Our Strategy for Saving on Heating Bills

When do you turn on the heat when the weather cools off? Could you wait a little longer? Using the principle of the frog analogy in the reverse, let me explain how we save big on heating costs.

In a classic analogy, if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, he’ll immediately  jump right out.  If you drop the frog into comfortable water and gradually heat it to boiling, the frog will be boiled.

Side Note #1: My husband thinks the frog in the pot scenario is a bunch of baloney, but we’re too nice to test it out.

Whether or not the frog story is accurate, most of us would agree that gradual, subtle changes are more easily accepted than sudden, drastic changes.

I want to use the principle of the frog analogy (in the reverse) to explain how we save on heating costs.

When people hear how low we keep our thermostat during the winter they think we’re nuts!  They can’t imagine changing their homes from 78 to 58 degrees in January.

Neither can I!  Like a frog placed in boiling water, I would hop right out!

Our secret to saving on heating bills is that we wait as long as possible to turn our heater on.  Like the frog who gradually gets used to increased temperatures, our bodies gradually acclimate to a lower temperature.

In addition to normal acclimation, we dress appropriately to increase our temperature stamina.  We wear sweaters and slippers around the house.  In the evenings I blog with my hoodie on.  For Christmas, I made the kids warm fleece robes and bought them quality hard-soled slippers.

Side Note #2: Just so you know, our kids aren’t suffering.  They handle the cold (and heat) far better than grown-ups (especially me).  They run around our cold cement floors with bare feet and it doesn’t even faze them.  I have to constantly remind them to wear their slippers or put on a sweater because they say they aren’t even cold.

We love challenges and competitions, so seeing how long we can go before turning on the heat is actually fun for us.  (Maybe we are crazy.)  When we do turn on the heat, we don’t crank it up to 78.  We just turn it up a wee bit from the temperature that we decided was just too low.  If the temperature starts to dip to that point, the heater kicks in and we’re fine.

Side Note #3:  I know there is an observant reader who is thinking, “Wait!  I thought that you didn’t pay any utility bills with your sweet hook-up living in your in-laws’ unfinished basement?”  (I’m really impressed if anyone wondered that.)  It’s true.  We figure that my husband’s parents are saving us loads by letting us live here for free, so we are happy to do what we can to help keep their bills down.  Besides, we also challenged ourselves like this during our law school years when we did pay for heat.

There are lots of ways to save on heating costs, from putting plastic on your windows and a rolled towel to stop drafts under the front door, to blowing new insulation into your attic.  No matter what efficiency strategies you employ, waiting as long as possible to turn on the heat and keeping the thermostat low when you do will only increase your savings.  Each day you wait to turn on the heat will save you money and provide a fun challenge as well.

How about you?

  • How long do you wait before turning on the heat when the weather cools off?
  • Do you dress warmly at home in order to keep the thermostat set low?
  • Do you think the frog would really get boiled?

Why We Give Away 10% of Our Income Even Though We’re in Debt

We're working hard to pay off six figures of student loan debt, but we still pay 10% of our income in tithing. We wouldn't have it any other way. Here's why.

If someone gave you $1,000 and then asked for $100 back and let you keep $900, would you accept the offer?  I know I would.  That’s how I feel about tithing.

Of all the personal things we share at Six Figures Under, the topic that has brought the most criticism and concern from readers is tithing.  I’d like to explain a little more about why tithing is a priority for us, even though we’ve got a serious goal to pay off major debt.  I won’t be preachy, I just want you to know where we’re coming from.

We Pay a 10% Tithe on Our Income

If you’ve seen our monthly budget reports where our personal finances are made public, you know that each month, we pay a full 10% tithe on our income.  Our total income varies each month, so at the end of the month, we total up our income, then pay 10% of the total at the beginning of the next month.  When I was single and life was simpler, I would pay my tithing on each individual paycheck, but for simplicity’s sake we pay once a month.

