How I make Coffee

In this article I’ll cover how I make coffee. I’ve tried a number of different brewing techniques over the years, and feel that I have finally settled on 1-2 brewing methods that really works well.

For starters, I should mention that my coffee requirements are as follows.

  • Brew coffee for Omar and Lora separate – we wake up at different times
  • 1 cup in the morning before heading to work

On the weekends we like to make enough coffee for 4 cups (2 each) as we spend a couple of hours in the morning relaxing in our jammies with our kids being lazy. My favorite part of the week.

With that in mind we have been through the following:

Jura Capresso ENA 3 – Super Automatic Expresso Machine. We used this machine for 5 years. It was programmed to make an Espresso with 8oz of hot water, called a Cafe Crema. Sort of like an Americano. The coffee this machine produced was always “good” – certainly better than a pot of coffee sitting on a burner. But the coffee was never hot enough for my taste. Could not beat the convenience.

Espro Press French Press – The best French Press I’ve ever owned. It’s a vacuum sealed carafe with a double filter that ensures that grounds stay out of your coffee. Personally I’m not a fan of the “gritty” french press taste. I’ll admit that on occasion I like this, but not for my morning or weekend cup of joe. Also I was not a huge fan of the cleanup. We no longer use this.

Aero Press – A lot of folks are fans of the Aero Press. It’s a great little one cup brewing system. It’s strange looking for sure. Looks like a plastic plunger. You can’t beat the price and it produces a good cup of coffee. It’s also easy to travel with. However, there are nearly infinite ways to make coffee with this thing, and the instructions it comes with are pretty useless. I settled on the following brewing techniques from Blue Bottle or Stumptown (the inverse technique).


The history of the Aero Press is pretty fascinating. It was invented by the guy who came up with the Aerobie Frisbee.

Hario V60 – The Hario ended up being my preferred brewing method. It’s a pour over device. You place it over your mug, place in 16-20g of ground coffee, and pour in 220g of 200 degree water. Ideally you bloom the coffee for 30 seconds.

Like anything, when paired with fresh beans, a great grinder, and kettle, this is the purest form of coffee drinking. For the first time in my life I could taste all the flavors in each single origin coffee we get from Blue Bottle. Coffee from Africa tastes different than coffee from Costa Rica.

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I purchase the Hario unbleached filters to go along with this.

So for me, this is the gold standard of making coffee. But it’s not very efficient for making 4 or more cups. It’s great for 1 cup.

Before I discuss our final coffee device, I wanted to briefly cover Beans, Water, Grinding and Measurement.

Beans – For over a year we’ve been getting our beans shipped to us by a company called Tonx which was purchased by Blue Bottle. We have the single origin subscription and get two 8oz bags of coffee every 2 weeks. They are roasted right before shipped, and we grind them right before using them. During that time we store them in an air tight container – we use the AirScape  which you can get from Crate & Barrel or William-Sonoma.


Grinder – A good quality grinder is a must. Hand grinding works well for a single cup and a single drinker. For anything more, a simple high quality grinder is an investment worth having. The Baratza Encore is the gold standard high quality grinder. I’ve tried a lot of grinders and I can tell you look no further. This thing weights a few pounds as it has a beefy low RPM motor. It’s quiet and it grinds well. And it’s made in Seattle.

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Kettle – The Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature is the best for a pour over system. Don’t even look at anything else. This thing rocks. We dial it in at 200 degrees, turn it on, and minutes later it’s done. The goose neck allows you to control the pour so you don’t scold anything and you can perform a proper Bloom.

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Scale – A lot of cooks rely on a scale these days. I believe a good quality scale is an essential kitchen gadget. This is true for coffee where it’s incredibly useful for measuring coffee and water. I also forgot that when it comes to the metric system, a gram of water is equal to a ml of water. So this makes it easy to deal with ratio of coffee to water. A scale I happen to like a lot for pour over coffee is the Hario Coffee Drip Scale/Timer. It only measures in grams, and it has a timer with auto shutoff. I usually use 18g of coffee and 220g of water. I place the mug on the scale, the pour over V60 on the mug (with a wet filter) and zero the scale. Then I add 18g of ground coffee, zero again, 18g of water to bloom, wait 30 seconds and then add the remaining 202g of water. If I got it right, the scale will read 220g when I’m finished pouring water. Then I let gravity do the rest.

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So, now that we’ve got the pour over technique and equipment out of the way, what did I settle on?

A quick note btw. It was the advent of the pour over system, and the quality of the coffee that cause my wife and I to realize that years of drinking from the Jura Super Automatic was not all that great. The V60 produced such an incredibly good perfect cup, that we could not deal with the cardboard taste of a cafe crema. I was not in search of anything to replace this, that is, until I read a blog post from my friend Kelsi.

Wilfa Precision Coffee Maker - This guy just arrived state side and Williams-Sonoma is the only place you’ll find it. Think of this device as an automated pour over coffee machine. It’s in the same league as the Technivorm Moccamaster, but less “coffee machine” and more “pour over” machine.


This thing is a work of art. I purchased it in black. It lives up to the hype. We can make 8 cups of coffee that tastes nearly as good as coffee from the V60. I’ve measured the temperature a few times and it’s in the 195 – 200 degrees range. It does not Bloom the coffee unfortunately, but it does have a neat volume flow control that allows you to control how long the water stays in contact with the beans. And it has a clever carafe with markings on it for the amount of water and coffee to use. For example, 250ml / 17g, 500ml / 33g etc. This makes for simple coffee production early in the morning.

I’d recommend this article to learn more. The neat thing about the Wilfa is that you can use it with a Chemed 8 cup or even my Hario V60, or I can use it with the built in cone holder and a single cup vs the carafe. It’s pretty versatile. The way I think about this machine is that it’s basically a kettle, with a water dispenser that goes into a custom cone and carafe. It also has a heating element that will keep a pot warm for an hour. Obviously this will cause a decrease in quality, but can come in handy.

That’s it. This is a great invention. The only thing that may top this is the Ratio Coffee machine. But at twice the cost, I’m not sure how much better it can be.

I debated for a while what rating to give the Wilfa. There are a few things about it that separate the coffee from the Hario V60. So in the end, given it’s not quite as good as a cup from the V60, I’m giving the Wilfa 4 stars.

★★★★☆

Great. Worth purchasing.

Dyson Cordless Vacuum Cleaners – 5 stars

Since I can remember I grew up with a DustBuster in the house. The noise of my mother going around the house with her DustBuster picking up after my sister and me is seared into my brain. As is the sound of the pathetic battery dying in less than a minute.

When I went out on my own, and had my first apartment, a DustBuster is one of the first things I purchased. But the suction and battery life of these things has always been poor.

Here she is, circa 1980.


When we purchased our first apartment together, my wife and I splurged on a Dyson Vacuum (the original Dyson Ball). We’ve had it for 10 years now and it’s still as good as the day we got it.


When we moved into our current house and had our son, we had more crumbs and such to pick up every day. Our Dyson Vacuum is too bulky to cary around the house and un-coil for a quick job. I did some research and settled on one of the new Dyson Cordless Stick Vacuums. There are a number of models.

  • Dyson DC 59 – New motor / suction design and power brush. This is the top of the line model. You can save a few bucks by skipping the motor head and getting the DC 59 Animal
  • Dyson DC 44 – larger battery than the 35
  • Dyson DC 35 – the original, I’d skip this one

There are also “Animal” designations like the other Dysons. All this means is that they include additional attachments like a mini motorized brush head to clean pet hair and the like.

A little known secret is that Amazon sells refurbished models for a substantial discount. Dyson DC44 (Refurbished) is $229 (vs $399 from Dyson). Another pro tip is that your Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon is a good way to get a steep discount on a Dyson.

The only thing they really change over the years is the battery capacity and recently they redesigned it to improve the motor / suction.

The refurbished designation means that you may get a unit that appears to be completely brand new. And you may get a model that is used, where some set of parts have been replaced. In our experience, we once got a brand new unit, and once got one that looked like it had been used (canister was cloudy). I don’t care much, but if the price difference is small, you may want to just spring for a new one.

Over the years we’ve purchased two of these units so we can have one in our kitchen and upstairs in our home. We use them a few times a week. I’ve never used one to the point where the battery was depleted. Each one runs for at least 15 minutes of Vacuuming. Pretty impressive. They have the same suction qualities of the big Dyson, they are just smaller. And they have attachments that allow them to be used in many different situations.

I love the integrated wall stand and charger. We have both of ours attached to the wall above power outlets. The attachments also attach to the wall making for a nice and tidy setup.


We love our Dyson cordless vacuum. It’s a snap to clean up, the filter lasts forever, and like all Dyson products it excels in form and function.

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

What I use 2015

I get asked a lot about what gadgets and apps I use. I thought I would kick off the new year with the products I use every day and the top apps. This will also have the added advantage of giving me a way of tracking the changes over time

credit: flattop341@ flickr img 1085739925

PCs

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – This is my workhorse ( Core i5 / 256GB). My daily carry. It’s also my only PC. I have a Surface Pro 3 Dock and a  LG 34UM95 34 inch ultra-wide monitor that I use. I love this PC. It’s the best PC laptop on the market. I don’t use it much at all as a tablet, but I love the form factor, the weight, the battery life and the performance. At work I dock it and it’s what I use at my desk. At meetings and on the go, this is what I use. I have a cyan type keyboard.

iMac with 5K Retina Display – I have never owned such an expensive and powerful computer in my life. But after years of suffering through Photoshop Lightroom being slow on  my PC I finally decided I was going to get a no-compromise Digital Darkroom. And I have to say. This thing is nuts. Beyond just the insane performance and stunning display (that is certain to make you question how you’ve been looking at any other display) this computer is a joy to use. I haven’t used Mac OS for about 10 years and Apple has really moved this thing along. The handoff integration with iOS is fun. I love to reply to SMS messages while sitting at my computer.

Mobile Devices

This category is a bit silly given that I work on mobile device software and have quite a lot of devices. Windows Phone and Android devices are part of the collection and get rotated in and out. However, I have settled on two default devices for most of my work.

iPhone 6 Plus  – After using an iPhone 6 for a while, I decided that moving from a 5s to a 6 was a marginal improvement in screen size and battery life. I gave that phone to my mom and got a 6 Plus and have to say that was a good call. I use my phone a few hours a day. I have yet to meet a phone that will last an entire day. I have hundreds of apps and many of them are doing things. Running the background, using geo-fencing etc. This drains the battery like crazy. The iPhone 6 Plus is the first phone I’ve used that can last MORE THAN A DAY. Insane. The phone is large. No Doubt. But I love it. The added features on the 6 plus are nice. Optical Image stabilization, higher resolution screen, better email and messaging interface.

iPad Air 2 – My previous tablet was the iPad Mini Retina. I was not planning on changing things up here. The iPhone 6 Plus forced me to consider. I know, first world problem. Having a big phone made the Mini seem pretty unnecessary. However, my iPad is my reading device and portable Photo Darkroom (Lightroom Mobile has revolutionized my photo workflow). The iPad Air 2 has incredible performance. It runs circles around previous iPads. And having Touch ID is nice. It’s like going from the old 30 pin Apple connector to the lightning connector. It’s not a reason to upgrade, but it’s nice to have it. Oh, and I like the Logitech Keys-To-Go Keyboard. It’s simply amazing.

PC & Mac Software

Office 2013  – I spent more hours in Office 2013 than anything else. It used to be that getting Office was something you did every 5 years or when you got a new PC. These days you are crazy  not to get the Office 365 Subscription. There are two versions, Office 365 Personal for $69.99 a year which gets you Office for PC, Mac as well as Office on your Mobile device. Office 365 Home is $99.99 and gets you the same thing except for up to 5 people. Both of them come with 1TB of OneDrive storage. Enough for every single photo and document on your PC. This is a pretty insane deal if you ask me and the only reason to avoid this is if you are living on Google Docs and find it good enough for your needs. If you do any kind of work that requires you to produce a Word Doc or use Excel and want to move to the cloud, and get killer tablet / phone versions of Office, look no further. If you are a student, check out Office 365 University, $79.99 for FOUR YEARS!

CrashPlan – Been using them for 5 or so years to backup my PCs, and everyone in my family. I’ve restored data a bunch and I can’t recommend them enough. They never delete your data even if you do unlike some other backup companies. I’ve gone back in time years and been thankful that missing photos could be restored from a backup (usually because I accidentally deleted). Crashplan serves as my offsite backup. I have a local TimeMachine (Mac) and FileHistory (Windows) backup as well.

OneNote  – I’ve used OneNote for years. It’s a digital notebook. It’s what Lora and I use as our family notebook. We also use this a lot at work.

OneDrive  – Cloud storage for all your stuff. This is what I work on. It powers Office and a whole bunch of Microsoft experiences. It’s also our enterprise cloud storage offering. I’m pretty biased here and think OneDrive is awesome, but I’ll admit, Dropbox is a great product and there are reasons you’d use one over the other.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom & Photoshop – If you shoot photos, and you consider yourself an amateur or pro, then you have probably heard about Lightroom and or use it. It’s the standard in photo workflow and I’ve been using it since version 1. Each year I learn more and more about it and am more impressed. What you may not know is that Adobe now has a subscription for Lightroom that’s $9.99 a month and includes both Lightroom and Photoshop.

Todoist  – This is what I use to track all my tasks. Lora and I use it for family ask mangement. They are on every platform and every device.

1Password – I’ve used various password management programs over the years. eWallet, RoboForm, LastPass, Dashlane and now 1Password. In terms of Mac/PC/Mobile software the 1Password guys have the most polished and user friendly experience. Their iOS and Mac apps are really their best, but their PC and Android versions are really good too.

You Need a Budget – I recently wrote about this. Our budgeting software. Go read that article.

Evernote  – In addition to using OneNote, I also use Evernote. It’s the tool that I use to clip things on my mobile device, and on the web. Really more of a personal reference of digital stuff. I also use it so that I can continue to have pretty deep insights into what they are doing.

Google Chrome  – Chrome is my go to browser. Why? It’s fast, it has crazy awesome 3rd party extensibility. Pocket, Todoist, 1Password, OneNote, Evernote have crazy good extensions.

Pocket  – my “read it later service”. I use this a ton. Any time I see something I want to read… on Facebook, Twitter, work email, personal email… I save it for later and read it in bed each night on my iPad.

Feedly  - Since Google Reader was shutdown I’ve been using Feedly to consume the sites I like to read. I have over 200 sites I subscribe to and I do most of my reading on the iPhone.

Spotify – We have the family subscription. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I stopped buying music a while ago. No point any more.

LaunchBar (mac) - this is a super handy launcher that’s better than Spotlight.

Better Snap Tool (mac) – If you love Windows-Snap (I do) you can have it on your Mac as well.

popCalendar (mac) – If you miss the little calendar in the Windows task bar, then this is a good substitute for the Mac. Lets you see the entire year too.

Soulver (mac & iOS) – this is an awesome twist on Excel. I love the long form style calculations. I use this a lot to work out costs of certain things for budgeting purposes.

Mobile Software

Some of the items I use on my phone and tablet are really an extension of what I use on PC and Mac. So where I’ve already covered something above I won’t cover again. I’m also only going to cover things on my home screen.

  • NYT Now – iPhone news app from New York Times with subscription service.
  • Quartz – great news site I’ve written about
  • Drafts 4 – cool little app for capturing disposable pieces of information
  • Amazon – Need I say more?
  • Acompli – What I use for work email. Microsoft just acquired them.
  • Weatherline – I love how this weather app lays out the weather info. Uses http://forecast.io/  which provides accurate and local forecast hour by hour. Dark Sky  is another popular variant.
  • Seattle Frwys – if you live in Seattle you need this. One of the first iOS apps I ever installed.
  • Waze – Waze has saved my but so many times. If you need to get somewhere and there is any kind of traffic this will get you there the fastest possible way
  • Nextdoor – Facebook for my neighborhood. Way less sketchy than craigslist
  • Uber – I use uber quite a lot in Seattle and when we are traveling out of town
  • Shazam – what’s that song playing? Also one of the first iOS apps I ever installed
  • Sonos – more below. Sonos is probably one of the best devices I’ve ever used
  • Alarm.com – Our home alarm system. One of the first companies to make your alarm “mobile first”. I can
  • remote arm and disarm, get alerts when doors are left open, when the alarm goes off, assign codes to individuals, check of the garage door is open, get notified if there is a flood (true story, happened under our kitchen sink while we were traveling).
  • Dropcam – Wifi security camera – See my  article
  • August – Digital lock. See my article
  • Ring – my new doorbell. Article forthcoming.
  • Deliveries – great package tracking app. iOS and Mac.
  • Nest – Our thermostat and smoke detectors
  • DayOne – journaling app that Lora and I use.
  • Workflow – an app that lets you do interesting things on your iOS device. Things such as “when I take a screen shot, upload it and delete it”
  • IFTTT – Similar to Workflow but more mature and more “service oriented”. I have a few recipes that I love such as Saving all Instagram Photos to OneDrive
  • Kickstarter – I have a Kickstarter problem. I browse this site in bed, and find wondrous new inventions to support

Home

Sonos  – Sonos is a product for distributing music in your house. It’s simply the best most advanced piece of technology I own. Ask anyone that owns a Sonos and they will tell you how magical they are. I have 3 AMPs, 1 Receiver and 1 S5. I’d love a Soundbar and Subwoofer some day. If you work at Microsoft you get a 20% discount on Sonos gear, and if you hire an installer to install Sonos for you then you’ll also find that they usually get a 20% discount. Their stuff is expensive, but they upgrade it constantly. My Sonos from 6 years ago has all the same capabilities of the stuff they sell today.

Nest  – Best thermostat ever. Get one. Not only do the save you money (they do) but they are smart. They heat your house at just the right time in the morning, cool your house at just the right time so when you go to bed it’s perfect, and give you stats on how much they run and why. When I am on vacation I can turn the heat on before we board the airplane so that our house is cozy when we arrive. Nest is a 30 min install. You can do it yourself. It’s pretty common and any HVAC person will likely install for $150 or less.

Dropcam – see my article

Alarm.com  – our security monitoring software. Been using them for 5 years now. Fantastic.

Apple Airport Extreme 802.11ac – Apple’s wifi routers are the gold standard. They never need to be rebooted, they don’t crash, and if you have an iOS device, everything you need to manage them is built in. The wifi performance of these new ac models is amazing if you have compatible hardware (Surface is). If you want to set up your router and never think about it again, this is the one to get.

Microsoft Xbox 360 – I’ll start by saying that I’m not such a big gamer. But for years the Xbox was the best entertainment hub you could get. I mainly use the Xbox one for Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO Go and YouTube. Our daughter likes to play Minecraft and Skylanders from time to time.

Microsoft Xbox One – Our 360 is in our family room and I got an Xbox One for our basement. It serves a similar function to the Xbox 360 except that it’s also our only Blu-Ray player and our only box for watching TV. We have a simple Comcast Cable box plugged into it so we can watch the Seahawks games.

Amazon Fire TV & Fire TV Stick – see my article. One day these will replace the Xbox for entertainment just as soon as Amazon and Comcast work out their differences or when HBO rolls out their stand-alone subscription.

Google Chromecast – see my article. Till Amazon and HBO/Comcast can strike up whatever funny arrangement is required, I continue to have a Chromecast to watch HBO Go in our bedroom since the Fire TV stick doesn’t have an HBO app yet (even though the Fire TV does) and the app doesn’t work with Comcast, who provides HBO to me. Sorry state of affairs.

Harmony Smart Control Remote - see my article  I love this smart remote. It can control any IR device but it also supports bluetooth devices like the Sony Playstation and Amazon Fire TV. If I were to get this again, I’d opt for the Home Control edition with smart lighting control and whole house automation.

Peripherals

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 – This device is a workhorse in my house. It’s an expensive device but it’s an incredible investment. I am paperless. Yes, not a single file in our filing cabinet. It all gets scanned either as soon as I get it, or paper goes in the “to scan” pile and gets gobbled up by this machine. Can’t recommend highly enough. This is my second Fujitsu scanner in 10 years. This one has WiFi support and scans very fast.

Doxie Flip & Doxie Wifi - these are my additional scanners for tasks that the Fujitsu is not great at. the Doxie Flip I’ve written about, and the Doxie Wifi is brand new. They offered me $100 to get it and so I took them up on that. It’s operates as a standalone wifi scanner with built in battery. So simple anyone can use for small items like receipts and the occasional 4 x 6 photo.

Brother HL-2270DW – You can’t beat a networked laser printer for fast and easy printouts. I’m pretty happy with this printer except that it doesn’t support AirPrint which is a bummer. Super easy to configure from a Windows 8 or Mac device.

Canon PIXMA MX922 – this is our color printer. It supports AirPrint and has a duplex scanner with an automatic document feeder. This comes in handy when we need to make copies of something, or print photos. It has two paper trays, one for regular paper and one for photos. We always keep it loaded up with some Canon Semi Gloss Photo Paper Plus which is pretty dammed impressive for an at home printer.

LaCie 2big Thunderbolt 2 – I have the 6TB model (which in RAID mode is effectively 3TB). This is where all my photos live. Backup wisdom suggests you have 3 copies of all your data and one should be offsite. This is my onside working copy that’s redundant.

Cameras

Fujifilm X-T1 – This is an amazing camera. It’s a professional DSLR replacement and this is the camera I take on vacations and for photo trips. You can read the exhaustive review on DPReview. This is my fourth Fujifilm camera (X-Pro1, X-E1, and X-E2). I pretty much buy and sell these as soon as new models are out to stay on the latest technology curve. The mirrorless camera technology is evolving quickly and way beyond DSLRs. For lenses I have 23mm f1.435mm f1.410-24mm f455-200 f3.5-4.8. I hope to aquire the 16-55 f2.8 when it’s out.

Fuji film X100T - this is a recent addition. I carry this camera in my bag and it’s my street photography, every day carry camera. It produces stunning images and in a compact package. I love the limitations of the fixed 23mm lens and coupled with the remote iOS app I can take some neat unsuspecting street photos. On future trips this will also allow me to shoot with two bodies. I can keep either the 10-24 wide angle or the 55-200 on the X-T1 and shoot 23mm with the X100T.

Sony RX100M3 – see my article where I gush about this camera. This is a tiny camera that produces stunning images. I take it to the beach, to dinner parties and places where I need something that fits in a pocket.

Kids Devices & Software

I get asked a lot about what our kid device setup is. I’ve spent a few years perfecting this and it’s totally dialed in now. Our 2 kids have duplicate identical devices. This ensures no fighting.

Apple iPod Touch – super portable, light and has the full ecosystem of Apple software. Can be used to control things like Mile’s little bluetooth robot. Each device is locked down so the kids can’t install apps, browse the web etc. Sarah has Facetime and iMessage set up so that she can message her grand parents (and parents) when she is home. She loves this. We have the 16GB version.

Amazon Kindle Fire 7” HDX – We purchased these two years ago. There are many new models now. The key is having enough storage. I find that the 32GB one are big enough to hold every episode of Wild Kratts (our kids favorite show) as well as a few movies. This ensures a peaceful and blissful plane ride anywhere. The real secret to these devices is the amazing Amazon Kids FreeTime app and FreeTime unlimited service. Your kids stay in a locked down ecosystem where they can stream tv shows, movies and download books and apps all age appropriate. You can also set time limits for how much they can use various features such as movies or books and do so on a weekend or weekday schedule. FreeTime Unlimited is $2.99 for one child or $6.99 for up to four. That’s if you are an Amazon Prime member. And let’s face it, if you are not, you’re missing out on the best deal in town.

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You Need a Budget – 5 stars

If I could give something 6 stars I would.

I’ve been debating how to write this post for over a year. The reason is that it’s hard for me to express just how valuable a piece of software has been to Lora and I. For most of my life (as long as I’ve had a computer) I’ve delegated the task of balancing my checkbook and then managing all my finances to some kind of program. First Quicken, then Microsoft Money, then Mint (which Intuit, the makers of Quicken purchased) then Quicken, and finally, after many long years of being a book keeper, I started using You Need a Budget (YNAB) and it’s transformed how we manage our money.

