Republic Wireless: T+16 Months

After two years of forgoing a cell phone entirely, I shacked up with Republic Wireless in November 2014.  A year later, I've upgraded my phone and converted my family and several friends.

Why the about-face?

$10 for unlimited cellular calling and texting, no contract
1.5¢ per megabyte for 4G cellular data over the Sprint network

Using Republic's advanced data management tools to keep most of my data going over wifi, my usage is generally around 330MB, yielding a bill of $15 per month (+$2 in taxes and fees).


Stretch Your Emergency Fund with Puddle

Personal finance isn't just about building up net worth—it's also about making money available when you need it.  Just like a business, you have to worry about your balance sheet and your cashflow statement.  Having a lot of money locked up in investments isn't helpful when you need cash to cover expenses today.

This is the logic behind the emergency fund—hold a couple months' expenses in fairly liquid form, like a savings account or US Treasury I Bonds, to smooth over unexpected changes in expenses and income.  Establishing an emergency fund should be your first act before considering any other kind of investing.

How much money should you keep in an accessible place?  To make that decision, you have to balance two opposing forces: the risk and cost of having too little, and the cost of not investing in something with a better return.


Earn 5.12% APY on $5000 in a Savings Account

Yesterday, I got together with five fellow Mr. Money Mustache fans at Lake Merritt in Oakland to talk about money and life.  This was the latest Bay Area Mighty Mustachian Meetup (BAMMM) event, which is to say I sent out an email on the Google Group list, posted in the MMM forum, and created an event in a Google+ Community and some people showed up.  If you'd like to hear about (or better yet plan) future events, tap into one of those channels or (NEW) follow me on Twitter at @BC_ChemE and watch for stuff tagged with #BayAreaMMM.

I don't do affiliate links, so I'm not linking this to make a buck.

The 5.12% Savings Account

The week after I posted this, the Mango Money sign-up page was deactivated!
The week after that, Union Plus sign-up page was also removed.
In August, the Mango Money signup page was back, but the terms have changed:
the savings account interest rate is 6% only with a $500+/month direct deposit.
Otherwise, the interest rate is only 2%.

One thing we discussed was the pain of holding cash in "high-yield" savings accounts that return, at best, 1% now.  I used the opportunity to pitch US Treasury Series I Bonds, which I've always liked for emergency funds because they at least keep pace with inflation.  Another attendee recently became financially independent (dunno if he wants to be publicly outed and not sure if he has a site) and had a more liquid solution with a better rate: a savings account associated with a prepaid debit card company called Mango Money.

The vital details, culled from the AHS Wiki page that serves as my open notebook for these projects:


Guest Lecture: Personal Finance 101

This morning I had the opportunity to give a forty-minute presentation about personal finance basics to a Penn State freshman seminar class.  One of my (many) long-term goals is to fix the lack of personal finance education at the high school and college level, so I jumped at the chance and dragged myself out of bed at 3AM to prepare a presentation.

I gave and recorded the presentation using Google Hangouts On Air:

The presentation is here and the spreadsheets referenced in the video are available here.

Unfortunately the audio on the other end wasn't working, so I was not able to do the question-and-answer session that I had planned.  In lieu of that, I'll follow up with the students using a Google Form to collect their questions and I'll post the answers here.

I have been subscribing to a lot more YouTube content lately, and I like the concept of preparing a series of short personal finance videos to add at the top of my posts here.  These videos could give the tl;dr version for people who prefer the sound of my voice to my writing style (what a choice!).

My public speaking needs work, but to be fair this was 6AM my time...


Save Your IRS Tax Transcripts

Have your taxes from previous years?  Archive them!  Collect all of your forms for each year, digitize them, and make sure they're backed up to the cloud—Google Drive, Dropbox, whatever.  The IRS can audit three to six years into the past and you can file a corrected return up to three years back, so make it a habit to keep this information organized.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger's The Tax Collector's Office, 1640.  I bet the IRS looks like this too.
If you're missing a year, or if you'd like to see what information the IRS has on your earnings for this or previous years, you can download tax account, income, and tax return transcripts online.  Just head over to the IRS transcript website and make an account!  Transcripts are free and can be downloaded immediately.  When you're doing your taxes for this year, this is an easy way to verify that you have all of the W-2s and 1099s that the IRS does.