Retirement – 401k plan match

Most companies these days offer employees a retirement plan, usually called a 401k.  As a part of these programs, companies will often offer a company match to help you save for retirement quicker.  Both the plan and the match are considered part of your benefits package.

You should always take advantage of the full company match – this is free money!

Matching programs differ from company to company.  Some companies will contribute a percentage of your salary to your 401k plan, even if you don’t contribute to the plan – this is pretty awesome, and also rare.  The company I work for will contribute 4.5% of my salary to my 401k plan as long as I contribute at least 5% of my salary to the plan.  That means, if 5% of my salary is $1,000, when I contribute $1,000 of my salary, my company will contribute $900 of their money to my 401k account.

You are always welcome to contribute more than that to your 401k plan, and I encourage you to do so.  You can never save too much for retirement!  However, you should always contribute at least the minimum required in order to qualify for the company match in your 401k plan.

For 2014, the IRS has decided that the maximum amount you are allowed to contribute to your 401k plan is $17,500.  This is quite a lot of money, and you may not be in a position to defer all that income each year.

Ideally, when you start your next job, you will “max out” your 401k contribution by contributing $17,500 all at once.  It may be tight at first, but as you move up in your career and receive cost of living increases, raises, and promotions, the maximum amount to contribute to your 401 plan will become a smaller and smaller percentage of your salary.

If maxing out is not possible in your situation, start with the percentage that is required in order to receive the company match.  Then each year, increase this percentage by 1%.  You won’t notice that much of a difference in your paycheck, especially if you increase the percentage at the same time as you receive your annual raise.

By increasing your 401k contribution by 1% each year, you will eventually get to the maximum contribution amount allowed each year.  If you are given an extra-large raise one year, don’t be shy to increase your contribution percentage by more than just 1%.  The more, the better!

Since it did not occur to me when I started this job to max out my 401k contribution, I have been increasing the amount I’m contributing by 1% each year.  Anytime I’ve received a large raise, I’ve increased my contribution by a larger percentage.  I’m now up to contributing 12% of my salary to my 401k plan.  I plan to max out my 401k contribution when I start my next job.

Saving as much as you can when you’re young may be difficult, but it is well worth the effort.  Time is definitely on your side!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – The name 401k was taken from subsection 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code, which is the federal statutory tax law in the United States.  Haha – I’m not sure how fun this fact is, but it’s certainly educational! =) (Sources: &


Painless ways to save – $5 bills

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

A few months ago, I met my friend for brunch.  We hadn’t seen each other since my wedding last year, s­o we spent some time catching up on each other’s lives.  We started talking about easy ways to save money, and she told me about one of the methods she uses – saving her $5 bills.

This method is pretty simple.  Anytime you receive a $5 bill as change, put it to the side in your wallet.  When you get home, of course record it on the Where’s George website (see last week’s post about this fun website!), and put it in a special envelope in your dresser drawer, or wherever it will be safe (see a picture of my $5 envelope above).

Now, you may find that this is not necessarily the easiest thing to do in the world.  I certainly didn’t when I first started this technique.  Since I’d much rather save my money than spend it, I don’t allocate much to myself to spend each week – just enough for entertainment and groceries (for more information on my weekly cash allowance, click here).  So even though $5 doesn’t sound like much, each time I received a $5 bill as change, I missed it from my weekly allowance!  However, after using this technique for several months, I’m now used to it and I don’t miss the $5 bills as much.

Soon after starting this technique, I found that I accumulated a bunch of $5 bills pretty quickly!  My friend uses this money to pay for Christmas presents for her family, which is what I intend to do this year.  I have also used the money for birthday gifts for my family and friends.

This is a great way to easily save money to either deposit in your bank account, or to buy gifts for your loved ones throughout the year.

If saving $5 is too difficult in your budget right now, you can always save all the $1 bills you receive as change instead.  Once you get comfortable with that, you will be able to work your way back up to $5 bills.  Don’t forget to also keep the change!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – The first $5 bill was issued in 1861, but it did not have Abraham Lincoln’s portrait on it.  It was not until 1914 that his image was printed on the $5 bill.  (Source:

Fun with Money – Where’s George

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

Our next installment in the Fun with Money series is regarding the Where’s George website.

When you receive cash as change or from the ATM, consider taking a moment to enter it on the Where’s George website ( – just create a free account and you’re on your way!

You will need to enter each bill separately.  The website will ask you to enter the denomination, series year of the bill, and serial number.  There is also a section for comments.  I usually mention the condition of the bill (ex: excellent condition, slightly worn, worn, etc.) and where I got it (ex: from the ATM, as change from the grocery store or restaurant, etc.).  Lastly, you’ll want to enter your zip code and write on the bill “Track me at” (just make sure to write discretely on the bill so as not to deface it (see my example in the picture above)).  Then spend the cash as usual!

