Category Archives: Anything

Tracking Summer Cooling Costs

My energy usage has sky rocketed 95% percent year over year this summer.

The big change this summer has been that I finally live in a place with central air conditioning. It’s like living in the future. I’ve lived in places without central air conditioning–or dishwashers– for the past few years to cut costs. The weather around Chicago isn’t too bad, so I’ve been making do with a bunch of fans and a small window unit air conditioner.  I guess my cheapskate system of cooling down only a single room should be more efficient; I just never thought it would be twice as energy efficient.

For the past 3 months, I’m roughly tracking at 760 kWh this year versus 388 kWh last year.  The weather here in Illinois didn’t start to ramp up until June, which is when the air conditioner started to kick on constantly.  Seeing the June electricity bill kicked some sense into me. I wasn’t tracking usage to closely until I saw the cost and the numbers.  I was afraid that July would be even worse, so I started to dig into the data to see what I could do.

Energy Usage Data

For reference, I live in a 2 bedroom condo surrounded by other condos.  The building is brick and at least a hundred years old but with newer window, so it’s not terribly insulated. I generally keep the thermostat set to 75 degrees with schedules around times when people will be home or not.

My energy provider has a really detailed chart of energy usage by day or hour and with overlays for the temperature. As you can see from the graphs, my baseline energy usage is about $0.30 / day or roughly 3-4 kWh per day. On the days that the AC is running more, my costs/usage multiply 5x per day.

Here’s a day where I was working from home and waited to turn on the AC until the thermostat hit 78 degrees.   Lights, applicants, computers, and what not were all on the at 1pm.  All of these things barely used any energy compared to 2pm when I switched on the cooling system.

Now that I knew that the air handler and air conditioner were giant energy hogs, I started to watch the thermostat like a hawk. Previously, I was a little lazy about turning it on and off or managing the schedule. I didn’t realize that a couple hours of AC could use as much energy as the rest of my condo for the day.  I also dragged my array of fans out of storage.

Future Energy Management Steps

So I feel a lot better now that July’s pretty much over and I was able to bring the energy usage down to a more reasonable level.  I’ve thought about getting a Nest, because the scheduling system on my thermostat is kind of clunky.

I used to think a lot about getting energy efficient lights and unplugging appliances when I leave.  But all those things are small potatoes compared to my cooling system.  At this point, I’m thinking about looking into getting our system checked out. It’s about 10-11 years old, so it’s starting to approach the end of it’s life.

Net worth of the middle class from 1992 – 2013

One recurring request for the net worth percentile calculator on this website to show a break down of what makes up that net worth value. Here it is for a typical middle class household!

Here are the results of that request for a typical middle class household with comparisons for the past 20 years.  The overall trend for the shows that net worth has increased slightly, but assets and debts have also increased at almost the same rate.

Housing is by far the largest contributor to middle class wealth with investments contributing a far lower amount. In 2013, real estate contributed 54% of net worth ($110k in real estate assets – $64k in real estate related loans).

Net worth peaked in 2007 prior to the recession, and as of 2013 has not recovered yet. The 2016 data should be available over the summer in a few months, so we’ll see if the downward trend continues.

Net Worth Component Definitions

  • Real Estate : House(s) and other real estate
  • Investments : Retirement funds, stocks, mutual funds, stock options
  • Low Risk Investments : Cash, bonds, CD’s, and cash value of life insurance
  • Other Assets : Cars and other assets
  • Real Estate Debt : Mortgages and other real estate related loans
  • Student Loans and Auto Loans : These were already combined in the source data as installment loans.
  • Credit Cards and Other Debt : Credit cards and other debt

The data is sourced from the Federal Reserve and all values are adjusted for inflation to 2013 dollars.  The 2016 data will be published over the summer and I am planning to update the calculators and this chart to show additional trends.

We used the data for the 40-60th percentiles to create a weighted average net worth of what makes up the wealth of an average household, and to represent the middle class. Because it is a weighted average (mean), the net worth values are skewed slightly higher than a median based calculation.

