Happy Simple Money: An Interview with Steve and Jan Berger

Jan and Steve Berger

I’ve known Steve and Jan Berger for 11 years. I first met Steve, a writer, when I joined the Colorado Author’s League and he was the organization’s president. Over the years we’ve gotten to be friends, and last fall when we were at a gift show selling books together we started talking about finances. Steve and Jan told me they were retiring and enjoying life, and since they’re youngsters and both in the creative arts I wondered how they’d done it.

The Bergers have a shared philosophy about spending and an unusual way of saving money that has worked splendidly for them. I thought their story was fascinating and inspiring, and they generously agreed to let me share it with you.

First, a little background: Steve and Jan have been married for 39 years. Jan is a successful graphic artist, and Steve is a writer and author. His novels include acclaimed titles like Ursula’s Yahrtzeit Candle, The Fifth Estate and his newest mystery, Fat Chance. Jan designed the books’ striking covers.

The couple lives in a beautiful home in a Colorado community located between two state parks. They own an income-producing rental property, they live debt free, and are now comfortably retired. They are on the waiting list for the new Tesla 3, and are taking a cruise from Greece to Venice this fall.

In short, they live a good life.

Keep reading to find out some of the ways they’re worked together to build a solid financial foundation.

Jan and Steve Berger | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: As a couple, you seem to agree philosophically about how to best manage your finances. Since this is an area that many couples struggle with, can you share any insights?

A: We both believe in open communication about money. It’s like building a house; you have to be on the same page, or you’ll tear each other apart. It’s helpful to have shared goals and agree on a financial strategy, and trust is key.

Both of our parents came out of the Depression, and they influenced us to be thoughtful about spending and always save a percentage of our money for a rainy day. Being rich was never our goal, but we wanted to have enough.

Q: Can you describe your unusual system for saving money?

A: It’s simple, really.  We round up expenses to the nearest dollar, and we round down deposits. So if we spend $39.12 at the grocery store, we enter $40 in the check register. If we deposit $157.89, we add in $157.

We also put every “found cent” into the slush fund: birthday checks, tax refunds and refund checks all go into the kitty.

You’d be surprised how small increments of money, saved steadily over time, can grow.

(Here’s one of their actual checkbook registers, so you can see their actual process which includes credit card purchases as well as checks. When the statement arrives, the funds have already been set aside to make the payment:)

Checkbook register | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: If your checkbook register shows a different balance from what’s actually in the bank, how do you keep from getting confused?

A: Steve uses Quicken to track every penny, and reconciles the balances on a regular basis. We move the slush fund to an interest-bearing account periodically.

Q: Do you use credit cards?

A: Yes, but not in the typical way. We use no-fee, cash-back credit cards for every expense we can charge. Our current favorites are issued by American Express and FirstBank Visa. We pay the balance off every month and never accrue interest. We’ve found that a cash-back card is a better deal for us than cards that offer airline miles.

Q: What are some of your money-saving strategies?

A: We try to control recurring expenses. For instance, we installed solar panels when we could afford them so we won’t be at the mercy of the utility company that will continue to raise rates for the rest of our lives.

We’re also on the list for the Tesla 3, an all-electric car with a 200+ mile range priced in the mid- to upper-$30,000s. Available in late 2017, we will be able to charge the batteries off our household solar panels. We believe it is a given that oil prices will go up again. So we will be saving money, controlling expenses and, not insignificantly, helping the environment and contributing to the mitigation of climate change.

Again, as we could afford it, we’ve replaced almost every light in the house with LEDs, which has reduced electrical usage, leaving more generating power from the solar panels for our use and to go back into the grid until we get our Tesla; then we’ll use it to power its batteries.

We belong to Costco and purchase things like stationary and checks there. We also bought our refrigerator at Costco, after researching models and determining that they offered the best value.

We both like to cook, so we prepare most of our meals at home. We’re also fortunate that we’re in good health. We think part of this is due to reduced stress from not having to worry about money, which means not having to spend as much on healthcare, which means less stress.

Q: Do you ever use coupons?

A. Yes, but only on things we’d buy anyway. Using the same criteria, we also take advantage of sales.

Q: What is your philosophy about spending?

