How Cutting out Coffee can Save You Oodles

No_Coffee_Challenge

I’m on a financial wellness re-reading kick. So I opened The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. There are loads of fantastic tips,however, it becomes immediately clear that I am a spendthrift with tightwad tendencies.

This by no means negates the usefulness of this book.  One of the items I struggle with is when there are articles that declare the amount I would save If I were to give up something for a year. I’ll  give it up but chances of me seeing a savings is slim. Basically I cut costs in one area and allocate those funds to something else.

With that sort of behavior it’s no surprise that I don’t see any savings. Amy in her many articles of savings explains the process well. When I save $10 on a gift, rather than spend more on gifts or put it toward another line, the savings should go into my savings account.

Now the hard part for me us putting this good advice into practice. I’m not going to make any rash promises, rather I’m going to track the amount I come under budget and put any ‘leftover’ money into savings.

Do you have bits of good advice that you find hard to put into practice?

Advertisements

How can I Track my Journey?

The reason for this blog is that I’m writing to track myself. So now I have to come up with ways to track my journey.

I want to spend quality time with those I love doing interesting things.

This doesn’t necessarily require additional cash as I’ve got my eating out and entertainment lines. On the other hand, I’d like to travel so I’m going to have to save for vacations and activities that exceed my allotment.

I can keep on with this by:

  • noting how often I hang out with the people I love
  • creating a savings account for vacation
  • noting the number of times I eat out
  • making a conscious effort to explore frugal ways to entertain

I want to be good to my environment.

This doesn’t require oodles of money and can help me reduce costs. The problem with being good to the environment is that the upfront costs (I’m looking at you LED lighting) can be high.

I can keep on with this by:

  • keeping an eye on my electrical and water usage
  • noting how often I buy local in terms of grocery items

I want to be able to purchase new or upgraded items when something gets damaged without having to worry about using a credit card.

It’s funny that this is number three since it’s the whole reason for my writing. This boils down to my desire to not only be debt free but have a general savings account. Currently my vacation and general savings are in the same account but as I pay down my debt my plan is to create another savings account and re-route some of that debt repayment money into it.

I can keep on with this by:

  • noting the % of consumer debt that is paid down per month
  • noting the number of times that I use something if it’s an ‘extra’
  • including the % I’m over or under my budget monthly

I want to improve my home. Not for re-sale but for me.

This one requires money and to be honest a bit of it. Even if I didn’t have my debt it would take me a while to save for it all. For this one I created a list of all the things I want to do in my home and then ranked them in order of importance.

As this is the least important to me in the grand scheme of things, my aim is going to be pay off my consumer debt and then re-route some of that money into a home improvement fund.

I can keep on with this by:

  • noting the number of months that I will need to wait until I can start my fund

My bread dilemna

I love bread! I love the smell of it fresh baked. I adore the softness of the warm bread and the crispness of a perfect crust.

When I have bread in the house I’m more likely to buy deli meats and eat an entire brick of cheese in a week. So bread can be an expensive habit for me. I played with the idea of making my own as I figured I’d eat less if I knew how much work goes into it.

Tiny problem: every time I’ve tried I’ve either muddled it completely or been too impatient. So I’ve learnt to make biscuits. My favourite is Baking Powder Biscuits. I know you can find a host of similar recipes, or even the same, on the web but here’s the one that I’ve been using.

biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • .5 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp.  cold butter
  • ~1 Cup milk

Method

  • Mix the dry ingredients together
  • Cut in the butter to create a coarse mixture that looks like breadcrumbs
  • Add in the milk ( a little at a time) to form a soft dough
  • Toss onto a floured surface and knead lightly – you want it well mixed but don’t over do it
  • Roll out and use a cookie cutter, or glass, to cut
  • Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes

What matters to you?

I’m currently playing book bingo and one of the squares encouraged me to pick up Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Debt Free Forever.

Debt Free ForeverIn Chapter 2, she speaks about figuring out why you’re trying to get rid of your debt. She talks about what’s weighing on your mind as well what’s important to you.

At first, I glossed over this section but Gail’s writing style forces you to not take shortcuts. So I found some scrap paper and started writing. Her selling point for making a list is so that when you’re tempted to go over budget, like I do so often, you’ll have a concrete list of reasons why you shouldn’t. It’ll also help you create realistic goals.

