A.J. Shepherd

A.J. is a full-time graphic designer and wanna-be-out-of-debtor who shares money-saving ideas and tips on getting out of debt. In 2003, he found himself $40k in debt ($20k in credit cards alone) and rid himself of debt in five years. He and his friends have a website dedicated to personal finance and gaining financial independence at www.threethriftyguys.com. Read more about A.J. Shepherd.

Posts about Personal finance

Personal Finance Reading: Get More Done, Best Bank Accounts and Start a Budget

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: March 8, 2012 - 11:02 PM

There are a lot of good personal finance sites out there right now. So we thought we'd bring you a round-up of some of our favorite posts from the past week.

Five Unique Money Personalities (Which are you?) Budgets Are Sexy
An interesting read about five different ways in which people handle money.

Class Consciousness and Social Mobility Get Rich Slowy
A discussion of class and how it plays a role in our lives.

America's Billion Dollar Baby Scam Frugal Dad
Through an infographic, see the baby industry in a whole new light.

Best Bank Accounts That Save You Money ChristianPF
A list of seven banking accounts that will put money back into your pocket.

Local Deals: Free Showerheads and More Pocket Your Dollars
From free admission to the zoo to low-flow shower heads - PYD has got you covered.

Start Small When Starting a Budget Northern Cheapskate
Creating a budget doesn't have to be overwhelming.

3 Productivity Apps to Help You Get More Done The Jenny Pincher
If you've got a smartphone, these tips will help you maximize your productivity.

Are there any other articles out there you are reading?

Aaron writes for ThreeThriftyGuys.com - a personal finance site devoted to helping you keep a few more bucks in your pocket. 

The Millionaire Who Was Frugal for a Greater Purpose

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: February 16, 2012 - 10:36 PM

I came across this story last week in the Huffington Post. It was about a 96-year old woman who died in late 2010 and left $1.7 million to the Salvation Army. This happens all the time, right: rich folks leaving large amounts to charities? True - but Elinor Sauerwein wasn't known for her high lifestyle. She was a frugal millionaire.

According to the East Idaho News, Elinor lived in a very humble home in Modesto, California. A school-teacher who had graduated college in the early '30s, Elinor would travel by horseback to a one-room schoolhouse in rural Nebraska. She married in 1945 and then moved out to California to work on a ranch with her husband.

Here are some interesting tidbits about her frugal lifestyle:

  • She grew her own fruits and vegetables
  • Never purchased a dryer - instead opting to use a clothesline in the backyard
  • Refused to go to restaurants, movies or pay for cable (though the Huffington story indicated that in her late 90s she did finally get cable installed and loved the History channel)
  • Never went on vacations (her only one was a trip to Hawaii in her later years - which a friend had to convince her to do)

“Most people around her thought she was poor. Sauerwin’s friends knew she had money, but they just didn’t know how much,” said Elinor's financial adviser.

But in the end, Elinor had amassed about $2 million dollars from savings and investments.

“She said every dollar I save is another dollar that could go to the Salvation Army. Her goal for years and years was to amass as much as she could so it would go to the Salvation Army,” her financial adviser told ABC News.

There is something very pure and noble about a life lived like this. Living to "amass as much as she could" so it would go to charity? And, she didn't get to enjoy any of it?

This is hard for me to even fathom. Saving and saving - living like a cheapskate for your whole life - and then not enjoying any of its benefits later on. Odd huh?

What do you make of Elinor's story? Too much the cheapskate or is there something to the way she lived?

How Are You Doing on Your Financial Goals?

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: February 9, 2012 - 11:10 PM

(Or, I should ask - have you made any for the year?)

I'm not always the best when it comes to creating goals. I am more of a free-spirit when it comes to such things - I make a plan in my head and then loosely follow it. Not exactly a recipe for success, I know. But, I'm working on it.

Over at our personal finance site - we are running a year-long "Personal Finance Challenge" to help folks set up some goals for 2012 and see if they can knock off all 10 on the list by years end. I have to admit - this is more for me than our readers. :)

Here's what is on that list:

  1. Create a $1k Emergency Fund
  2. Get a Term Life Insurance Policy
  3. Cut Wasteful Spending
  4. Read a Book on Personal Finance
  5. Cut Your Debt by 5% or More (doesn't include mortgage - but can if you want)
  6. Tithe 5% or More of Your Income
  7. Start a Side Gig
  8. Start a File For Your 2012 Taxes
  9. Sell Your Crap
  10. Complete a DIY (Do-it-yourself) Project

So far this year, I've managed to cross-off several items and am working on a couple others. I'm actually enjoying having these goals in front of my face every day.

If you'd like to participate with us - all you have to do is sign-up at the Personal Finance Challenge page and then download the checklist there. For those who are partaking and complete the set goals for the year, we are doing a random drawing for $100 cash in early 2013. So, there is some more motivation for you.

Have you set any other financial goals for yourself this year?


Save Money by Making Referrals

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: January 19, 2012 - 9:39 PM

Business owners are facing stronger competition than ever before. It seems like for every sandwich shop that opens up - two more are just a couple blocks down the street.

