Saturday, December 13, 2008

Personalities Pay the Price

It's depressing that I fell so far behind on being an active part of this blog. I have no real excuse, save for my personal life, but what else is new?

Financially-speaking, I have been doing really well. It's odd how when I stopped obsessively focusing on my money, it seemed to largely resolve itself. What I mean by that is I realized I had several goals that were too overbearing and inadvertently critical of myself. They were certainly achievable, but on the whole, unrealistic. And I made the mistake of tying in my self-worth and self-esteem with the monetary process.

What I mean is, I had the unfortunate habit of setting forth an extremely unlikely goal that left no breathing room for emergencies or a sudden change of circumstance. Then, the unexpected would inevitably occur and throw a monkey wrench in my carefully-constructed plans, torpedoing the whole affair and my self-esteem would plummet lower than the Dow on Foreclosure Day. Absolutely depressing.

So, in order to really become proactive in dealing with the constant disappointment and emotional subterfuge, I first had to scale back on my goals. Instead of immediately determining a future date, amount and reason behind saving, I decided that creating a routine for no other reason than the sake of having a routine would go a long way. Psychologists and addiction specialists will tell you that it takes two weeks to form a pattern (gee, if only I could absorb that into my gym routine) and fortunately for me, my paychecks come on varying weeks. I got into the habit of going to Bank A (where I keep my savings account) to cash out my paychecks, and leaving at least $50 from each check I cashed before moving the rest of the money to Bank B, where I keep my checking account.

The growth of my money in Bank A was definitely slow, but as a good friend often tells me, "Slow growth is good growth." Last I checked, I have over $1,000, and I'm proud of that. I was, after all, a girl given no formal training in money management (to date, I haven't even taken an economics class) who had to learn the hard way how to budget, plan and save. I refer to my savings account as my "Move to California" fund, but it may also pan out to be "AMP's New Car" fund, depending on how much more I really want to sink into my current vehicle (at this point, it needs a new windshield, new wipers, new tires...the list goes on) and knowing at what I have accrued in just a few months makes me excited for how much more I can do in the future.

Even better, all of my living expenses are drafted out of my checking account, which is housed as Bank B. I don't have to touch any of my Bank A money unless the expense is great than $500, because I keep a steady, small, minimum balance in my checking account for protection. That feels like real progress and real empowerment.

My advice to any person starting to uncover financial tips of success is to figure out who you are and how that's effecting your money management. I'm an all-or-nothing, impulsive and rather impatient perspective. In this respect, I like to play the ostrich when it comes to money woes and dig my head in the sand. I don't like how it inspires feelings of failures, but darn if sometimes I find myself reaching for my debit card or my roll of cash when I know I shouldn't be. I either balance my check faithfully every day or I don't touch it for a month, and when I sense I'm off by even a few cents, I come completely unglued. I've noticed, naturally, that retail therapy can provide a great solution.

Having said that, ask yourself what tenets of your personality are shaping the way you manage your money. It's a hard look to take, but evaluating your spending style (big purchases? small? impulsive? planned? angry? happy?) and even your budgeting goes a long way towards revealing what the actual problems are. Very few people are in the position that they just don't care or don't know what they spend. Most are aware of their ups and downs, but haven't quite realized how their personality shapes the behaviors.

I'd also suggest checking out Suze Orman. She has some great suggestions, especially for women, who are often unfairly overlooked in the finance industry.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Spending Breakdown

Since I am now on a quest to spend way less than I make (which is a pitiful amount) I thought that the best place to start would be with a break down of how I spent my last paycheck - which, if you were wondering, is GONE. I have $1.42 that has not been dedicated to anything left in my checking account. I got paid on November 14, 2008 and $610.91 was put into my checking account (I actually was paid more than this, but a percentage of each of my checks goes strait into my emergency fund and I don't count it at all to ensure that I don't try to spend it).
  • Fun/Unnecessary to my life spending: $334.40
    • $7 = ATM fees
    • Includes bars/ticket to Bears game/costume/NetFlix/iTunes (1 song)
    • $82.18 = charged to CitiCard
  • Payments and Savings: $336.49
    • Includes deposit into car savings/credit card payment/overdraft payment
  • Things I NEED: $73.59
    • Includes a doctor co-pay/gas/cold medication
  • Other: $4.77
    • Includes turkey for work/coffee for the drive home
Now, while this paints a fairly accurate picture of my spending habits, it is a little skewed because I went out of town during the November 21 - 23 weekend and spent a lot more than normal. However, I think that for the most part this is something that I can work with. For my next few paychecks I am going to have to add heavily to my emergency fund because Boyfriend and I are going to be moving in together and I will have to come up with my half of the rent on a consistent basis, and for those weeks where I don't hit the 40 hour mark I might need a little help and that is where the help is going to come from. So for right now ... this is how my paycheck is going to be put to work.
  • Average Paycheck = $639.60
  • Average Automatic Deposit to Emergency Fund = $76.75
    • Balance = $562.85
  • Extra Deposit to Emergency Fund = $150
    • Balance = $412.85
  • Deposit to Car Fund = $100
    • Balance = $312.85
  • Payment to Citi Card = $75
    • Balance = $237.85
  • Payment to Mom and Dad = $75
    • Balance = $162.85
  • Cash Withdrawal from the Bank (to avoid ATM fees) = $100
    • Balance = $62.85
The rest of the cash can be used for gas, or can be put into a savings account, or maybe even used to pay off my debt to my parents. I am going to use this 'budget' starting with my next paycheck, which will come to me on the 1st of December. Hopefully I can stick to my guns and to my budget and come out ahead on all this. Getting control of my finances will give me a sense of empowerment that I really could use right now. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Running out of Money = Badness.

I feel constantly that I am missing the mark with this whole budget, don't spend more than you make thing. I have a social life (read: I still go out with my college friends and drink every weekend) and I have recently picked up a few hobbies that require me to spend in order to do them (I have started knitting and sewing which means I need money for yarn and fabric). If I get 40 hours every week, which doesn't happen a lot, I make around $319.80 per week. That works out to be $1,279.00 a month.

Now, I might just be really hard on myself, but I feel like I should be able to live comfortably on that. Not to mention the fact that I earn around $200 extra for babysitting each month. I can't help but wonder why it is that I run out of money like clockwork about a week after I get my paycheck and end up having to use my credit card for things that I absolutely need in order to function (like gas). It's so frustrating to have to tell my friends that I can't go out because I have no money and then have to explain to them that I really have no money and I'm not kidding. Plus, it makes me hate myself for making $200 payments on my card twice a month and then have it count for nothing when I have to use it in between paychecks. So, I think it's safe to say that it might be time for me to do a few things.
  1. Look over my budget and rework it.
  2. Think of a system to stop running out of money in between paychecks.
  3. Ask for a raise.
I have been mentioning getting a raise to my supervisor for a while now. I am only making $9.75 an hour right now (as an almost 24 year old college graduate) and I am doing the work of three people. Yup, I said three (like ... the number. 3. 3 people.) I am doing all the work for my SEO internship, plus helping to answer the phones until our regular receptionist comes back to work at the beginning of December, and learn to be an eMarketing Strategist for when she goes on maternity leave sometime in late December/early January depending on when the baby comes (he is a super baby. He weighs 2.5 pounds more than he should for how far along she is.).

I like my job, and part of the reason that I haven't been more aggressive about getting a raise is that I'm scared that they are going to tell me to take a hike and then I'm going to be stuck making $0 an hour, which sucks way more than making $9.75. But as of December 8, I will have been working here for 8 months so I think it's time for them to consider it. I hope that they'll give it to me and then ask my why I took so long to ask for it. That would make me way happy. But, I just can't support myself on what I'm making now and that's just not fair.

Once I get my budget worked out I'll post it for you to see. And the same with my system for not running out of money. Stay tuned! The next few posts could be really interesting ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Only One Left ...

A few posts ago I talked about how I was hesitant to cut up my credit cards because of the feeling that I would be losing something. Specifically a business opportunity (please don't think that I'm emotionally attached to my credit cards - that is not the case). But yesterday I had a moment of clarity and I cut up the Capital One card that I've been hiding from myself in my day planner and which has a balance of $0.00 on it.

I zeroed this card out in August when I went on my get rid of debt spend-o-thon. I can't tell you how good it felt to know that I had finally gotten it taken care of, after like 2 years of paying them tons of money that could have been better spent elsewhere. But the other day I opened my email to find an alert from Capital One saying that I owed them money. And not only did I owe them $3.47 but they had already tacked on a $15 late fee to boot.

I knew that I hadn't charged anything to the card since I had paid the balance in full and so I was concerned right off the bat. When I went to look through my online statements only to find that the reason for the charge wasn't listed was when I decided to call and see what the heck was going on. Turns out that it was a finance charge for the balance that I paid off two months ago. Why they didn't send me a bill for the month of September ... I'm not too sure.

But I was as nice to the guy as I could be and when I asked him to remove the late fee, he did. And I paid my $3.47 and made sure that there was no way that I could be charged a finance fee on my finance fee (which they don't do - or at least I was assured that they don't do) and now the card is completely and totally and forever paid off. Forever. (If it isn't ... someone is going to have a very angry Super Careo on their hands).

And so, after I had made my last ever payment (for real this time) to Capital One, I cut up the card. It was really liberating actually. It's like cutting out a bad spot from your life. Feeling a burden lifted from your shoulders. Knowing that I will be able to put a lot more money to my Citi Card in the coming months so that I might be able to hit my goal of getting all my debts paid off before I move out of the 'rents house (hopefully in January ... or maybe sooner?).

You know that expression that says that if you love something then you should let it go? Well, I'm pretty sure that Capital One really loved it when I was late on payments or got my balance down a little bit only to charge something and send it right back up to within $10 of my credit limit. And for a time I liked being able to do that. But the time has come ... time to be free.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Paying Bills = Love

There's a radio station in town that is running a contest where the winner gets one of their bills paid for them. You fax in your bill and then they pull your name out of a hat (or whatever) and then they call you and tell you all about how you have one less bill to pay. Now, I like this idea but I do have issues with the radio spots they run promoting it. I think it goes something like this ...

Announcer: Everyone hates paying bills.
Girl: Oh maaaaan. Another bill?!
Announcer: Except for this one guy in our accounting department.
Guy: YES!! Another one paid off!!
Announcer: Won't you let us help him by paying your bills?

Now, normal people would probably hear this and think "I also hate to pay bills. That accountant is such a weirdo!" And that's what I thought the first million times I heard it. But then I actually took the time to absorb what the 'weirdo' accountant was saying.

Guy: YES!! Another one paid off!!

I don't like bills ... in fact I would even go so far as to say that I hate bills. But one thing that I like about bills is paying them off. Which is what the weirdo accountant is excited about. So ... does that mean that I love bills? If paying them down equals love ... then yes. I do love bills.

I think that we could all take a lesson from this radio spot however. Even though it's on the station that plays Pink and the Jonas Brothers, even though their morning show personalities make me want to drive off the road and into a light pole on my way to work ... their account has the right idea about personal finance. You should be excited to pay down your debt. You should be excited when you rip open your credit card/mortgage/car loan bill every month. Not because of the number in the minimum payment square but because of the number in the total balance box and the fact that each month when you pay more than the minimum (you are, right?) it drops.

Making credit card payments is one of the things that I really look forward to doing every month. When I get my paycheck one of the first things that pops into my head is "How big a payment can I make with this?"

There is nothing in this world that makes me feel as light and happy as I feel when I zero out a credit card balance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

One step forward, two steps back

Well, I was doing so good at paying off my debts and not racking up any more. But I back slid. For a while I thought that I might just not mention it on here, but I think it's important for me to share my triumphs as well as my mistakes. I mean, nobody's perfect and this is a blog about my journey to financial freedom. So here's what happened.

I ran out of money at the end of the month (shocking, I know) and was on a business trip where I would be unable to collect my pay until I returned home. I had no money to pay for my parking at the airport, so I charged it on one of my cards. Then I was getting ready to go on another trip and need to buy some stuff to get ready to go (i.e. shoes to go with my dress, make-up and some other skin care things) and since I didn't have any money, I had yet to deposit the check, I charged that too. All in all, the damage done amounts to $285.91. However, I am currently working on getting my parking paid for by my company and that was about $93. This morning I scheduled a $150 payment, which almost covers my new debt.

Instead of letting myself get overly depressed about it, I decided to respond pro-actively. I took my credit cards out of my wallet and put them in my day planner where I can't get to them to charge on them. I know what you're thinking, "Why don't you just cut them up?" and part of me would say that you're right. But there's another part of me who just can't let go because I keep thinking that I might need them. A while ago I wanted to start selling Beijo bags, which are totally awesome purses made out of vinyl and the whole reason why I got a second credit card, and I still would really like to do it. I feel like cutting up these credit cards would be the end of that opportunity. Maybe one day I will feel like I can cut them up without the feeling of something lost, but until then I'm just going to hide them so that I won't be tempted to charge on them anymore.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Net Worth ... Is Depressing.

I was poking around on other blogs and got the idea to find out what my net worth is. I joined this nifty little site called Networth IQ. It has all sorts of forms you fill out about what you make, and how much debt you have vs. savings, cash, and retirement funds and any assets you may have. I entered in all the information that I have from my debts (which are getting smaller by the day) and what I currently have stashed away in my bank accounts. And this *drum roll please* is what I came up with:

It's sad isn't it? So I have decided to add another bar to my pay-o-save-meter's with a new goal. My new goal is to get my net worth up to at least $1,000 by the end of the year. And I am going to set up a Roth IRA so I can start saving up for retirement. I just thought I would share that little bit of joy with you.

Also, I paid off my Capital One credit card in full yesterday. I now only have one credit card left to pay off before I start picking away at the money that I still owe my darling parents. My Citi Card is going to be down to $1,077 and some cents by the end of the week, depending on when my payment posts. And by next weeks it should drop another $74, which is all I have left over from my $1,000 pay off my debts spend-a-thon. I decided that I would split the money and take care of my Capital One card since it was under $400. YES!! I LOVE paying credit cards in full. It just makes me feel so alive. And I think I'm starting to really like the way a 0 looks when it's listed under the cloumn 'money you owe us'.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it." -- Norman Schwarzkopf

This morning while I was driving to work, I made a decision. And it was a hard decision. For a number of reasons. But now that I sit here and think about it really hard, I think that it is by far the best decision that I could make right now.

I have decided to take $1,000 and use it to pay down my CitiCard balance of $1,593.13. I decided to do this for a number of reasons.
  1. I am tired of paying this bill. I have been willingly forking over cash to CitiCard for far too long.
  2. The interest. It isn't killer, but it's not 0% either.
  3. I feel like I never make any headway on paying this card down, and I am tired of it.
In a month and a half of saving, I have managed to pull together close to $1,100 for my car fund. I was looking at all my my debts the other night, in an effort to manage them, and realized that I could pay off a large chunk of my Citicard balance if I would be willing to sacrifice the money from my car fund.

At first I was totally against the idea. I mean, I need a new car. And I have a goal to reach! But then I stopped to consider the points I listed above and decided that I would rather have only one bill to pay (the car payments) each month, even if it meant that it was a little bit more expensive than it would have been if I have kept the $1,000 in the savings account. But I think that at this point in my life, getting rid of my debts is the most important thing to do.

It's just another case of the have to's taking priority over the want to's. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Have-To's vs. The Want-to's

I want to move out of my parent's house. But before I can do that there are a few things that have to happen. Like paying off my debts and possibly getting a raise. It's frustrating for me because I think I'm ready to head out into the real world and take care of myself, regardless of what my parents have to say about my financial life. One of my mom's favorite sayings is "you have to do the have-to's before the want-to's" and I think this is a case where this saying can be applied to life as well as my money.

I want to move out. But, I have to get my debt under control and prove to myself that I can manage my money so that I can pay rent and eat in the same month. I actually did sit down the other day and fill out a budgeting sheet to see how it would all work out if I were to move out on my own tomorrow. With what I'm getting paid (which works out to about $18,000 a year) I could live in one of the apartments near my office, but there are a number of things that I would have to go without. Like cable, or turning up the heat in the winter. I would also have to limit my grocery spending to less than $100 a month, which is do-able. But as much as I would like to trim down I don't really want to go on the 'starve yourself' diet.

Plus I have two dogs. They are going to have to go out and go potty at some point, I would have to drive home during lunch to walk them and might even have to hire someone to take them out again in the afternoons. I wouldn't be able to go from work to a babysitting job without letting them out which means that I would have to cut back on my babysitting hours and/or leave work earlier before a job to take care of them. Not to mention the fact that I would feel guilty for leaving them alone for so long during the day. And they have to eat too - which can get to be pretty expensive.

And the list just goes on and on and on. The money never stops coming out of my pocket. There is no way that I could move out tomorrow and live comfortably. It's something that I know I could do, but not something that I want to.

In January my friend and future roomie's lease runs up on her apartment. If I can just stick it out with Mom and Dad for a few more months I have the chance to pay down (and ultimately pay off) my credit card bills and the money that I owe parents. I can move out debt free and have the ability to do what I want to with my money (like saving it ... or spending it on fun things) instead of what I have to do with my money (like paying credit card bills). Not to mention that when you rent a house with an $800 a month rent and a roommate you only have to pay around $400 a month. And that sure beats paying upwards of $600 for a one bedroom apartment.

So as much as my parents and I argue about rent or chores (yes ... I have chores) I have to say that it's the best option for me at this point in my life. Besides, if I change my mind the apartment complexes will still be there and I'm sure that I could find a place somewhere.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New Tracker Jiggy's!

I figured out how to yank the code from another blog and use it here ... it only took me 15 minutes or so to change the colors and all the values! I am quite pleased with myself and really you should be too. You may also notice that since yesterday, I have paid off 9% of my debt and that the debt total went up. I decided that adding in the last bit of debt I paid off recently wouldn't kill me and I wanted to take some credit for the hard work I've been putting forth to get all my bills paid off.

In fact, I will be zeroing in on the exact amount of my debt (the number over there is a rough estimate) this coming month after my next round of bills are paid. So be looking for updates on that.

I would also like to take a moment and plug the blog that I got this code from. It's called Clutter2Cash and it's a very nice blog. Thanks for the code!

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm Not Dead

I know that this blog has fallen into neglect but nothing much has really been happening on the financial front for me in the last few weeks. I've been living at home (despite all my efforts to get out) and saving and paying down my debts like crazy. I have been doing really well with all my money that I even had the ability to buy a plane ticket to New Orleans to visit a high school friend who is there for the summer, and still make my savings goal. Granted, I had a huge graduation gift to help out with it, but I would have been able to do it even if I hadn't received it.

Now, you may have noticed a new little thing on the blog - my money tracker. I made it myself in paint because I couldn't find any blog tools that would give me the HTML to make a spiffy one. I apologize for the smallness, I will try to make it bigger.

If you've been reading this blog at all you know that I have actually paid off some of my debt that is not accounted for in the 'total debt' part of my tracker jiggy. Instead of going back and figuring out exactly how much I owed since the start of the year, I thought that I would just start from today. This is reflected in my savings account totals also. So, as I continue to pay down debt (credit cards and money that I owe my parents) I will update my tracker and you can cheer for me.

Even though I gave myself a year to get all those paid off, I would like to think that it will take me much less time so that all that moo-lah can go into a bank account instead of into someone else's pocket.

Car Update:
While I am waiting to save up some for a car, it's looking like the purchase will be made around the end of the year. Today my driver's window went on strike and is refusing to open. I would love to meet its demands but so far none have been made. Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Car Payments Breakdown

Well, my new paycheck is in my bank account and it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is and start paying up my pretend car payments. I sat down the other night with a pen and some paper and with the help of a calculator, I figured out how much money I would have to save each month to reach my savings goals in the next 2-3 years. I looked around online and found the calculations that you would have to do in order to figure out how much interest you would expect from $X in your account but I couldn't figure out how often my interest is compounded which is a problem. So, bearing in mind that all of my numbers completely ignore the interest I'll get, here's what I found.

  • To save up $10,000 in 2 years, I would have to put $350 into my bank account each month.
  • To save up $15,000 in 3 years, I would have to put $430 into my bank account each month.
I was told that you usually put about 15,000 miles on your car each year ... which means that I will hit my goal of 200,000 miles on my car within the next 2.5 years. My friend and I were talking about my pretend car payments, which she thinks is a very good idea, and wondered aloud to me about the affordability of these monthly amounts. She also pointed out to me that I wanted to move out of my parent's house in the near future and asked if I would be able to keep up with my new savings plan.

My response was that, as I have mentioned before, just about all of my big bills (rent, utilities, groceries and my basic dog care expenses like dog food) are going away at the end of this month. So I figure that I will take out the money that I need for gas and going out type stuff and I will save the rest.

So there you go. I will be putting $430 into my bank account monthly until I can't afford it anymore, and then I will drop it to $350 or $300 depending on what I can afford. I might even go so far as to put money from each paycheck of the month into my bank account. So if I live with Mom and Dad for only 3 months, I will have 6 months of savings in the bank. How about them apples?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The car breakdown (hehe, I'm punny)

Well, here's the skinny on my vehicular situation. I have decided to drive the thing for 1-2 more years or until it hits 200,000 miles. Which is only 40,000 miles away. Here's how I am planning to skimp and save to get the money saved up to pay for most (if not all) of my new wheels.
  1. I opened a high interest savings account with HSBC Direct. I'm currently getting 3.5% APY.
    • When I learn how to do math I will let you know how much I should expect to earn from said account during the year.
  2. I am planning, starting with my next paycheck, to put $200-300 in this account as a pretend car payment.
    • I say $200-300 because that's what I'm hoping would be my car payment if I got a car today and I don't know how much I will be able to put away right now. There is more math that needs to be done.
I still have to sit down and work out a budget. I've been trying, but since I'm living with my parents several notable parts of my current budget disappear. Like: rent, utilities, and my grocery bill. It's making budgeting a little too easy and because of that I feel like I need to be wary. Is there something that I haven't considered? I also may be moving out of my parent's place in the near future (one can only hope) and that may change things too. So, my new monthly budget will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conservation - a necessity not a need

Well, Ashley-Michelle had a psychic moment the other day when she posted about conservation being a good way to go with this blog. I may may start doing quite a bit of it in the coming months.

My car, a '96 Ford, has broken down one too many times and I am now seriously considering replacing it. We did find out that the reason it didn't start last night was because due to corrosion around the battery wires, which has been fixed, but it's been in and out of the shop pretty much every other week for the last couple of months.

So with that said, I will be embarking on one of two possible paths with my money. And they are as follows:
  1. Take the plunge and replace my car with a used one
  2. Deal with a crappy car for two more years or so while I do some serious saving for car payments (there is no way that this car will last long enough for me to save enough to pay for a new car in cash)
I will let you know what I decide to do in the next few days. My mom and I are heading over to Car Max to ask questions and look at some cars that I might be interested in purchasing. I just have to decide how much more I am willing to put up with from my Ford.

I will also be posting with an updated budget based on whatever path I go down. There are obviously some changes that will need to happen. Any input or ideas would be appreciated. But please, lets keep the brand bashing to a minimum.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How to avoid spending money

Yesterday, I had some returns to make. They were things that I had purchased and decided I really didn't need. Like the AE tank I talked about in a previous post and some underwear from Victoria's Secret that I had bought a looooooong time ago and had just been sitting in my closet. You might want to know how this relates to not spending money. Bear with me, I'm getting to that.

The return to AE was quick and painless. I did have to stand in line for a while but since there weren't any banners around me telling me how cheap clothes were, I didn't have a problem not stopping and looking around. It also helped that I was on my way to a babysitting job and didn't have much time to begin with.

But then I walked over to Victoria's Secret, and with horror realized that I was about to walk into their semi-annual sale. The very same event where I purchased the undies that I was about to return.

For those of you who don't know me well, I LOVE Victoria's Secret underwear. Especially their Pink line. And my friend has been raving about her Vicki's bra and it makes me want one. I've also read that Ipex bras are the shit. And I need new bras. So you might understand why going into the store was such a problem.

I stood outside and wondered to myself, "How in the world am I going to make it in and out of this place without at least one new pair of underwear in my hot little hands?" I took a deep breath and plunged in. I pretty much ran to the back of the store to get in line by the registers. But I did make it out without buying anything, and I am quite proud of myself. Even thought I had to run through the store to keep myself from spending.

So, you may be asking yourself, how do I avoid spending money? Well, this is my advice to you:

Stay out of the store!

If there is nothing in the store that you need to live or if it's a store where you will be really tempted to spend the money you don't have, don't go in. It sounds simple, but I honestly had never thought of it that way until I walked out of Vicki's bag free. I was a little sad as I was walking back to my car because that means, more or less, no more mindless wandering around the mall.

But then I realized that I really don't go to the mall anymore unless there is a reason to. Either I need something or someone else needs something. So either way, I'm on a mission and that helps me to keep my money where it belongs, in my wallet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Peanut Butter Practicality

Sometime tomorrow, I'll update with the remaining three tips for college grads, but today, given that both myself and Super Careo are fur-mamas, I thought I'd share an ingenius money-saving tip.

So, most of us eat peanut butter. It's kind of an American tradition. And a large majority of Americans own dogs. Although the in-home care for pets has gotten better over the years, there are still a number of minor health issues that many fur-parents tend to miss. A big one is the importance of glucosamine in pets, especially larger breeds and animals pre-disposed to arthritis.

My Savannah, a German Shepherd-Brittany Spaniel mix, has suffered from arthritis for about seven years. The last year has been especially rough for her, so I started feeding her glucosamine tablets at the urging of the vet. I did notice it seemed to help quite a bit with her joint and bone pain, caused by the stress of her condition. Still, my vet suggested that I switch to a specific company.

The only problem is, the tablets aren't flavored, and both my dogs are notoriously finicky eaters when it comes to treats. Seriously, my Pomeranian loves to eat broccoli, but don't count on seeing him gobble down any treats designed to address his tartar and plaque build-up. Oy.

A few weeks ago, I got the idea to take a spoon and coat the glucosamine tablets with a small amount of peanut butter. Because watching the weight of an arthritic dog is so critical to maintaining their health and comfort, I always did a very small amount, just enough to make the tablet seem like a treat. When I noticed that the jar of peanut butter itself was just about too empty to use in making a sandwich, it occured to me there wasn't any reason why I couldn't just start using the tablet to scrape a small amount of peanut butter off the side. True enough, it's worked like a charm!

So, I suppose perhaps a good direction to take this blog is conservation of resources, as well as money management. I, for one, feel great that I'm not tossing out a jar of peanut butter that is too little to put on a sandwich, but just right to entice a dog to take her medicine.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Seven Steps for Financial Success for the Post-College Graduate

As biased as I think can be when it comes to many of their articles (of the political persuasion, anyway) I have to admit that their "Money & Finances" section is pretty darn handy.

Just today, I read Your Five-Minute Guide to Money in Your 20's. Given that Super Careo and I are approaching our mid-20s, I also decided to read some other articles about what, apparently, makes a twentysomething successful, financiallly-speaking. So I've compiled Seven Steps for Financial Success for the Post-College Graduate, the first four of which I'll share in this entry.

Step One: Get a Job

For most people, this is a no-brainer. However, a lot of individuals make the critical mistake of selecting a job that is financially a disaster, or simply is below their skill set. So chuck the lazy attitude, and prepare for these four tips:

1. A suit, a hair cut, and a new pair of shoes are a financial must. This will make all the difference in the world in a job interview. Let's face it; not everyone can show up to their job interview in dirty clothes and nail the position a la Christopher Gardner, the protagonist of "The Pursuit of Happyness." Still, they don't have to cost an arm and a leg. Consider going to a local beauty college, which will do hair cuts at a reduced price and generally offer free consultations. For suits and shoes, check out discount outlets, the Goodwill or consignment stores such as Plato's Closet, which offers popular clothing at a great markdown. Even stores such as Kohl's can be a good investment, because they frequently have clearance specials marking clothing down by 80 percent.

2. Don't waste your money by selecting a resume kit. There are many free versions offered on-line, including Resumizer, The PC Man and The How-To Resume Builder. However, even going to employment giants like Monster and CareerBuilder can be beneficial, because in addition to helping you find gainful employment, they'll actually build a basic resume and cover letter for you. Also remember you can always ask a trusted friend, particularly if they specialize in Human Resources or English, to help you punch it up a bit.

3. Don't be afraid to use your connections. If you're a college graduate, make sure to contact your alumni chapter. Were you in a sorority, fraternity, or any kind of ordained membership? Those affiliations can help open doors in the post-education world.

4. Don't accept jobs that might pay more in the beginning, but have nothing to do with your degree or your intended plan. This can lead to professional stagnation and later, job apathy.

Step Two: You're Hired!

