Halloween 2013 Costume Ideas

Believe it or not, Halloween is only a month away! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays – I absolutely LOVE to dress up. Usually I start coming up with costume ideas in July and then spend the next few months debating what I want to be. I’m not a big fan of revealing costumes (no naughty nurses or sexy cops here!) so my Halloween outfits usually tend to be a little quirky. I also prefer to scrounge up my own stuff/ buy cheap knick-knacks rather than go to a costume store; it’s less expensive, a lot more fun, and I think they usually come out better than store-bought costumes.

For example, last year at our credit union we all dressed up as witches. After much debating on which witch (haha) to be, I settled on Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. I already had all of the clothes in my closet, I borrowed a tie from my dad, and I made the glasses, wand, and Quibbler magazine myself.  So fun and easy to do!

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The year before that, our branch was a group of nerds.  I bought a few accessories at A.C. Moore (craft stores can be a great resource for cheap Halloween needs, much more affordable than big costume stores) and then all of the clothes were mine. Aren’t we an attractive bunch?

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So now I am on a mission to find this year’s perfect, cheap, fun, award-winning costume idea! I haven’t found it for sure yet, but here are my top 10 picks so far.

1. Abby Lee Miller from “Dance Moms”: If you don’t watch “Dance Moms” on Lifetime, you should.  It is some ridiculously entertaining reality TV.  Dressing up as the loud-mouth dance coach is on the top of my costume-possibility list.  You could wear all black, put on too much mascara and blush, wear huge fake finger nails, too many rings, and just yell at everyone you see about how they’re not as good as Maddie at dancing.  Bonus: get your friends to dress up as your little girl dancer entourage.

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2. A Real Housewife: Wear a short, tight dress with an apron over it, put on high heels, blow out your hair, wear copious amounts of make-up, and carry a martini glass. Boom! You look like any of the 100 different housewives from Bravo’s TV series.  You could also personalize it to look like your favorite housewife (maybe carry a little stuffed animal dog to be Jiggy from Beverly Hills or a cook book so you looks like Teresa from New Jersey).

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3. Daisy and Gatsby: This is an oldie but goodie.  And since the new Leonardo Dicaprio version of “the Great Gatsby” premiered this year, it’s back in fashion.  An easy way to get a good flapper dress? Buy fringe at a craft store and sew or use fabric glue to attach it to a dress you already have (pick an old on you don’t mind ruining).  Get a big feather while your at the craft store and you can stick it into any cute headband.  Use a big straw to look like one of those long cigarette holders.  For boys, wear a suit and slick back your hair.  Don’t have a partner? Not problem! Carry around a picture of your other half in a frame and gaze longingly at it throughout the night.

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4. Bag of Eminems: I saw this costume idea on buzzfeed.com and laughed about it for way longer than I should have.  It’s kind of silly, but I bet if you wore it you’d be the talk of any Halloween party.  Plus it’s super cheap and easy.  Just get a trash bag and some pictures of Eminem.

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5. Bacon and Egg: This is a fun couple costume. It’s super simple.  The people pictured below used cheap fabric to make cutouts of each food. Or, have the bacon wear brown and the egg wear all white with a big yellow circle taped to the tummy. Want to go solo? Dress as the bacon and attach a smaller egg to your tummy.

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6. Will, Kate, and Baby: Even though dressing as Bridal Kate Middleton is “so last year” your dreams of being the Duchess don’t have to die just yet!  Find a cute polka dot dress at Good Will (another great, inexpensive source for great Halloween finds) and carry around a baby doll all wrapped up in a white blanket. Maybe add a crown or tiara to help people get the idea.  If you have a date, they can be Prince William.

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7. “Duck Dynasty” Dudes: Bring out your fake beard!  All you need is worn-out jeans, some camo gear, and a big beard to look like one of these red-neck reality TV stars.  Or, if you’re a Boston Red Sox Fan, use the beard and a Sox T-Shirt to look like one of the players (Gomes anyone?).  Either way, big bushy beards are a definite yes this Halloween!

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8. “The Voice” Coaches: Get a group of friends together and be the coaches on the singing show “the Voice.” Do your 4 favorite coaches or do all 6.  Between Christinia Aguilera, Shakira, Ceelo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Usher there’s plenty of fun, outlandish outfits to wear.  Rock Usher’s red sneakers or draw tattoos with washable marker all over your arms and wear a ratty white tee to be Adam.  Attach paper signs to everyone that say “I WANT YOU.”  The possibilities are endless!

