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Personal Finance Interview with Mike of CleverDude.com

Name: Mike aka Clever Dude
Age: 28
Networth Range: $50,000 – $150,000 (depending on how you count our home equity)
Profession: IT Systems Engineer
Websites: CleverDude.com and BuildingNutrition.com (my wife’s new site, which I manage)


Current Financial Strategy:

Pay down non-home debt while still stashing some savings and retirement away.

Best Financial Tip:

Live within your means. I’d also like to state that as “live frugally”. If you make $20,000 per year, don’t buy a $20,000 car. Make eating out a treat rather than a pattern. Don’t feel the need to appear wealthy if you’re not. You’ll find those “rich people” with nice cars and big homes are probably in over their heads just like you would be.


Worst Financial Move Ever:

I’ve just been compounding my poor financial standing with stupid mistakes since high school. Money burned a hole in my pocket, and I left college with $20,000 in credit card debt and a $20,000 car (and $20k in student loan debt, but that’s not bad). I traded in that car for a $30,000 car 9 months later and lost $6500. I did this again with another car and lost $8000. I also wish I would have bought a house when I first moved to DC 6 years ago rather than just 2.5 years ago at the peak of the boom.

Financially, I need help with:

Understanding tax implications and legal requirements for starting a small business.


What personal finance tools do you currently use to track and manage your money?

Quicken and Microsoft Excel. I’ve also used MS Money, but Quicken seemed easier, and I got a free copy so I switched.

What are the problems in your personal finance tools?

I really don’t like the reporting options in Quicken, and the budgeting functions aren’t flexible enough for my needs. I use excel to map out my long term budgeting goals (next 6 years) rather than Quicken because I’ve been tailoring it to my own needs for years. There’s just some things you can’t get out of a COTS package (COTS=Commercial Off-The-Shelf)

How would your ideal personal finance tool work?

I want an adjustable budgeting tool where I can set ad-hoc one-time paychecks and payments without going through hoops to identify all the details. Also, I’d like to be able to easily shift upcoming bills without editing the entire series. I also want to be able to write custom queries and filters against my transactional data (past and future) rather than being forced to use canned reports. Lastly, I want the tool to connect to all of my financial accounts including mortgage, student loans, auto loans, credit cards, and rewards programs. Bank of America does it fairly well in their “My Portfolio”, but Quicken has been slacking, especially with banks changing to more secure login procedures (and being required to pay for the access).

What more do you want to know about your personal finances?

I’d like to be able to budget more effectively. I have the big things covered like groceries, dining out for dinner and lunch, insurance, mortgage, etc., but we don’t budget for clothes and entertainment since we buy both so rarely. We have spurts of spending activity at best, and I can’t create a monthly budget on something so sporadic. I guess we could also just force ourselves into a pattern, but that’s just not our thing.

How much do you think you currently spend on eating out?

We have a cap on dinner dining at $200 and lunch (for me) at $100. Our grocery budget is $200. We do not allow ourselves to eat out for dinner except on Friday-Sunday and special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or out-of-town guests visiting. Last month, we only spent $95 on dining out for dinner and almost $200 on groceries. Prior to last month, the amounts were always reversed.

How often do you want to know about your personal finances?

I used to check my finances daily until I finally settled on a budget I liked. We’re sort of on autopilot for the next few months since I’m comfortable with our near-term spending. However, I do still plug in our receipts in Quicken and update my excel spreadsheet every few days.

What is in my wallet?

  • $7 and three 37 cent stamps
  • 2 lottery tickets (that’s really my retirement plan)
  • 2 dry cleaner receipts
  • driver’s license (eek! expires this year!)
  • Sam’s Club card
  • Health Flex Spending card
  • Discover and Chase credit cards (realized I forgot to put the Chase card in the picture)
  • Bank of America check card
  • Barnes and Noble gift card (not sure how much is on there)
  • DC Metro SmartTrip card
  • Medical and Dental benefits cards
  • Blockbuster card (for my TotalAccess)
  • and my Knights of Columbus membership card

Mint’s Note: CleverDude.com is a personal finance blog that you should definitely check out. Mike updates the blog with frequent posting, and dishes out handy suggestions such as frugal lunches (from his lovely wife).