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Introduction

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October 20, 2019

Mention the word frugal and all kinds of negative and frightening mental images come to mind with most people. The purpose of this blog is to offer principles, ideas and experiences that will bring you to the realization that being frugal is not about deprivation.

Living frugally simply means maximizing your hard-earned income and reducing wasteful spending so you can live well … regardless of how small or large your income is. It’s about you living better than you are now. It’s about living a less stressful and chaotic life resulting in a happier, more fulfilled life that is free of debt.

Being frugal will be a life-changing experience. It will require you to take charge over your financial well-being. It requires commitment and responsibility. It also requires honest assessments of your progress towards your goals.

The ideas and principles that I will share are from my own experience. What worked for me may not work for you due to differing financial circumstances, income level, savings and investment opportunities, level of debt and commitment.

That being said, the principles I’ll present are not theory. Rather, they are principles that have been implemented, tested and proven — through my own experience — to produce financial freedom.

The ideas and principles that I share are not meant to be an instruction manual as there are multiple ways to attain financial freedom. Rather, my hope is that the ideas and principles presented will give you ideas and the encouragement you need to develop your own Frugal Plan that will lead you to financial freedom and independence.

There is one principle truth that will be included in any path you ultimately decide to take: you must spend less than earn.

Your comments, questions and experience are important.

W.M. Brown

Frugal Plan’s Promise

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  • No product or service endorsements
  • No manufacturer or retail affiliations

March 2020 Budget Reconciliation (Retired)

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

My wife and I have been under total lockdown here in Ecuador since March 17th. We are only permitted to go the grocery, pharmacy and medical appointments on Tuesdays and Saturdays between the hours of 8:00AM and 2:00PM (with most only open until 12:30PM) and is based on the last number of our automobile license plate. This curfew is strictly enforced by the local and national police along with the military. There are heavy fines and automatic incarceration (2nd and subsequent occurrences) for breaking the curfew.

Additionally, masks and gloves are required to be worn when out in public. Most stores, pharmacies and medical facilities take your temperature and sanitize your gloved hands before you are allowed entry. If your temperature is elevated, you will not be allowed entry and you will be escorted from the premises by armed security.

All non-essential business are required to be closed.

These restrictions designed to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has a major effect on everyone’s lives. It has also brought the national economy to its knees.

Let’s take a look at the results of my income and expenses for March 2020 under the lockdown.

Income

Budgeted: $4,038
Actual: $4,237

Expenses

Electricity
Budgeted: $60
Actual: $59

LP Gas
Budgeted: $25
Actual: $24

Water / Sewer / Trash
Budgeted: $58
Actual: $27

Phones (Land & Cell)
Budgeted: $40
Actual: $4

Cable TV
Budget: $91
Actual: $91

Internet (Fiber Optic)
Budget: $27
Actual: $27

Lawn / Garden
Budget: $116
Actual: $30

Home Maintenance
Budget: $50
Actual: $0

Auto Insurance
Budget: $83
Actual: $83

Gasoline
Budget: $60
Actual: $30

Auto Repair
Budget: $50
Actual: $0

Auto Registration & License (Monthly Escrow)
Budget: $50
Actual: $50

Parking
Budget: $6
Actual: $0

Health Insurance (Public and Private / Includes Spouse)
Budget: $453
Actual: $453

Doctor / Dentist
Budget: $50
Actual: $200

Medicine
Budget: $500
Actual: $521

Apps / Subscriptions
Budget: $125
Actual: $125

Groceries / Household
Budget: $700
Actual: $639

Personal
Budget: $50
Actual: $6

House Cleaning
Budget: $80
Actual: $20

Income Tax (Monthly Escrow)
Budget: $326
Actual: $326

Real Estate Tax (Monthly Escrow
Budget: $12
Actual: $12

Total Expenses
$2,742

Surplus / Deficit for the Month

$1,495 Surplus (35.3% of Income, Moved to Savings)

********

“Don’t tell me what you value,
show me your budget,
and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Joe Biden

Coping With Unemployment Due to Covid-19

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

“COVID-19 represents the single greatest inflection point that global society has experienced. How we manage through this pandemic and its aftermath will impact the course of humanity for decades to come.”
Tom Golway

Millions and millions of workers across the world are losing their jobs due to mitigation efforts of governments to slow the transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Not since the Great Depression have so many people been out of a job and unable to support themselves and their families.

