Wednesday, April 21, 2010
- Fill snack bags with a healthy mix of almonds, cereal, and raisins. Keep a couple in your purse for when your blood sugar starts to dip and you're out and about.
- Stash a few granola bars in your glove compartment for times your unexpectedly stuck in traffic and need some nosh. Opt for a variety that isn't too gooey or coated in anything - your car can get pretty warm and you don't want your snack to get runny.
- Bring a few apples to work each Monday. Apples keep well at room temperature, so you can keep a few in a bag in your desk drawer or cabinet and enjoy a kick of crispy sweetness when you need a little pick-me-up (and avoid the vending machine) at the office. If you don't think the apple alone will stack up to your hunger, keep a couple single-serve packets of peanut or almond butter with 'em.
- Pick a new route. If you always drive right by your source for that $1.30 Diet Coke, find a more scenic road that won't tempt you into spending.
- Enjoy a more filling, healthier meal. By filling up on the good stuff that is brimming with nutrition, your body will be satiated with what it needs and that shiny package won't seem so alluring.
- Listen to something interesting or relaxing instead of focusing on obtaining an oral fixation. If you think you need something to keep your mouth busy, chomp on some minty gum.
- Do the math. I could (and have) easily spend $2.50 a day on seemingly little snacks (hey, those lemon zest Luna bars don't come cheap!). I didn't think much of this, until I realized that is almost $20 a week (half of my grocery budget!), $80 a month (the same as an unlimited yoga membership!) which totals over $900 a year (that's an IRA contribution friends!). Holy granola bars! Now I just think about those figures when I find myself involuntarily gravitating toward my local Circle K. It's simply not worth it.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
- Don't go looking for a specific item - Discount stores can be hit or miss, so don't stress yourself out by looking for a particular wardrobe staple you have in mind. Save yourself the hassle, and go somewhere you know is dedicated to providing that specific item.
- Do know what you need - Be clear on what you already own and what you are truly lacking of for the upcoming season. Stick to those areas in the store and you might just find some treasures waiting for you.
- Don't buy something that isn't perfect, even if it's 80% off - Even $1.99 is too much to spend on anything that isn't right for you; particularly when it is an item that is not critical to your survival (no, those Steve Maddens are not critical to your survival even at $39... especially when they're a half size too small)
- Do pay attention to quality - Check for signs of pilling, test the seams, look for loose buttons or thread, and make sure the fit flatters you. If it passes with flying colors, and the price is within your budgeted range, then you have a winner.
- Don't let the knick-knacks fool you - Just like every retailer, these stores will bombard you with impulse merchandise at key points around the store (and particularly on the maze of shelves and displays they herd you through to get to the register). Just because they are cheap and strategically placed doesn't mean you actually want them - resist!
- Do have fun - Shopping for clothing should be fun, and hitting up your local discount store can be a great way to stick to your budget while adding a few new pieces to your Spring wardrobe. Proceed wisely, and the discount deities may smile upon you.
Can of chickpeas - $1
Garlic - a few cents
Juice from one lemon - $.60 *less if you use bottled lemon juice
TBS Tahini - $.16
Tsp Salt - a few cents
2 TBS olive oil - $.20
Black pepper - a few cents
Sprinkle of cumin - a few cents
Approximate total cost: $2.10
We just tossed it all in my VitaMix, but you could use a food processor or hand mash it together with a potato masher for a chunkier variety. The result? A yummy hummus that measured up to the store brands for less than half the price I typically pay. You can bet I won't be buying pre-made hummus again any time soon.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Congrats! You've already made it through Budgets: Parts I & II. Before we forge ahead into our third and final installment, let's take a quick look back at all we've accomplished so far. In Budgets: Part I, we explored why budgets are important tools for reaching our financial goals, and made a master list of our expenses (where our money goes) as they stand, right now. In Budgets: Part II we organized our list of expenses into three categories: our regular expenses (they're due on a consistent basis, and they're unlikely to start shrinking in the next month or two as we're typically contractually obliged to them, eg. your rent), our priority expenses (they are only a couple of these - two at most - but we're not ready to start spending less on them at this time because they make us feel really good eg. your weekly trip to the cinema), and shrinking expenses (that's everything that's left over folks, and this is where we're going to start paring down the numbers eg. your twice weekly trips to Target for nothing in particular, your latte a day habit). We also started using an Excel-based budget to play with the numbers, and to see how much more we could sock away or pay towards debt if we really focused on thinning out our shrinking expenses.
Today we're going to talk about how to solidify and stick to our personal budget. After playing with your own budget for a while you probably settled upon something livable that lets you save much more than you are now. Don't get too stressed out thinking about what happens when your living situation changes or when unexpected expenses arise. There are three things in particular to make sure your final budget offers you:
1. Your budget should enable you to put enough money into your savings (or towards your debt) to make consistent and considerable strides toward your financial goals. In my case, I want to add $6,000 to my savings account in the next 6 months. You can bet my monthly budget includes a regular $1,000 deposit into my savings account.
2. Your budget should leave you enough wiggle room that you're not completely strapped for cash right before your next pay check. This means don't budget out every dollar and cent you make in a pay period. I have made this mistake myself, and it really helps to make sure you have a couple hundred dollar cushion in your checking account. This will give you enough cash on hand should an emergency arise and you don't have enough time to move funds over from your savings.
3. Your budget should leave you feeling empowered. You want to look at your budget and get the sense that, “Yeah, I may need to make some changes but this is doable and it is SO going to pay off”! When I examine my budget, I feel comfortable knowing all of my regular expenses are factored in, excited knowing I can still enjoy my spending priorities (a few new pieces of clothing and some coconut ice cream), and amazed at how by cutting down in other areas of my life I can save some serious dough.
Don’t even think about putting your budget into action until you’ve got all 3 down pat. Your attempts will be futile and painful, like sticking to an Akins diet in Italy (and really, why in the world would you do an Akins diet anywhere?). Once you’ve organized a monthly budget that works for you it’s time to put it into action… not tomorrow, but right now.
I find the easiest way to stick to my own budget is to have it readily available and to update it continuously throughout the month as I make purchases and payments. I opt for an Excel document to keep my budget in, and upload it to Google Documents. That way, no matter where I am or what computer I’m using, I can jump online and quickly enter in how much I just spent at the gas pump or for that last minute lunch date. If you haven’t tracked your spending like this before, really recording each and every item, it’s a wonderful habit to get into. You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to stay on track with your budget when it’s truly tailored to your needs and you actively track your progress each and every day.
There you have it! A solid foundation for reaching your financial destination - your own personal budget.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
- Regular Expenses – These are the expenses that you have to pay on a regular basis, like your phone bill and rent, and are consistent in size from one payment to payment to the next (i.e. an arm and a leg this month, a similarly sized arm and leg next month…). Debt payments, should you have them, also belong in this category.
- Priority Expenses – These expenses are the couple items (try for no more than 2) you choose from your remaining list that are really important to you and you couldn’t imagine skimping on. For some of us, this might be Fido’s food fund or the best fresh produce your grocery has to offer. Others may be willing to stick to the culinary staples at home as long as they can spend the weekend out on the town.
- Shrinking Expenses – These expenses include everything that’s left over and is where you’re going to start shaving off the dollars.
ChristianPF has 10 free excel budgets to download. I especially like the first one, but scan through them all to see what looks most appealing.
Suite 101 also has some resources and tips for using budget templates which you can tailor to your personal needs.
And when in doubt, go straight to the source! Microsoft Office has a personal budget to offer you too.
Monday, April 12, 2010
There are likely a million and one ways to spend less on the things we need, to discover the joys of cost-free entertainment and experiences, to increase the return on our investments, and to develop a sense of empowerment and a healthy attitude towards money. Those are all topics I’m anxious to write about and explore further, but they will all be ineffective for those without the solid foundation that is a well-formed budget.
A budget is your guide to reaching financial goals; mapping out your weekly, monthly, and annual benchmarks that will keep you on track with your long-term plans. The prospect of sitting down to create a budget may be daunting to some, but the great thing is that once you have crafted your budget you can relax knowing that you have a well defined path to financial success. If you start feeling discouraged about your finances and think, “I can’t do this – I’m in over my head”, you can look to your budget as a reminder that you CAN do it. You have written proof that your goals ARE attainable.
I’ll be diving into the specifics of creating and honing a budget in future posts. Now is the time to brainstorm a list of all the expenses you have in your life, right now. Be objective and honest. You’ll want your budget to be detailed enough that everything you’re currently spending money on is taken into account – even those things that you are looking to cut out of your spending habits like costly trips to the manicurist or daily stops at the 7-Eleven. Understanding where your money is going now is key to developing a budget that will work for you and your priorities. One easy way to do this is to look over a month or two of history on your credit and debit card statements. If you pay for most things with plastic, this will give you a really clear picture of how much you spend on what. If you’re still not sure where your paychecks are going, make a log of everything you purchase over the next couple of weeks.
Below is a list of common budget items that can help you get started or fill in gaps with expenses you may have missed – print it off and jot down next to each item what you currently spend on each. Don't forget to stop by tomorrow when we'll explore how to translate what you learn from this exercise into a budget that is tailored to you. I'll also be sharing some wonderful web-resources that make developing a digital budget a breeze!
Rent or Mortgage Payment
Utilities – Electric, Gas, Trash, Water
Public Transportation Pass
Prescriptions and Medical Expenses
Personal Care - Salon Visits, Massages, etc.
Eating Out and Drinking
Entertainment – Movies, Dancing, Concerts, Shows, etc.
Gym and Club Memberships
Thursday, April 8, 2010
If you like to get your information in an audio format, podcasts are the way to go. The internet hosts a never-ending supply of regular (or psuedo-regular) audio recordings addressing topics of every kind. Downloading free podcasts to your MP3 player or phone takes just a few seconds, and listening to something interesting is a perfect way to make use of your drive to work, your afternoon walk, or time spent cleaning the house. I like listening to NPR's On Health podcast to stay up to date on the latest health developments, Stop Podcasting Yourself for some comedic relief, and the CNN News Update which comes out with new headline stories every hour. Do you have a favorite podcast you recommend?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Here's a new recipe I've been enjoying lately that's extremely versatile: Lime and Pepper Marinated Grilled Portabello Mushrooms. You can find the nitty gritty details of the recipe I used here, but the basic idea is to marinate a few portabello caps in olive oil, lime juice, and some seasonings (in this case fresh chopped cilantro and serrano pepper, plus salt and pepper) for an hour or so then toss 'em on the grill outside or a George Foreman.
What works well about this recipe is that it's easy to tailor depending what foods you have on hand. Maybe instead of a lime and pepper marinade you opt for garlic or make it easy and use some pre-made dressing as your marinade instead. I sliced up the grilled mushrooms and tossed them into a taco shell with some beans, romaine lettuce, avocado slices, and homemade pico de gallo - but you could use whatever items you have available or are on sale at the store. You don't have to make it a Mexican-inspired dish either: serve the mushroom caps whole alongside some wilted greens and polenta for a home-cooked feeling, make a yummy sandwich or wrap with long slices of mushroom and grilled bell pepper, or top a salad with mushroom bits alongside artichoke hearts and olives.
Monday, April 5, 2010
If, like me, you're ready to take control of your financial future and jump into some new spending and saving habits, determining your destination means coming up with some long and mid-term goals for what you want to achieve. In my case, I'm determining exactly how much money I will save in the next 6 months, where that money will be deposited, and what big ticket material investments I also want to make in that time (i.e. a new pair of prescription glasses, snow tires for my car, etc.). What are your financial goals? What is your time line, and what do you want your financial status to be at the end of that period?
Right now, I'm focusing specifically on a six month period because that gives me ample time to both develop and solidify new habits and to start reaping significant benefits from them. Once you determine what your financial destination is, write it down. You'll want to be specific about how much money you will have in each of your accounts (savings, checking, retirement, etc.), how much of your debt you will have paid off, and what investments you will have made.
Now is also a good time to write out why taking control of your financial future is important to you. Why have you chosen your particular destination? Are you building your own nest egg? Are you saving up for a particular investment like down payment or a wedding? Is your focus becoming debt free? Or do you need financial stability for a change in lifestyle, such as starting your own business or going back to school? Without a reason to reach your destination, your unlikely to make it anywhere fast - writing out the reason you're starting on this new path can serve as fuel to get you moving and a helpful reminder to keep you on track.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Paid off my last remaining bit of debt (that's right folks, I'm debt free! woohoo!)
Relaxed and indulged in some laziness (and Real Housewives of NYC)
Started reading Eckhart Tolle (very interesting, soul inspiring stuff)
Saw HIM (and killer opener Dommin) at the House of Blues
Made grilled portabello tacos (there's a recipe post to come...)
Got a new Droid phone; I've officially joined the 21st Century
Saw John B at Phoenix Landing
Discovered this cool blog after ogling photos of the blogger's gorgeous farmhouse
Listened to the new She and Him album in its entirety (and you can too! it's free at NPR)
So I'm embarking on a new path - one where living fabulously and fulfillingly coexist with living on a budget and not fretting away hard earned dinero. It might mean a new look and feel for this site - I hope you're excited! I sure am.