Festival of Frugality. We’ll start with the one that made me an editor’s pick!

The Carnival of Money Hacks #3, hosted by My Dollar Plan, chose my post on Managing Car Expenses with a Goodyear Card as an editor’s pick. If you liked that, you’ll also enjoy these tips for saving gas from Fire Finance.

The Carnival of Money Stories #50, hosted by Quest for Four Pillars, featured my post about our debt breakthrough. If you liked that, check out how Millionaire Money Habits decided to become financially free.

And finally, the Festival of Frugality #116, hosted by the Green Panda Treehouse. She featured my post about reading being frugal. If you liked that, you’ll also like Marc and Angel’s 11 practical ways to spend your money.

Recently someone reached my blog via a term related to foreclosure. I don’t really have anything about that specific topic, so I thought I should add something. If you’re facing foreclosure, the most important thing to know is that you do have options. I don’t think people should just walk away from their mortgages – I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and honoring contracts. Nevertheless, all the news about the mortgage meltdown has made some people decide that walking away is the only solution. Here are the other options:

Mortgage Refinance
I know not everyone is able to refinance, especially if their homes are underwater (the value is lower than the loan balance), but it should be everyone’s first attempt to resolve the situation. Although I’m opposed to the new mortgage bailout programs being proposed, you should look into it if they become law.

Forbearance
If you’re behind on a couple of payments, but can catch up, contact the lender for a forbearance. They’ll typically add the payments to the end of the mortgage. You may more in the end, but it’s better than losing your home and having to start over.

Loan Restructuring and Other Options
Some people have reported that their lenders don’t want to talk to them about restructuring or modifying their loans. If you can’t refinance and a forbearance isn’t enough, you may want to contact a reputable company to review your foreclosure options and negotiate with your lender. Lenders that won’t bargain with homeowners may be more willing to bargain with a professional whose emotions aren’t involved and who knows what to ask for.

Finding a Reputable Foreclosure Service
Once your notice of default is published, you’ll start getting phone calls, letters, and even knocks on the door from people offering to “rescue” you. Sometimes these are scams. Instead, you should be proactive and search for a foreclosure company on your own. I would start with a simple web search for “foreclosure services” or “foreclosure help.” Then I would investigate them with the Better Business Bureau and HUD. If you have an FHA mortgage, contact them to discuss your options.

Scams to Watch Out For
A scammer’s main goal is to steal whatever equity may be left in your home, or to find some way to profit from your loss. When dealing with a foreclosure service, look-out for the following things:

Signing over your deed. Never sign your deed over to anyone. Often the scammer will offer to pay off the property if you sign over the deed temporarily. In some cases, they suggest a lease-buyback scheme, but the amount you’d need to pay to buy it back is more than the original loan. In another situation, they collect your rent checks without paying off your mortgage, leaving you with both expenses. In a third situation, they’ll sell your house out from under you and take whatever equity existed.

Excessive fees. Some services charge very high fees for even the simplest of paperwork. If it’s something you could do on your own, don’t pay someone else to do it.

Pressure to sign now. Although you may have to act quickly, you should have at least a couple of days to think over the offered solution. If you’re told that the offer will be withdrawn if you don’t sign now, just walk away.

Repeated refinancing. Each scam refinance includes padded fees for everyone in on the scam, leaving you with a bloated mortgage balance and nothing left to pay it with.

Despite the scammers, you can still find reputable help. You can also go it alone. With mortgage defaults on the rise, more lenders and government agencies are willing to help you keep your home.

To me, frugal meals should be healthy, delicious, and contain fresh, seasonal ingredients. If that means spending a little extra to eat well, I will do so, but I don’t go overboard. Because fish is so healthy, I try to make fish for dinner at least twice a week. We generally eat salmon, shrimp, and snapper, although I occasionally buy cod or halibut.

