Focus is considered one of the most important traits of success. It makes sense. If your mind is constantly wandering it is hard to stick to a project until completion.

Frugality also requires focus. I was lucky growing up in the boondocks where the siren song of spending was only visible in the hazy distance. The nearest store was seven miles away and groceries and miscellaneous hardware supplies were all that was sold. Eighteen miles in the other direction was the next nearest place to get separated from your money. Needless to say we didn’t travel that far often.

Before the days of Amazon and endless online shopping sites, I was content playing cops and robbers with my uncle, brother and a few neighborhood boys roughly my age, racing on our bikes around our 400 acre farm.

Working on the farm paid a small token only. I remember wanting a slingshot in grade school. Coming home from church (we never missed a service back then) dad stopped at Farm & Home, the local hardware store. They had a “wrist-rocket” slingshot for $7 and change. My allowance was 25 cents per week.

My passbook savings account (remember those things) had enough money, but I already had a bit of granddad in me: Never take off the pile. I started saving those quarters each week in a piggy bank. To earn that quarter I had to help feed the calves twice a day and other assorted farm chores.

Around seven months later I was the proud owner of a wrist-rocket slingshot. I snaked my hand through the handle. The loop where your hand went in pressed against the wrist when you pulled back the elastic band to increase the slingshot’s power. The bark would fly when a pebble left the slingshot, smashing into a tree.

For seven months I focused all my energy into saving enough for that slingshot. My biggest worry was Farm & Home would sell it to someone else. There is no proof, but I think my dad had something to do with that slingshot remaining on the shelf for over seven months.

Once I owned the object of my desire I focused on aiming better. My goal was to use the slingshot as a hunting weapon, putting a fresh bunny into the roaster. Things didn’t turn out as planned.

Focus is a powerful trait, but it can also cloud judgment. For seven months I only focused on one thing. Then I owned the object and within weeks the desire faded. I discovered it is better to want than to have, a lesson I frequently need to relearn.

The School Called

Last Thursday I worked from home. By mid-afternoon I had most of my work goal completed. Mrs. Accountant noticed I was ready for a break and asked, “Can we talk?” I knew that tone of voice. Something was wrong.

Mrs. Accountant explained the school councilor called about our youngest daughter. The school was worried she was depressed. So you don’t worry, my daughter was fine; a friend of hers misinterpreted having a down day with serious depression and reported it.

Before Mrs. Accountant and I knew our daughter was fine we tried to figure out what could have caused her to be depressed. She seemed fine at home.

Unfortunately, I have been a bit distant lately, focusing on my work (blog and practice). Life was good as a small business owner, but now with a blog I am working two full-time jobs (according to my office manager).

Excessive focus can harm relationships. My daughter is a senior. When the school year started the school set graduation on Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend I attend and speak at Camp Mustache in Seattle. I said we have to hope they change the date or I’ll not be able to go. My focus was so tight I failed to mention what event I was planning on skipping.

My youngest daughter thought I was cutting her graduation for business. I have to admit I am so focused on this blog and helping readers I actually toyed with the idea. I can be an ass at times. My daughter wanted me to be at her graduation.

I never realized what I did. My daughter wasn’t depressed as the school thought she was, but she wanted dad at her graduation. School doesn’t come easy for her and it means a lot mom and dad are there.

Called Into Action

The bus route this year in insane. My daughter is the first on in the morning and the last off at night. She spends over three hours a day on the bus to and from school. We don’t like wasting gas, but she sure loves when we find an excuse to take her in or pick her up at the end of the day.

Mrs. Accountant and I decided to pick our sweetheart up from school unannounced last Thursday. When school let out she was surprised to see us there waiting for her. We took her to Chilton for a chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen and took the time to speak with her to understand her feelings.

Before we got to DQ we knew everything was fine. But there were still several problems. Going to DQ for dinner is something we almost never do. In fact, nobody had eaten in a restaurant since late tax season. Dining out is something we rarely do, but this was getting excessive

Work is the perfect solution to spending. My normal frugal ways went into overdrive as my focus on this blog dug in deep. I brown bag lunch every day. I drink coffee at the office, never buying a cup at the gas station or anywhere else. Sometimes I bike to work, a 30 mile round trip.

With all my time consumed by my two jobs I was enjoying the hell out of myself so much I forgot there were people living around me.

Spending in a typical year ranges in the low 30s. As summer arrived and later school started again, I noticed I was spending almost nothing. I track every penny spent in our household and we hadn’t broken $1,000 a single month since January. My frugality was driving us to an annual spending level slightly under $12,000 for 2017. It has been a long time since I was so tight with the cash.

Not all of it was my fault. The cell phones were switched to Google Fi a while back so the phone bill for two phones was $40 per month. Gardens provided a good portion of our food and a simpler diet also cut costs. For some reason the utility bill was nonexistent. The bill last month was $56 and $20 of that is just to have service. I ran a small farm and my household on just over 300 kilowatts for the month!

As we ate our chicken strips I explained to my daughter there would be some changes. Now that she is seventeen I told her she should have her own phone, especially now that she is driving. When Mrs. Accountant and I are out of town she really needs a phone. (We have no landline.) That’ll add $20 a month to the recurring expense column. (I feel those recurring expenses acutely.)

Our daughter was also nervous about Mrs. Accountant and me heading out of town for FinCon. We made arrangements so she would never be alone. We also gave her the good news she could drive to school when we were gone. That brought a smile. (Good thing for daddy the school doesn’t have any parking fees. You’d have needed the smelling salts.)

I reiterated I would be attending her graduation. As much as I enjoy Camp Mustache in Seattle, my daughter is more important by miles. If people want to see me they have to attend FinCon or CampFI. This blog has a “Where Am I” calendar now showing my schedule. It is easy to meet up.

Dust Bunnies in the Wallet

My oldest daughter comes home from college each weekend. She enjoys the good life so she had several gap years before rolling up the sleeves and digging in. She also has matured a pile as she added a few years. She sounds like mom when she talks about other students. It seems many more lessons were digested than originally thought.

The girls wanted to go out to Funset Boulevard on Saturday. They had some coupons for a farmer’s market so they stopped there first, bought a fresh lunch and several dozen cobs of sweet corn with the coupons.

Funset Boulevard is billed as one of these family-friendly entertainment venues. They are as expensive as hell; my blood begins to clot even thinking about it. Funset has laser tag and other assorted games.

At first I was thinking the whole family should go, but then decided the girls might like some time out without parents around. The girls don’t mind mom and dad coming along. Still, the girls need to have girl’s time out. Besides, my oldest daughter wanted to talk with my youngest daughter privately to make sure nothing wasn’t wrong. It feels good as a parent to know they look out for each other.

When nobody was looking I slipped $40 to my youngest daughter to cover their expenses. I told her to share it with her sister, but to tease her it was a loan at 47% interest per day.

Forty dollars isn’t a lot of money at a place like Funset. The girls left around 9 a.m., went to the farmer’s market and then enjoyed a few hours at Funset. They spent $39.50, keeping the change. Dad noticed.

Too Frugal

When deep in debt, massive frugality is required. However, once the crisis has passed, responsible spending is allowed.

The investment accounts have received a heavy dose of additional capital this year. The money had to go somewhere.

It took a short scare as a wakeup call. Concern I may have absconded my parental duties caused me to realign my focus in a more appropriate manner. Saving is a good thing. Saving 90% of my income for no reason might be going a bit too far.

Focus is good as long as the focus in on the right things. Focus at work, even pleasant and enjoyable work, should stay at the office. Focus on family is required at home. Having my own business means the line between business and family is blurred. It’s still no excuse.

I’m lucky. I’ve always been lucky. Things always seem to work out. I forgot my duties as a father and my daughter didn’t flip out or try drugs or get knocked up. She waited for dad to come to his senses, even if only momentarily. Then dad sinks into a book or his writing or work. I am one very lucky daddy.

But I can’t take luck for granted. You can be too frugal, as I sometimes am. This year got extreme. It does illustrate how little money a person can survive on.

I love the girls in my house. I found the right woman and married her. She stayed with me even when I tested her to the limit. She deserves the “Wife of the Millennium” award for putting up with me. My daughters have never been in trouble, unlike dad. No drugs, alcohol, police visits, late nights (except for my oldest daughter reading like dear old dad until the wee hours of the morning), boyfriend drama, pregnancy or disrespect ever entered our household. My girls are the best.

It will be hard for me to do the right thing. I suggested we make it a point to go out to eat once per month and to see a movie or check out a museum or some other sort of entertainment monthly. It doesn’t have to cost much. The goal is to put work down and enjoy family time.

Very successful people sometimes have difficult personal lives. Laser focus can eventually destroy a family. And a destroyed family is not frugal, nor is it right to put the people you love under such stress.

Frugality is part of this demographic. I get it. It is important for good mental, physical and spiritual health to put an all-encompassing hobby down for other activities.

Call it mad money, FU money or anything you want. Just make sure you use it with the people you love most.

Now that is something to focus on.

This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

 

In the waning days of the second millennium of the Common Era I found myself in Austin, Texas advising a hedge fund in the charge-off receivables industry. There was no way I could know that within five years I would be running my own hedge fund and then a second. There was no way I could foresee my responsibility in a suicide and the contemplation of my own.

It started in the most unassuming way. Via letter I was introduced to the charge-off receivables industry by a Tennessee hedge fund that used a Texas firm to handle their collections. The hedge fund put me up at a 5-star hotel on a PGA golf course. I wasn’t impressed by the largesse. I prefer more Spartan living even when traveling.

The charge-off receivables industry is a dirty business. Charge-off receivables are delinquent debt sold to a third party for pennies on the dollar. As an example, credit card accounts 180 past due require banks to either book a 100% loss on the account or sell the bad debt, whereas, they can use the sale price as a partial offset.

Credit card companies never lose. An account in default frequently brings 15% or more as “fresh” debt for the charge-off receivables industry. The debt buyer scrubs and grades each account. Some are slated for legal action, others for simple phone calls and letters.

Within an hour of buying a package of debt a LexusNexus report tells us everything we need to know on every account we bought. The report tells us where the debtor works, what bank accounts they have and balances, assets owned, and more. Armed with this information we let our dogs loose demanding payment. In short order many of these debtors have suit filed against them. I was called in for a reason. I know how to collect; to hell with the consequences.

Two years later I was burnt out due to the traveling. In my mind this would be the last I saw of the charge-off receivables industry.

Big Shot Hedge Fund Manager

Two years later one of the insiders I consulted with called. He wanted to start his own hedge fund in the charge-off receivables industry and he wanted me as a partner rather than advisor. After plenty of arm twisting I agreed.

Three years into our very own hedge fund throwing off a 28% average annual return my partner had a personal issue requiring him to leave the fund. A new fund was organized. Investors of the old fund could walk with their 89% gain or roll funds into the new fund where I was the sole manger.

There is a slight head rush to being the top dog at a hedge fund. I had ideas which could turn past performance even higher, as if 28% were not enough.

The Benevolent Debt Collector

Packages of debt can get large. I always dealt with less than fresh debt. We always bought from other third parties who already worked the debt. Buying straight from the bank is expensive. Older debt can be more profitable. Many times the debt we purchased was a nickel or less on the dollar. This meant $1 million bought $20 million face value of debtor accounts. Million dollar purchases were common.

So far the old and new hedge funds looked identical. My network of collectors and law firms around the nation were the same with new additions as I vetted them.

Once I got my feet set in the new hedge fund I discovered Dave Ramsey. I wasn’t an endorsed local provider (ELP) of Dave yet, but I loved what he was saying. It made so much sense and some of my tax clients and all of my hedge fund accounts could use this advice.

When debt packages were purchased I was curious who was on the list in my state. Periodically I’d see the name of someone I knew or a client. Clients showing up on the list were a conflict of interest so I sold those account to another firm similar to mine.

As I reviewed and scrubbed packages I started noticing patterns. One pattern included people who did fine with money all their life and then fell off the cliff. Another pattern included the same names showing up multiple times. If I bought three large packages this month of mixed bank accounts I might find some people listed five or more times. Somebody’s life went bad fast!

It’s a no-no in the debt collection industry to call a debtor if you are untrained; the rules are immense and the penalties for breaking them immense. I was the numbers guy, not a collector. But I felt my idea would benefit the debtor while spiking my returns so I did it anyway.

I bought large volumes of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. Around this time I contacted Dave’s organization, was vetted and accepted as a tax ELP which allowed me to buy Dave’s book at a large discount. I bought boxes.

When the hedge fund bought a package of debt there could be 20,000 or more accounts involved. We bought packages on a regular basis. I scrubbed the accounts for special cases. I was looking for people who did well for a long time and had a life event that caused financial/debt issues.

I also looked for people with a lot of bad accounts. People with a large number of delinquent accounts were hard to collect from so I wanted to do a good deed.

I sent a copy of Dave’s book to select debtors in our files with a letter encouraging them to use the book to improve their current financial situation.

Later I would call these accounts. The rules require certain disclosures when you call to collect a debt. I never called to collect the debt; I called to encourage usage of Dave’s philosophy to get out of debt.

I informed these people they could resolve debt issues if they were serious about changing a few habits in life. Most of the time I got a story. There is usually a good reason why they failed and will keep failing.

The rest I reminded did not have to pay in full. It is common in the industry to pay less than the full amount to satisfy the debt. I encouraged people to work a payment plan to pay half the debt and have the rest charged off.

