Friday, November 2, 2007

Remembering Those Who Are Less Fortunate

Tithing, donating, charitable giving, it doesn't matter which name you use for it, giving back to the community is what helps to build a community. Tonight I was invited to a book signing that was a fundraiser for an organization that builds schools in Central Asian countries. An interesting point that the author made is that the amount the US spends to help build Iraq communities is quite a bit, yet its not as beneficial as it should be. Don't worry, this isn't a post where I get on my political soap box, rather an observation of our responsibility to ensure the money we give is being used effectively.
We are entering the season of giving when organizations mail out their annual request letters; school children are loaded down with brochures selling wrapping paper, cookie dough, and holiday greens; people are out ringing bells; and donation cans are passed around. Its also the season when questionable requests are made. Before you drop a few coins in the jar, see if its a reputable charity. Don't be afraid to ask organizations how much of each dollar goes to their programs and how much goes to administrative expenses. If your favorite kid is asking you to buy something, see if you can donate money or supplies to the organization rather than the marketing company that will give them $.05 for every dollar spent.
Make your donation work just as hard as if it were in your budget.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Costco - Land of Opportunity or Budget Buster?

I have the unique responsibility in my office to be in charge of the Costco run. My office is fairly generous because it supplies things like butter, cream cheese, brownies, and other items that help employees prepare lunch. I try to plan my trips and limit my purchases. Living on my own, its not easy to stockpile, but with some careful planning, I can take advantage of deals I find.

I buy prepackaged chicken breasts to keep in the freezer. It may not be the most economical way to buy chicken, but the convenience of cooking two up and keeping them in the fridge for a week of meals is invaluable.

Prepackaged meals are usually high in fat and calories not to mention more expensive than cooking from scratch, but if the choice of dining out or throwing something in the microwave it may be worth the purchase. I keep a few easy comfort foods in the freezer to prevent unnecessary fast food temptation at bay.

Solid Pack Canned Tuna is a good staple to have around for sandwiches, salads, and casseroles. Solid Pack may be appear to be more expensive, but its better quality and more cost effective if purchased on sale. I try not to spend more than $1.00 per can.

Chips are inexpensive and I can divide the bag out into convenient snack packs using sandwich bags.

Don't fall for the huge packaging. If you aren't going to use the item within a year, it may be a waste of space. One way to help fight this excess is to go shopping with friends, co-workers, or family members and splitting an item. While I don't need 12 cans of broth, I can easily store 6 and split a pack with a co-worker.

Check prices and cost per units. Just because Costco sells it doesn't mean its a bargain. Get familiar with the items you regularly purchase and don't be afraid to research items that look appealing. Impulse buys will kill a budget and many Costco purchases are made because you never know if the item will still be in stock on the next trip. Use the 24 hour rule. If you didn't plan on purchasing the item, don't. Go home and sleep on it.

Finally, take a set amount of cash with you. Don't take checks, credit, or debit cards. Its easy to justify a "few more dollars" if you have that possibility. Remind yourself you don't have to spend the whole amount either.

And the New Goals for November Are...

First, I've recommitted to the Reduce A Bill Challenge at Working for Financial Freedom. Last month I committed to 10 No Spend Days. I admit that I got close, but I didn't quite make it. This month, I'm sticking with the 10 No Spend Days, but I'm upping the anti by limiting days I dine out to no more than 3 a week that I pay for.
Next, I am going to add another $100 to the emergency fund.
After that, I am working on the first of three credit cards. If I really buckle down, it would be an early Christmas for me if I paid that off. Its set for payoff in December.
Finally, I am going to send off another $50 to my Roth IRA.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

October Goals In Review

Goals for October:
Pay back my stepfather for that emergency loan in June. There is $400 left. I have a $100 check for him that will make a dent. I also have a $200 check coming in from some contract work that will go to him as well. Its not the full $400, but its a good start.
Put $100 into my emergency fund. Thanks to the No Spend Day Challenge, I have that $100 to put towards this fund. That brings it to $300 in the fund.
Cut my meals out to twice a week and no more than $25 per week. Not a great month for this. I will need to work harder at this which includes reevaluating my menu planning and expanding choices to eliminate boredom. I am house sitting again this month so it also means planning for that time I'm not at home. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on how many meals you can make from rotisserie chicken.
Pay off $300 debt. I am happy to say I put another debt to bed so count this one a success!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Holiday Season Challenge - Catching Up With Friends And Family

Its really easy to get overwhelmed with everyone you want to see during the holiday season. Consider starting early and scheduling get togethers in November. After all, there shouldn't be an expiration date on time out with friends and family. There is no rule that states you must see everyone between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. Try scheduling time together preparing for festivities like baking, writing notes, creating gifts, or participating in holiday events. It's not about checking someone off of your list, but rather enjoying the time you spend together.

Gas Prices Hit A New High... Again?!?

Its the topic nobody wants to talk about and yet we can't avoid it. Gas prices are going up again. We complain and yet our prices are still no where near Europe's or other countries around the world. Europe has the benefit of already having the culture of walking everywhere or taking a scooter. In the US and Canada, however, we are much more spread out in most of the country and while the bigger cities have great transit systems, even more lack pedestrian friendly layouts.

In my quest to find new transportation, I have been revelling in the fact that it has only cost me $35 at the most to fill up my tank. I bought a Honda CR-V so I didn't think it would be that low, but anything would be less than my old car. Bessie would guzzle $45-50 every two weeks. OUCH! In my quest to find other ways to save gas, I found a website hosted by the US government, Check out this link for ideas on saving gas by adjusting your driving habits, tips on maintaining your car, and alternative means of transportation. Side benefit? Most of these tips help improve our effects on the environment too.