A:  We invest in quality and value. We use Consumer Reports to research every major purchase. We always save our receipts in case there’s a problem with something we buy.

We don’t go shopping to buy things and improve our moods. Doing this is hollow. It might bring very temporary enjoyment, but it doesn’t last. To get that feeling again, people just go out and buy again.

We prefer to buy what we need and take pleasure in its functionality, amusement (like some of the art we’ve splurged on), and lasting pleasure––because it works well, saves time and energy, is cost-efficient and reliable.

Q: What are some of the best things you’ve ever spent money on?

An antique, blue, Chinese rug for our living room after we went from carpet to hardwood. We both absolutely fell in love with it, but it was 2.5 times what we had mentally budgeted. We negotiated the price down 20%, which made it only 2 times more than our mental budget, but we had the money, so we bought it. We still enjoy it every day.

[Steve:] A few months ago, Jan saw an ad for a beautiful, expensive, ring. Half joking she said, ‘If you ever want to buy me jewelry (which we rarely do), you can get me one these rings.’ I tracked down where the ring is sold––Boulder–– and finagled a trip up there for fun and lunch. Our walk after lunch took us down the Pearl Street Mall to the only place in Colorado carrying that jeweler’s wares. You can guess the rest.

One of the best things we’ve done with money is to give Jan’s former boss, who was very good to us for more than twenty years, a gift card for $500. That made three people very happy at a time when she could really use the money.

Our other splurges include a couple of self-indulgent trips to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in New Mexico, including massages, great food and a serene setting with nothing to do but relax and enjoy. Steve took Jan to Italy for one of her birthdays, Jan took Steve to Washington DC for one of his, and we took Steve’s dad on a trip to Hungary. We like to travel and consider it one of the best things to spend money on since the experiences last a lifetime, as the mother of one of our friends always said.

Steve Berger and Jan Berger | Happy Simple Living blog

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: To be honest, we’ve actually never though this much about what we do with money. We think it’s because we’ve adopted many of these practices as needed, not all at once, and just assimilated them into our lifestyle. We do consider ourselves very fortunate for many reasons, and don’t take our good fortune for granted or feel particularly exceptional for these material achievements. To us, money has always been a means, not an end.

Thank you, Steve and Jan, for generously sharing your money strategies and giving us insights into how you’ve made a comfortable life through shared goals, open communication and smart spending.

How About You?

Readers, does Steve and Jan’s advice resonate with you? Do you have advice to add about strategies that have worked for you, either as an individual or as a partner in a relationship or family?

Would you like to see more real-life stories about how people manage their money?

I always love hearing your thoughts and comments.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 26 of the January Money Diet – Give Your Finances a Tune-Up

Grow your finances | Happy Simple Living blog

This final week of the January Money Diet is the perfect time to review some important details related to our finances. These are some suggestions:

Lock Everything Down

Literally and figuratively, do all you can to protect yourself from theft and fraud. Do you have super-duper tough, unique passwords for each and every one of your financial accounts? A password program can help you choose and store complex passwords; I use the free version of LastPass.

In the physical realm, if you keep important documents in a file cabinet, is it locked? Do you have copies of your important papers and financial account numbers scanned and securely stored?

Review Your Credit Report

Check your credit report and make sure there are no errors. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. You can order one at annualcreditreport.com.

Set Up an Automatic Savings Plan

If you do nothing else this year, try to set an automatic savings plan. This is the easiest, most painless way to grow wealth and I promise you’ll be glad you did it. If you can start now and gradually increase the amount as your income increases, you’ll be amazed at how much you can save.

If you missed yesterday’s post, it makes a case for setting up an “inconvenient” savings account; you can read it here.

Rebalance the Investment Mix in Your Retirement Accounts

Most financial experts suggest checking your targets at the beginning of every year, and rebalancing your investments when your balances veer more than five percentage points from the targets.

Consider Hiring a Financial Advisor

Do you feel confident in your own abilities to manage your money, or could you benefit from professional advice? I recommend working with a fee-only advisor who doesn’t get compensated for investing your money. You can find one through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

If you have an advisor, do you feel confident that this person is carefully monitoring your investments and has your best interests at heart? If not, it’s time to have a conversation about your goals and expectations. Or perhaps it’s time to make a change and find just the right person to help you achieve your objectives.

