Sunday, October 26, 2008

The ABC's of Being in Debt

A is for

Aggravating. When you are in debt and don’t have much savings, the little things can be SO annoying.

Appropriate - Make sure to include appropriate amounts for savings, based on your finances for emergency finds, retirement as well as recreational or fun money. All pay and no play can make you quickly abandon your efforts.

Almost - Make little goals along the way that you can reach. That way you have frequent occasion to say, “I’m almost there!”

AwesomeThe way you will feel when you see a zero balance.

Stay tuned for the next installment...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Simple Side of Savings

I have a daughter with autism. Needless to say, there are many challenges that come along with this type of lifelong disability. Things that come up in life, I often put into what I call “the plus and minus column.”

Here’s an example. I have to have a certain type of schedule because my daughter can’t (as of yet) do some things on her own – the minus side. However, I don’t have to worry about my daughter begging me for the latest Hannah Montana tickets or begging me to get a belly button ring – plus.

So what, you may wonder, does this have to do with savings? My daughter is like typically developing children in that she does want and ask for some things. She doesn’t care about wearing clothes from Abercrombie or getting the latest IPOD or cell phone. She asks for Disney movies, McDonald’s ice cream every Saturday, and copy and tracing paper (she’s a big artist).

Having savings is important because the things she asks for are needs as far as I’m concerned. Other than our Saturday ice cream ritual, she doesn’t ask for DVDs for instance, every week. But I think that it is important that I get them for her, especially since I don’t have to shell out, or fight about the disposable items most youngsters ask for. It is one of my ways to make her childhood “typical.” This is the one time when financial aspects are overruled by reality. Having enough savings so that the “simple things” in life don’t sabotage your budget makes saving worthwhile.

What financial choices do you make that may go against your budget? Do you have things that you choose not to do without – even though those monies could go towards your savings goals?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Savings and your Morning Coffee

Many people need to have a cup of coffee before they can speak. Some need coffee in the morning in order to speak. I’m a kinda sorta coffee drinker. I enjoy an extra spark in the morning to get me going. Personally, I prefer my own version: half hot chocolate, half lite coffee (coffee with half the caffeine of regular, but more caffeine than decaf).

But back to the point of the story. On my way into work, I frequently see the loooong lines at Starbuck’s. I’ve been in Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning – it’s a well oiled machine with the cashiers handing coffee to their regulars without even waiting to hear their orders. By now, we have probably all heard of the “latte factor." Does making your own coffee really save you that much money?

As a person who builds her own customer “hot choco-lattes,” I wondered how much I would save. I mean after all, I never frequented Starbucks very often, I’d much rather put that $5.00 into my gas tank, but I did occasionally spend $1.35 or so at Wawa – whose concoctions were close to my own homemade brew.

Out comes my trusty calculator. Here’s what I discovered: to make my coffee creation at home – exactly the way I like it, cost me a whopping 20 cents for 2 cups.

The way I figured it out goes like this:

Coffee 6.99can /255 servings = .03 per Tablespoon
Creamer 1.39/35 servings = .04 per Tablespoon = .07 (I use 3T)
Cocoa .99/10 envelopes = .10 per envelope

This may sound like small change, but it actually adds up very quickly. Making coffee at home every day during the workweek costs me $1.00. Buying coffee from Wawa, Dunkin Donuts, or Starbucks, would set me back anywhere from $6.75 a week to, well, an arm and a leg. And it would be exactly the way I like it.

Breaking down costs by their unit price is a great way to get a handle on how much something costs – or how much you can actually save. While I’m not suggesting that you give up your morning Joe, maybe you may want to cut it back a bit. The point of the story is, rethink what you are spending. Sometimes the easiest way to save money, is to watch what we are spending it on in the first place.

Sometimes it rains...Pennies from Heaven

After my oil change debacle, I have to say, I was feeling pretty bad. So, I’m checking my mail and, what do I discover??? A $50.00 refund check from a class that I had taken. A few days later, actually today, a check for $6.00 from an online survey came in the mail as well. Yipee!! It’s raining money!!

It is always nice when some unexpected, or almost forgotten funds come your way. The trick is to not let it burn a hole in your pocket. I find that in cases like this, the faster the better. Deposit the money fast! Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

When little snowflakes come in, spend them on paper first. Decide what bill needs to be paid, which savings account can be boosted -- or even a little of both. The quicker you decide on a place for the funds, the less likely you will be to spend the funds on other things.
What do you do with unexpected funds? Treat yourself? Save? Both?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Good Morning, Murphy!

Well, I knew it had to happen eventually. For you Dave Ramsey followers and fans, Murphy paid me a visit. I went to take my 1998 car in for an oil change because the oil light was coming on. It wasn’t glaring, but it popped on and off the same way your gaslight comes on when you’re juuuust about on “E.” Anywho, I took my car in and the mechanic tells me that my car is leaking oil and the short version is, it’s going to cost me 74.99 to have it fixed. That is of course, if I want to save my engine. Oh, and my tires are really bad.... And so are my windshield wipers.... And, I should also get an engine flush, which is another 50.00. At this point, I saw his lips still moving, but I was focusing less on his words and more on trying not to pass out.

Being the frugal minded shopper I am, I trotted in the shop that morning on top of the world because, I discovered on the back of an old grocery store register tape, a coupon for an oil change service. Instead of being 21.95, I was ready, willing and happy to pay 16.95. I left paying 19.95 (my car took a slighter larger oil filter) and feeling crappy about my poor car.

Just when I lined up a snowflake on my debt snowball, it seems all of my funds are going to have to be used. Sigh. It can be really discouraging to take one step forward and two steps back. I guess the only thing I can do is keep putting one penny in front of the other. How do you avoid becoming too discouraged while clawing your way out of debt and growing your savings ?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Random Acts of Frugality

Need to cook spaghetti and not sure how much to make? Fill an old 35mm film tube with spaghetti. Presto! You have the perfect portion for one person. Just repeat for as many servings as you need. Now that's recycling!

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

With Wall Street, the banks and the credit market going haywire lately, times can be scary. It is more important than ever to have something set aside for a rainy day, especially when it downpours practically every day on Wall Street.

But what do you do when you are barely making it? Do you wonder how on earth you can possibly save money when you can barely pay the bills you have now? If you’re anything like me, asking yourself this question is like listening to a broken record. While I can certainly understand and appreciate all the turmoil in the financial sector lately – I’ve got to say, I spend less of my time stressing about my retirement fund (though I know it’s important) than I do about my regular monthly budget. How can I possibly save a 3-6 month emergency fund when I hardly have anything left at the end of the month?

The answer can be found in the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Really, it’s that simple, simply because that’s really the only way it can be done. Sometimes, the best way to think of a goal is to break it down into small, manageable parts.

My ultimate goal is to save 1 year of monthly expenses or $16,464. Noble goal yes, but disheartening because with my current income it seems an insurmountable task. But what if instead, I focused on saving $45.73. Wow, now that’s doable. I can focus on saving one days’ worth of expenses, which is $45.73. Once I meet that goal, I’m ready to set my sights on:

3 days = $137.19
1 week = $320.11
1 month $1,372
3 months = $4,116
6 months = $8,232

The best way to get to where you want to go is to keep your focus straight ahead. Sure, it’s easy to get sidetracked on the shoulda-woulda-coulda of it all. Learn from your past experiences, but don’t live there. Break your savings tasks into small, manageable parts. When you achieve each small step, bask in your success and let that momentum propel you forward to the next stop along the path to savings and debt freedom.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cha-ching! I did it again.

I went to the market today. I purchased a family pack of chicken drumsticks and a gallon of Turkey Hill Diet Green tea. My total? 1.06

Here’s how I did it: The chicken was 4.75, but with my store club card, the price was $3.80. The tea was (gasp!) full price at $2.25 – but that price is WAY cheaper than any other market in the area. My total came to 6.05. Here’s where the magic happens. I had a coupon for $5.00 off your shopping total. So, boys and girls, my grand total was $1.06.

Here’s the lesson: 9 times out of 10, coupons are more effective when used for smaller items or items that are least expensive. Sure, I could have used the $5.00 off coupon when I do my big grocery shopping. $5.00 off a $50.00 order – okay. $5.00 off a $6.00 total…priceless.

Are you a frugal shopper? Share the secrets of your success with the rest of us!

Random Acts of Frugality

Try reducing the amount of meat in pasta dishes by ½ or 1/3. Instead, add veggies such as onions, mushrooms, or even mashed sweet potatoes. This will stretch both your food supplies, as well as your food budget dollar.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

To market, to market

This little piggy went to market to buy something for dinner.
Here’s what I purchased:
· box of cupcakes for my DD’s lunch $ 3.79
· 2 bananas – $.47

· package of six chicken legs - $2.97
2 loaves of bread @ $2.59 each

Wanna know how much I paid? Ready? Wait for it…wait for it
My total was $1.60! I know, right!! Here’s how I did it.

I used my grocery store club card, of course. That took .63 off of the chicken and gave me one of the loaves of bread for free (they were BOGO with a club card). I also had a manufacturer’s coupon, which gave me the cupcakes for free. Last, but not least, I had a store coupon for $5.00 off your next shopping order, which I held on to and used for this trip.

So let that be a lesson to you! When used correctly, a coupon is a terrible thing to waste!

Are you a frugal shopper? Have you gotten a great steal or deal? Let me know! I'd love to bask in your shopping awesomeness!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In this corner: Debt reduction...In this corner: Savings

I know that many financial experts recommend paying of debts - especially high interest credit card debt first, before saving. Conventional wisdom suggests that paying off high interest debt garners an immediate 13%, 18%, 21% (or whatever) rate of return on your money. Makes sense. I guess.

Here's the problem. If you take all of your available cash and pay down debt, then what will you do in case of an emergency? (eyes on your own paper) Right! You'll go into debt - whether it's putting the charge on the same credit card which now has more room, or borrow it from your next door neighbor, along with a cup of sugar. Kinda defeats the whole purpose, no? On top of that, the emergency will actually cost you more in the long run, because of the interest you'll pay, and the fee that it may cost you to use your credit card. For instance, some utility companies and insurance companies charge a transaction fee for paying with a credit card.

Sometimes the emergency is a mini emergency where you can't pay with credit. Your transmission goes costing more than the available credit you have on your Visa. Some random field trip comes up at your child's school and the nitpicking teacher doesn't take American Express. Not to mention that your goal in life is to dig yourself out of debt, and continuing to charge feels like running up the down escalator. What's a debt-buster in training to do?

I say: Split the difference. I find it a bit more psychologically comforting to save some money for emergencies, even if you are paying off debt. To my mind, it works the same way as the debt snowball. The debt snowball, class, is a method of repayment where you pay off the smallest debt first, regardless of interest rate. Once you have success in eliminating the first debt, you get a psychological boost and roll the former debt payments into paying off the next debt on the list. Psychologically, a good idea. Financially, not so much. But sometimes the process is not as crucial as the end result.

I have come up with a highly complex and intricate formula: 75/12.5/12.5. When a windfall, a
debt snowflake, or a debt drizzle comes, (a debt drizzle is that tiny drop of rain you feel that falls from the leaves of trees, after the real rain has stopped), when such money comes, I take 75% of it and put it towards debt. I divide the remaining in half - thus the 12.5% - and put it towards savings. For me, that means 12.5% goes to my ING emergency fund -towards the requisite 6-months, minimum, that we all should have, and the other 12.5% goes towards regular, WTF, did my check engine light just come on?!? -savings.

For me, even though the savings may come in more of a drip than a gusher, it is comforting to see the balances limp along. Little by little, they will begin to pick up steam and break into a fast walk, a trot, a sprint, and finally-- a full on run that would make Usain Bolt proud.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let the Games Begin!!

I'm no financial expert and I don't play one on TV. In fact, I could actually use some financial help myself. I don't have a great credit score. I do have some debts. So what makes my posting different from any others? Beats me. I'm sure there are others in a similar situation, and maybe we can take the journey together.

What I am is a single mother of a beautiful daughter with special needs (autism). I have had to make many difficult choices and sacrifices, but in the end, they were worth it. This is a journey of a single mom and her little girl, starting out along the road to debt reduction and prosperity. Hopefully, you will learn along with me, or perhaps, I'll meet people who are much more knowlegable than I, who could offer their "been there..done that..paid WAAAAY too much for the designer T-shirt" advice.

I am a special education assistant, and I earn about 18K year (actually 10 months, since I don't work in the summer). My monthly take home pay varies according to the school year, such as early dismissals and holidays, which we don't get paid for. On a full 70 hour pay cycle, I bring home, about 618.00 per check. (biweekly). My debts are as follows:

  • Dentist - 177.00

  • Mastercard - 148.08

  • Visa - 484.13

  • Mastercard 2 - 601.00

My goal is to pay off my debts, build an emergency fund of 1 years worth of expenses. As of today, I have $1.86 in my checking account. Let's see what happens!

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