The fun is when someone receives your bill and enters it on the Where’s George website.  Because you entered your zip code, you’ll get to see how far the bill traveled.  You’ll also get to see whatever comments the new owner has made regarding the bill.  It is lots of fun watching your money travel around the state, and if you’re lucky, around the country!

Above all, have fun with it!

I found out about this website by coming across a bill marked with the Where’s George website early in 2014.  Since then, I have entered on Where’s George almost all of the cash I’ve received, and I’ve had one bill found by someone else and I’ve received one of my own bills back as change from the grocery store =)

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – When you’re entering your cash on the Where’s George website, you may be interested to notice the Federal Reserve Bank from which your money originated.  Each Federal Reserve Bank is assigned a letter and region number, and this information is printed either in the seal to the left of the portrait, or beneath the serial number printed in the upper left hand corner of the bill. (Source:

Here is a list of Federal Reserve Banks and their corresponding letters and numbers:

Federal Reserve Bank                    Letter                    Number

Boston                                                  A                             1

New York City                                    B                             2

Philadelphia                                       C                             3

Cleveland                                            D                             4

Richmond                                            E                              5

Atlanta                                                 F                              6

Chicago                                                G                             7

St. Louis                                               H                             8

Minneapolis                                       I                               9

Kansas City, MO                               J                              10

Dallas                                                    K                             11

San Francisco                                     J                              12

And here is a map of the Federal Reserve Bank regions:

Ain’t It Fun

Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

I’ve had the song “Ain’t It Fun” By Paramore stuck in my head all day today.  Some of the lyrics go “Ain’t it fun living in the real world”.  I think this is especially appropriate for me and my life at this point.

I moved to Northern Virginia from my home state of Connecticut over Memorial Day weekend 2004.  I had been out of college for a year and was ready to start my new adventure in a new place!  I pretty much only knew my roommate and a handful of acquaintances from college in the area.  I had a part-time job and an unpaid internship for the summer.  Looking back on it now, I was kinda crazy, but being young and not knowing any better (haha!), I thought it was a fun adventure.  I certainly never thought I’d be here for 10 years, but here I am.

I’ve gone through many ups and some downs in these past 10 years – meeting new friends; my parents’ divorce; my split with my college sweetheart; finding my first professional job; living in my own apartment; meeting the love of my life; buying my first new car; earning my Accounting Degree; traveling to Rome, Paris, London, Hawaii, and Yellowstone (not all at once!); adopting the cutest craziest kitty; celebrating my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary (and counting!); finding my passion of Financial Literacy; starting this blog; and marrying said love of my life.

I’m proud of myself for basically starting my life over from scratch and becoming so successful.  I’ve had a lot of loving support from my family, whom I dearly miss, but we keep in touch frequently.

Part of “living in the real world” is learning how to manage your money.  In its simplest form, you need to be sure you have more money coming in the door than going out.  I know things get more complicated than that – mortgages, student loans, families, car payments, tuition fees, and maybe even credit card debt.  But the concept is the same.  You need to find a way to save money each month, even if it’s just a little bit.  We all have to start somewhere.

I’ve always been good with managing my money, but I had to learn this concept of more in the door than out first hand, too, especially when I was really out on my own for the first time.  I wasn’t always perfect – I did get into a bit of credit card debt once.  But I quickly realized it was a trap made of quicksand and got out as quickly as I could.  I’m now a lot more mindful of my credit card spending as a result, so it was a good lesson to learn.

Learning how to manage your money successfully is one of the most empowering feelings in the world!

So when Paramore asks me “Ain’t it fun living in the real world”, I have to answer with a big, fat “YES!”  I hope you can answer the question the same way.  And if you can’t right now because you’re not confident in your money management skills, my response is – stick with me and together we’ll get there!

Happy Decoding!

Fun Fact for today – Did you know that the number 13 (corresponding to the original 13 colonies) plays a prominent role in US currency, specifically the dollar bill?  There are 13 stars displayed above the eagle, there are 13 steps on the pyramid, there are 13 letters in E PLURIBUS UNUM, there are 13 vertical bars on the shield and the top of the shield has 13 horizontal bars, there are 13 leaves and 13 berries on the olive branch, and there are 13 arrows clutched in the eagle’s talons.  Having graduated from Colgate University where 13 is a lucky number, I am happy to be sharing these particular fun facts with you! (Source: