Live on $3K a month.

 

AAAAA ST!!

(on the set of Shark Tank: Los Angeles, September 2013)

When I went on Shark Tank back in 2013 my finances were a mess; too many business loans, too much overhead, and our gross revenues were actually going down!

I started reading all the financial fitness books written by Dave Ramsey and Orrin Woodward, and I simplified my life. In a few short years I paid off over $300K in debt, put $30,000 in a college fund for my daughters, and I sold Balloon Distractions for a modest profit.

I joined Tampa Bay Solar while I still had an income from Balloon Distractions, and it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Instead of running an entire business (which I suck at) I could just focus on selling solar deals and developing a team.

When I finally sold BD it was with a sense of relief, I was closing the door on a chapter in my life that had great memories, but was also financially stressful.

In the last few years I’ve been teaching a Debt Free / Financial Management class at my church, and the most recent course was interrupted by the current Covid19 crisis.

Since my income is from sales commissions (on electric solar as well as solar pool heaters) I was worried about how I would weather the next few months. I’m a single Dad, no spouse to help me out here… and when I looked at my expenses I realized that I could cover all my costs until JUNE, even if I sold nothing until then!

I live on $3,000 per month. As my income from solar increased I kept my EXPENSES level and continued to pay down my debt. 

I still live in the same 1900 square foot home that I bought back in 2003. I drive a used Chevy Volt…. charged by the solar on my roof. I spend very little on energy, and I paid off my solar array last year.

When my HVAC needed replacement a few months ago I paid the $7,700 cost with cash.

As Covid19 hit and we went into quarantine Tampa Bay Solar started advertising for pool heaters, since everyone is home.

I’ve been closing pool heater deals consistently over the last few weeks. Covid19 decreased my income a little bit, but my expenses are still below my income, even during this current lockdown.

I hope Covid19 is a wake-up call for all the folks living “high on the hog” at the limits of their income. Live modest; no one is impressed by a leased luxury car or a home with a mortgage that you can barely cover.

Perhaps this crisis is also a wake up call for people who are working in low skill / low wage / non-essential jobs. Maybe this is the time to go to trade school, learn sales, learn some type of skill that will increase your income!

I’ll be looking to hire in a few months… if you have a talent for sales maybe that is a way to increase your income.

When this crisis is over and solar sales pick up again my main focus is paying off my home, and getting to a place where I can live on LESS than $1,500 a month.

Stay safe out there!

Ben Alexander

April 8, 2020

 

 

Bringing Sunday dinner back….

Pictured: my dining room, with new dishes and silverware my parents gave me for my 46th birthday…..

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In the last few weeks I’ve been hosting a regular Sunday night dinner at my place.

Last night we had Eggplant parm with salad and garlic bread, it was great!

My Sunday started with singing in the church choir, teaching the Debt Free class, then shopping for groceries and cooking most of the afternoon. I’m not a great cook, so I try new things and they tend to work out 99% of the time.

My parents are automatically invited every Sunday, they’ve cooked me about a gazillion meals in my lifetime, so now I get to return the favor. This also allows me to invite over friends who have lotsa kids, we have plenty of room and its always fun when multiple generations are at my table!

My daughters are always automatically invited, when they are in town, not working, etc.

My table can seat up to 12 people, if we get add chairs!

I’ve been reaching out to friends I haven’t seen for awhile and inviting them over as well.

Why not, right?

These are not stuffy dinners; wine will be opened, music will be played, things might get loud, you can never predict what might happen.

It takes work to straighten up my house, plan and cook a meal, and clean up after…. but the memories are more than worth it.

At the end of the day all we really have are memories anyway.

The great thing about this is that I’m becoming a better cook, and Claire and I have leftovers for days!

Not everyone is an extrovert, many people never host anything… but I’m having fun doing this, especially that moment when everyone is around my table and we all start to eat. This makes me happy at some profound level; providing for people I care about, seeing them enjoy each other’s company…. perhaps in many ways I’m a deeply traditional guy!

Let me know if you wanna join us next week!

Ben

March 2020

 

 

 

The Brevard Solar SCAM.

