#MoneyHacks: Getting Started

I was recently asked by an old friend for advice on budgeting. She had seen my post on another friend’s page suggesting the budgeting tools I liked and asked what advice I would give for someone who wanted to start spending their money more intentionally. So, I’d like you to look at this as me answering that question, as if we were sitting down together over coffee. I’ll give some un-expert, but tried and true advice, and even sprinkle in some of our story.

Goals and Dreams

What is your end-goal? It’s important to personalize this because it’s going to affect the choices you make and how you prioritize different than someone else. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • I want to stop living pay-check to pay-check or juggling bills to stay ahead.
  • I want to feel secure that I can retire at age [pick a number–maybe it’s early, maybe it’s traditional]
  • I want to stop fighting with my spouse about money.
  • I want my kids to go to college and not have as much debt as I did.
  • I want the choice to [travel more, give more away, work at a job I love for less pay, become a SAH parent.]

Get a real picture of your debt.

Write down EVERYTHING you owe with total balances, monthly minimums, due dates, and interest rates.  This includes mortgage, student loans, vehicle loans, toy loans, credit cards, personal loans, family loans…you get the picture. Log into all those loan sites (and save the passwords somewhere). You will never be able to decide where your money gets to go until  you know where it HAS to go.  If you want to use paper, that’s fine. If you like technology, I’ve heard good things about undebt.it or readyforzero.com.

OUR STORY: When we first took Financial Peace University, I thought we were in GREAT financial shape. We budgeted, saved for retirement, paid our credit card off every month, and were saving for grad school. It was a reality check to write down that we still had a 30-year mortgage, a vehicle loan and various student loans several years after graduation.

Next, commit to no new debt and getting out of debt.

No car loan. No second mortgage for a remodel. No student loans. No more credit cards if you have any with balances. It’s important to write this down and commit to it as a couple so that the “I NEED a new [car/whatever it is]–we can always finance it.” discussion is off the table.

OUR STORY: We decided there was no reason we should be paying interest on a vehicle loan when we had enough in savings to pay off the truck. We also committed to driving our current vehicles until we could save up cash for the next (used) purchase. We committed to doing everything we could to pay off our student loans within 2 years and that we would have grad school paid off by the time my husband completed his Master’s degree in the next 2 years.

Figure out your income.

Seems easy for people like us who get paid once or twice/month, but really look at every source of income: salaries, bonuses, overtime, side jobs, interest earned, etc. If you have variable pay, write down your income for the past year to get a good idea of where your peaks and valleys are.

OUR STORY: We had steady salaried jobs but wanted to make sure any extra income or bonuses wasn’t frittered away. We pre-committed any extra money to be used for whatever goal/baby step we were on at the time. Made bonuses a lot less exciting, but made our goals possible.

Figure out your expenses.

List your yearly bills (monthly x 12 plus any annual payments like car/life insurance, subscriptions, etc.) and expenses. If you don’t know where to get started, your checking account register online is a good start. It’s recommended to comb through 3-6 months of expenses and start categorizing them. You’ll need a good picture of where you money is actually going before you can make a realistic budget.

Get an emergency fund or buffer.

Dave Ramsey suggests a $1000 emergency fund, YNAB suggests “buffering” one month of expenses (use September’s paycheck to pay October’s bills). The idea is that you don’t want to create new debt/an emergency if an unexpected expense shows up. So, set aside some money from the beginning that is only for emergencies. You might already have that in savings, you might need to pick up extra hours or a side job or sell some things. But you want to do it fast, even if it’s not fun in the short run.

Make a plan: Get that first Budget done.

This is the part where people get scared and think that a budget will be so restricting and they’ll never get to do anything fun. I like the description that “a budget is just a plan”. It’s like a To-Do list for your money. Everything needs to get done, so write it all down, starting with your “needs” and then filling in wants. Be realistic about your expenses at first, based on your past 6 months of spending.  Later, if you get to the end of your list and have run out of income to fund each expense category, go back and evaluate what is necessary, what aligns with your goals, and what your current and future priorities are. You might [you will] have to cut something out or down. Here are a few resources to help:

OUR STORY: After YEARS of budgeting, here is a list of my categories. You have to merge/separate what makes sense for you, but sometimes it helps to see someone else’s list to help trigger ideas of things you may forget about.