The approach that I generally took to managing money prior to this looked something like this:

  1. Make sure that I meticulously entered or tracked every transaction
  2. Paycheck gets deposited 2x month (for 2 people, so 4 deposits)
  3. Allocate 100% of that money to pay expenses (money mostly already spent)
  4. Pay off credit cards every month (and not really know how my credit card spending rationalized against available funds)
  5. Squirrel away some money for bills that are not due every month (Life Insurance, Property Taxes etc)
  6. Pray that I got this all right
  7. Cover any “overspend” on the credit cards, which almost always happened as spending money on a credit card does not immediately reconcile against your actual positive balance
  8. Move money around from various accounts to make it all work and occasionally rely on “windfall money” to cover a bunch of things

At the end of the year, I would look at categorized spending and usually go “meh” I guess that is what it is. I didn’t really learn anything, and I wasn’t really connected to our money. I did this for most of my life. Like a robot. An unhappy one.

Also, I wasn’t really doing what I should have been doing, which is having a conversation with Lora about:

  • What are our “fixed expenses” that our current lifestyle requires from us, and is that right? Should we make changes?
  • What are our “savings goals” each month above and beyond things like retirement and savings that get taken out of our paycheck. Things like 529 plans, IRAs, vacation savings
  • What’s “left over” for us to spend in the form of discretionary income?

I was really getting no value from tracking all our income and expenses and it was quite a lot of work. I was getting pretty frustrated with Mint.com and then Quicken at the time. And I hated the word “Budgeting”….

Budgets

Most people here the word Budget and run screaming. For many this means “you can’t spend money because it’s not budgeted” or “you are spending more money than you really have” so the though of dealing with this reality is equally painful.

You Need A Budget is a computer program, and yes, it has the word budget in it. That evil loathed word. Every budget I ever created in Microsoft Money, Quicken or Mint was largely ignored and caused massive frustration and eventually abandoned. But You Need a Budget is not a computer program. It’s a philosophy of managing your money…. really living and existing which you all use money to do. You apply income to establish and manage your family, your hopes and dreams, your existence, meals, education, basics. So shouldn’t you consider what “system” you are using to do all of this?

You Need a Budget

For many of you, you stopped reading already (sorry!). I know this article isn’t meant for everyone. But if you are still reading, I’m now going to discuss how I use YNAB and how it works.

method_ynab4

The YNAB Methodology

  1. Rule 1 – Give every dollar a job
  2. Rule 2 – Save for a Rainy Day
  3. Rule 3 – Roll with the Punches
  4. Rule 4 – Live on Last Month’s Income

The most profound of these two rules is #1 and #4. I recommend reading a bit about this.

Give every dollar a job

Take a look at every account that you’d consider “liquid”. Now every one of those dollars should have a job. Some of it for the mortgage, some for kid’s clothes, some for “college savings” and so on. You don’t leave a single dollar behind.

Live on Last Month’s Income

This was the biggest “aha” for me. You don’t do this:

  1. Get paid
  2. Pay off bills, spending all income from #1
  3. Go 15 days broke
  4. Repeat

What happens if you get in a car wreck, your crown cracks (like mine did last night), you need a new suit for a job interview. You “borrow” by putting it on your credit card and worry about it later? Pay from next month’s income? Repeat this cycle?

I don’t know about you, but that kind of stuff stresses me out. How then I can in good faith have some discretionary income that I feel good about spending knowing that there are all these things that can require immediate funds? How can you save enough for vacation so that when you go on vacation you are not increasing that credit card balance without actual money you have set aside?

I wasn’t really making choices.

Hidden behind the smoke and mirrors of transactional tracking and “magic budgeting” software was this reality that the day to day decitions I was making with my money were not really grounded in any thoughtful approach.

An Example

So, living on last month’s income means the following. Lets say you get paid $2000 every pay check. You get paid twice a month. So that’s $4000 each month.

So, in the month of December you have $4000. You allocate that money to January. You do your budget for January. You allocate 100% of that $4000 by giving every dollar a job. Lets say you allocated $200 for restaurant, $200 for groceries, $100 for personal spending. The rest is allocated to all your other categories. In the end you have allocated every dollar leaving you with $0 to budget for January.

Now January rolls around.

  • You spend $198 on restaurants (against a $200 budget)
  • You spend $100 on groceries (against a $200 budget)
  • You decide to splurge and get yourself a nice gift that costs $150 (against a $100 budget)

So what happens? Well you have $2 left in restaurants, $100 left in groceries and you only budgeted $100 for personal spending, but you want to spend $150 on a gift. Easy, simply shift your budgeted money around to cover it. You can move $50 from groceries to personal spending.

iphone-budget

The point here is that you thought about this, made some tradeoffs and had the money. YNAB treats each budget item like it’s own mini account. For some of you who have heard of the “envelope” budget system this is similar. Thing of all the “jobs” for your money as each having their own envelope. You are taking income from last month, and putting all those dollars into different envelopes. Then when you spend money (in any way, cash or credit) you are immediately removing it from that envelope. The job is done.

