how did I do in april?

Earlier, I wrote a post where I enumerated a few goals that I am working towards and said to look for an update. Well, it is now the end of the month, and it is time to show my strengths and weaknesses.  Let’s see how I did.

#1 – Brown bag more lunches. I did okay with this goal, but not as well as I wanted to. For the month of April, I estimate that I ate about 5 work-week lunches out. This averages to 1.25 meals a week. I say estimate because I bought 2 or 3 lunches with cash, but I honestly cannot remember when or where and did not note them down (fail! How can I hold myself accountable if I don’t know what I’ve done?!). Basically, I stayed about the same. I will confess that this goal slid to the back of my list since I have been trying to move. I’ve been trying to eat down what I have in my pantry and my refrigerator, but honestly? Sometimes I am just not feeling creative enough to whip up a meal from what I have (it’s starting to get sort of sparse). This goal I am willing to be a little lax with until I get moved in and settled. I am still going to try to keep it light going forward in May, I am hoping to keep my buying lunch at or below its’ current level. Once I get moved in, though – game on!

#2 – Pay for my Iceland trip all in cash. This goal is coming along swimmingly. I received a bonus for the previous year in April, and I was able to put most of that money towards Iceland savings. It’s getting closer and closer – only 87 days until I leave! Being able to put bonus money towards this goal really helped. I still want to contribute for the 3 months I have left, but now I don’t have to desperately save. If I’m not able to contribute one paycheck, it won’t be the end of the world. That peace of mind is awesome. I may be able to take my Iceland trip, pay for it in cash, and still have money left over for the next big adventure!

#3 – Live below my means –even though raises are coming! I’m not really sure of my progress on this goal. I have lived below my means this month, even though the raise from my primary job went into effect on April 1st. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my spending has been atypical this month. I have bought a sparse amount of groceries, so that I could eating my way through my fridge. On the other hand, I’ve been spending money on things for my house that I had budgeted for, but are not things that I would purchase during a typical month (a fire extinguisher, a garden hose, a power drill, contact paper, etc.). I haven’t been spending as much on eating out or extracurricular activities this month. Living atypically this month has made it hard to determine if I made progress on this  ambiguous goal.

Challenges:

Like I said, the atypical spending pattern that I have had this month has made it tricky to truly gauge my progress. Once I get into a routine, it will be able to easier to gauge my progress – although by that time, I may have a different set of goals I am working towards! Also, I was supposed to close on my house on April 26th. Unfortunately, 3 days before I was supposed to close, the loan fell through on a technicality (!). My loan officer is a family friend and a saint besides and used her industry connections to find a bank that would accept me, but this means that I have to re-start the whole loan process with a new bank. I don’t think that I will have issues qualifying again, but it does set me back as far as time goes, and since I was only 3 days away from closing, I had already given my landlord notice and had my utilities moved over, not to mention had taken time off of my 2nd job in order to be able to move. Now everything is up in the air, and it’s stressing me out – I’m such a planner! The next few months are going to be stressful, so I need to not let that affect all the other areas of my life – my health, my financial situation, my relationships, etc.

New Goal for May:

I want to add a goal for May: save $200 towards my Next Computer fund. I’ve had my laptop since 2007 and the screen is starting to flicker in an ominous way… not to mention it is very, very slow. I am pretty darn close to finishing my goal, but since the screen is starting to flicker, I want to boost my savings and get a new machine pronto. I’m $400 away from my goal, so if I can put $200 towards it in May and $200 towards it in June, I will have a new laptop by July – and I will have bought it outright, with the cash in my pocket! Doing this will be quite a stretch, since I have all sorts of house expenses + Iceland coming up, but I think if I am really creative with my spending, I will be able to pull it off!

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working out for free

imagesCAOZP3XGAs I noted in a previous post, I’ve been trying to work on my health and fitness lately. As anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight or get in shape can attest to, it can get very expensive. Between trying to eat the right foods, taking the time to work out, and gym memberships, the money piles up (not to mention any equipment or attire needed!). Some of us can’t afford it, and some of us refuse to pay for it. I myself admit to having a gym membership, because I feel like I need that financial commitment in order to make myself actually go. However, I have not always had a membership, and when I didn’t, I used some of these tactics to stay in shape (I still implement some of them in my routine!)

Absolutely Free Ways to Get in Shape:

  • Utilize local nature. Find local parks, greenways, schools, or even nice neighborhoods with sidewalks and start your cardio. You can walk, jog, run, or bike, and you can do it solo, with a four-legged pal, or with friends. It doesn’t get much easier or much cheaper. There is a nice greenway that is right beside my second job, and oftentimes on Saturdays, I will stop by the greenway and walk for a mile or so, just to get in a little light exercise for the weekend. The scenery is nice and it is in a nice neighborhood, so I don’t worry about my personal safety while I’m there.
  • Start doing calisthenics. I have been an advocate of calisthenics for a long time. Sure, you need to have cardio. But using your own body weight as resistance, combined with stretches for toning? No need for equipment? Count me in. I always feel great after a round of calisthenics. You can also do some lifting and toning with household items, like milk jugs or water bottles. Here’s a link that has a good routine: http://www.livestrong.com/article/466405-full-body-calisthenics-workout-routine/
  • Find a large set of steps. That’s right; you need to do this Rocky style. If you are a fan of the Stairmaster, or just want to work those legs, finding a tall set of stairs and walking up and down them (or running! Your choice) several times is a great workout. Locally, there is a park that has many sets of stairs in it, and if you climb them, you can definitely feel a burn!
  • Find free activities.  I am always seeing active events hosted around my town for free. The local YMCA does a free health fair twice a year, where you can take a variety of sample exercise classes. There are also many free walking/running meetups in my town, as well as people who like to do bootcamp-style workouts in the park. One sweet lady in town offers a free yoga class every Tuesday night, and I know of at least one yoga studio in town that only accepts donations on one day of the week. Keep your eyes open and start looking around for when these types of opportunities arise. Not only will you get a workout and try something that is not within your regular routine, but you might make some new friends!
  • Youtube, baby! In a quick search, I found all sorts of Youtube videos for different types of fitness classes. Pretty much anything you can think of, you can find on Youtube. I found tai-chi, yoga, kickboxing, aerobics, Zumba, Pilates, dance workouts, bootcamp-style workouts, strength routines, cardio circuits, Crossfit exercises, and the list goes on. This is a great way to get an inside look at something you are interested in trying without spending money. Plus, you can find free workouts for most of these topics! Here are a few popular workout channels:
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/yogatoday
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/RunnersWorldTV
  • http://www.youtube.com/user/diethealth
  • Netflix. Netflix was where I would turn when I wanted to try a television workout for a long time. Sadly, it seems that right now is a dry time for Netflix workout tapes. Netflix does continually rotate their selections, so you might be luckier than I am at a later date.
  • Your local library. At your local library, you can find all sorts of fitness books that will give you a more in-depth explanation of how to get the best results for what you would like to achieve. The fitness books at my local library are pretty outdated, but the DVD section has a lot of great, more current workout videos to try.
  • Fleetly. I have not personally tried this app yet, but a few of my friends have and they say it is a great, free resource for different kinds of workouts online. I believe you can access their website as well, so if you don’t have a smart phone, you can still get the workouts and communicate with the community.
  • Chair workouts. There are many of these to choose from, and they can be accessed with a quick internet search! I have found chair workouts for legs, arms, abs, and cardio… so it seems that anything is possible.
  • Find a fit friend. I am super fortunate to have a few friends that are really into fitness. One of them has progressed from making fitness her hobby to becoming a personal trainer and owning her own gym! If I ever have a question, need some advice, or just need a few kind words of encouragement, she is there to help. Plus, she is always up to tackle a new type of class with me or go on a run.
  • Find an out of shape friend. Likewise, I have several friends that are not where they want to be, physically. Some want to lose weight, some want to tone, and some just want to feel healthier and get more energy. Having friends that are also trying to get in shape is definitely motivating. The hard part with this choice is to make sure that you continue to encourage each other and not let other aspects of life get in the way.
  • Try “urban hiking”. Anytime that I travel, I like to dedicate an afternoon to this suedo-sport: find a downtown area, bring a backpack with some snacks and water, and walk around. Not only do you get to absorb some realistic culture, but you can also cover a lot of ground and see a lot of neat things. This is pretty popular for people traveling to Europe, but you can do it with any metropolitan downtown area. A word to the wise: Make sure that you know what areas of town might be unsafe for a single traveler. Always be aware of your surroundings, and if you are heading towards a situation that looks risky, for heavens’ sake, turn around!
  • Sign-up for a trial membership at a gym. Ready to try out a gym and see if you like it? A trial membership is a great way to try that. You can get a feel for the gym and see if it’s something that you would enjoy or not. I must stress to please be cautious when doing a trial – sometimes, it is a lot harder to get out of than you think! The gym may want you to make a commitment before giving you the week free.

