Monday, October 26, 2015

I Saved $2,158 Doing One Thing Most People Won't

The world is my garage sale.

I didn't believe it when Mrs. DisIndebted said it over a year ago. I don't even remember what made her say it. But she says it to me all the time, ever since. On at least a weekly basis, she reminds me that I am a garage saler or asks me how my garage sale went.

She isn't talking about an actual garage sale... or a yard sale, rummage sale, estate sale, or some other construct we all know of whereby one person's trash becomes another's treasure. She is talking about every transaction I make in life.

We are talking about everything: not just the usual haggle on a house or a used car.

Everything is negotiable.

So, where can you have a garage sale? You name it! As Americans we tend to treat the advertised price as gospel - but just about anywhere you transact business, you can negotiate better terms: financial, or otherwise. I think the best way to explain may be by example.

Let me tell you about some of my recent garage sales and the $2,158.10 that I saved or made in the last year by negotiating better terms.

I like shopping at a well known department store that peddles in designer goods for less. You probably shop there too. This summer I found a $20 pair of shorts I just had to have. They included a canvas belt that I didn't really want. Now it isn't like I could ask to de-compile the two. The belt wasn't for sale separately. However, the belt had a run in the canvas. It was damaged. I pointed this out at the check-out and asked for a discount. Sure enough, I got a 10% discount on shorts due to a flaw in a belt I threw away when I got home!

Total saved = $2.

I have always been a garage saler when it comes to used cars and our plan for the future is to continue to purchase only used cars. However, prior to determining that it was time to pay off all our debts, I was making payments on a used BMW that was getting along in miles. I was getting hit with quite a lot of 100,000 mile maintenance: new tires, suspension, belts, brakes, hoses, filters, you name it. I determined that in addition to my $205 monthly loan payments, I was spending an extra $200 a month (on average) for maintenance and repair, and this was adding to our debt. To achieve some sort of consistency in my auto expenses, I determined I would lease a vehicle with maintenance included. This came by way of a shiny new Rav4.

After some comparison shopping with the competitors (Honda and Nissan) I went with the Toyota because the dealer was willing to bargain with me. Now shame on me for thinking of this in terms of monthly payment rather than in the total cost of the lease. That is the best way to go and I will soon share a spreadsheet that I created to help determine a fair price for a leased vehicle. Regardless, I found myself in the realm of monthly costs.  He threw two offers at me in a night - around $240 a month for the entry level LE model. Still, I wanted the XLE for the sunroof and other luxuries. This, he said, would be close to $280 a month. I waited a few days and did more homework. When I returned, I offered him $205 a month for the XLE, having determined that this would put the dealer just over the break-even point. Being the end of the month, I hoped that this would be enough that they would bite just to meet their monthly numbers but the numbers must have been OK that month because he returned with a counter offer of $260 a month. Realizing that the dealer was going to insist on some sort of profit, I came back with a best and final offer of $220 a month. This time, I had the finance manager's attention. They countered with $230 a month. I took it. I was getting the XLE trim model for $50 a month less than the original quote and for less than the advertised "on sale" payment for the base model. Score.

Oh, and I got them to throw in lifetime free car washes for the new buggy and Mrs. Disindebted's too! Bonus.

Total saved on a 3 year lease = $1,800.

This was perhaps the most infamous garage sale in my history - and may have been the moment Mrs. DisIndebted dubbed me the king of all garage sales. We went to a BBQ joint that we like to frequent that is well known for their generous portions of high quality, smoky, meaty goodness. The waitress brought me my usual - a burnt butts sandwich: a bun piled high with the crispy ends of beef brisket, slathered in bistro sauce and smoky chipotle barbecue sauce. It is quite possibly the best meal of all time. Anyway, on this particular occasion the butts were less than piled. It was a disappointing mound of butts - not nearly the stuff I expect on my sandwich. Disappointed, I spoke up (much to Mrs. DisIndebted's chagrin) and said, "These usually have more butts. Can I have a little more please?" The waitress, to be fair, did seem a bit put off - but it's the kind of place where they won't let you serve unless you're covered in tattoos and attitude is definitely a part of the experience. Nonetheless, she returned with at least a quarter pound of butts on a plate. It was practically an entire serving in addition to the meat I already had. I thanked her, and of course tipped her generously (I'm cheap but I'm not a savage).