  • Giving
    • Tithe (local church)
    • Other Giving (mission trips, local fundraisers, other charities/families in need, Compassion Sponsorship)
  • Savings
    • Retirement Savings
    • Kids College Funds
    • Vehicle Replacement (you should be paying yourself for your next vehicle, not paying someone else for your current vehicle_
    • Emergency Fund (if you’re still building it up)
  • Monthly Bills (I included here if it’s a recurring bill even if the amount varies slightly)
    • Debt Payments, if you have them (Student loans, vehicle, credit card, medical, etc.)
    • Mortgage, Insurance, Property Taxes
    • Utilities (gas, electric, water, garbage)
    • Cable/Internet/Phone
    • Cell Phone (includes monthly bill + saving for phones every 2 years)
    • School Lunch
    • Daycare (we have a FLEX account, but this is the extra needed beyond)
    • Term Life Insurance (save every month so it’s fully funded when your premium is due)
    • Auto Insurance (save some every month so you can pay 6 or 12 months at a time if there is a discount available)
    • Yearly Subscriptions (Amazon Prime, YNAB, Zander ID Theft, McAfee). You may have more like NetFlix, Hulu,
  • Variable Spending (I tend to take yearly spending/12, but you may want to flex these up and down by month as needed, especially if you’re working on short-term important goals like getting out of debt)
    • Groceries/Household supplies
    • Clothing/Cosmetics/Hair care
    • Home Maintenance (light bulbs, repairs, lawn care, etc.)
    • Home Improvement (furniture, decor, photos, appliance replacement)
    • Transportation (fuel, maintenance, repairs, registration, tolls/parking)
    • Pet (food, vet, boarding for vacations)
    • Teaching Expenses (classroom supplies, continuing ed, professional dues)
    • Entertainment (dining out, coffee, movies, day trips, tickets)
    • Vacation (we include kids rec activities and pool pass, remember to include for things like hotels for weddings and holidays)
    • Gifts Given (calculate how much you plan/can spend for birthdays (including party supplies), Christmas (including cards/stamps), Anniversary, Valentine’s Day, weddings, showers, funerals, etc.)
  • Others you may need:
    • Medical (our premiums and HSA contributions come out pre-tax, but yours may not)
    • HOA fees or cleaning/lawn service
    • ??? Look at your bank account transactions to see what else you are spending money on so you can PLAN realistically

Your plan needs to include getting rid of that debt ASAP

Whether you use a debt snowball, a debt avalanche, fancy software or just a pen-and-marker thermometer, you need to make a plan on how/when you are going to get all of your debt (except your house) paid off. Quickly. Like 24 months or less. What can you cut out of your budget? Where can you make or commit and extra income? What can you “pause” until it’s paid off (retirement, college savings, new vehicle saving, down payment). Getting out of debt is one of the first keys to freedom.

 

Well, I think that’s plenty long for a “getting started” post…I told you brevity was not my strong suit. I may elaborate more on the budgeting and debt repayment sections in the future, but there are so many routes you can take and I truly believe you have to do what motivates YOU most, not exactly what I did.

If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to follow up with you!

 

 

 

#MoneyHacks : The Index

I plan to do some posts about money/saving hacks as this is the topic I’m most asked about IRL and want a simple list of links and references. This is a complete work in progress and serves as a list of posts I’d like to do in the future…but no promises.

  1. Budgets are my Hobby
    1. Getting Started (NEW POST)
    2. Dave Ramsey
      1. Read Total Money Makeover  (or borrow from friend/library)
      2. The 7 Baby Steps
      3. Financial Peace University
    3. You Need a Budget
      1. YNAB software (free 34-day trial, then $50/year)
      2. YNAB fans facebook group
    4. Mint.com
    5. Tithing and Mission Trips
    6. College Savings
    7. Retirement
  2. Saving Money Shopping Online
    1. ebates (rebates)
    2. topcashback (rebates)
    3. RetailMeNot (coupon codes, also get the app and use in-store)
    4. Upromise
    5. Sinclair DinoRewards (print 1 coupon/day for $0.26. Do not do anything else on this site or you will hate me)
    6. Kohls Cash and 30% codes
    7. [Children’s] Place Cash and Flash Sales
  3. #SavingsHacks on Groceries
    1. Meal Planning and food management
    2. Freezer Cooking
    3. Rock-Bottom Shopping (never buy butter over $3 or why I buy bags of frozen vegetables by the dozens)
    4. Dining Out: Free Kid’s meals, coupons, and why you should just go home and eat leftovers instead
    5. Apps
      1. Ibotta: Use referral code h3pffw to get $10 free
      2. Checkout 51:
      3. Mobisave
      4. Savings Catcher (Walmart)
      5. Cartwheel (Target)
      6. Invisipon (Fareway)
  4. #SavingsHacks on Clothes
    1. Schoola (Use this link to get $10 credit. Sign up for emails to get a % off 1st order.)
    2. Swapping with friends
    3. Consignment Store Tips
    4. Garage sale/Facebook Swap Tips
    5. Buying new is not bad: clearance, end-of-season, brands that last
  5. #SavingsHacks on Books/Magazines/Movies
    1. Library (this doesn’t need a post. Go there. It’s free.)
    2. Scholastic Book Orders (use the code from your child’s school)
    3. Magazines (good deals on Amazon, especially around Black Friday)
  6. #SavingsHacks on Diapers/Personal Care items
    1. Target Gift Card deals
    2. Ibotta: Use referral code h3pffw to get $10 free
    3. Checkout 51
    4. Coupons.com
    5. Dollar General app

Earning Extra Money

  1. Increase your Income
    1. Make your Bonus boring: make a plan for unexpected income
    2. Public School Teachers: Steps, Lanes and break-even points
  2. Side Hustles
    1. Everything we’ve done: coaching, reffing, supervising, camps, choreography, speaking gigs, sports app
    2. Other things you could do: gigs, tutoring, work-at-home
  3. Credit Card Hacks
    1. Chase Freedom
      • no fee, 5% rotating categories, $150 sign-up bonus when you spend $500 in first 3 months. Let me know your email address and I’ll send you a link for this deal.
    2. Sign-up bonuses I’ve completed: Disney Rewards, Disney Premier, Chase Freedom, Chase Unlimited, Chase Sapphire, Capital One Venture
    3. Sinclair $0.10/gallon discount (check your local gas station)
    4. Best Sign-Up Bonuses (check nerdwallet.com)
    5. Best Cash-Back (check nerdwallet.com)
  4. Referral programs
    1. Ibotta ($5 for you, $10 for friend)
    2. ebates  (perks for you and them changes quarterly)
    3. Topcashback ($10 for you)
    4. Schoola ($10 for you, $10 for friend)
    5. Amazon (if you have a blog/social platform)
    6. Upromise ($20 for you–have to send invite by email)
  5. Receipt Apps:
    1. Yaarlo (referrral code COURTNEY578)
    2. Receipt Hog
    3. Kellogg’s Family Rewards
    4. Punchcard
  6. Reward/Loyalty Programs:
    1. Microsoft Rewards (formerly Bing Rewards)- Points for searching, cash out for Amazon or Starbucks. Earn about $0.30/day but super-easy. Will write tips.
    2. Restaurants: sign up, get birthday rewards, read emails
    3. Retailers: Kohls, Children’s Place
  7. Other Apps: Field Agent, EasyShift, Mobee, Swagbucks, Perk
  8. Direct Sales: BeachBody, Roden+Fields, Lularoe, Entegro, Plexus (ask any of your friends who are posting on facebook)

Other Financial Blogs

  1. Mr. Money Moustache
  2. J.Money‘s blogs: Budgets Are Sexy
  3. Gen Y Finance Guy
  4. Millennial Money Man

Luvs Coupon Stack: 5-cents/diaper: May 2016

luvs size 3I’m pretty much the perfect example of Luv’s new campaign

“The Official Diaper of Experienced Moms”

They work the best for my daughter because they’re not as stiff under tight leggings as Target brand and I can usually find great deals. Here’s the latest deal that works best at Dollar General this Saturday, but you can use the portions that apply to you:

$2.00 off printable Luvs coupon (good on any size except travel/trial)

$3.00 rebate from ibotta app (Any box 54 ct or larger). Plus $10 for new users.

