The Great Alaskan Debate

My sister is all about the forced family fun – a term I used to use with affection, but in reading old posts, I see how sadly my feelings toward my family have really shifted in the last year. She’s a planner and a bit of a demander and likes to tell people what to do and currently, she is telling the family that we all need to go on an Alaskan cruise next summer.

Not in a “hey, let’s come up with a cool vacay and convince the parents to pay” kind of way; we’re all adults, so it’s more about everyone making the decision to go and paying their own way. Sis and my new BIL decided they want to go and they want it to be a big family event with both sides attending. 

Coming off of hijacking Christmas last year and their wedding “year,” it’s no doubt they expect everyone to go along with whatever they say.  They will continue their reign until someone stands up to them.

So, the thing is…well, there are many things.

I held her off long enough by saying I might have to pay for some major home repairs I was recently dealing with, but fortunately the HOA covered it. So, I just got an email asking since they took care of it, am I going to go?

My next response is that I kind of want my 2012 vacation to be a friend vacation and she made it pretty clear that I was just her sister, not her friend. I don’t think it’s the right time to snarkily bring up the fact that I’m upset about her choice of MOH, and although it’s on my mind and I want to say it to her, it’d be nice to NOT alienate the WHOLE family before the holidays.  But, with everything that’s going on with my family (still annoyingly and hurtfully unresolved), why would I want to be trapped on a boat with them? 

I’ve never been on a cruise before and, honestly, another reason is that I want my first cruise to be what you think of when you think of a cruise…bikinis and fruity drinks and lots of sex with the hot boyfriend you’re with and what not.

Let’s see, what else…the money really is an issue and even though I don’t have to shell out thousands on my house, I’m not feeling financially cushy right now. She (plus the other bride) dictated my savings funds last year and I haven’t established any savings funds/goals for next year. A travel fund would probably be at the top of the list, but I’m thinking international (sorry, Canada, not like that) or a big city or my most recent brilliant idea is surf + yoga in South Carolina.

I also have on good authority that a friend is getting engaged this New Year’s…a friend who lives in another state again and who I most likely wouldn’t have in my party, but who talks constantly about me being in hers.  Joy.  I know in theory that it’s maybe okay to say no to being in someone’s wedding party, but I don’t know that I’d ever actually do that.

Also, I’m 27 and I don’t necesarily want to go on vacation with my family when I feel fifth-wheely.  It makes me feel lonely and currently, it reminds me that my sister’s wedding and my father’s behavior were catalysts for why I’m lonely right now. 

The original idea was for me to room with my 88-year-old grandmother, but she doesn’t want to go, so now I would get to room with the best man from their wedding, who probably won’t go if he has to pay double occupancy for just himself.  So, now I just feel like a means to get him to go. 

Anyway, I guess the only reason stopping me from being like, “hell no” is that I don’t want to miss out.  What if when they come back and talk all about their experiences, I feel sad that I wasn’t a part of them?

It would be a neat trip, but is it at the top of my list of things to do and see and experience?  No.  I’d never considered it until she brought it up.  Coincidentally, my parents had been thinking of going on an Alaskan cruise in Septemberish next year…of course Sis and BIL won that war of going in the early summer instead.

Does that outweigh all the other emotions I have about not wanting to go?  Do you still enjoy talking family vacations as an adult?  Have you been on an Alaskan cruise and think I should absolutely do it?  Or do you want to hang out with me in South Carolina and learn to surf next summer?!

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The Financial Cake

One of my favorite quotes is “if you want to make a new cake, you have to change the ingredients.” My financial cake has not been tasting good lately, so it’s time to switch things up.

I always thought I was being super responsible financially and hated the advice of how to save a bit each month because I don’t buy coffee every morning, I don’t have cable and I so rarely go out to eat, but this month I found out there is squish room in EVERY budget, you just have to consider what’s important to you and make cuts.

My new mortgage + my HOA saves me $80 a month from what I had been paying (paying less per month was a requirement when I was home shopping and thanks to the market, I got a place I love for less!) and updating my car insurance to my new address resulted in $10 savings on that! I downgraded my Blockbuster online account since I hadn’t been finding time to watch many movies anyway, saving $10 each month as well. Finally, my health insurance monthly payment went up, so I changed plans and my new one saves about another $10 from the original plan I had. That’s $110 a month! 

I’ve also recently conceded that an eight-month emergency fund is A. a little excessive (probably great advice for different situations, like a one-income family, just to be safe) and B. the bane of my existence. I have five months and it’s a nice, round, plushy number.  Call me happy. 

