Happy Holidays! Time to clean up your spending habits

Can you believe it? Christmas is finally here! In some ways it feels like just yesterday was the beginning of 2018. It also feels like it’s been, well, a year. How is everyone holding up? Have you all opened your presents after waking up entirely too early because of children or just sheer anticipation?

Merry Christmas one and all

This year has been a bit different than any other one I’ve ever had. My kids normally would wake us up around 8 am so that we can open presents, whether they lived at home or not. Today however, my son is spending some time in Japan, and my daughter and her husband (I love saying that!) are coming over this afternoon to exchange gifts and stay for dinner, along with one of my nieces. How bizarre it is, now that my children are all grown up and living on their own. Traditions are morphing into entirely new ones. I don’t mind, as long as my family is happy and healthy.

As I was getting ready this morning for the upcoming festivities, I was thinking about several things… First and foremost, I am gearing up for January. Those who know me know that January always means SPENDING FREEZE. The last month has been filled with buying presents and spending extra on groceries. It doesn’t take very long for my attitude and outlook to change when it comes to spending money. The Christmas season is brutal on me. I’m sure it has taken a toll on many of you as well. I have become accustomed to seeing things suitable for a gift and buying it. I will make a little side note here however… I AM very proud of myself for the amount of money I spent. With the help of coupons, store rewards, and rewards from my Amazon rewards credit card, I only spent around $25.00 out of pocket. My budget for Christmas was set at $250.00. I can’t complain about that! Every year millions of people go deep into debt because of Christmas. Maybe it’s the frugal side of me talking, or maybe it’s the budding minimalist emerging, but I am proud to say that I have incurred ZERO debt this holiday season! In fact, I am setting aside my saved $225.00 for next year!  WOO HOO!  

The second thing I was thinking about was a new budget for the upcoming year. In years past, I have dreaded drawing up a budget. We had a mountain of debt… multiple credit cards, car loans, house payments… It was incredibly stressful, and there was always too much month left at the end of our money. What a horrible existence! We have since paid off every credit card, and have locked them away. (I am still fighting with myself over closing some or all of those accounts.) All we have left for bills is the standard things… Mortgage, home and auto insurance, natural gas, cable/internet, cell phone, fuel, groceries, garbage, and our Amazon rewards credit card. There are still too many bills for my liking, but, I refuse to go without a phone, internet, or cable in some capacity. Please note that I DID NOT mention electricity. We invested in solar panels quite a few years back, and have never regretted it. I haven’t had a power bill since the month after we had them installed.  The panels paid for themselves in about 2 years! It is such a help to our finances. My husband renegotiated our cable/internet bill and got it lowered by $90/month. We did the same with our cell phone bill. Our natural gas bill is paid on an equal pay plan. No matter summer or winter, we pay the same amount. I always budget and pay an extra $10 per month to offset the winter months, just in case. They send me a check in the spring if there’s an overage. That goes straight into savings. I cannot stress this enough… HAVING A BUDGET AND STICKING TO IT IS SO IMPORTANT! I urge all of you to sit down over the next week and make a budget for 2019. I have included some helpful worksheets to help you. Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” is an amazing book that I have read and reread over the last several years. These worksheets, which I have included two below, are amazing tools that will allow you to build your budget. I highly recommend acquiring this book.

I’m going to let you in on a secret here. As much as I detest credit cards, I am in love with the Amazon rewards credit card. I pay every bill I can with that card… cable, cell phone, insurance, doctor bills, garbage, gas, and groceries. I budget the hell out of everything just like I would if I was paying cash. You have to have a lot of self control, but I am going to spend the same money, whether I pay with cash, check, or debit card. If I use my Amazon card, I get money back. True, it is only useful on Amazon, BUT, I can get just about anything my heart desires there, and sadly, usually cheaper than a brick and mortar store. On top of that, since I live in a smaller city, there are many things I can’t get locally. You might not get the item instantly, but I can get it FOR FREE. I have had this card for just over a year, and I have made more than $800! Items for my daughters’ wedding? Paid on that card. Homeowner’s and car insurance? Yep. Cable, cell phones, gas, groceries… everything possible, and I get a percentage back… anywhere from 1% – 5% depending on what I use it on. Every little bit helps. I pay my credit card bill every two weeks when my I get my paycheck, and I love it. My frugal self is ecstatic about it. Yes, I am still frugal about the things I spend my free money on, of course. I still want the most “bang for my buck”, after all. If nothing else, this card has funded my hobbies, and that in itself is a beautiful thing. There are other rewards cards out there, and I’m sure other types of rewards could be more useful to all of you… airline miles, literal cash back, etc. If that works for you, then by all means, go for it! Just remember the reason you’re using the cards. If you choose to use a rewards card, use that credit card solely. Do not be sidetracked by the rewards though, YOU STILL HAVE TO ABIDE BY YOUR BUDGET!

