Cheap Christmas: Top Ten Gifts Under $30

Only two weeks left until Christmas!  The tree is trimmed, the lights are strung, the Michael Bublé Holiday Station is on full blast.  And the gifts are….uh oh.  For those of you like me, that put off Christmas gift shopping and aren’t willing to fight the crowds at the mall, online shopping is an easy option.  Plus, I think you can get better deals and avoid those impulse purchases at the check out line.   As I was finishing our shopping list, I came across some great steals.  I thought I would share my top ten gift options under $30.  From $10 white elephant gifts to slightly more pricey tech gifts for family, this list has something for everyone!

Under $30

  1. Amazon Dot– Amazon is running a special on this fun tech gift at $29.99.  This is a great gift for all ages and you do not have to be an amazon prime member to use it.  We have one in our kitchen, and recently canceled our prime.  We just hooked it up to our free Pandora account and play our favorite stations through it.  We also use the hands free kitchen timer and the weather updates.  Overall, this is probably one of the most used items in our home.  At $30, it is a steal.
  2. Movie Pass Subscription– This gift is for the big movie fanatics out there.  All you can watch movies in the movie theaters for $9.95 per month?!  Sign me up!  Oh wait, I already did that.  We are in our first month of movie pass and have already seen three movies!  It works at most theaters and although it can be a little challening to get seats to popular movie showings, it is worth the inconvenience.  Now you can give this gift to a family member with a three month pre-paid subscription for $29.85.  Or you know… you can drop hints for friends.
  3. Roku–  Again, this is a household favorite.  For other fellow cord cutters out there, meet your new best friend.  This device is any easy way to play hulu and netflix  through the TV.  It is also small and easy to hide out of sight.  We use ours about every day.

Under $20

  1. Portable Hammock– One way that our families have cut down on Christmas gifts is by doing White Elephant instead of getting gifts for multiple family members.  It saves money and it makes for a fun tradition.  The problem with this game is that your Cousin Rick probably doesn’t want the same thing as Aunt Susie.  It is always a challenging to find gifts that work for either gender and all ages.  This year we decided on the portable hammock as one of our holiday White Elephant Gifts.  I think it appeals to all different family members.  On a side note, we generally try to include gifts that we would want to win.  We are planning on upping our camping game next year to minimize the money spent on vacations, but to still find a way to get away.  So really we are secretly hoping everyone hates the hammock so that we can win it.
  2. Stainless Steel Tumbler– One of these were gifted to me a few years back and it remains one of my most used gifts to date.  Whether you are a coffee addict or a Diet Dr. Pepper addict (who  me?), this tumbler will come in handy to keep your drinks at that ideal temperature longer.
  3. Panini Press– I know, random.  But this is another gift that I got a few years back that has been one of my favorites.  It is great for white elephant because it can be used by all ages.  It is also great for a college dorm, for when you are craving a warm meal but there isn’t easy access to a stove.

Under $10

  1. “If you can read this, bring me a glass of wine” Socks-These are great for White Elephant, assuming everyone if over the age of 21.  It also makes for a great photo op after the game.  We used these last year and they were a hit. Also, if you want you can break the pair up and guft them separately for an even cheaper gift option. 
  2. The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach– What better gift than the gift of financial literacy? Did you really expect me to make it through this list without one financial planning book?  This is definitely one of my favorites.  It really gets you motivated to take a hard look at your finances.   Honestly, I wish someone had gifted this to me in my early twenties.
  3. Easy Budget Debt Snowball Calculator– Speaking of financial gifts, I wanted to support another member of the Debt Free Community and her Debt Snowball Calculator.  This is a great way to map out your debt and create your repayment plan using your real numbers.  This is especially great for recent college graduates who may be overwhelmed by their student loan debt.  This gift is practical and useful.
  4. Blue Tooth Speakers- Ok, so this one is a little over $10 at $10.90….  but it is a great white elephant gift because it can be used by all ages.  It is hard to get a good tech gift under $10, but this one is close and is sure to impress.