The goal was simple. If people were too far in to work their way out I would give them hope and a way back to normalcy. This was good for them and good for me. I paid a nickel on the dollar for this debt and if I collected even a fraction of the face value I made a huge profit.

Not What It Looks Like

My plan was working like a well oiled machine. Profits were up and I was helping people in an industry notorious for chewing people up and spitting them out.

One day a week I dedicated to calls. Many times the calls lasted much longer than anticipated as the debtor finally found someone to tell their story to who cared. Some weeks I called thirty people, some weeks only five. Either way I was making a difference and adding serious money to the funds bottom line.

Medical issues were a common problem with people who were good all their life and only recently had unpaid bills. Sometimes they even had insurance. It broke my heart. I took whatever time was needed to help them.

One day I called a debtor I sent Dave’s book to a few weeks prior. He thanked me for the book and explained his wife was dying of cancer. The doctors gave his wife a few days to a few weeks to live. He promised after he buried his wife he would start paying his bills again.

He had insurance, but the insurance did not cover an experimental procedure. He was willing to try anything to save his wife. They were only in their 30s.

The stress of his wife dying of cancer and the added burden of medical bills caused him to mortgage the house to the hilt and max out credit cards to cover medical bills. (The hospital would not proceed without payment.) He was in over his head and he still lost his wife. The next LexusNexus pull on the packages that included his debt showed his wife had passed away a few weeks later.

I ordered his account to be marked PIF for paid in full. I couldn’t collect from the man. I would not add to his burden and grief.

His accounts were still on file. Two months later a LexusNexus pull indicated he too had died: suicide.

My stomach turned. I couldn’t do it anymore. Something broke inside me that day. No matter how good my intentions I couldn’t do it anymore.

Most people dig their own debt hole and it is hard to feel sympathy at times, but many, many more also are deep in debt due to circumstances outside their control.

At the time I felt like it was my fault this client (and by now I felt he was a client, not a debtor account) took his own life.

It was early autumn, the time of year when I struggle with seasonal affective disorder. The shorter cloudy days dropped the curtain like never before. It was so bad I had the gun in my hand. I did not want to live anymore. Not in a world like this.

Finding Peace

I lived, of course. I eventually understood it was not my fault. It was still over for the hedge fund. It dawned on me I was part of the problem as a part of the debt collection industry. The industry is like a pit bull sinking in his teeth and never letting go.

My intentions were honorable, but misplaced. I thought I could solve someone else’s problems. It doesn’t work that way.

Debt is so caustic. It destroys so many marriages, ruins so many relationships and causes so much pain.

I came to realize people who created their own mess on their own still deserved an opportunity to get their life back, an opportunity the debt industry in uninterested in. The goal is to get you in debt and keep you there. They want your money, including interest. Interest is money paid where you get nothing in return. Sellers of debt have virtually no costs and keep all the profits. To hell with people and their families.

The hedge fund was wound down and disposed of. We didn’t do so well with the second fund. The 2008 financial crisis coupled with my wakeup call hurt results.

Responsibility

I beg you, if you are in the debt industry, consider the people you come in contact with. People who commit suicide are 8 times as likely to have debt issues. It can’t be a coincidence. You are the front line in protecting these people standing at the edge. You must never push them over. Ever!

And you, kind readers, you must be vigilant as well. You have friends, family and co-workers suffering under a burden of debt. Offer gentle words of encouragement. Maybe buy them a copy of Dave’s book. It does help. The Total Money Makeover is for people with serious debt problems. Readers here generally don’t have these problems, but people you know probably do.

If someone you know is distraught there is help. Call the Suicide Hotline at the opening of this post. Check the link to Debt Drop. There may be financial help available, too. Never allow anyone to navigate the darkness alone.

Finally, share this post. It might save a life.

Start your rewards card search here.

The biggest problem most people have with credit card bonus programs is meeting the spending requirements for the bonus. Business owners have an advantage. Landlords do too. Meeting a $3,000 spending requirement in 90 days is a snap of the finger for even a relatively small business or side gig.

But not every side gig has enough spending that can go on a credit card and if you only own a few rental properties and maintenance is not currently required you will need another source of spending to earn a bonus.

Readers of this blog tend toward the frugal side. Spending for the sake of spending for a bonus is crazy and you guys know it. Your personal spending is probably too low to earn many bonus cash awards or miles. Travel hacking gets harder when you save most of your income.

Manufactured spending is the solution bandied around the blogosphere. It sounds so simple at first. Find a source where you can recycle fake spending into cash and miles rewards. Well, how do you do that?

There are two problems with manufactured spending. First, it frequently requires a lot of running around and effort. It boils down to time and what you value your time worth. Running to the store to refill a debit card or jumping through hoops to add a few more dollars toward a spending requirement is a poor use of precious time.

The second problem with manufactured spending is cost. Recently I wrote a post on using the IRS and taxes as a way to manufacture spending. It’s a great idea to create massive amounts of spend, but it has a cost. The cost can be small, but costs, even small ones, add up. The cost of manufactured spending digs into the value of your rewards.

Turning Manufactured Spending Into a Cash Cow

I have never been a fan of manufactured spending. Recycling spending through a program to generate benefits is a fool’s errand. As fast as you can find a program to game the rules change. Siphoning off value costs somebody somewhere something. That somebody soon discovers the issue and changes the rules. Then you get to start the hunt for another source of spending to max out credit card rewards programs again.

There has to be a simple way to increase spending without real cost to the budget. To maximize the value of manufactured spending, the costs of creating this spend must be reduced or eliminated. Cost in this instance is more than just money; it is time, too. To be effective it must be fast, simple and no or low cost.

The ultimate manufactured spending would allow you to buy a large value amount of gift cards of a general use credit/debit card—a Visa gift card, perhaps. This in effect would extend the spending deadline, as required spending to meet reward qualifications are met, while the true spending could happen at a future date using the purchased gift cards.

Top Cash Back (affiliate link) has a unique program where you can buy American Express and Visa gift cards and get cash back. Buying a gift card frequently has fees attached and this case is no different. However, in this instance the cash back covers most, or all, of the fee.

Step-by-Step Process

Let me walk you through the process before I let you get on with your day.

Step 1: Research a credit card with a high cash back or miles reward that meets your goals. You can use this link to review just about any credit card reward program imaginable here. (If you use this link as your gateway into the CardRatings site and apply for a credit card and are approved this blog will receive compensation.)

Step 2: Apply for the card best fitting your cash back or travel goals. Maybe you are looking for a large cash back reward. Maybe you have a miles goal with a specific airline as you plan some travel. You can hone your efforts to any credit card you want without concern over meeting spending requirements.

Step 3: Once you have the credit card use it for all spending, as you have in the past, to get as much of the required spend used within the timeframe required by the credit card. Do NOT spend extra just to meet spending requirements for a reward. That kind of defeats the purpose of the program.

Step 4: As the deadline for bonus rewards required spending approaches, review your spending to see if you are short of the required spending.