  • Download the app. Use my referral code, h3pffw, and you can earn an extra $10. Sign up at https://ibotta.com/r/h3pffw
  • Find your store and unlock the offer BEFORE you checkout. Depending on the store, you may need to scan the barcode and take a picture of the receipt afterwards (like Dollar General), take a picture of the QR code (Walmart) or give your phone number during checkout (Fareway).
  • Cash out for gift cards or PayPal when you reach $20. If you’re a new user, you’ll be at $13 after running this deal.

$2.00 cashback from Checkout 51 app. (Any size, any variety)

  • Download the app and make sure you select the offer. After purchase, you upload your receipt and the select the offer again to verify. You can request a check when your account reaches $20.

$5 off a $25 purchase at Dollar General this Saturday (and most Saturdays). Only do this IF you actually need enough other items to justify the extra $10-$11.

  • Go to the Dollar General website for a printable $5 off $25 coupon.
  • OR download the Dollar General app and use the digital coupon

Total Savings:  $12.00 off a box of diapers priced at $16.00

  • Size 3 is usually $16.00 for 92. After this deal, total cost is $0.043 per diaper
  • Size 4 is usually $16 for 76. After this deal, total cost is $0.053 per diaper

If you are a new ibotta user, you’ll actually MAKE $ on this deal!

You can still get a great deal by just stacking the $2.00 off coupon and $2.00 Checkout 51 cash back on a smaller size at a different store, but this is my “maximize savings” plan for this week. Hope it helps someone else save too!

 

 

Get Free Clothes: Part 1 :: Schoola.com

Schoola blogSchoola.com is a website that takes donations of used clothes from people who want to raise money for their schools. They sell the clothes online and give 40% back to schools. They also happen to have a pretty nice sign-up bonus and referral program and often run promotions that will help you get an even better deal. Here’s one going on now where you can get $37.50 in free clothes.

Short instructions (for those with short attention spans): You need to sign up as a new customer using this link to get a $20 credit, then create a collection to get a $10 credit, then go find $37.50 worth of clothes, put them in your cart and enter RMENOT16 in the promo code box for 20% off your order. You’ll qualify for free shipping (14-21 days) so it’s $37.50 worth for FREE!

Long instructions (pretend you’re teaching your mom):
1.Click on the link for $20 credit: https://www.schoola.com/stitch?ref=cp-3X8tov6FP
2. If you are on your phone scroll to the bottom of the page and click “full site”
3.Click on “join” and create an account.
4.Click on “New Collection”on the side and create a new one (such as “womens”) A promo running right now gets you a $10 credit for creating a collection.
5. Add up to $37.50 worth of clothing from ANY category to your cart and head to checkout. Make sure to check “Good” under condition if you want to use the 20% off code – it won’t work for New with Tags items.
6. At checkout, add the promo code RMENOT16 for 20% off (or check retailmenot.com for a new code). Choose Free Shipping.
7. Your total will be $0 if you added $37.50 or less! It will absolutely show you how much your end total is, so you’ll know if you did it right.

Make sure to do it in that order for it to work. We don’t know how long this will last or how long the promo code is good, so if you want to try it, I’d do it soon.

There aren’t great descriptions and no guarantees on the condition. Most of the kids clothing I received was in fair condition- okay for play clothes. I had much better luck with Women’s career clothes and did searches for nice brands such as Banana Republic for some cardigans and pants. I also scored nice dress pants from H&M and The Limited and a great pair of Athleta pants. Shipping took about 2 weeks. Even after my “credits” were used up, I ended up ordering a nice dress for a reasonable price and I felt great knowing that 40% of my purchases were helping schools!

Hope you find something fun and feel free to share with your friends! (Full disclosure: the link is my referral link so I get some credit if you use it, but it’s the only way to get the $20 credit yourself too! When you share with YOUR friends..give them your referral link and you can keep earning $20 credits up to $500/year.)

 

Stay tuned for additional entries in this 5-part “Free Clothes” series.

