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?

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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.

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.

I’m a Big Kid Now

Last summer when I made my 101 list, I felt silly putting “pay for my own cell phone” on the list. For goodness sake, I was 25 and saying that SOMETIME before I turned 28 I wanted to pay for my cell phone myself? Spoiled. Brat.

It’s just something my mom has always done because we were on the same plan and contract lengths and unemployment and underpaying jobs and blah blah blah. I’ve told her many times I was going to do it, but never got around to it.

Today, I finally made myself an account owner to basically separate our phone bills and got my own login info and…drumroll please…paid my own cell phone bill like a big girl.

It’s silly to be so excited, but it was like when I made my last car payment and was jumping around saying, “somebody hug me!”

Except today is the opposite. A first payment and, seeing as how I could never imagine going without a cell phone,  these will never end. As much as I hate spending money, I love that I’m spending money on this.

I’m also going to redo my budget tonight to include this new monthly expense and allow myself more flex room. It’s pretty much bare bones right now and it’s based off the fact that I spent about $2000 a month when that’s about what I was making, so now even though I’m making more, I should still spend that amount.

Change of plans.

I’ve earned the freedom to spend more. I have a good job and make more money now. I paid off my car and credit card.  I overpay on my student loans while still building my savings. Everything left is MINE.

I don’t want to spend money for the sake of spending it, but I want to be okay with going out for happy hours and buying some cute new date clothes.  Going from super-saver mode to okay-to-spend mode is difficult, but having a budget to tell me it’s okay without letting me go overboard is a good way to start.

Saving (My Sanity)

My budget spreadsheet got a makeover this year.  Specifically, it’s actually acting as a budget, whereas up until last December it was basically just where I tracked what I spent and prayed that my end-of-the-month number was smaller than my income.

Now I’m creating a monthly budget and am still trying to figure out the whole following it thing.  Baby steps, right?

Basically, I simplified my budget spreadsheet, but the thing I’m most excited about is the addition I made.  Hello goals tab.  

I’ve always been good at saving money, in fact, my sister used to tease me for it, but there was never real organization to it until now.

Now, in lovely 2011, I’m tracking my savings goals – bridesmaid fund, e-fund and retirement contributions – and my goals for paying off my student loans ahead of schedule.  I made a column for my planned and actual contribution to each fund and I set up the equations to show me what percentage of my goals I’ve reached.  It makes it a lot easier to follow my budget because all the money I save goes to one of the funds.  And now I know which one. 

And when I pay for wedding-related things, I’ll know I’m spending the wedding money.  And instead of pretending all of my money in my bank accounts in my e-fund, I will see when I actually meet my eight-month goal and be able to pad the fun part of my budget. 

The uber-organization of the color-coded charts made my heart flutter a bit.  Until I realized those funds suck.

Yes, I’m excited about being in two weddings and the time I get to spend with family and good friends during all the related festivities, the idea of fully-funded emergency and retirement accounts keeps me sleeping as snug as a bug in a rug and I’m planning a 24-hour happy dance-a-thon for when I finally pay off my student loans. 

BUT…a girl’s gotta live, am I right?

So, I added one last goal.  A wanderlust fund.  It gets the least amount of attention money, but the point is that it gets some.  All work and no play makes MJ a sad girl.  I love knowing that I’m putting aside money specifically to get on a plane and stay in a hotel and experience something totally new and wonderful.  Even if I’m only at 1% of my total goal at this point.  Again, baby steps.

The Off(ish) Week(ish)

So what did I do while on my technology sabbatical?

1.  I sucked at taking a technology sabbatical, but each day got better (until I gave up altogether and ended it early) and I think it will be easier to lessen my use day-to-day now. And I know better what it will take to truly take an unplug week when I’m ready to try again.

2.  I totally drained my legs with the 12-miler on Saturday + a 6-miler on Sunday so switched around my training for the rest of the week (keeping the distances and runs, just exchanging rest days) and rocked out my peak week of training.