Step 5: Go to Top Cash Back and order Visa or American Express gift cards to complete your required spending to earn the reward.

Step 6: You can either cash out the gift card (Visa only) immediately (there is probably a cost to this) to pay off the credit card bill or you can use it to cover future spending needs.

Many of the best rewards programs have daunting spending requirements. This no longer should be a concern for you.

There are many ways to manufacture spending. This is one additional tool to add to your workbench. No one program fits everyone’s personality or needs. The more ways you have to meet spending requirements the better and the more rewards you can earn.

Please consider using the links on this page to support this blog.

Bookmark this page for future reference and as a starting point in your research for additional rewards cards.

Please share this page on your social media. My ego needs the boost.

Share additional ideas in the comments section below.

Every investment, even guaranteed ones, require priming the pump. Before you get paid by your employer you work; before you get paid a dividend or receive capital gains you must invest in the index fund first; before you get paid rent you need to buy the property and prepare it for tenants; before guaranteed government bonds pays you a penny in interest you must first buy the bond. You only get something out if you first put something in. This is true in every part of your life.

I grew up on a farm and after a few years living in town I moved back to the countryside where I feel happiest. Town still has a magical pull. Living in town means everything I need is close by. I can bike everywhere. The need for a car when living in town is minimal. If I lived in town I wouldn’t own a car. For long trips I would rent a vehicle. Uber, my bike and legs would handle 99% of my transportation needs.

Living on a small farm has advantages. The cost of living further from town is offset by the amount of free food, or nearly free food, I get. Raising my own meat (beef, chicken, fish and pork) means I know what is in it. Abundant garden produce means healthy living while the crops are in season. Asparagus in spring, radishes and other fast growing vegetables follow, and apples, apricots, cherries, peaches (yes, peaches in Wisconsin!) and grapes round out the abundant autumn harvest. There is so much good food and it is all free or nearly so. Too bad it doesn’t last all year round.

Preserving Abundance

Mrs. Accountant is an energetic young lady. Preserving the blessings nature bestows upon us is a task she enjoys. She has mastered the art of canning every known foodstuff. Some things freeze better than others. Canning is best for things like string beans, pears, carrots, et cetera. Many vegetables freeze better than canning. Corn and peas come to mind. The whole household agrees pole beans and similar types of beans are best canned.

Living the way we do reduces our living costs to almost nothing. If I cashed in the business and did the “real” retirement thing my cost of living would drop to the mid-teens or lower. Property tax and insurance on the house would be the biggest expense we have. Even utilities would only run about $2,000 per year. As cold as Wisconsin gets in January, our geothermal heat pump has practically zero maintenance and keeps our utility costs about as low as they can get.

I enjoy the hillbilly lifestyle. People who only see me in the real world working my job or speaking in front of a group don’t know who I really am. My desire for travel or dining out is extremely low. If I never dined out again in life I wouldn’t miss it. Travel is nice because I get to meet awesome people, but other than that home is where I want to be.

Living what I call Amish Style is something most people would prefer to avoid. I understand. But you don’t have to be a hillbilly to learn a thing or three about investing and frugal living. People living in the boondocks have frugal living down to a science. We have to. You can’t run to the store for every little thing. A run to town and the whole day is shot. (Maybe that is why I don’t like town so much. I trained myself to believe town is where a day gets wasted.)

Opportunity Cost

Farm life is different from anything most modern people understand. There are long periods where the work is routine and not necessary. Planting in spring and harvest are very busy times of the year. Winter is solitary. When produce arrives it must be attended to immediately.

Butchering a steer, pig or chickens is a lot of work. As hillbilly as I am, butchering steers is something I call the butcher shop to do. I never raised pigs so when the lust for bacon rears its ugly head I call the same friendly butcher shop to prepare a pig I bought from a local farmer. Chickens are serious work. Mrs. Accountant and I spend several days butchering chickens every year, filling the freezer with meat better than anything you will ever buy from the grocery store. The gardens are plenty of work as well.

The best part about raising your own food is cost. (Okay, I lied. It’s quality. Play with me on this.) For you, kind readers, the same opportunity is available at a slightly higher cost, but still a massive savings. A whole pig, fifty chickens or a quarter of beef needs a place for storage awaiting consumption. You probably don’t have a small farm. However, you can visit a local farmer and buy the same quality meats at significantly reduced price. The butcher shop will do the rest.

Harvest time also creates a dilemma. All that awesome fruit and vegetables can’t possibly be eaten before it goes bad. Even in town you can produce a small amount of food. A window garden can do wonders for your soul.

When produce comes in season locally you need to stock up. Some things require canning. Canning is kind of expensive. We prefer freezing as much as possible. Canning lids are one-use only. Even without a garden, plenty of extremely inexpensive food is available for short periods of time each year. The only issue is preserving the food.

A small investment in food today when it is on sale (in season or it is time to butcher an animal) is the time you need to prime the pump and make an investment. If you could buy enough food at the rock bottom prices you would save a mountain of money. Since food consumes between 10% – 15% of most household budgets, there is plenty of room to save money.

The High-Return Guaranteed Investment

The trouble with abundance is you can only eat so much right this moment and for some strange reason we get hungry again later when the foodstuffs are no longer in overabundance. There is a solution.

Canning is something many people don’t want to do. Pressure cookers, canning jars and lids are expensive. Prepackaged foods store nicely in the pantry, but are terrible for your health. Good, wholesome food either needs canning, or preferably, freezing. This is where the high-return, guaranteed investment comes in.

The investment of which I speak is a chest freezer. I’m not talking about the freezer connected to your Refrigerator either. That is too small. My garage has two chest freezers. We opted for two modest sized chest freezers over one extra large freezer. Growing up, my parents and grandparents both had these massive sized chest freezers. They were great for storing and preserving food. The downside was sometimes food got lost in such a frozen canyon. Woe to any package of meat on the bottom of the freezer. It may never see the light of day again.

The two chest freezers we have allow one freezer to empty periodically. Food gets moved to one freezer so the empty one is cleaned. Food doesn’t disappear into the abyss. A whole pig or a quarter of beef easily fit in either freezer. Our steaks cost under $1 a pound. Even if you buy from the farmer, it is doubtful you would pay much more than $2 a pound. Pork is cheap, too. We buy a whole pig from a local farmer. Many butch shops have a list of farmers providing a variety of animals so you don’t even have to look for a farmer to sell you whatever meat you are looking for.

Freezing vegetables and fruit requires some reading. There are things you need to do to keep your produce fresh. I’ll let you browse Amazon for a good book on the subject. (If you start your shopping from this blog, your purchase will support this blog at no cost to you. Thank you.)

A chest freezer costs a couple hundred dollars: the investment with guaranteed high returns. This modest investment can save you a thousand dollars or more each year! When fruit is in season locally the price is low to move as much as possible before the produce goes bad. You have the opportunity to load up because you have a freezer.

