Category Archives: Budgeting

Car Tips: Buying a Car? Do Your Homework!

Left – Ruby Sparkler and right – Shirley Temple Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs
Left – Ruby Sparkler and right – Shirley Temple
Copyright 2015 – Sweet Doll Designs

So you want to buy a new car.  It’s an exciting and daunting task!  I was reminded of that when I bought a car last weekend.  Not only is the actual car buying process in the dealership a long one, but the research it takes to get to that point is long and involved as well.  However, a well-researched purchase will make you happy for years to come.

Here are a few car buying tips to help you get on your way:

  1. Decide what type of car you’re interested in buying. By that I mean to ask yourself – do you want to buy a sports car, a small car, small SUV, regular SUV, truck, motorcycle, moped…you get the idea.
  2. Once you’ve decided on the size car you want to buy, look at the makes and models in that particular class. Do you like the look of any specific one?  Try to narrow down your search to just the few that you’re interested in investigating.
  3. Not to be forgotten is your budget! You probably have an idea of how much you can afford to pay for a car payment each month.  Go online to a site like bankrate.com to get a rough estimate of how much that means you’d be able to afford to finance.  That will tell you the top price you can pay for a car.  Then it’s up to you to determine if you have enough in savings to put a down payment on the car.  Also remember your current car that you may consider trading in – check out what a fair price may be for the trade-in value on Kelly Blue Book.
  4. Purchase a membership to Consumer Reports. It costs $30 a year and it will be well worth the money.  Once you’re a member, you can research the reliability, satisfaction, and safety ratings of the cars you’re investigating.  If you’re buying a used car, pay particular attention to the reliability ratings of each model year – you may find there are certain model years that you should avoid.
  5. Search for the car model and year in Edmunds.com to see what a fair price to pay is for that particular car.
  6. Make a note of all the features you’re looking for in a car. You may not find a car with all those features, but if will be a good starting point.
  7. Now you’re ready to start looking for available vehicles to test drive. You can find available cars by searching local dealership websites, checking cars.com, searching Consumer Reports online, and searching Edmunds.com, to name a few. Look at the mileage on each car, year, and color.  Investigate each listing to determine if you’re interested in the car.
  8. Have fun test driving the cars you’ve found! After you’ve test driven a few, you’ll be able to decide which model you like best.
  9. When you go to the dealership, know your budget and stick to it! They are great at trying to upsell you on features you don’t need.  Stand firm in your budget and know the fair price that you should pay for the car and insist you get it!
  10. It’s helpful if you don’t fall in love with any of the cars you’re interested in – your greatest negotiation tool is being able to walk away.

This process can be overwhelming, especially in the dealership.  Consider bringing a friend who can help keep you on track with your budget or any other aspect you feel may be helpful.  And most of all, enjoy your new car!

Optional: Come up with a fun name for your car.  Here are the names of my cars so far: The Beast, Black Beauty, Esmerelda, Shirley Temple, and Ruby Sparkler! 🙂

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: An estimated 16.9 million cars were sold in the US in 2014! (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/business/us-auto-sales-jump-for-2014.html)

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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)

Practicing what I preach – don’t panic about job loss!

Copyright 2015 Sweet Doll Designs
Copyright 2015 Sweet Doll Designs

On St. Patrick’s Day this year, I went in to work as I did every day.  I’d been working in the finance department of this company for almost 10 years and the routine was comfortable.  The CFO from the California office was unexpectedly in the Maryland office for the day and asked to meet with our department around 11am.  Dreading the meeting, I went to it and found my fears were true – our department was to be relocated to California.  In two months, we in Maryland would no longer receive a paycheck.

I remember my emotions that day: shock, disbelief…and panic.  How could this be happening?  How would I support myself?  I’d been casually looking for a job and hadn’t found anything – would I actually find something?  When? Would I like the job I found?  I didn’t want to be desperate about it, but I didn’t have much time to spare – my paycheck is pretty important to our family.

Then I remembered the blog post I wrote last year: Regrouping after a job loss – Don’t Panic!  I decided to practice what I preached.

After a few days, the shock started to wear off and I was able to sit down and assess my situation.  This is what I found:

  1. I did have two months to find a new job, though I still had to go in to work every day during that period.
  2. Thankfully, I’ve always been a good saver, so I had enough money in savings to tide us over for several months, if necessary.
  3. My husband was still working and bringing home a paycheck.

Knowing that I would be fine financially for several months and reminding myself that there was no need to panic, I set to work on creating a clear set of goals for my next position. Not only did I define the responsibilities that I wanted, I also determined where I wanted to work, narrowed down the titles I was searching for, and made a goal for my salary range.

These are the steps I decided to take with my finances:

  1. We had saved up for a new bed and were preparing to buy it when I got this news. We put that large purchase on hold because, even though I hoped it wouldn’t take that long to find a new job, I knew the landlord wouldn’t take a piece of the new mattress as rent payment!
  2. I had been considering buying a new car, but since mine was still in great shape, I was able to put that purchase on hold as well.
  3. I was contributing 12% of my paycheck to my 401k account. I decided to drop that percentage back down to 5% in order to still take advantage of the full company match, and put the extra money in my paycheck in a savings account earmarked as money to contribute to my IRA (to learn more about a 401k company match, visit this post).  This action increased my readily available funds, and if I didn’t have to use them, I would then move the money I’d saved to my IRA account as planned.
  4. I paid very close attention to how I was spending my money and made sure that I didn’t spend more than was absolutely necessary. No luxury items, no impulse purchases – ultimately, no money going out of my wallet for anything that wasn’t absolutely essential.
  5. I realized this was my chance to find a job that really made me happy! Truth be told, I wasn’t happy in my position anymore and was in need of a change.  But you know how that goes– it can sometimes seem easier to stay with the devil you know than take a chance on the devil you don’t know.

I spent hours on the phone and in person, speaking with recruiters and discussing with each of them what I was looking for in my next position.  The potential opportunities were exciting, but the process was exhausting at times.  On top of that, not everyone was enthusiastic about the goals I had set for myself – some said I would never be able to get the titles I aspired to, others said I’d never be able to find a job in the area I wanted, and still others said I’d never earn the salary I wanted.  When that happened, I thanked them and moved on, because I realized that I needed to work with people who believed in me!

It took me a month, but I’m happy to say that I found a job that’s perfect for me – I now have more responsibility, I’m closer to home, and I got the salary that I asked for!  An added bonus: the environment of my new company is wonderful and my coworkers are fantastic!

Now that I’ve been in my new position for four months, I can look back and sincerely say that I’m glad I was forced to look for a new job.  I am so much happier now and I’m learning a lot!  Events perhaps didn’t start the way I’d expected, but they ended up better than I’d hoped.

We also purchased our new bed and we’re getting a better night’s sleep – thank goodness!  And I’m restarting my search for the perfect new car for me.

The moral of the story is – don’t panic when you lose your job!  Take stock of where you are and know that right here and now, in this moment, you are fine.  Organize your thoughts, have a clear set of goals in mind, and then go for it!  Things often work out better than you can imagine!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today: The Department of Treasury first issued paper currency in 1862 to make up for the shortage of coins after the Civil War.  The first denominations of paper currency printed were 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents.  Source: http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0774850.html

Financial Goals

First of all, let me thank you for your patience in my absence from writing this blog.  My beloved grandfather passed away the same day I posted my last entry, October 18th.  I found that I needed to take a break from posting for a while, and I appreciate your understanding.

Now, I’d like to talk about your Financial Goals for 2015.  When the clock turned over to 1/1/15, perhaps you made some resolutions – eat healthier, go to the gym, or get a new job.  Did you make any financial resolutions or goals, too?

A few examples of financial goals could be: get out of debt, increase your emergency fund, pay off your car or school loans, or create a realistic budget that you’ll stick to this year.  Of course there are many other financial goals you could choose, but it’s important to choose at least one.  You might even consider choosing two – one short term goal that can be achieved within the year, and one long term goal that may take a year or more to achieve.  As in other areas in your life, having financial goals will help you focus your energy.