 

A Few Cheap, But Not Free Suggestions:

  1. Get a scholarship to the local YMCA. This is who I currently have my gym membership through, and I really like the nice equipment and the wide variety of classes. I qualified for a scholarship based on my income level, and so did a few other people that I know. If you are really a gym person, or love to take multiple classes a week, this might be a more frugal solution for you.
  2. Sign up for a class. If you are really more of a class person, and crave that social dynamic in your workout, then a class might be for you. Instead of spending your money on a gym membership, you might sign up for a class and supplement your classes with other, free workouts. In my area, there are many specialty fitness studios that cater to one particular form of exercise. These establishments generally have a monthly rate or a drop-in rate, or you can buy a punch card with a number of classes on it to use. If you are really into one type of fitness, say Karate, yoga, or Crossfit, this might be the best way to save money. If you can jog on your own three times a week and take a class for two, then having a gym membership is somewhat unecessary. There are also many independent instructors out there that teach in empty rooms – for instance, I know a girl that teaches Zumba in a church on Tuesday nights and charges $5 a class. No sign-up fee, no monthly rates, and no commitment. If you can’t make the class, then you don’t pay for it.
  3. Get a video game program. I love playing Wii games.  When the Wii Fit came out, I used to play it everyday. I just recently discovered my Just Dance 2 disk (which I thought had been lost forever) and had so much fun playing it. I’m now keeping an eye out for other Wii dance games that are used to add to my collection. The dance games are a lot of fun, but there are plenty of other Wii/Kinect games that will get you active and make it fun. I think there are games for runners, aerobics classes, MMA classes, and so on. Find something that you like and try working out, if you already own a game console and feel like this would be beneficial to your health routine.

Here are a few other links to workouts that I like:

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/main.html

http://lifehacker.com/5849409/the-lifehacker-workout-exercise-for-normal-people

http://www.fromcouchto5k.com/

What do you do to keep yourself in shape and not spend a fortune?

feeling rich by giving back – charity

Most Tuesdays you can find me in the middle of a controlled chaos: Tuesday is my first day back at my main job after the weekend (Monday is my second job). I am usually in the middle of trying to catch up with everything that has gone on since I left on Friday, plus all the new stuff of the day. Typically, I’m pretty busy. However, I always leave for about an hour on Tuesday afternoons, no matter how busy it is. I generally stay a little later on Tuesdays so that I can make up the time I was gone. Why?

