Monday, September 3, 2012

Beginning Again

Well I abandoned my money saving goals for a bit. Sadly I'm not any further along financially then I was a few months ago but I'm back with a vengeance. I think it's important to start with simple goals and build on them. There are only 4 months until the new year and I've had to adjust in a few ways. My goal to finish school in December was just not feasible. I've had to settle for graduating in May. It's still going to take a lot of work but it's taken the pressure off a bit both time wise and financially.I get paid on Friday and here are my goals:

1. Save $100 per paycheck until the end of the year, starting this Friday
2. Find a way to save an additional $100 over the next four months for total savings of $1000
3. Use cash for spending and groceries and my 2nd Chase account for gas only
4. Tackle 1 bill or spending area per month to find savings
5. Eat breakfast and lunch from home, during the week, AND keep it cheap
6. Shop early for Christmas

Have you re-evaluated your goals lately?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

C'mon get Happy!

So admittedly, I’ve been to very few happy hours in my life. Despite being a member of the working world for almost 20 years (eek!) and being able to drink alcohol for 15 of those, I’ve tended to avoid the 5 o’clock somewhere crowd and done other things instead. Recently I attended a happy hour that was planned for a board that I’m a member of. We met at a local restaurant/bar that had a special happy hour menu. I had one cocktail and a personal pizza, spent about $15, and was home by 8. Perfection.
It got me thinking about how and when I socialize. I’ve been in a committed relationship for almost 2 years now and have no desire to be out late on a Friday night. For a while my friends and I had “pay day” Friday dinners out but I found that I was spending about $100 a month that way. Then it dawned on me…happy hour! I think it’s a great way to spend time with your friends and not spend a lot of money – here’s why:

1. Special Happy Hour Menus or discounts – Many establishments have a special Happy Hour Menu. There are places locally that offer a few items for $5 – usually appetizers or small plates. There’s a fancy steakhouse where you can get a great steak house burger for $6…and it’s a whole lot better than Burger King! Other places have half off appetizers which can also be a great savings. Share a half off plate of nachos with a friend – super inexpensive.
2. You don’t have to drink alcohol – There is no rule that says if you go to happy hour you have to drink alcohol. Order a soda or lemonade…or even water and still benefit from discounted pricing on food.
3. It doesn’t have to be at a bar – Many restaurants have a small bar in them and offer a discounted happy hour. If you are uncomfortable sitting in the bar section, ask if you can still get happy hour pricing in the restaurant. Many places are o.k. with that.
4. Some places offer FREE food! Donovan’s Steakhouse offers complimentary Prime steak sandwiches during their “martini” hour, as well as half priced drinks. One local Mexican chain has a free happy hour buffet with chips, salsa and other items.
5. It’s over early! I don’t know about you but I like to get home before my significant other. I will usually straighten up a bit, make sure there’s something for him to eat, make us a couple of cocktails. It’s rare that I want to go out for the whole night and miss spending time together before bed. This way I’m home just before he is (he works a later schedule) and I’ve had the opportunity to socialize without missing out on personal time together.

How about having a cheap date with the hubby or wifey? Secure a sitter for a couple of hours and meet up for a drink and a bite to eat after work. I would head to Yelp and put “happy hour specials” in the search field. Read through some reviews for deals other people scored or go directly to their website.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Dollar Store Diva

On Sunday a few unpleasant things happened to me…like waking up to find that someone had egged my car. I suppose in most parts of the country this wouldn’t be AS big of a deal. I don’t know if the egg would ruin your paint the way it does here. Unfortunately in a place where the temperatures get into the hundreds, egg baking into your paint job is a catastrophe. I did my best to get it off using the window cleaning solution at the gas station but I needed something stronger. Trying to be budget friendly I decided to head to the dollar store.
I’ve never really been a dollar store shopper. I was actually surprised at all the things you can get there! I had some household items (storage bags, Tupperware type containers, dishwashing liquid) that I knew I needed to get. Dollar tree ended up being the perfect place! I walked out with 4 bags of things for about $20. My boyfriend wasn’t thrilled with the dishwashing liquid I got; it was a bit thinner in consistency than our usual Palmolive but when I did the dinner dishes it worked just fine. Considering it was two times the size of the one I usually get AND only cost a dollar – I’m not complaining.
We managed to get most of the egg off my car. It’s one of two that I own personally and I consider it my “beater” car and it needs a new paint job anyway. It’s just disappointing to me that someone would do that. To be so destructive to another person’s property is beyond my comprehension. Too bad I don’t actually believe in Karma…
Another unpleasant thing that occurred was that the store where I was going to pick up the ham , The Honey Baked Ham Co., was closed which threw off my whole menu plan…I’m still recovering. Normally I wouldn’t spend so much on a ham but I have a gift certificate I need to use. I did score two “cheap” food finds:
A box of instant oatmeal packets for $1
2 half gallons of milk for $1 apiece
If the milk is still on sale when I go back to the store tonight I’ll pick up a couple more.
What items do you like to buy at the dollar store?

Friday, May 4, 2012

5/4 Pay Period Menu....Sorta

As I mentioned in my previous post I am going to be on a tight budget, out of neccesity, for the rest of this pay period. I have a set budget for groceries/spending money - $140. Out of that spending money I need to pick up 2 prescriptions ($20), get my nails done ($20 including tip), and go to the chiropractor ($15). That means my grocery budget is $85. I believe I am up to the challenge and really...I don't have a choice.