Tithing is a Priority

The first line in our budget (and each month’s financial report) is tithing.  That’s not a coincidence.  Tithing is our highest financial priority.  We consider all that we have as a gift from God.  He not only gives us our actual possessions,  he also gives us the talents and ability to do something with our lives, including earning our monthly income.  When I was young I learned a verse that explains it perfectly:

I’m glad to pay a tithing, one-tenth of all I earn.
It’s little when I think of all God gives me in return.

We Expect Blessings

We believe God’s promise from Malachi chapter 3 that he will “open the windows of heaven” and pour out great blessings on us as we pay tithing in faith.  We have seen the blessings that come in our lives as we obey this commandment.  Sometimes they are financial and sometimes they are not, but we have no doubt that God takes care of us when we are willing to give back part of what he has first given us.

Don’t Feel Bad For Us

I’ve been taken aback by some of the criticism and concern of readers.  I thought I would share a few concerns and my responses to them in case other readers have the same concerns.

“It angers me beyond belief that a church would require and accept a 10% tithe from someone in your financial situation.”

We don’t see it as the church requiring a tithe, but rather as a commandment of God.  Tithing is about faith, not about money. The commandment doesn’t change depending on your current financial situation.  Restricting people from paying tithing is denying them the great blessings that come with obedience to this commandment.

“A church that sets an expectation of 10% tithing is more about business than about spirit.”

Our church has an unpaid ministry.  We all volunteer our time to serve in various positions in our local congregations.  Tithing money is used to construct church buildings and temples throughout the world, to fund the missionary program, to provide operating funds for the church, to pay for outstanding educational institutions, to fund an enormous world-wide humanitarian effort, and many other worthy and important causes.  Further, we believe that the president of the church is a prophet of God, called to represent him to us on earth, and that he and the others who decide how tithing funds are spent do it with divine guidance.  We have no reservations about how sacred tithing funds are spent.

“From a financial standpoint, do you realize how much tithing is costing you?  Just think of how much faster you would reach your goal if that 10% went toward your debt!”

Honestly, we don’t even consider what other things our tithing money could go toward.  We could easily calculate it, but we have never considered not paying tithing.  We pay tithing first, even if it means that things will be tight.  Even if the remaining 90% of our income did not cover our expenses, we would still pay our tithing.   Paying tithing is a test of faith.  While some would argue that our family can’t afford to pay tithing, we would counter that we can’t afford not to pay tithing.

I Get It

I totally get that people with different beliefs see our willingness to give away 10% of our income as absurd.  I get that paying tithing while in debt might seem outrageous to some.  That’s completely okay.    You don’t have to agree with us.  We can still be friends. :)  I just wanted to give you the inside scoop as to why tithing will always be a part of our budget, even when we’ve got a relatively low income and high debt.

Linked to One Project at a Time

Using Credit Cards on a Zero-Based Budget: Credit Cards with YNAB

Does using credit cards on a zero-based budget seem like an impossibility to you?  It did to me at first, too. As it turns out, credit cards work extremely well with our YNAB zero-based budget.  In fact, it's probably the safest way to use a credit card!

Does using credit cards on a zero-based budget seem like an impossibility to you?  It did to me at first, too.  I thought you had to use a cash envelope system to make a zero-based budget work.

As it turns out, credit cards work extremely well with our YNAB zero-based budget.  In fact, it’s probably the safest way to use a credit card!

A Quick Disclaimer

We all know that abstinence is always safest when it comes to credit card use.  If you are uneasy about using credit cards because you’ve been irresponsible in the past, don’t start using them now.  If you are deep in credit card debt, stop reading this and choose one of these awesome articles on debt.

Using Credit Cards

If you’re still reading, I imagine you are like us.  You like the convenience, safety and rewards that a credit card provides.  You pay your credit card in full each month, before it accrues any interest or fees.  You never carry a balance.  You are excited that you can have an awesome, functional budget and still have the perks of credit cards.

You Need a Budget

The budgeting software that forever changed our budgeting is called YNAB (pronounced “why-nab”), short for You Need A Budget.  It’s not just software, but a philosophy and method that will shift your budgeting paradigm.

For more details on how YNAB works, checkout my other articles on how we budget with YNAB (they’ll each open in a new tab):

With YNAB’s method, you only spend money that you have.  As you receive income, you allocate that income to your spending categories.  When you spend, the amount of money available in that category is reduced.  If you always spend according to the money available in each category and record all your transactions (the mobile app makes this really simple), you are spending money that you have.  You’re living within your means.

When you get more income, you can fund more categories.  All the while, you are setting some money aside so that you can eventually “live on last month’s income,” meaning you can budget for the entire month at the beginning of the month because you have a month’s worth of income available to work with.

Why Credit Cards Work With YNAB

Spending according to the balance of the budget categories, rather than the balance of your checking account makes credit card use safe.  You are spending money that you actually have, not money you hope to have by the time the bill is due.  

The budget sees money spent with a credit card as just as gone as cash that left your hand.  It’s gone and can’t be spent again.  However, in reality the money hasn’t gone anywhere.  When the bill comes, the money will be in your checking account waiting for you.

Getting Started

The toughest part is getting started.  I recommend watching the free live classes if you are new to YNAB.  After you’ve got the basics down, there is a class specifically on using credit cards.

In a nutshell, when you start YNAB, you will manually enter your account balances, including credit card balances (the total as of the day you start using YNAB).  Your credit card balances will automatically be lumped into a category called “Pre-YNAB Debt.”  Pre-YNAB Debt represents spending that was done before your YNAB budget, so it isn’t divided into categories like groceries, electric, gas, etc.  It’s just history and accounts for the bill that will be coming soon.

From here on out, spending will be done according to categories and will be “spent” from the budget at the time it is actually spent, not when the money comes out of your checking account.  When you have paid off your Pre-YNAB Debt, you won’t need that category anymore.  All future credit card spending will be accounted for at the category level.

credit cards with YNAB

The first month is tricky, because you’re essentially “paying” for 2 months: what you spent last month on credit and what you are spending this month.  Being careful and intentional about your spending, especially in the beginning, will make for an easier transition into using credit cards with YNAB.  You could even have a no-spend month (or week) to start you out on the right foot.

If you aren’t able to pay your credit card off in one month (maybe that’s part of getting your finances in order), the free YNAB classes will show you how to deal with paying off Pre-YNAB Debt over a longer period.  It’s a great way to get rid of that debt once and for all!  Once you’ve gotten rid of your Pre-YNAB Debt and you’re just paying attention to category balances when you spend, budgeting will be smooth sailing. 

Stress-Free and Safe

Fro me, reading about the YNAB method and understanding this concept on a theoretical level made sense and sounded great.  I could see that YNAB would probably help us to keep better track of our money.  What I didn’t anticipate was the HUGE stress relief it was to be able to pay the credit card bill off each month without worrying how it would affect our account balances and other upcoming obligations.  Even though we have always paid our credit cards off each month, sometimes it meant that at the end of the month, there wasn’t any extra to put toward our student loans or that money would be tight for a while.

There are lots of things I love about YNAB (hence all of the articles listed above), but one of my favorites is the safe and stress-free way that we can use credit cards.  Now I can’t imagine comfortably using a credit card any other way!

Save on YNAB

Maybe it sounds silly, but switching to YNAB has been one of the most valuable things we’ve done in our quest to become debt free.  If you are interested in trying it out, check out the YNAB videos and download the software for a free 34 day trial.   The purchase price is $60, but you’ll  save $6 with my referral link, dropping the total cost to $54.  No monthly or annual fees.  It’s all yours.  As one who is as frugal as they come, I can attest that, for us, YNAB is totally worth the investment!

Linked to One Project at a Time, Thrifty Thursday

2014 Garden Report– The Year of Guilt and Gratitude

Our garden is a big part of keeping our food budget down. This year our harvest brought both guilt and gratitude and has taught us something in the process.