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9. Jack and Jill After They Fell Down the Hill: I’ve seen this costume on Pinterest so many times and I think it’s adorable!  For Jill wear a cute dress and pigtails.  Jack can wear a button down and khakis.  Then use face paint or make-up to make grass stains, cuts, and bruises.  You could even stick a few band-aids here and there. This costume is so fun and can be done with just stuff you most likely have around the house.  Don’t forget to carry a pail! 

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10. Flo from Progressive: The trickiest part of this very cool costume would be getting the hair and make-up just right! But otherwise it’s another affordable fun costume idea.  Wear all white and a Progressive name tag. If you have a date, they could be Mayhem from the All State commercials.  Have him wear a suit with a pink jogging head band and some hand weights.

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Having the best costume around on Halloween doesn’t have to hurt your wallet.  Getting creative and giving yourself a little time to plan can make dressing up cheap and easy! The trick is to have fun.  If you love your costume, everybody will too.  

What was your favorite Halloween costume you ever wore? Let me know in the comments section.

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5 Easy Ways to Lower Your Heating Bill

BRRRRR! When I got up today, it was only 47 degrees at my apartment.  Fall is definitely here!  Usually, I like to focus on the fun parts of fall: apple picking, pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating (24 isn’t too old for that, is it?).  This year, though, I am a big girl living on her own so I will also have to think about the not-so-fun parts of fall, like how I will pay to heat my apartment.  I live in a really pretty, old building with two roommates and surprisingly/ awesomely low rent.  The only utility that isn’t included on our lease, however, is heat. So I have been sleuthing the internet, asking around the office, and reading a few home magazines gathering any tips I can find on how to keep my heating bill as small as possible. Here are TOP FIVE best money-saving heat tips I scrounged up:

1. Turn It Down, Not Off – According to Consumer Reports, turning your heat down 5-10 degrees at night or when no one is home can reduce your bill by 20% over the course of the year.  Most thermostats now-a-days are programmable, meaning you can set it so your heat is up when you need it and down when you don’t; it happens automatically, so you can leave the dial alone.  Or if you have an old fashioned thermostat, get it the habit of turning it down every night when you go to bed (maybe set an alarm on your phone to remind you). The key is, don’t let the temperature fluctuate more than 10 degrees. Turning your heat all the way off when you leave home means that you will probably have to turn it on full blast when you return so you don’t freeze your butt off.  This cycle of extreme heat when you’re home and zero heat when you’re gone causes your home to lose all of its warmth when the thermostat is off, and then you have to start from scratch every day. Maintaining a least a little heat at all times will lower your fuel costs in the long run.

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2. Plug Leaks – This sounds like a plumbing trick, but trust me its not! Your house may not be leaking water, but it might be leaking heat.  The two biggest culprits of letting heat escape from your home: windows and doors.  Here are some steps you can take to keep the warm air in:

  • Buy weatherizing film for old windows.  This cheap plastic can be bought at most hardware stores and it will stop drafty air from sneaking in old, poorly insulated windows.  It’s also easy to install. Visit http://www.lowes.com or http://www.homedepot.com for more info and prices.
  • Seal cracks or gaps in duct work or insulating ducts.  Same goes for any holes/ cracks in walls.  Buy some caulk at the hardware store and seal up all of the leaky spots around your home.  You’d be surprised how much heat can escape from these little gaps.
  • Get foam inserts for electric outlets.  Believe it or not, a lot of air flows in and out of unused outlets.  Buying inexpensive foam plugs will keep your heat in.
  • Make your own draft-stoppers! All you need is a little fabric (buy a small amount or reuse some from old clothes or sheets), sand, and a Ziploc baggy.  Fill the bag up with sand and sew or glue the fabric around the bag.  If you’re like me and you usually mess up the DYI projects you find on Pinterest, you can find cute, inexpensive draft-stoppers on http://www.etsy.com.  Put one of these at every door with a crack at the bottom or up against every chilly window and you’ll keep out the cold air.