Because of this, word-of-mouth advertising is still one of the best tools businesses have to garner new clientele. New customers are not cheap - so it doesn't get much better then when a loyal customer brings in a friend or family member. Smart owners recognize the importance of word-of-mouth and reward it. So, why not help a local business out? You may just land a deep discount or freebie.

Here's some good places to make referrals:

Beauty salon/barber
LIke many service orientated businesses, salons/barber shops rely heavily on word-of-mouth. Many hair stylists turn their business cards into coupon referral offers. One experience I had with a stylist offered a free cut to someone you referred and 50% off your next cut.

Insurance agent
A lot of people stick with their insurance companies. I've had the same one since I was 16 (20 years!). So, it's likely hard for agents to get new clientele. Help 'em out with a referral. They may reward this by checking over your policy a bit closer when it comes due.

Mortgage loan officer
You don't need to use these guys too often - but when you do, you want someone you can trust and rely on. I was fortunate enough to have one referred to me when I bought my first house and have also used him on a second home purchase. I wouldn't go to anyone else and have referred a couple other people his way too. They likely won't forget your goodwill - and may keep in touch with you regarding refinancing offers or other important information.

Health clubs/yoga studios
My wife does yoga and the studio she frequents give her $5 off any new person she brings in the door. Health clubs are also noted for rewarding referrals.

Some medical practices
Another service that many folks tend to stick with, are dentists. So to attract new-comers, they are sometimes known to reward clients who refer.

Online web stores
If you look at the footer of many web merchants, you'll note they often have a link for "affiliates". If you sign up to be one, you can get rewarded with discounts and/or cash. If you have a website yourself, you can add a link to their web store - which could give you some nice, passive income.

Of course, this is not exhaustive. Are there other businesses out there where you have saved some money by making a referral?

Aaron writes at Three Thrifty Guys - a personal finance site devoted to helping folks keep a few more bucks in their pockets.

Saving Money Through Your Employer

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: January 5, 2012 - 9:45 AM

I’ve written about saving money through your employer before – but it bears a repeat.

Companies and organizations everywhere try hard to offer the best benefit packages to attract top candidates. It’s easy to lose sight of this when employment rates are high and many are still competing to find jobs. But, the employer too – is in this tough job market.

Due to the competition, there are several ways employees can save money through their employer. The following are some benefits that you might be eligible for at your place of work. If they aren’t offered, you may want to check with your human resources department.


  • Gym memberships or discounted memberships. Given the new year, many people are looking to make good on resolutions. Enter in: the health club. Many employers offer free or discounted memberships at health clubs through their insurance provider.
  • Discounted Microsoft® software. Through the Microsoft Home Use Program – you can get the suite of Office products for cheap. While your employer may not publicize this – you may want to go directly to your IT dept for the special code you’ll need to enter at Microsoft.
  • Event tickets. Through organizations like MERSC, companies are able to get tickets at cost or less and offer these to their employees.
  • Tuition costs. This is a great benefit to utilize at your workplace. Many companies see the value in employees who are “bettering” themselves through education and are happy to reward this.
  • Travel discounts. Rental cars, flights and even hotels often will have special company rates which have been pre-negotiated. You may need to enter a special code or show a card to get the break in price.
  • Cheaper shipping. Your workplace also may have set rates with various shipping companies. The company I work for also extends these rates to the employees. These prices are generally cheaper than you’ll find elsewhere.

Are there any other ways you've found to save through your employer?

Year-end Tax Tips from a Tax Pro

Posted by: A.J. Shepherd Updated: December 14, 2011 - 10:28 PM

Can you believe we are coming to the end of 2011?

With the closing of another year, we make sure that our fiscal responsibilities are organized and ready to go for 2012.

Among the things on our list, are taxes. And so, we asked a tax pro in our area - Joni - to offer some year-end tax tips.

Joni – can you tell us about any new changes in tax law for 2012 that we need to be aware of?

I can tell you that the 401K and 403B maximum contribution goes from $16,500 in 2011 to $17,000 in 2012.  No other retirement vehicles were increased.  The social security wage base went to $110,100 from $106,800. Social Security recipients are receiving a 3% cost of living increase in 2012. They have not had an increase in 3 years.  However, their Medicare premiums increased. For 2012, mileage for business will be $.555, medical mileage will be $.23, and charitable is unchanged at $.14

And then, what are some last minute deductions folks can still make for their ’11 return?

As always, the charitable contribution needs to be made within the year and it shows up on the charitable statement the organization provides.  The organization needs to have it on 12/31/11 so that it gets posted. If you mail it by end of year, it will probably get posted in the next year.  If charged on a credit card by 12/31/11, you can take the deduction even if you do not pay for it until the following year.

Try to mail your January 1 mortgage payment before to see if you get 13 months of interest on your statement.

Be prepared for your net payroll check to decrease if Congress does not do anything regarding the payroll reduction as the current 2% reduction for employees expires on 12/31/11.

Utilize your Medical Flex Spending account so that you do not lose it.

Thanks Joni.

Any other year-ending tax advice to throw in the mix?

Joni, is with Joni L. Craft, P.A. She has offices in Minneapolis and Rochester, MN.



Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters