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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Coffee on the house!

I briefly mentioned here that I put an offer on a house, but my, how things have changed since then.

Too many DIY home shows had me thinking a cheap fixer-upper was perfect for me, but after the offer was accepted and my earnest money was handed over, it was time for inspection and the inspection freaked me the fuck out. Suddenly the renovations I would have had to do + the renovations I was dreaming of to turn it into a cute, little, perfect-for-me home > my budget + my comfort zone + my anxiety threshold.

Still within the ten days I had to back out without penalty, I produced a new list of properties to check out and my very patient (and caring and sexy and…okay, Lucky is my realtor) realtor took me on home tour #2 and I found a different place that I loved and felt much more at ease about and did a little switcheroo.

Sooo…escrow opened yesterday.  The word escrow always makes me think of this Gilmore Girls episode where Luke’s brother-in-law runs around screaming that he’s in escrow:

Ahh, I miss Gilmore Girls.

Anyway, being newly IN ESCROW means another inspection period, and even though now that I know first hand that can change things, I don’t see it happening that way and imagine this time it’s just going to rock on by and before I know it I’ll be moving into this new place that I’m now dreaming about.

So, what exactly am I dreaming about?  Well, that was going to be the point of this post, but my long-story-short turned into a bit of a long-story-longer and I will save that for next time!

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. 

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.

Free Money. That’s Not Actually Free.

OMG, an X on a triple letter?! I miss Scrabble BTW.

I don’t believe in tax refunds. 

I mean, I know they exist, but I don’t believe in loaning the government your money for a year (interest-free!) so they can give it all back to you in the Spring and you can pretend it’s free money and blow it on clothes, trips, toys and/or whatever tickles your fancy. 

Some more fiscally sharp taxpayers may decide to pay off credit cards, but if you got a little extra in each paycheck throughout the year like you should have, perhaps you wouldn’t have the credit card debt in the first place.

A tax refund isn’t free money. It’s your money.  What’s the point in getting a smaller paycheck?  Show me the money!

The first time I thought about taxes I was 21 and my dad wanted me to be part of the process so I could do it on my own after graduating college.  My internship had been paying me as an independent contractor, not taking out any taxes and I owed them in a big way.  Boo. 

The years since then have been a balancing act.  With every new tax season I’ve modified my W-2 to attempt to overcompensate for investments I hold.  I try to get it as close to zero as possible.  But I’ve pretty much always ended up owing.  And crying in the middle of H&R Block.

[Insert sound of record scratching to a stop.]

The above was really easy to write BEFORE I did my taxes (on my own this time, thank you very much) and the government told me they wanted to thank me for being so patient in years past by giving ME money this year. 

I called them assholes.  I saw IRS agents in my future. Then I called my sister because we are in the same tax situation to see what hers ended up being like this year (she also got a return, but attributed it to her tax lady who sets her up to guarantee a return).  Then I went to my dad and asked him to review it.

Then I admitted that I did everything right and that the numbers don’t lie and I filed them.  Apparently, I overshot just how much I had to overcompensate (and/or overestimated the growth of my investments).

So now I’ve started THE LIST.  You know, the “I was just handed free money and NEED to spend it” list.  Responsible things like my emergency fund and student loans are on the list, but so are “fun” things.  I’m sure I’m going to end up splitting the cash, but, um, yeah, okay, I’m kinda a little excited about getting this extra money (albeit MY money). 

I still don’t believe in tax refunds, though!  Next year, the mission will again be zero.

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.