It’s Okay to Say No!

Seriously. It’s okay. Don’t feel bad about it.

Tina Fey says in her book Bossypants, “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out later.” I love me some Tina Fey but this seems like a risky life policy, especially when it comes to finances. It’s great to say yes to new opportunities, to adventures, and to challenges. But you can’t do it all. And unless you’re Bill Gates, you definitely can’t pay for it all. It’s tempting to buy something you want now and figure out how to pay for it later. If it’s a $3 coffee you want, this plan might work. If it’s a $30,000 car, not so much. Successful budgets take thought, planning, and some self-restraint. Learning to say no is essential to financial success.

I don’t know about you, but saying no can be REALLY difficult for me. This is especially true when I’m saying no to paying for something I want. We all want to buy that pretty dress we saw on Mod Cloth. We all want to go on that spring break vacation with our roommates. We all want to throw our older sister the most awesome bachelorette of all time. Plus as a girl, I think I might be physically conditioned to say yes to everything. Saying no often makes me feel uncomfortable or worse, it can make me feel like I’m letting people down. Don’t give into saying yes just because it’s easier. If you struggle to say no, here are 3 easy steps you can take to make the negative seem a little more positive.

leslie-knope-no

1. Take a deep breath before you say it. I often find myself agreeing to things before I really think about them. My default setting is YES! But oftentimes once I’ve had a minute to think about it, I find I’ve yes’d myself into something I don’t really want to do. I try to avoid this by pausing before I agree to anything; having a minute to take a deep breath gives me time to check in with how I truly feel about the question. If it’s still a yes after the breath, then great! If it’s a no, I feel more confident in my refusal since I’ve thought things through.

2. Offer another possible solution. Saying no can be easier if it’s not the end of the sentence. Let’s say your friends really want you to go out to dinner and a movie with them but you don’t have the cash in your budget for it this week. Just saying, “No,” is sad and final. Or if you give a reason like, “No, I don’t have enough money,” your friends might try to talk you into splurging. But a, “No, I can’t swing that in my budget right now. How about we cook dinner and have a movie marathon at home instead?” presents an alternative that works for everyone. They get to hang out, have dinner, and watch a movie and you get to save money.

3. Think about all the times you’ve said Yes! Guilt is often the biggest reason we cave and do something we don’t want to. Whether is breaking your budget or working extra hours, you don’t want to disappoint anyone, including yourself. Assuage some of that guilt by reminding yourself of all the things you have said yes to recently. Maybe you had to pass on that weekend road trip, but you were able to pay off your credit card this month, redecorate your bathroom, and get tickets to that Ed Sheeran concert. Thinking of what you were able to pay for can make turning down other purchases worth it.

Remember, no isn’t a four-letter word! It’s not wrong to say no to things that aren’t in your budget or don’t match your financial goals. If you need to, say that no loud and say it proud. :)

Credit Report Updates!

It’s not every day that you hear good news about your credit report. But this Monday was the American consumer’s lucky day! Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting bureaus, announced this week that they are overhauling the credit reporting process. They will be instituting some major changes that will benefit the consumer, changes like making it easier to dispute an error and not blaming consumers for late payments made by their health insurance company. It’s like they’re finally listening to years and years worth of complaints!

Plans to improve the credit reporting process were lengthy, but let me break it down to the important stuff for you.The changes include:

– Medical debts won’t be reported until after 180 days, so that if an insurance company is late making a payment the consumer won’t be personally penalized. Additionally, the credit reporting agencies will remove previously reported medical collections that have been or are in the process of being paid by insurance.

– Credit reporting agencies will stop the reporting of debts that the consumer did not agree to pay by signing a contract or agreement. So things like tickets or fines will no longer show on your credit report.

-Consistent standards will be enforced by the credit reporting agencies to entities that submit data for inclusion on credit reports. All three credit bureaus will enforce similar standards.

– If you get a copy of your annual free credit report, dispute information on it, and the dispute results in a change to that item, you will no longer have to wait a year to get a new copy of your credit report. You will be able to get a second one right away.

– Consumers who dispute an item on their credit report will receive info with the results of their dispute with further steps they can take if they’re not satisfied with the outcome.

– There will be more free educational material available on www.annualcreditreport.com to help consumers understand their credit reports.

– A group will be formed to regularly review the data collecting process for credit reports to help ensure consistency and fairness.

Sounds like good news to me. Thanks, credit reporting agencies! For more information, check out this spot that was featured on the NBC Nightly News.

When to Tip Cheat Sheet

Tipping is awkward. It’s like a secret language that we’re all expected to speak but nobody ever teaches it to you. You’re just supposed to know when to tip and when not to and how much to give. There’s nothing worse than that uncomfortable moment at the end of a transaction when you don’t know if you’re supposed to tip or not but it feels rude to ask. Plus I never want to spend too much on tipping (I have a budget after all) but I also don’t want to under-tip. Even though I won’t hear it, just imagining the waiter or manicurist complaining about how rude I am once I leave makes me cringe.

tips

As you can tell, tipping gives me social anxiety. But I don’t think I’m alone. Anthropologist George Foster has written entire books on tipping and he proposes what he calls the “social pressure theory of tipping.” He asserts that who we tip in our culture is based on guilt. “We tend to tip in places where we’re having a lot more fun than the people who are serving us: bars, restaurants, cruise ships. But we usually don’t tip in grocery stores or dentist’s offices.”

I think George is on to something. But I also think we tip just because it’s expected of us. I have never not left a tip at a restaurant, even if the service was really bad. I might give a little more than usual if the waiter was really nice to me, but I would never leave less than 15% because I would feel too guilty about it. Society says we should tip certain people, so we do. If you feel like fighting the man and trying to change tip culture, rage on! Stop tipping! But for everyone else, here’s a cheat sheet on who to tip, how much you should give, and what happens if you don’t tip.

Tipping Situation How Much Should You Tip? If You Don’t Tip . . .
Waiter 15% – 20% You’re the worst. On average 85% – 100% of a waiter’s salary is tips. So even if the service is terrible, you should tip.
Delivery 10% – 20% You’re the worst, again. Also add in extra for bad weather.
Takeout No tip necessary It’s totally fine. Maybe give $1 or $2 if you had a complicated order.
Bartenders $1 – $2 per drink You’re evil. Tip more for a fancier drink that took longer to prepare.
Tip Jars Optional You’re normal. Throw in spare change or a few bucks here and there if you’re a regular.
Cab Driver 15% – 20% You’re super cheap. Unless it’s Uber and then you can’t tip anyways.
Valet Guy $2 – $5 You’re mean. Tips are 50% – 75% of their salary.
Housekeeping $2 – $5 per day You’re a little cheap but probably fine. The longer you stay, the more generous you should be.
Hotel Doorman/ Bellhop $1 -$4 per bag carried, $1 – $3 for getting you a cab You’re not very nice but okay. You rarely run into these guys unless you’re at a fancy hotel anyways.
Hair Salon, Massage, Mani/Pedi, Waxing Services 15% – 25% You’re really cheap. Also I wouldn’t mess with someone who has access to hot wax and scissors.

I hope this chart makes tipping a little less complicated. If all else fails, just move to Europe or Australia where there is no tip culture so you won’t have to worry about it anymore.

5 Enemies of Saving Money

Monday marked the start of America Saves Week, an annual event organized by the American Savings Council to spread financial knowledge and encourage us all to save a little more. So in the spirit of saving more and spending less, here are 5 things that might be causing you to go over budget:

1. Food – There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but that doesn’t mean eating 3 square meals a day needs to cost you an arm and a leg. Making small changes like only eating out once a week, making coffee at home, or not buying the store brand instead of the name brand can make a big difference to your wallet.

A girl's gotta eat.

2. Friends – Yea, that’s right. You would save more money if you didn’t have any friends. Get rid of ‘em. But in all seriousness, we all have one or two friends who influence us to spend more than we should. They could be the old-fashioned bully who’s always pressuring you to splurge with them on a night out or they might be the enabler who justifies your bad money habits with statements like, “But you deserve it!” Shut these frenemies down by remembering that it’s okay to say, “No.” Maybe you don’t have the money for dinner out and a movie, so offer to do a movie night in at your place instead. Be firm about sticking to your budget and offer less expensive alternatives.

3. Subscriptions – I’m not just talking magazines, although you should cancel those if you don’t read them, too. But more than likely you’re paying monthly for a service you don’t really use. Like cable. Or a gym membership. Or talking minutes on your cell phone (who uses minutes any more?). Look through your budget for recurring costs that could be cut down or eliminated.

4. Overdraft Fees – Americans spent 32 billion dollars on overdraft fees in 2013. That’s a little over $100 per person. The ability to overdraft your checking account can be a lifesaver if you use it infrequently and only in the event of an emergency. If you’re overdrafting your account every week, it might be time to rethink your budget. Use tools like mobile banking and balance alerts to prevent mistakes that take you below the $0 mark.

5. Apathy – Nothing is worse for your savings account than when you stop caring about it. It doesn’t ask for much, just a small deposit here and there. And you’ll find the better you treat it, the more your savings will love you and give back to you in return. Don’t treat savings as optional. Whether you save $1 a week or $100, saving is always significant. Don’t ignore it, just do it!

piggy bank

Happy Saving!

20 Things to Do When You’re Snowed In

Blizzards are boring. I know this because I live in the tundra of Maine where it has snowed non-stop for the last 3 weeks. Being snowed is fun for the first few hours when you get to sleep in and don’t have to go to work. But when the novelty wears off the reality of being trapped in your house with nothing to do can start to make you a little stir crazy. I’m an indoor person (possibly a vampire) and even I can get a little cabin fever during a snow day. So here are some easy, free, fun activities to try out the next time the snow keeps you stuck indoors.

1. DIY Spa Day – Paint your nails, do your make-up, wash and style your hair real fancy. You could even Google DIY facials to make your skin glow.

2. Old Movie Marathon – Everyone has Netflix marathons, but may I recommend busting out the DVDs or heck even VHS tapes if you still have a player. Go old school and binge on Disney movies. I watched the Lizzie McGuire Movie the other day with friends and it was spectacular.

This movie is what dreams are made of.

This movie is what dreams are made of.

3. Bake-Off – Use whatever ingredients you already have in your kitchen and see who can make the tastiest treat from scratch.

4. Rearrange Your Furniture – It will give you a new perspective plus a little exercise.

5. Board Game Tournament – When was the last time you played a board game? Dig out the Monopoly Board!

6. Clean Out Your Closet – Keep the stuff you wear, make a donation pile of the stuff you don’t.

7. Karaoke Contest – YouTube your favorite songs and sing along. This is particularly fun if you add in some throwbacks like N*SYNC and Spice Girls. 90’s dance moves required.

8. Fancy Dinner Party – Get dressed up, decorate the table with candles, play some classical music, talk in British accents . . . whatever makes it seem more special than the average meal.

9. Dramatic Reenactments – You could act out scenes from your favorite movie, read aloud from your favorite book with different voices for each character, or lip sync to your favorite song. Anything that gets you up and keeps you entertained.

10. Rubber Band War – My sister and I did this once when we were little and for some unknown reason our parents left us alone together in the house. It was amazingly awesome until I got hit directly in the eye, cried, and quote “ruined the game for everyone.”

11. Build a Fort – Forts are the best. Make a really elaborate one with all the blankets and pillows you have in your house and then cozy up inside of it.

12. Tell Scary Stories – “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary . . .” AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

13. Paint or Draw – I’m terrible at both of these, but I was surprisingly talented at copying the instructor when I went to one of those Paint Bars where they walk you through how each step. The wine might have helped . . . but you could YouTube Bob Ross and make your own masterpiece.

Remember this guy?

Remember this guy?

14. Practice Yoga – Ooooom. Maybe you’ll find inner peace despite being trapped inside.

15. Write a Postcard to a Faraway Friend – With social media it’s easy to feel like you’re still in touch with long distance friends without actually talking to them. Reconnect by sending them some snail mail love.

16. Make a Collage – Use old photos, cut outs from magazines, ticket stubs, etc. to decorate a bulletin board or other space.

17. Write a Bucketlist – Make a list of things you want to do if the snow storm ever ends. Dream big.

18. Have a Picnic in Your Living Room – You can pretend like you’re outside in a nice sunny park instead of snowed into your living room. And it’s weirdly always fun to eat on the floor.

