Saturday, September 10, 2016

iFreebies Challenge #1: Directv

Directv is first up in the iFreebies Challenge
We are kicking off a new series on iFreebies.  We call it the iFreebies Challenge.  In this series we will take a look at one of our bills or expenses and see what we can do to reduce or eliminate altogether the ongoing expense.  First up in our series is Directv.  We chose Directv to go first as we were set to auto-renew on their NFL Sunday Ticket Max package unless we cancelled by kickoff on Sunday 9/11.  You'll see in a minute why we have the sense of urgency.  First a little background.

I forever wanted Directv and the NFL Sunday package.  I am a huge fan of the NFL and Fantasy Football.  As long as I can remember I wanted the NFL ticket package.  When it first launched my Dad had the package for the first year or two.  Then I moved out on my own and honestly couldn't afford such a luxury.  Heck even heat was too expensive in those days.  As I aged and my career progressed price was no longer an obstacle. We moved into our first house and I called Directv.  Out they came, measured all kinds of angles in the sky and gave me crushing news.  We didn't have a direct line of sight to the satellite in the sky.  The neighbors trees were obstructing the view.  Unless he cut down the trees, no Directv.  I was relegated to cable, which did not have the NFL package, and I hated it every year come football season.  That was 7 long years of hating cable.

We moved into our next house we would live in for about nine years and I was instantly excited.  I couldn't see how any trees could block the view this time.  I called Directv and out they came.  They set up the dish and then realized it was a partially obstructed view because of the neighbors trees. The signal failed and again I was out of luck.  Short of sneaking out into the night and taking my trusty chainsaw to the 150 year old hickory grove next door I wasn't getting Sunday Ticket.  Relegated to hating cable for almost another decade.

Then it happened.  We moved again and this time I scouted the house.  All trees far enough back... we could buy this house (Mrs. iFreebies thought I was nuts).  We moved in and day one out came the Directv guy and set me up.  The America's Everything package and NFL Sunday Ticket.  Life was glorious and all for about $100 a month.

Five years later I have to tell you I love Directv.  Yes, the signal goes out when it pours outside but overall I love everything it offers.  Sunday's are great and I feel like it is the Cadillac of TV.  The only problem is we are really busy now.  We don't watch as much TV and truth be told should watch less. I still paid year after year as the prices crept up and we renewed Sunday Ticket every year.  

Well after The Mighty Thor laid waste to our finances last month I am starting to challenge everything.  Are we truly getting our money's worth of enjoyment out of everything?  The answer is no.  First up... Directv.  Let's take a look at the current state:

Premier Package                                        $144.99
Multiple TV charge                                     $21.00
Receiver Service                                         $23.00
Sports Fee                                                    $1.97
Sunday Ticket (1 of 6)                                $59.99
Protection Plan                                            $7.99
Sales Tax                                                     $12.95
Total                                                           $271.89

Now you can probably see two huge issues.  First is holy cow, $271 a month!  Take about rate creep. Seems like only yesterday is was roughly $100.  Second is that Sunday Ticket is now $360 a year! That's a lot when I really started to consider that less games are shown on Sunday now that Thursday has a game a week.  Week 1 is always free for everyone.  My schedule has me out at other events probably six weeks this fall.  That leaves about ten weeks for me to sit on the couch, do nothing and watch football all day.  That's almost $40 a Sunday not including some of those weeks I would watch my home team instead.  That's just too much.  

Could Andrew Siciliano be my answer?
I Googled possible solutions.  Could I get the Red Zone channel stand alone?  (For those that have never tried Red Zone it is simply addicting.)  That would serve my needs.  Andrew Siciliano could keep me updated on all of the games action.  Dish has it stand alone, so do some others.  Nope, not Directv.  Sorry Andrew, it's been a magical five years.  I also saw AT&T was offering some of their best customers free NFL Ticket for the year. Surely I must be one of those given what I spend between the two companies every month.  I asked. Nope.  Sorry NFL Sunday Ticket you have been fired.

