Welcome to our State of the Blog update for July 2017! This month, we talk about rentals, side hustles, and a new look for the John & Jane Doe Guide to Money.
You probably noticed that things around here look a little different this week. We celebrated two years of blogging in July, and that prompted a much-needed facelift for the blog.
I decided that the first order of business was to bring our resources page current and eliminate some unnecessary content. I deleted most of the blog links, figuring that I can put together a blogroll that accurately reflects my favorites, and added some of the programs we’ve been using and enjoying to improve our finances.
We have a new tagline: A Journey to Better Finances through Frugal Living and Investing. That’s pretty much where Jon and I have naturally focused our writing, but stating it more clearly seems to be helping me frame my efforts.
A New Theme
I bit the bullet and paid for a new theme. I’d used the same free theme, Inkness, since I started the blog. At the time, I thought my black backgrounds seemed serious and businesslike and different. Moving forward, though, I think a brighter, cleaner look seems to more accurately reflect our outlook.
Plus, I want to speed things up a bit.
I went for a premium theme from MyThemeShop.com, called Sensational. (yep, that’s an affiliate link.) With it, I’ll be able to replace several plugins and decrease load times.
The layout isn’t quite finalized. Sensational has a lot of settings to explore, and I have more work to do before I can fully utilize the theme. So you can expect more changes, but they may not be as obvious as the one that went into effect Monday.
Last month, we talked about losing our tenants of two years and the financial pinch that accompanied that fact. I figured best case scenario, we could get new renters in August.
I underestimated how attractive the townhouse must be to renters. We had a ton of calls throughout June and the first week in July, and Jon found new tenants who moved in mid-month.
I suspect we asked too little. When we set the rent, we decided to just bump up by about $50 a month. That matched the increase we’ve seen over the last 2 years on the rent from my old house in Greensboro.
After we had posted the rent, I looked up the property value on Zillow to fill out our quarterly personal balance sheet. Zillow estimated the rent potential at $100 higher than we asked.
Of course, asking more is a two-edged sword. The low rent meant we had a lot of potential tenants and a very short period of no rent and extra utility payments. In this case, The difference that made on our cash flow probably negated the income from a rent increase.
When it’s time to renew the lease or find new tenants, though, I think I’ll do a little more research before we quote a price.
Since I started this blog, my side hustle projects have pretty much stuck to the shallow end of the pool. I got some rebates through Ibotta and managed to fund my e-book habit and some Christmas presents with Swagbucks. I even entered a few contests and picked up a $50 Amazon card.
You could say I didn’t so much hustle as fall into a few bucks.
In July, I worked a little harder at kickstarting some extra income. I joined the ranks of bloggers turned freelance writers and got paid for a couple of articles. I didn’t particularly seek out the opportunity, but I managed to catch it anyway. That said, now that I have it, I’m trying to do a darn good job.
That wasn’t my most lucrative hustle though. I also got paid for being part of a market research panel. $50 for 2 hours that otherwise would have been put to internet surfing or social media. Yes, please!
That said, I can basically put “market research guinea pig earnings” down to chance. Freelance writing took a lot more effort, but it has far more earning potential long-term than a random opportunity to give my opinion.
The To-Do List
To recap, my goals for the year were to:
- Live Healthier
- Increase Financial Health
- Improve the Blog
- Do Good Things
- Get Rid of Excess Stuff
Not much change here. Ate too much junk, managed exercise a couple of days a week.
Increase Financial Health
As I mentioned in my procrastination post, all of my investments have successfully moved. I sold most of the ones with ridiculous fees and replaced them with S&P 500 and Total Bond Market Index Funds.
Although we still spent some money on Prime Day, pulling the trigger on Jon’s phone, we had a pretty low-spend month. Back-to-School supplies ran us another $100, about $50 we could have avoided but didn’t. Little Bit had used the same lunch box since she was 3 and wanted something a bit more grown up…and capable of holding a little more food. I ordered a durable (and guaranteed) green paisley one. We also chipped in some extra non-mandatory classroom supplies, since her new teacher’s list was far smaller than we’ve had for previous years.
I did want to take advantage of a Swagbucks deal for $12.50 back on $50 worth of purchases to pick up some jeans/long pants for Little Bit. Jon talked me out of it, though, since she probably won’t need them for 3 months. Once he said it, it made total sense. You never know when a kid’s going to have a big growth spurt. Fortunately, talking about the purchase delayed if not derailed it.
It’s not like Kohl’s won’t have another sale between now and October.
Improve the Blog
For most of it, see above. For the next month, getting the appearance and static pages refreshed will be a big focus.
I joined a mastermind group. It’s still early days, but I’ve gotten a couple of good hints that have carried over to the blog.
Do Good Things
I worked a couple of days of Vacation Bible School and one session of Little Bit’s school store. I signed up to teach Sunday School again, and we bought our daughter’s teacher a few things from her classroom want list.
It’s mostly the same stuff I’ve been doing for the last year. I had hoped to make progress, but I keep drifting back to my comfort zone without adding anything new.
Still, I like the idea of keeping this notation in. It reminds me that doing good things for my community is important to who I want to be, even if I keep falling short.
Get Rid of Excess Stuff
Win! Jon took 16 bags of clothes for donation. Many of the items were things we packed when we moved seven years ago and hadn’t touched since. While I’d been looking for some of my caps and scarves, I got rid of a ton of old shirts.
Jon got rid of even more clothes than I did.
We did move a desk into the house so Little Bit has a better place to do her homework. While it’s extra furniture (and we have a ton), I think it helps her get settled down into her afternoon routine. Plus, now I have a better place to stash her art and school supplies.
I also managed to clear off and donate or trash 2 shelves of cookbooks and cooking magazines I’d kept but not used in years. While I got rid of those, I also managed to get rid of my notes and textbooks from my MBA program 5 years ago.
We even trashed the old breadmaker that died last year.
For August, we’ll try to double down on our progress. It’ll take a lot of months like this one to get our home where I want it.
Wrapping Up July 2017
Our July had a number of nice surprises…a little more income than expected, good progress on my goals, and a refined focus for our blog moving into our third year. I don’t know what resulted in my increased productivity, but I did take a piece of advice from Matt over at Optimize Your Life and started writing a few more things down towards the end month.
Maybe that will help keep the good things going because next month looks a lot busier. August brings another track-out for Little Bit and CE classes for my tax prep gig. We plan on sticking close to home, but then, we planned that last year too and ended up playing mini-golf in Myrtle Beach instead.
How did July 2017 go for you? What tricks do you use to keep moving ahead after a good month?
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