There is one last benefit of owning a chest freezer: You control how your food is processed. We all know processed food is less healthy. We also know food out of season is shipped great distances to bring you fresh produce. This is expensive. And food traveling so far frequently doesn’t have the same flavor as it is picked before it is ripe so it survives the journey.

Processed food doesn’t have to be less healthy. How it is processed makes a difference. With a chest freezer you can preserve more food while preserving the healthy benefits of fresh food. Canning food, even when done at home, still destroys some of the foods original value.

I don’t know about you, but that is one hell of an investment. Cheaper, healthier food means there are no losers in the room. Fresh food probably means better health. Fewer doctor bills is a real savings we did not even start to touch on.

It can be hard to find room for a small chest freezer. You can rent a freezer locker, but that gets expensive. You need to find room for a chest freezer. The next time butter goes on sale from the local milk plant for $.59 a pound, you can stock up a year’s supply. A simple chest freezer can do wonders for the budget. And the grocery store is only a few feet away every day then.

My last blog post was a disaster. In an attempt to gain some breathing room I accepted my first guest post without proper vetting. An astute reader quickly realized the guest was promoting a debt consolidation service. I should have known better.

My reasoning was sound; execution needed work. Tax season is getting long in the tooth and I am exhausted from the long hours. Hoping to divert some time from writing to tax work, I allowed the enemy behind the lines. My promise to you, kind readers, is to up my game. I like the idea of guest posts, but I think it would be best if I invited bloggers I know and trust to do the writing.

That said, I have no intentions of reducing my writing output. You come here to listen to my stories and glean my words for valuable advice you can take back home.

Success is a poor educator. When things are going good—and life has been very good to me—I/we start to believe we are smarter than we really are. It takes a solid kick to the crotch to focus attention. As bad as the last post was, a lesson was to be learned you are not aware of: my traffic was rather good! For a terrible guest post I had a high level of traffic. I take that to mean people were attracted to the title: frugality. I decided I should write the guest post intended for you.

Today I am going to share some frugal habits I have. A word of caution. Don’t try to emulate what I do. Rather, use my frugal lifestyle as a starting point to reduce spending in your life without sacrificing quality. Also, many things I talk about are ideas only. For example, I am considering an auto purchase and I will share my thinking as I go through the process. It is very different from what I did only a few years ago.

Before we start I want to point out debt consolidation is not always a bad thing. Depending where you are financially, refinancing can make sense. Moving a student loan to SoFi could be a smart money move for you. If you are loaded with debt for whatever reason, consolidating debt at a lower rate might be a good move. What the guest post promoted was more along the lines of “bilk’em with fees and screw’em.” I have zero tolerance for that kind of finance.

The Frugal Accountant Comes Clean

Frugality is not a destination, it is a journey. Cutting costs also means intelligent planning. You can save a few dollars today by not changing the oil in your car or delaying medical care only to suffer serious consequences in the near future. When I prepare taxes I always consider the consequences of my actions on future tax returns. Saving a dollar today in tax only to pay two dollars next year is a thinly disguised high-interest loan. I am not interested in that kind of stupidity, ah, I mean, frugality.

Let’s talk cars first. My oldest daughter is in the market for a car and I’m thinking it might be time to retire the 2000 Honda, too. (The Honda Accord runs nice, but Wisconsin winters do a number on the body after 15 or so years. She ain’t pretty and she is starting to rust in the wrong areas causing safety issues. <sniff> I’m going to miss that girl.)

In the past I bought all my cars from the bank, as in bank repos. The days of buying a car for $4,000 under Blue Book are over without additional work. Local banks no longer sell to the public, opting to sell all repossessed vehicles at auction. They get less, but have less hassle. I considered getting a dealer license so I could bid on used vehicles at auction, thereby getting the wholesale price. The time and effort to do this for the few cars I buy has held me back. I have no interest in starting a small used car business either.

Even if banks still sold their repossessed vehicles to the public, I am starting to debate the intelligence of buying a used car. Don’t get me wrong. I still love used vehicles. A two-year-old car has shed plenty of depreciation while retaining most of the usage value. New car smell is expensive.

Buying a used car from a dealer is depressing. The prices are waaaaay over Blue Book and they do a great job of putting lipstick on pigs. It is hard for most people to know a pig with lipstick from a quality vehicle. I am one of those people. My interest in cars is limited to turning the key and expecting the darn thing to start and taking me where I want to go. I put gas in the thing and change the oil. That’s it. Enough thinking about the wasting asset in the garage.

But that wasting asset can drain serious ca-ching from your wallet if you let it. Thinking frugally about a car is best before you buy said car. I assume you only drive when necessary. Short trips around town only require a pair of shoes or a bike. No auto expenses required.

The purchase price of a vehicle is small compared to the expenses it creates over its useful life. Fuel, tires, brakes, insurance and other maintenance will add to a higher number than the original cost. (Don’t let a car salesman dazzle you with that investment bullshit, either.)

Time to listen in on some conversations inside the Accountant household. My daughter is struggling with her first car purchase. Now 22, it is time for her own set of wheels. She grew up watching her dad buy a used car from the bank once a decade for well below Blue Book. It always worked and was cheap. The for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) offerings are not encouraging either.

Watching my daughter go through the process I started thinking of new ways to game the system. I am not talking about cheating; I am talking about getting the best value for the outlay of cash.

Since the initial cost of the car is small compared to expenses over the life of the car I started thinking about these costs. In the past, new cars did not offer nearly as much advantage over used vehicles. With new models offering lower operating costs (more miles per gallon; lower maintenance costs), a new or at a least newer, vehicle might be a better way to go.

Example: If a used vehicle costs $15,000 and a new vehicle cost $30,000 (This is an example so don’t tell me cars cost different amounts. I know.) you need to think about operating costs to find the “real” cost of owning the vehicle over its expected lifetime of 10 – 20 years. In my example I assume you run the car until it is worth nothing. In reality you might get $500 to unload the beast as it nears the end of her life.

The first thing you have to remember is that the act of buying a car is when you take the biggest hit, so no buying cars on a regular basis.

In our example we will assume the used vehicle market has a variety of reliable cars in our price range that get 25 mpg. We will also assume a new car (maybe a hybrid or other high mpg ICE offering) gets 40 mpg. I normally drive several hundred thousand miles before my mode of transportation becomes less than reliable. We don’t want to buy cars any more often than necessary so mpg is an important consideration.

Assuming $3 a gallon gas, the 25 mpg car will cost $12,000 for each 100,000 miles driven. The 40 mpg car will cost $7,500 per 100,000 miles, a $4,500 reduction in fuel cost for the new car. If you run the car for 200,000 miles your fuel savings will be $9,000 over the older, used car.