I spend that time sweeping floors, emptying and cleaning litter boxes, cleaning food bowls, and playing with cats. Not my cats, mind you, but cats waiting to be adopted. Once a week, I volunteer with SNAP (Spay and Neuter Action Project) which is local to my area. Not only do they work with spay/neuter clinics and vets in order to get low-cost spaying/neutering of animals for low income families, but they keep a cattery which holds 50-75 cats (depending on the time of year and adoptions) that are waiting for adoption. They bring these cats out for regular adoption events in the community to give these pets the opportunity to find new homes.

I first came across SNAP a year and a half ago, when I found my cat in a dumpster behind the restaurant I worked at. I couldn’t help myself and rescued her. She was flea-bitten, full of worms and emaciated, but otherwise in good health. She was not altered, however. I knew this surgery wouldn’t be cheap, and so I foolishly put it off. She hadn’t gone into heat yet because she was so young and was undernourished, I was strictly keeping her inside away from other animals, and I was really poor. I investigated and discovered SNAP, and if I went through their program, I could alter my pet for only $5. Unfortunately at the time, legislation was trying to prevent these clinics from continuing on, and the clinics were working round the clock to alter as many animals as possible. As luck would have it, my cat went into heat and I ended up getting her spayed at our regular vet’s office (trust me, when you have a cat in heat, you will do ANYTHING to make it stop. She was miserable, and so was I.) I still saw SNAP around town at different events and ended up talking to some of the members. They told me that they were always looking for donations or foster families. Unfortunately, I was still broke, and living in a small one bedroom apartment was not conducive to fostering animals (especially since I was away from the house a lot). I joined their Facebook page and didn’t think much of it.

One day, I saw that they needed volunteers to care for the cats in the cattery. I emailed the appropriate person and interviewed, and for the last several months have been volunteering every Tuesday cleaning the kitten room (! KITTENS !). Cleaning the room isn’t always a fun job, due to the smell factor. However, playing with the cats and seeing them grow and change and become healthier and more sociable completely outweighs the smell.

I encourage anyone who is trying to save money and still occupy their time to find a charity or organization to devote some time to. Yes, you won’t be getting paid. However, the time that you spend volunteering is time that you aren’t spending money (at least in theory) and are potentially being entertained. Also, volunteering is a great way to make connections with people – some professionals, some not. By getting involved in an arena that you are interested in and making those kinds of connections, you can increase your network dramatically. Finally, and probably most importantly, volunteering and being selfless is one of the best ways to enrich your life and help you build intrinsic value. When you are done volunteering, you usually feel great AND you have helped a cause/organization/individual that otherwise would not receive that help. You are giving back with your time and your effort, which is typically more valuable and goes farther than if you just wrote a check to a charity. Plus, it means that you are able to contribute to without having to spend money.

Bottom line: Volunteering makes me feel rich. No, I can’t deduct the time I spent from my taxes the way that I could with a check to charity, but it makes me feel rich as a person. I’m giving back! (Side note: I do sometimes make monetary contributions to charity. I save all of my pennies every year and donate them to a cause that I am into at the time – the last few years it has been to the local library. That also makes me feel rich, but in a different way – it’s a little less satisfying).

Find a way to get involved. I am passionate about animals and after seeing first-hand what SNAP was able to do for me, I was willing to support it. What are you passionate about? Does world hunger strike your heart? Find a soup kitchen, or organize a program to collect non-perishable goods and send them to areas in need. Been through a traumatic event? Volunteer for a crisis hotline. Women’s rights your hot button? Get involved with a local women’s group and support them (I know one person who did public speaking events for her local women’s group). Volunteer to take an elderly neighbor on their weekly errands. There are a million different ways to get involved where you can make a difference with your actions, not your money. As long as you are doing it for the right reasons, I am sure that you will get the biggest benefit from giving your time…

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My cute little stray smiling at me

things i will spend money on and things i won’t

Recently, I saw a few personal finance blogs post about things the author would spend money on, and things they would not. You can check out the articles here: J. Money’s list , Em’s list, and Julia’s list. These lists got me thinking about things that I will pay for and will not pay for. Here is my consolidated list: 5 things I won’t pay for, and 5 things I will.