Fish is so flavorful that it doesn’t need heavy side dishes. My favorites are wild rice, brown rice with toasted pine nuts and rehydrated currants, or white rice (rarely). We also usually have salad before the main course, which stretches out the meal so we don’t feel hungry when we’re done.

Yes, Shrimp is Frugal
I keep a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer at all times. We can get two dinners out of one 16 oz. bag (remember, there are only two of us.) That size bag from Trader Joe’s usually costs around $10, which means $2.50 per person. When you add affordable sides or pasta, the total cost of the meal per person isn’t above $3-4. It’s also great way to boost the protein content of a meal without a lot of effort.

Shrimp cooks in minutes, even from frozen. Just toss it together with some pasta, sauté it with spices, or pour chicken stock in a fondue pot so you can cook it while you eat, and you’ve got a delicious, healthy, affordable dinner in minutes.

Flash Frozen Fish is Frugal, Too
I buy flash frozen fish from Trader Joe’s. They carry wild-caught salmon in reasonable portion sizes at amazing prices – often around $5.99 a pound. Flash frozen fish is frozen at the peak of freshness. I simply defrost it in the fridge overnight and then sauté it or toss it on the Foreman Grill.

Snapper is another favorite in my house. I also buy it flash frozen from Trader Joe’s, and it’s around the same price as the salmon. I’ve discovered that it cooks best in a pan with a little olive oil and butter. It’s too delicate to do well on the Foreman. Just add a dash of lemon juice and toasted slivered almonds, and you have a delicious main course. I love to serve it with brown rice and a simple walnut salad.

On rare occasions, I’ll get cod and make fish and chips. Tyler Florence, of the Food Network, has a fantastic and quick recipe for rice flour fish and chips. It’s light, flaky, and only requires club soda so it’s easy on the budget (assuming you have rice flour on hand, which I always do.) Tartar sauce is easy to throw together with mayo, mustard, lemon juice, and green onions. Don’t bother buying pre-made sauce. Odds are you won’t use it up before it goes bad anyway. Just make a small amount fresh whenever you want it. It makes a lovely topping for pecan salmon or a dipping sauce for salmon fondue nights.

Fresh Fish Is Sometimes Frugal
I’ve found that fresh fish is really affordable if you buy it when it’s in season and buy fish your local markets carry. For some reason, trout is not popular in Southern California, so I don’t eat it here. I could buy it from the fish market, but I don’t leave near one. Driving there would significantly increase the cost. I prefer to buy fresh fish from the fish counter so I can buy exactly the amount I need. Often, they will remove the bones and skin if you ask, and it doesn’t increase the price.

I know many people who don’t believe fish can be part of frugal meals, but if you know how to prepare simple, delicious meals, it can be. Just don’t buy fancy fish! That means no Copper River salmon! Stick to Wild Alaskan and your budget will thank you. If you make a point to eat fish, your heart will, too.

It started slowly with concerns about rising food and energy costs. Next came the mortgage meltdown. Finally, news coverage reported that more than half of Americans plan to use their rebate checks to pay down debt or boost savings. Now, I’m seeing car commercials that encourage people to pay off their credit cards. Is frugality in the air?

Frugality in the News
This Sunday, the Los Angeles Times business section was entirely devoted to frugality and personal finance. They detailed the rising costs for food, fuel, and housing, all of which are crimping everyone’s budgets. According to their report, food costs are expected to rise 3.5% this year. And not just pre-packaged foods, but the basics like bread, milk, and eggs.

They also profiled five people who recently realized the importance of frugality. The feature I found most interesting was the recommendation to buy all your food, including produce and dairy, at 99 Cents Only stores. I had no idea they carried produce! My friend reports that it’s poor quality, however, so I don’t think I’ll start shopping there.

