How I Do “Budgeting.”

Hi.  My name is Sarah (on the right.)  I am a shopaholic.

Well.  Maybe note quite.  But close.  My sister and I make it our prerogative to go shopping at least once a month (that’s us on Black Friday 2012, which is basically another holiday to us!)   It’s not like we buy a LOT during these times, but we like to scope out the latest fashions and decide what we’re currently loving (or hating.)

I realized, however, that I had a budgeting problem the day that my sister bought everything from the higher end clearance racks and walked away spending under $100 with a few complete new outfits (accessories included.)  I, on the other hand, walked away spending over $100 on not even one complete outfit, without entirely knowing where this money was coming from.

Ouch.

It was the days leading up until now that convinced me to (a) start a SMART budget that would make a financial adviser proud, (b) learn how to invest for my future while still enjoying my hard earned money NOW, and (c) stick with my budget through thick and thin.

I don’t claim to be an expert on budgeting or finance and I still have my ups and downs, but I have learned a whole lot about what works for me and what doesn’t.  This is what works for me…

1. Create a spreadsheet.

I’m currently saving money for my Master’s.  I knew (in my head) that most of my income was going towards this, but I didn’t have it on paper which meant I often lost sight of how much I had and how much I needed (or how much I could spend on clothes without tapping into this necessary fund!)

I break my spreadsheet down into very detailed pieces via excel, but it can be as simple as keeping tabs via microsoft on…

  • Savings:
  • Fun Money:
  • Living Cost (food, housing, etc.):
  • Car:
  • Pets:
  • Etc…

Anything that you spend money on routinely should be included on the spreadsheet.  I like to break each category down; for example, my “fun money” fund has subcategories for clothes, vacations, coffee, etc.  But that’s just me being nerdy with details and numbers!! 😀

2. Track how much money you’re currently spending.

I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to learn that such a high percentage of my money was going towards starbucks lattes and magazines.  While I love a good read and a pumpkin spice latte, my weekly purchases were adding up.  I decided to only purchase these two things on “special” occasions and only as my budget allowed.

The main idea is to look at a month worth of current spending and see what you’re spending your money on (and what adjustments may need to be made.)  I wrote all expenses down in a notebook and it was a very eye opening project.

3. Decide what percentage of your pay check should be allocated to housing, clothes, etc.

As a general rule of thumb, most financial advisers recommend not spending more than 50% on needs like housing,food, car insurance, phones, etc., 30% on wants such as that really cute handbag, the phone upgrade, pets, etc., and (at least) 20% should go towards savings including 401k’s and other retirement funds.  There are a ton of books out there that help break this down even further (I’m a big fan of Suze Orman!)

4. Keep up to date with your budget.

Whether you decide to enter the money you take in and spend on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis, do your best to keep track of what’s coming in and going out.

I like to check my budget on a weekly basis.  I keep a little notebook to write down anything I spent throughout the week and then I subtract that from whichever fund it comes out of (on my excel sheet.)  Whenever I get a paycheck, I disperse it into each section so that I can keep tabs of my “cash flow.”  I’ll know exactly how much money I have at any given time and this keeps me on track!

 

5. Don’t starve your “fun funds”.

When I first started budgeting, I felt very virtuous when I skipped a month of fun money and poured it all into savings.  Look at my college loans getting paid off!!

The problem is that this created a “diet mindset.”  Feeling deprived created eventual overindulgence.  I found that I went crazy when I did spend money and ended up overspending.  Magazines?  Yes!  New sweater?  Yes!  That expensive granola?  Yes, Yes, Yes!!

Allowing myself to have fun money AND smart money proved to create the best balance.  No more deprivation.  No more guilt with spending money.

And that’s how I do budgeting.  Now excuse me while I go peruse the Limited’s clearance racks…

 

 

31 years.

31 years ago today, my parents were married.

Being a single girl, I often look at such extended lengths of marriage in a state of awe.  I wonder how two young people can start a home with nothing but a dream and a bare minimum income.  I wonder how two young people can start a family and create such a firm, safe foundation that their children learn to trust.  I wonder how a young dad can let his daughters know that they’re special and unique and they don’t need fulfillment from all the wrong kinds of guys.  I wonder how a young mom can create such warmth and love and that feeling of home.

I wonder how two young people could create all of that.  And 31 years later still be completely in love.

But my parents did.  They talked things out, they never went to bed angry, and they learned how to settle their differences.  They always put God first.  They are my rock, the two people I look up to more than anything.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!  I hope that if I someday meet the man of my dreams, that our marriage will be as true and pure as yours has always been.  Love you lots and lots!

Currently Wearing (Work Edition.)

Lately I’ve been into wearing dresses to work.

Comfy, cozy dresses that require just a necklace to make the outfit feel complete.  I like feeling fashionable without actually putting an ounce of effort into the look. 😉

My recent finds (please excuse the dirty mirror…you don’t realize how much cleaning you need to do until you look back at your photos… 😉 )

Dress: TJMaxx, $29.99

Necklace: The Loft, $15.00

Shoes: TJMaxx, $15.00

Skirt: The Loft, $30.00

Shirt: The Loft, $20.00

Sweater: Banana Republic Outlet, $15.00

Necklace: The Loft, $20.00

Shoes: TJMaxx, $15.00

Sweater: TJMaxx, $10.00

Dress: Banana Republic, $99.99 (a splurge that I’m so happy I made…this is the most comfy dress out of all of the ones I own!)

Shoes: TJMaxx, $20.00

Always on the hunt for something trendy and affordable, TJMaxx has been my favorite store lately.  I have found some great steals there, especially in the shoe department!

Living At Home In My 20’s.

Somewhere between the age of 22 and 26, people have begun asking me where I lived.

And.

When my answer is, “home…with my parents,” I feel this urgent need to explain myself further.  I need to explain why at the age of 22, 23, 24, 25, and now 26, I’m not out living life on my own.  Something isn’t right, I can read it in their faces.

Perhaps I place these feeling upon myself, but I’ve noticed that I feel inferior during these times.  Un-adult, needy, dependent.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  I have several friends who have confided to me their own personal frustrations surrounding this awkward life stage.  Some want desperately to move out but simply can’t afford it due to low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all.)  Others love living at home but feel they need to move out; it’s whats expected after a certain age (some say 25, some say 30.)

It took a couple of years of soul searching and questioning others in similar situations, but here is how I’ve (mostly) made my peace with this issue:

1. People will always be asking something.

My sister gets the “when are you going to have babies?” question.  I’m getting the “when are you going to get married?” question.  Those younger than me are getting the “what are you going to do with your career?” question.

People will always want to know something.  And.  You can’t please everyone.

2. Living at home opens up a great money-saving opportunity.

If you’re currently living at home because of financial difficulties (i.e., no job, low paying job, job transitions, etc.) then this is a great time to save.  I put most of the money that I would be putting towards a mortgage payment into my college loans.  This is a huge opportunity to take advantage of.

Oh, and I’ve yet to hear from any young adult who has stated they wished they would have moved out sooner.  Most wished they would have waited a few more years and then moved out.  Take this chance to put away and save or pay off some debts!

3. Living at home doesn’t have to mean slouching off your parents.

Nor should it.

There are plenty of adults who have moved out but still require assistance from their parents (“hey mom, my car broke down!”)

Living at home means sharing the responsibilities.  Doing the dishes.  Watering the garden.  Offering to pitch in for groceries now and then.  Paying an agreed upon room and board fee.  Taking out the trash.  And so on.

As one friend put it, independent living doesn’t have to mean living on your own.

4. Buy a house/condo/apartment when YOU feel ready.

It’s important to explore your options.  Find what you’re financially capable of affording (according to most financial experts, total housing should not cost more than 25% of your gross income.)  Think about what you really want.

And don’t move out because Uncle Jeffrey thinks living at home at the age of 30 is just despicable.

Only YOU can make the choice of when and where…and you should feel comfortable with YOUR choice!

5. Enjoy the time you have right now.

I have it good in that I get along really well with my parents.  I consider them two of my closest friends who I can confide with on anything and everything.  They’ve always been there for me and we all help each other out with household chores.

(AND, they’ve very graciously accepted my cat Humphrey a formerly no-pet household!)

Even though I dream about the day when I can buy my own condo or house, I have to remember that life is right now and that today won’t last forever.  I have to enjoy the time I have at home and learn from it (and SAVE!!)  My parents aren’t in a hurry to push me out, and I’m not in a hurry to leave.  I hope to have my college loans payed up in full within 3 years and that’s when saving for a house down payment will begin.