In the example above, you paid for all these things with a credit card. When you buy with a credit card it acts like that money is spent right away. This means that your credit card balance doesn’t matter. You are accounting for that spending right way. It also means that when you get your credit card bill there is nothing to worry about. It’s all accounted for. The key to YNAB is that doesn’t matter how many accounts you have, or where the money is. YNAB doesn’t care about accounts, it cares about how much you budgeted and what you spent that month. THIS IS A BIG DEAL. This is what makes YNAB so unique, simple and powerful.

Another example. Say you pay a life insurance premium every year. It’s $600. Well you budget $50/mo into the life insurance category and when the time comes to write the check you’ll have $600 in there untouched. You really don’t have to do anything fancy to “protect” that money over the course of the year. At any time you’ll know how much you have budgeted and that’s the “job” of that money each month. You can apply the same thing to property taxes, charitable giving, car maintenance etc.

So to summarize some key things

  • You are putting aside all the income from the current month, to be budgeted for next month
  • You are spending money in that next month and reducing the balance in the budgeted categories
  • Credit Card, Checks, Cash is all accounted for the same way

If you “go over” and spend more than you have budget, this is what the other 2 rules cover.

YNAB Software

I could go on and on. But I’ll stop. This article is already long enough.

The YNAB website has tons of info, training material, education.

It’s Not Just Software. It’s a Mission.

However, the software is dammed good. How does it work?

  1. Download the Mac or PC desktop app
  2. Download the app for your iPhone or Android phone (for both you and your spouse)
  3. Put your budget in Dropbox (the only way to sync)
  4. Optionally download the iPad app which is a good substitute for the Mac or PC app

The software is very elegant and simple. All you need to do is record every transaction and assign it to a budget. Lora and I do this on our phones.

iphone-transaction

A lot of software geeks go “bleh”. You mean no automatic importing of my OFX data direct from banks and credit cards? I mean I like mindlessly importing stuff days or weeks after the fact where the damage is done, and then clean it up later (you can tell I’m a bit judgmental here as that was once me).

You record your transactions when you spend money. The iPhone apps makes this trivially stupid easy. it even uses location data to make recording future transactions easy by selecting the merchant you are physically at.

Final Words

January 1, 2015 is a great time to start. First of the year means that if you stick with it, you’ll have a year of data at the end of the year which makes budgeting easy.

When Lora and I first starting using it, we had a conversation at the end of each month on how we did against our budget and then budgeted fro next month. It took less than an hour and was a good conversation to have. These days the system is so dialed in we don’t even bother.

And I no longer stress or worry. We have a healthy “rainy day” fund and know how to use it now to cover all sorts of expenses. Every vacation is paid for before we go on it, every christmas present was paid for using money budget starting in January. We know where our money is going, how much we are saving, and we can safely say we feel good about our situation because we can see it clear as day.

Oh, and a minor other little thing. We have a single checking account now and spend all our money on a single credit card. It turned out multiple accounts just made everything complicated and turned out to be unnecessary. You may find the same as well. I’ve not looked at or cared about how much is in the checking account for over a year and the credit cards get paid via auto-pay (full balance) every month. Financial auto-pilot.

So, if you’ve gotten this far, congrats. Truth is I could have written a lot more but I’ll stop. If you are at all intrigued by this go and kick the tires. Use this URL to download YNAB

http://ynab.refr.cc/C8V2C6R

You’ll get some money off the purchase if you chose to buy and I’ll get a referral. They have a 14 day trial, and great email content, videos and help.

If there was one piece of software I could not live without, it would be this.

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

Joseph Joseph Salad Bowl – 5 stars

We eat salad every night. We love salad. For the past few years we’ve been using the same salad bowl and we love it.

Salad bowl? Yep, I even cover those.

We like bowls that are big enough to make a large salad, they need to be big enough to have high walls so you can mix in the dressing. Also, salad utensils that can aggressively mix in the dressing is important.

For years we used a wood bowl and stainless steel utensils. In search of something better, I came across a salad bowl from Joseph Joseph.

image

What’s so great about it? Quite a lot actually.

  1. It is big enough to make a Salad for 4-6 people
  2. The salad utensils are built right into the bowl. You can insert them into the sides when not in use
  3. The whole thing goes in the diswasher making for quick cleanup

The bowls are made of melanine. Which for now is considered food safe. Either way, it’s not being used for hot foods and not for more than a few minutes which minimize any potential food transfer. If you are freaked out about this, you cn stick to wood, stainless steel or glass bowls.

We’ve been using this bowl for a few years now and love it. It makes it easy and mess free to make, serve, eat and clean salad.

