july goals

Hi all!

My July goals are somewhat less demanding than my regularly monthly goals. I will be leaving for Iceland on the 26th (!!) and I know that between the trip, preparations for the trip, and all of the family that is going to be visiting (literally, there is ONE weekend in July where family won’t be here!), it is going to be hard to stick with any goals, much less challenging ones. That being said, I present to you my July 2013 goals!

1.)    Make it to Week 4 of the Couch to 5k program. As I have mentioned, lately I have been working really hard on my fitness. My mom and I have signed up for a 5k run on 10/19, and so I have slowly been working my way through the C25K program. I chose running because I HATE RUNNING SO MUCH and wanted to really push myself. Running has traditionally been difficult for me due to asthma, but I think that I (finally) have that under control. Now it’s time to push myself!

2.)    Save another $150 for my trip before I leave. I know that I have enough to cover the trip in my account right now. By saving another $150, though, I have additional peace of mind AND I have the potential to have some $$$ left over for the next adventure!

3.)    Go through my bookshelves and put any unused/unwanted books on Amazon to sell. I love books. I looooooooove books. I have too many books. I feel a weird compulsion to keep all the books I have ever purchased, even ones I didn’t care for. In an effort to simplify a little bit and hopefully make a little side cash I want to go through my bookshelves and list all the unwanted books for sale on Amazon.

4.)    Attend one free community event. Last Saturday, I went to a free yoga class in the park. It was so awesome! The teacher was great, the weather was perfect, and it was just what I needed. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for another fun and free community event – there are always so many happening in the summer, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it!

5.)    Make smarter produce choices! I always get overwhelmed with fresh produce this time of year – the farmers’ market calls my name! I end up buying too much and oftentimes, some of my produce will go bad before I get to use it. I want to change that in July – I may have to make more trips to the store, but I don’t want to keep wasting food!

What are your July goals?

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don’t spend it ’til you have it

Every year in late January, I start hearing my contemporaries start discussing what they are going to do with their tax returns. It usually centers around fun stuff (spring break money, a new phone, a clothes shopping spree, etc), but sometimes it is practical (debt repayment, car repair). I have NEVER heard of anyone in my generation putting away a return for pure savings. One thing I HAVE noticed is how many people spend their refund before it ever touches their hand.

Example: last year, a coworker at my second job decided that she was going to spend half of her refund on spring break expenses, and half on new clothes/jewelry/piercings/tattoos. I personally wouldn’t have spent my refund like she did, but it was not my money to spend. However, the money flew out of her hands before the refund ever touched her account – she put her purchases on a credit card and then said she would pay it off with the refund. Of course, because she did not manage her finances well, she ended up spending her refund when it came in and then had no money to pay her bill –or finance her spring break trip. The rest of her spring was spent hustling to try to pay off her credit card and have money for her trip.

The moral of the story? Don’t spend money before you have it. Oftentimes, this advice is given for windfalls, such as tax returns, inheritances, and large sales. It is equally important to remember this advice for regular income such as paychecks, or, if you are a contractor, your next job.

I have fallen victim to this in the past (and admittedly, started again since I bought my home). I may be running low on pay, but I know that my next paycheck is on Friday. I can go ahead and put some expenses on my credit card and just pay it off when I get paid on Friday – right? WRONG! That’s a terrible mindset to have – if something comes up in the next pay period, I have to repeat the cycle because funds that would have been available had to go to paying past expenses! It’s a vicious cycle, and it keeps the person using it stuck in a paycheck-to-paycheck scenario. My ultimate goal is to NOT be living from one paycheck to the next. I do have some modest savings put aside, but I really want to have enough cash flow so that I don’t need to dip into my savings or wait on the next paycheck to get here to make ends meet.

I suspect that the reason that I (and others like me) have fallen into this cycle is impatience. We live in a society that thrives on instant gratification and getting what we want when we want it. I have struggled with impatience my whole life and gradually have taken teeny tiny steps towards making it better. The urge is so strong, though – especially when you know that you can just pull out your credit card and get whatever it is that you desire right then and there. I am trying so, so, so hard to stop that. I usually don’t even get in that situation for “impulse” purchases – it is usually for things like groceries or gas that are necessary but probably could wait until I get paid.

