Tag Archives: Budget

Mindful Monday: Money Makeover

Happy Monday Everyone! This is by far the toughest day to stay upbeat but whatever you happen to be doing this Monday, try and be thankful in some way. That might help your state of mind. This Monday I am thankful for my awesome new job, the fact that I recently got to hang out with my Australian family for the first time in five years, and the companionship of my lovely man 🙂

Moving on … there were a few friends/patients back in Peoria that I let know about the desperate state of my finances. Some of you may understand: when deeply in debt, you know you shouldn’t run around telling people but the pressure is so intense that you can’t help let it slip to the people you trust.

On this particular occasion, I was glad I did. Candice (the friend) told me of a book she and her husband read. It absolutely changed their financial outlook and within a few weeks it did the same for me.

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Tasty Tuesday: Sushi Night!

With the holidays and all the other things I have to say, I haven’t posted a recipe in a few weeks. I’m going to bring back the routine with a very easy and very fun recipe you can do with two people or 7 people. Make Your Own Sushi! For Christmas, my siblings and I decided to give my parents something they don’t get very often: all of us together. So we wracked our brains to think of how we could do a cheap, healthy meal and instead of going to a crappy restaurant, we cooked for ourselves!

There is a little hardware involved in this one ($2 bamboo mats you get at the grocery store) but people can share so you don’t need many. The prep is SUPER easy and the dinner making part is really fun. Just try it why don’t you!

photo 3 copy photo 4 copy^ Prep everything in slivers.photo 1 copy< Lay it all out.photo 5 photo 1photo 2^ Roll your sushi!photo 3photo 4^ My brother had the great idea of taking a roll to work the next day 🙂photo 2 copy^ Isn’t my family beautiful. Gosh I miss them so much, this photo makes me want to cry. Blehhhhh.

Supplies:

  • plastic wrap
  • bamboo mats, 1 per 2 people – $2 at your grocery store

Ingredients (can really be anything you want but this is what we used):

  • short grain rice (brown if you can find it)
  • rice vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you don’t have it)
  • Nori seaweed paper
  • carrots
  • avocado
  • cucumber
  • crab (sushi grade)
  • salmon (sushi grade)
  • mango

Instructions:

1. Prep the rice – sushi rice is prepared in a very particular way.

  • Pour the rice into a bowl and cover with clean water. Slosh the rice around with your hand for 15 seconds then drain it. Repeat several times until the water coming out is pretty much clear.
  • Add rice and more clean water to a pot at slightly more than a 1:1 ratio.
  • Cooking on high heat, stirring every couple of minutes, until the water boils. Lower heat and cover for 6-8 minutes, stop when the water is absorbed. No need to stir.
  • Remove the rice with a wooden spoon so as not to damage it. Also, don’t scrape it off the bottom of the pot, just use what comes out easily.
  • For every 3 cups of rice, add 1/2 cup rice vinegar. Stir it together and you’re done!

2. Cut the fillings into long, thin slivers.

3. Lay it all out on the table and let everyone go to work!

  • Our photos are clearly the work of amateurs. Just check out this link for the best instructions I found on the internet. Sushi rolling takes some serious technique so it’s really funny trying to do it. But everything tastes delicious no matter what it looks like and, eventually, you get the hang of it…on the last roll. Haha.

And that’s all! And when I say “that’s all,” I mean this meal is an adventure. It’s so much more fun than going out to eat though, and so much cheaper!

Has anyone else ever done this? How did it go? Much love everyone. I hope you all have happy Tuesdays 🙂

Fun Times Friday: Date Night Creativity

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you know that Mike and I go on a date every Saturday night. Each week we switch off planning and paying for them and, if possible, we make it a surprise. So last week was mine and, considering I’m on a VERY tight budget I’ve had to get pretty creative with what we do. My budget most weeks is about $25 for both of us. How the heck do I figure that out??

Well if you keep an eye out for free events going on in your town, you never know what you’ll find! There’s a nice, upper class area called Peoria Heights that I drive through every once in a while and I saw a sign for “Chocolate in the Heights.” You know those signs that you tend to ignore because you’re just too busy going about your day? This was one of those. But since I’ve come to realize my not awesome financial state, I’ve started actually looking at those signs! There was no description of what it was, just that it was the next Saturday (yes!) from 10am-5pm. I did a little searching and found a slightly more detailed poster for the event.

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Using my deductive reasoning, I assumed that each boutique and shop on the main street would have some kind of deal on chocolate and/or something free to offer. Done and done!

As usual, I planned to take him to this event and then bring him home and cook a nice, sit-down meal for us both.

I kept it a surprise until we parked in the Heights and let’s just say Mike looked less than excited. However! I kept the energy going. I gave us $15 to spend on chocolate and whatever else we wanted and, because I had to work late, we had an hour to do it.

It ended up being REALLY fun. Of course we only took one picture because I was too excited to remember to take more. But we discovered a whole street of awesome shops we didn’t know were there: an oil and vinegar shop with about 30 different types of gourmet vinegar (cool!) and a few more specialty shops with random but also really unusual knick-knacks. We got some great gift ideas for Christmas.

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^ Yep, I look like I’ve just discovered gold.

We used this as our food vacation day and got lots of delectable treats. Free stuff we indulged in: chocolate fountain (see above), chocolate pretzel clusters, oil and vinegar samples, cheese, wine, beer, and chocolate cupcakes. With our $15 we bought an amazing triangle of cheese, a bar of specialty chocolate, and some Pear Balsamic Vinegar. And we had such a good time scoping out the options and then going back to the shops to purchase what we wanted.

So it’s possible! To have a few hours of fun and still stick to your budget. You just have to keep an eye out for free things around your town.

Happy Friday everyone! 🙂

Friday Advice: Budgeting for the Less Than Wealthy

The other day I received a request from a good friend of mine. Like many people who read this blog, we haven’t spoken or seen each other in quite a while but she follows this and every once in a while gets a nugget of knowledge she can actually use. I love hearing from those people! Anyway, she asked if I could share some of my budgeting techniques and, while I’m definitely no financial guru, the situation I find myself in demands a serious ability to budget. So here are a few steps that are absolutely necessary to gain control of your finances:

1. Know Your Situation. You should be able to answer all of the following questions that apply to you.

What’s coming in? What are your sources of income? What do you get paid for each of these every month (down to the dollar)? Who pays you and how?

What do you owe? Take a look at your credit cards, house/car/student/etc. loans, and loans from family members. What was the principal? What is the interest? What’s your balance right this second? When are your payments due? How much will you be paying?

What’s going out? Exactly how much do you spend each month on the necessities? Groceries, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas, medical expenses, household supplies, pet supplies, EVERYTHING.

What are your assets? I don’t really have any of these but if you do, you should know them inside and out. How much did you initially invest? What is it costing you now? How much are you earning from them, if anything? What could you get if you sold them right now? Does it look like that will improve in the future? Keep your eye on the market to make sure you have the most up to date information.

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My favorite tool for all this is a fantastic and FREE website: Mint.com. It is run by the same people who developed Quicken. You enter all of your online banking information and they gather it into one, easy to read website.  Don’t worry about them leaking your information, they’ve got a water tight privacy policy. You have to check into your “transactions” every once in a while to make sure they have them categorized properly but once you do that, Mint will tell you how much you have spent on any category in any period of time (I operate on a monthly basis). You can also keep track of all your loans and assets AND you can layout your financial goals. I only use it for tracking but I can see how the other stuff would be very valuable.

2. Lay It All Out

Mint will help with this but you should absolutely have a spread sheet (or several) that has all the information for all of the above financial aspects. They can be very simple if you’re Excel (or Numbers for fellow Apple users) challenged like me. It just needs to show the answers to all of the questions from #1 so that you can quickly and easily access and change them.

I have one spreadsheet for each of the following: Loans (principal, interest rates, lenders, servers, current balance, monthly payments, payment terms), Monthly Expenses (groceries, household, rent, etc.), and Credit Card payoff goals (balance, interest, monthly goals).

Be realistic about the information you enter here. It won’t do any good if you lay all this out then go and spend another $100 on little things that you hadn’t counted or anticipated. I rounded all of my numbers up to the nearest $50 just so I was sure I accounted for everything I might be missing.

Use these spreadsheets to document past spending and anticipate necessary future budgeting.

3. What’s Your Baseline?

Now that you have all the information gathered, it’s time to stare down the cold, hard truth. I remember the day when I actually got all my loan information together.

Personal story time: I was at home, on holiday, and spent the day calling loan providers. After about 6 hours of this, I realized how dire my situation was. I had been pretty frugal with my money in college. For the first couple years I obsessed over how much money I would owe when I was done. It became so mentally taxing that I just had to let it go and trust that I would handle it when I needed to. Well the time has come to “handle it” and the reality of student loans sucks!

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So I researched for 6 hours, documented it all in my spreadsheet as I went along, then cried for about 3 hours. There was no way I could live the way I had planned with all the payments I had to make. So I made some calls. I called my boyfriend for emotional support and to figure out how we would wrangle it. He volunteered to help with my portion of a cost that we both share (thank goodness). Then I talked to my parents to see what they would do in my situation. Then I called my best friend who had seen and dealt with my tight budget all through school and consoled me that I had done all I could to minimize this debt while I was accruing it. Never hesitate to talk to the people you love about your finances. They may have some really great suggestions.

My situation was so bad that I actually had to approach my boss at the job I had had for 3 weeks to ask for more money. Well, kind of. I asked him for more hours, more responsibility, and more money OR a more structured schedule because I would have to get another job. Luckily he agreed to the former. And 5 months later I have finally come to terms with the way I must live, now I’m just making it happen.

Ok! Back to my guide. Look at your spreadsheets. Are you in good shape? Are you earning more money than you absolutely have to spend on basic necessities? For me, the answer to this question was NO. So question #5 was especially important for me. If you are earning more, check out #6.

4. For Those With Loans, Can You Consolidate?

I had a very vague understanding of Loan Consolidation until I was forced to do it myself. I’m so glad I finally discovered this world! Basically, loan consolidation is when you use one lender to pay all your loans off. Then you end up only paying one entity. Sometimes you can actually get a lower rate than you would have had with all your separate loans. But the interest rate should definitely never be any higher than you would have paid otherwise. This is where your loan spread sheet (see #2) comes in handy.

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I had thought about consolidating but thought my loans were much too big. Then, one day my Gran called me one day and asked if I’d heard of this College Education Services. She saw an ad in a magazine and thought I might be interested. They are a group that services federal loan consolidation. “Yes Gran, I’ve heard of everything, I am the expert on everything financial and I know everything about the world.” Seriously, that was my first thought. Luckily, I decided to check it out anyway and lo and behold, she was right.

Although some of you may not have voted Obama, he has given us students a great opportunity to minimize our loan payments. I know you can consolidate on your own but I didn’t want to open Pandoras box of federal loan jargon and contracts, so I hired them to do it for me. I paid them a fee of $400 (massive for me right now) and they handled ALL the paperwork of consolidation. I think it was worth it because I know that they got me a much better payment plan that I would have gotten myself. Instead of $350 a month, I will be paying $80 a month in federal loans. Payments are based on income and reassessed every year. If the loan isn’t completely paid off in 15 years, it is forgiven. Sweet! Obviously I hope I’m making enough to pay it off but, if not, I have this to fall back on.

cu_student_loans_horiz

Now I had my federal loans taken care of, what about the massive beast of private loans hovering over my head? Very few banks will consolidate any more than $30,000 in private loans. Let’s just say I have WAY more than that. I turned to the internet to see what I could find. I checked first with all my current loan providers and, voila! A credit union I borrowed from offers much higher consolidations. CUStudentLoans.org They are a non-profit organization that finances then helps students handle their debt. They gave me a fair rate and have made the process relatively easy, although long. Please let me know if you’re thinking about using them, I get some kickback if I refer a friend. But honestly, I would highly recommend them. They have been very accommodating with all of my uninformed and frantic questioning and are giving me a great set of terms.

5. What Do You Want Your “Flex” To Be? Should some of it be focused elsewhere?

Allowing yourself a Flex fund is just as important as budgeting for the necessities. I love to shop. I can’t help it, I love to search out bargains and find things that I really love or that others might really love. A huge fear of mine was that I would never be able to reign in my shopping spending.

Once I developed my income and my baseline costs, there was very little leftover for any kind of shopping. My average was about $150 a month on frivolous things. Looking at my spreadsheets, I definitely didn’t have that much to spend. So instead of cutting my luxury spending completely, I just cut it back. Obviously, groceries are more important than a nice sweater, but it is also really important that you never feel trapped by your finances. Give yourself a bit of wiggle room to do the things you love. I now allow myself about $50 a month to spend on things that I just want. Instead of shopping at TJ Maxx, I shop at Goodwill! I also learned couponing from my coworker and keep up with a few blogs that show online deals. I’ve discovered my ability to find unbelievable bargains and now shopping is even more satisfying!

Another thing that is important for me to maintain my happiness is being able to go out with friends and go on dates with my man. This one is a little tougher because I don’t have complete control of where we go or what we do. So it’s just about having some boundaries. I’m forever looking for free or cheap events in my area so that when it’s my week to treat Mike to a date, I can show him a good time without shelling out a fortune. We go do something fun then I come back and cook a nice, sit-down meal for us both. Restaurants are expensive so we limit our eating out to once or twice a month. If we do go out together or with friends, I limit myself to one drink per 2 hours and just sip water in between. You don’t have to get drunk at a bar to have fun!

Because these particular aspects of my life are very important for me to still feel free, I trimmed the fat from other areas to be able to afford them.

6. Where Can You Trim The Fat?

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With our healthy eating, our grocery costs were getting extortionate. So I’ve started meal planning. I cook three dishes a week and just double the recipes. Leftovers every other day are really convenient AND delicious. It also means that I can have a handle on the very basic groceries we need for a week. We are reducing the amount of food that goes bad and making sure the dishes we eat are cost-effective.

We called the cable company and got ride of all our “extras” and saved $20 a month. We turned the heat down and put on more clothing. And we started eating from groceries rather than ordering in.

Basically, we prioritized what we really wanted and needed and reduced or trashed the rest.

Ps. I have mentioned this in past posts but I find it unnecessary to have a gym membership. I use My Yoga Online ($10 a month), Zuzka Light (free), my bike (some initial overhead), and the sidewalk (free) for my indoor and outdoor workouts. They are closer to home than any gym and I get to choose what I do every day.

7. Where Will Your Extra Earnings Go? Plan For The Future.

I have very little extra earnings. Even so, it’s important to me that I never find myself in this position again. Every month I set aside a little bit of money. This is for future travel, possible unexpected car costs, gift giving, and larger future investments. If I had a choice, I would be putting away an even larger chunk of untouchable money. Something in a savings account reserved only for when I want to buy a house or a car or even have a baby. Don’t worry, all those things are years down the road, but I don’t want to be caught unawares and unprepared. I want to ensure, as much as possible, that I never again owe this much money or am under this much financial strain.

Learn from your mistakes and develop a way of fixing them and making sure they never happen again.

WOW. That was a very long post. Even if you just skimmed it, I hope you got something from it. If you have any questions of even any suggestions for me, please comment them. I’m always looking for new and creative ways to budget and save.

And thanks Allyson for encouraging this!