Canceling the newspaper

A couple of days ago I canceled our local newspaper that we had delivered every Sunday, saving $9.30 a month ($111.60 a year). I won’t rehash the well documented decline of the newspaper industry, but these were the reasons why I canceled:

  • We never read the physical version of the newspaper. We always read online. The three articles a day limit online is usually enough for the articles we read.
  • The coupons were often for unhealthy, processed food, so we weren’t saving much if anything using them. Add in the time to cut out and organize coupons and it just wasn’t worth it for us.
  • The newspaper supports a viewpoint that I just don’t agree with.
  • Their web interface looks like 2001.

As if I needed another reason, when I emailed them to request cancelation. I didn’t get any reply. No retention offer, no sorry to hear you are leaving, nada. How did I know the cancellation took effect? The paper didn’t arrive today on my door step, which prompted me to check my online account and confirm that it was canceled. Great customer service…

A simple phone call to save $30/month on Verizon Wireless

The other day I read a post on Katie Floyd’s blog about Verizon Wireless offering a new single line $60/month plan who’s features (unlimited talk and text plus 2 GB of data) were the exact same as my wife’s $90 cell phone plan. Today I did a brief phone call to Verizon and within 5 minutes switched over the new plan. Instant $30/month savings and no pain doing it. Well worth the time I think!

Disclaimer: this new plan does omit tethering according to Katie Floyd’s writeup. In my wife’s case, she doesn’t use tethering, so it wasn’t a loss for us.

Securing WordPress in 2014

I thought I would share some of the WordPress plugins I use to protect my blog. I tend to lean towards smaller, single purpose plugins vs. the large security plugins that claim to support every security “feature” you can think of.

  • Akismet – The best comment spam flighted out there and it benefits in real time from all of the different WordPress sites contributing information on the latest spam attacks.
  • Bad Behavior – This helps protect WordPress from obvious bots and traffic originating from suspicious IPs. Almost like an intelligent firewall.
  • Limit Login Attempts – This blocks those who are trying to login to your WordPress instance by guessing a correct username and password. This plugin hasn’t been updated in two years, but seems to still work quite fine. I set a very low threshold to get blocked and make sure that IP stays blocked for a very long time.
  • Stop User Enumeration – Especially in the past year, I started seeing many login attempts (thanks to Limit Login Attempts) that used the correct username to login to my blog. After some investigation, I found this plugin that blocks a particular way that WordPress leaks the username of a blog.

There are other techniques I use, but I won’t share them for now since I’m still tweaking them.

YNAB: Automate all the bills!

One of the major benefits of  You Need A Budget (YNAB) is that it removed the worry from me of automating all of my bill payments. Now every bill is either automatically scheduled via my Credit Union’s bill pay, automatically billed to a credit card, or an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) via ACH out of my checking account. How do I do that and ensure my peace of mind that I won’t overdraft our bank account?

It starts with the YNAB principle of giving every dollar a job. By doing that, you ensure you don’t spend what you don’t have. This is probably the toughest thing to get used to in YNAB. When I first started, I was living on credit card float, playing games with when paychecks arrived and when I actually sent out payments. Through lots of careful budgeting that first month, I was able to keep my available balance to budget at $0.00, never crossing into negative territory without a corresponding adjustment to bring it back to $0.00.

Once I was able to successfully get through a first month using YNAB and paid off my pre-YNAB credit card debt, suddenly everything clicked. Every time I used my credit card, I made sure my budget allowed for that without crossing into negative territory. All this time I was also growing a buffer so that I could budget for next month’s expenses. Practically every day, I would reconcile my transactions with YNAB, so at any moment I knew exactly what had cleared and what hadn’t.

My checking balances were growing, but that is because I was giving every dollar  job and not spending money I actually didn’t have. At the end of month two, when my next credit card payment was due (or really, any payment), I could simply send that payment in the day after. Because every dollar I needed for that payment was already in my checking account and already pre-assigned to every transaction on this bill, it was a simple administrative task of sending that payment in. How liberating!

Now, in month three of YNAB, I have decided to automate all of this. Our two main credit cards are set on AutoPay. 15 days after the billing statement is generated, a payment is automatically withdrawn from my checking account for that balance. This gives me plenty of time to review the bill just in case any oddities show up that missed my reconcile procedure. This allows me to shift my focus to building our full buffer and seeing what dollars I can spare for more retirement savings.