3.  I fell in love with my Garmin Forerunner 305.

4.  I had my first fight with Rebel.  Catalyst: Me still holding out (actually, for him I do believe it was about sex, for me, I was attempting a DTR talk because sex and the R – relationship – go together).  I learned that he’s a horrible fighter.  He wasn’t much for listening to or attempting to understand what I was saying and super-awkwardly left before any real discussion could be had.  Outcome:  Validation of my decision.   

5.  I realized there’s a difference between someone with whom you want to hang out and someone with whom you want to combine lives, which I guess I knew, but again…validation.

6.  Had another date with Mr. No Name on which he was determined to prove he wasn’t conservative and could be more than a friend.  Fail, first of all, but then he got post-date balls.  Via text he was all, “damn we should still be hanging out,” and I was all, “well then you should have stumbled your way through some kind of awkward invite to a phase two because now it’s too late and I’m on my couch in my ugly single-lady PJs and my tummy is happily full of sushi and vodka I didn’t have to pay for.”

7.  I had another first date with another POF guy. I found out that someone who has “non-douche” as their headline IS, in fact, a douche, but of a weird variety.  I deleted the last batch of “[insert rando’s name] pof”s from my phone because the ratio of guys who do online dating because they are socially retarded to guys who do online dating because they are normal, but busy/new to the area is about 5:1 (from my research) and that’s just a numbers game I’m sick of playing. 

8.  I heard from TGISWOTSD again.  Re:  hot dogs.  Again.  His interests seemed much more diverse when we were dating, I swear.  Again, maybe he’s testing the waters of friendship, but seeing his email addy, my heart flutters and wonders if he misses me and realizes we were great and it’s worth an actual try.  Ugh.

9.  I packed my fridge and pantry with real food so my apartment no longer looks like a bachelor lives there.  And yes, this is packed for a single girl.  I spent way too much time thinking about how to use it all!

10.  I totally blew my food budget (but that’s why I built in flexibility elsewhere).

11.  I ate well. (This is homemade pizza amazingness, part 2!)

12.  I accepted that I will never be a photog or foodie blogger (but I started a wellness blog that will have a food aspect)!

13.  I added some big dreams to my bucket list because I’ve really seen the power of writing down and going after some of the things I want recently and I’m in a big WHY NOT mood.

14.  I actually wrote down THE list (of traits I’m looking for in a man).  Again, why not?

15.  I went out on a school night.  As in like, don’t even start getting ready until 9 kind of out.  It was a friend’s last night in town and I’m glad I did, but I’m paying for it today!

December Budget Roundup

Okay, first of all, this budget thing is a fabulous idea.  Why the hell did it take me so long to balls up and do it?

I’m a competitive person and love structure and a challenge.  Um, hello?  That is everything a budget is about.  Or, at least everything MY budget is about. 

So, this December I finally extended the challenge of a budget to myself and accepted said challenge from myself.  I not only followed the budget, I beat it.  See what I mean about competitive?

I set out to spend $2000, the amount I thought I normally spent, although realistically it was always a few hundred over, and as of December 31st I actually spent less.  I am kinda awkwardly excited about this.  Tracking my spending for the last few years has really made me think about my spending, but making and following a budget was empowering.

The thing is, I didn’t feel like I spent my money any differently than I had in the preceding months.  I might have said no to myself when otherwise I would have said, “why not?” but I’m not worse off for it.  I’ve actually forgotten about whatever little things I wanted to buy here or there.

So, since I’m new to this whole budget thing, during the last week of the month, I was haunted by one question.  What do I do with the “excess”?  I probably should have had a plan for this because there’s no way I would have spent exactly $2000, that would really freak me out actually.  Perhaps my thought was that there was no way I’d be able to spend UNDER it at all. 

I thought of many things…e-fund, wedding fund, retirement fund, extra payment for my credit card or school loans.  And okay, I may have thought about clothes or taking myself to the movies. 

I’m sure there’s a right answer, but without enough time to think about how I’m prioritizing my goals, I made an extra payment on my credit card and have the rest hanging out in my checking account and will eventually move it to my e-fund.  And I vowed to come up with a plan for my overage next month!