Make Sure You’re Adequately Insured

When our roof was damaged in a hail storm, I discovered my policy covered the actual value of the roof, not the replacement value. The result was that I had to pay nearly $4000 out of pocket toward the roof.

Review your policies with your insurance agent and make sure that you understand exactly what is covered and what isn’t. You don’t want to pay for coverage you don’t need, but you also don’t want to be under-insured.

Another lesson I learned the hard way:  if you have a 16-year-old driver hitting the roads this year, purchase an auto insurance policy with the lowest deductible amount you can get. Higher deductibles make sense for more mature drivers with a history of safety. Trust me on this.

Review Your End-of-Life Plans

Have you created a will? If not, put this on your 2016 ‘To Do’ list.

If so, review your will and make sure it still reflects your wishes. Have you designated the right people to be executor of your will and to hold power of attorney, in case you become incapacitated? Also, review the beneficiaries of your retirement plans and life insurance policies to make sure this information is up-to-date.

How About You?

Are there things on this list you can tackle this week? If you have other financial tasks to add to this list, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the Comments section of this page.

The January Money Diet will officially end on Sunday, and I can’t believe how quickly the month has passed. Are you ready to end the diet, or do you plan to continue following some of the ideas we’ve tried this month?

Hugs and happy Tuesday,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day #2 – Go on a Home Scavenger Hunt

Pamper yourself during the January Money Diet

It’s only the second day of our money diet, and I’m already overwhelmed by your enthusiasm and goodness. I got goose bumps reading your comments as you embraced Challenge #1 yesterday. Giving 31 gifts is a big commitment, and I’m humbled and inspired by the stories and ideas you’re sharing. I hope you’ll continue posting about your experiences in both giving and receiving throughout the month.

We’ve committed to hanging on to our cash this month, but that doesn’t mean we need to live meagerly. In fact, I strongly believe that managing our money wisely is going to lead us to all sorts of abundance, blessings and adventures in 2016.

Find Your Hidden Treasures

On this first weekend of the January Money Diet, I encourage you to “shop” at home and spoil yourself with the things you have on hand. Now is the perfect time to go through the closets and drawers looking for those unused things we all tend to hold on to for Someday.

You might begin your home scavenger hunt with the bathroom cabinets; are there shampoo samples, fancy soaps, loofahs and pedicure kits hiding on the shelves? Gather them up and pamper yourself. You deserve it!

What about those specialty kitchen appliances and gadgets gathering dust? Let’s use our fondue pots and pasta machines and waffle irons this month, shall we?

Take inventory of your pantry and freezer, too; do you have any fancy, gourmet items or forgotten goodies lurking back in the shelves? Plan to enjoy those treats, clear some shelf space and save money on food this month.

What about unused craft and scrapbooking supplies? Home improvement materials? Fabric and notions? Yarn and knitting needles? Office supplies? Blank journals? January is a splendid month to take on a project using things you already have.

Take a look around the closets and drawers of your home, and you might find a treasure trove of good stuff just waiting to be used up and enjoyed.

After you’ve gone on a scavenger hunt around your home, will you post a few highlights in the comments section at the bottom of this page? You know we’re all just dying to hear what you unearth.

You’ll hear from me again on Monday, when we tackle meal planning to save money and time this month.

Until then, treat yourself to a long soak and use the scented bath salts. Get out the shaving brush and enjoy a nice shave. Burn the scented candles. Wear your silk pajamas. Play your music and dance!

Stay strong, steer clear of the mall, and enjoy this beautiful weekend.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Mini Money Diet to Begin the Second Half of 2015

Lettuce coming up in the garden

Today begins the seventh month of 2015, a fact that amazes me. For those of you who participated in the January Money Diet, it’s been 181 days since we first decided to begin the new year with 31 days of no spending.

I caught up with a few January Money Diet participants to see how things were going, and thought you might enjoy some of their comments.