Next I tried to down-size from the Premier package to the Xtra package and that started a whole thing.  By the time I was done, they kept me on Premier at essentially Xtra prices by giving me six months of credits.  It will be a pain to call back in six months but I took the deal.  Remind me in six months to call again please.  Then there was a host of smaller haggling issues and in the end I ended up getting the monthly bill down to $166.89.  I know, I know, not exactly $30 a month but we are taking baby steps here.  I can always go lower, no contract.  It does save us $105 a month or $1,260 a year.  Nothing to sneeze at for about 30 minutes of work.

It feels good but I have to say it hurts a little.  I will be secretly watching my email for a free offer from AT&T or Directv but unless that happens my Sunday's will need to actually be productive (don't tell Mrs. iFreebies).

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Behold the Carnage" from The Mighty Thor - August 2016 Financials

Behold the Carnage of the Mighty Thor
Well if you read our blog post last week The Mighty Thor presents "One of those Months" you won't be surprised to read that we had a horrible month of August.  Since we have started this blog it has been a rude awakening of our monthly spend vs. the high level budget we had before.  We have missed our budget every month so far and by quite a bit from our original projections.  Even after we reset to a new reality with a focus on reducing we have missed horribly.

In August The Mighty Thor rained thunder and lightning down on our finances hitting us with high expense after high expense.  Furnances (yes plural) broke, air conditioner, trees falling everywhere, car repairs, school bills and more.  It really hasn't ended yet.  It has slowed down but we will be digging out of the repercussions of this month for some time.  Quite depressing I might add.  Not the greatest way to start a financial blog aimed at saving money and speeding up our path to early retirement.  However I am coming back from the depths of despair slowly and am realizing these eye opening events are just the kick we need to really get serious and ask the tough questions.  Our spending has been somewhat on auto-pilot even before Thor's visit.  One of the blessings / curses of my career is that I have always found a way to make more money to disguise and pay for our lifestyle creep.  Funny thing is you can't retire with the type of monthly spending we have... ever.  I won't share the specifics but let's just say I am so jealous of those that have monthly budgets in the $2,000 -$4,000 range.  It would take a major lifestyle change for us to hit that.  One I'm not sure I am ready for but can guarantee you Mrs. iFreebies is not ready for.  That's ok, we can keep plugging along and retire later with a higher need range but there is a limit to how high is really achievable.  So we need to banish Thor and cut expenses drastically.

Enough pontificating... on to the depressing month of August.

It's easy to see the mess that was our August.  Actual expenses finished 47% higher than our projection and a whopping 81% above what we thought our budget was just a couple of naive months ago.  Thanks to Personal Capital we now have our eyes open and can see the truth, although sometimes I wish we would have taken the blue pill (in reference to Cypher from the Matrix).

Our biggest misses came from the categories of Home Maintenance, General Merchandise, Clothing, and a big Other category.  

Our original starting point or 1.0 has been blown away with our most recent months spending.  When we started this blog my intent was to watch us bring our spending down to a .63 level from the 1.0 and have our Passive Income raise up to .63.  Speaking of our passive income we are continuing to see stable to slight increases here.  This currently is made up of 4% of our portfolio and other passive income sources we have.  While this is an important area to focus on, it is obvious the expense side requires immediate attention.

So off we sail into September, severely scarred from the ravages of Thor's attack on us.  We still have expenses that will have to be paid for in future months from this attack.  We need to heal and focus on stopping the financial bleeding.  Time for the iFreebies family to go on a financial diet.

If you are reading this drop us a comment.  This is a new blog and I am seeing our visitor activity slowly growing but it would be nice to know I'm not just typing into a vacuum.  Onto better days!

Photo credit:  Kostic Dusan

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Prime Time September 4, 2016

Prime Time September 4, 2016
Happy Labor Day weekend everyone.  I hope you are all enjoying a three day weekend and having some fun with friends and family.  There have been a lot of great posts this week by financial and early retirement bloggers all over the internet. Below are some of my favorites:

Embracing Minimalism was a great post (actually from last week) that hit home with me.  It's a Kate Life really hit it out of the park talking about minimalism and have inspired the iFreebies family to consider this road.

Frugalwoods had a great post about The Myth of the Gross Used Things.  We are not opposed to used items but they go way beyond to open your eyes about all kinds of used items.  Made me think we need to look used more before we buy new.

Our Next Life talks about The Non-Science of Blogging Anonymously.  Some great tips if you have your own blog and are considering going public.

