Much much over-due update

Boy have I dropped the ball on this blog! In the time since my last update, I:

  • Moved apartments
  • Lived in another country for several weeks
  • Traveled to 4 other ones
  • Received a small raise
  • Got into indoor gardening
  • Started selling off things I didn’t need (including my car)

All in all, a very expensive but very fun few months.

My net worth is trucking along and is the highest it’s ever been at nearly $69K, I’m saving more than ever before, and in general, I’m only slightly behind my first year goals for FIRE.

I’m actually quite happy with everything and look forward to more passive lifestyle changes in 2017.  Otherwise, nothing exciting to note.

Carmax vs.Vroom vs. Beepi vs. Shift: A Case Study

I recently found myself no longer in need of a car.  I guess I haven’t ever really needed a car at all, but I only just got around to dumping the financial bulk.  With that in mind, I started looking around for ways to sell my 2012 Prius C.  The car was well-maintained with minimal wear and tear, and is a great city car to own.

I decided off the bat that I didn’t want to do the Craigslist thing.  In addition to the inconvenience of it all, I would also need to clear the lien on the car and didn’t want to move money out of savings to do that (purely out of laziness).  That left me with dealerships.

By the end of a week, I had tried out Carmax, Vroom, Beepi and Shift and decided to review each of those experiences here.  Before we do that, I’ll start by showing the Kelley Blue Book value of my car as a baseline:

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Carmax

I first took the car in to Carmax for an appraisal.  The representative was really nice and professional.  I waited in the sitting area for about 20 minutes before being given a written offer of $8,500 on the car valid for 7 days.  Not too bad, but I thought I’d keep looking around.

Pros: Easily accessible; straight forward and fast process

Cons: The lowest offer I got; did not provide a shuttle to the nearest train station and the dealership is not exactly in a transit friendly area

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-7-36-10-pm

Vroom

Next I tried Vroom.  Now Vroom’s business model is a little different.  There’s no brick and mortar dealership in my area that I could go to, so instead I filled out an online form with information about the car and sent in a handful of pictures of the interior and exterior.  They claim you will get an offer within a half hour, but that didn’t happen with me and I ended up getting my offer the next day (not a big deal).  Their offer came in at $8,950 and was valid for 7 days or 250 miles.

Pros: didn’t have to talk to a single person and was able to do everything online; got exact offer as opposed to ballpark range

Cons: none as far as I can tell, but then again I didn’t look too far into this company as their offer was meh

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Beepi

Next, I tried out Beepi.  They’re similar to Vroom in that there’s no dealership for you to go to, but their pre-offer inspection is a little more thorough.  I inputed some information into their website and scheduled a time for their technician to come by.  The guy that came in was just awesome!  He was professional, straight forward, and very good at what he did.  He talked me through the process really well and even gave me pointers on how I could up the offer once it was formulated (a process he himself was not involved in).  We took the car for a test drive, he did his inspection, and we then drove out to a lot so he could get some pictures.  They claim the offer comes in 48 hours after the inspection, but since my inspection was early in the morning, I got mine the same day.  Their offer came in at $10,892 with a deduction of $1,041 for new tires and fixing up the car for a net to me of $9,866.  The offer was valid for 3 days or some ridiculously high number of miles that I have forgotten.  With them, once you accept the offer, they list the vehicle (using the pictures the rep took), and they pick up the car when it sells.  If in 30 days your car hasn’t sold, they give you the money themselves and take the car off your hands.  Either way, you get the full offer in 30 days or less and the car is picked up by their rep, all the while the car stays with you until it’s sold.

Pros: they were cool with me doing any upgrades or modifications in advance to up my offer; their rep was great to work with; their inspection report was just fantastic (comprehensive, detailed, and cut to the chase); their rep was a full time employee and didn’t put any pressure on me to list with them, so I got the impression that he didn’t stand to gain or lose anything either way; you keep the car until it sells; if Beepi sells the car and it is returned, you don’t have to deal with it and you don’t have to pay the money back… Beepi does; they claim they don’t turn a profit on fixing up the cars before sales

Cons: the in-person inspection takes 2 hours; had to schedule inspection several days in advance (come to find out later that this is because they only had one inspector working my entire metro area… and I live in Washington DC)