My husband and I have gotten into the habit of saving a little bit each month toward our financial goals.  This year, our short term goal is saving for a new bed, and our long term goal is saving for a down payment on our first home.  We will easily save enough money to buy a new bed long before we have enough money saved for a down payment on a home.  But it’s important to recognize that saving a little money each month toward your financial goals is very helpful, no matter how big or small the goals may be.

What are your financial goals for 2015?  Please share them in the comment section below!

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – “You can hold a Ferris wheel in the palm of your hand.  How?  It’s easier than you might think.  So is turning cartwheels with your fingers.  Both “Ferris wheel” and “cartwheel” are nicknames for silver dollars!” (Source: http://www.usmint.gov/kids/coinnews/funfacts.cfm?group=1)

PS I know I usually post on Saturdays, but I decided to post today in honor of Grandpa’s birthday, when he would’ve turned 88.  Happy Birthday, Grandpa!  Thanks for all the wonderful advice on money and life you gave me throughout the years.  I love you!

Photo credit: Axente Productions, LLC Nanny & Grandpa performing the Flower Girl honors at my wedding: August 17, 2013
Photo credit: Axente Productions, LLC
Nanny & Grandpa performing the Flower Girl honors at my wedding: August 17, 2013

Holiday planning – Start your list

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

I don’t know about you, but this year has flown by for me!  Now that we’re in October, it’s officially the last quarter of 2014!  That got me to thinking that the Holidays are just around the corner – now is the perfect time to start planning for them.

I know, you might be thinking that it’s not even Halloween yet, so why should you think about the holidays now?!  Well, it’s because the Holidays will be here before we know it and we need to start getting prepared so that we don’t have to run around like crazy and spend more money than necessary to get ready at the last minute.

When you start planning for the Holidays this far in advance, you have time to buy gifts on sale, pay for regular processing and shipping charges (instead of rush fees and overnight shipping), and save money a bit at a time so that you don’t have to charge all your purchases on your credit card.  Now is the perfect time to use the $5 bills you’ve been saving, or even consider using the change you’ve rolled.

To start, just sit and think about your favorite holiday experiences.  Are they with family?  Do they involve special menus?  Do you enjoy sending out special Holiday cards?  Have you started thinking about what to buy for your family and friends?

If you answered yes to being with family, does visiting them involve travel?  If it means plane travel, start looking at plane tickets and consider booking your flight now before the prices start to skyrocket.

If you enjoy making special food for your family get-togethers (even if it’s bringing a side dish to Nanny’s house and not cooking the entire meal), start thinking about what you want to make this year and write down the ingredients list.  If possible, estimate the cost of the ingredients you’ll need and start putting that money to the side.

If you’re planning on sending out a picture Holiday card of your family, go to the park and play around with taking fun family photos together.  Also go on the website of the company you’d like to create your card to see how much they will cost.  Start putting that money to the side.

Now start thinking about the presents you want to give to people this season.  Remember that they don’t always have to be store-bought.  Think creatively!  Maybe you can knit a pair of socks for Nanny to keep her feet toasty warm this winter.  Or maybe Mom would like a framed photo of a beautiful flower that you took this Spring.  It’s not a bad thing if you buy all your presents from the store, either.  My point is that it’s a good idea to start thinking now about each person on your list and what gift they might appreciate receiving.  Then do a little research to determine how much each gift (or the materials to make the gift) will cost.  You guessed it, put that money to the side, too.

I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet to help you organize your Holiday gift list.  If you’d like to receive this free resource, please fill out the form below.

Remember that you’re just starting these lists and they can be tweaked between now and the Holidays.  But it’s helpful to start getting prepared now!

Ok, now go back to planning your Halloween costume! 🙂

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – Over $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold during the holidays! (Source: http://fun.familyeducation.com/december-holidays/history/35012.html)

Wedding budgeting tips

Photo credit: Axente Productions, LLC Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Photo credit: Axente Productions, LLC
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

This weekend is a very special one for me – it marks my one year wedding anniversary!  In honor of this important milestone, I thought I’d share some wedding budgeting tips.

There is no doubt about it – weddings can be very expensive, and the expenses add up quickly!  But it is possible to be savvy about your expenditures and still put on an amazing party.  Here are a few thoughts:

1) Sit down and determine your wedding budget. Traditionally, the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner and the bride’s parents pay for the reception.  These days, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes the couple has to pay for most or all of the wedding.  Whatever your case may be, determine what you can afford and do your best to stick to this number!

2) When searching for wedding venues, be willing to consider sites that aren’t the #1 places to get married. By that, I mean, instead of having your heart set on getting married in a big name hotel, consider getting married at a state park.  We found several parks that had beautiful wedding accommodations so that we could have the outdoor/indoor wedding we wanted.

3) If funds are tight, consider getting married on a Friday or Sunday. These days of the week are less expensive than getting married on a Saturday.

4) When funds are tight, Do It Yourself (DIY) is certainly your friend! There are all sorts of crafty websites that will give you ideas for wedding favors or centerpieces, and you can either buy these pieces from the websites, or you can go to your local craft store like Michaels to make the items yourself.  Just keep in mind that DIY requires time, so budget that into your schedule.

One of my favorite wedding research websites was www.offbeatbride.com.  There were lots of suggestions to help you plan a wedding that are a little different – how different is up to you.  We got some great suggestions on the wedding invitation wording from this website.  My favorite suggestion, though, was having my grandmother, escorted by my grandfather, be my flower girl, or “Flower Artist”, as we called her.  That was so special to me.

I also found www.weddingwire.com to be a helpful resource – we created a wedding website for ourselves, and they had great planning tools for guest lists and seating charts, among other things.

5) Check out your local thrift stores and dollar stores for great looking items at a fraction of the cost that you might find in other stores or online! At the thrift store, I found an eclectic collection of glass candleholders and bowls to use as centerpieces on the tables at the reception.  You might also look for vintage jewelry to wear or to give to the wedding party.  If you need a shrug to cover your shoulders for a church ceremony, you might be able to find something really neat at a thrift store.

We found a lot of useful items at the dollar store, too –bows to put on the seats along the aisle, bubbles, foam boards for wedding signs into and out of the venue, candleholders, and little decorative pieces to use on signs and elsewhere.

It may take time and finding the items at just the right time in a thrift store or the dollar store, but if you’re patient, this can really pay off!

6) Flower arrangements can get very expensive very quickly! Consider stopping by the floral department of your local grocery store (or the grocery store nearest to your wedding venue) to price out your floral needs.  You will likely be able to get the exact flowers you want, even if they’re out of season, for a fraction of the price you would pay through a traditional florist shop!

In my case, I went to the Giant supermarket that was closest to my venue and ordered my flowers.  I was able to get my favorite flowers, tulips, out of season, and I also added in calla lilies (a very expensive flower) along with other beautiful flowers to create a gorgeous bouquet.  The cost of all the flowers we ordered for the wedding were ¼ of the price that we were being quoted from traditional flower shops!

7) Regarding your cake, think outside the box! You might buy a small, beautifully decorated cake for you to cut, then have a sheet cake from the grocery store in the kitchen that will then be cut and served to guests.  Or, if you don’t like cake, you can do what we did and serve chocolate chip cookie bars and brownie bars a la mode!  The sky is the limit!

8) For your honeymoon, consider visiting a National Park. There is plenty to do and see and you’ll learn a lot!  And it may be a bit less expensive than traveling to a resort.  We visited Yellowstone National Park for our honeymoon.  It was beautiful and amazing.  Wherever you decide to go, remember to tell everyone that you’re on your honeymoon – you may get a free treat from well-wishers 🙂

Most of all, remember that, though you want to put on a great party at your wedding, the most important thing at the end of the day is that you’ve gotten married to the love of your life!  This will be one of the happiest days of your life, and just try to enjoy it and take it all in.  If anything doesn’t go as planned, don’t fret – you’ll laugh over it with your spouse later.

Best wishes for a lifetime of happiness!

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – Seventeen tons of gold are made into wedding rings each year in the United States!  (Source: http://wedding.theknot.com/wedding-planning/wedding-customs/articles/50-wedding-traditions-superstitions-facts-trivia.aspx )