The new year is almost here, and I want each and every one of you to succeed. I want all of you to achieve your goals. Plan now, and reap the benefits in the months to come.

I hope this day has brought you love, peace, time with family and/or friends, and fond memories to reflect on later in your lives.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE

Love to everyone

Here a penny, there a penny: Saving for the holidays

I love change.  Let me clarify…. The coin kind of change. Those lovely shiny circles that jingle in the bottom of my purse, and weigh down my pockets. That’s just one of the beautiful bonuses to using cash to pay for my purchases. I get LOTS of coinage.

I know many of you would prefer to not have anything to do with change, but I love it. When I have some extra dollar bills, I’ll actually exchange them at my bank for a roll of dimes or quarters. Why, you ask? Well, for me, there’s a lot less temptation to spend it. I’m not real likely to carry a canning jar full of change in my purse because I feel like it. Hey, I’m still human. I’m not immune to the impulse buy unfortunately.

Did you know a full quart canning jar of quarters is $158? It really is! I haven’t filled up a jar of dimes, nickels or pennies yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out!  I’m hoping a jar of dimes will be around $500.  How awesome would that be?! The best part about my “piggy bank” jars to me, is that it’s so exciting to watch them fill up. I took four jars and etched them for the different coins. I’m a craftsy person. I liked the idea. I think they look pretty cool. Yes, I have four jars. I’m a bit OCD… they NEED to be separated!

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First and foremost I use these coins for Christmas presents. It may be May but it IS NOT too early to start thinking about your holiday shopping planning. Would you rather fork out hundreds in November and December, or save a little cash all year long? The majority of the country goes deep into debt because of the holidays. I absolutely refuse to let that happen. Think about it… set aside $50/month for 12 months, and you have $600 in December. That’s $12.50 per week… That’s practically one espresso and one fast food lunch.  Start this month and you’ll have $350 by December.  Save $100/month starting now and have $800! Utilizing a spending freeze could be quite beneficial here. (Hint hint 😉) Obviously, you don’t have to wait until Christmas to purchase your gifts. If you find a great deal, by all means, get it! It’s all about SAVING and DISCOUNTS right? Some opportunities are too good to pass up! But ABSOLUTELY set a budget and have a plan.

You should already know what the people on your list want or need. Think about having 6 months to find those perfect gifts instead of weeks or days. See? Planning not only will save you time later on, but added stress. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy the holidays instead of feeling weighed down by it. Granted, some last minute emergency present is bound to rear its ugly head. It always does. Not only should you expect it, you should (hopefully) have a little money leftover to use for said gift. Remember your self control. What’s left over should be put in your fund for next year.

That, my friends, is how I fund my Christmas every year. Make your change work for you!

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Spending Freeze

Habits are so hard to break. I suppose it depends on what it is, but when it comes to spending money, it is difficult for me to reign myself in sometimes. I know, I know…. Frugal me having a hard time not spending money ? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? Like I said, it becomes a habit. The interesting thing is, the majority of the time, I don’t even realize it’s happening. Some random event will happen, and suddenly it becomes so obvious. I can see my overspending habit laughing in my face.

TIME TO TAKE CONTROL OF MY MONEY!  Enter the spending freeze.

Several times a year I adopt the spending freeze for a month. Usually, January is my first month for a spending freeze. The Christmas season is one of my favorites. It is also my least favorite. Every year we all spend, spend, and spend some more. We have become spending monsters. The habit of spending has taken hold. For me, it is absolutely essential to begin the new year relearning my thoughtful, deliberate spending rituals. I’m NOT suggesting that you skip paying your bills. Obviously, those are mandatory. What I’m suggesting is that for one month, avoid any extra spending.  No eating out, no coffee shops, no movies, no Amazon or Ebay. No extras added to your grocery cart,  only what you need for your menus… I think you get the idea. This requires conscious awareness. It sounds painful… miserable… depressing…  It all depends on your attitude. If you have already convinced yourself that it will be horrible, then it probably will be. BUT, if you look at it as an opportunity to push the reset button and renew your frugality, then THAT will be your reward. Well, that, and a substantial amount of money saved at the end of your no spend month! We don’t realize how much money we spend frivolously every day. That white chocolate mocha you buy every morning on your way to work is around $5 if you add a tip. That’s $100 in a month! Eat out for lunch every day? Chances are that’s $6 per day. There goes another $120 per month.  I don’t know about you, but I could always use an extra $220 a month to put towards bills, or stash in savings, or designate it for Christmas presents.