Note that my restaurant garage sale-ing may be at its end, at least when Mrs. D is around. It is safe to say that she finds the practice embarrassing. I love her enough that I will spare her that discomfort in the future. But the next time I'm at Subway without her, you can bet that I will take the manager up on that comment he made last week about giving me a free sub. Who needs a $5 foot-long when you can get a $0 six-inch?

Total freebies in subs and burnt butts = $10.

AT A GARAGE SALE (obviously)
Yes - garage sale-ing happens at actual garage sales from time to time. I mentioned previously that I picked up a number of items individually advertised at $12. I only had $10 and I offered it for the entire bundle of goods. Offer accepted. Notably, among those goods was a Bengal's football jacket that I turned around and sold on eBay for $75. Not too shabby!

Total Profit (after eBay fees and shipping)  = $60.

Sometimes I don't even realize I'm having a garage sale. The other day, for example, we were at the library. As part of our newly found frugality, I suggested that it would be a cheap way to get our entertainment fix. I haven't used my card in some time (5 years) and I was shocked to discover that I owed $12.20 in fines. Without pause, and in the friendliest manner possible, I expressed that I was not sure what it could be for - and when the librarian read the list, they didn't seem like titles I had borrowed (apparently longer than I should have). Nonetheless, they were on my account and the $12.20 was my responsibility. I agreed to pay it but noted kindly that I did not remember any of them. When the librarian returned with my credit card and receipt, she let me know that she "split the difference" and only charged me $6.10 given the circumstances. A completely unintentional garage sale, but a successful one nonetheless.

Mind you, Mrs. DisIndebted was quite embarrassed that I was garage sale-ing the poor girl at the public library. But as it happens, we really made the librarian's night. We asked more questions about their programs and e-collection. The librarian was so thrilled to have a curious customer (she actually said so) that she spent another five minutes with us explaining all of the various resources and programs available to us. We walked out friends and I paid only half what I owed. Plus, we discovered a wealth of free resources for us to enjoy. Not bad!

Total Saved = $6.10 (plus an immeasurable heap of freebies).

Debts are obligations in my book. I know many people will use the bankruptcy laws and other means
to avoid these obligations, but I don't play like that. However, I am not above negotiating my debt. Recently, Mrs. DisIndebted and I began looking at homes and in the process, we decided that we should get our credit reports. Unfortunately, my credit report turned up two delinquent debts. I don't know how hard they tried to find me, but this was the first notice I had. One was a disputed amount that I thought was settled three years ago. This was with a large, well-known, cellular service provider. Can you hear me now? The other was with the local electric company. The cellular was an amount of around $300 comprised of $70 in service fees that they claimed I owed along with $230 in various late fees and penalties. The electric was $50 and it was the final bill on a property that my ex lived in. I was apathetic and never changed the name on the electric since she was still paying it. Unfortunately, she stiffed them on the final bill and it came back to haunt me now, five years later.

I determined that I needed to take care of these obligations, but I didn't think the price was fair and I didn't appreciate the harm to my credit score. Thus, I put my legal skills to work and drafted up some settlement agreements**. I offered pennies on the dollar as payment for my debts and requested, in return, that these vendors contact the credit bureaus and remove the derogatory items. It worked! I ended up paying $70 to the cellular provider - agreeing that I would make them whole for the service they claim they provided me. The electric company never responded to my settlement offer, but voluntarily removed the charges from the account and closed it. Both companies made good on contacting the credit bureaus, and I now have zero derogatory items. My credit score instantly jumped and we are on a much better path to a low interest rate on our loan. I can't calculate those savings - but I only paid $70 on $350 worth of debt.

Total Saved = $280.

These are just a few of the garage sales I have had in the past year. All told, I saved or made $2,158.10. The sticker price isn't gospel; it isn't sacred. Now get out there and do the same. The world is your garage sale!

