Grocery Sense: What NOT to Buy

Pardon my rant here. I really am not better than anyone else, and I don’t want to ever come across that way. But some things kind of get me going. =)

My roommate and I went to Wal-Mart last night (because Aldi was closed) to buy groceries for the week. We have our little list of 10 items, and we go in search of them. All the while my attention is being drawn to these young couples with kids hanging off their carts.

But it wasn’t the kids that caught my eye.

It was the food inside of their carts! It looked nothing like the picture above, that’s for sure!

I am 100% sure I make some grocery buying blunders sometimes. The occasional box of cookies or the occasional 2 liter of Pepsi but I have to admit that I don’t make these kind of mistakes on  a regular basis….

-Bottles of soda and fake juice hanging all along the edges of the cart
-Boxes and boxes of name brand sugar cereal
-4 or 5 frozen pizzas
-Boxes of different kinds of cookies
-Honey buns and, of course….
-Lots of frozen dinners

I’m sure this wasn’t all of it but my guess is that if people would take a little TIME to really cook that they’d be healthier and also save a little cash money. I know we all live busy lives, but I’m sure if we’d take a good look that we’d see it’s definitely worth it.

Maybe I’m wrong…I know I’ve only been living on my own for a week but I know my parents cooked from scratch way more often than putting some pre-cooked chicken wings in the oven and also tended to not buy the boxed brand named cereal when they could get the off-brand bags for a better deal. And soda, well….it’s just bad for you.

I’d say that the craving I get most often to waste money on at the store is some good ice cream. Yumm…there’s just nothing like it. Especially Braum’s ice cream. You might not have them in your area but if you did you’d wanna go on a weekly basis!

It’s amazing how much health and money sometimes go hand in hand.

What do you think? What are some big money and health traps at the grocery store?

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Pay Day Ritual

Today I heard some disheartening news. “Paying yourself first doesn’t always work.”

The term “paying yourself” refers to the awesome principle of saving.

Thankfully I didn’t believe that news, and I never will. I hope you don’t either. Paying yourself first WILL work. I don’t know what your bills look like every month but if they equal your paycheck then you need to cut some of them down. Sell the car. Cut the cable. Turn off the air conditioner. Just find a way to get some extra in there. THEN it is always possible to pay yourself first.

I love paydays. I love them because I get to “get stuff done” in the financial world on those days. I usually wake up early on Pay Days and see my paycheck deposited into my checking account. Then I go about doing the following things…Save. Pay. Spend.

Save

I dish out money from my paycheck into different savings accounts. I know how much I can dish into these savings account because I have this thing called a budget (it’s rad.) And I put my savings into my budget. It’s basically just another bill. But it’s a bill I get to pay MYSELF! 😉 I do this first so I don’t have an excuse later on to back out of it. Some people even have it automatically taken from their paycheck and put in another account, but I enjoy doing it manually for some reason. 😉

Pay

This is about the necessary evils called bills. We hate them but we love them because they are the way we get to LIVE. Regardless of the due date of a bill, if I have the amount that is owed, I pay it on payday. Most of my bills are paid out of the second paycheck of the month but the big one (rent) is paid out of the first. A lot of things are automatically taken out of my checking account so I don’t have to worry about it but there are a few I manually pay. And payday is a great time to do it. Why spread out paying bills over a period of days when you can just spend a few minutes in front of the computer getting it all done at once??

Spend

Well, everything else is left to spend! It’s so simple. This is where you buy groceries and gas and movies and everything else you love to spend your money on. A budget will help you make sure you have enough left over for all of this. This is money you CAN spend guilt-free because you’ve paid yourself, you’ve paid your bills and now you get to just live.

Super easy right? Save. Pay. Spend.

Of course, some don’t feel their paycheck is big enough to handle all three. That’s when we begin to just “pay” and “spend.” But like I said earlier–find a way. Even if it’s saving $10 or cutting the “spending” down to the necessities. I promise saving will pay off in the end. I’m no expert but I’ve begun to do this, and it’s extremely rewarding.

Remember–no age is too young or too old to start. But of course, the earlier you start the better!

Do you have a ritual you participate in on payday? 😉 What do you think of the “Save. Pay. Spend.” concept? Does anyone else have any good ideas?

Savings Goals: Laptops vs White Boards

We all know what this is. You’re probably sitting at one right now. And it’s made all of our lives better. Right? The computer.

I do the majority of my financial stuff on a laptop connected to the internet. I use online banking to transfer money and check account balances. I use Google Docs to hold my budget, savings goals and deadlines, a list of regular bill amounts and due dates, and other financial information. It’s convenient, really. To pick up a small device and be able to access all of that information in a few minutes and make any changes necessary and then be on my merry way.

But I started getting frustrated a couple of weeks ago. I have an excel document that holds all of my savings goals for the next couple of years and then I have it outlined (basically) how I will reach those goals. It’s in detail for the year 2010 and in general for the following years. But for some reason looking at those on a screen was just not satisfying me–plus, there were a lot of “little” things I wanted to buy with cash that I didn’t put on there because they didn’t seem important enough.

And for the life of me I couldn’t get the spreadsheet to look just the way I wanted it to. Computers can only do so much, you know.

So what did I do? I pulled out the white board. I’m pretty sure I just THINK better when I have to hand-write instead of type.

Once I found a dry-erase marker I was at it. I could put things wherever I wanted, however I wanted and it was so easy to change. I know spreadsheets aren’t hard to change, but I think I was just beginning to feel limited by my small screen. I wanted to see everything for the next few months in one glance as far as it came to making purchases I am saving for. There were items, dollar amounts, dates and current totals listed and everything seemed to be sooo much more organized.

I feel so much more free now. I don’t know about you but there’s nothing like getting things in order that takes any stress that I had completely off. Call me old-fashioned but this white board method just soooo worked for me. Who knows, maybe it won’t last but a couple of days but being able to see all of it right there and being able to change it in my own handwriting whenever I wanted to brought me a sense of control that I didn’t have when I was putting them all on the spreadsheet.

Maybe I’m crazy but what I’m trying to say is just do what works for you.

There are countless gurus out there who will tell you, “This is the way you do this” and “This is the way you organize your finances (or your life for that matter).” But none of that really matters if it doesn’t work. Find what works for you and then do it! It will save you time, money and energy.

Computers work for me–most of the time. But for savings goals I’d rather have it on the computer AND on my handwritten white board where I can, literally, touch it. 😉

What about you? Do you prefer computers or hand-written boards or pieces of paper when organizing? Do you have any efficient non-conventional methods of planning you can share with the rest of us?

Juggling It All

I remember there was this time when I was young when I found myself whining, “I’m boooooooooooooooored” to my mom and dad. It usually happened about 2 weeks into summer when I was tired of doing all of the “out-of-school-summer-fun” already. But it probably happened on the weekends too. I just didn’t know what to do with myself!

My how things have changed! I can’t remember the last time I said those words now. There’s just so much to do! Always. I am fairly certain I could keep myself occupied for 24 hours out of the 24 hour day if I could. Sometimes I hate sleep.

Our hours are filled with working, playing, learning, relating, eating, sleeping and a thing I like to call bettering. 😉 But whatever our hours are filled up with there’s one thing that is for sure–we don’t want to drop any of these. There may be seasons when we have to focus a little bit less on a certain area but we have to keep them in our lives regardless of how busy we are because that’s why they are there in the first place: they’re important to us.

So we juggle.

I juggle.
Today I juggled the fact it was a Monday with the fact I am moving this Saturday with the fact I had to be at work for 8 1/2 hours with the fact I want to spend time with my family with the fact American Idol was on tonight with the fact that since I am moving this weekend I need to get all my homework done before then with the fact my eyes hurt from already looking at a computer all day with the fact it’s such a beautiful day I just want to go outside with the fact I didn’t write a blog this morning so I want to tonight with the fact I got a new cell phone and I just want to play with it!

It could seem like it’s all so much that something’s got to give. But…it doesn’t. Necessarily. All of it’s possible. And yes, it’s a struggle, but when you set your mind and heart to it you can handle anything. And you can handle it well.

But it won’t just happen. We have to make it happen.

We have to set priorities and plans. Even if that’s a quick jot-down in the morning of what you want to do that day and how you’re going to get it all done. When you get into a routine like this the juggling becomes less and less of a struggle and more and more of an enjoyment. You feel satisfied. Accomplished. Energized. Ready to move forward some more.

We don’t have to give up things we love for other things we love or certain goals for other goals. We can handle more than we think we can…and we can handle it with a smile and with poise. 😉

How do you juggle everything in your life and keep a right heart at the same time?

Being Young: Rent or Buy?

It’s part of the American dream to own a home. You know–maybe one with a white picket fence and two little children playing in the yard.  Sounds like a plan!

But that’s never really been  my dream. My dreams have always consisted of travel, volunteer work, starting up non-profits, exercising some entrepreneurship, and helping start-ups get their feet off the ground. So buying or building a home wasn’t at the forefront of all of that.

And at the age of 20 I have decided to go out on my own. So when I chose to do this I was faced with the decision to save up for a deposit on a house and buy one in my hometown or rent.

Some people say rent is throwing away your money every month. But realistically it’s money that is keeping a roof over your head and providing a place for you to live outside of your day job.

So personally, at my ripe young age, I’ve decided to rent an apartment. Mainly because I want to  build up my assets in the form of cash right now, and because since I am so young I don’t exactly know what the future holds. It seemed like too big of a risk to just buy a house for the sake of buying one.

I have to admit I had somewhat of a prejudice toward people who rented–I thought maybe they rented because they couldn’t handle their money well enough to have a mortgage. But my thoughts have changed in regards to that. That may be the case for some people but I know it’s definitely not the case for everyone who rents. Right now, renting allows me to be mobile and not feel as “stuck” as I might if I had a mortgage.

I still have a long ways to go in understanding everything about buying a home vs. renting but overall I think it’s a choice each individual has to make for themselves. One day I may very well own a home but even then I hope to travel around doing different things.  =)

Let me ask you–what do you think of renting vs. buying? Do you think it’s wise when young people get a mortgage during or right out of college?

Millions By 30

Happy Friday everyone! It’s going to be a great one–I can feel it!

Today I just want to let you know about a cool new website/blog I”m privileged to be a small part of: Millionsby30. I worked as an intern at the same organization the founder of Millionsb30 did and he’s recently invited me to help write for it.It’s a blog dedicated to helping young people realize their financial dreams and create wealth. My first post is up this morning and you can check it out here. It’s called The Starting Line and all about the beginning point of a journey toward financial independence.

There are some other great writers over there too so subscribe to the feed and keep checking it out in the future. Good things are happening!

That’s a wrap for today–hope you guys enjoy the start of your weekend!

How to Make the Right Buying Decisions

Though I have a budget–and stick to it for the most part–there are sometimes things that “come up.” They aren’t necessarily emergencies but a decision needs to be made about whether I am going to part with my hard-earned money for an actual physical item or service.

Surely this happens to you too.

One of those things for me recently was a new laptop. I had dropped mine (like I had the one before that…I never considered myself clumsy but maybe I am?!) and had broken the piece where the charger goes in. There was no way to charge the laptop, and it eventually died (whodathunk?)

I sent it into the manufacturer, and they said it would cost me 200 BIG ONES to fix it. I bought the laptop for $350 so I thought that wasn’t necessarily the best idea.

So off I go laptop shopping….because I can’t live without one, right?? 😉

Well it definitely wasn’t in my “budget” to drop $600 on a new laptop that week. But I did. You may be thinking, “Well, that’s not frugal” or “What about the budget, Meghan??” I understand both of those and here’s a few thoughts to consider when situations similar to this come up.

When to Spend Outside Your Budget

There’s not a formula (or maybe there is! Anyone care to share?) but I realized when I broke my laptop that I truly did need one. It wasn’t an emergency–there were other laptops available to me, but in the long run, to do what I need to do on a daily basis, I need my own laptop to save files, surf the internet, do homework, create new posts, connect with friends, etc. It wasn’t in my budget, but I had to make a way where there was no way.

This could potentially come up when you are out window shopping with your friend (who’s REALLY shopping) and you find the greatest deal in the world on something you’e wanted for a long time. You didn’t PLAN it for that month (or week or however you do your budget) but if you’re ever going to buy it, NOW is the time. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that….As long as you CAN. And when I say “can” I mean as long as you have enough money to pay all your other bills, feed yourself and still get to work everyday.

Depending on your cash flow this may or may not be an option, but here are some steps for us to take to make sure we make the right buying decision:

1. If possible, wait.
For me, this was possible. I was able to search out different laptops and decide which one I wanted. I didn’t have to go buy it the day my other one broke. There are plenty of people I know (in my house) who will let me use their computer. So that is what I did. I used my dad’s while I searched for what I wanted and decided whether I wanted to part with my money. Impulse spending WILL get you in trouble! No doubt. Wait at least 5 days before making a big purchase just to make sure that is exactly what you want and for that price. Sometimes this isn’t possible–the deal ends today–and in that instance, if it’s not a need, you might want to part with it.

I waited at least a couple of weeks going back and forth on what I wanted to do. But I’m glad I did.

2. Find the best deal.
Duh, right? But just think about some of the people you know who spend the extra 15 cents a gallon for gas just because they don’t feel like crossing the street. Some people are just…..not smart! =) Take the time to find the best deal. When I was buying my laptop, I didn’t do this. I paid $600 at Best Buy for the exact same laptop Office Depot was selling for $550 that week. After I bought it, my dad (the smart guy he is) researched it a little more and let me know about the discount at Office Depot. So I took the TIME to go back into Best Buy and ask them for a price match (which they gave me.) Don’t be like me–find the best deal.

3. Evaluate your cash flow.
Honestly, it wasn’t in my best interest to part with $600 (laptop plus tax) in cash that week. Yes, I had waited. Yes, I (or my dad!) had found the best deal, but I still didn’t want to give the cash. If it wasn’t something necessary to my life like a laptop I probably would have waited longer and just saved up the cash to specifically buy the laptop. But it was coming down to the point where I really did need it, and I didn’t want to use my Emergency Fund to pay for it. So what do you do? If you come to this step and you realize it’s not in your best interest to part with the cash, decide then and there whether this is really a necessity (for the situation, time, and price.) If it is, look for the best payment option. If it’s not, maybe you should pass this time.

4. Decide how to pay.
I didn’t want to part with all the cash so I looked at other options. I could put it on my regular Visa credit card and pay interest on it (because I knew I wouldn’t pay off the entire balance in a month) OR I could sign up for Best Buy’s card and get a “same-as-cash” deal where some bank pays for it and as long as I pay them back the full balance before 18 months is up it’s the same as cash, no interest charged. When all was evaluated, this was the only way for me to buy this laptop. I wasn’t going to put it on my credit card, and I wasn’t going to part with that amount of cash at the time. So if this option wouldn’t have been there I would have chosen a laptop that was less expensive and paid cash for it. Sometimes these kind of deals are available and sometime they’re not. But look and ask! You’ll never know if you don’t.

Have you had to buy something that was “out of your budget” recently? How did you handle it?