My 5 biggest financial weaknesses


this decision


This post might be more for me than anyone – I decided to reflect on those financial areas of my life that tend to trip me up the most.  They say honesty is the best policy, but this might be taking it too far.      .        .


  1. spending on family. I admit I sometimes go overboard trying to “provide” for my family. I want my family to have the best and I’m sure I have spent more than I should in order to “provide” for their needs. I believe my Biblical desire to be a good father and husband are good and all, but I’m also sure that insisting on top quality (expensive) items is not really displaying good judgement.   .     . I insisted we get a large wooden play-set in the backyard – of course it had to be made from redwood and cedar – it was thousands of dollars – can you say over-kill?


“Over-kill is under-rated”   John “Hannibal” Smith (A-Team)

A team


I extended this same misguided philosophy to our dining room suite (had to be genuine amish oak), the family SUV – had to get the top-of-the-line package in order to get all the safety features. We bought it used but it was still way more than we should have spent on a vehicle.  Our outdoor shed; my wife asked for a shed and I insisted on a 16X20 shed with a loft. You get the picture.


  1. technology – I like to think I need the latest iPhone every year. I suffer from frugality fatigue if I have to go more than 12 months with the same smart-phone (imagine the world’s smallest violin playing me a lullaby). I’m half convinced that I “need” a 4K television (I don’t).   How could I possibly be expected to listen to my tunes without my Beats blue-tooth headphones? I’m convinced we should replace our desktop computer – even though it works fine – just because it isn’t the latest model with a super-fast processor.


  1. cars – already mentioned that in #1 above – also covered in a recent blog post dedicated to cars. Trust me – it’s a bad idea to go into debt to finance a depreciating asset. That new car smell will cost you thousands and reduce your net worth. Don’t do it! Buy a car you can afford – preferably with cash and preferably worth no more than 20% of your salary.


  1. poor planning – that’s a sufficiently vague description, so I will elaborate with some examples. It’s a surprise when I need to replace the tires on my car – who knew they would wear out? Did I plan ahead, anticipate this obvious expense and set aside money into a sinking fund? No I did not! I’m not a rocket scientist,  simply not that clairvoyant. Did I set money aside when we had to replace our HVAC? – you guessed it. That same brilliant planning pretty much applies to all house related maintenance and repairs.


  1. private school – pretty much related to #1 above but we spend way too much on private school for our son. I think I can semi-defend this one because he has ADHD and some other unique learning differences, but nonetheless, the particular schools we have chosen are quite expensive and probably above our means. In some ways, private school was the driving reason behind my personal finance quest – a quest to save enough money to cash flow private school. We are achieving that goal – but it hasn’t been easy. I think I am arguing that this particular “luxury” is worth it. I know many folks who aren’t comfortable with the public school system (especially where we live), but think carefully before embarking on the private school route – this will require tremendous sacrifices (for most). You might still determine it’s worth it – for religious, medical, or other reasons – but make sure you consider the cost and pray about this decision before embarking unprepared.

Cut the cord update

apple tv


I wanted to give you a brief update on my cord cutting experience (couple years later) and reveal my monthly costs and maybe challenge a few of you to take the plunge – if you think the savings are worth it .     .       .


First, my selections are netflix (streaming), directvnow (over-the-top (live TV), and an over-the-air (OTA) antenna for local channels (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and PBS). Let’s put some numbers to this:


Netflix                     $10 per month

Directvnow            $10 per month

OTA antenna          free (after you purchase the hardware)


My ongoing cost per month is $20. You could do something similar with sling tv but I chose this route (at least for now). One important note – none of these options involve a contract so I am free to change anytime.


I have 2 apple tvs (4th generation) – these are the streaming boxes that I use to get the content (including games) to my tvs. I bought one of the apple TVs ($100) and the other was free due to a promotion to try directvnow. Some will argue that I am cheating by saying that directvnow is only $10 – it is for me, but only because I also have AT & T wireless (specifically their unlimited data plan) – without this $25 credit, my directvnow would be $35 per month.


I pay about $120 (including all fees, taxes, etc.) on my monthly wireless bill (3 lines). I believe the “average” US household pays anywhere from $100 to $130 per month for wireless service so I would describe our wireless bill as “normal”, at least for using one of the big carriers – I’m sure we could reduce our wireless bill, if we used one of the re-sellers (e.g., boost mobile, cricket wireless, etc.) but 3 other members of my family are on our plan (they reimburse us) so I am inclined to keep what we have – if only for convenience.     .       .