What are some of your best garage sale stories, or tactics? Comment below or email me at

** If you have an issue with a derogatory credit item, I have posted a template settlement agreement and cover letter that may help you out. Use both of the following links to open these in Google Docs. You may then save a copy to your Google Docs (Click File > Make a Copy) or to your desktop (Click File > Download As). 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Shot the Snapshot, but I Did Not Shoot My Sanity

As you may be aware, I recently participated in Progressive's Snapshot program in hopes to save the advertised "as much as 30%" on my car insurance. I have opted out.

Last week I received my discount based on 30 days of driving. Because I am lazy and do not want to create a spreadsheet (which is atypical, given my love of all things spreadsheetable), I'll just say that my driving was well within the required parameters (Read about that here, and here). Regardless, Progressive offered me a whopping 3% discount, with the estimate that this incredibly generous discount would renew in my next policy period. All in all, I was offered a savings of $1 a month.

Now HANG ON to your hats there people! I know, that's $12 a year! That's enough to buy:

  • One month of my gym membership
  • Two and four-tenths orders of sticky rice
  • Twelve of my "Simple Truth" organic energy bars (fifteen when they're on sale!)
  • book in my Amazon wish list
  • Twelve Various roller-items from the local Speedway 
The possibilities are endless!

As it turns out, consumption of anything from a roller grill may void existing
Health and/or Life policies and may prevent future coverage as a propensity to
ingest these "items" may indicate a pre-existing condition.
All kidding aside, I really hate parting with a savings. Even if it is as small as $1 a month. Given the debt situation we are in, every dollar helps. While the old me would have gone out and spent $12 on lunch without a second thought, I am now spending less than $12 for a whole WEEK of lunches. My mentality has shifted and I value every dollar I make and every dollar I save.

That said, I also truly value my sanity and Snapshot was making me crazy. I found myself far over thinking and over estimating braking to ensure I didn't get a hard brake. This was both stressful and dangerous (since I was confusing the living bat turds out of the drivers around me). I was annoyed every time it beeped at me for a hard brake - and I was angry at other drivers when they forced me into a hard brake situation. I was worried about the already few miles I was driving and trying to avoid additional trips. The Snapshot device was having a serious impact on my sanity.  It was irritating - plain and simple. Thus, when I received my offered discount, I promptly opted-out of the program and returned the device per their instructions. 

Some things are worth sacrificing in order to save money. Others are not. Sanity is definitely not something I'm willing to sacrifice - at least for $1 a month (give me $350,000 and you can put me in the looney bin personally).

Where have you decided to spend more than necessary, or that savings just aren't worth it? Let me know in the comments below or at

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Debt Free Thinking and the Lure of Shiny Things

My HTC One (M7) smartphone is a piece of garbage. The battery charge lasts a half hour of use. The UI is clunky. I keep losing contacts and can't send text messages (especially when it is critical). The camera, once nice, is somehow incapable of taking a decent picture of a still object in even the most ideal setting.  The screen is small and causes me to frequently fat-finger an unintentionally embarrassing message. In short - I hate my phone. 

Despite this, I feel a little guilt about my consumer mentality. I want a new one, but this one is still (mostly) working. The phone is only two years old and was a generous hand-me-down from Mrs. DisIndebted when my Samsung Galaxy S3 croaked one years ago. When I got it, I was thrilled. It was a step newer than my S3 and I loved knowing that I wasn’t paying anything for it. In fact, it was a great deal because, while I got a free phone, Mrs. DisIndebted was able then to switch carriers and get a newer, shinier Samsung Galaxy S5 while paying less per month than she had been with her HTC One. (Side note, Mrs. DisIndebted and I are now both enjoying the benefits of my corporate plan that gives me free service, with the ability to add family lines/data for under $20 a month - YAY Corporate gig!)

Legend has it cats are attracted
 to shiny things because they
illuminate the darkness of their souls.
On top of the guilt I feel about my urge to spend, I feel I owe an apology to Mrs. DisIndebted. She graciously gave me this phone, and here I am calling it garbage. To be fair - it is actually a very shiny, respectable looking piece of garbage. It is, however, still garbage.

Also, I am guilty of having first world problems.