If you are one of those unemployed right now, my heart goes out to you. I have shed more than one tear contemplating the physical, mental and spiritual pain you are going through during this very uncertain time.

As uncertain and brutal as the situation is, all of us must learn how to cope and make it through this unearned personal tragedy. In hopes of offering a few ideas on how to survive until you can see light again, consider the following as you are able:

Save Your Money

  • Put together a budget. Start with your basic necessities like rent (mortgage), groceries, insurance, and utilities. Next, list expenses that are important but non-essential. These might include cable TV, eating out, alcohol, and entertainment. Add up the amount you spend on necessities and add it to the amount you spend on non-essentials. This number represents your current monthly expenses.
  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses. Look for ways to reduce or eliminate non-essential expenses like eating out, manicures, memberships, subscriptions, and cable TV.
  • Reduce your expenses on essentials. Use coupons, look for sales and ask for discounts. Check with your cell phone, internet and cable TV carriers to make sure you are getting the best deal possible based your use.
  • Ask about loan deferment programs. If you have credit card bills, car payments or student loans, call the loan companies and ask if you can reduce your monthly payments, or delay them entirely until you can get back to work once the COVID-19 mitigation restrictions are withdrawn. 
  • Apply for unemployment. If you lost your job due to COVID-19 mitigation programs, you are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Manage the Emotional Impact to Your Life

  • Have a routine. Get up early and have a to-do list of what you want to accomplish for the day. Staying in bed until noon and watching TV all day is unhealthy for your physical and mental well-being. Get outdoors for some exercise and sunlight for a natural lift-me-up.
  • Stay in contact with your family and friends. They are your support system for encouragement and empathy during this difficult time.
  • Ask for help. If you are unable to control melancholy and depression, seek help from your friends, family or your local mental health center.
  • Reduce or eliminate your use of alcohol and other drugs. Though they may provide temporary relief from stress, they tend to increase stress in the long-term. Alcohol is also a depressant, so you should avoid drinking too much during a time that you are feeling low already.

You will get through this.
We care about you and your well-being.
Know that you are loved!

Money Management

“Many people lack discipline when it comes to saving money. What good is having a bunch of stuff if you’re struggling, in debt, or broke most of the time? So many people put up a front like they’ve got it going on, but they know the truth. They spend all of their money trying to look important, and/or keep up an image. Knowledge is everything! Educate yourself about money, investing, and saving. I encourage you to start investing in yourself instead of things! Set yourself up for a better future and start making better choices. Building wealth takes time! Have discipline. Save. Stay consistent. Be brave enough to change your spending habits. Be wise! Don’t allow money to control you. Strive to have a healthy relationship with money!”
Stephanie Lahart

Life Under Change
Quotes that inspire, motivate and challenge us.

Grocery Shopping Under a National Lockdown

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I am an American expat living in Ecuador, South America. We have been under a national lockdown since the second week in March. The national laws of mobility have become even more restrictive in recent days due to the increase in the number of confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus.

The days of the week when a person can leave their home to go to the supermarket or pharmacy is based on the last number of one’s automobile license plate. Those with an odd number can leave their home on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The days for an even number are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

There is a strict curfew of 6:00AM – 2:00PM. This is enforced by the local and national police forces and the armed forces of the country.

Though my wife and I stocked up on non-perishable food and other household goods two weeks before the lockdown, a family cannot stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables for more than what will be consumed in a week since many fresh fruits and vegetables will spoil. The supermarkets in my city of 520,000+ residents are open 8:00AM to 12:30PM. In addition to the these limited hours, there are other qualifications to be allowed entry into the supermarket.

  • One must be wearing a mask, be wearing gloves and must have their cedula (national ID) with them. Your temperature will also be taken. You will not be allowed entry if you have a fever. Additionally, your hands are thoroughly sprayed with a hand sanitizer.

One you are granted entry into the stores. You will notice that there are no “sales” or promotions. Retailers are unable increase prices due to the epidemic because wholesale and retail prices are government controlled — there is a minimum price and a maximum price any item can be sold for. This prevents price gouging and the large national supermarkets gaining oligarchic control in the market place through artificially low and unsustainable pricing.

The next thing you’ll notice is that while the shelves are full, not all the brands they normally carry are available on a dependable basis. Only the local or national brands are fully stocked. The regional or internationally imported products are only available on a hit-and-miss basis as these larger companies aren’t mobile enough to service all the supermarkets in the country on a regular basis under the restricted business hours. Hence, the supermarkets are only receiving products from these companies once a week or so.

The only exception to this new norm is ice, masks and latex gloves. These products typically sell out of these items within an hour of delivery.

The bottom line is that living within one’s budget is quite doable as long as you aren’t brand-loyal during this lockdown.

It also helps that any layoff of employees is not permitted. The government is providing financial aid to companies to maintain their payrolls. Because of this, the working class will not suffer the financial devastation that workers in other countries are having to endure. As a result, the country’s economy has less chance of collapsing.

Small Businesses Need an Emergency Fund

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Due to COVID-19 and the once-in-a-lifetime restrictive measures being taken by government authorities (national, state and local) in an attempt to slow the transmission of the virus, many businesses will not survive to see the other side when the business environment gets back to providing customers with the products and services they want and need.

The undeniable situation is that most businesses cannot continue operations when they are not allowed to be “open for business” to serve the needs of the consumer.

As small business owner for over three decades, I realized how vulnerable my business was to a downturn in business when compared to the large multi-national corporations. As such, I realized that I needed a “business emergency fund” just like a family needs an emergency fund for unexpected large expenses or a loss of income.

What exactly is a business emergency fund?

Emergency funds, also known as “rainy day” funds, are cash supplies kept on hand so a business can keep operating in lean times or in the event of an emergency. Not only do these funds enable companies to keep providing services while paying their employees and suppliers, but they can also allow owners to continue supporting their families.

What are the basic components of a business emergency fund?

Accidents and disasters happen … and they can happen at any time without any advance notice. While we cannot predict what or when an emergency may occur, we can be prepared by taking steps necessary so the business can continue operations. To make sure this will happen, we need to plan based on the “worst case” scenario.

The first step in establishing a business emergency fund is to analyze your business so you can properly determine how much money is needed for your specific business emergency plan and over what period of time. Some things to consider are:

  • What expenses will be necessary to continue business operations?
  • Will you need to retain current employees? Will you need fewer employees during a time of emergency operations? Will you need more employees?
  • What additional expenses will there be?
  • How and where will you serve your existing and new customers? How will you communicate with existing and potential customers?
  • If the business emergency requires you to secure or build a new location, will the new location be suitable for the growth of the business? Will the new location serve the convenience needs of your customers?

Your business expenses will not cease simply because you are in the grips of a business emergency. You need money. Under many business emergencies, it will be a period of time before you are able to be operational again. For most businesses there are three ways of meeting your financial obligations during the business emergency period:

  1. Insurance if the cause of the emergency is insured under your business policy.
  2. A business loan may be available.
  3. You have a business emergency fund set aside and ready to use.

Ways to fund your Business Emergency Fund

Okay, you are convinced that you need to start a business emergency fund. That was easy. Now you have to find ways to fund it. That’s not so easy for many small businesses. Let’s look at a few ideas:

  • Look for ways to cut expenses. Are you spending money for something that is failing to give the expected rate of return you expected?
  • If you have a large order or sale, set a portion of the profit earned from that large order towards your business emergency fund.
  • Do you have any assets you are not using? If yes, consider selling it. Examples may include a vehicle or a building.
  • Can you add a product line or offer an additional service to generate additional income?

Choose the right type of account

As the name indicates, the money in a business emergency fund needs to be liquid so you have access to it immediately when the need arises. Your money also needs to be safe. Hence, short-term CDs, savings accounts or money market accounts are best suited for “holding” your business emergency fund.

The economic turmoil we are going through right now clearly illustrates why it could be a disaster to place your emergency fund in stocks or stock mutual funds. The last thing you want to do in a financial environment similar to what exists today is to redeem your stocks or shares in a mutual fund when the market is tanking. That’s a guaranteed loss of money.

Final Thoughts

I owned a small business for 32 years and sold it 2012 to retire. I had a business emergency fund that was adequate to continue business operations for 10 months based on the expenses of the business at the time of an emergency. The amount of money needed was reviewed annually to make sure the emergency fund was adequately funded.

I was fortunate in that I was able to fully fund my business emergency fund over a 3-month period due to a large one-time sale. I used a money market fund with check writing privileges for my funding vehicle.

I was lucky in that I only had to “tap” funds from this account once and I was able to replace the money withdrawn within 6 months. Had I not had this money available, I would have been in serious financial trouble.

Penny Picker-Upper

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Okay, I’ll admit it. I am guilty of picking up pennies off the ground whenever I see one. I see them all the time in parking lots and along the walkways when I take a walk. Why do I do this since one cent won’t buy anything?

I’ve attempted to explain the “why” to people who ask me about this often dirty habit. Though most people don’t “get it”, I’ll attempt to explain it to you, my readers.

Penny picker-uppers don’t pick up a penny for its money value of one cent. Rather, the value of that penny comes from the act of picking up the penny.

  • It’s a reminder that every penny counts.
  • It’s a reminder to be frugal and thrift … even with the little things.
  • It’s a reminder that the little money decisions we make add up to a lot over time.
  • It’s an act of acknowledging the down-the-road benefits of managing our money.

In the end, that 1-cent penny provides a value far beyond its face value.

Frugal Opportunities

There have been three DYI (do-it-yourself) opportunities at home this week that allowed me to choose frugality over unneeded spending by hiring someone else to do the work.

  • I repaired three leaks on a ceramic tile roof and re-plastered and painted the indoor ceiling where rain water had leaked through. I was able to do the repairs myself instead of calling a handyman or contractor.
  • A sink in one of the bathrooms started leaking at the valve where the water comes from the wall to the hot and cold water pipes going to the sink. I was able to replace and install the water valve myself instead of calling a plumber.
  • My wife wanted a window shelf to put between the laundry room window and the washer and dryer to store detergents and other laundry supplies. Since it was an odd size, the cost to have one made was $42 plus $40 for the installation. Instead, I used some spare chipboard we had stored. I cut the board to the exact measurements and attached the shelf with handmade wood brackets to the ceramic tile wall.

I don’t know how much money I saved on these three projects but I’m sure it was hundreds of dollars. My cost was only $4 for two drill bits for going through ceramic tiles. All other materials and hardware were from my own stash of materials and parts I had purchased over the last 35 years at garage and estate sales.

Besides saving money, I had fun doing them. Isn’t that what being frugal is all about?

For Financial Freedom,You Need a “Fuck Off” Fund

What is a “Fuck Off” fund?

It is a sum of money that you have set aside that allows you to tell anyone or anything to fuck off so you can move on with your life. This can be a boss, a relationship partner, or a dead-end job or career that sucks in a hundred different ways.

The “fuck off” fund is your line of defense in the life game of hard knocks. More importantly, it’s one of the smart financial decisions to be made that will lead you to financial freedom and independence.

Let’s take a look at the steps needed to start your own “Fuck Off” fund:

  • Sit down calculate how much money you need each month to survive and to live a reasonably satisfied life. The fewer new cars, new smart phones and luxury vacations that are on the list, the less you need to spend for your financial freedom and independence.
  • Track your actual spending for three months so you get an accurate picture of your actual expenses.
  • Make a realistic budget that is doable … not a pie-in-the-sky budget.
  • Set up a designated savings account that isn’t tied to your checking account … or even at the same bank or credit union. This savings account will be out of sight so you won’t be tempted to withdraw from it. You want to accumulate enough to cover your budgeted expenses for six months. Once you have this amount saved, you can start investing money to grow your money for your future financial independence.
  • Set up automatic deposits to this savings account. Pay yourself first from every deposited paycheck.

Setting goals for your “Fuck Off” fund will keep you motivated and excited. Look at this example of a progressive goal using levels of achievement:

Level 1

  • Six months worth of living expenses (Emergency Fund)

Level 2

  • At least 8 months worth of living expenses
  • Debt-free

Level 3

  • At least 1 year’s worth of living expenses
  • Debt-free

Level 4

  • At least 12 months worth of living expenses
  • Debt-free
  • Plus enough to travel and live abroad to do the work you are passionate about

Level 5

  • You have achieved lifetime financial independence.

You have no debt and are receiving enough monthly income from savings and investments that you do not actually need to work. You should note that less than 1% of the population in developed countries achieve this level of financial independence and freedom.

You’ll notice there is no age criteria. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve financial freedom. There are no shortcuts. You must:

  • Maximize income
  • Live frugally
  • Abhor debt
  • Save and invest frequently and faithfully

You’ll never be in a position to tell the world to fuck off unless you have achieved lifetime financial freedom and independence.

Successfully Negotiating Prices

How many times have we wanted to buy something but the price of the item was more than we could or was willing to pay? How many times have we just walked away in this situation without even attempting to negotiate the price?

To often we won’t make the effort to negotiate a lower price. If we will at least try to negotiate, we’ll often find that the seller is willing to sell the item or service at a lower price. It helps us, though, if we utilize some “rules of negotiating” that have worked for successful negotiators.

We need to do our due diligence homework

To start with, we need to know a few things about the product or service before we attempt our negotiations:

  • What is the price the competitors are charging for this product or service? If you can document that a competitor is selling this item for $xxx, the seller may be willing to meet or beat it. This puts pressure on a the seller to accept a lower price because he knows that you want or need the product or service and that you have done some research about the product.
  • What is the cost of the item to the seller? This is especially important when purchasing a big ticket item like a car. When you know the difference between what the seller paid for an item and what his asking price is, you have a powerful negotiating tool in your possession. Your intent is not to deprive the seller of a reasonable profit but rather not willingly pay a price that results in excessive profit to the seller.
  • Does the seller (or salesperson) have a quota to meet? Many businesses and salespeople have a monthly sales quota. If you are near the end of the month and the business or salesperson hasn’t met their monthly quota yet, your chances of successfully negotiating a reduced price is very good.
  • Why is the seller selling? There are times when we buy something from an individual rather than a business. If the seller needs to sell the item quickly, offering to pay cash immediately for a lower price may be all the negotiating required.

Make the seller name the price first

Having the seller state the price first gives you the opportunity to make a counteroffer for a lower price.

This puts us, the buyer, in control of the negotiations because we are determining what it will take for the seller to make the sale.

If we, the buyer, first tell the seller what we are willing to pay for the item or service, the seller will often times tell us that she cannot sell the item for what we are willing to pay.

This puts the seller in control of the negotiations which is the opposite of where we want to be in the negotiating process.

Don’t be afraid to offer a much lower price

If we are going to make a counteroffer or be the first person to name a price, our offer needs to be much lower than what we are actually willing to pay. This puts the seller in the position where his attention will be focused in getting our offer higher … not on getting the price he actually wants.

Keep quite

Once we have made an offer, we need to keep our mouths shut. Silence is a powerful tool. Remember, the seller is just as uncomfortable as we are when there is silence. In fact, the seller is mentally working on what he must do to prevent losing the sale.

The first person to break the silence loses their negotiating position. The seller knows this and will attempt to outlast us. We must not let this happen.

Ask for something extra

In today’s economy, few sellers can afford to let interested customers get away without making a sale. This puts us, the buyers, in control.

If the seller isn’t able or willing to sell the item or service at the price we want, ask the seller if she will add something extra to in exchange of for us paying her final offering price. Example: Ask if she will throw in a microwave oven with your purchase of the washer and dryer.

Know the seller’s limit

When it becomes clear that the seller will not go below her last offer, don’t be afraid to politely walk away from the deal. Walk away on good terms. The seller may very well be more willing to reduce her price in a few days when the item is still unsold. Money in the bank pays the bills … inventory on the showroom floor does not. In fact, the seller may be having to pay interest on a loan to carry the inventory.

Let’s keep in mind that our goal is not to keep the seller from making a reasonable profit. Our goal is to not allow the seller to make excessive profit at our expense.

Again, we must be willing to walk away if the seller is unwilling to negotiate or meet our counteroffer. Rarely will a particular seller be the only seller with the product or service we need or want. We are not under any obligation to buy from a particular seller. Our money, and how we spend it, is the only real voice we get in the marketplace.

Final thought

We need to realize that the seller’s objective and reason to be in business is to sell products and/or services. They seller knows all to well that no money is made unless a sale is made.