Monday, September 8, 2008

The "B" Word... Budget

A few years ago, I created a full spreadsheet budget. This baby has everything down to formulas for income to expense ratio (a truly scary experience when you realize what that is.) Every year I faithfully sit down and figure changes to the budget while trying to tweak it to get the optimal debt repayment plan. And then life happens... the gift you've got to pick up... the dish you're supposed to bring to the potluck but unexpectedly ran out of a crucial ingredient... the long distance drive that brought the gas tank down to empty.

My budgets never give me enough elbow room to deal with the little things. As a result, my progress on debt repayment is more like two steps forward and one step back. Tonight I took two very big steps forward. I cut up all of my credit cards. I haven't abused them like I did when I started this mess, but I still fall back on them when my budget didn't make it. I just solved that problem with a couple of snips. That safety net doesn't exist anymore. The second step was evaluating just how short my budget really is. I figured out that I need to increase my income by $150 per month because I don't have any give until I can pay off two minor debts. Those two are my focus with a plan of taking them off the board in the next two weeks.

Moral of the story... BE REALISTIC.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Alternative Transportation

There was a time when I received assistance with my parking, but after my '84 Olds meet her untimely death, I never asked to have that assistance reinstated. I've been paying my parking ever since. For a time, I had a carpool buddy. Granted we never discussed how much he was going to contribute and I took his age and lack of income into consideration I didn't push the question. When I lost my carpool buddy, I bit the bullet and started taking mass transit. I don't know why I didn't do this sooner except that I was concerned about loosing my parking spot. I knew it would be impossible to get it back.

Confession... I live within walking distance of Fareless Square, an area of town where you don't have to pay for a ticket as long as you stay within "Fareless Square." The walk is about 10 blocks, but I'm enjoying to peace and quiet. It helps me relax before sitting down to my desk. The time on the bus has given me a chance to read, something I haven't had time for in quite awhile. I will have to reevaluate this choice if they get rid of this zone as the rumors have been suggesting.

On the really nice days, I've been walking all the way to work, which is about 2 miles. If they do get rid of Fareless Square, that's always an option and finally have no fear, I have a backup. My bike is tuned and ready to be put into action. I live in a very bike friendly city and am practicing on the weekends.

Finally, when the season changes and the rains come in, I have started networking for a new carpool buddy. I think I've got a good one lined up for the rainy season.

Bottom line, I'm saving $8 per day or $140 per month and I'm happy to say that I've already lost 15 pounds. Consider alternatives. Its good for the earth. Its good for your body. Its good for the pocketbook.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How Many Meals Can You Make Out of 1 Chicken Breast?

As a single person, its difficult to be inspired to cook a meal for one. One of my favorite ways to combat this boredom is to cook chicken breasts to leave in the freezer and fridge to pull out when I don't want to cook. Below are a few suggestions for the simple chicken breast.

Chicken Quesadilla - Take chicken slices and spread out in a tortilla. Add shredded cheese (any kind will do.) Then get wild with all the choices. Italian: Use mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. Club: Add bacon and blue cheese. Mexican: Sour cream, salsa, and olives.

Chicken and Pasta - Add Parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, and a bit of cream. (I cheat with a touch of sour cream for thickness.)

Chicken Shepard's Pie/Pot Pie - Use left over mashed potatoes, biscuits, croissant, etc., gravy or cream of mushroom soup, carrots, peas, and mushrooms.

Chicken Bento - Leftover rice (I tend to make a big batch over the weekend and keep it in the fridge to warm up.) and vegetables with a touch of teriyaki sauce. Heat in microwave.

Chicken Salad - Get creative. Anything goes.

What ideas can you come up with?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September Goals

The journey to debt repayment isn't always an easy one. For me there have been many trips and stumbling blocks along the way, but my determination still stands. I look at the stock market and think, "Now is a great time to scoop up some of those bargains." I'm looking at the housing market and think, "If I hadn't gotten myself into this mess, I could be purchasing a home now." Its difficult to keep the enthusiasm up when you deprive yourself even if the goals in sight are what you really desire.

During this quiet period, I've picked up a second job to help pay down my debt quicker. While my determination to get on top of my debt is strong, I took a look at my spending lately and realized that I haven't gotten very far and its because I've been taking care of those things I put on the back burner. You may think you remember where your at in your plans, but it often takes a look at the hard copy to get the real picture. So, with that said...

My Goals for September ~
- Take parking down to $40 for the month (If I get reimbursed for it, that's even better.)
So far I've only driven once this month and my mom paid for it because I was her taxi.
- Take my lunch four times a week. Limit dining out to 1 lunch per week.
- Pay off 401k loan. I know, I know, BIG MISTAKE to take a loan out against your 401k!
- Create Christmas list so I can take advantage of sales over the next 3 months.
- Add $50 to Emergency Fund
- Add $50 to Roth IRA

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Updates and Evaluations

I've been reevaluating my ability to save money and taking a hard look at my decisions. Its easy to say I'm paying off debt, but a completely different reality when I realized I was only partially committed. I'm happy to say that I've started to use public transportation and even walking to work. It's saving me at least $8 a day in parking. I've been working at packing my lunch and breakfast which is saving me $5 for breakfast and $12 for lunch. I'm making sure I get my money's worth out of my gym membership frequently making workout dates with friends rather than going out for dinner or coffee. Finally, I've picked up some side work on the weekends which is bringing in some much needed extra cash.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Inexpensive Birthday Celebrations

When you're on a budget and looking for an inexpensive way to host a party, consider a bit of nostalgia. Bowling offers the opportunity to talk with everyone and yet provides an activity. For a rental fee of about $3 for shoes and $2 per game after 8pm, you just can't miss.