The Mitten Habit

The Mitten Habit

The three little kittens, they lost their mittens, and didn’t know where to find them.

“Oh Mother Dear, we sadly fear, our mittens we have lost!”

“What! Lost your mittens? You naughty kittens! You know where your mittens go…

In your hat, in your sleeve, in your coat, in the closet.

In his first winter month of kindergarten, my son had lost 2 hats, 3 sets of mittens and both sets of boots. Only a few were recovered from the various Lost and Found boxes. I knew something had to change or pretty soon he’d be down to one black and one navy stretch glove and his little sister’s spare pom-hat.

What’s a mama cat to do?

We implemented the mitten habit. Every time. Like, E-V-E-R-Y time the boys come in the house, they take off their mittens, put them in their hat, stuff the hat in the sleeve and get the coat in the closet (usually on the floor, but you pick your battles around here.)

So, when it’s time gear-up and get out the door? The mittens are always in the hat in the sleeve in the coat in the closet. I didn’t even realize this was working until I saw my just-turned-three-year-old automatically carry out the ritual with no reminders. And saw my 16 month walk to her room, retrieve her coat and reach into the sleeve to get her hat.

After recently hearing Charles Duhigg speak at a conference and then reading his book The Power of Habit within 2 days, I was re-inspired to look for other places where developing intentional habits had the potential to make life much, much easier.

So try this exercise with me.

Think of something you lose the most. What are you always looking for?

Keys? Phone? Purse? Coat? Favorite Pen? Remote? The other shoe?

What habit/routine can you create so that you always put those things in the same place and therefore always know where to find them?

For example, my car keys live in 2 places when they’re not in the ignition of my minivan. When I’m home, they immediately go in the junk drawer. You know you have one too. Where else do you store the Box Tops for Education labels, mini screw drivers and random marbles? When I am ANYWHERE else, they go in the end pocket of my purse. Not in my coat pocket, jeans pocket, van console, desk drawer, or even the black-hole-main-pocket of my purse. Only one pocket. Now I don’t even think about, it: they’re just magically there every time I look!

So my challenge for you is to pick ONE habit. ONE thing you lose often and decide where that object is going to live at all times that it’s not in use. Then make a commitment to put it there every time. I don’t know if it will take you 7 days or 21 or a year, but you’ll know you’ve succeeded when you never think to youself “where is the [X]” because your feet automatically walk and your hand automatically reach for it…

and it’s there.

 

 

 

How to STOP Head Injuries from Falling Sippy Cups

sippy cups sigDUCK AND COVER!

This was my strategy when opening the cupboard containing our plates, bowls and cups. Among the why-did-we-pick-that-pattern Corelle place settings and the grown-up glasses was a rainbow of plastic drinking devices designed for the post-bottle and pre-breakable glass contingent. You know, the soft-tip sippies that were supposed to be the easiest to transition from the bottle, the hard-tip easy-to-clean ones that never fit in the stroller cup holders, and my personal favorite, the miracle 360 cups that dentists love because they’re most like cups but lose their magic when thrown defiantly from a high chair. I was sick.of.all.of.them.

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have actually been injured by these topsy-turvy, falling-everywhere sippy cups. Like, give-me-a-minute-I-might-cry injured. This is dumb. I am dumb. There has to be a better way. Here it is:

Put sippy cups in a basket. Or a drawer. Just not a cupboard above eye level. Or they will hit you in the head. #organizinghack

There is no reason the infinitely more unstable sippy cups need to be in the cupboard next to their more mature glass counterparts. They don’t.  That is dumb. They will fall over. They will fall out. They will attack you.

If you can’t spare the drawer space, get a basket and throw them all in there. You know where they go, you know where they’ll be, and where they won’t be is smacking you in the face every time you open the cupboard to get out another snack bowl to hold goldfish because Child A picked a different snack but now sees Child B’s choice and wants some of that too and they can’t have goldfish touching their other less-cheese-product-dusted crackers. Because waaaaah.

Snack bowls, by the way, have the decency of staying in a nice stack, so don’t demote them. Let them live up in the cupboard with their equally courteous cousins, the cereal bowls.

But the cups, man. Just bring them down.