I've seen so many blogs where people post weekly menus but usually those people have a family. For the most part it is just me and every once and a while my boyfriend. I decided to take a different approach. I inventoried what I have available at home and then thought of inexpensive items to buy to make those things into meals. Rather than create a hard and fast menu I'm going to post a piece of paper on my fridge with the list of meals that I can make. The designations are r - refrigerator, p - pantry, f - freezer, meaning I already have them on hand. The ham is being purchased with a gift certificate I have for the Honey Baked Ham Co.

Eggs (r) scrambled with salsa, fruit
Waffles (f), fruit, milk
Cereal, milk, fruit

Cowboy Caviar (black beans, corn, salsa, onions) with tortilla chips
Cold Tuna Noodle Salad (tuna (p), macaroni (p), onion, celery, mayo (r), italian dressing (r)

Snacks for Work:

Peanut Butter and Celery
String Cheese and Fruit

Dinners: (will serve a salad or steamed veggie on the side)
Ham, Corn on the Cob, Peas and Rice (Sunday dinner)
Black Beans and Rice (use ham)
Red Beans and Rice (box of dirty rice, can of kidney beans (p), sausage (f), ground beef (f)
Tacos (tortillas (p), ground beef (f), taco seasoning (p), corn (leftover), salsa
Ham (leftover) and Scalloped Potatoes (box, P)
RHONJ Pasta dish (pasta (p), peas (f), ham)
Crock Pot Chicken Supreme (chicken thighs (f), 2 cans cream of chicken soup, onion, 4 slices of havarti, bacon
Meatless Spaghetti (spaghetti (p), sauce, breadsticks (f)

My goal is to get all the items for the meals above for $35. I have more than that to spend but I'd like to do it as inexpensively as possible. It will help me use up more of my pantry items too. Here's to eating cheap for the next two weeks :)

If I've Learned One Thing It's That....

Budgeting is a process. I keep setting goals for myself, failing, and then looking at the situation and asking myself why. I was near tears yesterday regarding my finances. Despite making an effort NOT to overdraft my bank account - I did. And unfortunately it was with several little purchases that caused me to get hit with 5 overdraft fees of $34. I was devastated. My first question was – how the he** did this happen?? I looked over my account and realized that I’d bought gas for $30 and forgotten about it. It took several days for it to post. It over drafted my account by $13. I had also gone into the gas station after pumping gas and bought a bottle of water and a soda – 2nd transaction. Then I had 3 small purchases that I had made earlier in the week – one was for only $1 in ITunes which makes me sick – and voila…my account is in the negative.
Words cannot express how tired of this I am. Not being in control of your finances is exhausting. While I’m sad that since I started this process I’ve made ZERO progress, I feel like I had to get to this point. Now I know that I really have to CHANGE to make this change – period. So here’s my plan going forward:
1. Keep it simple! No more elaborate goals – at least not for the time being. Pick one thing and focus on it until I succeed.
2. Switch to cash for my grocery and spending money. Take out the amount I’ve budgeted on Friday, payday and when it’s gone…it’s gone.
3. Use a designated bank account for gas. I have a 2nd Chase account I rarely use. My gas money for the pay period will be transferred there. The reason for doing this is so I can still “pay at the pump”.
4. Track my spending – not just by looking at my bank account but by keeping a notebook with me in my purse and writing down every penny I spend.

Therefore my goals for this pay period are pretty basic:
1. Use cash for groceries and spending – budget $140
2. Use a designated account for gas – budget $60
3. Track my spending every day.
That’s it! Wish me luck!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Budget Recipe - Farfalle con Piselli

I wanted to share a quick budget recipe with you. First, I have to admit that I have a very serious problem - a cookbook buying problem. I love them. And unfortunately most of them are e-books which means I can't resell them. Often I purchase them, read them, and never make anything out of them. Secondly, I have to confess that I have another very serious problem - an addiction to the Real Housewives series. Yes it's true...and those two problems are how I came into possession of Teresa Giudice's cookbook - Skinny Italian.  I decided that since I had paid good money for the thing I needed to make at least one recipe from it.

Surprisingly the recipe I chose turned out to be really good AND also a really flexible recipe. I used items I had in the house but even if you were to purchase each one it would be really inexpensive. I think it's a great vehicle for leftovers and used it that way myself - I added some leftover ham. The original recipe is vegetarian but we like meat in this house :) . Here's my version of the recipe:

1 lb farfalle pasta
1 tbsp exra virgin olive oil
1/2 a large onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
1/3 of a cup light cream
1/4 of a teaspoon salt
1/8 of a teaspoon pepper
1 cup diced ham

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, add salt and pepper while it's cooking
Add the ham and peas and continue to cook over low heat while boiling the pasta
When the pasta has started boiling but isn't quite ready add the cream to the veggies and ham and heat through, let it boil a bit as it will thicken the cream some
Drain the pasta when ready, reserve a small amount of cooking water
Toss the pasta with the veggies/ham and cream until the pasta is coated
Grate some fresh parmesan over top and stir
If the sauce is too thick add the reserved pasta water a little at a time until it loosens and covers the pasta well

Easy right? And so pretty with the butterfly pasta, green peas, and ham.

I started thinking of a ton of variations:

Instead of ham and peas how about leftover chicken and asparagus? or turkey and broccoli florets?

If you don't have any leftover meat you could add a can of tuna or bake some chicken breasts and serve the meatless version on the side. If you don't have farfalle you could use any pasta you have on hand. Don't have the cream? How about a little butter and parmesan cheese with a few splashes of milk?

 Too hot for warm meal? How about cooking the pasta and rinsing it in cold water and adding the peas, ham and diced onion along with some italian dressing for a quick pasta salad?

I really think this a great recipe to know so that you can use it in a variety of ways. The cost is really minimal for the basics:

Pasta from your pantry or from the dollar store - $1
Leftover meat or even buying a small ham steak for about - $3
Frozen peas - $1
Cream - $2
an onion - less than a dollar
garlic - less than a dollar

I don't know about you but I usually have most of these ingredients on hand - pasta, an onion or garlic, and some frozen veggies.

What's your favorite go to budget recipe? 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Week of 4/23 Goals

Eat 3 meals a day at or from home during the week, 1 meal out on the weekend
Have no overdraft fees in any of my accounts
Track non-essential or non-goal spending
Participate in Food Waste Friday and document what has to be thrown away!
Start Money Saving Mom’s 4 Weeks to a More Organized Home Plan
Study for and do well on my accounting mid-term
Find one item to purchase for my work wardrobe
Join the gym

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? The good thing is that most of these goals are easily met – tracking my spending isn’t hard because I always use my debit card. I’ll record it as a word document as these two weeks progress in order to make sure I’m not spending a lot of money when I shouldn’t be and I will celebrate “no spend days” by documenting it here. Eating from home is a major thing for me because food and eating out is one my three “budget leaks”. The others are shopping and unnecessary bills.
What are your goals for the week?

Building A Professional Work Wardrobe

One of my goals is to build an attractive, professional wardrobe…for not a lot of money. My role at work is slowly changing to one where jeans are no longer appropriate attire for every day. In fact this morning I attended an awards breakfast at a very nice resort and the president of a local sports team was in attendance as well as the vice president of my own company. It’s definitely time to step up my game in the clothing department.
 I understand that to some, spending money on clothes when you don’t have an emergency fund in place seems like a bad idea but for me this is an investment in my future. I’m also trying to build a career and image is important. I’m currently in a temporary position and I am in the process of applying and interviewing so I feel this is of utmost importance. My mantra is – “I cannot control how I am perceived, I can only control how I am presented.”
The person I consider an expert in this area is Tim Gunn. If you’re not familiar with him he was on Project Runway, has written a book, had a style guide column in Marie Claire magazine, and has a new show on ABC called The Revolution. He has impeccable taste and a more classic sensibility – and I totally love him. The following is his list of wardrobe essentials. I’m going to start shopping for good deals on these items, and some I already have. I plan to get them as cheaply as possible and one at a time over the next few months.
1.       Basic Black Dress – have something that may work if able to be tailored
2.       Day Dress           
3.       Classic White Shirt
4.       Classic Blazer
5.       Dress Pants – have one good pair of black dress pants
6.       Trench Coat – have but needs to be tailored
7.       Good Pair of Jeans
8.       Skirt
9.       Cashmere Sweater
10.   Sweat suit Alternative
I’m also adding to the list 2 pair of pumps and one pair of flats – my work shoes are not in good shape. I also need some inexpensive accessories.
How does your wardrobe factor in to your budget? Is it something you spend money on or do you feel it’s not important?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Falling in Love With Free Stuff

I never used to care about freebies. Certainly if something fell in my lap, I would take it, but it wasn't something I worked for. When I decided to start paying attention to my money (and why I didn't have any) the idea of getting something for nothing became appealing. Here are a few ways I'm getting stuff for free:

1. Unwanted Items - A friend of mine went through a divorce some time ago and is finally going through her storage unit and purging things she no longer wants or needs. One of those items was an armoire that can be used to hold a t.v. It's painted a nice sage green and fits with my "shabby" chic decor. I went with her to pick up and bought her dinner after as a thank you but otherwise the item became mine at no cost to me. If you don't know of items your friends are getting rid of, check craigslist. Often people will post that they have items for free if you're willing to go pick it up!

2. Birthday clubs - Just before my birthday I went online and signed up for birthday freebies. Yesterday I received two postcards from Dunkin' Donuts for free medium drinks. My birthday has passed but apparently the rewards just keep on coming!

3. SwagBucks and Recycle Bank - I'm new to the two of these. I'm slowly building my points. My plan is to use them for gift cards to Old Navy or other retailers to help build my work wardrobe!

4. Pharmacy Rewards - Switching your prescriptions to a different pharmacy can get you free money. I switched from Walgreens to Fry's grocery and received $50 to spend at Fry's. Right now Walgreens and Safeway grocery both have similar deals - $25 for every prescription you transfer. I plan to do that soon. Check pharmacy websites and grocery store fliers for opportunities in your area.

5. Bank deals - There are several banks that offer free money for opening an account. Usually you have to do certain things, make a few debit card purchases or set up direct deposit. I scored $150 from Ing for doing this. If you do a google search for bank deals you can usually find a blogger who lists the current deals.