It’s funny, I found that my desires weren’t grandiose. I don’t want to live in a bigger place or drive a faster car.

  • I want to spend quality time with those I love doing interesting things.
  • I want to be good to my environment.
  • I want to be able to purchase new or upgraded items when something gets damaged without having to worry about using a credit card.
  • I want to improve my home. Not for re-sale but for me

This came after making a list of all the things that I want out of life, my core values and then ranking my list. The above statements are the summary of that list in order of my wants.

This is just the tip of her advice but I’m hoping that reminding myself what I want out of life will help me to stick with my plan.

What’s important to you?

Cost of Living

I was with a friend from another country recently and listening to her speak made me realize the number of ways in which I currently waste money. A lot of my waste has to do with the fact that the cost of living is so inexpensive where I am. If she were to go to a fast food restaurant for a 1pc chicken and fries she’ll be paying $15. $15 sounds like too much money to me when I pay $3 for it. Then I took a look at the exchange rate and it turns out we’re paying the same amount.

Though we compared prices of items we didn’t compare what we earn so I have no way of knowing if her income is comparable to mine. I do know that she considers fast food a treat and wouldn’t dream of making it a weekly or nightly indulgence. Even if I was making double what I’m making now, I think I’d balk at a $15 price tag on that type of dish!

In my world with dollar stores, coupons and sales it’s easy to get suckered into a ‘deal.’ I can easily spend $20 in the dollar store and feel great about myself because those items would have been considerably more elsewhere. Now if I use the exchange rate would I have spent $100 on the same things even if I know the value is easily double that? Sometimes the answer is definitely and others probably not.

Back to my friend.She’s a frugal lady but she had come to shop so that’s what we did. But a funny thing happened while shopping. Deals that once seemed wonderful didn’t when I multiplied them by 5 so we’d keep looking and almost every time we ended up finding something comparative for less. Prior to this trip I considered $50 jeans too expensive but $25 a great deal. However, we found brand new jeans for $10 because the $25 was deemed too much by both of us when we did our exchange math.

Have you had these sorts of experiences too? What would you give up if you had to multiply it by $5?

The Games I Play

I was shopping for an interview with a friend and found a jacket  I loved but a price tag I didn’t. In that moment she gave me some of the best and worst advice I’ve gotten to date.

“How often will you wear it?” Was how she began.

I looked at the jacket, “It’s too fancy to wear often, don’t you think?

“No, you could wear that with jeans or those cute summer dresses. If you’re only going to wear it 3 times it’s too much but if you can wear it a dozen times then it’s a good price.”

I bought the jacket, took it home and found a host of things I could pair it with. I’ve never regretted the purchase and 10 years later it still gets use.

I began using that rule whenever I saw something that was a bit pricey or was not essential. It helped me turn down certain things, jewelery being a big one, that I knew that I wouldn’t wear often and also forced me to use things more often.

The downfall is when I overestimate how often I’m going to use something. I was going to have chocolate fondue at every dinner if I got the fondue set. It was a great idea but I didn’t have anyone over for a bit and quietly the set sat on a shelf in it’s package gathering dust. That was 8 years ago.

The second problem is that it’s artificial. To be honest would I miss having something that I don’t need? Would I really have used the item so often if I wasn’t tracking? Would I be ignoring something else that I currently own in order to use the new item?

In this blog, when I make purchases that are frivolous or pricey I’m going to give myself a goal of the number of times I must use something for it to be a reasonable price per use. The price can range from $1-$5 and is loosely based on what the item may go for at a garage sale.

There are some things this won’t work with, in that case I’ll attempt to cost it out by the hour. Right now I use a streaming service and I watch about 2 hours of TV per day which means I spend $.40 per hour. That’s a figure I’m comfortable with.

In case my math is wrong, here’s what I did :

cost of service/ (hrs per day x days per month) or $ 15 / (2*30) or $15/60 = .4

What financial math do you play to feel better about purchases?

Eating Well: Red Rice

It’s been a busy month for me so grocery shopping has fallen down my list of priorities. This past weekend I once again couldn’t make it to the grocery and was forced to use whatever I had on hand.

