Monday, January 26, 2015

Free Online Classes Part 1: Resources

As can be seen on my 2015 goals, I would like to be continuously learning and to help facilitate that I have a goal to take on online class. I had this goal in 2014 as well and I just could never find the time to complete it. I don't know how 2015 will be any different, I am probably more busy now than I was last year. But it is something important to me so I still want to make it a priority this year.

As part of completing this goal I would like to share my experience with all of you in hopes that I might help those who may be interested in continuing their education. The first step in starting the process is knowing what resources are available to facilitate high quality learning at rock bottom prices, or no prices to be more accurate. Below are three high quality and free learning resources.

edX was originally founded as a joint venture between MIT and Harvard and offers free multi-media online courses. While the program started with MIT and Harvard, edX now offers courses from Berkeley, Caltech, Cornell as well as a number of international universities. Courses are available in a wide range of topics; from the edX website:
Topics include biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, food and nutrition, history, humanities, law, literature, math, medicine, music, philosophy, physics, science, statistics and more. EdX is a non-profit online initiative created by founding partners Harvard and MIT.
edX goes beyond posting videos of lectures and strives to provide the best possible platform for learning and teaching. Lecture videos are supplemented with examples, labs, exercises, and tests. All classes can be taken for free but, for a fee, can be taken to earn an official certificate of achievement. Some schools even offer university credit for these classes/certificates.


Kahn Academy
The Kahn Academy focuses on videos of individual topics instead of full courses. The individual videos are grouped together to form a playlist, of sorts, of broader subject areas. For instance, you can watch a specific video on the topic of subtracting variables from both sides of an equation, this video is a subset of linear equations which is a subset of Algebra 1.  Topics include Math, Science, Economics, Arts, Computing, and Test Prep. The content varies between Kindergarten and College level subjects.

Kahn Academy was started when the founder was tutoring his cousin in math long distance, and Kahn Academy is still heavily focused on math with a goal of providing a complete learning system from Kindergarten math all the way up to multi-variable calculus. One great aspect of the Kahn Academy is that offers a variety of learning paths that cover the same topic area so someone trying to refresh his memory can start on a different path than someone learning the subject for very the first time.

I recently used Kahn Academy to help with a project at work; either I never learned how to project vectors onto planes or I completely forgot about it (or more likely, blocked it out of memory). What is really nice about Kahn Academy is that individual videos will show up on Google searches. For instance, a Kahn video was one of the first results when I Googled "project vector onto plane" and while that particular video was not what I want I eventually found a video that helped.

Open Learning Initiative (OLI)
OLI is a grant funded initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. OLI is mostly text based learning but does feature some virtual labs, examples, and quizzes. In addition, OLI is able to record student metrics in real time to help course-designers and instructors improve their craft. For instance if a majority of  students spend an abnormal amount of time on one page, that could indicate a place for improvement in the course's content. One disadvantage of OLI is that it has a very small offering of free courses, less 30 courses are currently available. But one advantage of OLI is that is is very quick to get started and you can start immediately without any signup up or tutorials.

There a lot of free resources available for expanding your knowledge, certainly more than I have listed here. But I think these three organization provide a great starting place for continuing education. edX is the most expansive of the resources offering the most classes from the most universities. Kahn Academy however offers the easiest path to learning about a specific topic; you can skip to the one short(er) video of interest to you without having to wade through rest of the material of a much larger course. And while OLI had the smallest offering of courses it was very quick and easy to get started. Of course with all resources being free there is no reason not to pick and choose what interests you the most.

What about you? Would you take online courses to further your knowledge? Do you know of any other free resources you would like to share?

Photo credit:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Recent Purchase

Well its my first purchase of 2015 and, because I spent most of 2014 paying down my student loans, this was actually  my first purchase since early 2014. I have to admit that I got antsy and pulled the trigger rather quickly.

Today I purchased 34 shares of Helmerich & Payne, Inc. (HP) @ $59.26/share. Via Reuters:
Helmerich & Payne, Inc. is engaged in contract drilling of oil and gases wells for others and this business. The Company's contract drilling business is composed of three reportable business segments: U.S. Land, Offshore and International Land.
HP stock price has been dropping since July and today plummeted $4.20 after they released a report announcing a reduction in both number of rigs operating and the pricing of said rigs. You can find out more about the announcement here and here.

HP has had a rough couple months and that won't let up anytime soon. But on the bright side: HP is a Dividend Champion with 42 consecutive years of dividend growth. In addition HP sports 4.6% yield.

While I was very hasty buying a piece of this company I saw this as an opportunity to buy into a Dividend Champion and I have no trouble believing that HP will bounce back.


Photo credit:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Budget and Goals

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope everyone has had a great 2015 so far. I know I have, I had the chance to go to Utah and spend some quality time with my brother, his wife, and their 2-year-old nephew. Well, 2015 is here and I need to set my budget and goals for the next year. I discussed how I performed on my 2014 budget in my Year End Wrap Up. But on to my plan for 2015.