So how do you get freebies? Any tips or tricks for scoring free stuff?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saving Money at the Market

I shopped a new farmer's market today. One of my goals is to lose 60 lbs by the end of the year and to improve my overall health. To that end I've decided to incorporate a lot more vegetables in my diet and my preference is organic. Unfortunately organics are expensive but I'm looking for ways to reduce those costs. If you want to save on "organic" fruits and vegetables I recommend going to a farmer's market. A lot of small farmers raise their meat or grow their produce organically but aren't big enough to get the certified organic labeling. If you talk to the people at the market you can make sure your food is grown and raised in a healthy, environmentally friendly way. I spent $62 today, the meat alone was $30 of that. Here's what I got:

1 butternut squash
1 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of beets
10 small red potatoes
1 small bunch of broccoli
1 red onion
1 yellow squash
1 bunch of asparagus
2 lemons
1 artichoke
1 ziploc size bag of radishes
1 bulb of garlic
1 prickly pear cactus leaf
A container of goat cheese
1 loaf of gluten free bread
1 lb of grass fed ground beef
1 boneless chuck roast

With these items and things I already have in my pantry and freezer I've come up with the following dinner menu for the week:

SAT Tacos (ground beef, pinto beans, taco seasoning packet, corn tortillas) and a salad
SUN Roast with potatoes and vegetables
MON Beef and Noodles (leftover roast, homemade noodles) and a salad
TUES - school night, leftovers!!!
WED - Saucy Italian Style Chicken thighs served with rice and roasted asparagus
THURS - Meatloaf, potatoes, roasted broccoli
FRI Chicken with artichokes and roasted red peppers

I'm also planning on making soup from the butternut squash to have for lunches. The cactus leaf was given to me for free - not sure what to do with it! My goal is to use all these veggies before anything goes bad, otherwise it was a waste of money.

What are you planning on making this week?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In the News

I read a lot of personal finance blogs, money saving blogs, and even frugal living blogs. While I find a lot of inspiration from them, and a lot of good information, I also like to peruse articles that have been in the news or that are available on financial websites. I think is an excellent source of information and I wanted to share an article a friend of mine sent me from their site:

7 Solid Ways to Save $1000 in a Year

Here is the breakdown of their 7 ways and what I think:

1. Losing the data plan on your cell phone – I actually think this is a great idea. It’s something I’m contemplating right now. I rarely use the advanced features of my phone with the exception of email and GPS. It’s definitely something I’m considering.

2. Skipping Starbucks or Jamba Juice – I don’t actually do this. I’m not a Starbucks every morning girl. What I am guilty of is my breakfast burrito habit - $4.85 every week day for a burrito and a soda. I’ve pretty much weaned myself off of this for a savings of about $1260 per year. I would reinterpret this as your $5 habit. What thing that you tell yourself is just 5 bucks can you give up?

3. Avoid convenience foods like pre-shredded cheese or pre-diced onions – I’m working on this one. I think the savings is hard to track although I will see it in the overall reduction of my food costs I’m sure. Also lends itself to the upcoming feature on my blog – Make It Yourself Monday

4. Lose your Gym membership and ride a bike instead – I don’t agree with this one for me but I’m sure it could benefit some people. I live in Arizona where the temperatures in the summer are enough to melt your face off. I found a discounted gym for $10 per month, no contract. In the height of summer I will be walking my way to being fit by 40 on a treadmill in an air conditioned gym. I’m considering switching to an outdoor form of exercise once the temperature cools off, from November to March. Since there is no contract I can do that and save myself $50 per year.

5. Put $50 into savings every two weeks – I think this is great! I intend to do more but it’s a good jumping off point. $50 in savings every 2 weeks would give you an annual savings of $1300.

6. Lose your land line – I don’t have one. I have a very money savvy friend who is having a hard time giving hers up. She’s looking into Magic Jack.

7. Investment fees – this one doesn’t really apply to me. I only have my one 401K through my current employer with an excellent match percentage and am fully vested.

So what do you think of the article? Are any of these ideas ones you would like to implement? Have you already and how successful have you been? Can you think of any other ways to save $1000 per year?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Grocery Debacle

Yesterday I read a post on Money Saving Mom that really struck a chord with me. It was in response to one of her readers asking for ideas on how to eat a healthful diet for approximately $30 per week as a single person. I do feel that the menu she came up with was excellent and I posted my own ideas on how I would customize it to my own taste and nutritional preferences. Still, if I had the opportunity there are some things I’d like to know…like what percentage of the reader’s income is her food budget?

I make approximately $52,000 annually, which breaks down to about $1000 per week in income. If I had a food budget of only $30 per week it would be only 3% of my weekly income. This is below the national average in 2011 of about 6%. This also happens to be the lowest percentage spent on food … in the world. Residents of some countries in Africa, like Angola, spend about 80% of their income on food. And they consume far fewer calories. The richest 25 countries in the world (U.S. included) consume well over 3000 calories daily, per person, some even hitting the 4000 calorie mark. In the 25 poorest countries they average about 2000 calories per day.

So what does this all mean? Obviously food in the U.S. costs less, period. I do find it sad that we complain about the cost of food when so many people pay so much more. I also ascribe to Michael Pollan’s philosophy of eat less, spend more. It’s a difficult concept to grasp but I do think that putting a larger chunk of your budget towards eating local, organic ingredients is better for your health. It leaves me to wonder if our food budgets are really where we need to cut costs. I believe in saving money wherever you can but …is there a better bang for your savings buck elsewhere?

This also illustrates why I am not a proponent of extreme couponing. Most of the items that have coupons available are for packaged and processed foods. I clip coupons only for toiletries and household supplies.