I went through my fridge and pantry looking for things that went together. I came up with a tin of pasta sauce, a giant bag of rice, sausages and veggies that needed to be eaten. Out of that collection came the below recipe that is clearly based on no real measurements.

IMG_20150721_160530

Ingredients:

4 servings of cooked rice (you can make this in chicken broth if you have it. I didn’t)

Chopped vegetables ( I used a red pepper,  lots of zucchini and half a head of broccoli)

6 pre-cooked sausages, sliced

1 tin of pasta sauce

Method:

In a large pan saute the vegetables in some oil.

Add the sausages to heat them through.

Empty the pasta sauce, use some water to ensure that all sauce is used, into the pan .

Simmer this sauce so that all is hot and your sauce is at a desired consistency.

Remove from heat and add the rice and properly stir it.

Serve hot.

This  makes exceptional leftovers of which I’m a fan as I don’t enjoy cooking on weekdays.

Do you have any quick, frugal recipes?

I’ll show you mine

Earlier I gave you tips on how to build a budget. Let’s be honest you can get those tips anywhere. You can also get budget worksheets anywhere but I’m always curious about how real people budget. What are their lines? What did they struggle with?

As I’ve mentioned the tool that has worked best for me has been making a date with myself, Excel and my bank account.

I love Excel! It can do sums so that I don’t have to, it sorts and tracks and puts things in order. I know it’s early days for us yet but I’ve got a gift for you. In case you’re as curious about others as I am I’ve shared mine below.

My only request is that you don’t judge my overspending in certain areas.

BudgetAs you can see my  categories are broad. This was done purposefully so that I can allow myself to not get too picky.

I consistently struggle with my grocery line, which honestly includes household supplies and entertainment costs when I host at my home.

Eating out includes things from coffee dates to dinners and as my social life has grown so has this line. I struggle with being social on a budget when a lot of the social aspects of my job involve lunches out.

Entertainment is broad and can include purchasing a s’mores maker (nonsensical but so much fun), a visit to the beach, or a movie date.

You’ll also notice that there have been lines that have had nothing used. This is because when I revisited my spending I realized that these were things I need to save for. So beginning in August those 0 will be filled in, rather than spending those dollars I’ll be moving them into a savings account for when the expenses occur I’ll have the funds.

What rules have you played with to create a personal budget?

How does your garden grow?

In the world of gardening you need to weed. It’s only through weeding that your flowers will have the space to bloom. In our little world of home finance the weeding is the budget. A budget isn’t a static unchanging document. It doesn’t even have to be a document. Like weeding it does take time and diligence but the reward is the same. You get to admire the result of your handiwork. Instead of flowers you’ll see your savings grow and debt decrease.

I’m guessing you’ve made a budget. Though at it’s core a budget is a simple thing  It can feel like a big project and can be a major hurdle that needs to be overcome. Though I’m fairly open to a variety of ideas I strongly believe that you need to build a budget. Even if you don’t use it often, I think the act of creating it makes you more aware of your spending.

Step 1:What’s past is prologue

A few years ago I put in the work and did the type of budget that forces you to really assess your spending. I looked at how much I was spending and catergorized my purchases and payments for the previous 6 months, a Gail Vaz-Oxlade tip that I love and hate. Somehow, my little bits here and there ended up being an average of $500 of overspending per month. Talk about eye opening!

That exercise was time consuming and depressing but it did allow me to get a better idea of what I was spending in each category per month. Turns out my original idea of budgeting $100/month for groceries would have been woefully low and I would have spent every month feeling poorly about myself. Using that work I created a much better budget than if I had just guessed at what I thought was an appropriate amount.

If you haven’t built a budget in a long time or aren’t sure where your money is going I highly recommend this step. Though this was an informative project and really allowed me to build a fantastic and realistic budget I have been terrified of doing it again. Instead, when I fall off the wagon I begin tracking my transactions monthly.

Step 2: It starts now!

Maybe you know where you spend or the very thought of doing the above work sends you into a tailspin. That’s okay. We’ll start with today.

The first thing you need to assess is how much money do you have coming in. I’m fortunate that I’ve got a consistent wage so I know what I’m getting each month. If you’re not in that boat select the lowest amount that you’ll bring in a month.

Next comes my fixed expenses. A fixed expense is exactly what it sounds like – a number that doesn’t change. I’ve got a few items that I get billed for quarterly or even annually so I (try) to divide these over the months and stick them here.

I also stick my savings and debt repayment in my fixed expenses area. This way I’m guaranteeing that I’m paying those lines.

Then my variable expenses. This is where it gets tricky for me. How much should I allot for groceries? I entertain a lot, should that be under groceries? How detailed should I get? This is all personal so there is no right or wrong as it’s based on your lifestyle. Do you love shoes or video games? You can give them up or you can budget for them. I believe that the things that matter to you should be included in your life. Though I respect people who don’t spend for a few years to get a large savings or pay off huge debts I know that scrimping doesn’t work for me. Therefore, I’ve got a fashion line in my budget as well as entertainment and eating out.

Now you’ve got your fixed and variable expenses and need to do math. It’s a really simple formula: income – (fixed expenses+variable expenses).

The aim is to have a $0 budget.

Step 3: Playing with numbers

Did you get $0? I rarely get $0 because I know that I may spend more certain months so I give myself big numbers and have to cutback. This is where Step 1 comes in handy. If you’re really opposed to looking back, then look at your numbers and play with them. This advice isn’t only for your variable expenses. When it comes to fixed expenses you can often explore getting lower rates on your phone, cable and internet.

Step 4: The Lies I tell Myself

After hitting a rough patch recently I decided to revamp my approach. I had stopped tracking my spending properly and knew that my current approach wasn’t allowing me to pay off my debt in the time frame I wanted.

As I mentioned yesterday, I currently make more than I did a few years ago but have greater debt now. This time I decided that I would artificially limit my spending. I used the same process as above but this time I lowered the income line.

For me it’s a simple trick but keeps me from overspending my actual income.

If you have some space to allow this sort of lie to yourself and, more importantly, will believe it this is a great way to save while preparing yourself for a decrease of funds.

Step 5: Ready, Set, Spend!

Your budget, like your garden, needs to be visited regularly. I currently visit mine weekly and put in my actual spending beside my proposed budget. I’ve discovered weekly is best for me because any longer and I fall into overspending but too much and I feel constricted by the budget.

What are your tips for building a budget?

Day 1: Why me? Why you?

There are loads of blogs, gurus and tips out there for you to get information. There is a plethora of people sitting, standing or sipping while sharing their financial woes or successes on the internet. Google provided 57,400,000 hits when I search Money Saving Tips so why should I write? Even better, why should you read?

I don’t have anything new to share. You and I both know the deal: spend less than you make. It’s the only rule. The problem is that it’s not a simple one to follow. I’ve read the books (The Tightwad Gazette and the Wealthy Barber stand the test of time), attended the sessions (how I love Gail Vaz-Oxlade and David Chilton!), watched the shows  and pinned the charts.

I love them all and I’ve used the jars, budget sheets, and envelope method. I manage to stick to these tools for a while and then I fall. To date  my best tactic has been downloading my statements into Excel and tracking my spending by categories. However, I consistently overspend.  The key culprits are that I have unexpected expenses (hello, new car battery) and a standard of living that I don’t want to let go of.

When I had less money I found I managed it better but that also had to do with the fact that I had a limited social life as my job at the time called for 50-60 hour weeks. Now that I work less and make more all those free hours are begging to be filled. Since I’ve got the money I want to treat myself to a dinner out, lunch with friends and a trip somewhere lovely. But what happens when you don’t really have the money? When that unexpected trip, car accident or bachelorette party forces you to pull out your credit card. Then you don’t really have the money. You’re paying interest on your life.

Through my tracking I’ve found that I spend more on entertainment (going out to dinner, movies, weekend festivals). I don’t want to give these up but I need to figure out a way to live below my means so I  can pay off those darling cards and save for all the unexpected things.

I’m writing to track myself. I’m writing to forgive myself when I spend too much and to track the ways in which I do cut back.

When I read tips I often find myself saying, ” I do that!”

I pack my lunch, make my tea at home, stay in most nights and shop sales and yet I’ve got debt. I’m writing for the people who live well, shop smart but still have credit cards and line of credits that won’t be paid off with their next paycheque.

In these pages I hope that you find a friend, tips you can use and a safe place to share your own thoughts.