Shift

I came by Shift at the recommendation of several friends who have used it and had great experiences with it.  Similar to Beepi, you fill out a form online and they send out a rep to inspect your car.  This inspection is much much shorter at only 30 minutes, and I was able to schedule it the same day.  The rep came out with a tablet and recorded the car’s details.  He didn’t take pictures, but they do offer a $100 bonus if you let them take the car that day.  The way it works is that they pick up your car and make it available to their buyers for test drives.  For the duration of your contract with them (60 days in my case), they take the car around to people’s homes for test drives until the car sells.  At the end of the contract period, you either take the car back (not sure if they recompense you for the miles/wear and tear), re-up the contract, or give you the guaranteed minimum.  Their rep was a part time employee and was much more motivated to get me on board than the Beepi or Carmax reps were.  He had a tablet that he was using to get the estimate and explained that there were two pricing models they used: one was a flat rate model and the other… wasn’t?  Honestly he lost me in the process and by the end of our meeting, I had 3 different offers for 3 different prices sitting in my inbox… and I had forgotten what the distinction was between the prices (the Android to Beepi’s iPhone).  He knew he was my last rep and was trying to work with me to get me a price to beat Beepi’s, hence the trial and error, but alas the form the system sends you is not comprehensive like Beepi’s and so I had no idea which email went with which manipulation he had inputed into the algorithm.  Ended up with one offer for $9,468, one for $9,818, and another for $10,660.  That last one was technically the highest offer all around, but it would have involved me changing the tires on my car, taking the car to a body shop to get some small dents popped, and maybe even fixing a bumper’s paint job? I don’t recall, but I did the math, and I would have ended up with a lot less money if I had done the fixes myself.  With all that in mind, let’s say Shift’s offer was the middle one of $9,818.

Pros: short inspection period; I was able to schedule the inspection the same day; you get an offer on the spot and are able to hand the car over then and there if you choose– and they throw in a bonus if you do that

Cons: no idea what the actual final offer of the vehicle was; they take the car to sell it so you don’t have a car in the meantime; if they do sell the car and it is returned by the buyer, it’s my understanding that you have to fork the money back up

The winner?

Beepi, hands down.  Great customer service, huge bonus points with that fantastic inspection report, and the best offer.  Plus I get to keep the car while they’re trying to sell it, AND I get the money no questions asked in 30 days (unless I wreck the car in the meantime or somehow violate their terms of agreement).  I would post screenshots of the inspection report, but because I had already accepted the offer before writing this post, I no longer have access to the report.  All in all, I consider myself lucky that the company I most enjoyed working with also gave me the best offer.

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Overall, I think car buying and selling has changed a lot from what many of us expect it to be.  What I felt worked for me was understanding my level of comfort with the different options, doing minimal research and instead opting for asking a lot of questions, and taking my time.

Q1 – 2016

I have recently changed my tack and decided that I will update my accountability post quarterly, rather than monthly because… who are we kidding.

Wins:
  • $250 bonus at work
  • On schedule for HSA max-out
  • Ahead of schedule for IRA max-out
  • Ahead of schedule (front loading) for 401K max-out
Losses:
  • Tax bill
  • Bought my cell phone out of installment plan so I can transfer to a cheaper provider
  • Work now requires that I pay for parking
  • Comcast fee… because Comcast is like that
Car Loan  $-6,461 (+$777)
Oh Sh*t Fund (emergency savings)  76% of the way to goal (+$522)
Other Savings  +$446
Savings Rate  61%
Net Worth $52,282 (+$9,804)

Overall, not terrible, but I can certainly do better.

How I paid off my student loans

Between October 2011 and May 2015 I had a singular life goal:

Murder $37,136 in grad school student loans.

My reasons for fixating on this goal were primarily the following:
  • I loathe debt
  • I was secretly ashamed of the fact that I took on significantly more debt than I needed to
  • I felt like I had a psychological anchor that didn’t allow me to take risks or act like the foolish 20-something society said I should be (I now realize that this is something I’m grateful for in hindsight)
  • I couldn’t buy a house (yet another thing I’m grateful for in hindsight)
  • I couldn’t travel as much as I liked
  • I couldn’t invest or save for retirement like I wanted to
Before continuing on, let’s take a moment and check my privilege:
  • I’m healthy
  • I’ve never not had a roof over my head (well except for that short stint as a refugee when I was a kid before immigrating)
  • I currently live in a wealthy nation with a safety net, albeit a modest one
  • I have had uninterrupted access to education since I was a toddler
  • I had a family who loved me, sacrificed for me, supported me, and prioritized my education and future
  • I actually had an undergraduate education that was not only free, but effectively paid me with a surplus of scholarship money (my friends throw food at me when I bring this up).  In fact, I had enough money to get 3 bachelor degrees, travel, and take on free internships.  If you must, please only throw soft foods.
Alright continuing on.  So in October of 2011, I found myself with a newly minted Master’s degree, a $55,000 a year job at a public university, and $37K in debt.  I quickly realized that making the minimum payments was not going to get me anywhere.  I also realized there were ways for me to control this debt’s interest accumulations while I paid it off.  I used a combination of the following tactics to kill my debt:
  • I put ~50% of my post-tax income towards the debt
  • I realized that I could put my subsidized loans into deferment by registering for free classes at the university where I worked.  In fact even if they had not been free, I figured out that I could take classes at the local community college and pay less for those than I did in interest to the US government.  This is something I strongly encourage for people currently wrestling through student loan debt, especially for people running 6-figure student loan debts.  You may find that 6 credits worth of classes at a local community college run you $600 for a 5 month period, whereas the interest for that same stretch of time would cost you $800 or more.*
  • I automated the payments and just accepted that I wouldn’t get one of my paychecks every month.
  • I created visuals to encourage me along.  My favorite was this chart I created that tracked how many months of debt I was saving myself with every payment.
Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 6.13.02 PM
The blue bars are how many months I saved myself every payment (see left axis).  The red line is the aggregate number of months I had saved myself over time.  By the time 2011 rolled around, I had saved myself 8 years of debt. 
When it was all said and done, I paid $42,694.35 to dig myself out.  That means I paid the United States Department of Education $5,558.25 to rent the funds from them for 6 years.
In hindsight, I know I could have done it faster had I discovered the FIRE community earlier.  I paid off my debt while eating out almost every single day, traveling extensively (I think I racked up 12 national and 5 international vacations in 3.5 years), STUPIDLY buying a brand new car, and not caring about my expenses in the least.
All in all, I’m so grateful to be on this side of the fence.  Currently, I’m the only one of my friends looking back on debt, but I can’t wait until they too find themselves here with me.  If you are in the drudge yourself, my heart is with you.  It absolutely sucks, but just know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
*This only works for subsidized federal loans

$50,000!

I stumbled across a happy surprise this morning.  I logged in to my mint account and saw that I had hit a net worth of $50,000!

This is largely due to the recovery in the stock market, but in small part due to good old fashioned saving and investing.

It’s encouraging to hit this tiny (comparably pathetic) milestone at a time when I was feeling discouraged.  You see this is the time of year when everyone I know is planning their summer vacations to India and New Zealand and what have you.  Meanwhile, I am trying to invest that money in the short term to give myself the option of being on permanent vacation one day.

All in all, I’m happy with my trade off and happy with my tiny accomplishment.  I now get to work towards the $100K target.

HUMAN

I’m sitting here in my comfortable bed on the brink of a cold weekend that I will spend warm, fed, entertained, and planning my dream of building wealth to one day buy my freedom.  To say that I am privileged would be a gross understatement.  In fact, I often feel sick to my stomach when I sit and consider my own privilege in life in comparison with those around me.  I don’t have to look very far to see the juxtaposition, and I also don’t have to search very far in my heart to feel my own disappointment in myself for not doing something about it.  I won’t bore the 2 people who may or may not one day read this with my existential angst (that I really have no right having).  Instead I will share what has me thinking this way.  It’s this wonderful documentary I stumbled upon tonight called HUMAN.  The entire documentary can be found on YouTube, and I highly recommend watching it from start to finish, but I especially wanted to share the part that resonated with me.  It just so happened to be delivered by the president of Uruguay.

 

“Either you’re very happy with little without overburdening yourself because you have happiness inside, or you’ll get nowhere. I am not advocating poverty.  I am advocating sobriety… When I buy something, or when you buy it, we’re not paying with money. We’re paying with the time from our lives we had to spend to earn that money. The difference is that you can’t buy life. Life just goes by. And it’s terrible to waste your life losing your freedom.”

Amen.

January 2016 Review

Time to check in with how well I did in January!

Let’s start with the negatives and end on a high note.  Below are all of the things I didn’t explicitly budget for but fell under my catch all budget pool.

Expenditure Cost
Gifts for others $85.74
Convenience $6.46
An event I didn’t want to attend $12.89
Worst lunch in the history of lunches $28.63

Most of the discretionary money I spent this month was spent on other people or because of other people.

  • $85.74: spent on gifts for other people.  It’s a lot and thankfully this doesn’t happen every month.
  • $6.46: spent at a coffee shop with a friend because we simply needed a place to meet up and felt awkward not buying something once there.
  • $12.89: spent to attend an event that I didn’t particularly want to attend, but a friend really wanted to attend.
  • $28.63: The one expenditure on that list that irritates me to no end was this lunch.  My lunch didn’t actually cost that much, it’s just that this one awful person who I absolutely cannot stand decided to just not pay.  There were 6 people at this lunch and demanding we get individual bills would’ve been a hassle to the waiter, so we just all sucked it up and let the jerk have his moment.

$133.72 spent on things I did not benefit from in the long term.  

Welp, that’s stinks. Moving on to the happier parts!

I met 100% of my investment goals, 100% of my oh $h*t fund goal, and managed to walk away with $72 leftover from my $250 pot of discretionary money.

All in all?

Saved 64% of my take home!

Not too shabby January.  Not too shabby.