I’ve chosen to allot myself $300 a month for groceries and I’m looking into CSAs for dairy and produce and ordering my meat from local, organic suppliers. Here is the weekly breakdown:

Produce CSA - $21
Meat (ordered every 6 weeks) – 21.00
Misc groceries - milk, butter, eggs, cheese, bread, rice, pasta, beans, canned tomatoes, and peanut butter - $29
Pistachios for snacks - $4
Total - $75 per wk/ $300 per month

This is within the parameters of the budget that I have set for myself overall. It’s 7.5% of weekly income. I realize that a lot of people feed an entire family on less than this and I am feeding only myself and one other person on occasion. I may find I can buy less meat but for now, because I’m ordering only every 6 weeks, I want to make sure I have enough. This is all whole, local, organic foods with the exception of my “miscellaneous” items although many of those will be purchased from local suppliers as well. My hope is that I can make my own pasta sauces and salsa when tomatoes are in season. I also plan to freeze and store some CSA items for future use.

So what percentage of your weekly budget is your food cost? Do you buy local, organic? Do you think I could cut my budget and still eat healthfully?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Damage Control

What's Important to Me

1. Finishing school in December
2. Feeling financially secure – a.k.a emergency fund
3. Lose weight
4. Eat a healthy organic diet
5. Improve my credit

I’ve been doing a little soul searching in the past few days. Considering I’ve had this blog for just about 3 weeks and have not managed to stick to any real plan has been a hard blow to the ego. I was reading some articles about what to do when you blow your budget and most of them had one thing in common – they said to ask yourself if you really want it. That’s a hard question. Do I really want to live according to a budget and not spend my money on whatever I want? Uh no…am I crazy or do most people want to be able to do that? I guess the real question then is – do I really want to be financially secure? The answer to that is yes. In fact make that one hundred percent, without question, yes.
So how am I going to do this? How am I going to get back on track? Here’s how I plan to tackle the above list:
1. School - I’m currently enrolled in 2 classes and I plan to start taking some more online as of May 4th. I’m also going to look into taking CLEP tests, for about $100 I can test out of basic classes like math. This goal is directly linked to my financial well-being. I will be qualified for better positions at work that will earn me more money.
2. Emergency Fund – I’m afraid I won’t have saved much from this check. I’ve been dipping into my savings in the last few days to cover expenses. I’m also concerned that I won’t be able to do what I had planned with my check on Friday. I’m not certain that after bills and necessities I’ll have $250 to put into savings. So my plan is this….I will do what I need to do until May 4th and then assess my savings. Had I stayed on track I would have had $500 in savings by that date. Prior to adding in my May 4th contribution I will subtract what is in my savings from what should have been there ($500) and divide the difference by 10. Then over the next 10 pay periods I will add that amount to the $250 and put the total into savings from each check. This will keep me on track for saving $5000 by the end of the year.
3. Losing Weight – I’m going to join a gym and start exercising. There is just no way around it. There is gym near me that offers a no contract membership for $10/month. I plan to join on Friday – NO MORE EXCUSES.
4. Eat a healthy organic diet – I struggle with this because I want to save as much money as possible on food and often organics are much more expensive. I’m going to buy the best and healthiest ingredients I can find and try to be innovative in other ways. Starting next week I’ll be having a segment each week called “Make it Yourself Monday”. I’ll be experimenting with making things from scratch and I’ll compare the cost to that of store bought items.
5. Improve my credit – this one is tough, often all you can do is wait it out. Right now I don’t have a credit card and I feel I need one in order to improve my score. I’ll be shopping for the best one with the best rate.
How are you doing with your 2012 goals? Is it time to re-evaluate and make sure you’re on track? How do you keep yourself from blowing your budget?

Blame it on the Snooze

How many times do you hit the snooze button in the morning? I always hit it at least once, sometimes twice. I'm realizing that snoozing those extra 10 -20 minutes is costing me money. On mornings when I snooze once I still manage to eat breakfast at home but rarely have time to pack a lunch. On mornings I snooze twice, like today, I barely have time to shower, throw on clothes, and run out the door. That means I'll be buying my breakfast and lunch today. I've been brainstorming ways to avoid this so moving forward here is my plan:

1. Purchase items like breakfast bars or instant oatmeal that I can keep at my desk for breakfast.
2. Pack my lunch the night before (duh)
3. Set my alarm a 1/2 hour earlier so I can snooze twice and still have time to get food together.
4. Stop snoozing (probably not going to happen)
5. Go to bed earlier (also probably not going to happen)

What are some ways that you get prepared? Does snoozing cost you money too?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Weekend Round Up

As I write this I'm sitting in my bed, under the covers. A cold front moved in and it's actually pretty chilly this morning. I opted to blog from the warmth of my bed rather than turn on the space heater - my warm bed is free. I'm enjoying every minute of this weather because within a week we'll be heading into what Arizonans refer to as hell and the rest of the country calls summer. Summer here lasts about 5 months with temperatures ranging from 90 - 115+. It sucks...and one day I vow I will live somewhere with seasons.

I thought I'd recap what's been going on with me this week and also talk a little bit about what's in store.

In regard to my goals - epic fail. I have six days until I get paid and $150 to my name. I have a bill that needs to be paid out of that and a birthday dinner to attend tonight. Plus I'll need gas for next week and few grocery items. The money I set aside for my emergency fund is being used to cover expenses. I'm determined to do better next week. I haven't updated the amount saved on my blog because I don't know yet what it will be. If I manage to save $5 it will be a miracle. I'll let you know.

Some ideas I've been kicking around -

Should food be the thing we try to cut costs on? Should we be spending more and eating less in order to be certain that the food we consume is good for us?

Is it cheaper to make something yourself rather than buy the processed/packaged item at the grocery store? An example of this would be pasta sauce or salad dressing.

Do I need to go to a cash system until I get my finances under control? Maybe.

Side hustles - should I have one and if so what should it be?

Triumphs - I ate breakfast at home 4 out of the last 6 days. This saved me about $20. I only took my lunch twice (boo) but that's a savings too of about $16. I've given up soda - yay!!!

What are your successes this past week? I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Things I Don't Spend Money On...

I saw a post on one of my favorite blogs, Money Saving Mom, called 7 Things We Don’t Buy. I’ve seen a few other bloggers do the same thing and I thought it would be a good exercise for me – to see if there actually is anything I don’t spend my money on. I was actually surprised to find that there are quite a few things I don't spend on that others do. Initially I had a hard time coming up with things because for the most part these are unconscious decisions. I still don't have control of my finances but it's good to know that when I want to practice restraint I can. Here's my list:

1.Salon Hair Color – I’ve been dying my own hair since I was in high school but as an adult I have often given in to the convenience of letting somebody else do it. A couple of years ago I decided it just wasn’t worth the expense. I do my own color, stick to brunette shades which are hard to mess up and I always use a coupon.
2.Bottled Water – I used to be a big offender in this category. I bought large bottles of Aquafina several days a week. Now I have a Brita pitcher at home and I keep a plastic (non-bpa) reusable bottle on my desk at work to use at the water cooler.
3.Paper Plates – I used a lot of these. I was super lazy about doing dishes so this was my solution. Now I use regular plates and I wash dishes every night before bed.
4.Soda – this is a recent one and the one I am most proud of! I used to buy at least a 12 pack every pay period as well as buying one or more individual sodas at work every day. Now I drink tea at restaurants and water everywhere else.
5.Magazines at the grocery store – I am a magazine JUNKIE. I used to be really bad, buying one or two every time I was at the store. Now I have subscriptions that I got at a discounted rate for Cooking Light and Budget Travel and I recently subscribed to All You. The rest I just don’t need.
6.Napkins – this might just be laziness rather than money saving savvy. I do buy paper towels so I use those rather than paper napkins since they can do double duty.
7.Books (not including E-books) – I’m an avid reader. I used to be able to drop $60 without blinking an eye at Barnes and Noble. I still buy books but now I get them on my Ipad. They are typically less expensive than the real thing.
8.Premium Gas – to be honest, I’ve never done this. I’ve always just bought what was cheapest.
9.Food Club Memberships – I don’t have a Costco and Sam’s club membership. I shared one with a friend once and went one time in a year. As a single person without kids it’s just not worth it for me.
10.Alcohol at restaurants – I go out to eat pretty frequently with my boyfriend or my friends and everyone always orders alcoholic beverages ….except me. That can really run your tab up. I stick to water or tea…no specialty froo froo drinks either. I prefer not to drink my calories…or my money.
11.Shaving Cream – I use lotion typically or body wash. I don’t need something else cluttering up my shower!
12.Salad dressing - I make my own vinaigrette's with vinegar, oil, mustard, and seasonings. I do sometimes buy Ranch and Italian packets to make Stephanie O’Dea’s 3 Packet Roast.

Something I noticed on other people's lists was Cable TV. I actually didn't have cable for several months and I spent a ton of money on movies, Hulu plus, and the premium Netflix account. My boyfriend and I spent football season in bars and spending money on food. For me having cable is better. What things don't you spend money on? What things do you refuse to give up?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good News and Bad News

So the bad news is that since I started this blog in mid-march I have failed pretty miserably at most of my goals. The good news is...I haven't given up. My emergency fund savings is probably going to be at zero by the end of this pay period though. I overspent in three major categories in the past week - eating out, gifts, and clothing. I'm trying to decide how I'm going to make that up in the next pay period. Unfortunately my next paycheck is the one my May rent has to be paid out of so that one will be a little tight. I've also increased my tax withholdings so I won't have to pay next year -wah, wah, wah.

As for my "pantry" raid - I am pretty much back on track. I had 2 whole grain waffles with light syrup and a glass of milk for breakfast - this saved me the $5 I normally spend on breakfast in our work cafeteria. Unfortunately eating at 7:30 a.m. at home versus 9:00 a.m. at my desk meant I was starving by 11:00. I had a Campbell's Soup at Hand on my desk so I had that for a quick snack - only 80 calories, 2 grams of sugar, and 11 carbs!! Not a bad choice for a snack! As for lunch I brought some chili that I made a couple of weeks ago and froze. Then I remembered I agreed to have lunch with a friend today. I put the chili in the fridge for tomorrow. I took out pork chops from the freezer for dinner so my only expenditures for today are:

1. Iced tea from the caf - $1.08
2. Gas - $20.00
3. Lunch - not sure yet but I hope to keep it cheap!!!

How are you doing with your 2012 goals?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Like Mom Used To Make..