Make that cup of coffee at home and take it with you. Brown bag your lunch. DRINK MORE WATER. Watch movies at home, play some games… Yahtzee anyone? There are so many ideas out there. Pinterest just might become your new best friend.

When I first made the decision to start participating in routine spending freezes, it was out of desperation. My bills were spiraling out of control.  My credit card balances were high. I was stressed financially, emotionally, mentally… I wrote a pep talk for myself. I printed it out. I laminated it. I put it in my wallet. I forced myself to read it every time I reached in there to pay for something I didn’t need. It worked.

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I no longer HAVE to have my spending freezes, but I choose to. It invigorates me. It helps me stay grounded. It helps me to focus on the more important things in my life.

January has long passed, so I challenge you to make a goal to have designated spending freeze months.  Pick your months, and do it. Mentally prepare yourselves and take control of your money!  You’ve literally earned it!!

My love/hate relationship with credit cards

Once upon a time, I had credit cards… A LOT of credit cards. I had one for every store in town, plus the Costco card, several visas, and so on. I could get one, so why not? I used every single one when there was still month at the end of the money. The splurge for having a great day… It didn’t take long until not only was our income not quite enough, then it became MUCH less than enough, with the credit card payments added in. It’s the worst feeling in the world… when you have to decide which bills are going to be lucky enough to get paid that month. Should I pay my car insurance or buy groceries? That’s when the depression sets in, and the stress and worry takes over.

Fast forward several years, and my credit cards are finally all paid off, thanks to some very creative financial means. I have closed several of my credit card accounts. I want to close them all, honestly. They’re nothing but trouble for me.

This is where my love/hate relationship comes into play. Credit cards have their place, and there are so many things in our lives that require one… rental cars, hotels, online shopping, among a variety of others. My problem, however, is that I have a very hard time finding balance when using them. I have them stashed in a secret place in my home. This way there is no way for temptation when I am in town. Online is a whole different thing entirely. I have given myself an allowance every month. I got a prepaid visa credit card from Walmart.  This card gives me peace of mind when I shop online, and doesn’t allow me to go over my budget. Along with that, if by chance my information gets stolen, there are limited funds available. It depends on which card you choose, but, the one I chose has a $3 monthly fee, along with a $3 fee when you have funds added. For me, $6/month is a small price to pay for piece of mind and control of my spending. My address is assigned to the card, so any online purchases are possible, unlike prepaid visa gift cards.

The one thing that my husband talked me into was the Amazon rewards credit card. I was hesitant. I didn’t want another credit card. I made a deal with him. We were going to be making a larger purchase on Amazon, and getting this card would not only give us $70 off that large purchase, but also pay us 5% back. If I use it for gas, I get 3% back. Anything else, I get 1%. That was hard to pass up. I closed several of my other credit card accounts to offset this one. Some say that closing accounts can damage your credit score. Some say that it doesn’t. I really don’t care either way. Honestly, I’m not planning on making any big purchases for at least the next 5 years, so I’d rather close them, and build my credit back up. I don’t intend to use it for everything. I will however, use it for my Amazon and gas purchases. I get points that I can use on Amazon on the next billing cycle. walmart-moneycard-preferred FREE MONEY! I’ll make it a point to pay that credit card every week, if it has been used. If I don’t have the money in my account to pay cash, I won’t buy it. Period.

I get an offer to open an account at every store I go to.  I’ll save money, they say. As hard as it is for me to say no when they dangle the carrot of savings in front of me, I simply say, “No thanks. I get in too much trouble that way”. They smile knowingly, and then the little impulsive, hazardous moment passes. Whew!

What it comes down to is this…  If you have credit cards, that, in itself isn’t bad. When they start to become a habit and a necessity, that’s when problems start to arise. I urge you to take a step back and really look at your financial habits. See if there’s an alternative method that can better your financial future.

YOU ARE IN CHARGE of your financial future.  Make it work for you!