3. Bundle Up! – A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to saving on heat.  If it’s chilly around your house, put on another layer! It’s easier (and cheaper) to put on a sweatshirt or wear two pairs of socks than it is to crank the heat up a few degrees.  So get a Snuggie, some big fuzzy slippers, and a hat.  It will make keeping the heat at 65 a lot more manageable than if you wear shorts and a t-shirt.

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4. Get Help – If you’re having trouble figuring out the most efficient, cost-effective way to heat your home, ask a professional.  There’s all sorts of places you can turn to that can help you with heating challenges.  Here’s a few:

  • Service your heating system.  Get a representative from your heating supplier to come check your home for any potential problems and to do a routine cleaning of your filtration system.  A broken or dirty system is less efficient and will cost more to run than clean, well-running system.
  • Find out if you qualify for energy assistance or weatherization help.  A lot of states have programs that help those who qualify pay for heating fuel or for repairs to better weatherize/insulate their homes.  Go online to find out if you are eligible for assistance and what you need to do to apply (for readers in Maine, I found info on energy assistance at http://www.mainehousing.org )
  • Apply for a Home Fuel Loan.  My friend filled her gas tank this weekend and it cost $1,000 – that’s a lot of money to spend all at once, especially if you live on a fixed income.  Here at Casco Federal Credit Union, we offer a low interest Home Fuel Loan that helps members pay for fuel or install new heating systems like wood stoves (check out our website if you live in the area and would like to apply http://www.cascofcu.com ).  If you don’t have money already saved up for heating costs, a loan like this is a great way to make paying for fuel more affordable and making the regular payments will improve your credit!  Many other financial institutions offer similar products, so ask your teller the next time you go in to make a deposit.

5. Don’t Be a Vampire! Embrace the Sun – For those of you who don’t know, I am super pale.  Normally I am an SPF 1,000, avoid the sun at all costs kind of gal because the lobster red skin I get as a result of “tanning” is not only unattractive but SUPER PAINFUL.  This winter, however, I will be pulling back my light-block curtains and raising my blinds to let in the light.  Letting sunlight shine into your home during the day is a great way to help keep your place toasty warm. The best part? IT’S COMPLETELY FREE! So when the sun is shining, let it all into your house.  Then at night, put blinds and curtains back in place so they can act as extra insulation.  This will also help keep your electric bill down because you’ll have great natural lighting and won’t need to turn on that reading lamp.

One of the worst ways I heard to heat your home?  Keep the thermostat off and turn on your oven.  Many a cheap college kid has tried this trick, but as my boss pointed out, you run the very high risk of setting your place on fire (I already have a bad track record with setting the fire alarm off at my place so I will definitely be avoiding this one).  If you live somewhere cold and snowy like Maine, heating costs are a necessary evil.  Taking a little time to plan and putting some effort into weatherizing your home, however, can make those costs much more affordable and a lot less scary.

Have any good heat-saving tips of your own? Let me know in the comments section!

BONUS TIP: If you have a ceiling fan, see if it has a reverse switch.  Putting it on reverse will take the hot air that rises to your ceiling and circulate it throughout the room.

Fall = I Want Apple Crisp!

Today is such a beautiful, sunny fall day! It makes me want to pick apples and carve a pumpkin.  So in the spirit of everything autumn I thought I would share this great recipe for Apple Crisp.  I got this recipe from my best friend, Amy, who makes it much better than I do (mine is still yummy though).  It’s easy to make, inexpensive, and DELICIOUS!!!

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Amy’s Apple Crisp

Ingredients:

4 medium sized apples

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats

1/2 cup melted butter

Instructions:

1. Slice apples very thin.

2. Spread apples evenly on the bottom of a greased 9″x9″ pan.

3. Measure rolled oats, flour, and sugar into a bowl. Mix well.

4. Add melted butter to dry mix until it is crumbly.

5. Sprinkle crumble mixture over apples.

6. Cook for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees (F).

7. Let cool and ENJOY!

**I think this treat is best served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it’s great by itself, too!

Happy Fall Everyone 🙂

Grocery Shopping For Dummies

I learned something new about myself this weekend: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GROCERY SHOP.