Okay, congratulations are in order. You are officially a working-class adult, fully fiscally responsible, right? Wrong. The immediate afterglow of the first working job is when many twentysomethings make their first mistakes. A few tips to remember:

1. Your paycheck isn't as big as you think it is. You're getting more money, but Big Brother is also taking more of what you earn, something that early budget-makers forget when calculating out their expenses. Still, PaycheckCity offers a great calculator which helps to determine how much take-home pay you actually receive.

2. Be aware of what your job means for your tax return. If you're like me and have never handled your taxes, it's a good idea to enroll in a tax class (many community centers and community colleges offer them at reasonable rates under "Continuing Education" banners) so you have a better idea of where your money is going, and how. This will also help you plan for deductions.

3. A career, as much as a penny stock or an IRA, is an investment. It's important that you manage it better than any other investment, which includes showing up on time, completing your work under deadlines and setting higher expectations for yourself that aren't unreasonable.

Step Three: Banking

Securing a job doesn't mean that it's time to stash money away in a cookie jar and hope for the best. The days of saving pennies for a rainy day have pretty much passed, so a financially-responsible person needs to begin investigating banking. These days, it isn't uncommon for parents to set up bank accounts for their child, either to begin saving for college when they're very young or to offer them a start into the world after they've become an adult. Either way, especially if someone is starting out in a new place, it's important to select a bank with the same methodical investigation as any other major investment.

1. Don't just take the first bank you come across. Like with any other major investment, it's important to do your research and find out which bank offers you the best plan for your individual lifestyle. offers the following tips:

a. Fees. Many banks are charging more for previously complimentary services, such as bank statements, overdraft protection, customer inquiries and so on. Therefore, it's important to determine what your bank charges for these services and respond accordingly. For example, many banks are now going to "paperless" bank statements, preferring instead to send their clients e-mails, and some banks, such as Commerce in Kansas City even offer monetary incentives for their clients to go digital. Investigate which areas will allow you to cut corners--but be cautious; never skimp on overdraft protection or statements, period. Murphy's Law proves that just when you think overdrafting can never happen to you, it will and banks do make mistakes, meaning it's important you receive and examine your statement, whether by postal mail or e-mail.

b. Minimum Balances. The upside to having a minimum balance is that it does help with more effective budgeting, but only if you're informed enough to know that there is a minimum balance to begin wtih. I fell into this pit with both my savings account and my checking account, which I keep at two separate banks. Unfortunately, at both my checking and savings account, I failed to read the fine print and only after I spent several thousands in fees (enough that really, I should probably have a wing of the bank named after me at both locations) did I discover what my tellers had glossed over during the process of opening my accounts: each requires a minimum balance of $100. What's worse, some banks will charge even higher amounts for falling just a few pennies under $100 than if you were to bounce a mortgage check, so be cautious. When opening a new account, ask the teller directly what expectations are with the account such as minimum balances, and if you ever feel that you're being silver-tongued, take the paperwork home before you sign anything. Opening a bank account shouldn't feel like purchasing a used car.

c. Direct Deposit. All banks offer this fine feature, which automatically deposits your paycheck into your bank account, but some banks will also give you an incentive for signing up for it.

d. ATMs. Hopefully, by the time you graduate, you've learned your lesson on the ATM disaster of taking too much money out at a time and the like. Still, many people rely on the ATM for instant, fast cash. So if you're a person who has an ATM machine that won't burn a hole in your pocket, consider the number of locations within your vicinity, as well as the bank's policies for ATM machines. Most banks will offer free ATM withdrawals to their own customers, while charging fees anywhere from $1.50 to $5.00 for non-bank customers.

e. Locations. As with the ATMs, locations can be important. Perhaps you realize that the check you wrote yesterday might bounce if you don't rush and put $50 in cash into your account on your lunch break. If your bank is within walking distance to your job, this is a relatively easy fix. Unless you prefer online banking, at which case location is a moot point.

f. Online Banking. Many banks are offering online banking for their drive-thru wary customers, but there are several concerns when operating this way, the main being identity theft. Therefore, the best approach is a hybrid one: still complete your transactions, such as check cashing and cash withdrawals, in person, but consider signing up for your bank's online bill pay or banking tracker, if those are services that they offer. Following your account's activity online is another way to manage your ledger and stay consistent with how you track your expenses, purchases and financial gains, and also ensure that the bank isn't making clerical errors on their side.

2. Talk to your co-workers or other individuals you might know about their own banking experiences. How long have they been banking with their individual place? Have they been hit with a multitude of hidden fees, or did they notice a strong return on their savings? Consider visiting a local branch of the banks they use and see how you are treated. If you notice frustrated customers or bad service, then reconsider starting an account there. If your friends or family have an account a particular bank, ask them about their experience.

3. Research the different account options. Whether you need online banking access, a free, no minimum balance checking account or a business account, do your research to see which bank offers the best options for your lifestyle. Read the information online and compare you options. You should also think about what specialized financial services you may need in the future. If you need the ability to transfer money worldwide or you require a business loan in future, find out if your bank offers these type of services

4. If you work for certain employers such as a major airline, large school district or other large corporation, they sometimes operate their own credit unions. These credit unions may provide you with extra benefits and options versus a regular bank. However, as with researching a bank, it's important to be completely informed as to what they're offering and to what extent, as well as the potential drawbacks.

Step Four: Housing

Nobody likes living at home with Mom and Dad. In fact, I know three college graduates who are residing with their parents, and actually have a curfew. Having not had a curfew since I set my own at 17, I think it's an unfortunate reality, but in this economic market, who can really blame them? Still, not everyone has that luxury. For example, in six months, I'll be moving across the country and obviously, living with my 'rents isn't really an option, and for about 70 percent of college graduates, this is the reality.

1. Make sure that your bank account is taken care of first thing. Many landlords or rental authorities require the first and last month's rent to be paid upfront with a certified check or money order.

2. Find your apartment. The process can be a long one, but it doesn't have to be difficult. It's a matter of common sense. Claes Bell suggests the following:

*Be informed. Before you even begin the application process, you should be upfront with questions and as well informed as possible about the property. Know where your potential landlord stands on pets, qualifications for tenants and other possible deal breakers. If you do have any potential red flags, such as lack of current employment, need for a co-signer or having a checkered credit history, mention those things at the beginning.

*Do a walk-through. Once the application process is done, the next step for a diligent renter is a thorough walk-through of the apartment, preferably with a property manager or owner, to make a note of any pre-existing damage. Make an itemized list of things that are wrong with the apartment, such as tattered blinds, a faulty doorknob or a leaky faucet, and have the agent sign it, otherwise there's a danger later that you could have to pay for it, warns Tracey McCartney, Executive Director of the Tennessee Fair Housing Council in Nashville.

*Get Renter's Insurance. If you already have an auto policy with an insurer, you may be able to get renters insurance through them. Either way, a renters policy is inexpensive, essential protection against theft, natural disaster and liability. If the apartment complex burns down, for example, the complex's insurance will pay for your apartment damage, but not your stuff. And if it's something in your apartment that burns stuff down, the apartment's authority company may try to come after you, whereas renter's insurance can protect you from that.

*Read the Lease. It seems common sensical, but most people don't read what they sign. Remember that scene in "Farenheit 9/11" when Michael Moore proved most representatives of Congress had failed to read The Patriot Act before they signed it? The same is true of the general public. However, the lease's fine print can spell a number of things out, such as if you want to have a significant other move in, move out early or arrange for a sublease. According to McCartney, you should never rent from a place that won't give you time to read the lease or offer you a copy to take home.