Frugality in Commercials
Of course, it wasn’t terribly surprising to find tips for saving money in the newspaper. I was very surprised to see a recent Honda commercial encouraging buyers to use the money the save on the car to pay down their credit cards. Now, buying a new car isn’t necessarily frugal, but I’ve never actually seen a commercial for a product that advised customers to get out of debt. Is paying off debt now such a buzz word that even advertisers see it as a tactic?

What’s the Cause of this Interest in Frugality?
I think it’s a confluence of factors, really. The costs of food, energy, and housing are a big concern for the average family. The last five years have been a high-flying time for homeowners, but as prices come crashing down and all other costs rise, most people realize that the stodgy recommendations to save money, pay down debt, and live wisely aren’t old-fashioned. They’re smart bulwarks against rising costs.

There are also other factors at work:

Baby boomers retiring. As Baby Boomers look at the possibility of living another 40 or more years and having to pay ever rising medical costs, I think some of them are ready to start pinching their pennies.

Gen Xers lacking hope. I don’t buy into the generalization that all Gen Xers are cynical and hopeless, however I don’t know a single one (and I am one) who expects to get money from social security. We’re going to live a long time and we don’t have a big safety net, so more of us are starting to value frugality.

Gen Yers dealing with more expenses. Gen Yers were the generation that seemed to grow up with the most stuff, but now that many of them are balancing spiraling student debt, the costs of living on their own, and the reality of having to pay for all of that stuff out of their own pockets, I think they’re starting to question the value of the stuff.

Growing environmentalism. As more people become aware that something must be done to ease climate change and the way we treat our world, I think frugality has also entered the conversation as a way to conserve and preserve our resources.

Awareness of other cultures. Specifically, the awareness of how other cultures view us and how we affect them. As more nations advance technologically, they adopt our wasteful ways. It’s not good for the planet or our species, and I think more people are realizing we have to reverse the trend toward wastefulness.

Of course, these are just my theories for why frugality seems to be in the air these days. Have you noticed a greater awareness of frugality? What do you think is the cause? Tell me in the comments.

For the last several months, I’ve been hearing about this theory that the risk of losing money can be more motivating than the prospect of winning money. Last week, NPR reported on a website based on the theory. It was developed by two Yale professors and is called StickK. I’ll explain how it works.

The Stick Theory of Goal Motivation
Many people use positive reinforcement to reach their goals, but more recent studies have shown that the risk of losing something tangible is actually more motivating than the possibility of earning a reward. The theory says that if you put your own money on the table, you’ll work a lot harder to keep it than you would if you could earn new money for doing the same thing. It seems counter-intuitive – if you succeed and win $10 new dollars, you’re better off than you would be if you succeeded and simply didn’t lose the $10 you bet. But that’s not how humans think – the possibility of winning isn’t real. The possibility of losing something we already have is.

How StickK Works
StickK is simple and the service itself is free. The site was designed after one of the professors tested the theory with weight loss, but you could work towards any goal. Here’s what you do:

  • Register and create a contract with yourself, the site, and your referee (a friend or relative)
  • Set the goal, which can be anything you choose
  • Self-report your success from week to week
  • The referee verifies that your report is accurate every week.

Like many goal sites, other members are there to cheer you on, but here’s what makes this site different: the financial pledge. Although the pledge is optional, it’s the true motivator on the site. Here’s how it works:

  • Pay the whole amount you choose to wager up front
  • That amount is divided by the number of weeks you’ve set to reach your goal
  • If you succeed one week, that portion stays in your account. If you fail, you lose that portion, but you don’t have to make it up the next week. For example, if you bet $200 that you’d lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks, that would be $10 per week. Losing extra weight the next week won’t earn back the money you lost, though.
  • At the end of the designated period, you keep whatever is left in your account if you succeed and the rest goes to your charity.

Extra Motivation with Anti-Charities
As an additional motivation, you could designate a cause you hate to receive your money if you fail. For example, if you’re opposed to guns, you could designate your money to go to the NRA. If you support gun rights, you could designate the money to go to a gun control group. That might be the extra motivation you need to succeed.

