Tag Archives: Living in the real world

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.


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)

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

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”


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:


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.


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!

Follow your dreams!

Following my dreams! Photo credit: Mike Kraeuter Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Following my dreams!
Photo credit: Mike K.
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

As I’ve mentioned before, Financial Literacy is my passion and has been for several years now.  With some encouragement from my mom and my husband, it was on my birthday this year that I started this blog.  This past week, I posted all of my blog posts on the Facebook page that I recently created for Decoding Your Dollars (you can find it here).

Both starting this blog and posting my blog posts on Facebook have been steps along the way to following my dreams.  Can I just tell you how fantastic this feels?!  Soon after starting my blog, and then again after sharing all my blog posts on my new Facebook page, I have felt like I am on cloud nine!

This reinforces the importance of following your dreams!  Doing so will make you feel amazing!  Putting yourself out there may seem risky or scary, but it’s not life threatening, and it’s usually pretty exciting.  And it could improve your life – quickly, drastically, and in ways you never imagined!

Some common dreams that people have are dream houses, cars, jobs, and spouses, to name a few.  These pieces all come together to create your dream life.  So how do we apply “following your dreams” to finances?  Let’s look at one of these goals – buying your dream house.

You might have an image in your mind of your dream house, which is a great start.  Build a vision board for yourself, which includes all the details about this house and what will be inside it (read more about vision boards in this post).  Doing this will get you even more excited about your dream!

Next, hop on the internet and search for house prices in the area where you’d like to live.  From there, you can determine the amount you need to come up with in order to put a down payment on your dream house.  I recommend aiming for a 20% down payment (I’ll talk more about different types of mortgages in a future post).  Break that calculated down payment amount into monthly pieces to be able to determine how much you should save toward your goal.  As you see your account balance increasing, you’ll feel encouraged to find more money to put in your bank account.

The down payment amount that you calculated might sound like a lot of money, but don’t get discouraged!  If you think creatively, you can come up with ideas to come up with the down payment even quicker than you expected.  For example, look for a home that’s priced under market value because the sellers really need to sell, look for a rent to own situation, look for a fixer-upper that only needs cosmetic fixes, to name a few thoughts.  You can also come up with a list of things you can do for a fee – running errands for people, cooking meals for busy families, yard work, etc.  Before you know it, you’ll have the keys to your dream house in your hand!  You can do it!

If you find that you need a little extra encouragement, have I got a blog suggestion for you!  When you sign up to follow the blog, it’s like a pep rally in your inbox each day.  The posts will get you really energized to follow your dreams!  Enjoy!  www.dailypeptalks.wordpress.com

So, get out there and dream big!  Then break those dreams into attainable goals that you can achieve along the way.  As you start to achieve those mini-goals, you’ll get even more excited about the overall dream and that will help you make it there faster!  Following your dreams will get your creative juices flowing, which will make the journey seem easier and exhilarating.  Have fun with it!

Thank you for your support while I follow my dreams – I really appreciate it!

Jumping for joy! Photo credit: Mike Kraeuter Copyright 2014 - Sweet Doll Designs
Jumping for joy!
Photo credit: Mike K.
Copyright 2014 – Sweet Doll Designs

Happy decoding!

Fun fact for today – Did you know that $1 bills last in circulation ~18 months, $5 bills are in circulation for ~15 months, $20 bills are in circulation for ~2 years, and $50 and $100 bills are in circulation for up to 8 years?  From that information, it seems like $5 bills are the most popular form of paper currency! (Source: http://blog.lendingclub.com/the-us-dollar-bill-50-fascinating-facts/)

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 )