Sunday, February 17, 2013

A year of self-haircuts

It's been a year since I bought a Wahl clipper per Mr. Money Mustache's advice. In that time I shaved with a razor maybe half a dozen times, and I never went to a barber. I can confidently say that this has been one of the easiest and biggest wins for me during my time as a Mustachian.

In terms of pure numbers it's a no-brainer. I estimate that I used to get a haircut every six week or so. That's about 8 haircuts per year, rounding down. At $17 per haircut ($14 plus tip), that's $136 per year on haircuts. I usually shave every two to three days. Let's say I replace my Mach 3 Turbo blades every 3.4 weeks, to make the numbers convenient: that's 15 blades per year, which I can find on Amazon right now for  $15.99 for a 5-pack or $28.99 for a 10-pack; let's take the lower $2.90/blade number and say that's $43.50 per year. Shaving cream is $1 per can, and let's say I go through one every six months, for $2 per year.

My Wahl clipper was $25 and saved me $181 in a year, which by my count is a 624% return on investment this year.  Pretty good!

I saved a lot of time, too. A trip to the barber takes somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, including travel time and wait time. Cutting my own hair takes maybe fifteen minutes in the comfort of my own home. And the time saved is prime time: I visit the barber on the weekend, usually during the day when I could be doing anything else with my time; whereas I can (and do) cut my own hair on a random Tuesday evening. So I estimate I've traded 9 weekend hours for 2 weeknight hours, which is a pretty awesome trade.

Now, I don't want to pretend like it's all roses. The average quality of haircut I receive from a barber is noticeably higher than that which I give myself. I screwed up my sideburns once or twice while I was learning how to cut my hair, and I haven't even attempted the fancypants layering technique that the professionals can do. At best I've learned how to make my hair passably well-kept, which is good enough for me. If I were so inclined (which I'm not), I think I could pick up a technique or two approximate more closely the haircuts given out by professional barbers. That is time and effort that you may be willing to invest yourself.

It remains to be seen how long my clipper will last. It shows no noticeable signs of degradation, and I freely admit I have not been doing much to maintain it. Whenever it does decide to die, either tomorrow or in one or five or ten years, it will have paid for itself many many times over.

In conclusion, I highly recommend buying your very own Universal Men's Grooming Device (or clipper or trimmer or whatever you want to call it), and using it to maintain all your facial hair. I was skeptical at first and now I am a true believer. Worst case you spend a little more for a crappy haircut and go back to your life at the barber shop. Best case you save thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours over the course of your lifetime. Give it a shot!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

January update

A few notable things happened during January and it's time I filled you in.

I realized I needed a better handle on my 0% credit card debt after I blogged about it last month. Almost $9k split across multiple credit cards with different introductory rate periods was really stressing me out. I found that the Chase Slate* card offered 0% APR for 15 months, with (get this!) a no-fee balance transfer promotion. That's a pretty unusual offer nowadays so I decided to take advantage.

It looks like they're still offering the no-fee transfer promotion, too, so it could be something to consider if you're carrying credit card debt. Just remember that if you do transfer a balance, you're not allowed to carry a balance on any other card you have ever again, or Mr. Money Mustache will punch you in the face. I'd like to avoid credit card related face punches so I've set automatic bill payment for the full statement balance on every other credit card I have. In this way my debt will continue its downward trajectory automatically, since I won't be able to pile on any more credit card debt without thinking about it.

Now I have 15 months to tackle $9k in 0% credit card debt. That's enough breathing room to fund some tax-advantaged accounts before April 15th while still vanquishing my student loans.

So let's talk about my student loans. My march toward financial freedom has been largely automatic for at least the past few months. I made a payment of $1600 on 12/27/2012 and one of $2940 on 1/22/2013. As of today my balance stands at $4,049.68. The balance of my checking account is $4,251.72. Thus I have the rare pleasure to report that, for the first time in 8 years, the balance of my checking account exceeds that of my student loans. I don't want to cut my finances too close this month, so I'm going to wait until my next round of debt service occurs before I send in my final payment, but it looks like I'll be student loan free in early March.

Now for the (relatively) bad news: last month was the first month I ever missed a credit card payment. The cause was solely inattentiveness. I thought I had auto pay set up on all my credit cards, which was true except for my Visa. My bill pay reminder emails were filtered automatically out of my inbox and I went more than a month before checking them. They even sent me snail mail to tell me that my payment was late; I let it sit for two weeks before opening it. The only way I found out was an automatic alert from my Credit Karma** account saying that I missed a payment.

This is obviously no one's fault but mine. As soon as I found out I immediately logged in and paid my balance in full. It was only about $300, mostly Christmas spending. At first I was a little upset that my previously "good" or "excellent" credit score was now only "fair". But the more I thought about it the more I think it's a blessing in disguise. For one, it was the kick in the butt I needed to get my figurative house in order: I had been letting little things slip like chores, home maintenance, emails, etc. But the bigger benefit is that it effectively removes my ability to continue the kind of credit shenanigans I've been doing for the past year.

I don't anticipate being negatively impacted by the hit to my credit score. I already have all the credit I could possibly want; indeed, I have too much. I'll be de-leveraging for at least another year or two, paying down my 0% debt and car loan. I already have a mortgage and a personal line of credit. The only other credit I could possibly want is a home equity line of credit, and it will be a few years before we have enough equity for that.

Never borrowing money is a great way to get ahead financially. Sure you can do better, in theory, leveraging your credit to take cheap money and invest it for higher rates of return. That is a risky approach. It is much safer to spend less than you earn, save and invest the difference, and keep out of debt.

* This isn't a sponsored link, so I won't get any money if you apply using it.
** Credit Karma is free, and while they don't give you your actual FICO score, I highly recommend the service.