Will This Work for Financial Goals?
I think it depends. If you’re trying to pay off debt, I don’t know if betting some of your hard-earning cash would be the right goal motivation tool. On the other hand, it might be a great way to get rid of a bad financial habit. For example, let’s say you buy a new CD or DVD every week. You could pledge the total cost of those CDs and DVDs for three months. Each week that you avoid buying any new CDs or DVDs, you would keep the cost. If you fail, not only would be out the cost of the actual CD, but that week’s wager, which effectively makes the CD twice as expensive. Whatever you have left at the end of the three months you could use to pay off credit cards or to shore up your savings.

If you’re like me and hate the very idea of losing money, then StickK is a great goal motivation tool. I probably wouldn’t be all the upset if the money went to a charity I liked, though, so I would choose an anti-charity. I think that would be enough to make sure I met my goal every week.

In addition to using a Goodyear card to reduce my car expenses, I have a few other ways of keeping my car costs down. As I mentioned yesterday, Goodyear sometimes offers a “12 months same as cash” offer. I learned Saturday that they’re offering it now through April 5. The manager made sure to remind me that the finance charges will apply if I don’t finish paying the bill before the 12 months was up – that’s what I call good service.

And now, without further ado, here are my nine tips for reducing your car expenses.

Follow the Recommended Maintenance Schedule
Although auto shops want you to change your oil every 3,000 miles, most newer cars don’t need service nearly that often. My eleven-year-old car requires service every 5,000 miles or four months. Because I only drive 8,000 miles a year, I go in for service every four months, more often if your dealer recommends it because of where you live. To keep your car in good condition, I would use the lower of either the mileage or time recommendation as a guide for service. By going three times a year instead of four, I save $20 a year on maintenance.

Don’t Delay Tune-Ups
When I was younger, I delayed my 30,000 mile tune-up because I was poor. I later learned that delaying my tune-up and other maintenance probably actually added to my car expenses because the car ran less efficiently. I don’t delay my tune-ups anymore.

Buy Tires at Costco
If you have a Costco membership, then this is the best place to buy your tires. Not only are they discounted, but they have an insanely good warranty (for free). I’ve tested the warranty several times, because I have very bad luck with tires. I’ve gotten a nail stuck in my tire, and they replaced it with a new tire for $1. I had a tire that was losing air, and they replaced it for free. The downside is that there can be a long wait, so if you get your tires on a Saturday, I recommend arriving the minute the tire shop opens, and then going inside to do your Costco shopping (with a list, of course.)

Keep Tires Properly Inflated
If your tires are under-inflated, you’ll burn more gas. If your tires are over-inflated, you have less control of the car. Accidents are costly.

Don’t Get Service at the Dealer
My husband insists on getting service at the dealer, even though his car is out of warranty. I insist he’s throwing money away. We haven’t worked that one out yet, but I always go to Goodyear. They know how to work on most cars and have the same equipment. What they don’t have are overpriced factory parts and overpriced labor. I save at least 50% on tune-ups, and nearly 70% on struts, brakes, and other routine maintenance costs. I also save on major service. For example, this weekend I took my car in because it was making a bad sound. They said I need to replace the wheel hub bearings, at a cost of $831.40. Toyota would charge me $1260.

Get a Second Opinion
If a mechanic recommends a major service that doesn’t sound reasonable to you, take it to another mechanic to have it checked out. You could just go in and say you hear a strange sound from under the car and see what they recommend. Just make sure it’s a mechanic with a good reputation for honesty. I want to get a second opinion on my wheel hub bearings, although it seems reasonable that a car with 116,000 miles might need that. I was considering taking my car to Toyota, but they want to charge me $99 just for the inspection.