I am currently using AT & T fiber as my internet service provider (ISP). It’s $70 per month. I’m sure we could beat that price with a different ISP, if we were willing to adjust to a lower (and maybe less reliable) speed (e.g., Road Runner). The average broadband connection (ISP) in the US is about $50 per month. I think I have tried all the other ISP options (DSL, cable, uverse), at least in my area.  I was curious about fiber and have to admit its really snappy and reliable – certainly faster and more reliable than anything else I have tried. It’s between 300 and 400 MBs down. That’s plenty fast for our household – even when a gaggle of kids from the neighborhood come and play a joint game of Minecraft on our wifi.


I admit that one of the reasons I am trying fiber is the possibility of going to 4K (sometime in the future). One counter argument to including internet in this comparison is that internet is probably a utility in our society. We use it to pay our bills (most of them) online, order things online (e.g., Amazon, walmart, etc.), and our son uses it for his homework sometimes (e.g., research). So I don’t think that many people would necessarily cancel their internet just because they opted to select a big cable/satellite package. Having a reliable broadband connection is a borderline necessity in the US.  Agreement is not required, but think about it anyhow.


I will probably go back to the middle package of directvnow ($25 per month) in the spring so I can catch all the Atlanta Braves games. That’s one of the advantages of streaming – no contracts – so I can change my package of channels every month (if I want to).  I had the middle package this summer to watch the Braves and now that baseball is almost over (and the Braves are out of playoff contention.   .    . ),  I am switching back.


I would argue you can definitely save money cutting the cord – if you are willing to put in the time to research which streaming package fits your family. I would also argue we have found something that works well for our family, and saves money. Is it as convenient as cable/satellite – nope. Does it save money? It does in my book – the average cable bill (not including internet) is over $100 per month (many pay more than that) and we are paying $20 per month. I doubt we have every channel you can think of but we have a lot of entertainment options – including sports (Go Panthers!) in brilliant HD.


I have included a link (see below) from a recent USAtoday article that includes a good comparison of the available streaming services and whether or not you can get a specific channel on each.   I think it’s a good guide to evaluating if streaming is right for you. Let me know how much you spend per month on TV and definitely let me know if you choose to cut the cord. Happy hunting.     .   .


see also my previous posts (see link below) about cord cutting, for even more details of my initial experience





Car buying tips


Cars, cars, cars; I really like cars. And I’m not alone, most Americans do. According to the inter-webs, we like them too much.  The average car payment in 2017 ( is $479 with an average loan of $30,032 over 68 months (that’s over 5 and 1/2 years, yikes!).  Over 50% of used cars are financed and over 85% of new cars are financed.

My philosophy is a little counter to conventional wisdom but I hope you will indulge my strategy as I hope it helps you make a smart choice on your next vehicle.

Let’s start with my top 5 tips and then I’ll add some color after that for those of you with the stamina to keep reading.


1) Don’t buy a new car; unless your net worth is already in excess of $1 million, I strongly advise you to buy a gently used car. This allows you to avoid the depreciation that occurs as soon as you drive it off the lot. This loss of value is quite excessive – especially the first couple years of ownership.


2) Don’t lease; numerous studies (including have proven that this is the most expensive way to “finance” your transportation needs. I’m sure there are a couple exceptions (there usually are) but the average consumer shouldn’t even consider a lease. It’s simply too profitable for the dealerships/manufacturers, which is why they push them so hard. I think roughly 25% of consumers opt for a lease – that’s way too high – be smarter about your next vehicle. It’s also a convenient way for many to get a new car they really can’t afford (by focusing only on the monthly payment). In short, don’t sign a fleece – it’s complicated, costs way too much and greatly limits your options both during (e.g., mileage) and at the end of the lease (e.g., surrender value).  Leases don’t have to disclose the “real” interest rate but it’s estimated to be 14% (Dave Ramsey).  Don’t bet against the big car manufacturers – it’s like betting against Vegas (the house almost always wins!).  The big depreciation (loss in value) is “baked into” your lease payment.


3) Don’t limit your focus to the monthly payment. Focus on the life cycle cost of the vehicle. What is life cycle cost? It’s the total cost of ownership over the time (e.g., 5 years) that you own the vehicle, this includes: principle and interest payments, fuel, insurance, maintenance, depreciation, etc. calls it “total cost to own”, for starters I recommend you go there and do some research on any cars you are considering. Life cycle cost is the best way to measure the value. Remember, price is what you pay, value is what you receive.


4) Don’t buy a vehicle you can’t afford. Per you shouldn’t exceed 20% of your annual income on your next vehicle. For example, if your annual salary is $100,000 then you shouldn’t spend more than $20,000 on your next vehicle. If you salary is $50,000 then aim for a $10,000 ride. I think this is a really good guideline to avoid spending too much on a depreciating asset – it’s an expense not an investment! Over time, that new vehicle you bought will decrease your net worth – that’s a deal you don’t need!


