Driving Smarter and Going with Cash in May

my financial reviews

I was going through April’s income and expenses this morning. We’ve accomplished a few of our goals last month. After buying a car our account balances are looking a bit lower than I’ve been used. However it’s expected and we are working on our other financial goals. my financial reviews

One of the remaining goals is paying off the student loan debt faster (hopefully get the balance down by 20% by December). One source of extra income has been net income from ads here on My Financial Reviews. While that’s been off to a good start, I’d like to speed up the process.

May Financial Goals

For May, my goal is to cut our monthly expenses – intead of looking at everything at once, I’m going to focus on one or two expenses each month. For May I’m looking at cutting back on food expenses and gas expenses. With food expenses I’m going to only use cash. That means visiting the ATM once a week to grab my eating out money. Once it’s gone, it’s gone until the next week. I’m going to see if I spend less with cash, if I do, any money I have left over that week will be tucked away for an extra student loan payment. I will not roll over any savings.

As for cutting gas expense, I’ll be working at increasing the gas mileage I get with the Honda Accord and reduce the amount of fill-ups for the month. My goal is to save on at least one fill -up which will too towards paying down the student loan. The fun part for the gas mileage is that it’ll be the first contest My financial Reviews will be jointly hosting (along with Couple Money). It’s my hope that a little friendly competition along with prizes will spur people to join in and save some money.

Thoughts on Saving Money

Do you have any goals on cutting back on expenses or saving money? Let me know in the comments!

Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

escape from cubicle nation pam slim

With tax season winding down and our car search over, it’s been nice to focus my attention on writing up some reviews again. To get me back into the swing of things I thought it qwould be great to refresh my memory with a review of one of my keepers from my book shelf. Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim follows the theme of Pam’s blog (with the same title) of making a transition from an office worker to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Escape from Cubicle Nation Overview

While no single book can cover the whole shift in detail, Pam does a wonderful job showing the thought process behind making the decision, the basics of starting a bootstrap business, and the realities of being self employed.  If you’re curious about what she covers in detail, here are the topics she covers (Slim does a wonderful job naming her chapters!):  escape from cubicle nation pam slim

  • I have a fancy title, steady paycheck, & good benefits. Why am I so miserable?
  • If it is so bad, then why am I so afraid to leave?
  • Detox from corporate life
  • What’s really involved in moving from employee to entrepreneur?
  • What are all the ways to be self-employed?
  • How do I choose a good business idea?
  • Recruit your tribe
  • Rethink your life: Options for scaling back, downshifting, & relocating
  • Do I really have to do a business plan?
  • Define the spirit of your brand
  • Test often & fail fast: The art of prototypes & samples
  • Look your finances in the eye
  • How to shop for benefits
  • Dealing with your friends & family
  • Line your ducks in a row
  • When is it time to leave?

Highlights from Escape…

I think for myself my favorite section (unsurprisingly) is the Make the Money Work section. If someone wants to start and thrive with their business, getting a financial system up and running is essential. While following your passion is a start, building a business involves more. Slim goes over looking at income and expenses, saving for your business’ needs, looking benefits such as health insurance, and building a cash reserve.

For those looking at having a cushion before they make the switch, Slim offers some practical advice on what to do while you’re still employed. She also shows you how to find suitable self-funded health insurance. All of this can be extremely helpful for those looking at taking the leap.

Thoughts on Escape from Cubicle Nation

If you’re really interested in understanding the reality of being self-employed and not just the fantasy of being self-employed, then this is the book to get your started. Pam shares enough of the basics to get you started. For those who have read Slim’s book and have started a business, what are your thoughts? What do you think of Escape from Cubicle Nation?

Using Fuelly to Track Our Gas Mileage

fuelly gas mileage honda accord vw jetta

My husband I have a Google Docs spreadsheet where we can keep track of our cars’ gas mileage with each fill-up. However I haven’t been as regular with my data entries as I planned. I decided to use Fuelly to track our cars’ performance.

I wanted to share a brief for those readers who are looking to lower their gas bills.

fuelly gas mileage honda accord vw jetta
First fuel-ups are in

Fuelly- A Community of Gas Mileage Trackers

Basically Fuelly allows you to submit your gas receipt data and runs the numbers for you. With each fuel-up, you can get a clearer idea of your car’s:

  • Running average gas mileage
  • Cost per mile
  • Best miles per gallon
  • MPG
You can also use Fuelly to look up different models and see what’s the average gas mileage. That can be a useful when you’re narrowing down your list for car shopping. As you can see in the image with this post, the Accord has better mileage than the Jetta. It’s one fuel-up, but it’ll be fascinating to see how the two do.
Since we deciding on whether to keep the Celica or the Jetta, having gas mileage handy will help us compare annual fuel costs. I’m happy to see that there is mobile app for the site, so any member can update their stats as soon as they finish a fill up.

Trying to Beat the Average MPG

Can’t I do this myself? In short yes I can. Fuelly makes it easy, but tracking gas mileage isn’t rocket science. That’s not the strength of Fuelly though. It’s the community that makes it a handy tool. How?

Along with stats from other users, there is a huge list of member submitted tips on saving on your fuel plus there is an active forum where you can start and follow along different topics in the threads.

Of course while I appreciate the camaraderie, I’m going to use Fuelly in a different way. I’m using the data from the site to challenge myself to be better than the average member. Right now the average mpg for a 2007 Honda Accord is ranging from 25-28 (combined city and highway driving).

My goal is to consistently average at least 30 mpg over the next 3 months.

Thoughts on Fuelly

I’ll be using Fuelly as my to track my gas mileage. If you want to friend me on Fuelly, look for ElleCMB. I’d love to start an unofficial group where we can encourage one another and improve our gas mileage with driving. How about you? How do you track your car’s gas mileage? What’s your average MPG?

Buying a Family Car

reliable family car honda accord

Yesterday we went ahead and bought our family car. It’s a Honda Accord in great condition. We wanted to find a reliable used sedan that could be used for our family’s needs.

reliable family car honda accord
Our new family car!

Deciding This Was the Car for Us

To help us sort through all the new listings on Craigslist, we used Carsabi and created a few saved searches. It allowed to filter results for:

  • Make/Model – We had a list of cars we were looking at, much of it based on Consumer Reports recommendations.
  • Price – We had a specific price range we looking for with the car. With Craigslist, I included cars slightly above the budget since I felt we had more room to negotiate compared to dealerships.
  • Model Year(s) – We were looking for a car that was relatively recent. Newer cars have some safety features that are standard compared to much older models, where it could be optional.
  • Maximum Mileage – Just because we wanted to
  • Transmission – We were fine with either a manual or an automatic.
  • Clean Title – It’s easier for us to just focus on clean titles. I know some who are more mechanically talented can find some gems with those without one.
  • Location – We were willing to travel a little bit to find a good deal.

Those saved searches saved us an incredible amount of time. We got an email for the car shortly after it went up and we called to check out the car.

Since we’ve been looking at similar cars, we could see the price they wanted to sell the car for was reasonable. We checked out the car and used CarFax and everything looked in order.

The rest was pretty simple – we made and offer and they accepted it. We schedule a time to buy the car and we met at one of the local bank branches.

Thoughts on Buying a Family Car

Whew! Glad to have our new (to us) car. Now we’re going to focus on our other financial goals, including getting our finances together should something happen to either or both of us plus we are still working on paying down the student loan. It’s the last non-mortgage debt we have.