Keep Your Car At Least Ten Years
Of course, this only applies if you have a good car. My first car was a Pontiac built by Isuzu. It was also a former rental. I will never buy any of those again. I only kept the car for five years because by the end it had developed the annoying habit of stalling at on-ramps and red lights, and overheating the brakes. It was replaced by a brand new Toyota. (I had a friend at the dealer who got me a very, very good deal and financial help from my Dad.) The loan has been paid off for six years now. I haven’t had any major issues, like the transmission or the engine blowing.

Replace Old Gas Guzzlers or Cars that Break Down Often
If you have an old car that is unreliable or guzzles gas, then I would consider replacing it with a late-model used car that gets good mileage and has a good safety and reliability record. Personally, I would stick with Japanese cars. I’ve compared gas mileage between Japanese and German cars and Japanese cars definitely get better mileage. I haven’t considered American cars. I know it seems counter-intuitive to save money by buying a different car, but if your car is in the shop every other week, belching smoke, or only gets 15 miles to the gallon, you’re spending far more to keep that car than you would if you bought a more reliable, fuel-conscious car.

Buy Late Model Used Cars
Late model used cars tend to be leased cars. They’re better than rentals because leases have to be return in excellent condition and have mileage limits. I might consider buying my next Toyota or Honda new, because they hold their value well, but if I can find a good former lease, I’ll buy it. By buying a car that’s a few years old, you not only avoid the immediate loss in value, but you also have lower insurance and registration costs, both of which are car expenses you don’t consider on a daily basis but that do add up.

If you use these nine tips to reducing car costs, you could save thousands of dollars in maintenance, insurance, and car payments. Do you have other tips to reduce car expenses?

It seems like every blogger I read loves Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, so I decided to find out what it’s really about. After all the hype, I expected to come away with a complete plan to makeover my entire life. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me, but I think it could be excellent for people who need this book’s kind of help.

A Plan for People with Consumer Debt
I think it’s a very good plan, but it seems to work better for people with different goals than we have and less student loan debt. We can reduce our debt a certain amount, but until those loans are paid off, we can’t eliminate it. That means we can’t do much else with our lives or our money for the next several years. It’s also not worth it to pay off some of those loans. Mine are only at 3.85%, and we can make more than that in a savings account, definitely more than that investing!

Determining Your Total Earnings, Spending, and True Wage
I liked the idea of figuring out how much we made over the course of our lives until now. I found that I had more than I expected. They also suggested tracking spending closely, but we already do that. Just to give if a full test, I tracked my expenses for one month. The results weren’t all that surprising.

I very much liked the concept of calculating the value of your time and your true hourly wage to determine whether that wage is less than the value of your time. I found that my true wage exceeds the value of my time, which made me pretty happy. It also gave me something to consider if I’m offered other job opportunities – would the new wage be worth as much as it seems?

The Motivational Debt Chart
I also liked the idea of the debt chart. A visual representation of debt can be a great motivator for reducing it, but we’re already very motivated. Making more cuts isn’t going to be easy for us. We’ve made some reductions, but we’re very close to the basics at this point.
Aspects that Don’t Work for Me
Many of the other ideas they mention to reduce debt and increase life value simply don’t work when you live in an expensive city like Los Angeles. Moving closer to work is a great idea, but whose work are we going to move closer to?

We also don’t overspend the way many of the couples in the book did, so our money values aren’t that far out of whack. Our debt generally isn’t from trying to keep up with the Joneses, overshopping to console ourselves, or poor money management. Instead, it’s largely a result of our graduate degrees not yet recouping their investment, but they will in time. We both understand that we’re working to get more value out of the rest of our lives, but we also receive some value from our work. We chose to get our graduate degrees later in life (late twenties/early thirties) because they have personal value to us, but we knew at the time that it would mean taking on additional debt.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I think the book can be a life-changer for people who need motivation to change, need a better understanding of the true value of money, and have a financial history that lends itself to the program. We don’t and given where we live, our goals, and our chosen career paths (which do require us to remain in California in high-income/high-cost areas), I don’t see it working for us.

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