Gift card giveaway

Cardpool Gift CardKJ: Gift card giveaway is the name of this post since our blog is officially one year old, and what better way to celebrate than to give out a free gift card!? A special thanks goes out to all our loyal readers for continuing to make this one year mark possible! We are giving out a gift card for Cardpool.com for up to $25 (Update: gift card giveaway now closed). We don’t receive any kind of referral for this site, and we thought this site was just too good not to share with our readers!

Too good to be true? Nope!
I’ve come across a number of discounted gift card sites over the years, but I recently stumbled across one that sounded almost too good to be true. The name of the site is Cardpool.com. You can search their inventory to find a gift card that you want, and place your purchase. Shipping is free on the cards, and they even have electronic gift cards you can use that are sent right to your inbox for first use. The site only works with gift cards that have NO EXPIRATION and NO FEES, so you don’t have to worry about the balance declining precipitously over time if you don’t use it right away.

Why bother?
Nobody likes leaving free money on the table, so search their inventory and find a card for something you KNOW you will use, and try it out. Believe me, there are some great discounts offered ranging from 1% – 35% off.

Don’t get suckered into an unnecessary purchase though!
Just because a card is discounted (even heavily), don’t purchase it if you won’t use it (or don’t NEED to use it). This is where being able to channel that struggle of “want vs need” is most valuable. Think about the places you go to regularly (and for us that’s Home Depot for most things needing to be fixed in our house, Petco for discounted kitty litter, Banana Republic for some nice work clothes, etc.) and see if any are on this list. If they are on the list, great, but if not, see if they have been on the list before, and you can actually sign up to get notifications when new gift cards become available.

How it works
Other people who do not need or want a gift card anymore can sell them to Cardpool.com for money. Cardpool pays you within 24 hours and have a set percentage they take off the top – each offer is different for each brand. You get your payment right away, and you don’t have to wait until the gift card subsequently sells. Plus, if you don’t have an even amount on your card, it doesn’t matter! The more people using the site (both buyers and sellers), the better the site’s inventory can be to those who want to buy the discounted gift cards – like us!

Whole gift cards aren’t likely
You aren’t likely to find a gift card that is exactly $25, $35, $50, etc., so keep in mind that you may get one with $44.13 left on it. After all, the even amount of a gift card is an arbitrary figure anyways…when was the last time you bought something that was exactly $25 or $35? If you’re OCD and this is likely to cause you stress, then brace yourself, or you know, leave it for the rest of us who just want to save a little extra money on our purchases!

Our first purchase
Our first purchase on this site was for a hefty Home Depot gift card. We were looking to replace some lightbulbs in our house with some more energy efficient LED bulbs (great by the way!), and we had found them heavily discounted on Home Depot’s website, PLUS we saved an extra 7% on the purchase by getting an electronic gift card sent to our e-mail for near-instant use. The best part about it is we made the purchase with our credit card (that is paid off in-full each month mind you)! Not only did we enjoy the 7% off the gift card, we still earned our cash back rewards on our credit card for the purchase. Win-win!

So search around their site and see if there’s a gift card you want to buy (or sell), and leave us feedback on how it worked for you. Also, don’t forget to follow us to receive updates:

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    Have you heard of Cardpool.com?
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    Share with us why or why not!

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Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

A year in review

Simple Money Shock FaceAJ & KJ: We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary of our blog, and we can’t believe what a big year it’s been! We started this blog last October, went on the trip of a lifetime, and bought a new home just to name a few things!

We hope you have enjoyed our posts and that you have found some valuable information on how to build your savings and retirement nest egg. We look forward to continuing to bring you interesting and relevant content and if you haven’t already, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, +1 us on Google, connect to our RSS feed, or get our posts delivered to your inbox. Find a post you like? Share it with others!

This year, we’ve covered everything from discussing Quicken or Mint? to addressing how to maintain balance to DIY projects like building a desk.

Want to read more on the importance of saving early? Start with the following posts:

Read our series on some simple, frugal tips:

Get the low-down on personal finances 101:

Use our posts as a stepping stone to work together on your finances by discussing:

Begin to navigate the maze that is children’s education:

And, while you’re at it, check out our archives pages for a list of all past posts organized by category (there’s over 90 available!), or check out the nifty search feature in the top right of the each page.

Thank you for your loyal readership, and here’s looking forward to many more years! We couldn’t have done this without you!

A year in review is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

The great debate – can we afford to live on a single income?

One incomeAJ: I personally LOVE the idea of us being a single income household if that means Kirby works, and I stay home and let my free spirit roam, but I’ve been told that’s an unreasonable lifestyle. :) In all seriousness, many families face this discussion regularly. This is primarily a discussion that occurs in households with children but also occurs in households wherein an elderly family member requires care or other extenuating circumstances call into question the abilities of a multiple income scenario where both individuals are away from home.