For the last three years I’ve sold over 350 residential and commercial solar deals for Tampa Bay Solar. Tampa Bay Solar is run by a retired Navy SEAL named Steve Rutherford, and all the systems I sold were installed within a few weeks of contract.

For example, this past week I sold a residential deal on Wednesday, that system will be installed by February 17th, finished by February 19th and turned on soon after.

Tampa Bay Solar did the solar array on my house, pictured below:

house with solar

Tampa Bay Solar also did an install on my parents’ home in Wesley Chapel, and my Dad (retired engineer) was very happy with the quality of their work.

We compete with many other installers, and two years ago I started seeing competing bids from a company called Brevard Solar. I was suspicious about these bids because they were several thousands dollars LESS, with the same exact equipment we were installing.

It would be like if you were buying a used Honda, and everyone priced it at $22,000, but one competitor was selling it at $15,000. Where were they cutting corners?

I showed some of Brevard’s quotes to our owner Steve Rutherford and he immediately said “They’ll go out of business selling systems at this price point”.

Looks like Steve was right. Brevard Solar went out of business last week, holding $10,000 to $15,000 deposits on over 280 jobs!!! Before they shut their doors they were taking 8 to 10 months to install… and Brevard Solar only did cash deals, so all the Brevard clients who got ripped off will never see their $10 to $15K ever again…..

For the last 12 months Brevard has gotten a bunch of complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau, but their clients only looked at price….

The Florida Attorney General is now on the case, and I hope Brevard’s owner, JAMES SPANN, gets thrown in a jail cell for a long time.

Some of the potential clients that I sat down with over the last 5 months went with Brevard and lost their deposit… and I warned them about Brevard, but they went with CHEAP instead. Ironically they will now spend MORE than if they had just listened to me and gone with Tampa Bay Solar 3 months ago.

I get it, they just thought I was a salesperson blowing smoke, but they should have listened, or at least looked at Brevard’s complaints online.

Tampa Bay Solar has ALWAYS completed their installs, and if a client changed their mind before install we refunded their deposit the next business day.

I’m 45 at this writing, and I’ve found that “cheap” might look good in the short term, but it always cost more in the long run. I’d rather pay more and get quality, when I was shopping for dining room furniture I went into a “discount” furniture place and the quality was not there, but the cost was lower. Instead I bought dining room furniture at Haverty’s, and it cost more, but the quality is there:

NEW dining room_resized

When one is making a long term purchase, like a solar array that lasts 30 or 40 YEARS, it makes sense to hire a quality installer who will get the job done RIGHT, and on schedule.

If you want solar on your home, at a fair price, with a great warranty…. reach out to us.

Ben Alexander

February 1, 2020

TampaBaySolar.com

Suit up, stay alive, have fun.

Old guy on a fast bike…..

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If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast one of the best things about living in Florida is being able to ride year round.

The pic above was taken this morning, on my Honda CB1000r. Rode it to church!

I’ve been riding on and off since 1995, when I rode a much slower bike through the streets of Taipei on my way to teaching gigs! I crashed frequently while living in Taiwan,  low speed crashes that left me bruised up and a little bit wiser.

They say there are 2 types of bikers: “Those who’ve crashed, and those who are going to crash….” I’d like to think that I’ve gotten all my mishaps behind me!

There is no way to totally eliminate the danger that goes with motorcycles, but it makes sense to suit up and mitigate some of that risk:

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My helmet and gloves are not pictured, what you see above is a leather jacket that weighs 12 pounds, canvas riding pants (with a Kevlar lining) and leather boots. If I go off my bike at high speed my protective gear will get torn up before my skin does.

Heavy duty gear and a full face helmet blocks wind, sand from the road, and huge flying insects! These three factors make riding unpleasant at speeds over 50 mph. Ever had a bug fly up your nose at highway speeds? Not fun, possibly dangerous.

Another factor that will keep you alive is keeping your bike maintained; not riding on old tires, making sure the brakes work…. that type of thing. This is the main reason why I don’t believe in riding old vintage bikes. Old bikes have crappy drum brakes, modern bikes have amazing disc brakes, normally with hydraulic assist and ABS!

I have 2 motorcycles, and they both stay in my garage out of the rain. I only ride on sunny / dry days.  Rain makes the roads slippery, rusts machinery, and is NOT fun to ride in.  I had to ride a motorcycle everyday when I lived in Asia. Not fun. Cars do better in the rain.

If you’re thinking about learning how to ride I’d recommend that you start with a slow, inexpensive, lightweight bike (maybe 300cc engine?) and ride the wheels off it. If you buy something that goes 150 mph and you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll die. A slow bike allows you to make mistakes at low speed, without cracking up a more expensive machine, or yourself.

My girlfriend is learning to ride on a little 250cc Yamaha that I bought used for $2,000. She’s dropped it twice, I’ve dropped the damn thing once… (bonehead mistake)…. but the bike is cheap to fix, especially those dang turn signals…..

If you’re new to motorcycling get a full face helmet, wear a leather jacket, heavy jeans, decent gloves, and leather boots that cover the ankle. Don’t ride down the road in shorts, a tank top and flip flops, that’s just silly.

Ben Alexander

January 2020

 

GREEN tech saved me $22,000

front of roof

I might be ahead of the times here……

There seems to be a MYTH that it costs more to have solar and drive electric vehicles. I went solar in 2017, so I looked at my costs before and after, and realized that green tech is FAR CHEAPER than the old fashioned alternatives when you look at long term costs over the next decade.

BTW, I’m a single Dad with a middle class income, living in a 1900 square foot home. I’m not a rich guy buying a $80,000 Tesla.  ANYONE could do what I did.

Before I had solar on my home  I drove an old Toyota Avalon with a V-6 engine that costs me $120 per MONTH at the gas pump. I now drive a (used) 2017 Chevy Volt that costs me $20 per MONTH to fill up! $100 per month over the next decade = $12,000 in my favor.

My Chevy Volt had 30,000 miles on it when I bought it for just under $20,000, which is very close to the purchase price of a used Toyota Avalon. Actually, if you picked up a late model Avalon for under $20,000 you got yourself a nice deal! The Volt will burn gas once the 55 mile electric charge is depleted, but many days I drive less than 55 miles.

The dead cost on my rooftop solar was $14,000 back in 2017. That system generates $200 per month in electricity at current prices. That’s $24,000 over the next ten years, minus the $14K paid for the system…. net of $10,000.

Tampa Bay Solar did the array on my roof, see the picture above. My system has pulled down over 24 megawatts since the day it was switched on.

That’s 24 MILLION watts folks!

Zillow did an in-depth study of home sales that shows solar will increase the market value of my home by 4%… but I won’t get that $$ until I sell my home.

https://www.zillow.com/research/solar-panels-house-sell-more-23798/

With $12,000 in gas costs saved and the $10,000 net on my rooftop solar I’ll save $22,000 in energy costs over the next decade, even if I never move.

That’s just smart money management. It also means far less coal and gasoline burned to move my car, light up my home and keep my air conditioning going.

Anyone could do what I did. In the next few years there will be hundreds of different types of plug-in electric cars on the market, and rooftop solar is a total no brainer, as long as you live in a single family home with lotsa sun exposure on the roof.

There’s a 26% federal tax credit for all solar that is installed in 2020. It goes down to 22% in 2021, then 10% in 2022. Now is a good time to generate power off your roof.

Ben Alexander

January 2020

 

Less Debt, Less Stress.

SHarks with hats

When I pitched Balloon Distractions on Shark Tank back in 2014 I had a ton of debt and my life was a constant struggle to pay the bills every month. I had overextended myself with business loans, while at the same time my income went DOWN as Balloon Distractions peaked, then got smaller while the fixed costs remained the same!

My finances were a mess, my life was a mess. These things tend to go together.

I bought a bunch of used paperbacks about living debt free, reduced all my expenses and started to hack away at my smallest debts, paying them off one by one. Some of the personal finance authors I liked were Dave Ramsey, Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady. You can buy their books used and cheap on Amazon.

In 2017 I got into the solar business with Tampa Bay Solar, and my income increased. That same year I went through a divorce, so there were expenses there, but I kept living BELOW my means and paying debt down. I put $30,000 into my daughters’ college fund and now they’re both on track to finish college debt free, and I’m damn proud of that!

I live in modest home that I can easily afford, the solar on my roof is paid off, and my solar powers my Chevy Volt, so I spend very little $$ on gasoline.

My monthly electric bill is only a $32 connection fee with the local electric company!

Last month I paid $7,700 for a totally new HVAC for my house, cash.

I still have a modest mortgage payment, and I recently had to buy another car (used 2017 Volt for under $20,000) but I’m on track to live on 33% of my income this year.

I just got the car a month ago, I’ll pay it off by June. Then I’m hacking away at that pesky mortgage.

My life is really simple now, I can sit down and pay all my bills in a few minutes, with extra left over in the checking account.  I have NO credit cards now, only a debit card with a finite balance.

If you struggle with personal finances buy some used paperbacks on Amazon from Dave Ramsey, Orrin Woodward or Chris Brady.  I read books by all three authors and I’m at PEACE now when it comes to my personal finances.

These three authors have changed my thinking about money, and I’m eternally grateful to them for doing so.

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

January 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

4AM… and a new decade.

cliare

Me and Claire… in the beginning of the 2000’s. I had more hair back then…..

I got up at 4AM (this fine January 1rst) to drive my daughters to Tampa International for a flight to Puerto Rico. Claire has a friend getting married there and was nice enough to take her little sister as her “plus one”.  Claire turns 22 in a few days, Grace just hit the 20 mark. My Christmas gift to my girls was the round trip airfare.

On the drive home I was thinking about how things change as the decades have turned over in MY life and in the world in general.

The beginning of the 90’s found me in tenth grade at Clearview Highschool.

In 1990 the internet was only used by certain scientists and cell phones were only used by wealthy people. Most people had landline phones with rotary dials hanging on their kitchen wall. Microwave ovens were newfangled technology in 1990…. Long distance calls cost over $1 per MINUTE or even higher.

By the first day of 2000 I was a young married guy with a 2 year old daughter (pictured above) and a 3 DAY old newborn! I had only had a cell phone for a little while, and still used paper maps to get to my appointments as an insurance rep for Mutual of Omaha. I lived in a little 2 bedroom apartment with my family…. the internet was still at snail slow dial-up speeds. There was no Facebook or Instagram. In 2000 there were ZERO plug-in electric cars for sale anywhere, and the Prius hybrid technology was brand new.

By 2010 my girls were in elementary school, I was still married, and the owner of Balloon Distractions, a company that had expanded across the country with several hundred performers in multiple time zones. The ABC show Shark Tank had started to become popular, but I could not have predicted that I’d get on the show just three years later!

In 2010 Facebook was only a few years old, the 2nd generation Apple iPhone was becoming common, and the internet had become faster and more widespread. Rooftop solar in the beginning of the 10’s was still pretty rare, and plug-in electric cars were a rarity. People still had landlines in their home in 2010….

So here we are on the first day of the roaring 2020’s. I’m not married (for now), with 2 daughters almost done college. My voice is on the local radio ads for Tampa Bay Solar, and I drove to the airport using kilowatts generated off my roof. There are billions of smartphones out there and the internet is 5G fast, even 3G fast in developing countries. YouTube has become a learning / entertainment resource for most humans, and services like Hulu and Netflix has replaced basic cable. Solar is on one out of 100 rooftops across the United States, and in higher concentrations in communities that my sales team has targeted. Weed and gay marriage have been legalized and more commonplace.

I feel very optimistic about the coming decade. By 2030 plug-in electric cars will outsell gas powered vehicles, last week Volkswagon announced that 50% of their product line will be full electric by 2025. Improved battery tech will surely increase the usable range of full electrics up to 400 or 500 miles, which will be a game changer for most drivers.

By 2030 prices on full electric cars will come down (just as prices went down for used hybrid cars like the Prius). The widespread use of electric cars will accelerate the adoption of rooftop solar. I’ve sold solar to homeowners specifically because they are planning to buy a plug-in electric vehicle.

In my personal life I’d like to still be ALIVE to see the turn of the next decade… but I’ll be 55 years old in 2030, and the actuarial tables predict that some men never reach that age. Of course, there were many people in my family who reached 90, so barring an accident or cancer you never know.

IF I’m still around in 10 years I’d like to spend that decade helping 100,000 homeowners go solar. I also have some solar related business ideas, but I’m also happy to just make a great living selling solar with my team at Tampa Bay Solar.

Of course, there are surprises in every decade. This is what makes life interesting.

Ben Alexander

January 1, 2020

 

 

 

 

Never needs batteries….

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A few years ago I got a really cool (black on black) Citizen Eco-Drive watch and it was  stolen out of my car when I left the doors unlocked! Since then I’ve bought a few more of these watches, mostly because they charge off of ambient light and you never have to think about replacing the battery. A few hours of direct sunlight will keep these watches powered for a few months!

… a solar watch…

I bought the silver model pictured above at a pawn shop for $150. The grey model pictured below was $150 brand new, I like to wear it when I’m meeting with clients. It looks nice, but understated.

The type of watch a partner at a solar company might wear…

Eco-Drive watches are not overpriced BLING like Rolex or Breitling.

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As a watch company Citizen has been around for over 100 years, and they have a gazillion Eco-Drive models to choose from, ranging from $100 on the more casual end up to $900 on the luxury side.

Some folks no longer wear wrist watches (because accurate time is on your phone) but I like the stylistic look of a nice watch, whether one is wearing a suit or just jeans and a polo shirt.

I’m 45 years old, and I’m at a point where I’m buying things that I want to keep for the long term, from well built furniture to quality motorcycles to solar panels. Citizen watches have an excellent track record for quality, so hopefully I can buy a model today and enjoy it for the next 40 years.

That same long term philosophy of quality and longevity applies to the relationships in my life as well, both personal and in business.

Going CHEAP will cost less in the short term, but it causes more headaches in the long term.

I know, this started as a blog post about watches, and morphed into something else. No one reads this blog anyway…

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019

3 Simple Solutions to Global Warming.

tree

Plant another 10 billion trees.

The best way to remove CO2 from our atmosphere in the long term is to simply plant a tree. Trees turn CO2 into cellulose and continue to do so for at least a century, sometimes far longer. It costs a few dollars per tree and about 20 minutes of labor to plant a sapling.

Put solar on as many rooftops possible.

All the sunny rooftops within 2500 miles north and south of the equator are a good bet for solar. Every human in modern society will use electricity every day of their lives, and the traditional utility primarily burns fossil fuels to generate this electricity. Solar on every roof raises the inherent value of every home and business as well.

Electrify all ground transportation.

We still need fossil fuels for jet planes…. but not for trains, buses and automobiles. With solar on the roof and electric cars in every driveway it becomes far cheaper to fuel up our vehicles. I drive a plug-in electric car that charges off the solar on my roof. This system works, and my costs for the additional equipment is LESS in the long term.

These three steps are all practical and possible.

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019

 

 

 

Hacking my Level 1 charger

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Level 1 = 120 volts.

Level 2 = 240 volts.

The Chevy Volt comes with a Level 1 (120 volt) charger. This is the narrow black box pictured above. This can be plugged into any standard outlet, anywhere. The 2017 Volt with a 55 mile electric range takes 12 hours to charge using 120 volts. That’s kinda slow.

I have the option of burning gasoline if the Volt batteries are empty, but the electricity at my home comes from solar on my roof…. which is free, versus a gallon of gas which is NOT free, and never will be.

There are Level 2 chargers on the market that run off 240 volts, but they cost $400 to $600 bucks. They look cool, but WHAT IF there is a less expensive option?

There were a few videos online that showed Volt drivers running 240 volts on their Level 1 charger… so I had an electrician wire in a separate breaker and 240 volt outlet and with $10 in parts from Lowe’s I built a converter plug, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in….

It works folks. No problems, no overheating, no tripping of circuits.

WITHOUT buying a Level 2 charger I’m now charging my Volt in 4 hours vs. 12 hours!

My only costs were some parts from the electrical aisle at Lowe’s and $290 bucks to the electrician.

My previous 2013 Volt only got 30 miles per charge, so I spent about $20 per week on gas, with the longer range on my 2017 model combined with the fat charging I’ll use far less gasoline. I work for Tampa Bay Solar, and we are building a new headquarters in East Tampa with Level 2 chargers, so I’ll be able to charge my car at work for free when construction is complete in 2020.

Ben Alexander

TampaBaySolar.com

December 2019