I have a recipe box that my mom gave me for Christmas one year. It is filled with our family "recipes" written out in her hand. Since she passed away in 2003 to cancer it is one of my most prized possessions. These "recipes" are pretty simple - chicken breasts and a box of flavored rice baked together in the oven, pork chops and stuffing (stove top), and beef and noodles. I realized in reading them over that they involve few ingredients and none are expensive. They are definitely budget recipes. Since I prefer to eat whole foods rather than processed (less expensive and better for you) I've revamped them. I'm also in the midst of my "pantry" raid - I'm using the items in my freezer and pantry and only purchasing necessities. Here's what's for dinner tomorrow night:

Pork Chops and Whole Wheat Stuffing

2 -4 pork chops, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder
Quick bread stuffing - 6-12 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted and buttered, combined with chopped and sauteed onion and celery, seasoned with salt and pepper - add chicken stock to desired moistness

Place the stuffing in the center of a baking dish with the two seasoned chops on either side, combine a can of cream of celery soup and 1/3 cup milk and pour over the chops

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 -40 minutes, remove from oven and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese if desired. Serve with a green salad or steamed veggies.

I have everything on hand with the exception of the soup and celery. I use celery a lot in salads etc so it's a typical purchase for me. Even if you had to purchase all the ingredients it wouldn't be super expensive. If you purchase pork chops in a value pack and split them into the number portions you need you can save money there. While a box of Stove Top isn't expensive I can get multiple uses out of the bread and celery and avoid the high sodium content of the processed item. I usually buy a store brand of the soup which is less than a dollar. Typically I would make 4 chops rather than 2 so that I have leftovers for lunch but since I only have 2 pork chops on hand I've scaled the recipe down for me.

What are some of your favorite pork recipes?

What I'm Trying to Do

I’ve read a lot of personal finance and budgeting blogs and what I’ve found is that everyone is trying to do something a little different from everyone else. Why is that? Because we all want different things. Some want to buy house, others want to pay off debt, others are saving for their children’s college funds. What it all adds up to is financial freedom, which does in fact lead to personal freedom. So what is it that I want? What am I trying to do?

  • Establish an emergency fund of at least 3 months

I realize that most financial gurus (Suze Orman for one) suggest 6 to 8 months of an emergency fund. I’m comfortable with three considering that for my entire adult life I’ve had none. This would equal about $4000. Will I save beyond that at some point? Yes….but not to the exclusion of other things….like a house.

  • Buy a house

I have some qualms about this one and it may not happen but I do think that owning a home is a sound investment, I would prefer to not continue renting forever, and while I dream of moving to another state where the climate is better (I hate the heat) the reality is that in this economy I won’t be leaving my job any time soon. Also I know that I could always rent my home if I chose to leave. So for now this is on the agenda. While the above mentioned expert says not to even consider buying a home unless you have 20% saved I plan to save 5% and hopefully qualify for an FHA loan. I will also save another $5000 for closing costs and inspections. My intention is to buy a home in the $100,000 range. Therefore this will require an additional $10,000 in savings. I believe that’s something I can achieve by the end of next year.

  • Lose weight

I’m sure to most this doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with finances but…I beg to differ. Being fat is expensive. I plan to detail this in another post but here are some ways being overweight impacts your budget: food costs, clothing costs, medical costs – need I say more? Don’t worry – I will later.

  • Improve my credit

I have a history of being financially irresponsible. I’m not going into detail but the truth is that until I came to work at my current job I made very little money. It doesn’t excuse my behavior but it does explain it. As soon as I began making what is truly a “living wage” my bills started being paid. My credit has improved a lot in the last few years but my intention is to continue that trend with excellent payment history and a good debt to income ratio.

  • Earn my bachelor’s and master’s degrees without student loans

I’m a lucky girl because my job has tuition reimbursement. I’m using that program to its fullest in order to earn my undergraduate degree in business. My hope is to graduate in December. This is being a little overly ambitious and it very well could be May. Regardless – I’m moving in that direction. Long term goal – MBA. Once again while this is not directly related to personal finance it will impact my earning potential over the long term.

So now that you know what I’m trying to do the next obvious question is – how am I going to do it?

Short term goals:

1. Save $250 per pay period for the rest of 2012 (20 pay periods X $250 = $5000 savings)

2. Lose 7-8 lbs per month (weight loss of approximately 60 lbs by the end of the year)

3. Complete my bachelor’s degree in 2012

How I’m going to do it:

1. Use a spending tracker – track all expenses, discretionary and necessary

2. Join a gym, give up soda, fast food, and eating out for the most part

3. Continue taking classes

What is it that you want to accomplish with your budget?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Operation Bill Shrinkage Update

I have met my goal!!! I managed to save myself $1055 annually by making changes to my Direct TV bill. I went down a package from Choice Xtra to Choice (cut about 90 channels) and dropped HBO and Showtime. I'm thrilled. So much so that I've decided to up my goal to $2000. I'm going to calculate my gas and groceries cost and add them into the mix. Hopefully by changing habits in those areas I can see significant savings as well. I tried to downgrade my subscription online but unfortunately you have to call...I'm hoping to get back to my previous subscription price of only $20.00.