“The gains we made with the January Money Diet jump-started our emergency fund.  We’ve been able to keep it growing because of the habit of thinking before spending, which we established in January. Thanks so much for your encouragement to start 2015 off with a more mindful use of our resources.” – Annie

I have really committed to not buying new items unless the old one wears out, or they offer a significant value and improve our lives. I have not purchased any clothing, instead culling my wardrobe down to those things I really like. This way I don’t feel like I need anything new. Goodwill received multiple bags from me! Cutting extra purchases now leaves some money at the end of the month for a vacation fund. I am finally starting to realize the value of experiences over things.” – Lisa

“I think about that January challenge a lot. I don’t spend nearly as much as I use to on clothing and have toned down a lot of the other “useless” shopping. I don’t even go to the stores that much anymore.” – Lynn

A number of you expressed interest in doing a Mini Money Diet this month, and I am with you! With the year half over, I’ve been reevaluating my goals and savings plans to try and finish the year strong. I think it’s actually easier to spend less during the summer, and these are some things you might like to do during the month of July:

1. Figure Your Net Worth

If you haven’t done this exercise since January, I suggest you calculate your net worth now to see where you stand. With six months left in 2015, you still have plenty of time to get your net worth headed UP, UP, UP!

2. Enjoy Seasonal Produce and Find Alternatives to Restaurant Meals

Homemade pizza

Take-out, pizza delivery and restaurant meals can quickly derail a budget. With so much good produce in the stores and farmer’s markets right now, vow to cook easy meals from home in July and save big. Cook on the grill, enjoy garden foods and try easy stir-fries, salads or wraps loaded fresh veggies.

If you make a batch of dough ahead of time and freeze it, you can make a homemade pizza in less time than it takes to wait for delivery–for a fraction of the cost. Here’s my easy homemade pizza recipe. You can also find easy dinner ideas on my Happy Simple Suppers Pinterest board.

3. Make Adjustments to Your Savings Goals

Life happens, and you may not have saved as much as you wanted to in the first half of the year. Why not set a monthly goal to set aside in the remaining six months? If you can scrape up just $38 a week to divert to savings, you’ll have a $1000 nest egg at the end of the year.

4. Plan to Eliminate or Drastically Reduce a Debt by Year-End

Could you pay extra on your lowest debt and completely eliminate it by the end of the year? Do a little calculation, dividing the total by 6 and adding back the monthly interest payment. Could you set up an automatic payment for this amount and enjoy the peace of paying off a debt by the end of December?

5. Hold a Garage Sale While the Weather is Nice

Garage sale

If you sell items you no longer need, you’ll enjoy more space in the areas you declutter and earn extra cash to apply to debt or savings. Maybe you’ll do as well as our 2015 January Money Diet participant, Lynn:

“We had an extremely profitable garage sale and made over $600. Even better, I got rid of so many unneeded items and organized the storage area. It was a proud moment.”

I’d love to hear how your year is going, what you’re doing to save money, and whether you’ve changed any habits as a result of participating in the January Money Diet.

Here’s to a prosperous, happy 2015 for each one of you.

Hugs and happy July,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Let’s Talk about Toilet Paper – Part 1

Toilet paper holder

My friends, I’ve decided to give our toilet paper choice a comprehensive review. Because toilet paper is an ongoing expense and a resource we use continually, I want to be sure we’re making an informed decision. Naturally, you’re invited to come along for the journey.

Last year, I finally got fed up with the store brand of toilet paper. Over the years the rolls had gotten thinner and shorter, and the paper seemed increasingly prone to disintegrating. One day I marched into the store muttering to myself, “You work hard, you make sacrifices for the family, and darn it, you deserve nice toilet paper.” I yanked a 12-pack of Cottonelle Clean Care off the shelf, and never looked back.

Cottonelle toilet paper

This wasn’t a frugal buying decision at all. At our local King Soopers, a 12-pack of Cottonelle is $7.49. With tax, it’s 67 cents a roll. We don’t belong to a price club, so the only way we save money is when it goes on sale—which is rarely.

The label is printed in nice, bold print. Yet for some reason, the text at the bottom listing the number of sheets per roll is printed in the lightest, impossible-to-read pale blue. Why do you think this is?

toilet paper info

With the aid of high-strength binoculars, I was able to read that a pack contains 12 rolls, each with 208 1-ply sheets per roll. It also lists the square footage (266.4) and square meters (24). This information could be handy for easily comparing brands—if only one could read it.

The package boasts that my 12 “Double Rolls” are equal to 24 “Single Rolls.” Like me, do you scratch your head when you read this? Since every toilet paper brand now considers its products to be double rolls, ours don’t seem particularly robust.

 

Magnifying the text on a t.p. roll

Aided by a magnifier, I found the Double vs. Single explanation on the package back in a font so small that Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum once used it to print the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin:  “1 Double Roll equals 2.3 times the number of sheets as the leading ultra brand regular roll.” Ahh, now I understand.

Fancy T.P. and Sasquatch

Wait—what “leading ultra brand?” Are you telling me the leading ultra brand only has 90 squares per roll? I’m skeptical. Let’s keep our eyes open for pricey—but skinny—super-fancy t.p. rolls in the future. Will you let me know if you find this elusive, half-size luxury roll?

On the plus side, I also discovered this information in tiny elfin text: “Paper from responsible sources,” accompanied by a miniscule logo from the Forest Stewardship Council. Greenwashing? Not this time. A little research convinced me that the FSC is a legit organization which promotes responsible harvesting. Here are the principles of FSC-certified forests:

* Never harvests more than what grows back
* Protects biodiversity and endangered species
* Saves rare ancient trees
* Guards local streams
* Supports the local people
* Uses narrow skidding trails so as not to disrupt the rest of the forest
* Prohibits replacement by tree plantations
* Bans toxic chemicals
* Bans genetically modified trees (no GMO)

In the coming days, I aim to delve further into whether Cottonelle is the best choice for us—and if so, whether we can buy it cheaper elsewhere. All three of these attributes are equally important:

a. Comfort

b. As earth-friendly as possible

c. Reasonable price (would this be the right time to make a “cash flow” pun?)

How about you?

Do you make your own toilet paper from recycled feed sacks? If not, would you be willing to share the brand of toilet paper you use? Do you buy it at the grocery store? Or do you get those Volkswagen-sized packages at Costco for a better price? Are you Single Roll, Double Roll, Triple Roll or Mega-Quintuple Roll user?

I look forward to flushing out all of the options with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Top photo: A.N. Berlin

 

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Could You Pay Off Debt in 10 Months?

Pay off debt in 10 months and enjoy financial freedom | Happy Simple Living

All morning I’ve been thinking about debt, and how it drags us down.

Debt is a drag on our financial health — not only the interest we pay for things we bought in the past, but the outpouring of money it takes each month to make more than the minimum payment and eliminate the debt.

Debt is a drag on our energy. The Bible describes debt as a millstone around the neck, and I can remember feeling that way when my credit card balances were over $12,000. I thought I would never be free of the heavy feeling.

Debt is a drag on our relationships. Money is the #1 thing couples fight about, and being deep in debt just adds more conflict, pressure and stress.

Debt is a drag on our future. We can’t plan vacations, save for emergencies, or make improvements because we’re spending all our time and resources paying off those old balances.

A Ten Month Challenge

Today is February 23, and we have about ten months until Christmas. You deserve a wonderful present this holiday. I want you to experience the joy and freedom of paying off debt.

Could you divide your outstanding balances by 10, commit to paying 1/10 of the amount plus interest every month, and eliminate that debt altogether?

Could you put the card in a safety deposit box or under your mattress or somewhere where you won’t be tempted to use it at all in the next ten months?

If you owe on more than one credit card, could you get the scissors and cut up one of two of those cards? That’s what I had to do; I destroyed the cards so I couldn’t use them any more, which forced me to be good.

If your balance is too high to completely pay it off in ten months or if you owe money on several cards, could you commit to paying $200 a month or even $100 a month to eliminate a significant chunk of one of those balances?

I know that once I set a monthly goal for myself, I was better able to focus and commit to paying the monthly amount. $100 isn’t too much to scrape together each month, but paying down $1000 on a debt in ten months is a significant step forward.

I dug out of debt, and so can you. Step by step, you can become debt free and enjoy financial freedom.

How about you?

If you’re dealing with debt, what could you do about it in the next ten months? I challenge you to e-mail me at elizagcross(at)gmail(dot)com and state your 10-month plan. Our words and affirmations have power, and I will stand with you in your commitment!

If this is a problem area for you, I want you to vividly imagine waking up on Christmas morning and feeling proud that you made significant progress paying off debt this year.

If you formerly owed a lot of money and paid it off, will you share with us how you did it? I always love hearing your comments and strategies around this very important concept.

Here’s to getting rid of that heavy millstone, once and for all.

You deserve this.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:  Eric Magnuson

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Announcing the 2015 January Money Dieter of the Year

Jennifer - the January Money Diet Queen

Jennifer – the January Money Diet Queen

Figuring out who should win the 2105 January Money Diet Gift Box was a huge challenge, because so many of you participated our our month-long spending break with enthusiasm and generosity.

In fact, I never could have chosen one winner based on my feelings because I love each one of you. Instead, I adopted a more methodical approach. I tallied the number of comments throughout the 31 days, and took special note of readers who enthusiastically participated in the challenges. I also marked extra points for participants who shared ideas and encouraged others.

A clear winner emerged through this exercise, and I’m proud to announce that Jennifer is our 2015 January Money Dieter of the Year. Here’s what she had to say at the end of the diet:

“Thank you so much for the great advice and motivation! We were able to catch up on monthly bills and even pay ahead on some. It has been awesome! I am grateful for the new habits that we are forming together as a family.

I do plan on splurging just a tad and start out by taking two more bags to The Salvation Army. Then we will have a family dinner out to celebrate our hard work this month. I want to make sure that we keep ourselves in check but also reward ourselves when we do a job well done!

Congratulations to all who joined and made it!”

Jennifer will receive a goodie box with a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and more.

Thanks so much to each one of you who participated this year, and I hope you’ll join us next January when we undertake this challenge again.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Challenge – Bring In Some Cash

Sell unwanted items for cash during the January Money Diet

Happy Monday! We’re almost at the halfway point of the January Money Diet, and I have been absolutely amazed by your wonderful comments, stories and ideas. It’s great to be dieting in the company of such creative and committed people. Shall we get started?

Show Me the Money

This week’s challenge is to bring bring some extra cash in, and then immediately put the money toward debt or invest it. There are many creative ways to do this.

Did you receive a gift card for Christmas that you don’t really want or need? You can sell it on eBay or get paid immediately with a site like CardCash.

Do you have a bunch of airline miles sitting in an account that you don’t plan to use? A site like Flip My Miles will pay you cash for them.

Do you have any outstanding rebates due on a credit card? Or do you have something  you purchased sitting in a closet with the price tag still on it, ready to be returned?

Let’s Trade Stuff for Cash

Cow salt and pepper shakersAnother way to raise money is to find something unused among your treasures and sell it to a buyer for cash. You’ll benefit three ways from this strategy:  you’ll eliminate clutter and free up some space, you’ll improve your net worth, and you’ll keep one more thing out of landfill.

Do you have some broken pieces of gold jewelry or lone earrings that you don’t wear? You can sell the gold to a dealer and pocket the cash. I’ve done this several times with satisfactory results, and my biggest piece of advice is this: Don’t take the first price the offer you. Ask if they can do a little better, and they nearly always will.

It’s not difficult to sell unwanted books, DVDs and CDs on Amazon. You don’t need to take any photographs; just sign up for a seller account, list your items (Amazon gives you very specific guidelines so you can accurately list the quality of the item) and wait for the orders. Books and discs are easy to ship, and Amazon reimburses you for the postage. If you use the USPS’s media mail, you might even make a little profit on the shipping fee. The downside is that the profits are generally slim here unless you have some hard-to-find items that are in demand.

EBay takes a little more effort, but the results can be amazing — especially if you have a hot collectible. I’ve sold hundreds of things on eBay, and they make it easy to list your items. Just set up a seller account, take a photo of your item, write an accurate description, and carefully pack and ship your item. If that sounds like too much, you can use a third party seller who will take care of the transaction for you in exchange for a cut of the sale.