It has turned into somewhat of a mantra as of late: “don’t spend it ‘til you have it, don’t spend it ‘til you have it, do NOT spend it ‘til you have it!”

What, if anything, tempts you to spend money before it comes into your hands? Food? Clothes? “Impulse” buys? Spill your confessions in the comment box!

life lately

I’m just writing a little post to let you know I’m still here!

I have a lot of cool posts planned for this blog, but alas, summertime is filling up my every waking moment and making it hard for me to sit down and write!

For example, here is a look at my week:

Sunday: left my grandparents house to drive home (4.5 hour drive), went grocery shopping, did all my laundry, cooked dinner, did fruit and veggie prep for the rest of the week, got an awful case of food poisoning from letting an egg be TOO over easy.

Monday: still trying to fight off death from food poisioning. Decide to work out, go at it for an hour and then realize I was pushing too hard. Take a 20 min nap, eat lunch, go to work at my second job for 9 hours. Come home, collapse in bed.

Tuesday: Get called into work at my second job. So sleepy that I agree to come in thinking that is Monday, when it is actually Tuesday. Call main job and explain how dumb I am and how I will be late (it’s flex hours, so it’s not a huge deal) Leave from there, work 6 hours at my main job, go to my volunteer gig and take care of the cats. Come home, change, go out for dinner and search for presents for a friends’ wedding (no presents found, but a frozen yogurt stop was made. It was ‘date’ night!). Collapse into bed.

Wednesday: Wake up 2 hours earlier than normal for NO APPARENT REASON. Decide to go for a run. Almost die because humidity is 1000%. Meet my mom at the gym, get our workout on, and then head to work. Worked a full day, then came home with the intention of taking a short nap – but instead, get surprised by dinner from my boyfriend. Eat dinner, hang out with him, then meet up with a friend for drinks – it was his 21st birthday and I promised I’d buy him a drink or two. Come home, roommate is feeling chatty, collapse into bed at 1:30.

Thursday: Wake up at 7:30, go to regular job. Work until 1, meet a friend for lunch. Run 97354354 errands. Try to come home to nap, but all tries of a nap are foiled, between a repairman showing up unannounced and the cats of the house deciding to sing me the song of their people. Frustrated, I give up trying to nap and cook dinner. Take a shower and get ready to leave for work as a massive thunderstorm hits the area. Get to work at 9:45pm, already tired. Inventory the store all night long. I keep telling myself it only happens once a year, I’ll be fine, but that doesn’t make it better.

Friday: When I finally get released from the building at 5am, I decide to go ahead and run on the local greenway because if I put it off until later, I would never do it. Get home and shower, crawl in bed about 7am. Wake up at 11 to the kitties giving an encore performance of the song of their people. Eat lunch, go to work, try not to fall asleep at my desk…

Saturday (future): 8:30 am yoga class, breakfast with a friend, a party for my boyfriend’s niece, copious amounts of yard work.

Sunday (future): Brunch with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile, participating in a local festival, another yoga class, cooking dinner for a friend and somehow trying to watch the Madmen season finale.

Trust me, I know life could be way worse and way busier. At different points in my past, that was my schedule. Right now, I’m feeling a little bit pulled in too many directions (although I’m making great progress on my June goals!!).

How is your week? Do you get so caught up in trying to fit everything into your schedule that some things that you really like (such as blogging) fall by the wayside?

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My sleepy, “I’m-tired-of-counting-stuff” face

defining success

Recently, I went out to dinner with my dad and in the course of conversation, we started to talk about success. He is always nagging me to quit my second job slingin’ coffee, because he thinks that I would make more cash if I worked at my full-time job on Mondays instead of serving coffee. We argued back and forth a little bit and finally I made my point: “ I stay at my coffee shop job because working there gives me the extra cash to put towards experiences that make myself successful in my own opinion.” I want to travel, and I want to travel a lot. Guess what? It’s expensive. Working at the coffee shop provides me a way to make those trips happen.