In conclusion…

I think the most important takeaway message that I’ve learned is that you ultimately have to do what’s right and what makes you most happy.  If you know you won’t be happy until you move out, then make it happen.  If you and your parents are in a mutually happy living situation and you think you could really get some financial footing by living at home for the next couple of years, then by all means don’t move out quite yet.

And, most of all, don’t try to please everyone.  It never works. 😉

 

A Country Girl and An Ice Cream Cone.

I ate my fill of cookies and cream ice cream today.

Kimball’s Farm is always mentioned in some “top ice cream shop” article (such as Boston Magazine) and I’m a little bit obsessed with the place.

The flavor selection is fun and variable (hello, pumpkin ice cream!) and the sizes are just ridiculous (my above waffle cone is a kiddie size…you don’t want to see the large…or maybe you do?)

I always get this old school feeling of nostalgia when I eat here.  Kind of like stepping back in time.  I feel like a little kid, happily licking my ice cream cone while watching the world go by.

I love that kind of feeling.

Sometimes I dream about living in a big city like NYC or Boston or something.

I like the idea of having my own little apartment and walking to a local cafe and taking a taxi to work with my grande starbucks latte in hand.  I like that idea because it makes me feel excited inside.  Like I’d be part of something really big and important.  I’d always be ready for some new big thing.

But then.

Deep down?

I know I’m a country girl.  I like the sound of birds singing and I like the feel of grass beneath my feet and I like that flannel and faded jeans is just everyday autumn attire.

I like wide open spaces.  I like quiet.

I have this funny feeling that someday I will move to some bigger city.  Maybe not NYC and maybe not Boston.  But some city, somewhere, someday.

And I also have this funny feeling that the country will call me back.  Home.

It always does.

How I Do “Detox.”

So, I’m feeling the bloat.

Let’s just say I held nothing back this vacation in NYC.

Yes, I would like the whole chocolate milk.  Yes, I would like bacon in my omelette.  Yes, I’d like that bagel even though I had breakfast an hour ago.

Indulgence.  It was delicious and I wouldn’t change a darn thing.

That being said, I’m trying to get myself back on track.

Which isn’t always easy.  I find that while it is indeed easy to include more of certain things again (veggies, fruits, etc.,) it’s not as easy to cut back on other things (sugar, high fat foods, etc.) thereby returning to what I consider “normal.”

Sigh.

Where to begin?

Well.

I don’t claim to have all the answers on this, but this is what has worked for me over the years.

Nothing extreme, nothing fancy.  Here is how I do “detox.”

1. Don’t go beyond hungry.

My first rule is to make sure that I don’t starve myself.  I eat until I’m comfortably full and I eat every 3 or 4 hours.  If I let myself go beyond hungry, I’ll end up starving (of course) and all good intentions will fly out the window.  (aka, the moment when chocolate cake sounds like a well rounded lunch.)

2. Eat what you love (just don’t overdo it.)

I’m not a cold turkey kinda gal.  And I’ll never live without dessert…it’s a daily thing for me!  I do try to include more fruits throughout the day to satisfy my never ending sweet tooth and I keep dessert small but sweet.  Something I really, really want to curb those cravings (dark chocolate usually does the trick for me…or a small scoop of chocolate studded trail mix from Trader Joes.  Yum!)

3. Fill up on volume.

If I’m feeling the munchies (because I gave into them so frequently during vacation,) I’ll turn to high volume/low calorie foods.  These are things like watermelon, salads, popcorn, etc.  While they don’t keep me full, they fill me up for the moment which is all I’m really looking for.  For extra staying power, I’ll add in a handful of almonds to the mix and VOILA!  A filling, satisfying midafternoon snack is born.

4. Move more.

Exercise is my best friend when I’m trying to get myself back to normal living and normal eating.  I try to move a little more throughout the following week after vacation.  This can mean running an extra mile on each day that I go out for a run or simply moving around more often at work (i.e., taking the stairs to the bathroom, taking a 5 minute walk break every hour, etc.)

5. Drink more water.

I never seem to drink enough water on vacation.  For some reason, I was especially dehydrated after my NYC trip, and found myself feeling exhausted for a good 2-3 days afterwards because of this.

For that reason, I focus on bringing my water bottle along with me everywhere.  I make it extra appealing by tossing in sliced oranges to give my water color and a citrusy zing.