CraigsList can be great for getting rid of larger items like unwanted furniture or appliances. You could also offer dog sitting services or tutoring or any other skill. If you have unworn clothing, you can take it to a retailer like Plato’s Closet that pays cash on the spot for trendy clothing. If you live in a warmer climate, you could hold a garage sale. Ask your neighbors to join you in holding and promoting a sale, and you’ll attract more traffic.

Keep your mind open for opportunities to bring in a little cash this week. If you’re successful, don’t put the money in the general fund. Instead, use the cash to directly improve your net worth. Be sure to let us know what you do to bring in income.

Good luck and hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. You could win a deluxe Happy Simple Living gift box by participating in the January Money Diet. The box includes a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card, $25 cash, pantry staples like bean soup mix and organic quinoa, signed copies of three of my cookbooks, homesteading supplies like soap, candles and eco-friendly cleaning supplies, and much more.

At the end of January I’ll choose one winner from among everyone who comments–someone who has participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results. Good luck!

Photo: Chazzvid

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

January Money Diet Day 3 – Time To Calculate Your Net Worth

Figure your net worth at Happy Simple Living blog

My friends, I used to lie to myself.

I didn’t intentionally try to deceive myself, of course, but I didn’t really have a true picture of my financial decisions. I could feel virtuous putting $100 in savings, while meanwhile I had charged $125 on my Visa and my car’s value had dropped $200 that month.

Net worth, as I’m sure you know, is the difference between what we own and what we owe.

On the first day of every month, I now calculate our net worth. Our finances didn’t start moving in the right direction until I started doing this exercise and challenging myself to increase the bottom line each month. Now that it’s moving in the right direction, I really look forward to creating the monthly spreadsheet.

If you do the same, I believe you’ll discover that your finances will improve dramatically over time. Just focus consistently on moving that bottom line up, up, up. As you build wealth and reduce debt, you’ll enjoy greater security and sleep better at night.

Calculator image

Photo: Horia Varlan

How to Figure Your Net Worth – Assets First

You can easily make this calculation with a pencil, a piece of paper and a calculator, or you can create a simple spreadsheet using a program like Excel.

Start by listing your assets. If you’re a homeowner, figure out the approximate current value of your home. If you’re not sure, a site like Zillow can give you a rough estimate for now. Your professional neighborhood realtor would probably be happy to give you an estimated market value, too.

Check your car and write down the mileage and condition, enter the info at Kelley Blue Book, and figure out the private party value.

Check the current balances for your bank accounts, retirement funds, mutual funds, stocks and bonds, etc., and add those to the list.

You can also list things like your grandpa’s coin collection, or any valuable jewelry, antiques, artwork, etc. you own. Just be realistic about the cash that the sale of such items would generate, which is sometimes considerably less than the appraised value. Add everything up, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of your total Assets.

List Your Liabilities

Next, make a list of every single one of your debts: mortgage balance, car loan, credit cards, lines of credit, home equity loans, student loans, etc. Add these up, and you’ll have your total debts, or Liabilities.

Now, simply subtract the Liabilities from the Assets to figure your Net Worth.

The result will be different for each of us. If yours is a negative number, don’t despair! When I was 21, I had zero assets, $5000 in credit card debt, and a new car I never should have bought with an upside-down loan and a 21% interest rate!

No matter what your financial situation is today, you can acknowledge that this is your starting place and resolve to get your net worth moving in the right direction. We’ll talk about specific ways to do this in the days ahead, okay?

A Two-Part Challenge

Part 1 – Figure out your net worth.

Part 2 – Set a goal for yourself of what you want your net worth to be at the end of 2015. This can be a fixed dollar amount or a percentage.

If you’re so inclined, leave a comment below when you’ve finished the exercise. You don’t have to share specifics unless you want to.

I challenge you to do this calculation monthly during 2015, and work on increasing your net worth every month. I think you’ll be amazed at how this simple strategy can transform your finances.

The best part for me? I no longer lie to myself.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Coin photo: Images of Money

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.