Budgets are Sexy has a great post titled Debt is Like Kissing Your Sister... and Liking it.  A great post that takes another look at debt.

That wraps up another week of Prime Time.  If you haven't checked out our last post make sure to read The Mighty Thor presents "One of Those Months".

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Mighty Thor presents "One of Those Months"

Thor smiting our finances
Did you ever have one of those months where the financial Gods are out to get you?  You know that month where everything breaks and every time you turn around somebody has their hand out for more and more money.  A month where it never seems to stop?

Well we are in the midst of one of those months (actually into our second month now).  It started with our furnace.  New furnace needed... thousands of dollars. Then we had an air conditioner go out along with parts to another furnace... thousands of dollars.  Then trees started falling all over our neighbors properties. Now I don't mean just a simple down tree that I can cut up and haul away for our firewood.  I've been chainsawing since I was a kid.  I can handle most trees.  No, we had huge masses of tangled twisted widow makers that need to be tended to.  Out of my comfort zone widow makers hanging over neighbors houses and property.  The kind that can only come from Thor's mighty hammer shooting lightning down upon our trees... thousands of dollars.  Oh and the kids are going back to school and need books and supplies and club fees and extras for the classroom... and Senior pictures... you get the idea, a whole lotta money leaving the iFreebies household.

While in the midst of this great struggle I have to admit I've become a little depressed.  Here we are just starting this blog and really getting serious about our finances.  We've been running over budget the last two months and were really focused on making a difference.  Then Thor comes down to smite our financial world and honestly it's been a little much.  As a result I haven't been blogging or really focusing on our finances.  We have just been trying to survive this rain of lightning and fire being thrown at us.  It has to end, right?

I've spent the last week or so reading some great posts by other financial bloggers and reading and re-reading some of the classic financial books.  I was hoping for some inspiration and I think I have found some.  In particular another read of Your Money or Your Life gave me some much need inspiration and clarity.  I've also been reading a lot more about minimalism.  We could definitely benefit from that.  The less we have, the less that can break (hopefully).  I think I'll cover that topic in more detail in some upcoming posts.

Well I'm hoping this post can set us back on track and help drive Thor back to Asgard or another Marvel movie, whichever he prefers.  Given everything going on in our financial world we have to get back on track and buckle down.  We have some expenses that will probably run through the Labor Day weekend but after that we are hoping to be free and clear of all of this angst.  We are looking for September to be a strong month for us.

With that in mind we are setting some September goals.  They are simple and twofold:

1)  Spend as little as possible.  See how low we can get our expenses.
2)  Challenge every expense.  We need to see if we can take $1,000 or more off of our monthly "normal" bills.

This won't be easy but Mrs. iFreebies and I are committed to try to stem this financial tide we are currently facing and getting back on track to an early retirement.  This must also include a focus on minimalism and we must find a way to start to embrace that as well.

How did you get out of this funk when hit with these type of financial months?  Would love to read your comments.

Photo credit:  Kostic Dusan

Monday, August 8, 2016

Prime Time Sunday August 7, 2016

Prime Time August 7, 2016
Time for another Sunday wrap up of some of the best posts in the financial blogging world.  It is summer and the blogs have been a little slower than normal, this one included.  Lots of vacations and outdoor activities before the weather turns colder and the kids go back to school. Even with less to choose from there were some posts that were great this week and one that thoroughly touched me.

A Life of Yes brought to you by OurNextLife.  They usually update twice a week and I enjoy every one of their posts.  This one is about being able to say yes to friends and the things you want to in early retirement.

Not Everybody is a Spreadsheet Wizard.  RetireBeforeDad has some great spreadsheet tools and top ten financial calculators.

To Pepper:  by Done by Forty.  This post really touched me and my sincerest condolences go out to him and his family as they lost their beloved family dog.  I too am a dog lover and this one had me in tears.  This was a beautiful post to Pepper and reminded me of what is important.  Again my most sincere condolences.

That's all for this week.  On to another week.  Please remember to take some time and enjoy summer. That is a reminder to myself as well.  We all only have so many summer days to yet experience and they seem to go by so fast as you age.

Photo credit:  zavulonya