Today was a close friend's birthday. Inspired by a recent trip she took to Hawaii, I went to the party store and spent $15 in decorations and favors. I know I could have saved quite a bit, but it was worth it and I can reuse most of it for another island themed party. I purchased silk flower leis, a posable cardboard dancer, tropical fish bendy straws (because its not a party without fun straws!), and a crown for the party princess. Dinner consisted of 1 pizza for $14.75 and atomic cheese nachos as a joke for the birthday girl ($3.75).

Now, I have to admit that I could have done this for less, but there was no clean up and I was able to participate as much as everyone else because I didn't have to do anything.

As for the the party itself, I think everyone enjoyed the music from the 80s, neon setting, and of course, those fashionable shoes!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Debt Repayment Update

After struggling for some time with my repayment plan, I've been pushing forward with efforts to increase my income. My first step was to call a bakery I used to work for. Knowing June is a huge wedding season, I asked if they needed help with delivery. I've now completed two weekends and earned $250. Helping a friend rent her apartment I've scored another $100. Best of all, my $600 kicker check should be here by the end of the week.

All of this will ensure I reach my goal of paying off a 401k loan.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Knowing When Food Is Freshest Will Save Money!

Shopping at Farmers' Markets is becoming the "In" thing to do. Stopping by a road side stand to pick up fresh berries while on a road trip adds to the flavor of travel. Going out to the pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin is all part of the fall experience. What may not be as obvious is the money we save by participating. Eating food that is in season and at its freshest helps the local economy by supporting farmers; it saves fuel because fruits and vegetables don't have to be flown in from other countries; and it limits the amount of chemicals that have to be used to force fruits and vegetables to ripen.

Not sure when fruits and vegetables are in season? Check out the Center for Urban Educations Sustainable Agriculture site where they have a chart for Fruits and Vegetables.

While you're at it, consider picking up extra and saving it for later. Most Fruits and Vegetables can be frozen or canned for later use. My family also makes a batch of apple sauce and jam to store for the year. I can't tell you the last time we purchased either item at a store.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Apartment Living Doesn't Limit Your Ability To Grow Your Own Food

Between the price of food skyrocketing, the interest in fresh food that actually tastes like I expect it should, and continuing scares of salmonella in tomatoes, I have been looking into gardening options. For those that live in a house, it may be a challenge if you're not into yard work, but for those of us that live in apartments it provides a lot more challenges.

Inspired by a posting on Wisebread by Linsey Knerl called "The Ultimate Green Workout," I began to examine ways to supplement my food budget. When I had a deck it was easy. I'd invest in large planters and grow cherry tomatoes, herbs, and peas. Hanging baskets are great for cucumbers and zucchini.

Today, I have a bigger challenge. I have no outside space and no deck or patio. So with determination I began to brainstorm ideas.
  • Look into Community Gardens. For a small fee you can "rent" a small plot to plant.
  • Family members and friends are often in need of help in the yard. Consider a labor swap for gardening benefits.
  • Talk to landlord about planting an edible landscape. It's environmentally friendly to utilize garden space for food rather than high maintenance lawns or shrubbery.
  • Check out Gleaning. Gleaning has a long tradition in farming communities where groups go out into fields after the crop has been picked to pick remaining produce that was missed. You can find information on Gleaning groups on-line, at local food banks, and Granges.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cooking For One Versus A Family

If you are cooking for one or even two, you know how frustrating it can be. It's difficult to keep a variety of fresh meals in the house and eat everything before it goes bad. I have another confession to make to those that don't have to struggle through those daily frustrations of singlehood, we tend not to cook because its just as easy to graze on throw together food like a bowl of popcorn, peanut butter sandwich, or cheese and crackers. So when an opportunity to share cooking responsibilities comes up we jump at it.

I work at an office with a group of people that often eats lunch together. Today we discussed and decided to purchase groceries and prepare group lunches. This has great potential, but it also has the ability to get a bit expensive. I've agreed to participate in a moderate fashion at first. Tomorrow's big experiment will be salmon with asparagus. I'm going to keep track of cost and compare to both buying lunch and packing lunch.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

If Its Not A Recession Why Is It So Difficult To Pay The Expenses

Forgive me for taking two months off, but my frustration level with my financial situation reached new heights. Its during those periods, when I go "off the wagon," that I get into lots of trouble. The good news is I didn't go out and spend lots of money. I did get the LASIK surgery so that's made a dent in my repayment plan. I also took a small vacation to Kauai, Hawaii, but thanks to generous parent of a friend and a flight certificate from United for a botched trip in December I only spent about $500.

So it looks like I've got a fresh start or at least that's what I'm focusing on to counter the frustration factor. During my two month hiatus I've been checking into green alternatives to everyday living. I'm most interested in those things that save money which includes trying to eliminate prepared foods and cooking more from scratch. I also remember an article I read some time ago that discussed the cost of clutter. In an effort to cut costs I'm evaluating all the things I own. The first step was to donate an old mattress, box springs, and frame to a local non-profit that gives household items to low income families getting back on their feet either because of leaving everything behind in a domestic abuse environment, getting a first apartment after living on the streets, or helping fire victims. To keep up momentum I took a few clothes to a consignment store. Tomorrow I'll be pulling things out for eBay and a yard sale. It's also time to start menu planning again. I've been guilty of living at restaurants lately and not shopping enough.

In reading through my blog roll I ran across a posting that introduced me to Its a website that addresses the problem of throwing away an average of 1/3 of all groceries purchased. That's a huge waste of money as well as resources. The site provides suggestions on stocking a pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It then provides dining suggestions and has a great tool that suggests recipes when you click on foods that you need to use up before it goes bad.

Goals for June:
  • Hold garage sale
  • Pay off 401k loan
  • Catch up on expenses
  • Earn an extra $200 to snowflake

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You Never Know When Money May Knock On Your Door

I participated in the taste test today and discovered they are looking for more people next week. It looks like I will have another opportunity to make $20. It usually takes less than 30 minutes and I try to schedule it during my lunch hour so I get lunch as well. I also got a confirmation from the Mock Jury project. Yeah!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Take Advantage of Holiday Savings

Holidays are a great time to save money on groceries. Ham, pineapple, asparagus, strawberries, butter, breakfast sweets, eggs, and entertainment items, now is the time to push your grocery budget and stock up.

Unfortunately, I've never had any success freezing ham. It oozes water, becomes mushy and just doesn't freeze well. Instead, I'm looking for smaller portions to use in sandwiches, omelettes, casseroles, and soup. My favorite dish is an adapted spaghetti carbonara, a pasta with a parmesan, cream sauce, peas, and panchetta. Panchetta is an italian style bacon.

This is also the beginning of the growing season. California strawberries are at their best, big, juicy, and flavorful. Not only am I picking some up for breakfast and snacks, but I'm also getting some to freeze for smoothies later in the year. Stawberries also bring homemade jam to mind, but I admit I'd rather just eat them fresh.

Other items to think about picking up include:
For the freezer ~ butter. rolls, baked goods, and fish.
For next easter ~ baskets, easter grass, plastic eggs, and paper goods.

The Tax Man Cameth

I know it was my money already, but that doesn't make the day I receive my tax refund check any less exciting. Due to decent planning, my check was only a few hundred dollars. You may ask why that's a good thing, but it means that I didn't loan the government much interest free money.

My first stop was to make a 2nd payment on a Visa card. The second stop was to a department store to pay off a card. Yes, I agree that store cards are high interest, but this one is a rewards card and I pay it off quickly if not monthly. Felt good!

I did the shift this weekend, but didn't work as many hours as I hoped. At least I was able to put $5 towards my emergency fund and fill up the tank of my car. Tomorrow I have a taste test that will bring in another $20 for my emergency fund.

Lastly, I received an email from a local college asking me if I was still interested in participating in a mock jury. If I fit the criteria I will earn $100 for 5 hours of work. That will be a nice addition to the pot.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Every Bit Helps

I picked up three hours of work tonight, which unfortunately is a lot less than I thought I was going to work. Oh well, at least its something. I was also able to pick up some bakery product at a discount so my Easter baskets are finished, I picked up the rolls for Sunday's dinner, and I picked up a poppy seed loaf for a fundraiser where I am providing the refreshments. So I'm still ahead.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Do Over!

Paying off debt is a lot like weight loss. It takes years to put it on and its going to take time to get rid of it. Knowing that fact doesn't make it any easier. Instead, I tend to get frustrated, do something really stupid, beat myself up about it, and then get back on the wagon. Its a vicious cycle, but when I'm done, I know I'm good for awhile.

To readjust my thinking, I officially published my full debt load and replaced my previous pie chart from No Credit Needed. (For the record, I really appreciate NCN for everything he does, but I felt I needed to be brutally honest with myself.) I pulled all of my hidden cash and made an extra payment on a credit card to get a jump start. The hidden cash came in the form of:
  • $5.50 from returning pop cans for their deposit - I also return the cans from work
  • $28.67 from my loose change jar - I save all of my loose change in a glass which I turn in when it reaches a certain point
  • $20.00 from my dollar coin stash - When I have a few extra dollars and find myself making a deposit at the bank, I swap them for dollar coins and save them as an emergency fund for end of the month gas in the tank or other surprise expense

The next step in my "recovery" is to look for ways to make extra money. This week I am putting up Easter orders at a bakery I used to work at. That will be an extra $50 for the evening. Next week, I'm participating in a taste test which will earn me an $20. Its a start for the snowflakes.

Finally, I get to have an honest look at my spending habits. I was lucky enough to have a very nice gentleman buy me lunch today, which was a complete shock because I didn't know him. He apparently won on Keno and appreciated the fact that I talked to him. I still feel guilty about it. My kitchen is not set up for cooking right now. I somehow have lost my can opener. Don't ask me how. I have NO idea. The fridge is looking like a bad bachelor commercial. Its time to get real and time to put the plan together.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And In One Moment Everything Can Change...

In the last few weeks there have been some pretty heavy issues that I've been dealing with. First, my grandmother passed away. While we become more accepting of death as we get older, it can still take us by surprise. I can thank my grandma for being one of the people that taught me the value of being frugal. She didn't have much money to raise a family with 5 kids and things were tough. After the funeral I heard many stories of my grandma taking care of not only her family, but others that were struggling as well. She was known to stretch a frugal meal to feed an extra family. The most important thing to her was family.

On the flip side, this morning I found out that my brokerage closed its doors Monday at 5:00pm. The first thing that springs to mind is the Bear Sterns fiasco and the investors that have lost millions. Luckily (or unfortunately,) my savings is no where near that. I did a bit of research and have been assured that my money is in safekeeping with the brokerage's backer. I can transfer it to a new brokerage at any time.

Tomorrow is inevitable and there is no excuse for poor planning today. The things I've learned from both of these events are:
  • Make sure retirement accounts are protected with reputable companies.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions when the market is getting weird.
  • Diversify! If all the eggs are in one basket there is a ton more risk. Ask the investors in Enron, PanAm, and Bear Sterns.
  • Start early, but its never too late to start.
  • You can always stretch a meal help someone in need.
  • Resourcefulness is the basis of frugality.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

If Writers Have Blocks Can Reformed Debtors Have Them Too?

I have been struggling big time. I have had back pain that has kept me from wanting to sit in front of a computer and there has been the creep and crud going around the office keeping everyone in bed.

Last weekend I got some help with my taxes. They were sent in on Monday and I'm happy to say that I am getting a small refund. Unlike a lot of people, I feel very unsuccessful if I get a big refund back because that means the government has had a loan from me that they don't have to pay me interest on. My plan for my refund is to pay down my highest interest rate credit card. I'll be adding my kicker check to that same debt repayment.

This weekend, I've been looking around my apartment thinking that I really could get rid of a lot of things and be very happy. I have been going through the stress that most people trying to get out of debt go through. I feel really frustrated with my situation and am really working on not loosing focus. I have my LASIK surgury scheduled for April 2nd, but the added expense is stressing me out. So why don't I wait? Honestly, I've put it off for three years already and I may reschedule it, but I'm really trying not to.

Weekend earnings:
I made $3 from taking back pop cans which I promptly spent on kitty litter. Something I really needed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Don't Miss the 140th Carnival of Personal Finance

Well, it's official. I have now participated in my second carnival. The Finanacial Blogger has created a great Prison Break themed Carnival of Personal Finance. My post on calculating debt to income ratio was accepted and can be found in the "Other" section. Unfortunately, spell check keeps changing ratio to ration.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weekly Review

Wise Bread - How Haggling Taught Me About Life Haggling is an artform that most Americans have lost sight of. In many countries its considered an insult if you don't participate. What we don't realize is that successful haggling is a way to get ahead in both our careers and our personal lives.

Being Frugal - My Clutter Is Making Me Fat Maybe its the great desire for spring to arrive and maybe its going stir crazy from all of the holiday clutter, but the idea of purging clutter is heaven.
Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge - Laser Eye Surgery: Summary of Costs and Other Thoughts I admit that I have my surgery scheduled and while this post may not be for everyone, I found it incredibly helpful.

The Simple Dollar - The Value of Investing in Yourself Before we build an investment portfolio, before we make any major purchases, the first investment we need to make is in ourselves.

Frugal For Life - Save Money with Organization I admit it. Alot of my debt was caused by poor organization which cost money in NSF fees, late charges and overlimit charges. When I feel myself slipping, I organize.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Improving Personal Finance Management

Over at No Credit Needed, NCN has posted questions for the Personal Finance Community to answer. If you could improve one area of your personal finance management, what would it be?Personally, my biggest challenge is to keep to my budget. I tend to get a bit overeager to pay off debt and don't always budget enough for daily expenses. When this happens I find that my snowflakes make their way to supplement my budget instead of going towards debt. It’s not a good cycle.

To help counter this problem, I save one dollar bills and change from purchases. The dollar bills get stashed in an envelope for the last few days before the next paycheck. The change gets saved in a glass jar. When I reach a certain level in the jar, I take it to the bank, cash it in, and put it towards credit card debt.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day To Both Couples And The Singles Crowd

I realize Valentines Day is a day to celebrate love and remind that significant other how you feel about them. Unfortunately, those of us that are presently single often get left out of the equation. Personally, I think that we singles need to take this day and treat ourselves too.
In need of some ideas?
- Make yourself a great meal. This is the time of year when luxury foods go on sale like steak, lobster, seafood, champagne, etc. You don't have to go whole hog. Just spend a bit more time and enjoy the experience of cooking and savor the flavor.
- Go to the gym and do something good for yourself. Drop in on a class you haven't tried before.
- Throw in a movie, make a bowl of popcorn, and relax.
- Turn off the T.V., unplug the phone, and read a good book.
- Go grocery shopping. Research shows that's where the new pick up scene is.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reduce A Bill Challenge

We are almost halfway through the month of February and I'm having a hard look at my efforts in Working For Financial Freedom's "Reduce A Bill Challenge." For those who are not familiar, the "Reduce A Bill Challenge" is for anyone who would like to participate. Simply choose a bill that you would like to reduce, set an attainable goal, post your commitment on Working For Financial Freedom's website, and focus on your goal.

My goal this month was to take my lunch at least three days per week to work and to earn an additional $100 per month. I'm happy to say that I've succeeded with the extra $100. That was done in one day with $25 for a taste test and $75 for a market research study. The other part has been a bit hit or miss. Last week, a friend at work kept asking me to join her for lunch because the person she normally eats lunch with was out of town. I think I brought my lunch (and ate my lunch) only once. This week I'm 1 to 1 and in a better place. I can say that I've only spent $1 at the corner store for an afternoon snack. I've kept a healthier supply in my desk drawer.

Just in case you're curious, I keep my snack drawer stocked with:
  • A can of soup - for when I forget my lunch or don't have a chance to pick something up
  • A box of crackers - I also keep a small chuck of cheese in the fridge at work
  • A jar of peanut butter - to prevent morning trips to Starbuck's if my tummy is gnawing
  • Granola bars - to stave of afternoon munchies
  • Two Hershey's kisses - one must be prepared for that evil need for chocolate
  • A can of Tuna fish - another lunch safety net

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Weekly Review

Wise Bread - Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways To Change Your Live by Nora Dunn - Nora Dunn writes an excellent post describing an excercise to help get out of a rut and discover what is most important.

Wise Bread - The Pros and Cons of Dollar Cost Averaging by Kate Luther - I know its a bit unusual to have two posts from the same blog, but I'm pleading indulgence since it is from two different authors. Great post on investing basics.

Being Frugal - 7 Things Women Wished Men KnewAbout Money - A must read for men, especially with the upcoming Valentine holiday.

The SimpleDollar - Little Steps - 100 Great Tips For Saving Money For Those Just Getting Started - An amazing list for everyone, but especially for those just getting started.

Dual Income No Kids - Budgeting For Vacation - I'm on a travel theme, but with the struggling dollar we may need a bit more advice on keeping the cost of vacation down.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Debt to Income Ratio - A Calculation Important in Debt Reduction

Ever wonder how much debt is considered by banks and financial institutions to be too much debt? If you don't know where you stand, its time to take a moment and figure out your debt to income ratio.

First, take a moment to figure out your bad debts. This includes credit card balances, store charge cards, car loans, and any debt that is depreciating in value. Don't worry about including good debt like student loans, mortgages, investements, etc. Now you need to figure out your after-tax annual income. Finally, divide your after tax income by the total bad debt (after tax income / total bad debt = debt to income ratio.)

Obviously, the personal finance and frugal communities don't believe in carrying any bad debt, but if you do carry debt you shouldn't carry more than 15%. If you meet a company who is trying to convince you otherwise, RUN! They obviously are only concerned about their bottom line.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Today Was A Very Good Day

I was lucky enough to have two opportunities to earn a bit of extra money. The first was a taste test. The subject was apples and I have to admit it made me think. As most tests are set up, I was asked a number of questions about taste, texture, color, etc., but I found myself falling into the consumerism mindset that makes marketing companies the big bucks. It was the search for the perfect green apple.

I like to think of myself as a bit of a foodie preferring organic, fresh food. I believe I can taste the difference and that the organic will be obvious because it will have flavor. Today I was humbled. I realized I was drawn to the crisp green apple that didn't brown after it was cut. It wasn't until the very end of the test that I realized no natural apple does that. This apple was manipulated through genetic breeding, radiation treatment, injected with toxins or some other torture device designed to make a super apple.

I had ask what is my tolerance for flaws? The apple that browned was just as good as the bright green one. In fact, I think the green one was slightly more tart. How many other things do I look over because it doesn't fit the picture of perfect freshness? How much food goes to waste because others share my ingrained preference for appearance? Don't get me wrong, I'm not typically worried about trends. I try not to judge a person by its cover. I usually value the unique and different. So why is this green apple different?

The second opportunity was much easier. It was a market research panel for a local restaurant. It was really fun. I may have to add these types of panels to my entertainment list. Wow, how sad is that!?!

At the end of the day, I have $67 for debt reduction, $25 for groceries, $3 lunch splurge, and a $50 gift certificate to a fantastic restaurant. Yeah! Now if I could just work more days like this.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fair Isaac Is At It Again! Are you Ready?