I am going to assume my net income to be $63,000, which is in line with what I made last year. My income will be boosted by working overtime this year and I have a goal to pay for my travel through that overtime.

The following are my individual budgets for 2015 followed by the budgeted amount per month, and comparison to 2014's budget.

Phone: $75 (unchanged)
Groceries: $230 ($20 less)

Car: $370 ($15 higher)

    Incorporated extra for maintenance.
Dinner/Drinks: $250 (unchanged)
Other: $300 ($115 higher)
     Incorporated my healthcare budget and increased the total budget.
Clothes: $25 (unchanged)
Student Loan: $86 ($200 less)
    I paid off one of my student loans in 2104 bringing my monthly student loan payments to $86.
Transportation: $90 ($40 less)
    I combined my vanpool and gas budgets together and lowered both budgets.
Cash: $30 ($10 higher)
Rent/Utilities: $850 (unchanged)

     A decrease in my rent compensated for an underestimate of utilities in 2014.

Travel:  $5,000 (for the year)
This is going to be a big budget for 2015 because my girlfriend and I want to go to New Zealand! I am going to keep this budget separate because I plan to to pay for it outside of my normal income. I estimate that this will require 200 hours of overtime or about 4 hours per week. This is a doable goal but I think it will be pretty hard to keep it a consistent 4 hours per week.

My total expenses are $2,306 per month which comes out to $27,672 for the whole year. This is actually $4,000 less than I spent last year. But the biggest difference between 2014 and 2015 budgets is that I am planning to pay for my travel outside of my normal income.


Expense rate under 45% of my net income.
If I stick my planned budget and my income comes out close to what I am projecting, I should have this in the bag; and I think 45% is a worthy goal!

Establish an emergency fund and automatically deposit some money into it each month.
I currently do not have an emergency fund and I really should, I am planning to open a money market account for this in order to keep the money separate but still accessible.

Invest $2,500 per month.
This is a good amount of money but if I stick to my budget it should be possible.
Open a Loyal3 account and start a small amount of automatic investing.
My purpose here is to make investing a habit and ensure that at least some of my money will be automatically set aside for investing every month and Loyal3 lends itself well for this by being fee-free, having low minimum purchases, and having the ability to purchase fractions of shares.

Pay for my vacations with overtime.
I want to do this so that I will have an extra incentive to work the overtime that my manager will surely want and it helps me keep my vacation expenditures from ruining my budget.

Establish one new source of income.
I would like to explore additional options for earning money. Some possibilities are peer to peer lending (such as the Lending Club), ride-share driving, this blog, or performing odd jobs (, etc.). The purpose here is not have a second job or make money for this year but instead I am using it as an opportunity to explore what other options exist for earning income.


Complete the Tough Mudder. (again)
I am already signed up for this one, I better start working on my pull ups!

Workout my legs 2x per week.
Given my current basketball schedule this will be very difficult to achieve but I need to do something different.

Complete a sprint triathlon.
A sprint triathlon is 1/2 of an Olympic triathlon and consists of a 750m swim, 20km bike ride, and a 5k run. Honestly this sounds pretty short to me but me girlfriend agreed to do it with me at this distance, and, considering I have never done one before, I should probably start small. Maybe if I do this one early in the summer I can find an Olympic triathlon to do after some more training. I still need to find a pool though.

Run at a faster Pace: complete a 15K in 1 hour and 24 minutes (9 minute/mile).
I want to run faster and think this is a small start (only 1 minute/mile faster than what I do now) but over that distance I think it is a worthwhile challenge and a good sign that I change my pace.

Reduce my percentage of body fat to 12%.
My current body fat percentage is 17% so I think a 5% decrease is a pretty good goal. 

Track my calorie intake every day and review weekly.
I have been loosely tracking my calories for years but I would like to become more strict about tracking. I currently do not have a goal to hold to a certain calorie count because I think proper tracking is a better first step.


Read 6 Books from my Reading List.
Most of the books on my reading list are non fiction so I think I will be pretty slow to read them, especially considering that I read of lot of fiction books as well. I will be adding a separate page to mu blog for my reading list.

Take an online class.
This was a goal I set for 2014 that I did not accomplish. I have no idea when I will have the time though.

Average one blog post per week.
Since I started my blog in September I have averaged one post per week. I would like to continue and hopefully improve this trend.

Travel somewhere new.
I would like to make this a recurring goal to travel somewhere new every year. This year will (hopefully) be New Zealand!

Try meditation.
I tend to hold things in my mind for a long time so I end up spending a lot of time thinking and worrying about things that I cannot change or control, so I think I could really benefit from being able to clear my mind and meditation techniques could be the way to get me there.

Try out one new hobby.
I'm not really sure what I might try but I would like to pick up some sort of new hobby; if I plan to become financially independent I should probably have an idea as to what sorts of things I would like to do with my time.