Paying $15,000 extra for $9,000 in savings still doesn’t add up. A quick check around the internet will help you determine if the model you are looking at has mechanical issues. We will assume each vehicle considered has a good track record. We don’t want to get bogged down on make and model issues.

Electric vehicles don’t need an oil change. Newer cars go longer between oil changes. The cost of tires varies depending on the tire required for the vehicle. Assume 80,000 miles before tires need replacement. I’ll let you do the math in these areas. The differences make a modest difference only in most cases.

The biggie is insurance. The cost of insuring a vehicle is serious business. Depending where you live, insurance can cost more than a car payment. Because insurance varies widely based on location we will let you do your own math.

Three more issues to consider before buying your car. New vehicles frequently have manufacturer incentives. The $30,000 car might have a $6,000 rebate and 0% financing. Even if you don’t need financing you still get use of the money at 0%, which has value.

Finally, certain vehicles have federal and/or state tax incentives. The new vehicle, when manufacturer rebates and potential tax credits are added, can reduce the upfront cost of the vehicle to only slighter higher than a newer used car. You also have the manufacturer’s warranty.

To sum up the car talk, a $30,000 new vehicle with a rebate can drop the initial cost to near used car prices. Add in fuel savings and the choice to buy a new car might be the right choice. Counter-intuitive, I know. But you have to consider all costs when making a decision. Of course, you also want to consider time value of money and other issues pertinent to your situation. Vehicles are to transport you or to haul stuff. You can apply the same thought process to a truck.

More Frugal Ways to Live

I am all for lowering expenses, especially when nothing is sacrificed. I recently talked about a better way to get internet service. Where I live this is a major improvement in quality and price. Mix in the bundled services sold from many providers to get a lower internet price only adds to the total cost for services you don’t really want (think commercial-filled cable TV bundled with phone and internet). Sometimes a better deal allows you to dump unwanted services adding to your real cost. Those companies play mind games and rape your wallet in the process.

Cell phones are another growing expense in most households. People tell me they pay $80 and more per month per phone. Insane! The missus and I (and the oldest junior accountant (the youngest doesn’t have her own cell phone yet)) use Google Fi. For $20 a month we get great service and coverage. You don’t need any more than that.

Utilities always drive this accountant crazy. The truth is that after a while there is a diminishing return on additional efforts to reduce electric use. My home doesn’t have a furnace, hot water heater or air conditioner; we have a geothermal unit to handle all that. The geothermal gulps electricity when it is running. We never run the AC in the summer and keep the house 60 degrees F in the winter. In the near future I see a certain accountant running the numbers on a solar shingle roof, Powerwall and electric car. Elon Musk and his Tesla Corporation might consider me a client before long. I need to see numbers first. Eventually the initial costs will come down to where it does work. Then this accountant will swing the bat.

We prepare most of our own meals and grow much of our food. I ferment my own wine. Meat we don’t raise ourselves is purchased from the farmer, cutting out layers of middlemen.

Entertainment is the library and Netflix. Long walks with Mrs. Accountant are a hot night out. We visit with neighbors and family. Your favorite accountant enjoys a German card game called sheepshead. We play for dimes. A bad night could set me back as much as a buck and a half. Sad times in frugalville.

Last Thoughts

Frugality is a mindset. I don’t go around thinking about being frugal. I live frugally because I am naturally frugal. Waste irritates me to no end. Too much stuff drives me crazy because I have to store and work around stuff I don’t want or need.

A natural frugal nature is healthy. You can go too far with frugality, too. It’s not about living with less; it’s about living right.

Today we have a first on The Wealthy Accountant: our first guest post. Offers to guest post are common once you reach modest traffic levels. Most offers are junk as they are nothing more than thinly disguised advertisements for things I do not approve of. (Anyone want me to promote forex trading? Thought so.)

Then a young lady, Patricia Sanders, emailed asking kindly if she could write a post for me. I did a Google search of her work and found she has a modest online presence. She sounds young, but genuine. Her writing is basic, but I took a chance and invited her to send me an article.

When I write I always try to find something few people are writing about. It is all about value. If I can share an idea with my readers I can make a difference, especially if it hasn’t been written to death before. I talk basic, but usually within the framework of a more complex financial or tax issue. Two things I shy away from—brevity and simplicity—works against me at times. My preference is for storytelling when attempting to convey a message. And no one had ever accused me of being brief.

Then I read the submitted article from Patricia. Her message was brief and basic. This started me thinking. My readers need to hear the basics, too. Michael Jordan was not a superstar because he made three-point shots. He was a superstar because he made the free throws without thinking. He was a superstar because he made the layup without thinking. He was good because the basics became automatic. Patricia reminded me of this.

It is important to encourage young people starting their life journey. We learn far more teaching than being taught. Patricia has a story to tell. Not some long-winded diatribe I like to spew. No, she has a simple message only a young adult can tell. Sometimes our old eyes forget where we came from and how we got where we are. I am not such a fool as to ignore the legacy granted me. It is a pleasure to present you Patricia Sanders today. She has a bright future. Maybe we will cross paths at a financial conference in the near future. It would be an honor meeting her in the real world.

*   *   *

[My apologies to you, kind readers. Tax season is getting long in the tooth and I was hoping for a small break with a guest post so I could focus on more tax returns. I did a minor check online and found the author to be legit. Except, a reader discovered if you clicked far enough it was a debt consolidation BS site. I’m leaving the post below for those interested and promise to do better in the future. I do NOT support forex, debt consolidation sites and similar crap floating around the internet. I learned a valuable lesson and know I need to vet guest posts more. All links and references to the author are deleted to protect visitors. Forgive a sleep deprived accountant slogging through the last two weeks of tax season. You deserve better. —The Wealthy Accountant]

A year of part-time jobs after completing my higher studies made me realize the importance of frugality. The money I made wasn’t enough to cover my student loan debt payments and credit card bills. I had to think of ways to generate free cash. Frugality seemed the only option at that time.

 One Year of Frugal Living

The first few months were difficult since I was not financially disciplined. I had to fight with myself to be frugal. Every day was a challenge since I had to discover new ways to save money wherever and whenever possible.

I had to work hard on purposeful and goal oriented spending. For instance, I had short-term and long-term goals. My short term goals included covering necessary expenses and investing in things that have liquidity. On the other hand, my long term goal was to pay off my student loans and credit card bills.

I started saving money, applying the extra cash toward additional debt payments, built a short emergency fund and started investing in index funds. All extra funds retired debt in the beginning  so investing was out the first 6 months. After six months I was ready to start building my investment portfolio.

Where I Saved Money  

Food — I lived on homemade meals and gave up junk foods. Plus, I stopped buying frozen foods.

I planned the weekly menu before buying groceries and cooked something interesting every day with the leftovers.

Transportation — I sold my car and bought a smaller one to save on the maintenance costs, fuel, and loan interest. Earlier, I was paying $620 a month. But after switching to a smaller car, my loan payment came down to $373. It helped me to save 10% to 20% on my insurance premiums too.

Bathing — I stopped buying expensive essential oils. Rather, I used the old essential oils to make perfumes and air freshener. This helped me to save almost $5.70.

Home — I moved to a smaller apartment and saved $300 (per month) on my rent payments.

Clothes — I washed clothes once a week to save laundry cost. Plus, I sold old, unused clothing at consignment shops.

Medicine — The price of generic drugs are significantly lower than branded medicines. So, I bought generic OTC medicine whenever possible and asked my doctor to prescribe generic medications.

Energy — I installed LED lighting and insulated the windows throughout my apartment. Plus, I started using power strips to turn off electronics when not in use. It saved around $75 per month.

Events — I found a better way to celebrate birthdays and other social gatherings. I organized small parties at home for my close friends. In case of festive events, I looked for discounts on the goodies. I baked lots of chocolate-chip cookies and gifted them to friends.

Cell phone — I switched from unlimited plan ($100) to an economical plan (1GB data) and saved $50 per month.

 

One year later

Frugality became a part of my existence. It made me wiser as I now see things which I didn’t earlier. For example, I learned to live comfortably while trimming utility bills simultaneously. I learned how to survive on a small wardrobe. For instance, I used to buy a few t-shirts and jeans in solid colors. I could easily wear them in different color combinations and didn’t need to buy as many clothes.

Finally,

Like I said before, I needed lots of money to pay off debts. Frugality helped me save 60% of my income every month. It made me realize that one could find happiness from the immediate surroundings without spending 90% of his/her income.

A year later, my life was happier and less stressful with over 40% of my debt retired. Frugality and a smart debt repayment strategy gave me an advantage and a psychological boost. It gave me hope my debts will soon be gone and I can start investing more than ever so I can reach my dream of early retirement.

Author bio: *** *** is a content developer and freelance writer. Her passion is writing on various financial topics. A coffee addict and a voracious reader by nature, her motto is simple: Live simply and spread happiness. 

I hope you enjoyed today’s guest post. There are a few things I would do different. I would switch out the phone for Google Fi and I would have mentioned birthdays and holidays as gift-free zones. But Patricia is still smokin’ with a 60% savings rate! Awesome! Hope y’all enjoyed.

And just think, you get $25 while Fido takes all the risk.

A few years ago Mrs. Accountant and I attended our first Camp Mustache in Seattle. It was my epiphany to the personal finance community. Sure, I had decades of experience under my belt and a history of writing on the subject, but never before did I have such a platform to spread the gospel.

It didn’t take long for people to know who I was. I have that effect on people. Many attendees were still working a job as they moved toward financial independence and early retirement. From the minute I arrived people knew I was a tax guy. People were interested in what other people did as they worked toward their financial goals.

It didn’t take long before Mrs. Accountant was asked what she did. She hesitated for the smallest fraction of time. It was a tell. But Mrs. Accountant is fast on her toes; you have to be if you live with a crazy accountant. She said, “I work in his office,” pointing to me. Of course, they pressed her for details on the kind of work she did in my office. It wasn’t pretty.

Later, when Mrs. Accountant and I were alone, I explained to her that this is one group you don’t have to bullshit. They get the early retirement thing. Somewhere back in her early 30s Mrs. Accountant checked out of the regulated work routine. She did what I was supposed to do.

Early retirement doesn’t mean ‘waiting for death’. Mrs. Accountant is very active. Sometimes it takes me upwards of an hour to catch her. I’m getting old.

The best part about Mrs. Accountant taking an early retirement is that I eat in a 5-star restaurant every day. Every day! We rarely dine out because nothing compares to what Mrs. A can put on a plate.

Mrs. A has a busy day. Sure, she gets plenty of time to read and relax; something her husband has a hard time doing. She also does plenty of work (Ick! That 4-letter word again.) around the house and farm. She takes care of the chickens every day and, except for repairs and maintenance, keeps the household running smoothly.

She also guarantees I never pay a cent for anything I buy on Amazon.

Retirement is more profitable than working at times. The free food from the garden and meat from the barn is tax-free income because we never have to spend much for our food. And you don’t pay tax on what you could have spent on something. Mrs. A turned us into Free Birds.

There is one other thing she does: product testing. Our annual spending dropped below $30,000 this last year and it seems to decline slightly each year that passes. We just lost the desire to want stuff. To keep up with what is going on in the world around us Mrs. A has product testing.

She has quite a list of resources available to her (she uses iPoll the most).Several days a month she checks all the polls that pay her for her opinion. The best part is the offers of product testing. Companies send her lots of stuff to test and pay her for doing so. Tooth paste, candy, hand lotion, and even boxes of buns have arrived at our home for testing. Some stuff is really bad and she lets the manufacturer know about it. Other times stuff is really good and she shares that too. Most stuff is only okay.

It’s more fun than profit that motivates Mrs. A. She likes doing it so I support her efforts. There is also a side effect. Polls pay a buck or so, but product testing pays on average $10 to $25 a swing, sometimes more.

Some venues pay cash to a PayPal account. They all offer Amazon gift cards, sometimes at a discount, so your $25 product testing might be worth $27.50 in Amazon gift cards.

We started by taking Amazon gift cards and then moved to PayPal cash when we discovered we did not spend all the money Mrs. A earned testing products. It bothered me Mrs. A did all that work and was not allowed a discount when taking cash. The Amazon cards were frequently worth more so we went back to them.

I hate shopping, even online. I’d rather have a root canal than shop. That is why I leave the task to Mrs. Accountant. But all that money accumulating in the Amazon account was disconcerting. Mrs. A can pull in several hundred dollars a month testing products. And when you have a household filled with people allergic to shopping it becomes a problem. That money should be invested, earning more money, while waiting for the day in will never get spent.

Good Thing I Work

If all we spent money on was personal stuff we would never in a lifetime use all the Amazon money. Your favorite accountant came up with a solution. The tax office needs stuff more than our household. The business bought office supplies, digging into the stash a bit. Still, $3,000 (and many times more) was added to the pile each year. That is a lot of office supplies. We don’t buy toner because it is included in the service contracts. Paper is free because I have a print shop for a client and they load me up on paper in exchange for doing their sales tax reports. (A hell of a deal.) When paper and toner are removed from the equation there is not much spending left in the office either and employees refuse to take their paycheck in Amazon gift cards.

At least we used some of the bounty.

Hound Dog

Collecting stuff is a sickness. At least my sickness doesn’t fill storage sheds. By now you probably guessed I collect money. More accurately, I collect investments. You will not find a fancy car in my garage; it is a bank repo I bought over 10 years ago. My home is an old farmhouse I remodeled. The clothes I wear were purchased by Mrs. A from the discount or clearance rack. Most days I wear less than $10 to cover my dignity. You would be surprised how many shirts and pants I own that Mrs. A paid $3 or less for. And this is all clothing that sold for $20 or more only a few months prior.

As much as I hate shopping, I have a nose for a deal. Around the house there is little to spend on; the office is different. A modest sized business requires some spending, regardless how tight-fisted the accountant happens to be. When spending is no longer avoidable I go into action researching the best choices. Many products have rebates, even if purchased as part of a contract. Many times I get rebates as gift cards that are used like cash. Other times they offer Amazon cards. For some reason when you keep your eyes open for that kind of thing it shows up everywhere.

So the Amazon pile grows.

It Pays to Shop

Building a pile of cash in the Amazon account is fun on one hand and a bit of a waste on the other. When a pile of money is not working for me earning even more money I get antsy. I broke down and deiced to shop Amazon. I was looking for a way to use some of the money on things I already was spending on. Nothing.

The office had plenty of supplies and I don’t want more crap in the house.

I ran across an article about gift cards Amazon sold. You could buy gift cards for nearly any store on the planet, including more Amazon gift cards. I had no interest in spending at any of these merchants with one exception: Netflix. I already have Netflix and I paid for a year or three of service with my Amazon stash. I wish I could tell you something more exciting on the gift card front, but I don’t spend much. Maybe if I traveled more. Hopefully you can do better.

Crazy, Wild-Assed Spending

There is one exception to my spending habits. I like books. The library and I have been having an affair for the better part of a century (my first library visit was when I was a wee little tyke, or so I’ve been told) and I have serious concerns Mrs. A has been having an affair with the same library behind my back. (Well, actually, she does in front of my face.)

Some books I want to own. I know, I know. It’s free from the library. But I use my books for research when I write; they make me happy; they feel so warm and soft; I love them; please don’t take my friends from me.

So, yes, I frequently tell people to go out and buy books. Sometimes I am chided; but they didn’t cost me a cent. And I get to hold them all to myself. Nahhh! The library still lends me most of what I read. Yet I treasure the volumes in my home.

If I recommend buying a book from Amazon, know two things: 1.) I probably did not spend a dime to have the book delivered to my office the next day, and 2) I get paid a commission from Amazon as an affiliate when you use an Amazon link in this blog. (Man’s gotta eat.)

I don’t encourage spending. The library has every book you can ever want and much more. They buy the book if they don’t have it and you ask!

Many of you are like me, you want to own some books and sometimes spending does happen. I get it. I always find an Amazon affiliate link from a blogger I like whenever I buy from Amazon. I want to support their work. Don’t use any of this information, however, to justify unnecessary spending. This blog is about responsible financial living.

With some planning (and maybe a Mrs. A in your household testing products) you can also amass a nice sized Amazon account for future needs (and even a few wants). It’s a real bitch having so much money you can’t spend it. You can’t invest Amazon gift card balances in an index fund. If you could . . .

UPDATE! I no longer recommend Calyx over poor service quality and the high price. You can get a better deal with better quality Best Buy. Starlink and similar services are coming online in late 2020 and early 2021. Those will be an even better deal if the pricing I’m hearing is accurate.

Internet service in the U.S. can be spotty for people living out in the boondocks, like your favorite accountant. Travelers need to hunt for an open Wi-Fi hotspot to stay in touch. Even worse, internet is frequently bundled with cable, forcing you to buy both or face wildly overpriced stand-alone internet service. They got you where they want you and your pocketbook is the victim. There has to be a better way. There is. And since I’m an accountant I want a big tax deduction too.

Internet service can cost $50 a month and more for high-speed broadband. (Please sit for this next part. I don’t want anyone falling and getting hurt.) How would you like fast internet (I’m talking 10 Mbps and higher with 10 people on at the same time) for $41.67 a month, paid annually? That works out to $500 per year. After the first year the cost drops to $400 per year or $33.33 per month. You can take this little gem with you on vacation, too. Your fast and low-cost internet is as small as a cell phone, has a 10 hour battery life and is very portable.

Okay, enough of the baiting. Time to get down to facts, get a tax deduction and details on obtaining this money-saving, tax deductible gem.

Where It Started

Back when I was writing about library millionaires I ran across a device my library lent out. (Actually, my youngest daughter saw the library was lending a new Wi-Fi hotspot and she was hungry for internet that worked.) We checked the device out and were amazed by the quality. The backwoods of Wisconsin never saw internet work like this.

All good things must end. Our new Wi-Fi hotspot was everything we wanted, but everybody else wanted the darn thing too. After we were the first to get the thing from the library, a waiting list developed. Quick as a lick I sprung into action (actually, it was my daughter springing again) looking for more information on this little gizmo.

Turns out a non-profit organization called The Calyx Institute issues the device. The best part was that it was free! All you had to do was become a member. Okay. But what does Calyx do with my membership dues? They are a non-profit dedicated to education and internet privacy. They are also the company that got the first Patriot Act warrant unsealed.

My research unveiled the reason why this LTE/4G is available. Spectrum was set aside for educational purposes. Calyx, as a non-profit, gets a sweetheart deal on the service and passes along the savings to you. Membership is $500 and includes the Wi-Fi hotspot pre-loaded with one year of unlimited use and a t-shirt. (Hell, they had me with the t-shirt.) The cost is $400 a year afterwards because you don’t need to buy new hardware.

Before you rush out and join Calyx for the free Wi-Fi hotspot, check the coverage map to verify it works in your area. The hotspot uses the Sprint network. Be sure to check the “Data” tab as Sprint coverage is different between voice and data.

Uses

Now you can take your Wi-Fi with you on vacations and business trips. No more searching for open Wi-Fi or using an unsecured hotel or airport hotspot to view girly videos, ah, I mean stock quotes and catch up on email.

Many readers here retire early due to intelligent money management. (They save half their income and invest in broad-based index funds.) These people like taking a year or so off and traveling the country. Now your Wi-Fi can come with you at no extra cost. You can thank me later

Tax Deduction

Calyx is a 501(c)3 non-profit. This means your membership dues, which include a t-shirt and the Wi-Fi hotspot, are deductible on Schedule A.

Just a minute as I wipe a tear from my eye.

Final Note

This is not an affiliate program where I get revenue if you join Calyx. This is all them, not me. I’m doing it out of the love of my heart. (Awwwwwe!) But if you insist on helping me financially you can use the DIY tax software link in this post. Or, when you are planning an Amazon buy you can start with this link. (Remember, no spending for spending’s sake. I like more money, but my waistline tells me I am eating just fine, so crazy spending is not allowed. Now, if you were going to purchase that thingie over there anyway . . .)

Update: 4Gcommunity.org is no longer available. A reader reported in the comment section about 4Gcommunity.org and I decided to go that direction based on cost. My original recommendation of Calyx seems to have been the smarter move. There are several smaller companies doing the same thing, but the risk is we end up with another 4Gcommunity.org.