I actually had almost six months so I’m going to take the extra and pay off my credit card that crept up over the summer (“saving” the payment I was making on it, anywhere from the $15 minimum to $100/month) and overpay on my smaller student loan next month (not saving money yet, but shortening the payment period to help future MJ save).

I think a big drive for these changes was that I was tired of the monotony of spending bare bones money on the same things every month and feeling like I constantly had to save every single penny.  I’m single and in my 20s and should be having a little more fun! 

So there you have it, I’m saving some money, spending more money elsewhere…just a reshuffling really, but I think I’m going to be happy with this new cake for at least a while now that I’ve learned to be flexible with my spending and my attitudes about money.

How do you save money?

I just wrapped up tracking my spending for August. Notice I said tracking my spending NOT my budget because even though I tried to make the switch from knowing what I spend to following a budget late last year, it lasted all of a few months.

I’m embarrassed to say that my spending has been OVER my earning for the last six months. Yep, I only successfully didn’t spend more than I earned for the first two months this year. Don’t get me wrong, the first two months were big savings months and the last six haven’t been radically over what I earned, so I’m actually still in the black for the year. Barely.

Naturally, with my spending raging out of control, I decided to buy a house. Makes sense, yeah? The idea was that I’d save money by owning (thank you, plummeting housing market) and in the first place I would have.  I got my good faith estimate for my new place last night and it pretty much matches my housing costs right now, but the HOA gives me more plus I’ll save on gas for many reasons, so don’t worry that I’m going to end up as a short sale or foreclosure!

Trying to save anything during the month I’m closing escrow and moving doesn’t make much sense and if all those upfront costs were included, of course I’d be spending over what I make, but that money is coming from a separate fund and I am not counting those costs in my monthly expenses.

So, taking those out of the picture, I have given myself the goal to save $200 of my regular monthly income based on my regular monthly expenses.

Which led me to the question of “how do you save money?”

Today I really wanted a Whole Foods sammie from their sandwich bar (turkey on focaccia – legit focaccia, something I have only found in ONE of their stores and sadly not the one I work by anyway – with Muenster, sun-dried tomato ai0li, pesto aioli, lettuce, tomato, roasted red peppers, panini style…it’s heaven in your mouth and you’re welcome), BUT it was only because I was driving by after running some errands and I knew I had salad and soup at work and wouldn’t, in fact, die if I didn’t get my beloved sammie. Did I just save $8? I don’t really think so. It’s more like I didn’t spend it and I’ll find out in 30 days if it paid off in the amount of $200.

Being that I decided house-buying expenses don’t count, I guess this next point moot, but with the holiday weekend coming up (and no holiday in sight for me thanks to Bridezilla my sis) I thought it would be a good time to buy the three missing appliances for my new place to “save” a little money.

Spending money to save money has never made much sense to me, but I’m still a sucker for the advertising ploy. Again, doesn’t really count as saving. That money I would have spent on full-priced appliances will stay in my house fund for the next thing I need want to buy.

I follow some bloggers who are going on spending fasts this September, but I’m not quite ready to go there yet, although it might be the kick in the pants I need. The challenge I’m setting for myself here is simply end the month having NOT spent $200 of what I’ve earned. That’s how I save money.

And…because I like goals, my other goal for the month is to leave my anxiety in August.  August, being my birthday month, is one of my favorites, so it’s kind of a terrible place to leave anxiety, but there’s no need for it in September.  I cried it out a bit last night in one of those “what am I crying over?” moments where you realize you just need to cry over nothing and everything.  Today, with the fresh start of September, I will run and do yoga, two great stress relievers for me.  I think that’s a great start. 

So, how do you save money?  What are your goals for September?

When Tact is Not an Option

I’m getting better at standing in my financial truth and saying no when I don’t have money to spend or that I want to spend.  But what do you do when it’s your family?  And what it, even though your future brother-in-law just ended a stint of unemployment, you’re still the poor one? 

Sometimes I just want a man, not to be an emotional support, an activity partner and to give it to me on the reg, but simply to share the damn bills. 

We’re celebrating Father’s Day early (today) so my sis can celebrate the actual day with hubby’s family and after I suggested something active, three somethings active to be exact, she decided we’re indoor kart racing.  Apparently there are “head socks” involved and I have to wear closed toed shoes?  WTF?  It’s 100 degrees outside woman!

I get that my dad’s a boy and for one or two days a year, we do boy things to make him feel better about having been trapped in an otherwise all-female house for 20 years of his life, but this is not my thing.  It’s especially not my thing for $56 for essentially 30 minutes of play. 

But, that’s the activity and I don’t feel comfortable telling them that I would rather choose not to afford it.  But I guess that’s what you do for family. 

I even sucked it up and threw my hat in the ring to help plan my sister’s pre-wedding events, which will likely not be cheap either.  When she initially spilled that I wasn’t the maid of honor, I kind of took a giant leap back and, like a kid picked last for kickball, pretended I didn’t really want to play anyway.  New plans included NOT planning showers and parties and YES getting drunk at the wedding because I didn’t have to worry about giving a speech.

Her reason for not asking me to be her MOH was that she didn’t think her BFF and actual MOH would do anything, which A. makes no sense and B. is totally what’s happening. 

After a dress shopping trip a few months ago, the MOH said she wanted to talk about details for the shower because she had been planning it.  We all leaned in, ready to get down to it.  “I think we should have it at a winery.”  That was it.  Way to plan, MOH, way to plan.

For a while I thought I could sit back and be okay with that.  It’s not my job after all.  My sister even kind of brushed off the idea of a bachelorette party based on the pregnancy of the other bridesmaid, but who doesn’t want at least some occasion to celebrate? 

Even though I’m realizing I’m more hurt by her behavior in the past few years than I previously thought, I couldn’t let the wedding come and go without giving her the proper pomp and circumstance around the whole thing.  She’s my sister. 

So I jumped in and asked about plans and based on the fact that three days have passed without a peep in this constantly connected world, I feel like I might be taking it over.  But, I guess that’s what you do for family. 

And now that I’m in charge, I’m going to call it a hen night or maybe a stagette, because both are waaaay cuter.

UPDATE:  My wonderful mother paid for kart racing and I crashed under a wall three laps in.  Then I helped pay for dinner.

Trying For Tact

Can we all agree that it’s tacky to talk about money?  Well, except on a blog where, thank the Lord, we can say anything we want!  But, you know, in like, real life, I try to avoid it.  I am actually getting better at saying no to things that are unnecessary drains on my bank account without actually giving that as the reason. 
 
I partially do that by keeping myself busy with free events.  I mean, I guess I could lie about having something else going on, but it’s just as good to actually have something else going on, then I’m not lying (I’m not that great of a liar), not bored and less likely to give in out of boredom.
 
Just this month, I’m taking free yoga classes, celebrating the birthday of a trendy ice cream shop with free ice cream, going to see a movie with free passes, going to a free bikes for dummies clinic, volunteering, donating blood and participating in a free running event at a local running store. I kinda have a knack for finding free shit and get a kick out of it.  I don’t want financial responsibility to keep me locked inside my apartment. 
 
However, when someone invites me to something a few months away and then makes the date flexible to my schedule, it’s a little harder to be tactful in my response. 
 
MOH to bridesmaids:  “Hey, can we move the bridal shower to this Sunday in September instead of the Saturday we had talked about before?” 
 
My first response:  “I most likely won’t make it unfortunately.” 
 
MOH: “Oh, no! If we kept it on Saturday would you be able to make it?”
 
My second response:  “What I meant is, I most likely can’t make it either way.  Don’t plan around me, just do what works for everyone else and I’ll make it if I can!” 
 
MOH:  “Is there a weekend you can make it?” 
 
My third response (I may or may not have actually said some – or all – of this):  “Listen lady, I’m not going to clean out my bank account for a shower.  It’s not a drive across town for me.  Maybe if I get a second job or a raise between now and then and can’t find anything better to spend my money on, like, food or bills or things that I want to do, I’ll fly out to have a tea party with old ladies.  Do you understand what I’m saying now?” 
 
And she did.
 
I was kind of proud of myself for not including “if I find a sugar daddy” in the list of ways I’d be able to go to the shower. 
 
My freebie-seeking college kid lifestyle may not be the most luxurious life, but it’s the life I can afford on my own right now. 

Slim Pickings

It’s that time of the month.  No, not THAT time.  THAT time has come and gone and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my next round of cramps from hell and Too Sad Tuesday.  Another time.

THIS time of the month is the time when I’ve just about drained my checking account.  Payday is tomorrow so at the stroke of midnight, my account will get a magical bump and all will be well with the world again.

As I mentioned in a SFC post, I transfer money to my savings account shortly after getting it in my checking to ensure I actually save something for the month, but then I do the worry game and constantly check my account. 

Is there a scheduled payment I’ve forgotten about?  Just how much ARE gas stations holding on your card these days before they let you pump?  I think I’ll make it.

BUT, just because I’m getting paid, doesn’t change the fact that there’s still two days left in April, so spending is staying down.  The end of the month is always when I have to really have to focus on NOT spending and the focusing really makes me WANT to spend!

Case in point, I spent the last two days after work wandering shopping centers.  When it got to be 6:00, I thought to myself, who AM I?  I’m a homebody, go home!  I did end up with a pretty dress from Nordstrom Rack (still using my tax refund to supplement my wardrobe) and couldn’t resist an OPI polish.  I do not buy OPI normally, but the color was awesome (Red My Fortune) and it went on so smoothly, I might be a convert.

Anyway, if an $8.50 bottle of polish is my splurge, I think I’m okay.   

I have $74.76 left in my budget (really only for gas and two nights out) and $134.08 in my account, so balls to the wall!

I did okay with my budget this month and I also had a realization.  When I assessed my spending, I was paying $191 on the second of every month for my car payment.  My idea of how much I spent per month included that, but when I finished with those payments last October, my idea of how much I spent per month, and therefore, what I gave myself permission to budget every month, remained the same. 

Add to that the fact that I recently started participating in my company’s 401k program (just as soon as they announced they had reinstated their match) and my paychecks ain’t what they used to be, so I realized it’s time to pull back.

Now add to THAT the fact that I feel like I have a well-paying job.  I feel like I’ve paid my dues with crappy jobs, with having to work two jobs.  I’m a professional in my mid-20s and my opinion is that as you become more successful (and get older), you get more flex room with your spending, not the opposite. 

Needless to say, when I presented this idea of pulling back to myself, it was met with a bit of resistance.  What’s right isn’t always easy and what’s easy isn’t always right.

Insert big girl panties. 

I sucked it up and skimmed a bit off of each category in my budget that had flex room and have now ended up with a budget plan for May that is $150 lower than my previous idea of how much it should be, making myself save most of that car payment I would have previously been making, but giving myself a little reward for being done with it. 

This budget thing really is a month-by-month learning process.

March Budget Update

Better late than never, I wanted to write about a few money lessons from my March budget.  (I now realize it’s only the 7th, but my brain is like weeks ahead because of all the plans I have and I’ve convinced myself that it’s practically May.)

I already mentioned how March was all about begrudgingly digging into my e-fund.  Yesterday was my last trip to the dentist for his overhaul and the cheapest (I think because I reached my deductible, yikes).  Man, I’m going to miss him.  Or not.

Still, at the end of the month, I was able to put a little savings back into my e-fund, my planned $50 into the wedding fund and even a little something-something into my wanderlust fund!

That’s because when it came to my actual budget, I kind of rocked it.  With $38 left on the 31st, I paid my entry into my last 10K of the season (and really, only my second 10k ever) and ended the month $10 under budget!

With every month I’ve had a budget (since December now), I’ve learned something new and gotten better at it.  In March, I learned that budgets are all about mindful and planned spending. 

Having no-spend days (goal was ten, had nine, not bad) means going to the grocery store on a day I know I have an automatic bill coming out of my account.  It also helps my sanity.  I actually don’t like shopping all that much, so if I hold off on going to Target or Sports Chalet until another day, I’m more than okay with that.

Planning my budget for the month ahead means considering all expenses (as many as I can, things pop up of course).  Like, for April, I put extra money in my car fund because I need to get my oil changed and extra money in my phone category because I’m upgrading this month. 

In March, I also got more realistic about my “going out” category.  I avoid eating out and didn’t have many opportunities for it before (because guys always pay on a first date and most of the men I date don’t make it past the first date and my social life has been lacking) but now I’m going out more, so I’m giving myself more room in that category.  And when I do go out, I’m setting nightly spend-limits, if I go to happy hour or something, I’ll tell myself that I’m only going to spend x amount to stretch that going out budget.

My April budget looks good and includes some fun and some savings, which is exactly the balance I wanted when I started making and following budgets.

E-Fund S.O.S.

I have been doing pretty well on my emergency fund recently.  It’s not fully funded, but it’s comfortable.  March has certainly been a test of that. 

A check up at the dentist in February turned into a three-phase follow up and my insurance covers some, but definitely not all. 

A safety recall on my car turned into a complete overhaul.  Okay, not complete, but the list of things they found wrong was immense!  It was all stuff I knew needed to be fixed and had it on my list but never got around to (my future husband and my father both just rolled their eyes).  It was convenient to just take care of it all at once while I got to drive a fun, little Jetta around for the day, but taking on the cost all at once was not fun.  At all.

A few years ago, even though I had the money, I would have put it on credit cards so I didn’t have to think about it all coming out of my account at once.  But now, instead of freaking out about these expenses, I reminded myself that this is what the emergency fund is for, transferred the money into my checking account and paid it like a big girl.

Okay, maybe I freaked out a little.  I thought about how I could pull back on my spending to pump up what I’m contributing to get the e-fund back on track, thoughts of a second job flooded my brain.

But, I took a calming breath, reminded myself, again, that’s what it’s there for, so that I don’t have to disrupt my monthly budget.  I honestly don’t remember the last time I dipped into it, so even though I had two “emergencies” this month, it doesn’t mean I’ll keep having them.

I also had a bit of a freak out when my second bride and the few bridesmaids she had in tow picked a dress that costs more than any dress, let alone a bridesmaid’s dress you’ll wear once, should and more than I had budgeted for.  However, I smiled, said, “whatever the bride wants,” and forked over the first half for the down-payment while reminding myself that that’s what the wedding fund is for and the $30 that it went over what I budgeted just means I’ll sit out a round or two at the bachelorette party.

Without these focused funds, I’d probably still have the same amount in savings, but putting it aside and labeling its purpose really helps me a lot.  And that’s what they’re there for!

Stand in Your Truth

As I’ve mentioned, I love Suze Orman.  I don’t get to watch her show very much, but last weekend I was at the gym while it was on (because that’s how exciting my Saturday night was) and I got to catch up with Suze while getting in some miles on the treadmill.

The episode was all about promoting her new book, The Money Class, and the big message was “stand in your truth.”  Basically, she wants people to be honest with themselves about their money situation – as it is today, not as it was or as they wish it was – and live accordingly.  It also means living below your means, but within your needs.  There’s a whole pledge she’s asking people to sign.

I didn’t sign because I’m not THAT cheesy and I feel like I do okay with living that anyway, but I did write “stand in your truth” in my calendar for the week and repeating that mantra really helped me in many ways!

This week, a few opportunities came up to eat out or go for drinks and I was also seriously craving some take out a few times, but my truth was that I have planned events later this month and need to save some of my eating out budget.  More so, I was stocked up on good stuff at home, so why waste that? 

I thought about buying something to wear out last night for St. Patty’s Day, but I’d rather spend my clothes budget on something else.  I don’t look particularly good in green!  So, I wore old green clothes last night and had just as much fun!

It wasn’t all about money, either.  I stood in my truth and balanced my “calorie bank account” a little better than I have been.  I stood in my truth and didn’t eat just because I was bored.

And then, of course, there’s the being honest with myself about who I do and do not want to spend time with.

Common sense? Maybe.  But it’s a nice reminder when you know the right thing to do, to let (sometimes make) yourself do it.

Free Money. That IS Actually Free. And Three No-Brainers.

I got a very exciting email this week, saying that my company is bringing back their 401(k) match.  I’m not sure how long they’ve been without it because I’ve only been with the company for six months, which is sometimes the approximate probationary period before these kind of benefits kick in anyway.

No-Brainer #1:  Although I had instant flashes of all the trouble I’ve been having with transferring my old 401(k)s lately, now I know the rollover process (at 26, I’m pretty sure a rollover will be necessary at some point) and I immediately signed up.

I didn’t calculate percentages and what that would mean for my paycheck and figure out a new budget and then sign up.  I just signed up.  For the max that they will match (50% of my 6%).  I’m going to make the little cut work for my monthly budget for the sake of free money.

Because, this time, it legitimately is free money.  You could invest $100 on your own OR you could throw in $100, have your company add $50 and earn (theoretically, over the long run) greater returns.  Like I said, a no-brainer.

No-Brainer #2:  Picking funds.  This used to be a source of stress for me, but I’m a devout follower of Suze Orman, so I pulled her Young, Fabulous & Broke off my bookshelf (a loaner from my college friend that I never gave back! Sorry, Matt!), opened to her 401(k) section and diversified my allocations based on her recommendations.

No-Brainer #3:  When I signed up, I was given the option to automatically increase my contribution annually.  But my company only matches up to 6%, so next year if I put in 7%, I still only get 3% from them.  Yes, it’s smart to automatically increase under the assumption that my salary will also increase with time, but when there’s no more free money on the table, I will take my increase and max out my shiny new Roth IRA, thank you very much.

I hope other companies have added or will be adding their matching programs back because socking away money for retirement really is a no-brainer and even as twentysomethings, it’s something that’s better done today than put off for tomorrow.