Summary Table of Net Worth for the Middle Class

Note: these values are adjusted for inflation into 2013 dollars.

Year Total Assets Total Debt Median Net Worth
1992 $131,000 ($48,603) $82,397
1995 $152,434 ($63,897) $88,537
1998 $171,146 ($67,091) $104,054
2001 $185,715 ($68,590) $117,125
2004 $213,655 ($93,009) $120,646
2007 $250,588 ($111,403) $139,185
2010 $185,185 ($97,994) $87,191
2013 $161,126 ($76,052) $85,074

If the graph doesn’t load here is an image:

Measuring and Tracking your Financial Progress

The best thing about tracking and setting goals is that you are in total control of what you want to track and how you want to track it. At work, I typically have goals and metrics cascaded down to me from above whether or not I agree with those metrics and goals. For my personal finances it’s freeing to be able to set my own goals and decide how I want to measure success. Read on for examples of metrics and processes that you could use to track your financial goals and progress.

How I’m tracking this year

For this year, I decided to set my goals by loading my planned spending, income, and net worth in MadFienst’s lab and compare my end of month actuals to the plan. As each month goes by, I overwrite the planned numbers with actuals. Here’s an example graph with actuals thru March.

Planned and actual

How other people are tracking their goals and measuring their stats

I frequent the Rockstar Finance Forums and one of the things I wanted to find out was how others measure their financial success. I reached out to some of my fellow forum goers to get some new ideas. Here some of them.

setting targets

1. Setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely)

To recap, in 2017 I’ll measure how I’m doing financially on the following goals:

  • Increase year-over-year net worth growth with 50%
  • Invest 10% of my take-home pay in the stock market
  • Establish a concrete plan for building a new source of income

Probably not the most ambitious goals for a year, but I’m content with setting goals that’ll allow me to spend little time thinking about finances right now. The first two are done more or less by the “autopilot” I’ve set up to manage my finances. –

Better Goals for A Better Year – Abovare

2. Tracking year over year percentage increases

I do a monthly Net Worth check up and use the value $10,000 as my over/under on a good month. That would represent about 7/10’s of 1% increase. If I hit it 12 months a year I get an annual up 8.3%, I am good with that. I also do a year to year comparison in October (have been for 10 years) to see what % I am up for the year compared to other years. This fluctuates a lot but averages, 21.9% up a year. Year Over Year Net Worth – Othala Fehu

3. Focusing in on simple goals like generating passive income

I keep things simple. Long ago I worked out what it costs to be me, to live my life largely how I want it to be. Bollocks to frugality and minimalism and all that compromise.

I then set about building a passive income generating machine to fund that lifestyle.

In a given month where I earn more than I need, I do the happy dance and embarrass the hell out of my kids.

Alternatively should I earn less than that I curse the financial gods, before slapping myself upside the head for not being accountable for my own f*ck ups. Then I go figure out where things went awry.

Usually it is something simple like a void period between tenancies, or the result of a significant splurge such as an extended holiday.

On the rare occasion that it isn’t so easily explained I go looking for the underlying reason… maybe lifestyle inflation, or perhaps an increase in fees or interest rates or whatever.

In summary: Celebrate the small wins, which means if you’re doing it right you’ll be celebrating often. When you’re not figure out why, then do something about it. And repeat. Cantankerous.life

4. Managing spending

We mainly look at our spending. We automated our investments and only invest in index funds so the investing part is pretty straight forward. On the spending side, we focus on our biggest expenses and try to cut down all the fluff. Open Book Frugal – Our Financial Path

5. Managing debt and looking forward to milestones

I do a monthly net worth check and want my net worth to go up more than the previous month’s change. Now that I’m out of the bad debt repayment portion of my plan and more into the stock market, that is sometimes difficult with the crazy market fluctuations. So to keep it going up, I’ve got to keep paying more into savings/investments and to keep paying down the “good” debt.

I also look to hit some major milestones every year and if I don’t, I don’t consider it a success. Things like max out 401k contributions and increase in savings/non-retirement investments. I also have some spending goals like home renovations and car purchases that I want to pay for in cash. And a cool vacation for the mental break from everything!80-20 Your Finances

6. Publicly tracking and reporting on your status

For the last couple months I have been doing a monthly net worth check and, this month I started posting it on my blog http://buybackfreedom.com/march-monthly-report/3

I also posted my goals, they are very simple at the moment, I want to hit a net worth number by the end of the year and I want to invest 3k into dividend yielding stocks. Every month from now on I’ll simply look at how much time there is left in the year to see if I’m saving enough or if I need to bump that number up next month. Buy Back Freedom

7. Using Mint to budget and track spending

This is an awesome idea for a post. I track our budget closely with Mint to make sure we’re staying on track with our spending. I also track our net worth each month using Mint and Personal Capital. Based on what we’re spending, how much money we’re putting towards our debt, and how much our net worth has grown, I get a good idea on whether we’re continuing in the right direction.

Here’s a post where I talk about my goals for 2017:End of Year Review & 2017 Goals – Spill Spot

8. Using personalized spreadsheets of spending.

I use Personal Capital and lots of Spreadsheets. I track monthly spending, update net worth monthly, and track net worth growth goals year over year, and I also have a retirement accounts growth projection / goal tracker with a countdown to what we need. Life Zemplified

9. Being analytic to create rolling averages to track progress versus budget.

We track our income, expenses, and net worth in Quicken and monthly we prepare a spreadsheet to show our progress compared to our budget, including a rolling 12-month average of actual expenditures in each category. We then make revisions when necessary to get us back on track to achieving our desired results. Our 5 Big Personal Finance Goals for 2017 – Super Savings Tips

9. Tracking net worth and tracking cash flows

I measure my net worth each month, and have done for some years.

I’m reasonably relaxed about investments ups and downs, but monitor our cash movements like a hawk!

i.e. we should be £x up this month, but we’re only £y – why? I allow for regular savings etc, but I expect our monthly cash to build each month, until I move it to an ISA / savings account, so if it hasn’t gone up as much as I expect – time for a deep dive!Cracking Retirement

Learning Experiences from Going Viral (134k users in 1 day!)

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gone viral twice, most recently with a Reddit post that went way beyond my expectations. I had just wrapped up a months worth of work experimenting with some new data on savings rates, and I wanted to show off to /r/DataIsBeautiful. Data is Beautiful is a subreddit where analytical redditors post interesting graphs and charts. The nice thing about Data is Beautiful is that they allow original content, so that people like me (/u/shnugi_) can self post.  Most subreddits ban self posting, because it invites a deluge of spam.

I thought that I would get maybe a few hundred people to check out my data and give some constructive feedback. Well, this happened:

Went viral via reddit post.

134,752 sessions in a single day. My highest day ever.

The post I had made had attracted hundreds of comments and a Reddit score of 9898. Over ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE visited that day.

Dark Side of Going Viral – My Server Was Not Ready

Reddit #19 r/all

This is a screenshot my SO sent me of the post hitting #19 on r/All. It might have gone higher, but we were busy trying to fix the server.

I had a plan to be able to support a similar size of visitors as the Lifehacker feature (21k sessions in one day). My plan totally worked, until I completely blew past 21k sessions.  After that, my server was throttled for the next few hours.  My SO is much better than me at techy things, so I called in the reserves for help. We tried a bunch of things like resizing my Digital Ocean droplet, increasing PHP and MySQL memory limits, and then finally increasing the number of concurrent connections on Apache. The last one fixed the problem for me and my site resumed to normal speed, while also supporting over 1200 active users at the same time.

What I learned

  1. Have an even bigger plan next time.
  2. Load test my server to test the bigger plan, so that it isn’t like a fire drill every time it happens.
  3. Don’t be afraid of sharing. Typically, I shy away from self promoting, but it’s good to have some positive feedback when I do self promote that people like what I make.

Hopefully, someone finds this helpful.  For me, I know both the times that I’ve gone viral I’ve been highly under-prepared.  Good luck to all the other content creators out there!