5 Things I will not spend money on:

1. Brand name canned vegetables. I can’t tell the difference between the store brand and the name brand, and the store brand is ALWAYS cheaper!
2. Floss. Of course I still floss, but I make sure to use the samples that the dentist gives me.
3. Expensive pillows. I want a good firm pillow, and the regular ones from the aisle at Target have always been just fine. No need to get extravagant.
4. Manicures. I love the way painted fingernails work, but it just does not last for me. Also, I hate fake nails. This is something I strictly do at home.
5. Traveler’s Checks. Although my father is convinced that traveler’s checks are still the way to go, I disagree. I love my AAA prepaid Visa card, and when I get ready to make an international trip, I just load that bad boy up and hit the road. The $4.95 reloading fee is worth it, because I don’t have to worry about my actual credit/debit card numbers being stolen or frozen, and there are no foreign transaction fees. Plus, if you lose the card or it is stolen, AAA will replace it with the remaining balance (speaking from experience. My dad’s was stolen in South Korea, and they replaced his quickly!). Traveler’s checks are completely obsolete in my opinion. ATM’s are everywhere.

5 Things I will spend money on (that others may consider an extravagance):

1. Pedicures. I just can’t make my feet feel as good when I do it myself. I generally still do my own pedicures, but about twice a year I will splurge and get myself a pedicure. The girl that always does mine does an excellent job, and it will usually last me 2 months before I have to redo it.
2. Brand name toliet paper. I don’t buy the top of the line brands with lotion on it and what not, but I am pretty picky when it comes to toliet paper. If it isn’t at least 2-ply, I don’t want it! The price difference is small enough that it doesn’t bother me.
3. A gym membership. Many people feel like you are wasting your money by paying for a gym, when you can do most of the things you need to do in order to stay fit for free or almost free at your house. This is true, but unfortunately I need the motivation. By paying for the membership, I feel like I need to go in order to get my money’s worth. That way, I’m still getting my exercise in instead of sitting on my couch.
4. A new book. I know that my grandmother would never pay for a new book. Used was the only way to go for her. I understand her thinking, and I have absolutely zero problems buying used books. However, I really love the look and feel of a new book. I also like to save all my books, so it’s nice to have a few new books in the collection.
5. Concert tickets. I’m a big believer in experiences. If a band is playing a concert near me that I really want to see and I can afford a ticket and the time off, then I’m there. The memories may fade a little, but the experience will never leave me.

What are things that you refuse to pay for? What are a few things that you will spend on that you know others weren’t?

side hacks: earning money at something i love

One of the ways that I earn a little extra cash is by teaching dance one night a week. Specifically, I teach a tap class to elementary-aged children. I always refer to that as my “fun job”, because that is how I view it. Teaching that one night a week doesn’t make me big bucks, but it does give me a sense of fullfillment – and I am able to earn money doing something that I would do for free (don’t tell my boss that, though!).

Growing up, I took a variety of different dance lessons, and I loved it. Ballet, Pointe, Tap, Jazz – if the studio offered it, I had taken it. My studio owner took me under her wing once I graduated high school and let me work in the office and teach. Not only did she provide me with a job (which I loved), but I am forever indebted to her because she helped me take a skill that I was passionate about and turn it into something that could provide me income. She taught me how to teach. I already knew the steps, but I did not know how to teach or manage a classroom or deal with unhappy parents – and she taught me all of that.

Unfortunately, her life circumstances changed and she made the decision to close the studio. This broke my heart at the time, but it opened a lot of doors for me. Armed with the confidence that only a 19-year-old can have, I printed up about 40 resumes and mailed them to every dance studio in a 40 mile radius. Then I waited. I ended up teaching or substitute teaching at several studios in town. I got to know a lot of well-known local dance personalities and experienced several different types of studios – whether they were competitive, technique-driven, or recreational. Now, I am with a studio that fits my needs and has been really good to me. Over the summer and into next fall, I will be increasing the number of classes I teach a week – and I can’t wait!

