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.

Oops! Fixing Money Mistakes

We all make mistakes now again when managing our money because, hey, nobody’s perfect (well . . . except maybe Harry Styles but that has more to do with his voice and his hair than any financial skills he might possess). Whether it’s over-drawing your checking account or spending a little too much cash during that night out, we all slip up occasionally. It can be tempting, and frankly easier, to just sweep these errors under the rug. If you don’t acknowledge the problem, it’s like it never happened, right?

WRONG! The key to getting your budget back on track is not to close your eyes tightly and hope the mistakes disappear; instead, try to identify where you went wrong as soon as you discover the error. I came across the following passage in a book recently that sums it up perfectly:

“Tip # 22: Pay Attention Immediately After You Make a Mistake. Most of us are allergic to mistakes. When we make one, our every instinct urges us to look away, ignore it, and pretend it didn’t happen. This is not good because as we’ve seen, mistakes are our guideposts for improvement. Brain-scan studies reveal a vital instant, 0.25 seconds after a mistake is made, in which people do one of two things – they look hard at the mistake or they ignore it. People who pay deeper attention to a mistake learn significantly more than those who ignore it.

Develop the habit of attending to your errors right away. Don’t wince, don’t close your eyes; look straight at them and see what really happened, and ask yourself what you can do next to improve. Take mistakes seriously, but never personally.”

– Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent

So the next time you make a mistake with your money, don’t just brush it off. Identify the mistake right away. Why did you overspend? On what? What made your account go into the negative? And then, figure out how you’re going to stop it from happening again. Maybe you need to adjust your budget or just check your balance on your mobile app before you make a purchase. Use your mistake as a tool to do better in the future.

4 Fun Ways to Increase Your Savings

I was a sprinter, not a distance swimmer, which is why I think I am naturally bad at saving money. I have a savings account and I do save money, but it takes a lot of work and even more will power. Often times I feel like I’ve worked super hard not to spend money but then my savings account has nothing to show for it. That’s probably because building up savings takes time. A lot of time. We’re not talking days or weeks here – it can take years to start seeing your savings add up in a significant way. But that’s why it’s even more important that you plug away at it! Don’t fall into the “I don’t have enough money to save any” trap. Every dollar helps. Here are some fun ideas on how you can jump start your savings habit:

piggy bank

1. Reverse 52 Week Savings Challenge – We’ve all heard of the original 52 Week Challenge before, where you end up saving $1,378 in a year by savings $1 the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third week, etc. This works great for some people, but others give up on it only a few weeks in. That may be because after the first month, you’ll only have saved $10 which is not very exciting. But what if you did the challenge in reverse and started by saving $52 the first week, $51 the second, and so on? You would have $202 by the end of the first month, which is a way bigger motivator to keep saving. It could work!

2. Savings Bingo – Or if you like to live on the edge you could mix up the 52 Week Challenge even more by not following a pattern at all. Write all 52 amounts on little slips of paper, put them in a bowl, and then randomly select one a week. Whatever number you pull out of the bowl that week is the amount you have to save.

3. No Spend Challenge – This challenge is great for people who don’t like to have fun. But truthfully it could be a wake up call for how much you spend on “extra” stuff each month. For one month only pay for necessities, like rent, electricity, car payments, grocery shopping,etc. Do not pay for anything extra like eating out, movie tickets, or new clothes. You might think you “never go out” or “hardly ever buy candy at the gas station” in a typical month, but you’ll be surprised how much you can save in a short period of time when you cut out non-necessities.

harry-potter-gifs-harry-james-potter-23645920-500-180

4. Spare Change Challenge – If you still use cash rather than a card, this challenge is for you! At the end of every day, toss your spare coins into a jar and save them up for a year. At the end of the year you can roll them or bring them to a coin machine to turn coins into cash. My dad has been doing this for years but he never actually cashes in all the coins. Instead I steal them from him a little bit at a time and cash them in myself . . . I mean what? Just kidding. I haven’t done that since high school, Dad, I swear.

3 Ways to Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick

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It’s January 7th, which means we are a week into the New Year and, if you’re like me, you might have given up on your New Year’s Resolution already. I had every intention of keeping a food diary but then I forgot to do it on the first and then … Yea … I haven’t started it yet. Statistics show that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit; if you’ve been good about following your resolution so far, you’re well on your to making it permanent. But if you’re like 92% of Americans, you might already be struggling to “read more” or “go to the gym.” Don’t give up! You can still commit to your resolution and make it work. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t quit cold turkey. 100% resolutions like “giving up coffee” or “never using your credit card again” rarely stick because they’re too absolute. Chances are you made a resolution like this to break a bad habit and that means temptation to fall back into that habit probably lurks around every corner. When you inevitably give in and eat a piece of candy or skip the gym you’ll feel guilty and defeated which will make you more likely to just give up altogether. Instead set resolutions that allow for some wiggle room. Instead of “I’m not drinking coffee any more,” try, “I’ll only drink coffee on the weekends.”

2. Be specific. Some resolutions sound good when you repeat them to everyone at a New Year’s Eve Party, but don’t work so well once January 1st actually rolls around and you have to put them into action. Stuff like “lose weight” sounds like a great idea, but how do you measure your success? How much weight? How are you going to do it? Focusing on a small, behavioral resolution increases your likelihood of achieving your goal. “I’m going to go to yoga class 3 times a week” is a resolution that will help you lose weight AND you will be able to definitively say if you stuck to it or not. Keep the goal small, realistic, and achievable.

3. Only say it if you mean it. Do you even really care about losing weight? Or do you even like going to the gym? Resolutions for resolutions sake are never effective. Make your resolution something you actually want to do, even if it seems small or insignificant. One year my boss’s resolution was to get a library card. Seems simple, but it was something she had been meaning to do for a long time and making it her resolution made her actually get herself to the local library. If your resolution is something you’re not enthusiastic about, you won’t commit to it.

Hope these tips help you stick to your resolution. Now if only I could find that notebook I meant to write my meals down in…