Hope this list helps. Happy shopping!  Oh… and Merry Christmas!

 

Day in the Life of an Uber Driver

Have you ever thought about driving for Uber but not sure if it is a good fit for you?  My husband, John, recently decided to give it a try while I was out of town visiting friends for the weekend.   Below is a summary of the good, the bad, and the ugly about driving for Uber, starting from the very beginning of the process.

The Application

Applying for Uber was a surprisingly easy process.  I should note that other than a speeding ticket from approximately four years ago, John has a clean driving record.   You can find a link to the application here.   Qualified candidates will need to meet the following requirements:

  • 21 years of age or older with 3 or more years of US driving experience
  • Or, 23 years of age or older with 1 or more years of US driving experience
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Valid vehicle registration
  • A clean driving record and criminal history

After you make it through this initial application, there will be a background check for looking seven years back for the following information:

  • No DUI or drug-related offenses
  • No fatal accidents
  • No history of reckless driving
  • No criminal record

After the initial application, John was told that he would need to provide three references.  Over the next few days, he spoke to some potential references.  When he went back to include this information he  was informed that he had already been approved in light of his clean background check.  That was it!  Then he just had to wait for his sticker to come in the mail, which takes approximately seven days.  In the interim he had the option to download a pdf version to print, but he decided to wait for the sticker.

Next, he downloaded the Uber Driver app.  This is a special app that is separate from the normal Uber app.  He was able to input the final information with his photograph and his banking information.  The amount he earns automatically transfers from the Uber Driver app to his checking account every so often.   At that point, he was ready to drive.

Once everything is ready to go, the Uber Driver app remains in the “offline” setting.  You can open up the app and see whether you are ready to drive.  Once you decide that you want to start driving, you simply click the button at the top of the app to transition your status from “offline” to “online”.

Driving

John’s first day of driving was on Saturday August 12, 2017.   We live in North Carolina in a medium-sized city.  Our cities’ population would be considered average compared to other areas across the United States.  Those who liver in larger urban areas can typically make more money due to the higher population density along with other factors.  In the alternative, those in more rural location where there is a smaller population may not be able to make as much money.

He started driving at 3:35 pm in the afternoon and drove until 6:30 pm.  Then he took at break for dinner, subsequently returning to driving from 8 pm until 1:15 am on Sunday.    During this almost eight hours of driving, he covered 226 miles.  This includes his mileage waiting for riders or when he headed home after his “shifts”.   During his first shift there were lag times between rides since it was earlier in the day.  Although you are paid for this wait time, the pay is minimal.  However, as the night went on, there was an increase in a demand.  There was a country music concert at a local outdoor stadium on the evening John drove which resulted in a surge in pricing.

For those who are not familiar with Uber, surge pricing occurs when there is a gap between the number of individuals looking for rides compared to the number of available vehicles.  Due to the lack of supply, the price of the drive will “surge” by a certain percentage.  What you may not realize is that on the other side of the app, the Uber Drivers are able to see where the surge locations are occurring.  Since this increases the driver pay for the same amount of work, it encourages those who are “offline” to go “online” and other drivers to head towards the area with the surge.  This should allow the market to equalize overtime.

Below is a quick summary of his afternoon drives:

Pick-up Time Drive Time Total Miles Tip Net Pay
4:02 pm 10 min 45 sec 3.42 $5 app/$2 cash $10.82
4:52 pm 10 min 7 secs 4.47 N/A $4.36
5:18 pm 26 min 31 secs 10.41 $5 app $14.46

As you can see, the tips dramatically impacted what he was able to earn.  Without tips, then he would have only made $17.64 over an almost three hour period.  That would equate to an hourly rate of $5.88, below the minimum wage.  With the tips, his hourly wage increased to $9.88.  John noted that the afternoon felt like a waste because he spent so much time sitting and waiting for someone to request a ride.

Moving to the evening shift, below is a summary of his earnings:

Pick-up Time Drive Time Total Miles Tip Net Pay
8:16 pm 18 min 12 sec 8.35 N/A $7.42
9.37 pm 23 min 37 sec 10.33 N/A $9.12
10:29 pm 11 min 9 sec 5.37 N/A $4.98
10:56 pm 15 min 45 sec 6.53 N/A $6.12
11:16 pm 10 min 53 sec 4.08 N/A $4.30
11:27 pm 11 min 48 sec 2.81 $3.00 app $11.59
11:51 pm 21 min 52 sec 14.47 N/A $30.47

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At the end of the night, riders were readily available.  There was actually an option to have another ride prepared before you even drop off the prior rider.  His total earnings were $74.10 over this period, or $14.11 per hour.  However, the last two riders in the chart above were surge riders.   Thus, he earned 57% of his income in the course of two rides which totaled a little over half an hour.  Without these last two rides, he would have only earned $31.94 over three and a half hours or $9.15 per hour.  As you can see in the image to the right, the surge pricing increased his revenues by 200%.

As far as the passengers, as the night goes on they tend to get more interesting.  Well, maybe more inebriated to put it frankly.  There is the increased risk that someone could get sick while in your vehicle.  Luckily that didn’t happen to John, but after having a couple of passengers who were clearly intoxicated he decided to call it a night.

Hidden Costs

It is important to be cognizant of the costs involved when driving for Uber.  There is obviously the costs associated with owning a car and cellphone.  These include car insurance, parking costs, any vehicle financing payments, and our cell phone contract.  However, these costs are ones that we would incur whether or not John drove for Uber.  So we didn’t really factor these into our analysis.  However, for anyone who may not currently have a vehicle, these are costs that you would certainly want to consider.

The most obvious expense as a driver is the cost of fuel.  In regards to mileage, my husband drove 226 miles while driving for Uber.  This is not all reflected in the chart above, because it includes the time he drove around waiting for rides as well as the miles he drove to get back home after each shift.  His vehicle gets approximately 25 miles per gallon in the city.   Gas costs approximately $2.20 per gallon in our area.  This means that he spent approximately $19.80 in gas.   This is almost 20% of his total earnings.

Another cost, which may not be as readily apparent is the increased vehicle maintenance costs.  If you are driving an extra 200 miles per week while driving for Uber, that would mean an extra 10,400 miles per year.  Assuming you have your oil changed every 3,000 miles, you would be getting almost four extra oil changes a year as a result of driving.  Additionally, the car is going to experience wear and tear over this period as far at the transmission, battery, brakes, etc.  Although this is a long term expense which may not seem as concerning, it can certainly add up overtime.

The economics major in me can’t leave out the opportunity cost of my husband’s time.  Every hour spent driving is an hour that could be spent doing something else.  Whether that is spending time with the family or working around the house, there is value to the time that you spend driving.  With me being out of town, John would likely have spent most of the weekend on the couch so the opportunity costs were relatively low.  However, that is another factor to consider since time is a valuable resource.

Taxes

As an Uber driver you are an independent contractor and paid on a 1099.   This means that the income you received is not taxed.  You definitely want to plan ahead and set a portion of your earnings aside so that you are prepared for this future expense.

On the other side of things, there are some tax advantages to driving for Uber.  There are a number of possible tax deductions that you  can take advantage of come tax season.  To do so, you will want to make sure that you actively document your mileage, phone bills, and maintenance costs.

Check out this link to learn more about the tax implications of driving for Uber and to make sure that you are tracking the relevant information that you will for your tax return.

Conclusion

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Over this almost 8 hour period, John earned $108.64 which includes his $7 in cash tips.  However, as previously indicated, his gas costs for that period were approximately $19.80.  This means that his revenues were about $88.84.  Divide that over an eight hour period, he earned approximately $11.10 per hour before taxes.

