Happy Halloween!

Winner of the pumpkin carving contest at my work! Copyright 2015 - Sweet Doll Designs
Winner of the pumpkin carving contest at my work!
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

As you go off on your Halloween adventure with your witches, goblins, ghosts, and ghouls, stop and reflect on past Halloweens.  Do you have a favorite costume?  Was it purchased at the store or did you toil for hours to make it?  Do you have any memories of money traditions around Halloween?

I was all sorts of things for Halloween growing up: bunny, pumpkin, panda, space cat, Frankenstein, witch, one half of a pair of dice, math wizard, the universe, sailor, Boo from Monster’s Inc., cat burglar, and a 20’s flapper, to name a few.  My costumes were always homemade.  It was always so fun to plan out all the elements needed for each costume!

My childhood neighborhood was nearby a bunch of other neighborhoods, so my candy haul was always pretty significant.  And of course you know where to find the best candy.  Some houses gave away the king size candy bars (like mine!) and some gave away the “fun” size (though whoever thought that size was fun was crazy).  Then there were the people who handed out healthy “treats” like raisins and apples.  But there was one guy who always saved his pocket change and came to the door with a huge bowl full of change and a small spoon.  Probably not surprisingly, I loved this house because it gave me more pennies and nickels to roll with the rest of my change!

Share your fun Halloween memories in the comments below.  Have fun and be safe this Halloween!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: Total Halloween spending (costumes, decorations, candy, cards, etc.) is expected to reach $6.9 billion in America for 2015! (Source: https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/nrf-157-million-americans-will-celebrate-halloween-this-year)

Retirement – IRA contribution limits

Lake Anne, Reston, VA Copyright 2015 - Sweet Doll Designs
Lake Anne, Reston, VA
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

Last weekend, I was at a friend’s house for dinner and we started talking about saving for retirement.  We were discussing the different types of plans we use for our personal retirement savings – 401k, 403b, IRA, and Roth IRA.  We knew there were contribution limits for each retirement tool, but we weren’t sure about retirement limits among similar tools.  Our question was: can we contribute the maximum amount to a traditional IRA plus the maximum amount to a Roth IRA?

I decided to answer this burning question so I looked it up on the IRS website!

According to the IRS, the contribution limit for IRAs in 2015 is $5,500.  It is important to note that this is the limit for most people, but if you are age 50 and over, you are able to contribute more to your retirement account (to determine how much more, consult the IRS website – https://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/COLA-Increases-for-Dollar-Limitations-on-Benefits-and-Contributions).

The IRS website clearly states that you may contribute a total of $5,500 to all your IRA accounts, regardless of if you’re contributing to just one IRA, several IRAs, or a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA (https://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Plan-Participant,-Employee/Retirement-Topics-IRA-Contribution-Limits).  So, no, you can’t contribute the maximum amount to a traditional IRA plus the maximum amount to a Roth IRA.

That settles that question! 🙂

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: Most people think IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account”.  However, that’s not actually the case.  IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Arrangement”.  Exciting stuff, huh? 😉 (Source: https://www.irahelp.com/slottreport/what-does-ira-stand-not-what-you-may-think)

Author’s note: There are many different kinds of retirement plans for different circumstances.  You can learn more about them here: https://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Plan-Sponsor/Types-of-Retirement-Plans-1.  

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be retirement or financial advice.  Please consult your tax professional regarding your specific circumstances before making any changes to your retirement and other accounts.

Twists and Turns – My Journey

Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

I read a wonderful article today by Kate Northrop.  It’s all about how life might not turn out the way you expect.  I could identify with life throwing some twists and turns my way.  Read the article and see if it rings true for you, too: http://www.katenorthrup.com/its-not-going-to-turn-out-the-way-you-thought/

I especially love the hopeful ending to the article, suggesting that anything is possible if you keep putting one foot in front of the other toward your dreams.  Even though it may seem scary, go ahead and follow life’s twists and turns.  This new direction may not have been in your 29 point life plan, but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.  It could be a completely awesome thing!

Dare to dream, my friends, and enjoy the ride! =)

In the spirit of this article, I thought it might be interesting to share with you how I began writing these posts.  See if you can spot the twists and turns.