19. Have a Fashion Show – You’re never too old to play dress up. Practice your catwalk strut and your smize.

20. Read a Book – See if you can read the whole thing in one day! Just pick something in the 200-300 page range. Don’t go too crazy.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Cheap Ideas for Valentine’s Day Gifts

I heard on the radio yesterday that statistically more people get dumped on February 10th than any other day of the year. Apparently about 4 days before Valentine’s Day is when we all remember that we have to buy our significant other a gift. But then a ton of people look at their potential Valentine and think, “Nah, not worth the $100 in dinner and flowers.” Part of me feels like if you’d choose to break up with someone rather than invest in a Valentine’s Day gift, it probably wasn’t meant to be. But just in case, here are some ideas for Valentine’s gifts that could save both your budget and your relationship.

1. Coupon Book: When I was a kid I was a total cheap-o so I was really into giving “coupon books” to people as gifts. The coupons would include exciting offers such as “Good for 1 Five Minute Back Massage” or “Redeem for 1 Free Day of Bed-Making.” The best part was that the poor family members I gave these to rarely redeemed the coupons (except my sister who I suspect did it purely out of spite) so I never actually had to follow through on my promises. BUT, you could make a coupon book off treats, chores, and other fun things that you actually intend to do for your Valentine like letting them have control of the remote for a whole night, washing their car, or making them breakfast in bed.

2. Hand-made Card: It might sound cheap, but a hand-made card can mean a lot more to the recipient than one you spend $5 on at the store. Use items you have around your house like pens/markers, snippets from magazines, old photos, and stickers to decorate your card. Include a heartfelt message or a lyrics from his/her favorite song. If you put some time and effort into it, your inexpensive homemade card will be a keepsake they can treasure for years to come.

This year I got together with a few friends, drank a lot of wine, and made some One Direction/ 5SOS themed Valentine's. As you can see they came out spectacularly. #keepers

Recently I got together with a few friends, drank a lot of wine, and made some One Direction/ 5SOS – themed Valentines. As you can see they came out spectacularly. #keepers

3. New Adventure: Instead of giving a material gift, do something new together that you’ve both never tried before. Go ice skating, have a board game tournament, take a dance class, or stay up really late/ wake up super early to watch the sun rise. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, what matters is that you’re doing something fun together that you don’t typically do. Getting out of your every day routine will make the day memorable.

4. Scavenger Hunt: I LOVE Scavenger Hunts. It never even care what the gift at the end is, it’s just fun to decipher the clues and run from place to place to find the next one. Maybe your scavenger hunt leads your Valentine to a box of chocolates, to a home-cooked dinner, or just to you. You could send them all over your house or go big and make them travel all around town. As long as the clues are fun and personalized, they’ll have a blast. Just don’t make them so hard they can’t solve them . . .

Who doesn't?

Who doesn’t?

5. Scrapbook: Scrapbooks can be expensive if you get caught up in buying all the fancy paper, stickers, decorations, and other knick-knacks. But if you stick to a budget, they can also be a great, personalized gift for you Valentine. Use old photos you already have or print them right from your computer. Hand-write in your own memories and notes. You could even skip the book part all together and just make a collage of photos. As long as it’s unique to your Valentine, they’ll love it!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

30 Days of Yoga – For FREE!

There are a few great things about doing yoga at home:

1. It’s okay if you’re not that flexible and can’t do the moves just right. Or if you fall over in a balance pose. Or if your yoga clothes also double as your pajamas. There are no judgmental Lululemon-wearing yoga-bots in your living room.

In our apartment no one judges Lucy for wearing baggy shorts instead of yoga pants (except me).

In our apartment no one judges Lucy for wearing baggy shorts instead of yoga pants (except me).

2. It’s not crowded. Which means you don’t have to worry about getting to the studio 20 minutes early just to avoid getting stuck at front of the class or next to the really sweaty shirtless guy.

3. It’s FREE!!! Yoga classes are awesome, but they can be super expensive. One drop in class at my local studio is $15. There are tons of free yoga videos on YouTube that can guide you through just as good of a workout as you would get from a traditional yoga class. Nothing makes me more zen than a $0.00 price tag.

I put an embarrassing photo of Lucy in the post so it was only fair to include one of myself.

I put an embarrassing photo of Lucy in the post so it was only fair to include one of myself.

My roommate and I just started a 30 Day Yoga challenge on YouTube on February 1st. It’s on an awesome FREE yoga channel called “Yoga with Adriene.” There’s a different 15 – 30 minute video everyday. And we get a daily reminder e-mail with tips and tricks to keep you motivated. And did I mention it was free? Check out the program we’re following here.

What are your favorite ways to stay fit on a budget? Let me know in the comments below.