The best part is, the money is steady enough that I can deposit it to my savings, but not so much that I want to split it up. Thus, I can deposit whole checks directly to my savings, and never feel the loss of income! Dancing is something that I love so much that I would do it for free, but I don’t have to. It is a skill that is completely marketable, and I intend to capitalize on it as long as I can. All of the money I make from teaching goes directly towards savings for travel. By sharing something that I am passionate about with others, I’m able to fund another passion.

That being said, is there something that YOU could do that would earn you a little cash? A little cash is always helpful. You can put it towards your next vacation, or remodeling your home. Throw it at the principle of your student loans. Maybe you are in the market for a new car, or you simply want to be able to afford a night out on the town with your significant other or friends. Here are a few ways to target and capitalize on what you love:

1. Determine what you love. This sounds simple, but it is oftentimes more complex than people give it credit for. What are things that you like to do? What do you feel passionate about? What are you good at? Some skills are easy to define: musician, artist, woodworker, yoga enthusiast, etc. Others are not as easy to define, or as marketable. Say you like to cook, but don’t know how to market it. Maybe you like to read, and have no idea how that can make you money. You may find total satisfaction by organizing things, but now that your own home is completely organized, you don’t know what to do with that energy.

2. Determine how to market it. As I said before, some skills are easier to market than others. A musician could easily make side money by teaching a few lessons a week, or playing a regular gig. A woodworker could sell their work online, at art shows, or even the flea market. A yoga enthusiast could get certified and teach classes. Other interests are harder to market, though. Like to cook? Maybe you start a small catering project. If you have access to enough kitchen space, you could teach a children’s cooking class. Stay at home mom? You could start a small business delivering meals prepared in your home to busy, on the go families. Love to read? See if the local library needs part-time help (my local branch ALWAYS seems to be needing help!). You could also scour used bookstores, garage/estate sales and flea markets for rare books or signed copies and then resell them (Amazon and eBay are always good venues for this). Organization your thing? Start a small side gig by offering your organization services. If you think about it long enough, you will think of a way to market your interest – either by providing services (lessons, as an employee) or by providing goods (used books, meals, etc).

3. Create a business plan. This sounds formal and intimidating, but it really isn’t. It starts with gathering some information. This is where the interenet is your best friend. Search for your interest, or different terms that are used in your industry to find out more about what people want and how others have profited by cashing in on that particular interest. Sometimes, you just need some inspiration. One time I was in a rut teaching one of my dance classes. I googled the subject and found many different sites that were educational AND inspiring. Once you have gotten some background knowledge and are full of ideas, then it is time to sit down and really outline what you want to do and how you are going to accomplish it. Do you need a special type of license? Are you going to do this casually, or are you going to make it a full-fledged business complete with taxes and a business license (Note: I always endorse keeping everything above-board. If you are making money on a regular basis from your efforts, you may need to consult with a professional regarding your best interests!)? How are you going to advertise? Online? Word of mouth? Do you need to build an inventory first, or perhaps polish yourself some?

4. Make it happen. Reality is never going to go as smoothly as your business plan. Be prepared for bumps in the road and setbacks. Allow yourself to recognize that it will be very easy to get frustrated and decide how you are going to deal with it. Knowledge is power – make sure you are informed about what you are doing, and always get more than one opinion. You’ve done the leg work and the soul-searching, now it’s time to take your passion and start earning MONEY!

Soon, you will see an update (hopefully!) on how I have implemented these very steps to start another, small stream of income. Mum’s the word until it happens, but just know that I am very excited.

Have you already set up a side hack that you love? Tell me about it! Have a great idea, but aren’t sure how to implement it? Let me know in the comments!