Liz Pulliam Weston at Money Central has written a new post and its a must read! Fair Isaac has revamped their FICO score for 2008. Check out "Build A Killer Credit Score In 2008." There are changes and if you aren't privy to those changes you could be hurting your score without even knowing it. According to the article, some changes include:
  • "Applying for new credit accounts may hurt your score less.
  • Having high balances on your credit cards could hurt more.
  • Actively using the credit accounts you have may be more important.
  • Having both revolving and installment accounts on your report could help you more, as the new formula is more sensitive to your ability to handle different types of credit."

Throughout the article, Liz Pulliam Weston stresses the importance of keeping credit balances well below the limit suggesting not to exceed 30%. This is because FICO uses this percentage as the largest factor in your score. Unsure of your FICO? While you can get a free annual report yearly at, it's not as easy to find out your FICO score without applying for a loan. Having said that, they will for a price, include your FICO score with your credit report. Each of the three reporting companies will have a different score. To play it safe, use the lowest score.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Weekly Review

The Simple Dollar - Should You Cancel Your Credit Cards Or Not
This has always been a question on my mind. Once you pay off a credit card, do you close it? Some say yes, but others say it will hurt your FICO score. The Simple Dollar weighs in.

Being Frugal - 75 Frugal Hacks For Your Home
This is a great post with 75 frugal ideas from cleaning, to DIY, to planning.

Zen Habits ~ Simple Productivity - The Minimalists Guide To Simple Housework
Anyone that can mediate while cleaning has peaked my curiousity.

Working For Financial Freedom - The Scoop On The Tax Rebate Checks
Are tax rebate checks really going to prevent a recession? Working For Financial Freedom answers all sorts of questions you may have about them.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sometimes You Need To Power Through a Tough Month

Between the stress of being over extending this month and the inspiration of a 20-something blogger by the name of Saving For A House Of My Own, I have been brainstorming ways to increase my income.

I did get my interest rate lowered on one of my credit cards and I made a payment on another today. That makes me feel a bit better, but I'm still short by about $100 for the month. So, my first step was to take back the pop cans from work and home. I drink most of the pop at work, so no one has any issue with me taking them back. Today's bounty was $3.65. Next, I started collecting those items that need to go on ebay. I put two items up today and have a few more to go tomorrow. I've also been checking out Craigslist to see if there are any market research projects that are looking for participants. I will be participating in a taste test next week which will bring in $20.

Where do you look if you need to make extra cash? Do you rely on the cushions of the couch? Do you partner with area businesses that may need a helping hand occassionally? Post a comment and share your ideas.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Resolution Update for January

- Cutting back on the amount of money going out The second half of the month was easier than the first. I was on vacation for the first half of the month, but since I was visiting family I wasn't paying for meals out. The problem was the exchange rate is $2.00 to the pound.
- Eliminate NSF fees. This is just a stupid fee after all. So far, no NSF fee.
- Cut back ATM Withdrawal fees to a maximum $5/month for emergencies only. Better planning and sticking to my budget should eliminate the need to use other bank's ATMs. The only problem I see is while traveling. Because of the trip I did use the ATMs, but I only had $3.50 at home.
- Cut back on meals out. Another area where better planning will help. I need to work on that menu planning thing. Well, I need a lot of work on this. Jet lag stopped me from shopping for groceries and I didn't have anything in the fridge because of the trip.
- Pay off Visa #2. This will take a bit of work since my budget is pretty tight right now, but if I make sure that the snowflake money goes to it instead of getting used before it makes it to the bank. This will save about $1,000 in interest fees in the next year. I only put the normal amount towards the card, but I'm working on creating snowflakes.
- Contact credit card companies about lowering interest rates. Okay, I'm going to do this tomorrow. I promise!
- Increase Savings- Continue putting $25 per paycheck to IRA January I put $100 towards my IRA because I wanted to take advantage of the market crash. I got 10 more shares of Intel. Yeah!
- Build Emergency Savings to $1,000 I'm working on it, but I may have to use some of it this month.
- Create savings for new tires for the car Nope. This one was a dud.
- Increase Income I've been working on market research opportunities and I have a taste test coming up for $20.
- Look for other employment opportunities with additional compensation Nope
- Invest more time in compensation for hobbies (photography, knitting...) Third Nope
- Look for other income possibilities I am looking, but I did add the Google Adsense to the blog.

It's Back!!! - The Reduce a Bill Challenge is back at Working For Financial Freedom

If you haven't been reading my blog for very long, you may not be aware of the "Reduce A Bill Challenge." Working For Financial Freedom started this Challenge in the fall as a way to motivate and get inspiration from others. To participate go to the "Reduce A Bill Challenge" page and post your goal. Then, make sure you check in during the month and track your progress.

This month I am committing to two challenges. The first is to increase my income by $100. The second is to take my lunch to work at least three days per week. I will keep posts on my progress in this blog as well as at Working For Financial Freedom.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Job Interviews - The First Impression

Last night I went to the mall with a friend to find an interview suit. She has always impressed me with her ability to find a bargain, use coupons, and know how to double up on sale prices. As the person responsible for interviewing for my company, Nicole asked me to help her find the right suit for an upcoming interview. She is interviewing for a position with a government agency so she needs something that is on the conservative side, but she also needs to make an impression.

Rules for both Men and Women:
When purchasing business clothes, its smarter to invest a bit more money in something that is better quality and in classic pieces. Trendy pieces should be bought on sale.

Blue, black, and grey are the basic colors to start with and build from.

Don't be afraid to add an accent pop of color like red, yellow, or purple. For women accents can come in the form of blouses and shirts, scarves, and jewelry. Men should look for shirts, ties, and hankies for the jacket pocket. Socks and hosiery should not be an accent color for men or women. It's this pop of color that will help people remember you and help you stand out from others.

Shoes should be well kept and polished.

Above all you should be comfortable in your interview clothes. You should be able to move. They shouldn't be tight or bunch anywhere. Check shirts for puckering in the chest area. Undergarments should not be visible. Make sure everything is neatly pressed.

After you've put together an outfit, check your hands. Hands are a telltale sign of how a person takes care of themself outside of the conference room. Make sure your nails are filed and cuticles are neat. Make sure there is not dirt hiding under the nails. Manicures are great for both men and women. Women should pass on polish in bright colors and choose something a bit more neutral. At the least consider a clear coat. Men should finish with a nail buff.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Weekly Review

This week's picks are a mixture of Learning the Basics, Remembering the Path, and Goals for the Future.

The Simple Dollar - Six Steps For a Beginning Stock Investor While most people are panicking in the stock market, the bargains are all over for the smart, long term investor.

Wise Bread - Eating Cheap While Abroad by Thursday Bram I must be on a roll because everywhere I look, I'm finding posts on travelling inexpensively.

I've Paid For This Twice Already - Developing a Snowflaking Mentality Taking smaller bites out of debt make debt repayment easier to stomach. This post helps to refocus after a season of spending.

Map Girl's Financial Challenge - Laser Eye Surgery In Detail Okay, I confess I have my appointment scheduled for the next month. I've been wanting to do this for the last few years and have set up my FSA to cover the expense.

Saving For A Home Of My Own - What Would You Do With Google Adsense If you haven't noticed, I've added Google's Adsense to my blog. I'd love to have your thoughts on the subject. In the meantime, Saving For A Home Of My Own is asking the question, "what would you do with an extra $100?"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yeah! Its Friday!!

Some people look forward to the weekends. Others dread it. The perspective changes if you are up to your eyeballs in debt, counting the days until the next payday, and hoping to god that the check you wrote hasn't hit the bank yet. After a few weeks on the debt reduction trail it gets a little easier and hopefully you're not hiding from the creditors phone calls anymore.

Now is the time when it gets a bit more difficult, because it can be frustrating living on a really tight budget. Friends are going out, shopping, spending money without a care. You want to participate, but temptation is hard. I go through phases where I just want to throw the budget out the door and splurge. I want to go to that movie, have dinner out with friends, buy that cute shirt. Luckily, this frustration isn't a constant and I know if I can just ride it out, I'll be able to focus again. Budgets are like diets, if you are too strict, you are bound to splurge.

Now is the time to pull out that list of inexpensive entertainment options. Local attractions often have free days. Parks may sponsor plays or concerts. The local farmer's market is great for people watching and may also have a local chef giving a cooking lesson or band playing music. Try the library which is a great place for families and often host a story hour or craft time. Its also a great place to rent a movie for a lot less than your local movie rental store.

Today I received a reimbursement check from work for $38.64. That will go towards my emergency fund rather than debt reduction.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Baby Its Cold Outside! And I just want to hibernate.

Well, I went to the first night of my auction and while I saw a few really good deals, I restrained myself. The items I was going to bid on went for more than I was willing to pay. (And that's sad to say considering I was buying for someone else with their money.) Tonight was the last night and the night of the final two lots I was considering, but I have to confess that I couldn't bring myself leave the warmth of my apartment or the comfort of my couch.

This is a good night, however, to catch up on year end projects. I received a $60 check for my Flexible Spending Account and an update that there is still $18.56 to be reimbursed. I need to find those final receipts for over the counter medication I've been holding onto.

I'm also pulling together tax information so I can sit down and finish it by this weekend. I know I'm getting a refund and I'd like to get it sooner rather than later to bring down my debt load and possible take advantage of January mattress sales. (Most likely the mattress will be put off for another year, but its always fun to have a wish list.)

Finally, when I'm done with this post I need to plan my menu for this week and next. I've been working off the cuff, but if I keep this up I will eventually rely on dining out. So far, I've spent $5 total this week including a meal at Taco Bell and two bags of chips for a snack at work.

Nights like this are a great time to take care of those to-do items we prefer to ignore. Keep a list of items for just such a night, pop in a DVD, curl up and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. What things are on your list?