Ultimately we decided that it is definitely something that we will continue to utilize, but we need to do so in a way that works for us.  That means that he likely won’t drive in the afternoon unless there is an increased surge for some sort of local event.   That being said, our goal is to put an extra $200 a month towards his loans to decrease the payment timeline by two years.  So he will probably consider doing it a couple of times per month to help contribute towards that expense.

I think it is definitely worth giving it a try, but just make sure that you are aware of the hidden costs outlined above.  If you want to learn more about the topic, then I would check out this article.  Although it can be a profitable endeavor, the cost can outweigh the benefit if you aren’t careful.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Best Wines Under $10

img_7327No better way to celebrate Wine Wednesday than with a list of some of the top wines available for under $10.  In full disclosure, I am far from a wine connoisseur.  But over the years, I have tried my fair share of budgeted wine.  There are certain ones that I kept coming back to and others that I choose to avoid.  Here is a list of my top ten picks.  I should note, that Malbec is my favorite wine and I generally prefer red wines.  So there is definitely some bias in my picks.  However, I tried my best to diversify this list so that there is something for every taste.  I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

LaFinca

10) La Finca Malbec ($4.99) – I first discovery La Finca Malbec right after college in my early twenties.  It is basically a twist on Trader Joe’s popular Two Buck Chucks.  For an extra $1.50, you get a wine that is much more unique.  Also, the classy label seemed more appropriate for events with friends or family.   Over time I have strayed away from this wine for some of the options below, but it was my favorite for years and deserved a spot on the list.  It is also one of the only options that I included below $5.00.

Rose

9) The Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016 ($9.49)- This $9.49 option from Aldi is a newer addition to the list.  However, after recently learning that this wine won the top spot at the International Wine Challenge’s Great Value Awards, I had to give it a try.   I had my first glass during The Bachelorette finale on Monday, and I can definitely say that this pick is a winner.  Great addition to any summer event, particularly since you can say that you brought an international award winning wine to share. 

proesecco

8) Cupcake Prosecco ($9.99)- I had to get some sort of bubbly on this list, but honestly it is hard to find a good budget option.  Also, this one barely made the list because it is right at the top of that $10 cap.  At some locations, it is priced over that amount.  However, it can be found for under $10.  This is one of my favorite options for a girls night or for a special celebration, when you need some bubbles.

trapiche

7) Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec ($8.99)- I told you that I am partial to Malbecs.  This option is a great go to wine.  All of the Trapiche wines are delicious.  Actually, this wine made the list because the Trapiche Broquel is my absolute favorite wine, but I hate spending over $10 for a bottle of wine when there are so many other great budgeted options.  The Broquel is reserved for special occasions at our house, like when I got my new job.

Dark horse

6) Dark Horse Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.29)- My first Cabernet Sauvignon to make the list.  In my opinion, Cabs are the best dinner party wines and this one is sure to please.  It is very dark, like the name implies.  The interesting label makes for a great gift and the wine is sure to please guests.  This has been a fail safe over the years if we aren’t sure of our hosts tastes.

crest

5) Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.97)- This wine was first given to us by a family member around the holidays because of the high scores that it had received.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the scoring system was from or why it was a “high scoring wine”.  That being said, I do know that this is a great option.  We loved it so much that we made it our Cab option for our wedding.  The price tag doesn’t hurt either.

red blend

4) Apothic Red Blend ($7.97)- We gave this bottle of wine to a family member as part of their wedding gifts a few years back.  They loved it so much, that they ended up testing us a few weeks later while they were at the grocery store wanting to know the name of the wine.  This is definitely a unique option because it is a blend, but I promise it will not disappoint.  The other great thing about this option is that the beautiful label makes for a great budgeted wedding gift.

bogle

3) Bogle Merlot ($7.77)- Now were getting into the REALLY good stuff.  Bogle Merlot is my husband’s favorite.  It was a struggle to put it at number three, but the last two options are just too good.  All of my spouse’s family love this wine.  At our wedding, we had a “Bride’s Pick” and “Groom’s Pick” wine, and this was his choice.  Bogle makes a number of good wines that are all worth a try.

white

2) Lindemans Chardonnay ($4.77)- Another family favorite that we first tried courtesy of my father.  This is one of the only white wine options on this list because this is the only one that you will ever need.  Just kidding…well sort of.  We really don’t venture out much because this is our favorite white wine option.  And with a price tag of $4.77, there is no need to.  Even a 1.5L bottle only costs $6.97.  It is just so good.  I think that the secret is out though.  Every time that we have gone to Total Wine lately, this option has been sold out.  Maybe I shouldn’t be putting this in here.  It is going probably increase demand and drive up costs.  Ignore everything that I just said, it isn’t that good.

alamos

1) Alamos Malbec ($7.97)- I mean, you had to know that a Malbec would top the list.  Actually, I am enjoying a glass as I type this post.  The Alamos has been my favorite budgeted option for a few years now.  Over the years, I have shared it with family and friends.  I am pretty sure that it is my father-in-law’s favorite now.  We actually recently had a house warming and three different family members showed up with a bottle of the Alamos.   Needless to say, this was the “Bride’s Pick” at our wedding and it was the first wine to run out.  Definitely worth a try!

I would love to hear what you think about these picks!   Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

 

 

Student Loan Calculator

When you have significant debt, one of the hardest things to do is to attribute any extra income towards paying down those loans.    Since you barely put a dent in the total amount you owe, it sometimes feels easier to forgo contributing all together.   I always told myself, “But I could do so much with that $100 now and it really won’t make a difference in my outstanding debt anyway”.  Now there are some times where that money may be better used elsewhere, but quite often it went to some impulse purchase instead that brought me no lasting joy.

Recently, I came across the Bankrate Calculator, which allowed me to calculate how my extra payments toward loans would impact my debt. By playing around with this calculator, I realized that by paying an extra $250 per month I would be able to cut my repayment time from seven to five years.  That’s almost two years! There was even an amortization table to see how quickly the loans would be paid down with these extra funds.

Here is how it works.  Head to the website and enter your loan information.

IMG_7277

Then you can include any extra payments.  These payments could be made monthly, annually, or by a one-time payment.  From there you can select the “Show/Recalculate Amortization Table”.  The calculator will automatically update your amortization table as well as your payoff date.

IMG_7278

When I added an extra payment of $250 per month, my payoff date changed from August 24, 2024 to September 24, 2022.  That is almost two years earlier!  By seeing that these additional payments made a real dent in my overall loan term as well as my interest, I now feel a lot better about making extra monthly payments.

The other great thing about this calculator is that it isn’t really limited to student loans.  You can use them for any fixed interest rate debt to help calculate an expedited payment schedule.

Beginning this Journey

Budgets are scary.  No, terrifying.  Whenever I heard the word “budget” in the past, I  always ran for the hills.  I equated the word budget with the idea of deprivation.   It meant that I couldn’t buy that dress that I was obsessing over or that I couldn’t get a glass of wine with my dinner.   My goal while paying down my debt is to focus on my budget as a sense of empowerment, since I am finally making the decision to control my finances.  Instead of watching my paycheck disappear within a few hours of hitting my account, I will consciously decide where my money will go.   And that seems like a pretty exciting opportunity to me.

As a way of background, I went to law school where I acquired a mountain of debt.   Then I married my wonderful husband, who happens to be a financial planner.  All of a sudden,  I could no longer run away from my debt.  This website will outline my journey on the path towards financial freedom.

It is important to note, that budgeting to me is a matter of balance.  I do not intend to stop living my life with the sole life purpose of eliminating debt.  Instead, I want to embrace the power of debt.  I want to make financially wise decisions by engaging in mindful spending.  This isn’t about deprivation; it is about focus, strength, research, and knowledge.  Now, I am certainly not an expert and I will be learning along the way and maybe someone reading this blog will be able to learn something too.

Stay tuned for more.