Determined that this phone is garbage, I went off in search of a better newer shiny object. I scoured blogs, articles and all sorts of information about unlocked Android phones and ultimately decided to go with the Google Nexus 6P starting at $499, factory unlocked. This was a recent change to my wishlist after previously being enamored with the OnePlus Two, which starts at a much lower $389 factory unlocked. I am still considering the OnePlus, but the 6P is truly a beast of a phone and I must have it.

The only problem is, I don't have enough money for either.

Sticky rice is love.
Mrs. DisIndebted and I budget for each of us to have an "allowance." This is money that we can each use in any way we want - any time we want. Last night, I stopped at our favorite Thai joint and splurged on a $5 take-out box of mango sticky rice that I brought home and presented to Mrs. DisIndebted (because I love her, duh). That is how I spent $5 of my dollars for October. I also spend some of that money on gas and an occasional lunch out with work friends. however, I do my best to save as much of that money as possible.

Currently I have around $250 saved up. This is not enough money to buy either phone.

Frustrated, I did the math to determine that I could probably afford to put the Google Nexus 6P on my credit card and have it paid from my allowance by December. The net result is that I would spend an extra $6 to service the interest on the portion that I cannot pay in the October - November statement cycle. No big whoop! I mean, I can forego a lunch out and cover that, right?

And that's a fact, I could cover the $6. But the problem is that I was wrong in principle. A principle I am learning to live by is, if I don't have the cash in hand, I cannot afford it. I didn't always live by this principle. Guess what happened? I went into debt. Guess what else? I never want to be in debt again.

Nonetheless, I headed down the road of purchasing the phone. I even went so far as to have the color and specs chosen and in my Google shopping cart. I was ready. Then, in a moment of clarity, I realized what I was about to do. I contacted Mrs. DisIndebted (which was difficult because my text messaging is FUBAR). I presented my quandary. She (wisely) told me that it was my choice.

I slept on it.

The next day, I awoke with conviction. I will live by the principle stated above. I removed the 6P from my shopping cart and took some deep breaths. It was a hard choice, but it was the right choice.

Later, I factory reset my M7 to try and clean up performance. At the risk of jinxing myself, it turns out that the battery life and ability to text have improved. The camera still stinks and I frequently sent a text fail thanks to the small screen. But, it works. I have a phone that works - and I had it all along.

Thus, I will keep this phone a little while longer. Maybe only until I have saved for my 6P - but maybe longer. Big purchases are typically followed by remorse anyway. I don't need any of that.

Lessons learned: Sometimes you don't need to get new shiny things, you just need to polish the ones you already have. Most importantly, in order to fully disindebtify my life, I need to stick to my plan and avoid new debt like the plague. Now breathe, and repeat after me: "If I don't have the cash in hand, I can't afford it."

What was your most recent consumer struggle? How did it turn out? Let me know below, or by email at

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

September Expenditures

I have decided that each month I will share an update of where our money went. So, here it is in all its glory - the first DisIndebted Monthly Expenditures!

Regular Debt Payments$2,520Fixed Payments$1,860
Snowball Debt Payments$3,400- Rent$789
- 0% Balance Transfer 1$1,000- Electric$112
- Private Student Loan$2,400- Other Utilities$180
Non-Budgeted Buys$332- Renter Insurance$22
- Boots$300- Auto Lease 1$265
- Box Fans$32- Auto Lease 2$235

- Savings Acct.$200
Discretionary$703- Gym Memberships$21
Grocery$335- Netflix$9
Dining Out$104- Rent Insurance$22
Entertainment$105- Pandora$5
Other$159- Tithing$0

As you can see, we spent a whopping 67% of our income on debt. What you can't see is that we reduced the principal of our debt from $350,415 to $345,755 - a total of $4,660 of debt vanquished!

We are serious about disindebtification.