Debt Repayment Progress - $60 towards debt from FSA reimbursement.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Live Auctions = Adrenaline, Deals, and Cons

Recently, I started attending a mostly monthly auction at a local auction house. They start by posting an auction catalogue on their Internet site. Then they host preview dates when you can go in and see the items up close. Finally, there are a number of nights when the auction is actually held. I'm always amazed at what people get excited about and what items go for pennies on the dollar. Tonight was no exception, but I went with great restraint.

I make sure I go to the preview and highlight the items I'm interested in. I have a close look at them to make sure there are no hidden flaws that will prevent me from using it. Then I figure out how much I'm actually willing to pay for it and set my limit before the excitement of the auction builds. Don't be afraid to walk away. In case you're wondering where the deals are?
Jewelry - Like new cars it looses the majority of its value as soon as it walks out the door, but I've seen pieces that would go for thousands of dollars in the store go for a few hundred. If I'm in the market for a wedding ring, you can bet I'm pointing my soon to be husband in that direction.
Rugs - I'm always amazed at how expensive area rugs can be in the store. I've seen large area rugs go for as little as $150.
China - A full set (54+ pieces) of Limoges, Spode, Lenox, etc. will go for about $300 as opposed to $300 per setting in the store.
Silver - If you are into entertaining you can find great pieces for little money. Mostly because no one wants to polish it.
Furniture - Why buy IKEA or other brands that are designed to last a few years when you can buy solid furniture for the same cost.

Just for the record, I did not walk away with my item. It went for $100 more than I was willing to spend. Also, like Costco, not everything is a bargain. Don't get sucked into the rush of bidding. You'll only risk buyers remorse.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Updating the Budget for a New Year Can Be Full of Surprises

After a great wrap up to 2007, 2008 is looking more difficult to keep momentum. Last year I paid off two credit cards, one of which has been a thorn in my side for 5 years. This was a lesson on paying more than your minimum balance. This month I sent off the payment that officially brought my student loan debt below the $10,000 mark. Big Yeah!

The bad news, I keep reworking my budget, but I'm still seeing a $400 per month short fall. Part of it is that I'm putting away $200 per month into my Flexible Spending Account for medical savings. I'm looking at other ways to earn money rather than cut back on my savings or debt repayment plan. I'm even contemplating opening a new credit card to transfer the balance to a 0% interest rate. I don't really want to increase temptation, but it would be beneficial and keeps gnawing at the back of my brain.

In all of this planning the one thing that keeps coming up the biggest savings is not spending. I'm going to start keeping daily tally of money I can put towards debt at the bottom of each post. The one draw back is that I may need to dip into this savings to meet the short fall. I will include those expenses in the post as well.

Today, I spent $12 on groceries that will make lunches for the upcoming week as well as breakfast. I only have 1/2 tank of gas until the 31st, so I will need to make sure I don't take any unnecessary trips. My bills are paid for this month, but I wasn't able to save anything. Most of this is because I was on vacation and didn't work any overtime. It will be a challenge, but nothing too uncomfortable.

Weekly Review

Its a new year and a new start. This week's blog recommendations are a compilation of tips for the start of a great year to come, attaining aspirations, and planning for mishaps.

The Simple Dollar - The Little Things Do Matter Twelve Hacks That Add Up To A Lot In the spirit of keeping costs down, The Simple Dollar examines those little expenses that add up.

Wisebread - Farecast Your Flights For Big Savings As someone who loves to travel and travels each year to visit family, this post offers great suggestions for keeping costs down.

Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge - Planning Your Exit From Work - Financial Side Don't miss the posting before it that also covers the non-financial side of leaving a job.

Iowa Hippie Chick - My Real Life Frugal Tips... Always great to get frugal ideas from fellow bloggers and Iowa Hippie Chick put together a great list.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Better Late Than Never - New Year's Resolutions for a Prosperous Tomorrow

Its easy during the holidays to let your financial goals slip, but there's always that New Year's Eve to remind us that its time to renew goals and make resolutions for the New Year. I spent the last two weeks with my father across the pond. It gave me a unique perspective to be not only in another country, but also in a fairly poor area. Christmas presents tend to be simpler and the emphasis in on spending time together is more relaxed and enjoyable. Its a great time for self reflection.

For the upcoming year my New Year's Resolutions include:
- Cutting back on the amount of money going out
- Eliminate NSF fees. This is just a stupid fee after all.
- Cut back ATM Withdrawal fees to a maximum $5/month for emergencies only. Better planning and sticking to my budget should eliminate the need to use other bank's ATMs. The only problem I see is while traveling.
- Cut back on meals out. Another area where better planning will help. I need to work on that menu planning thing.
- Pay off Visa #2. This will take a bit of work since my budget is pretty tight right now, but if I make sure that the snowflake money goes to it instead of getting used before it makes it to the bank. This will save about $1,000 in interest fees in the next year.
- Contact credit card companies about lowering interest rates.

- Increase Savings
- Continue putting $25 per paycheck to IRA
- Build Emergency Savings to $1,000
- Create savings for new tires for the car

- Increase Income
- Look for other employment opportunities with additional compensation
- Invest more time in compensation for hobbies (photography, knitting...)
- Look for other income possibilities

I'm sure I'll have other goals throughout the year, but this seems like a good start.