AJ & KJ: On the surface the answer to the question “can we afford one less income” may resoundingly seem like “absolutely not!” However, realistically, we can all almost definitely live on a little less. A few things to consider as you approach this topic in your household:

Insurance Benefits
Are benefits tied to the job you are considering leaving? If so, is there a substitute through the other person’s job that would suffice? If not, how much will the alternate benefit selection cost you? With the Affordable Care Act exchanges, maybe you have new possibilities that you didn’t have before, but understanding the coverage and cost differences can make a big diffference.

Is this a permanent or temporary change?
Discuss with your significant other if this is going to be the “new normal.” Thinking about this in advance can help frame how you discuss your goals looking forward and help you prioritize them. If it’s a short-term arrangement, then maybe you can make a few less sacrifices knowing you’ll be back on track in no time. Life can sometimes get in the way and change your course unwittingly anyways, so be aware that certain familiarities in your short-term may become long-term adjustments to your plan. If it’s permanent, how long will the savings you have in place carry you if something happens to the remaining income?

How will your savings change?
Discuss how your savings and goals may change. Maybe you’ll just have to make a few minor adjustments or maybe they will be permanent adjustments to your plan. Will you need to delay your retirement, adjust your expectations for children’s education, or modify your travel plans? You may be able to still save for your goals albeit at a permanently lower amount.

Change your retirement goals
Think about how your goals for retirement or “financial independence” may change. Cutting one income out of the picture doesn’t mean your whole plan is thrown off track, though! If you cut one income but your expenses decrease significantly, it’s still possible to maintain your retirement goals. See our post on living beneath your means for more information on how you can simultaneously reduce your expenses and increase your saving to more easily accomplish your goals.

What’s the contingency plan?
If you go down this path only to realize you can’t live on quite as little as you had hoped, what’s the contingency plan? Think about any part-time opportunities that could serve as supplemental income. Maybe one of your careers is conducive to hourly “as needed” advice that could allow you to pick up some extra money as available. Some at-home options could be leveraged in advance of the tightening budget.

Who is taking the plunge?
Especially in today’s world, there’s very little expectation of who will stay home by “default.” There may not be a clear breadwinner, but think about future career opportunities for both individuals (as well as desire for getting there!), taking into consideration who may be best suited for the full-time home job. Consider who manages your money and who maintains the home currently as you set out on your planning. You’ll need to reduce your expenses across the board in order to make this new scenario work and every financial decision will be important, so it is especially valuable to have shared ownership over how your funds are spent.

Have you forgotten anything?
Whenever you make a plan, isn’t there always something that you forget about and realize you should have planned for? Take some time to plan for the unexpected and give yourself time to think of different scenarios. Are you about to need a new car? Are you about to have to replace your air conditioning? Is some major life event going to occur and derail your ability to enjoy life without that second income?…

What is your goal in reducing one income?
Finally, and most importantly, what do you hope to gain by eliminating one income? This might seem like a ridiculous question, but if you’re talking about limiting the earning potential of a household, it’s one that needs to be considered. It’s essentially the same as asking what the ROI (return on investment) on an expense is, and it’s really the biggest question of all. Carefully considering the alternatives can help you understand what it is you are trying to accomplish. Is it extra time with your family, is it flexibility for you and a loved one to nurture a relationship, or is it the peace-of-mind that your personal lives can stay in order that are motivating you?

Why wait?
Just because you’re not in a situation currently where you will need to live on a single income, why not reduce the risk of job loss or economic crisis by learning to live within one person’s income? Whether one of you has a highly variable income or not, try it out and see how it works for you and your family. You may be surprised how you could live on less simply by being aware!

    Have you and a loved one discussed living off of a single income?
    How did you make the decision?
    Tell us what swayed you.

The great debate - can we afford to live on a single income? is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Understanding net worth

Monopoly Net Worth
KJ: Part of understanding your personal finances is to understand if you are spending more than you are making. The first most telling sign that there is a problem is if your “net worth” continues to decline. To me, the net worth figure is an entertaining number to watch grow over time – yes, I’m definitely a personal finance geek! Well, what is “net worth” and how do you measure it? Let’s start with an overview before we get any further:

Your net worth is basically a calculation that is:

The value of all of your assets:

    anything that you own – your car, your home, your 401(k) or other retirement value, savings values, checking accounts, brokerage and investment account, annuities, stock options, personal belongings, ownership of a business, etc.
    minus

The value of your liabilities:

    anything that you owe – loan on a home, car, line of credit, credit cards, student loans, your proportion of a business liability, etc.

As you can see, the assets and liabilities can take many forms, and the goal is to continue to increase the “net” number to the side of having more assets than liabilities. If your house increases in value and you continue to pay down your mortgage over time, then this is one such example of how your net worth can naturally increase over time.