I also recently had the opportunity to work with someone at my coffee shop job whom I had never met before. While we worked, we chit-chatted and got to know each other a little better. He was completely surprised when I told him what my major was (foreign language and international trade – Russian) and told me that I could be doing so much better for myself than my coffee shop job. I know that he was trying to be encouraging but when people have conversations like that with me, it always seems to bum me out a little bit. Am I really that far away from my goals? It makes me take a step back and reflect.

I always come back to this point: people put too much value on financial success. If you are making a good salary and have a job that doesn’t break your back, many feel that you have achieved success. I take fault with that – success should be a measure of how well you are accomplishing your goals, NOT how much money is sitting in your bank account! If you want to be a world-class painter and are making hardly any money but are spending time perfecting your art and getting a lot of recognition/attention, do you consider yourself successful? I would consider that person a success in the career aspect of their life. On the other hand, I would consider a mid-level executive who earns a six-figure salary but works 80 hour weeks, travels frequently, never gets to spend quality time with family or friends and (most importantly) dislikes their job a failure. That person isn’t chasing their dreams, they are chasing dollar signs.

What about family life? Personal relationships? Hobbies? Volunteer goals? Making a difference in the world? I think that all of these things are important measures of success. I would also venture to say that most individuals, if they really gave thought to it, would tend to agree that money isn’t everything. However, it seems like financial achievements are the first place that individuals jump to when trying to define success. It shouldn’t be.

Sometimes, I think that society misses that money is used as an exchange. You can exchange money for services, goods, experiences, or other intangible things (for some reason, I think of protection money in the mob! ;-). It’s a means to an end. When I save money up, it’s not so that I can have the joy of sitting on a bank account that has a substantial amount of money in it. Every dollar has a name! Some go towards travel, others go towards emergencies or replacing a car. It’s there so that eventually I can exchange it for something that is valuable to me (a new computer, a weekend vacation, repairs to my home to make it more comfortable). I don’t get a joy directly caused by seeing my savings account balance grow – I get joy from knowing the possibilities of what that money can do (Lunch one day in Iceland? Concert tickets to see my favorite band? Sending a relative a plane ticket so that they can come visit me?).

One thing that you can’t exchange money for – happiness. It may buy you some things that make you happy, but true happiness comes from within. I don’t mean for this to sound like a hippie, new-age adage, but money can only take you so far down the road of happiness and in order to go further down that path, it has to come from you.

After describing my personal viewpoint of success, you may wonder what I think of my own personal success. I would say I am pretty successful! Yes, I do work three jobs, one happens to be relatively low pay – and none are related to what I got my degree in. On the flip side, I have an awesome relationship with my family, an amazing boyfriend, a supportive and fun group of friends, enough money to provide for myself with a little left over, and life-changing travel experiences that no one could ever take away from me – not to mention being the parent of the coolest cat you will ever meet! All of those other good things increase my perception of my own success, even though my career and financial state are not top performers.

How do you define success? Is it related to financial gains or to something else? Let me hear your opinions!

treat or habit?

A few years ago, when I was still in college, I had a full class schedule. On Thursdays, I was in class from 8am to 3pm, and then I had an hour in order to get across town to teach dance classes starting at 4pm into the night. It didn’t take me a full hour to drive from my campus to the dance studio, so I usually would take the extra time to study or run a few errands. One day in the middle of the semester, I decided to stop by Starbucks and treat myself to a white mocha frappuccino. It was delicious and the caffeine boost was exactly what I (thought I) needed to keep myself going.

Fast forward a month and I was going by Starbucks almost every afternoon to pick up a drink. Sure, it cost $4 a pop, but for the added boost in productivity, I considered it money well spent.

Right about the time the semester ended and my dance classes were finished, the AC in my car went out. I live in Alabama – AC is pretty much non-negotiable. It was a costly fix (about $1300) and I didn’t have all the cash at the time. I had to look at my budget and cut it to the bare bones so I didn’t have to go all summer without AC (although it did take a solid 2 months to save up for!). First item on the chopping block? That Starbucks stop. Guess what? Once I quit going, I realized that it wasn’t doing anything for me productivity-wise: it was just a want.

When you do unnecessary spending on a regular basis on a particular item/service/luxury, it no longer becomes a treat – it is now a habit. These habits usually start innocently enough, but they can be real budget busters if you are looking to slim down your budget.

One frugal trick that I have learned is to take something that you normally would have unnecessarily bought without thinking about as a habit (like that coffee) and turn it into a treat. Typically, if someone is able to have a little wiggle room in their budget, they assign themselves a small portion of it as “fun money”. Even if you don’t have a portion of your budget set aside for fun things, you can save yourself a little money if you take those small things that you do on a regular basis (expensive coffees out, restaurant meals, getting your nails done, a new book/cd, a new video game, a new item of clothing, etc.) and make it become irregular.

Now, don’t get upset – I’m not saying you should never “treat yourself” or never have any money in your spending plan for fun (more on that in an upcoming post). That’s just unreasonable. Rather, is it really a treat if you get your nails done every two weeks? If you buy a new hardback every paycheck? If you get a coffee out 3 times a week? In my book, I would consider those things habits, not treats. You grow accustomed to them and expect them. Instead of it being a little luxury, it becomes an expectation and you lose a degree of enjoyment. All I am asking is that you take a discerning eye towards where your money really goes: are there items that you regularly spend for small indulgences on that could maybe be cut back on in order to free up money for debt repayment or savings?

By turning a habit into a treat, I think three essential things happen:

1. You have more money to reallocate to other areas, whether that be debt repayment or savings.

2. You will be living a simpler life and may stretch your creative muscle in order to find more frugal ways to fill that void – and in the process, you might find something that you like better!

3. When you do treat yourself to something, your levels of appreciation and enjoyment skyrocket. Something that may have once been routine has suddenly become a luxury.

Here are a few things that I used to do regularly that I have cut back on at different times in the past in order to beef up my savings: haircuts, coffees out, music/cd/album purchases, any new books (only used), clothes, fancy makeup, going to the movies, getting my nails done (this was pretty rare to begin with – usually only 1 or 2 times a year), buying video games, eating out, buying magazines, and so on and so forth.

How do you feel about treats vs. habits? Are some of them items that I mentioned truly a treat for you, or is it just another line item in your budget?

how did I do in May?

May was a month of ups and downs for me: I was elated to move into my first home, get it situated, and get settled. I was unhappy that I had to replace an entire AC unit. How did this relate to the goals I set for the month of May?

#1 – Brown bag more lunches. Mediocre success. If you want to be technical, I was very successful at this goal – I only bought my lunch at work twice the entire month. However, if you want the truth, I feel like saying I nailed this goal is a lie. Although I did a pretty decent job of not buying lunch, I bought an awful lot of breakfasts and dinners out – I went over my restaurant budget by $37, and that was eating mostly fast food! This month, I’m determined to work on this more. I want to do more meal planning in general, and I hope that a side result of that effort is that I will get more lunches to bring to work.

#2 – Pay for my Iceland trip in cash. Success. Despite all the house problems, I was still able to contribute $240.95 towards my trip. I also got reimbursed from other group members for reservations I made for us as a group and paid for in full, so that helped bring my numbers up to where they needed to be. My balance is looking pretty good in this account, and I’m not worried about accomplishing this goal anymore, barring any extraordinary circumstances. I still would like to continue contributing to this account, but I feel like I have finally stashed enough away that it doesn’t have to be my top priority.

#3 – Live below my means in spite of raises. Undetermined. This is a tricky one. I feel like I can’t truly determine whether I have been accomplishing this or not because my spending has been so atypical lately. During April and the first part of May, I spent very little because A) I didn’t want to have to move it and B) I was trying to save money so that way when I did move, I would have the cash flow to cover the expenses that would inevitably pop up. Once I closed on the house and started to move in, I spent a lot of money, but most of it was in categories that I typically never spend money in. For instance, how often do you buy ceiling fans? What about plungers? Although I had planned for those expenses, they are things that I typically don’t spend money on – so I guess what I am saying is that because my spending was atypical, I have no clear picture of how my spending compares to pre-raises, because of all of the unusual expenses. I think that June will be able to shine a lot more light on this than May did.

#4 – Save $200 towards a new laptop. Success. I did it! Even though it felt like the odds were against me, somehow I was able to make it happen. I’m now less than $200 away from my goal number, and I should be able to finish that in June. As long as my laptop doesn’t die, I think that I may wait to purchase a laptop until Apple announces their fall releases – that way, I may be able to get an even better price on the suddenly out-of-date technology. I don’t have to have the latest and greatest when it comes to technology, so Apple announcing a new Macbook would be a beautiful song to my ears.
There it is. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Here’s to hoping June is a little more stable!

june goals

June is going to be my “reset” month. This is going to be the month where my life settles down again, my expenses even themselves out, and I can start budgeting for all of my expenses and not just hope that I have the money to cover it – at least, those are my goals.

With today being the start of the month, it’s time to establish updated financial goals.

1. Pay off my refrigerator. This stinks, but I had to buy a brand-new refrigerator in May, with no planning and no real savings to back It up. The original plan was that I was going to take my parent’s old fridge, and then they would upgrade. Once we got down to the nitty-gritty and started measuring, however, we discovered that my parent’s refrigerator was 6” too tall to fit in the space that it had to fit in. Imagine my despair! Long story short, I knew I had a short amount of time to figure out what to do. I feel like having a refrigerator is pretty necessary in modern society, and I wouldn’t be able to last long (or cost-effectively!) without one. I scrutinized my savings and found some seed money, but the balance had to go on my credit card, giving me a month to come up with $700. I knew I would be able to pull it off by pulling extra hours at work, but the idea was unsavory. Lo and behold, a few days ago I received my security deposit back from my old apartment – I never thought I was going to see that money again! The whole check went right to paying on the fridge ($450). Now, my goal is to pay the remaining $250 before June 21, when my CC bill is due. I am so adamant that I don’t want to pay interest on a card or go into debt that I WILL make this goal happen!

2. Finish saving for a new laptop. I really want to save the last bit of money I need towards a new laptop this month, in the event that my old laptop dies between now and then. My goal is $200 for this account. I am probably going to hold off on buying anything new until after the big Apple conference in June – if old technology is going out, then I may be able to pick up the laptop I want at a better price! I would still like the money around in case of a laptop-related death.

3. Contribute to my Roth IRA. It seems that my poor retirement account is always the one that gets cut first when times are tough. At 23, I know that I have a lot of time ahead of me to save for retirement, but I want to get in the habit NOW, at a young age, of making regular contributions. Plus, the added bonus of more years of compound interest never hurts!

4. Work on re-establishing meal plans. Before I got caught up in this house business, I was pretty good about planning my meals for the week. When I did this, I saved money (because I wasn’t buying unnecessary items because they “might be useful for dinner this week”) AND I had better control of my eating. Plus, I had leftovers to bring to work! I’ve already written out my plan for the first week of June, and I’m hoping that I can keep it up for the rest of the month.

5. Pay for Iceland in cash. This seems to be more and more obsolete as time marches on. Out of all of the financial situations that have come up in the last few months, I have not compromised on saving for this trip. At this point, I think I will have no issues paying for the trip in cash AND having a little bit left over. However, I know Iceland is an expensive place, I know that I probably won’t have the opportunity to go back, and I want to be able to treat myself to the experience properly. I would rather come back with money leftover instead of having to scrounge around for cash!

What goals have you set for yourself in the month of June?