I studied at Colgate University and earned my BA in Astrogeophysics with a minor in Geology.  While I was in school, I thought I wanted to be a planetary volcanologist.  But once I graduated, I thought – holy cow, what do I do now?!  I didn’t want to be a professor, I didn’t want to work out in the field, and I didn’t want to work in the lab.  Where did that leave me?  I knew I would need further education, but since I wasn’t clear on my life’s direction, I elected to take some time off to decide what to do.

I stayed at Colgate for six months after I graduated to work full time as the gallery assistant in the art gallery on campus.  I enjoyed that so much that I considered museum studies, but decided that wasn’t quite right, so I kept searching.  A friend from college told me she needed a roommate and asked me if I’d consider moving.  So I picked up and took off for a city six hours from where I grew up where I knew no one and, after interviewing for all sorts of jobs (including one as a ballroom dance instructor), I got a summer internship at the American Association of Museums and a part time job as a bookkeeper.

After that summer, I went full time at my bookkeeping job and I realized I really liked it.  It may seem like a stretch from my degree, but if you think about it, math was a big part of my undergraduate studies and math is a big part of the finance world, too.

I eventually changed companies and met an amazing boss.  She recognized my talent, but told me that if I wanted to get anywhere in the field, I would need to get a degree, and probably even earn my CPA.  Since I did very much enjoy working with numbers, I took her advice to heart and enrolled in evening classes at University of Virginia.  After four years, I earned my Accounting degree.  Now I’m studying for my CPA.

Along the way, I interviewed at a company where I really wanted to work.  I had done a bunch of research before the interview and found they had a financial literacy program.  I had never heard of financial literacy, but it sounded interesting.  I mentioned it in my interview, only to find out that they were phasing out the program.

I didn’t get that job and it broke my heart at the time.  However, that one idea lit a fire inside me – a passion for financial literacy.  I dream of one day teaching kids of all ages about financial literacy.  I want to help the next generation start off on the right foot, financially speaking.

This blog is my first step toward achieving that dream!  I’d like to take this moment and thank each of you for reading my blog and for all your support.  It means so much to me and helps keep me going.

I hope you enjoy Kate’s article and my own personal journey of how the twists and turns in my own life brought this blog post to your computer, tablet, phone…or maybe even your watch?!

Remember, dare to dream and enjoy the twists and turns that make the ride better than you imagined!

I’d love to hear about some of your life twists and turns in the comments below!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: All 50 states are listed above the Lincoln Memorial on the back of a $5 bill (Source: http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_498_23-mind-blowing-true-facts-about-money_p3/)

Author’s note: This post is dedicated in loving memory of my Grandpa, Stan (January 26, 1927 – October 18, 2014).  He was one of my biggest supporters.  He was kind, funny, smart, and a great listener.  He had an incredible interest in life and would talk to me for hours about my experiences and adventures and share his own.  He gave amazing advice and even better hugs.  On a particularly beautiful day, he would remark at the wonderful show Mother Nature was putting on for us.  He encouraged me to always seek learning opportunities, maintain an awe and wonder in the world around me, talk to people everywhere I go, and have fun!  He was graceful, distinguished, and thoughtful.  He was proud of his wife, my Nanny, for her financial skills which she passed along to her children and me.  He was my dance partner at many family weddings, thankfully also including my own.  He was all the things that make up a perfect Grandpa and more.  I am so grateful to have had this much time with him on this Earth.  I love you bunches, Grandpa! xoxo

Dancing with Grandpa at my wedding Photo credit: Axente Productions Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs
Dancing with Grandpa at my wedding
Photo credit: Axente Productions
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

Changing Your Routine

Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

I am not a huge fan of change.  I’ll wager a guess that most people share my sentiments.  But, as they say, the only constant in life is change…so I guess we’ll have to get used to it!

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had to find a new job a few months ago.  The process was scary, exhausting, exciting, and ultimately, rewarding since I love my new job!  One thing that I didn’t consider until after my first full month of working at my new job was that I’d also have to change my routine when it came to paying my bills.

For nearly 10 years, I was used to receiving my paycheck on the 10th and the 26th of the month.  At my new job, I get paid on the 15th and the 30th/31st of the month.  At first, this may seem like no big deal.  However, I took a while to think about how to organize my bill paying routine going forward so that I could make sure I was paying my bills on time each month.