*Negotiate.. If you see something on the lease you don't like, don't be afraid to negotiate. Most landlords or property managers will have standard terms on things like security deposits and the term of the lease, but, depending on their circumstances and the market you're looking in, they may be willing to change their terms to get you into their property. In some situations, they may even be willing to negotiate the rent, so make sure that you have a list of things you may want to ask for prepared ahead of time. That way, when it comes time to hash these things out with a landlord, you won't forget anything in the heat of the moment. This is also a good time to address the issues you found during your walk-through. Whatever the case, do not sign the lease until you know who is responsible for what financially, and who to call in the future with issues. The next six to 12 months could either reward you for your due diligence or make you wish you'd been more thorough.

3. Budget for your expenses. Bell suggests that those preparing to enter their own apartment need to have the financing for six things:

a. Application fee or deposit holds the apartment while renter's background is checked.

b. Broker's fee if renter uses a third party to find the apartment.

c. Security deposit is usually one month's rent, refundable at the end of the lease.

d. First month's rent needs to be paid.

e. Insurance to cover renter's belongings.

f. The last month's rent.

4. If you're looking to lower the cost of living independently, investigate a roommate. Ask around at work--newly-separated individuals or married people in the middle of a divorce can make for good roommates because they're used to residing around another person and paying bills. Consider checking Craigslist or other online sites, but never be afraid to ask for references upfront. Meet the potential roommate in a public place and consider bringing along a friend for the initial interview. Always check the references out first and if you can, obtain a copy of their credit history. Once you have selected a roommate, outline the responsibility of chores and bills, and get it in writing. Have the roommate sign a lease or a sublease, agreeing to all the terms.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My First Real Budgetary Breakdown = Success!

So, I vowed a few days ago to adhere more strictly to my budget with this upcoming paycheck. Like many people in my age bracket, I have a tendency to over-spend, but generally speaking, my indulgences have been on food (read: over-spending at the grocery store, or at restaurants) or cosmetics. Fortunately, my last day at ULTA was yesterday, and my boyfriend was kind enough to stock me up on my favorite line, Benefit, during his most recent visit.

In any case, I received my paycheck from the hotel yesterday, for $402.10, which I knew had to be properly placed and used for my bank accounts, bills and other expenditures from Olathe to Merriam. And thanks to an awesome article hosted on, I even managed to save on my gas during the two and a half hours I was running errands.

My first stop was at Brotherhood Bank, where I keep a savings account. I deposited $52.10, and then received the rest in cash. I allowed myself to skimp on the $100 deposit because my paycheck is a little smaller due to trading shifts with Rachel last week, and because I'll be making an additional deposit this upcoming Friday from my cash-only job delivering fliers.

Oh, yes. I have a job that pays me that I have not calculated into my budget, because the hours are uncertain and inconsistent. Although it pays $12 an hour, it seems unwise to expect a bare minimum output, because I know as soon as I do that, Dixie is going to cut my hours like she did last summer. Anyway, the pay will be around $120, and $50 will be put into my savings account.

My next stop was my checking account at Commerce Bank. I deposited $200 of my cash because due to the ordeal of losing my bank card, I've written three checks over the last few days with the total being somewhere in the $120 range for groceries, debt and other needs. Although when I last checked my account balance a week ago it was over $200, it just seems better safe than sorry. In fact, I have a theory that with all the late fees and everything else that I've had to pay to Commerce in the last two years, they should name a wing of the bank after me. This is, of course, what happens when you fail to read the fine print and discover that your bank requires a minimum balance of $150 not to screw you over.

In any case, that left me with $150. So after I finished up at Commerce, I drove to the gas station to get gas, which I luckily found for $3.82, because it recently hit $4, much to the outrage of the greater Kansas City area. I put $30 in my gas tank, which used to fill it up but now only gives me half a tank, knocking my cash flow to $120.

After I finished pumping gas, I set off to Sprint to pay my bill. Because I downloaded a few ringtones and went over my minutes (slightly) my bill was a little higher than average, but at $40, right within my allotted budget. I even put forth an extra dollar, as a kind of downpayment on next month's bill, because I happened to find it in my wallet and wanted to deal with whole numbers. I left Sprint with $80 in my pocket.

I also needed to pick up Savannah's arthritis medicine, and her vet is located right next door to the Sprint building. For a month's supply, I had to cough up $43. Because her medicine alone exceeded my allocated budget, I recognize I'll have to recalibrate some things, but I was also glad I hadn't deposited $100 into my savings account. I forked over the cash, albeit begrudgingly, and rescheduled Little Bit's wellness exam for June 30.

My next stop was PetSmart, also conveniently located next door, so I didn't even have to drive and saved my car's gas consumption by walking. I picked up the dog food and courtesy of both my PetPerks card and some coupons, I only had to spend $20 on dogfood, instead of the usual $25. I also picked up some dental treats, bringing my grand PetSmart total to $30.

Although I had very few dollars left, I still needed to go to both ULTA (to pick up Barrick's birthday present) and Wal-Mart. Due to the nature of what I purchased at ULTA, I had to write a check and spent $79. At Wal-Mart, I spent $13, which I charged to my card.

The breakdown is as follows:

1. Gas
Total Allowance: $140
Total Used: $30
Total Remaining in Budget: $110

2. Grocery
Total Allowance: $160
Total Used: $13
Total Remaining in Budget: +147

3. Cellphone
Total Allowance: $40
Total Used: $40
Total Remaining in Budget: 0

4. Dogs
Total Allowance: $50
Total Used: $73
Total Remaining in Budget: -23

5. Miscellaneous
Total Allowance: $100
Total Used: $79
Total Remaining in Budget: +21

Dollars remaining for monthly budget: $261
Total debts to be resolved: $136
Total flow within budget: $125

So, it's about $75 short of my ideal $200 balance at the end of each month, but this is also independent of both my ULTA paycheck (which is automatically deposited into my checking account) and the paycheck from the hotel which will arrive on the 27th.

Still, I'm fairly proud of myself. I'm going to go over on my Miscellaneous expenses this month, just because I've spoiled Barrick for his birthday. I purchased him a bottle of
Burberry Brit cologne ($35; discounted courtesy of my employment status at ULTA) which also included a complimentary bath wrap, a Fossil watch ($33; discounted because I grabbed it from eBay), and the accomodations for our hotel stay in Las Vegas next month ($120).

Thankfully, I paid for the watch and the hotel stay prior to committing a budget, so it's really only his cologne that is setting me back, as well as whether or not I decide to engrave the watch ($20) and/or purchase him a copy of "Robot Chicken: Star Wars" ($10). But that would still fall within my allotted "Miscellaneous" allowance, because his cologne, engraved watch and DVD would only be $63.

Whatever the case, I feel so functional, it's almost impossible to believe that not only am I actually spending my money, but I'm doing it in a reasonable fashion. In fact, after this month, I'll have more money left over, because I recently found out that my employment at the hotel makes my gym membership free. Needless to say, I'll be cancelling my exclusive membership and jumping on the hotel's bandwagon.

My New Long Term Goal

While reading Get Rich Slowly this morning, which I've decided might be my new favorite website, I cam to the conclusion that I need a long term goal. A goal that I don't plan to reach for several years ... like 20 or something like that.

I want to retire no later than 50.

There. It's written down, plain and simple. And thanks to the great stuff over at GRS I think that I might be able to do it. I mean ... really do it. I want to be able to spend a big part of my life doing what I love to do the most - NOTHING.

I want to be able to sit around and stare at a wall if that's what I decide I feel like doing that day. I want to be able to get on a train and be gone for a week without worrying about whether or not I got my time out sheet to the secretary on time. I want to be able to do whatever I want when I want and I think the best way to make that happen is to take my destiny into my own hands and make this happen.

So how do I plan on doing this? Well, that's the hard part. And God only knows how much money I am going to need as I get older. As my grandmother so aptly put it in my 23rd birthday card I might end up being "one of the chosen ones" who lives FOREVER. My grandfather is going to be 102 years old next month and he is healthy as a horse and shows no signs of leaving us anytime soon. The reason my grandmother gave me such a happy birthday sentiment is that they are going to outlive their retirement savings. And Nana needs lots of pain medication and those cost a lot of money ... Papa doesn't need any medication. Like I said, he's healthy as a horse.

Ok, considering that I will be putting quite a bit more thought into this when I have the chance to sit down and really map out my plan, here is what my plan is (more or less):
  • spend less than I make and save the rest
  • invest!
  • start a 401k (I really hope Clickspeed offers them) or an IRA, some sort of retirement account
  • pay off all debts and cut up all credit cards (which I'm already working on)
I am going to spend some time this weekend talking to my dad about stocks that I might like to get into and maybe opening a mutual fund or something ... I don't know. Like I said, I need to spend some time really thinking this through. But that's the basic idea. I want to be done with working and being a grown up by the time I'm 50. Just in time to enjoy my glory years.

Also, I would like to tell everyone that I am going to be paying off my Macy's account in full this afternoon. I only owe them $94 and some cents and then I am done with them forever! YAY!! I am so happy because while I have never really had a problem remembering to pay my other credit card bills, for some reason Macy's always fell through the cracks. I have had to pay a bunch of late fees on this account and I'm sure that part of the reason my credit score is low is because of this damn Macy's card.

The only reason I got it in the first place was because in order to get your employee discount you have to charge what you buy. Those sneaky bastards knew exactly what they were doing when they made that policy. Sure, they give you a paycheck, but then you really are giving the whole thing back to them in interest and late fees. Bah Humbug is what I say to that sir.

So, once I get Macy's paid off I will only have 3 credit accounts left to pay off and a debt that I owe my parents but they aren't charging me an interest which is nice. And this is what they are:
  • Citi Card: $1,593.28
  • Capital One: $462.37
  • UMB (my bank's overdraft protection): $444.00
  • Mom and Dad: $1,790.00
I plan on paying down UMB first since I actually might need that sometime in the future (although I am going to do everything in my power to avoid needing to use it), then Captial One, Citi Card, and finally paying back my parents. Then it'll be all profits. WONDERFUL!

Monday, June 9, 2008

J.G. Wentworth Commericals - Working for You

I thought about something as I was walking into Macy's today to pay another $65 on my bill (which brings my total owed to $94.32 ... YAY!). For some reason the J.G. Wentworth commercial popped into my head. You know, the one where the people stick their heads out of their windows and yell "It's my money and I need it now!". Now, I don't have a structured settlement or an annuity, but it did occur to me that I was walking into the store to give my money to someone else. And not only that, but the fact that I had been paying them interest for far too long on the amount I had on my credit card.

I wanted to run into the store and scream at the top of my lungs ... "It's my money and I don't want to give it to you because I want to use it for other things!" This is my loose translation of the J.G. Wentworth commercial as it applies to my situation. But seriously, I could think of a million things to do with my $65 that did not include giving it to Macy's.

It really motivated me to hit my goals of paying down my debt aggressively over the next two months. I don't want to give anyone any more of my money unless I want to. I never thought that a commercial could be so empowering.

My Monthly Budget Outline

So, it goes without saying that my impending move to California has brought up the balancing act of budgeting, finances and how in the world I'm going to justify the purchase of a new wardrobe.

After looking over the black-and-white ink of my ever-dwindling bank account, my tight-fisted father looked over at me and said, "You realize you're broke for the next six months, right."

No, it wasn't a question.

So began the process of numbering out my budget. It's going to cost me approximately $1,300 to move in December. That includes the cost of the U-Haul I will have to rent to transport my worldly material goods from my duplex in the suburbs of Kansas City to a tiny apartment in the sprawl of Chico, California, the gas that will go into that U-Haul and if I'm feeling particularly generous, the cost of the Dad's plane ticket to return back to Kansas City.

The first way to accomplish this is to pencil out a monthly budget complete with a six-month plan.

So, my income after taxes is around $928 from my primary job as a front-desk clerk at a hotel. Although I make $10.50 per hour, I'm estimating my actual hourly earning as $8.50 to be more careful, and estimating it as working 32 hours a week, although it's usually closer to 40. It's safer to go with averages, after all.

My budget is as follows:

1. Gas.

It takes about $40 to fill up my tank, and I generally have to fill it up once a week. Therefore, it's save to average $160 for gas, monthly.
Allowance: $160.

2. Groceries.

There was a time when all I lived on was Lean Cuisine, because I've always been conscientious of my weight. Now, because I'm too apathetic to cook and I really don't like to eat that much, my groceries have been pretty much reduced to staples. I purchase organic milk, tea bags, organic honey, wheat bread, naturally processed eggs (in paper containers rather than Styrofoam, of course), creamy peanut butter and generally a few Lean Cuisines or Weight Watchers Smart Ones. I've noticed that the Weight Watchers Smart Ones taste better and are generally cheaper individually, but when you're buying bulk, Lean Cuisines are frequently less expensive. A grocery run, on average, costs me about $80, and I try not to go more than twice a month.

Allowance: $160.

3. Cell phone.

My cellphone, when I'm responsible, only costs me around $20 a month. Given that I'm in a long-distance relationship with a man who is allergic to calling me during my night time and weekend allowance (he uses AT&T, and I'm on Sprint) and have several friends that I talk to frequently that have not yet converted to Sprint, it's not uncommon for me to exceed my allotted 300 anytime minutes and suffer an overage charge. So I'll allow $40, to be on the safe side.

Allowance: $40.

4. Miscellaneous.

I have a gym membership that I absolutely love, and it only costs me $40 a month. I'll also throw entertainment needs of $60, which includes purchasing clothes, make-up, books and eating out. I don't include seeing movies, because I don't have to pay for those, courtesy of my press pass.

Allowance: $100.

5. Pets.

I have two dogs, who are aged six and 10 respectively. Given their advanced ages and my own background in vet sciences, I prefer to feed them a mixture of Purina One Senior Protection, which delivers several essential nutrients and vitamins to protect their aging systems, and Purina One Healthy Weight Formula. Generally speaking, mixing the two, 11-pounds of dog food together keeps them fed for two weeks, and each bag costs about $12. So food runs me around $25 a month.

My 10-year-old is also arthritic, so weight loss is critical to ensuring her long-term viability. Additionally, to treat her arthritis, I need to keep her supplied with glucosamine tablets (I'm partial to peanut butter-flavored brands, because the dog can be tricked into believing they're treats) and her prescription medication.

Allowance: $50 (for food, treats and medication).

6. Savings

I have a Savings Account which requires a minimum balance of $100 at all times. Currently, I believe it is at $200. Starting with my paycheck that arrives on Thursday, $100 per paycheck will be placed in my Savings, because that's where I intend to focus the financing of the move. In six months, I will have generated $1200 just by depositing that small increment of my paycheck.

Allowance: $200.

So, my total monthly budget is at $710. This still leaves me with about $200 to keep in my checking account for "emergencies."

The Joys of Pet Ownership

It has come time for me to head over to Petsmart and purchase a ton of dog essentials for my puppies. I thought I might detail them out here. I also wanted to take some time and compare the prices from the store or the vet and the 1-800-petmeds website which claims to sell the things I need cheaply and without charging shipping. These are the things that I need for the dogs ...

*Heatguard (to protect against heart worms): Luckily the dogs fall into the same weight category which means I can buy a year's worth and have six months for each dog.
*Advantix or something similar (to protect against fleas and ticks, well worth the money to avoid the hassle): Unfortunately, the dogs don't fall into the same weight category which means that I have to buy a box for each dog. Bleh.
*It's also time for them to go into the vet and get tested for heart worm and they both need their teeth cleaned which is a couple hundred for both of them.
*They also need to get groomed, which usually runs around $75 for both of them. At least, that's how much it was at my old groomer.

I will have to spend a little time looking up prices and calling my vet to see how much they'd charge me for this stuff। That information will be forth coming as soon as I have the time to sit down and do it.

EDIT/UPDATE: I called my vet and checked out some prices online, and it turns out that everything I need to get is cheaper at my vet's office! What's more ... I called and got the boys scheduled for their teeth cleaning in two weeks. Now get this - I saved a TON of money by staying with my Lawrence Vet rather than just going to one of the vets over by my parents' place. On average the cost for a teeth cleaning in town was $350 PER DOG plus they wanted to keep the dogs overnight to observe them.

My Lawrence vet charges $152 per dog and I get to take them home with me that night. Which I love because when you pick them up they're still a little doped up from the anesthesia and it's so funny to watch them wander around the house. So, I will get to spend the same amount to get both of my dogs' teeth cleaned as it would to get just one done here in Overland Park. I guess it's a good thing that I called around!

You might think that I would be upset about taking a day off to go to Lawrence and deal with 3 dopey dogs (my mom was so impressed with the savings that I'm taking one of the family pets with me to get her teeth cleaned too) when I could spend the day working. It really isn't all that bad! My boyfriend gets back into town the night before after being out of town for 2 1/2 weeks and so I will get to spend the day with him and get this dog stuff taken care of at the same time. Now all I need to do is get them groomed and I won't have to spend money on them again for another couple of months.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Spending with my budget

So now that I have a budget, I have gone out into the world with my money and spent a little bit of it and so far I think I'm doing alright. The first thing that I've been doing is spending cash ... not using my debit card or writing checks (expect for paying bills of course) but actually using cold hard cash. I read some where that using cash makes you realize what you're actually spending.

And it makes sence when you stop and think about it. When you buy a $60 sweater and pay for it with a card, all you see really is a small piece of plastic and some paper that you're asked to sign. When you pay for the same sweater with cash, you have to pull three $20 dollar bills out of your wallet and hand it over to the clerk. Handling the money kind of makes you think about the other things that you could be spending it on. Like paying down debt or paying for the gas bill that month, or even putting the money into a savings account so that you can earn some interest on it.

Since I have such a small amount of money to spend on clothes I've decided that the time to reign in my expensive clothing habits. I have decided that I will only buy clothes when they are on sale. So today I had some extra time before I had to babysit so I went into American Eagle to see if they had anything that was on sale and cute. I managed to find a pair of my favorite style jeans on sale for $20 ... I don't know how much they are regularly but I do know that the other jean styles that were on sale were $30. So, since I was saving a little I decided that I would let myself get a shirt off the sale rack, hopefully for super cheap. The shirt I ended up buying was $15, but with a cardigan it's something that I can wear to work and can sex up a little to wear out on the town too. I may have spend almost my whole budget for the month today, but I feel like what I got was good stuff.

Also, I'm getting ready to pay off one of my smaller debts in full in the next few weeks. I am SO EXCITED!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Budgeting tid-bits

So yesterday, while I was laying out my grand scheme on how I was going to save money and how I as going to spend it, I forgot a few things ...

I have two dogs and they have needs that often require money. These include:
*grooming (every few months or so)
*vet care
*food and treats
*anything that needs to be replaced (usually leashes every few years ...)

I also forgot to lay down a plan or allow any money to pay off my bills.
*I am going to continue to pay down my big card debt with the minimum payment (~$30)
*For the 3 smaller ones I want to keep paying them off in increments of $50 or so (depending on how much I can spare) until they are gone.

I think that about covers it.

Also - I have a friend who will be joining me as an author of Master of My Money. She should start writing here in a few days so get excited! She is quite the opposite of me financially. She doesn't like to spend money at all and is a self proclaimed "cheap chick". She is also getting ready to move out to sunny California in December which will bring an even more interesting twist to the blog as we get to follow her on her journey out to the wild (and more expensive) west.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Intro and Budgeting

So ... let me open this up by telling you a little about myself. I am 23 and have just gotten out of college. I have a full time job, but it's hourly pay. I'm technically still an intern but I hope that by doing some really hard work and learning all I can I might be able to secure a salaried position some time in the near future. I plan on living with my parents (ugh, I know) until I have the funds that I will need to move out and get a place of my own. The area where I live is a little on the pricey side, and if you want to live in a nice area, the lowest price I've found for a one bedroom apartment is $549 and that's before you add utilities and pet rent (I have two small dogs).

I decided that since I enjoy reading other personal finance blogs I might try my hand at it and see if maybe I can do it myself. Now, I don't think that I will be able to offer much in the way of advice but support is something I can definitely lend. This blog would be more of a chronicle of my own personal savings and my journey to eliminate the small amount of debt I have racked up and create a nice savings account. Maybe I'll even venture into the world of investing! Or start a retirement account! The possibilities are endless.

Now, if I've picked up anything from my time reading about other people dealing with their money it's that the first step is to form a budget. I also know that the best way to save is to pay yourself first and live on what's left over. I think that it's also really important to set goals for yourself. So - let's jump right in.

My Savings Goal: I want to have at least $1200 in my savings account by July 31. (I currently have $150 in savings)
My Debt Goal: I want to have all of my small debts (2 under $500) paid off by July 31 and my big debt ($1600) at least halfway paid down by August 31.
My Budget:
My monthly income is about $1,560 before taxes.
I want to save at least 12% of that a month which would be about $187.20, again before taxes.
So, given these two things, that leaves me $1,372.80.

I think I can live on that very nicely ... but there need to be some allowances made for spending. I get paid twice a month so each of these allowances will be taken out in half's from each of my paychecks (which means that I can take out $50 from my first paycheck for gas and going out and $50 from my second paycheck for the total $100)
I will allow $100 to be spent on gas monthly ($1,272.80)
I will allow $100 to be spent on going out to bars and having fun with friends ($1,172.80)
I will allow $50 to be spent on clothes ($1,122.80)
And for good measure I'll throw in an extra $50 for any unexpected things that may come up over the course of the month ($1072.80)

Ok. According to this budget I should have about $1,000, give or take, just sitting in my bank account at the end of every month. That would be pretty cool, let's see if it really works. Since I've already been paid once this month, I am going to put this budget into effect starting next month. Wish me luck!