Date night with my girlfriend at least once per month.
We go out to dinner and out with friends more often than that but sometimes we forget to have specific days for us so we would like to change that.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Wrap Up

Well 2014 was a great year! It went by way too fast for my tastes though. This year I switched to a new group at work, went to weddings 4 weddings, traveled to Boston, spent Thanksgiving in Mexico, attended a family reunion on the Oregon coast, moved in with my girlfriend, ran a half marathon and the Tough Mudder, started this blog, and I am currently spending some time with my brother and his family in Utah.

With the year over its time to review my budget and goals to see how I did.

My expenses are listed to the side. On each line I have the budgeted amount per month, the actual
amount spent for the year, and final the percentage of my yearly budget spent (where numbers greater than 100% means I spent more than my yearly allotted budget).

The Good: (Green)

Groceries, Movies, Healthcare, Student Loan, Gas, Travel, and Vanpool categories all came out under budget.

The Bad: (Yellow)

The following budgets were slightly over my yearly allotment (so calling them "The Bad" is an exaggeration):
  • Phone: purchased a new $100 phone but averaged over the year it only put me a little over.
  • Clothes: $3 over budget, I can live with that.
  • Car: I did not factor maintenance into my budget so this went just slightly over.
  • Rent: Slightly over due to moving expenses and incorporation of some utilities.

The Ugly: (Red)

The last set of budgets were definitely ugly, exceeding my planned budget by a wide margin. 
  • Dinner/Drinks: I think we went to a couple more expensive places then we should have this year otherwise I would have been fine.
  • Other: This was my 3rd heaviest category, and is hardest to plan for because is covers a lot of random things.
  • Cash: There were a couple of Craigslist items I purchased that required cash so this category was higher than I expected.
  • Utilities: my worst category percentage-wise but this was due to me improperly planning my budget.

Despite some of my categories being so bad my good categories made up for it because my total expenses, $31,742, was actually $46 under my planned budget! The chart below shows my income over the year.

Paycheck: my net income for the year was $62,950.

% Expenses = 50%  of income. Success!

Dividend Income:
Because I have been working hard on paying down my debts, I haven't been able to add much to my portfolio this year. But the great thing about dividend investing is that its still working whether I am adding to it or not. This year I earned $1,832 without lifting a finger, not bad. Here is a chart of my dividend income over the year:

Net Worth
Net worth will always be a secondary goal for me with generating passive income being my primary goal. But net worth is something I have started tracking. Given how much of my net worth is in stocks, my net worth will have a tendency to fluctuate frequently with the market but hopefully my net worth continue an overall upward trend over time. 

Jan                                                               Dec                             
Assets:                                                         Assets:
- Cash                    $2,142                            - Cash:                   $7,782
- 401k:                   $53,967                          - 401k:                   $71,803  (+33%)
- Investments:        $54,938                          - Investments:       $63,971  (+16%)
Liabilities                                                    Liabilities
- Student Loan 1:  $20,051                          - Student Loan 1:   $0          (-100%)
- Student Loan 2:  $7,410                            - Student Loan 2:   $6,866   (-7%)
- Car Loan:           $11,995                           - Car Loan:            $9,150   (-24%)
NETWORTH:    $63,317                           NETWORTH:      $127,540 (+103%)

Time to see how I did on my 2014 goals.
  • Spend less than 50% of my net income - COMPLETE - I squeaked in with $46 to spare!
  • Pay off one of my student loans - COMPLETE
  • Keep taxable income in the 25% tax bracket - UNCERTAIN - My current federal taxable income is $86,779 from my day job and considering dividends, capital gains, and interest I am about 99% of the way to the 25% bracket limit of $89,350 so this is really close, and I'm not exactly sure about how much my "other" incomes will amount to but I sold some stocks for a loss (ARCP) to make up some ground. I'll probably wait until I do my taxes to see how this one turned out.
  • Weight under 200 lbs - INCOMPLETE - My current weight is 210 lbs and of late I have been gaining muscle instead of losing weight. I'll be changing this goal for 2015 to reflect body fat percentage.
  • Run a half marathon - COMPLETE
  • Complete the Tough Mudder - COMPLETE
  • Work out my legs regularly - UNCERTAIN - This was a poorly worded goal as I have no way of measuring completion. I have been working out my legs more regularly of late though.
  • Increase my running pace -UNCERTAIN - This was another poorly worded goal as I have no way of measuring completion. I have not been running lately because of all of my basketball games so I need to figure some way to incorporate running back into my routine, perhaps I will start running on the treadmill at the gym as a warm up before a workout.
  • Take an online class -INCOMPLETE - I simply never found the time.
  • Work through my backlog of magazines - INCOMPLETE  - Unfortunately I still have as stack of magazines on my shelf.
All in all it was a great year. I had a chance to go on some awesome adventures. I had a great year financially spending less than half of my net income and paying off one of student loans to the tune of $20,000. While I left a lot of my "physical" goals incomplete, I still managed to complete my first half marathon and my second Tough Mudder. I performed rather dismally on my "mental" goals.  

How was your year?

Photo Credit: