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

Lessons from my cat – be playful, curious, and stress-free

As you can probably imagine, I eagerly follow the stats on my blog page, excited every time I see that someone has viewed a post, and ecstatic when they “like” it!  Since sharing my blog on Facebook, I’ve gotten a lot more traffic on my blog page (thanks everyone!).  I’ve been paying attention to which posts seem to be most popular so that I can determine what people are interested in reading about.  I’m equally as interested to see which topics aren’t quite as popular.

Surprisingly, the posts I’ve written on having fun with your money, the very same posts that I have so much fun writing, seem to not be as popular as the other posts I’ve written.  I’ve been asking myself why that could be, and had an inspiration from my cat this afternoon!

Two years ago, my husband and I adopted an adorable black kitten, Oliver.  He was found by my coworker in an abandoned parking lot when he was 4 months old, and we were thrilled to adopt him and make him part of our family.  He has quite the spunky personality – he is not a typical lazy lap cat.  He is always exploring and playing.

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

I took him outside on our porch this afternoon to play.  It’s a gorgeous fall day and he was enjoying chasing the leaves and munching on a few.  As I watched him play, I realized that we should all be more like our pets.  By that, I mean we should all be more playful, curious, and stress-free!

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

That got me to thinking about the fun with money posts I’ve written.  I think people are used to thinking of money as a super serious topic.  It is, there is no question about it – without money, life could be a lot harder.  However, it’s not a bad thing, and actually a great thing, to be more playful, curious, and certainly less stressed about our money.

Think about other things you have fun doing.  For example, most of us cook for ourselves.  It’s fine to follow a recipe exactly, and that’s probably what we all do the first time we make it.  But isn’t it more fun to experiment with the recipe the next time you make it?  You might play with the spices, ingredients, and side dishes.  Do you find that you learn more about the recipe when you play with it?  I do!

What if you applied the same concept to your money?  Go ahead and buy a state quarter map (read more here) or a National Park quarter map (read more here).  Mark your money and track it on the Where’s George website (read more here).  Pay more attention to all aspects of your money, including the designs on our paper currency (read more here)!  Let go of your tendency to be so serious about your money, if only for a few minutes.

You might be surprised what you learn when you play with your money!  How do you have fun with your money?

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

What lessons have you learned from your pets?  How can you apply those lessons to your money?  Comment below!

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – In 2013, Americans spent $55.7 billion (yes, with a B!!) on their pets.  It is expected that number will reach $60 billion in 2014! (Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/americans-spent-a-record-56-billion-on-pets-last-year/)

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)

Reboot your life – take care of yourself

Last week, we talked about regrouping after a job loss (click here to go back to that post).  It occurred to me during the week that this advice doesn’t necessarily have to apply to a job loss situation – it can apply to any situation in which you feel the need to reboot your life, either voluntarily (you feel you need a career shift) or involuntarily (you’re laid off from your job).

So let’s continue with the advice, keeping in mind that it can apply to any situation that you may be facing.

1) Your health is your most important asset

We ended last week with this advice (click here to go to last week’s post), talking about buying quality food for your family that’s on sale.  What I didn’t address is physical activity.

When you were cutting out unnecessary expenses, you may have had to cut out your gym membership.  However, that doesn’t mean the end of your physical activity.  If the weather is nice outside, go for a walk around your neighborhood, go for a hike with your family, or just walk up and down the stairs in your house.  Also, many exercise videos can be found on You Tube!

Exercising releases endorphins in your brain which help with cognitive thinking and will make you feel happier.  You don’t need much activity in order to experience a mood shift – just 15 minutes at a time will do!

One day this week, I was having a rough day and was in a really bad mood.  After a while I decided that enough was enough, so I took a break from my desk and went for a 15 minute walk up and down the road where I work.  I was amazed at how much better I felt when I got back to my desk – my mood was drastically improved for the rest of the day!

2) Get your zzzzzz’s!

Getting plenty of rest during a stressful time in your life is so important.  Your body needs sleep to refuel itself with enough energy for the next day.  If you skimp on sleep, you’ll find that you’re more irritable and not able to make good decisions.  When you sleep without an alarm, how long do you sleep – 6, 8, 9 hours?  Determine the optimal amount of sleep your body needs and make sure you get that amount each night.

3) The power of “Ohm”

http://izquotes.com/quote/297814
http://izquotes.com/quote/297814

I have been reading lately about meditation and I’m amazed to hear of its positive benefits: stress reduction, immune system enhancement, and it helps you keep things in perspective, to name a just few.  There are many articles, books, and You Tube videos on how to meditate that will help you start your practice.  You can also use yoga or walking as a meditation.  Quiet your mind, let your thoughts come in and go out, especially the negative thoughts of doubt and fear.  Don’t linger on any one thought.  Just be.  This will take practice, but it’s worth it.

4) Think creatively!

If you’re in need of more income, start to think creatively.  Do you have a hobby or craft that you love doing that you can sell?  If you knit, perhaps you can knit cute baby hats and sell them online.  If you love woodworking, consider designing a hallway table that you can make and sell.  You imagination is the limit!

5) Spending diary

Do you keep a spending diary?  Simply write down EVERY TRANSACTION that you make each day.  Tracking this information is a great way to really see how much you’re spending in every category (like food, clothing, and entertainment).  It will also help you determine if there are any areas where you can cut out unnecessary expenses.  Perhaps you didn’t realize you really spend that much on coffee out each week!  It can be an eye-opening exercise.

If you’re interested in more information on keeping a spending diary, please visit this post.

What do food, exercise, sleep, and meditation have to do with your finances?  When you’re rebooting your life, strength and energy are essential, and it’s important to have reserves of both to last you over the long haul.  The only way to do that is if you’re well rested, properly nourished, clear-headed, and calm.

Stay tuned for more tips on rebooting your life.  In the meantime, take care of yourself!

Happy Decoding!

Fun fact for today – The security thread and micro printing found on currency today was first used in 1990 on $50 and $100 bills (Source: http://blog.lendingclub.com/the-us-dollar-bill-50-fascinating-facts/).

Regrouping after a job loss – Don’t Panic!

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

A good friend of mine asked for my advice on a financial issue her family is facing.

She, her husband, and their baby girl had been living in a town that they loved, surrounded by lots of family and friends.  They built a beautiful house, and thought they would stay in this area forever.

Until her husband got an offer to move to a different state to pursue an exciting career opportunity.

Even though they hated to leave their family, friends, and beloved town, they made the leap.  That was 6 months ago.

Then he was laid off.

Naturally, they are upset that this opportunity didn’t pan out, and that they are now far away from the support of their family and friends.

They’re scared, which is very understandable!  They need to take care of their family while he’s looking for a new job.

In order to help my friend, I came up with a number of suggestions for her and her family.

Here are my first 5 tips for regrouping after a job loss:

1) DON’T PANIC!

When my husband and I were vacationing along the East Coast this summer, we saw many warning signs about rip currents.  The signs taught us that in order to escape a rip current, the first step is: DON’T PANIC!  The next step is to swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of this fairly narrow current.

Losing your job is shocking, scary, and may seem like the end of the world.  It’s like you’ve suddenly realized you’re in a rip current – your 5 year plan for your career seems to be quickly getting further away.

DON’T PANIC!

Take a deep breath and realize others have been here before you and have come out the other side just fine – sometimes even better for the experience because they’ve had to get creative.

Now, start swimming parallel to the shore.  Start re-visioning ways you can get paid to do what you had been doing.  Can you become a consultant in your field instead of working in the same office each day?  Or can you think about your field upside down or backwards and come up with a new service you can offer?

This also might be a great opportunity to start that business you’ve been dreaming about! 

2) Fiscal Fitness

Examine your monthly expenses to see what you can cut.  You’re looking for “luxury items” that you pay for each month that might seem like necessities but aren’t.  You may consider cutting out cable, large cell phone plans, magazine subscriptions, gym membership, daily coffee runs, eating out, music subscriptions, clothes shopping, and dry cleaning (most items can be dry cleaned at home using special kits available for sale in Walmart), to name a few.  Just stick to essential expenses for right now, and try to avoid large expenses, if possible.

An important point to note is that this cutting back is just temporary!

Don’t get discouraged thinking that you’ll never be able to watch your favorite cooking shows on the Food Network ever again!  Once you’re back on your feet, you can add back in expenses that you missed.

Don’t be surprised, though, if you find that while you may miss cable when you first cut it, after a while you may find a peace in your life without it.  You may have extra time in your day to read, pick up a favorite craft, or spend time with your family.  When you get a new job, you may make the decision not to get cable again – and that’s ok!

3) Don’t seclude yourself in your house!

Don’t completely cut out your entertainment budget.  This may seem like a complete contradiction of the tip directly above, but hear me out.  This time is probably scary and frustrating, and you can’t job search 24/7 – you need to keep your sanity!

Maybe you don’t buy the expensive concert tickets, go out to fancy dinners, or go to the movies every week.  Your entertainment budget will be much smaller right now, but that just means that you have the opportunity to get creative so that your money goes further!

Here are some ideas to use with your new entertainment budget: enjoy a picnic dinner with your family at a local park, find discount movie tickets, rent a $1 movie from Redbox, eat dinner at home and go out to ice cream, find discount meal coupons to a favorite restaurant, look for free activities in your area (like outdoor movies during the summer, festivals, etc.) and frequent those, and suggest a pot luck game night with your friends.

4) Your local public library

When you’re cutting expenses, if you find that you have to cut out the internet, remember that there are lots of places that offer free Wi-Fi these days.

Even though Starbucks, Panera, and Barnes & Noble offer free Wi-Fi, I recommend checking out your local library.  They will not only provide you with free Wi-Fi for your job searching needs, but tell them about your situation, and a librarian will be able to direct you to other resources to help with your search.

5) Your health is your most important asset

Maintaining your family’s health is so important!  I know it may be tempting to buy only noodles and beans & rice for your family, but you don’t want to run the risk of lowering your resistance to colds and other ailments.  You need to bring your A game – staying healthy will help you do that.

Buy good quality food on sale!  Look at the sale flyers that the grocery store sends around each week and find the healthy and nutritious items on sale.  Build a menu for the week around those sale items, and write down your shopping list.  When you go to the store only buy the items on your shopping list!

Stay tuned for more tips on regrouping after a job loss.  In the meantime, try to keep a positive attitude – everything is working out.  You may not see how right now, but one day soon you’ll look back on this experience and see that the path worked perfectly.

Have you or someone you know ever been in a job loss situation?  If so, what did you do that helped you recover?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – The Bureau of Engraving and Printing has two facilities – one in Washington, DC and the other in Fort Worth, TX.  Together, they use 9.7 tons of ink each day! (Source: http://www.federalreserveeducation.org/about-the-fed/structure-and-functions/financial-services/fun_facts.cfm)

PS My friend just told me that her husband accepted a new job today!  How exciting!

A conversation about finance