Last year at this time I shared my gratitude for our bounteous harvest.  I made a pretty thorough list of what we planted, how it fared, and what we did with it.  Looking back, I’m quite impressed.

In other posts throughout the year, I shared 10 reasons to grow a garden and our our favorite cost effective vegetables to grow.  Canning, freezing, dehydrating, and eating fresh produce from our garden is one of the ways we keep a low grocery budget.

If last year’s garden is summed up with the word “gratitude,” this year’s garden can be summed up with the word “guilt.”

I’ve been dreading this post because I was feeling like a failure.  Like a fraud.  That might sound like a ridiculous worry.  We tell you the details of our finances, so why am I fretting about telling you about the sad state of our garden?  Well, for the sake of keeping it real at Six Figures Under, here’s our 2014 report.

We had good intentions when we planted in the spring.  I bought seeds, including a few varieties we had never tried before.  Seeing the amazing transformation of a tiny seed to a thriving plant is motivating and inspiring.  We planned on making great use of our soon-to-be productive garden.

As the summer wore on, we got busy (and lazy when it came to working out in the sweltering heat).  The only time Mr. SixFiguresUnder is around to help in the garden is on Saturday and sometimes Saturdays fill up quickly.

I was generally faithful about watering, so the garden still grew, weeds and all.  Where we have been huge slackers lately is harvesting.  That’s supposed to be the “fun” part where you reap what you sow, right?  Instead, the fruits of our labors are rotting on the vine!

I have been sick for the past few months, so just keeping everyone fed and in clean clothes has been a major chore.  I am ashamed at how much food is going to waste in our garden. (We were a little over-zealous in planting tomatoes.)  We know that when we bring food in, we have to do something with it, so we don’t harvest until we’re ready to undertake that task.

Even though I feel guilty for not using it all, I am still grateful for what we have been able to use.

  • We have eaten or frozen all of our cantaloupe and watermelon.
  • We have harvested over a year’s-worth of garlic.
  • We used our first planting of carrots in soups (the second planting is going to seed in the ground).
  • We canned 40 quarts of tomato puree, used fresh tomato puree, and ate fresh tomatoes.
  • We harvested, diced and froze around 30 large onions.
  • We froze some green beans and foot-long beans (though most were wasted on the vine).
  • We made cheesy squash a number of times and added zucchini and yellow squash to lots of other dishes.
  • The gophers decided to share our potato harvest, but everything they didn’t eat, we did.  I love home-grown potatoes!
  • Mr. SixFiguresUnder loves Armenian cucumbers, so he enjoyed lots of them in his lunches until the tomato jungle made them somewhat inaccessible.
  • We froze lots of blackberries and raspberries.  I’ve made several razzleberry pies and canned about 7 quarts of razzleberry jam.
  • We are just starting to harvest our sweet potatoes.  This was our first year giving them a try, but it looks like a healthy crop.  Sweet potatoes keep well and are very versatile.
  • Our pumpkins were rather puny this year.  Some of the vines were scorched during a hot spell when I wasn’t diligent at watering.
  • My in-laws have several fruit trees that were productive this year.  We helped thin apples in the summer and the kids have helped pick the fruit.  We’ve had apples, peaches, plums and cherries that they’ve generously shared.

Okay… I’m feeling more gratitude than guilt now.

When I sat down to write about the garden, my mental focus was on the tomatoes and green beans that were rotting on the vine and all the wasted chard and carrots, but after doing a full analysis, I see that the garden has given us (and we’ve been able to use) more than I realized.

I guess that’s why we should regularly count our blessings.  It’s so easy to get bogged down with our failures and focus on guilt.  Taking an inventory of our successes and our blessings can really lighten our burdens and lift our spirits.

How about you?

  • How did your garden do this year? Successes?  Failures?  Experiments?
  • Have you felt your gratitude increase by “counting” your blessings? (If not you should try it!)

Linked to One Project at a Time, Thrifty Thursday