In the past, I paid bills on the 10th and the 26th.  That seemed to work out with the due dates of my bills.  Even though I get paid about 5 days later than I used to, the new schedule really doesn’t jive with my bill due dates.  From what I could tell, I had three options:

  1. Stop paying bills – who needs them, anyway?!
  2. Call my providers and request new due dates for my bills
  3. Change my well-established bill paying routine and – gasp – come up with a new one!

We’d all love the first option, but being realistic, I struck that one off my list.  While the second option was a valid one, it felt like too much work.  That left me with option #3 and I thought I could be brave and make a change, and that’s just what I did.

Now I sit down at the beginning of the month and write all my checks and schedule all my bill payments.  I know how much money to expect will arrive in each paycheck and by the beginning of the month, I know how much I will spend on bills and savings that month.  I can also be sure that I leave enough money in my checking account to pay the rent due on the 1st of the following month.  If I’ve written a check, I will put a reminder in my phone calendar to mail the check on a certain date so that it will arrive at the provider by the due date.

So far, organizing my bill paying at the beginning of each month is working out well for me.  It gives me a feeling of control over my finances and peace of mind that I won’t miss any due dates.

Have you come across an instance where you’ve had to make an unanticipated change with organizing your finances?  Post in the comments below!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: The current design of the penny with Lincoln’s face on it has been in circulation since 1909.  Previous penny designs featured Lady Liberty on the front of the coin.  (Source: http://www.ehow.com/about_5278127_lincoln-penny.html)

Budgeting 101 – tweak your attitude

Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

How do you feel when you hear the word “budget”?  Does it feel limiting and no fun?  Do you want to tap into your inner child and say “budget, don’t tell me what to do!”…and then you defiantly visit Amazon.com and buy 3 CDs you didn’t need, just because you can?  Do you think you can just kinda “wing it” instead of really looking at the numbers on paper?  Maybe you don’t want to admit it, but perhaps it feels a little scary?

If you’re nodding “yes” to any of these descriptions, consider this quote I recently found:

“When I made the shift from seeing decreasing my expenses as deprivation to seeing it as keeping money for myself and taking great care of myself, everything changed.”  ~Kate Northrop

When I read that quote, I thought: oh my goodness, she’s totally right!  A budget isn’t supposed to be some sort of straight jacket, there to make your life unpleasant…it’s just the opposite!  A budget will free you to live a fuller, more expansive life!

So what do you think about trying out this new tweak in attitude?  Take it out for a spin and see how you like it!

A big part of this process is to think of the overall picture.  What do you want your money to help you achieve?  You work hard to earn this money, so make it work hard for you.

Consider your hopes and dreams.  Budgeting is a way of funneling your money into things that matter to you – a way to make your hopes and dreams come true.  For instance, you may want to save up for a beautiful new house, bringing a baby into the world, excellent educations for your kids, travel to lovely and relaxing destinations with your family, comfortable retirement, or whatever else you daydream about.  Remember to work saving for these occasions into your budget.  In this way, your money can help you live the life of your dreams.

Here’s a place to start: instead of thinking of a budget as this big, intimidating project, commit to keeping your receipts for one month.  Either as you go along or at the end of the month, enter the amount of each receipt in the general category where it belongs in the resource I’ve created for you (request it using the form below).  Then take a step back and evaluate what you see.

You may be surprised to find that you eat out a lot more often than you thought.  For example, if you find that you’re spending $60 each week in eating out and you think you should only be spending $40, make $40 your spending goal for next week and see how you do.  Or maybe you’re not spending enough in the “FUN!” category.  Regardless of what you find, take note and tweak where necessary.

It make take a few tries, but I’ll bet you know what’s reasonable to expect that you spend in each category.  Keep in mind that “reasonable” may end up between what you’re actually spending and what you’d ideally like to spend.  For example, you may prefer to only spend $20 each week in gas, but the reality is your commute is really long, so it’s more realistic to expect to spend $40.  That’s a bummer, but not the end of the world.

So, try tweaking your attitude about budgeting to focus on how it will help you live the life of your dreams.  Good luck, have fun, and let me know how it goes in the comment section below.

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: Did you know that paper currency can be folded back & forth 4,000 before it wears out?  (Source: http://www.cnbc.com/2011/02/01/10-Things-You-Probably-Dont-Know-About-Money.html?slide=6)