5) Do your research and buy a car that is reliable, safe, and relatively fuel efficient, but make sure it suits your needs (e.g., don’t buy a suburban if you don’t have any kids). I recommend you start with recommended vehicles from consumer reports. Research the make and model and choose vehicles with a clear record of being reliable and safe. “The millionaire next door” says to avoid foreign luxury cars – instead opt for a domestic (e.g., Chevrolet) car that you can either pay cash for, or at least pay off in the next 2 to 3 years. Your vehicle isn’t a piece of jewelry, it’s a resource to safely get you from point A to point B.

5 more tips, because I’m that kinda of guy


1) I recommend you buy your next vehicle from carmax. They aren’t paying me for this endorsement – I’m just saying there a number of shady used car salespeople out there who don’t have your best interest in mind. If not carmax, then I recommend a certified used vehicle in order to ensure you aren’t buying a repair nightmare.  Don’t buy somebody else’s problem.


2) I recommend you sell your current vehicle to carmax. They will buy your vehicle regardless of whether you purchase your next vehicle from them or not. This is cleaner and avoids any confusion that can occur when you trade-in your vehicle.  Do these 2 transactions separately and make a smart (non-emotional) decision both times.  Do your research and determine the value of your existing vehicle, I recommend or before you visit carmax. I also recommend you remove all your personal items and have the car professionally cleaned/detailed before you get their offer. This will only take 20 minutes and is significantly more convenient than putting an ad on craigslist, I’m just sayin’.


3) Don’t keep the vehicle too long and get some crazy high repair bills on an unreliable vehicle – this could leave you in an unsafe situation (e.g., on the side of the road at night) and maybe result in missing work too. Unreliable transportation is a ticket to losing your job and could turn out to be a financial disaster. Vehicles are designed to last 10 years or about 200,000 miles. If you are careful and do the proper maintenance you could possibly get 15 years or 300,000 miles. After that, however, you are borrowing trouble. Anticipate when this will occur and set aside money each month into a car fund so you can pay cash for your next vehicle. It shouldn’t be a surprise when your vehicle “expires”. Be like the boy scouts – be prepared!


4) Don’t skip the required maintenance (including tires). Read the manual and find out what the manufacturer recommends for maintenance. Follow the manufacturer’s schedule, not the dealership’s – they will many times recommend extra maintenance that only serves to add to their profits.


5) If you realize you have a car that you can’t afford – sell it! Don’t keep it. It will continue to depreciate. Sell it and buy a gently used car that you can afford. Remember the 20% annual salary target.

Final thoughts

Don’t trade often – keep your vehicle for at least 5 years – preferably 6 or 7 years.  I personally would not spend more than the vehicle is worth on a repair.  For example, if the blue book on your vehicle is $1,000 and you encounter a $1,200 repair – I would scrap the car rather than invest more into a car than it’s worth (do the math – might be better off selling the car as is).

If you have to finance your next vehicle, opt for a credit union loan (if you can); their rates and fees are usually much lower than the national banks. Try to pay off your car loan (insist on a simple interest loan) early (2 to 3 years) and then start setting aside money each month for the next vehicle (pay cash), in order to be debt-free!

The misunderstood child

misunderstood child


What motivates you? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can answer it for me.   My 11 year old son has autism. To provide for his medical and educational needs, I have to get my finances right. I have a Biblical responsibility to care for my son, and I’m sure I don’t always get it right, but being a good parent is something that drives me each day – drives me to do my best.


Today’s post is a little different, kinda like my son.  It won’t feature a bunch of dry wit and pithy phrases; instead it will be a poem (not by me – I’m certainly not that cosmopolitan).


For me, personal finance, is, well,  personal.


“I am the child that looks healthy and fine, I was born with ten fingers and toes.


But something is different, somewhere in my mind – and what it is, nobody knows.


I am the child who struggles in school, though they say I’m perfectly smart.


They tell me I’m lazy – can learn if I try – but I don’t seem to know where to start.


I am the child that won’t wear the clothes, which hurt me or bother my feet.


I dread sudden noises, can’t handle most smells, and tastes – there are few foods I’ll eat.


I am the child that can’t catch the ball, and runs with an awkward gait.


I am the one chosen last on the team, and cringe as I stand there and wait.


I am the child with whom no one will play – the one that gets bullied and teased.


I try to fit in and I want to be liked, but nothing I do seems to please.


I am the child that tantrums and freaks, over things that seem petty and trite.


You’ll never know how I panic inside, when I’m lost in my anger and fright.


I am the child that fidgets and squirms, though I’m told to sit still and be good.


Do you think that I choose to be out of control? Do you think that I would if I could?


I am the child with the broken heart, though I act like I really don’t care.


Perhaps there is a reason God made me this way – some message he sent me to share.


For I am the child that needs to be loved and accepted and valued too. I am the child that is misunderstood,


I am different – but look just like you.


By Kathy Winters (Mother of a child who has Autism)