6. Eat more kale.

Kale is my favorite green veggie, so I add it to everything.  Smoothies.  Salads.  Soups.  Stir frys.  The point is to include more veggies and to bulk up on fiber rich foods (canned beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, etc.)  They’re super nutritious, good for the body, and super filling…which keeps me from craving everything else sitting in the fridge at the time.

7. Don’t beat yourself up.

Last but not least, I don’t beat myself up over one indulgent weekend and you shouldn’t either.  It was fun!  I loved it!  I wouldn’t want it any different!  It’s okay to indulge now and then. 😀

NYC: My Top 10 List.

My sister and I have been dreaming of NYC for a while now, and it was on Labor Day weekend that we finally turned those little dreams into a very big reality.

(that’s my sis Nicole on the left and me on the right)

A year or so of penny pinching and saving brought us up to this one weekend.  One weekend of living life to the absolute fullest.  One weekend of indulging in all sorts of foods and sights and smells.

It was tough to narrow it all down, but I thought it would be fun to highlight my top ten favorite things from our NYC trip!

1. Central Park.

My sister and I created a list of must-see’s before heading to the city and this was first on the list.

I was shocked by how easily Central Park made me forget that I was in the city at all.  If not for the towering buildings in the background, I never would have known.

(that’s me on a very quaint bridge in the middle of Central Park)

(Nicole was in love with these adorable light posts stretched all throughout the park!)

2. Bagels.

I may never appreciate a Thomas’ or Panera Bagel again.  Okay.  I still love them.  But nothing compares to a New York Bagel that’s been cooked fresh that morning.

Crispy on the outside.  Doughy and soft on the inside.  With two inches of cream cheese.

Hello.

(pumpernickle raisin)

3. Greenwich Village.

At first I wasn’t enthralled with Greenwich Village.

And then I found a cute little shop with cute little accessory pieces.  And then I noticed the little macaroon store across the street.  And the pretty red door on that townhouse.

In other words.  Greenwich Village is filled with all sorts of fun little nooks and crannies, waiting to be discovered.  It’s a fun place to explore for the person willing to take the time.

4. Pizza.

Speaking of Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village is home to Joe’s Pizza.  Which is, in and of itself, worth the trek to Greenwich Village altogether.  Yum.

5. Shopping.

Window shopping was fun (hello, prada and vera wang!)

But what was really fun was bargain shopping.  Nicole is the goddess of bargain shopping and she is starting (I repeat, starting!!!) to rub off on me.  We both found dresses for under $50.00 at TJMaxx and we both found other goodies in Greenwich Village as well (like unique necklaces for under $20.00.)

A little window shopping, a little bargain shopping.  It’s a fun combination.

6. Times Square.

Nothing made my jaw drop quite like Times Square.

This is the place of stimulation overload.  As in, where do I look when my eyes want to take everything in all at once??

This is a must see in NYC!  Nicole and I walked through it twice in our two day trip…just because!

(It’s also home to the M&M store, the Hersheys Store AND the ToysRUs building, which hosts a ferris wheel inside the building!)

7. The Empire State Building.

It’s amazing how quiet the city can be when you’re 80 floors high!  The only sounds I heard was from the occasional taxi horn and the wind whistling against my hair.  It was so peaceful to watch the world in action, with only a whisper of noise in the background.

8. The smells.

The good (i.e., bakeries, italian food, sausages with peppers and onions!)

…and…

The bad (i.e., “what was that smell???”)

Both were equally memorable. 😉

9. The New York Times Building.

This was the first sight that welcomed me to New York City.

This was the last sight that said goodbye.

There’s something very romantic about this building at 7am in the morning, when the fog is just starting to lift.

10. Sarabeth’s.

Bacon.  Gruyere Cheese.  Green Onions.  Potatoes.  All in one beautiful omelette, served with homemade toasts and homemade jam.

Love.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg from our trip.

There was also walking 20+ miles in two days (and me forgetting my sneakers and having to buy a pair so that we wouldn’t have to walk 10 more miles in flip flops the following day!)  There was sleeping overnight at a hotel in New Jersey and driving the furthest I’ve ever driven (5 hrs one way!)  There was laughing until my belly ached from being over tired and eating food from Panera two nights in a row in our hotel room while watching the Food Network Channel.

There was me, my sister and memories I will cherish forever.  What a memorable weekend. 😀