Anyway, here is some info on each expense for your personal amusement:
  • Regular Debt Payments - Duh. We have debt. We have minimum payments to make on it each month. This is credit card and student loan debt (I don't count our auto leases or rent here). This is the ugly stuff we want to get rid of. 
  • Snowball Debt Payments - We pay a minimum of $1,000 a month extra toward the principal of our big ugly pile of debt. Currently that is slated to go toward one of two 0% transfer credit cards. Both are at 0% and the promotional rate expires in July 2016 - thus it is important to pay both off ASAP. However, we determined that we could apply some money to a very high (13%) personal education loan and still pay off the 0% transfers before they skyrocket to 20% or whatever unholy rate they go to next July. Last month we made $2,400 on eBay (This was actually $2,342, but I felt optimistic and rounded up). Thus, we paid an extra $2,400 toward that ugly private loan.
  • Non-Budgeted Buys - This is exactly what it sounds like. It is stuff we did not budget for, but spent on anyway.
    • Box Fans - I got a steal of a deal on two box fans ($15 ea. + tax) to help cool our pad in the fall and spring. After doing some research, I expect that this will quickly pay for itself due to the decreased use of our air conditioner.
    • Boots - I initially called this an impulse buy, but then Mrs. DisIndebted reminded me that we have been lamenting the quality of our hiking boots for over a year. We talk about new boots every time we take a hike (often). After our most recent hike, we decided it was time. Expensive, yes - but we feel they were worth it and plan to get LOTS of use out of them (more on that another day). 
  • Discretionary - These discretionary items are really the one area where we do not have a fixed payment due each month. We tried on several occasions to budget for these on a monthly basis, but found this difficult because of the varying number of weeks in a month. Last month I implemented a "Weekly Budget" for these discretionary items. Our weekly budget  last month was $207 (for a total of $828 monthly). However, due to some adjustments, we ramped it down to $183: $90 for groceries, $38 for dining out, $35 for entertainment, and $20 for other/household. The fact is, we are OK going over in one - so long as we don't go over for the week. Similarly, if we are way under one week - we know we are OK to go a little over the next week. For September, there were four weeks @ $207, for a total of $828 in our Discretionary budget. As you can see, we not only didn't touch our $100 buffer - we also had a surplus of nearly $18 at the end of the month. Sweet! Here are our discretionary spending details for September - which includes the costs of the camping trip (minus the $36 in campsite fees that I actually paid back in July).
7 September 2015$118.95$64.05$84.14$12.00$0.00$22.81
14 September 2015$160.77$22.23$78.65$13.00$27.12$42.00
21 September 2015$233.37-$50.37$85.35$86.68$56.47$4.87
28 September 2015$189.99-$6.99$86.92$47.67$21.44$33.96
SEPTEMBER TOTAL$810.08$17.92$335.06$159.35$105.03$103.64

  • Fixed Payments - These are the non-debt items that we can't do without. That said, we hope to minimize some of these in the coming year.
    • Rent - We like having a roof, a floor, walls, and other things that most people take for granted.
    • Electric - Without which this blog would be impossible. 
    • Other Utilities - Our landlord (swindler) bundled a bunch of utilities up (water, sewer, trash, and basic cable / internet) for a shockingly low price of $180 (much sarcasm). When we moved in, we were assured this would be $112. It is not.
    • Renter Insurance - A must for anyone.
    • Auto Lease 1 - We determined it would be best to avoid surprises, so we got a lease with maintenance coverage included. Now we no longer worry about the next $2,000 service bill from the shop. THat said, I believe we are WAY overpaying and am considering swapping this for a used car (purchased outright) as soon as the lease is up. If I don't have this payment each month, I can cope next time the check engine light comes on.
    • Auto Lease 2 - See Auto Lease 1.
    • Savings Acct. - We have debt. We do not have savings. We feel it is important to start with this so, here goes!
    • Gym Memberships - We used these 4 to 5 times a week for over six months, but have grown lazy since the wedding and thus have considered giving these up. However, the cold weather is nearly upon us and we won't have the patience for long hikes. At this price, we are OK leaving these in the equation for now. That said, if we don't get back into the gym this winter, we'll drop them like a bad habit.
    • Netflix - Because I need to watch Narcos
    • Pandora - Because we like the option to crank up some Creedence.
    • Tithing - We gave nothing in September. This actually just appeared on the budget. We are semi-regular church goers and feel an obligation to give a small amount back. 
Well - there you have it! It kinda feels dirty - like I just exposed my junk to you. I guess that isn't too uncommon on the interwebs. That said, after I post this I'll probably have that dream where I show up naked for work. 

What is the weirdest dream you have ever had? Comment below or email me at