Rating:

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

August Smart Lock – 3 stars

The idea of the automated home has been around for a while now. However, it’s our mobile phones, and the advent of Bluetooth 4 Low Energy (LE) and geofencing that has unlocked the potential for this to become mainstream.

In my last post on the Tile, I should have mentioned that this uses Bluetooth LE to do its magic.

Besides finding things, why  not automatically unlock your doors when you arrive at home? There are a number of products on the market today that do this sort of magic. The most popular and mainstream are probably the Kevo Smart Lock and the August Smart Lock. Apple recently started selling the August Smart Lock [$249].

The Kevo Smart Lock is rather invasive as you have to replace your whole deadbolt. A problem for me is that our house is keyed with Baldwin/Schlage blanks, and the Kevo lock is keyed with Kwickset, which are different keys. So that was a non starter. I like having 1 key for every lock in our house.

The August Smart Lock doesn’t require you change out your deadbolt. Rather it replaces the inside part of the deadbolt, so you are not really doing that much to your locking system and it’s easy to install.

August-smart-lock-1-thumb-620x447-60115

So how is it?

Well, it’s OK. There are bugs and kinks, and my quick summary is “really cool” but not ready for main stream.

First, lets discuss what you can do with the August Lock.

  1. Lock and unlock your door with your phone
  2. Set your lock to automatically lock after a set period of time (Everlock)
  3. Set your lock to automatically unlock when you return home
  4. Allow guests to lock and unlock your door

I purchased 2 August Locks for our house where we have deadbolts. I imagine this world where I can leave my house without any keys (well just car key, which is a smartkey and I just push a button). In practice though it only works so so.

Here are my main issues:

1. Auto unlock does not always work.

I’m not sure if this is the interaction between the geofence and bluetooth (August uses geofencing to ensure the battery isn’t constantly looking for your lock – which is smart) but it’s not flawless by any means. It’s a little deflating to come home and not have a $200 gadget work as described

2. The auto lock (ever lock) is great as I often forget to lock the door and my wife gets grumpy about this. However, in practice it can be problematic as I really only want this to run at certain hours, and how when I’ve gone out quickly to take the trash out and the door locks behind me.

3. The auto lock can damage your door frame if the door is not completely shut when the August attempts to lock the door. It’s a bit too aggressive about locking. It would be great if it were able to detect if the door were “shut” before it attempted to lock the door.

4. Finally, the biggest issue I have with the August is a design flaw. The battery door is held in by magnets, and often people in our house turn the lock and inadvertently unseat the battery cover.

So in short. It’s  neat. I’m pretty happy with mine. When the auto unlock works is downright magical. When I’m getting out of my car with my bag and my hands full and the kids in tow, walking right into the house is great.

I expect v2 will address most of these issues. For now, it gets 3 stars.

★★★☆☆
Good, but nothing exceptional.

Tile – 4 stars

In our household, we’ve had our locks replaced almost every year. It’s nuts. But we have around 8 sets of keys, we give them to the baby sitter on the weekends, visitors who stay with us and every so often we lose a set of keys. We look for hours and never find them. One year our son grabbed the keys, played with them and then left them somewhere. Our inquisition into where they were proved unsuccessful and then a few days later we found them in an art supplies box. Fun.

There is a solution to this problem and it’s called Tile. I purchased a Tile about a year ago and it recently arrived. I quickly paired it with my phone, and was sold. I immediately ordered another 4 pack to attach to all our household keys. In fact, last night I could not find my car keys and I wish I had the tile on. I eventually found them but it took me a few minutes of searching.

This is Tile [$25 @ Amazon, or $70 for 4 pack]

Tile_V2-5_220px

51cbBASmk1L._SL1000_

It’s a small piece of white plastic with a battery and Bluetooth radio. You install an App on your phone, pair your Tile, and then give it a name and purpose.

tile-phone-tiles

Then you can launch your Tile app and it will show you where all your Tiles are. If you have multiple phone in your household, it can utilize their phones to locate items too.

The best feature in my mind is that you can issue a “locate” signal and the Tile makes some noise!

There are some interesting uses for this device:

  1. Keys
  2. Purses
  3. Remote Control
  4. Luggage

For us, the most useful application is simply keys.

I purchased the 4 pack a few weeks ago and it arrived yesterday. I’d recommend getting the 4 pack given the price per item is $17.50 vs $25 for one.

Any downsides?

I can think of two downsides.

  1. You need to have this app running on your phone, and using Bluetooth. Regardless of how battery friendly Bluetooth 4.0 is, you are still giving up some battery life. This is not a problem on my epicly awesome iPhone 6 Plus which lasts 2 days.
  2. The battery life of the Tile is about a year as far as I’ve read. That’s a fairly expensive replacement cost if you have a few of these. In our case though, it’s cheaper than having our locks re-keyed. Tile says they are working on a renewal / replacement program.

For these two reasons I give it 4 stars.

★★★★☆
Great. Worth purchasing.

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