APS (electric) - average $80
Southwest Gas - average $80
State Farm Insurance - $151.00
Direct TV - $125.00 reduced to $93 DONE
T-mobile - $76.00
Century Link - have not received first bill yet
Netflix - was $21.84 reduced to $7.99 DONE - $34.99
Arizona Republic - $4.64
Car Payment - $374.00
Rent - $561.00
*Verizon wireless - $82.07
Spotify - $10.00 - CXLD
Hulu Plus - $7.99 - CXLD - $4.95 - CXLD
Experian - $17.95 - CXLD

Baby Steps

I wrote out a list of my bills and I'm evaluating each one to see if there is a way to reduce them:

APS (electric) - average $80
Southwest Gas - average $80
State Farm Insurance - $151.00
Direct TV - $125.00
T-mobile - $76.00
Century Link - have not received first bill yet
Netflix - was $21.84 reduced to $7.99 DONE - $34.99
Arizona Republic - $4.64
Car Payment - $374.00
Rent - $561.00
*Verizon wireless - $82.07
Spotify - $10.00 - CXLD
Hulu Plus - $7.99 - CXLD - $4.95 - CXLD
Experian - $17.95 - CXLD

Today I tackled my Netflix account. I'm the person who takes out books from the library and never returns them. I know - a serious character flaw. With Netflix I would get my two movies and hang on to them - for like a year. Such a complete waste of money. We do frequently use the streaming feature though. I dug out the movies I've had, forever, and returned them. Then I downgraded my subscription to streaming only. That's a savings of $144 a year.

Some other easy cuts - I'm going to cancel the last 4 items on the list for a savings of $43 per month - that's a savings of $516 per year. So far today I've saved myself $660. I'd like to see if I can get it to $1000 savings per year. Stay tuned...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Grocery Shopping Report Card : C

So everyone makes mistakes are a few blunders I made shopping today:

1. I went off the list. I picked up frozen waffles, a cake mix and frosting and cupcake liners, flavored carbonated water, and a loaf of bread. Those extras ring it at about $10 including tax. Had I not gone off the list my total would have been about $50.00.

2. I wasn't coupon prepared. I clipped some this afternoon but often the store brand or another brand of that item was cheaper than the one I had a coupon for...even once you deduct the price of the coupon. Not good. I ended up using only 2 of the 12 or so coupons I went shopping with.

3. I forgot to buy the toiletry and beauty items I need. I'm hoping to score good coupons from the Sunday paper tomorrow for things like toilet paper, hair dye, and tooth paste.

Overall I give myself a C. I kept my cost under $100 but I wasn't buying any meat. I also avoided many impulse buys - it's hard to fault myself for a loaf of wheat bread or whole grain waffles to use that bottle of syrup on that I found this morning. I could have skipped the flavored water - it's not that good for me considering it has aspartame.

Good news...I scored a $5 off coupon for some frozen food items and a 20% off coupon for Payless that doesn't expire for another 2 weeks. I do need some shoes so I think that's a great score. I also found a certificate for a free oil change at a local garage in some junk mail I finally went through.

Here's hoping my next shopping trip goes better!

Pantry Raid

With my first goal in mind: To drastically reduce my food bill and improve my health by losing weight through diet, I perpetrated a pantry raid...not to be confused with a panty raid. What I found was disturbing. I have plenty of items to make meals with - a chili kit, taco seasoning, pasta, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, tuna etc. I also raided my freezer and am embarrassed to admit what I found - ground beef, pork and turkey, pork chops, boneless skinless chicken thighs, frozen meatballs, pizza dough, pot roast I made about a month ago and froze the leftovers. So I'm heading to the store with a short list, some coupons and a plan.

Typically I spend about $100 any time I go to the grocery store. Here's hoping I'm able to spend much less than that. Here are my goals for the next two weeks to cut my food bill and start losing some weight:

1. Eat cereal, oatmeal, or toast for breakfast from my pantry rather than buy a burrito as I normally do
2. Take my lunch - frozen dinner, leftovers, or a sandwich - rather than buy a fast food or cafeteria meal
3. Eat at home as often as possible with the exception of "school" nights when I will use a coupon to pick something up on the way to work.
4. Swap soda for green tea, iced tea, crystal light or water
5. Have healthy snacks at the ready - fruits, veggies, and rice cakes - in order to avoid the vending machine

Wish me luck - I will let you know how my first shopping trip goes!

Taming the Beast

I've decided to get my finances under control. The title of this blog post is Taming the Beast and the beast ladies and me. I overspend, overindulge, and over consume in almost every aspect of my life. And quite frankly, I'm over it. In one week I turn 36 and I've decided to take the next four years and do some serious achieving. Here are my goals in time goes on I will identify what's long term, short term and even micro term meaning a weekly or maybe monthly goal.

1. Drastically reduce my food bill and improve my health through diet by losing weight.
2. Save an emergency fund...not sure how many months I plan to save for yet
3. Cut unnecessary costs by evaluating monthly expenditures
4. Build a professional wardrobe without breaking the bank
5. Buy a house
6. Start a side business for additional cash flow
7. Furnish my home to make it as nice as possible but do so in a thrifty manner
8. Pay no fees - do what needs to be done to avoid late or convenience fees
9. Graduate with my bachelor's degree in business by December of 2012
10. Graduate with my MBA by 2016
11. Earn a full time salary position at work (currently in a temp salary position although I have a regular hourly position waiting for me when my assignment is over in September)
12. Take care of costly dental work

Over the next week or so I plan to solidify my goals and I will share that information here. If you're looking for someone to tell you how to save I'm not your girl...if you want to join me on this journey and learn with me....let's get started!