All “net” numbers are not created equally
Someone who builds up their net worth via cash, savings, or investment accounts is likely to have a much different picture than the previous example where a person built up their net worth in their home. With a savings account, it’s much more flexible how you can access that net worth and utilize it to help fund your goals (a la children’s education or retirement). With a house, your ability to access the equity may be a bit more limited. So, keep this in mind as you build your “buckets” of net worth with cash, savings, house(s), and retirement.

View in a different light
Try breaking out your different categories based on ownership (his, hers, ours), goal categories (children’s education, retirement, vacation), liquidity (cash, bonds, stocks, home, private investments). Find the analysis that best fits what you need to see each time you review your finances in whole.

Leverage the use of technology
Programs like Mint.com, Quicken, and Yodlee.com are examples of software that can help you keep up with this regularly, or you can always use the spreadsheet method (my preferred method). Depending on who you speak with and what you’re looking to do, you may hear the term “balance sheet” as well that has a very similar function. For us personally, we review our balance sheet/net worth statement in our quarterly presentations – yes, you read that correctly…I prepare a quarterly presentation for us :) – to make sure we’re trending positively. The format we enjoy shows the history of prior quarters in separate columns, so we can see the trend over several quarters and years. Some quarters (as may potentially be true for entire years), with house, car, and stock market fluctuations, you can see your net worth contract despite making progress on saving toward the accounts or paying down your home. Such is the reality of investing, and the sooner you recognize that all these values fluctuate and that you’re focusing on the long-term (i.e. 5, 10, 15, 20+ years), short-term declines can be but a blip on the radar.
With the average net worth of an American being $70,000, how do you compare?

Go ahead and try a spreadsheet on for size to see where you fall. See the link below for a sample Excel file where you can begin to create your own net worth statement. Choose from two options: a report where you view a snapshot at one point in time or a report that shows a trend over time if that is more your speed.

Net Worth Spreadsheet – build your own!

Net Worth Snapshot
Net Worth Over Time

    Do you track your net worth? Why or why not?
    Does the bank require you to submit a personal net worth statement to support a debt?
    Tell us if you feel your net worth is healthy or not.

Understanding net worth is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.

Retirement savings calculator

Retirement Savings Calculator Graph

Calculating what you need for retirement
KJ: We’re on a bit of a kick with regards to looking at what we need to save for the future, and the age old question of Am I on track?. Do you know what you need to be saving?

Okay, so no, we did not spend countless hours and thousands of dollars on building our own retirement planning calculator, but why bother? With lots of free tools available to help (some much better than others), we wanted to share one we stumbled across that has a decent amount of options:

MSN Money Retirement Calculator

Don’t Get Discouraged: Find a Way to Get on Track
Sure, especially for a young person, there can be a number of items that don’t pan out like planned (maybe you have to make a career choice – or two – to make less in order to do something more fulfilling or less stressful). Maybe your children end up costing you a little more than planned and you can’t quite save what you had hoped. No system is perfect, but periodically stopping to do a gut check on your current situation is always a good idea. Plug in the numbers and see if you’re where you need to be. If not, figure out how to get there by cutting your expenses and increasing your savings. Not only does cutting your expenses reduce the need later on, but you’re also simultaneously increasing your savings by nature of having fewer expenses – so learn to live beneath your means – win-win!

Don’t Count on Social Security
For those of us with a long time horizon, when plugging in the numbers, see about excluding Social Security. If (and that’s a big if) it’s still there by the time we get to retirement, it’s likely to be quite a bit different than it is today, so the last thing you should do is plan for that uncertain piece as a requirement for your goals to succeed.

Not a substitute for solid advice
These free charts are not a substitute for good, sound advice, but they at least help you start to “what-if” until your heart is content. Also, these charts can be lacking in that it just does a simple calculation of return each year (i.e. the investment return numbers you use are used year after year – an impossibility!). In fact, you’re likely to experience quite varied returns each year +5%, -5%, +8%, +6%, -2%, etc. to actually achieve your “target” return. However, this simple calculation is better than not planning ahead, so start clicking around and see what your results come up with. If it predicts doomsday scenarios, then look at what you can do to cut those expenses even further and right the ship now – the sooner the better! If it seems like you’re too far off track or maybe you are on track, but need help managing what you’ve built, then consider visiting the Financial Planning Association (FPA) planner search tool to find someone in your area that can help.

    What do your results show?
    Are you on track or have you side-stepped a little bit?
    Tell us about how you see that you are on track.

Retirement savings calculator is copyrighted by TheSimpleMoneyBlog.com without consent to republish.

Some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. We feel strongly about only recommending products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to you, our readers. Read more about our commitment to providing quality product recommendations.