Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Blog!

I am happy to announce the beginning of my new website and blog. You can find it and my first post "I promise you death" over at http://michaeldyates.wordpress.com. My goal is to establish a more professional and customize-able site that I can develop now that I'm well into my post-college life. I will leave this blog up for archival and reference and am quite happy for the training ground it has been for me.

May God bless you all as you follow me over at http://www.michaeldyates.com.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How to Save Money: Move

One of the most powerful money-saving decisions we made was one of the most difficult. We decided to move. While we had motivations that weren't exclusively financial, doing some math really helped in our decision.

If you are planning a move soon, consider financial costs and savings as a big factor in your decision. Here are some things to consider.

1. Location compared to work, church, and other regular destinations. How many times do you drive there on average a month? Put these distances into a spreadsheet and calculate your savings. Look at the federal mileage reimbursement rate to help calculate how much you are saving by moving closer.

2. Monthly costs at your current location vs monthly costs at the new location. Consider rent/mortgage, utilities, property taxes, insurance, and available appliances (e.g. laundry hookups vs laundromat.

3. The costs of moving: rental truck or movers, deposit at new location, closing costs/selling costs, down payments, cleaning, application fees, installation services, and new furnishings and appliances.

In the quest to save money, consider that housing is probably your primary expense. Are you willing to make big decisions to help your financial situation?

Personally, when we moved we gave up 250 square feet. However, we are 12 miles closer to my job, and 12 miles closer to our church. By calculating the average number of round-trips we make to each destination monthly, that is a savings of $250 a month in transportation costs alone! That's $3000 a year. In addition by going with a smaller place, we saved $70 a month. That's $840 a year.

If I told you it was possible to save $3800 a year and spend more time with your family and less in the car, would you consider it?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to Save Money: Internet and Cell Phones

In our attempt to better live within our means, we had to make some cuts. Despite our willingness to own a pair of smartphones, ours are still of the "dumb" variety. We found that two cell phones with the smallest amount of minutes possible, but including unlimited nights and mobile-to-mobile were the best solution for us.

While we had a relatively affordable plan around $80/month, we found it advantageous to join our parents on a family plan. If you look into the details of any (contracted) cell phone plan, you find that you really start saving the big bucks when you hit lines 3 and up. So if you can get a group of financially trustworthy people together (for some people, family does not qualify), try to gather under one cellular roof and split the bill. It can be quite lucrative. We have gone from that $80/mo to around $40. For that we get unlimited calling to other phones with our carrier, unlimited text, and basic internet on one of the phones. (Note that I didn't mention carriers because with this concept it doesn't really matter.)

In related news, we've been able to go home-phone-free for a few years now. From my experience a very basic home phone plan is $25/mo. There are some pretty cool cordless phones out now that allow you to use a cordless phone on your cell phone plan. The base pairs with the Bluetooth on several cell phones. (AKA, when your cell phone rings, your home phone rings; no home phone plan necessary).

Finally, yet still related, we got our Internet through a Mobile Broadband carrier. This uses a cell phone network to bring internet to your computer. Usually you'll get the best speed and price if you get a mobile broadband device from your cell phone carrier if you're on a contract plan. Otherwise, there are several no-contract solutions. To my knowledge, the no-contract option with the best speeds is T-Mobile. Clear is contracted but their cancellation fee is so small that it's not a big deal. Of course, check coverage in your area before signing up for anything. Also, try to get a good estimate of how much data you'll need. (Great calculator here.) On Clear's Basic Home plan we're at $35/mo for about 1.5mbps speeds. When you consider that we don't need a home phone to get this service, it's a pretty good savings ($5-10/mo on the internet portion alone).

Altogether we're saving $40 on the cell phone, $25 on the home phone, and about $5 on internet. That's about $840/year.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How To Save Money: Netflix and Antenna

Deficit reduction is the name of the game. I sometimes feel like my own life is a mirror of the national dialogue. I'd like to share with you in a series of posts how my family has been saving money every month. My hope is that you analyze your own situation and take as many of these suggestions to heart as you see fit.

One way we have been significantly saving money is by eliminating satellite and cable from our diet. We've had both Dish Network and Comcast in the last 4 years. Plans through Dish ran us about $35/month and Comcast was over $50 (and that was the introductory rate!). Though my wife and I both watch a fair amount of TV, she has the dominating market share. So, it was really up to her what she was willing to give up and live with.

We determined initially that by eliminating the TV service, using an antenna for locals, and getting at most 1 Redbox movie a day, we'd cut back to $30/mo at worst.  When she quit her part time job, we subscribed to Netflix streaming and 1 DVD at-a-time for $10.99/mo so she'd have more choices. Haven't been back to Redbox since.

$50 a month to $11 a month is a $468 annual savings.

With the newly announced plan changes through Netflix (September 1), we'll probably drop streaming and go to 2 DVDs at-a-time for $12/mo.

Pros: Besides the savings, we have a movie selection similar to what Comcast offered on-demand, and we don't have to drive anywhere for dvd rentals.Wii

Cons: Requires an equipment investment. You need a streaming device for Netflix (gaming system, bluray, or Roku), Broadband internet service with wi-fi (router or my-fi card). The antenna will vary based on where you live, you'll need a digital converter box for any non-digital tv you want to use. You have to give up your favorite cable networks, (for us TNT and Comedy Central were painful to surrender).

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

What is the purpose of life?

This question has been asked by every person that ever lived. We want to know why we are here and what we're supposed to do. There is a book in the Bible that was written to answer this question. It was probably written by King Solomon near the end of his life. Solomon was well known for being very wise. He looked at all the things he had done and tried to find meaning in them. Today, we will look at what he found and his advice to others.

In this book, Solomon calls himself the “Preacher” or “Teacher”. In Greek this is “Ecclesiastes,” the name English-speakers use for the book.

Ecclesiastes 1:2
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes it seems like everything is meaningless. We want to look at the things we have done in our lives and think that they were worth something. We want to do good things that have value. We think that by working hard, we will add meaning to our lives. We think that living a long time will give our lives meaning. We think that getting more money or wealth will make our lives meaningful. The Preacher thought these things were true too. But he found later in life that it was not true.

The Preacher was saddened by the idea that both good people and evil people had to die. He also saw many examples of injustice. He wanted to find meaning in all of this.

Ecclesiastes 2:1
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.

The Preacher determined that the purpose of life might be trying to be wealthy. He tried to have as much pleasure as he could. He collected gold. He drank a lot of wine to feel good. He built extra houses, pools, and gardens. Anything that looked good, he wanted.

At the end of this pursuit, he gave up. He called it “chasing after the wind”. He learns that pursuing wealth and pleasure is not the purpose of life.

Ecclesiastes 4:8
There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!

The Preacher saw people working hard all around him. He thought that hard work might be the purpose of life. He tried working harder than normal and enjoying the benefits of work. But, as he saw people around him working, he realized something. No matter how hard someone works, they will still die. All that they have earned will be given to someone else. He saw that people are born with nothing and die with nothing.

The Preacher determined that hard work is wise and a good thing. However, hard work is not the purpose of life.

Ecclesiastes 6:6
"even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?"

If all of our money and wealth disappear when we die, then they cannot be the purpose of life. The Preacher thought that the purpose of life may be to live as long as possible. This way, a person can enjoy their wealth as long as possible. However, the Preacher saw that everyone dies in the end, so living a long life is not the purpose of life.

Ecclesiastes 6:7
Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
yet their appetite is never satisfied.

The Preacher is still looking for answers. People are always eating. Maybe the purpose of life is to eat good food, and eat it a lot. But, the Preacher also realized that the reason people are always eating is because they are never full. They can never get enough food. Getting more food it not the purpose of life

Eccleasiastes 9:16
So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.”

The Preacher begins to discuss the value of wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom lets a person enjoy life more. Wisdom also leads to a longer life. Wisdom makes a person stronger than physical strength can. Wisdom by itself is not the purpose of life, but wisdom is worth seeking. Wisdom will lead you to the purpose of life.

Ecclesiastes 12:1
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”

The first great wise teaching the Preacher gives is this one. Young people should remember and honor the Creator. It is important for young people to do this because they are still excited about life. It can be difficult for an older person to submit to the Creator, because they are sometimes disappointed in life. Everyone should draw close to God early in life. This is the first part of the purpose of life.

Life is all about the creator of life. The reason we exist is to bring glory to the One that made us. The Preacher realized that the reason for life is outside of life itself. The purpose for our existence is to come back to God. We were made by him and for him.

Ecclesiastes 12:13
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

The Preacher has reached an important conclusion. Nothing in life has lasting meaning because it will all disappear. Therefore, the only thing that could have meaning is something that lasts after death. After we die, our deeds will be judged. God will reward us for the times we have obeyed him. The way to fear God is to obey the commands he has given.

It is important to remember that every action we perform is seen by God. Jesus teaches that “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Since God will reward us, we must be constantly aware of our obedience.

Sometimes it seems like the wicked are being rewarded by the world. The Preacher encourages us not to worry.

Ecclesiastes 8:12-13
Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

What exactly are God's commands? Two of the most repeated commands in the Law that the author of Ecclesiastes would be familiar with were "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

One way that we can show our obedience to God is by repenting when we fail. This requires admitting our faults and changing our behavior for the future. God's grace is great. He forgives wickedness for those that repent.

As the Preacher looked for purpose in life, he found many wrong answers. Purpose is not found in pleasure. There is no eternal benefit to having great wealth. Even a long life must end. True meaning comes from obeying the commands of God. This is the only thing that lasts after death.

Ephesians 6:8
“you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do”

Let us live lives of meaning. Let us strive for these rewards!
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