After 2 years of living at home with my parents, I finally moved into my own apartment this weekend.  It was super exciting – like I’m finally starting my Carrie Bradshaw years (my lifestyle will probably be more “Girls” than “Sex and the City” but a girl can dream).  But my moment of weakness/homesickness/panic came around 6:30 pm Sunday night when I realized I would have to make my own dinner! **GASP**

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks don’t scare me; I know how to shop for all of those things.  It’s dinner, the biggest and most complicated meal of the day, that I have no idea how to plan for.  In college, I ALWAYS ate dinner at the dining hall. Even when I lived in an apartment, I still bought a meal plan because I knew that 1. I would be too lazy/starving to cook myself a meal every night after swim practice and 2. I wouldn’t know how to cook even if I wanted to try.  When I moved back home after graduation, my wonderful mother just started including me in the meals she made for herself and my dad. Dinner is the one meal each day that I have never really had to think about.

Things got even worse when I headed to the grocery store just down the street from my new place to buy a few groceries for the week.  Not only did I go in without a clue of what to buy, but there where about a billion people in that store; it was super overwhelming to try to walk around so I could figure out what I needed with all that cart traffic. Needless to say, I think I came away with simultaneously too many things because I got nervous and just grabbed stuff, but also not enough because I forgot to get items I should have.

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I’m starting to feel like Hannah from HBO’s “Girls”

So today, I have done a lot of research and talked to my less domestically-challenged co-workers to come up with a GROCERY SHOPPING PLAN OF ATTACK! My budget is not huge (I hope to spend under $80 a week) and my cooking skills are non-existent, but I am determined to make 6 dinners a week all by myself (on Sundays I will give in and let my mom cook for me 🙂 ).  Here are some tips that I scrounged up that you might find useful for your own grocery shopping:

1. Make a Menu – For me, planning for breakfast and lunch is easy because I eat literally the same thing every day for those two meals.  I know what to buy because I know what I’m going to eat.  Following that logic, my first step to grown-up grocery shopping is to make a meal plan for each week.  You don’t have to be super strict and follow it exactly, but having an idea in advance is the best way to effectively grocery shop.  If you know what you’ll make each night for dinner, you’ll know what to buy.  You can also be thrifty and plan meals that will use some of the same ingredients/ reuse leftovers.  In addition, you’re less likely to buy stuff you don’t need or won’t eat if you have a plan ahead of time.  If you are like me and you only know how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, try searching for recipes online or asking friends.  I also found this great app on my iPad called “Meal Guru Free.”  It allows you to enter your food preferences (what vegetables you like, what meats you won’t eat, what you want to eat each night, etc.) and then it creates a weekly meal plan for it.  It shows you the recipe for how to make each meal.

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You can click a button if you don’t like the meal the app suggested and it will give you another option.  When you have a meal for each day, you hit the “Shopping List” button and it will make a list of the ingredients you need to buy to make your meals.

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It’s super easy and a great place to start if you’re a cooking newbie like me! What did we ever do without smart phones and iPads?

2. Make a List – It seems obvious, but making a shopping list is an easy way to make sure you get what you need and stay on budget at the grocery store.  Before you head to the store, review your meal plan and write down what you will need for each meal.  Remember – check what you have leftover in your fridge from the week before you go.  Maybe you still have enough rice for one meal or carrots left in the vegetable drawer; don’t buy more of something until you’ve already used up what you have.  If you go into the store aimlessly, you’re more likely to impulse buy and get things just because they look yummy.  It’s okay to get one or two treats, but otherwise stick to the list. It will help you stay on budget and you won’t end up throwing out stuff because it goes by before you can eat it.

3. Don’t Go on an Empty Stomach – The old adage is true.  If you walk into the grocery store hungry, you’re eyes are might end up being bigger than your stomach.  You’ll grab extra items here and there because they’ll look more appealing when you’re hungry.  Eat a small snack before you hit the store and you’ll do a better job sticking to your budget.

nut system

4. The Less Processing, The Better – When you can, try to opt for foods that have been processed as little as possible.  This is good for two reasons: those foods are normally healthier AND CHEAPER.  Soda in small bottles, chips in snack-size bags, individually wrapped cheese slices – all of these things cost more than their unprocessed equivalents because you are paying extra for the packaging.  Unless the convenience of these items is super important to you, doing a little extra cutting and prepping of your food can mean big savings for your wallet. For example, I love walnuts and almonds; they’re a great on-the-go snack, they’re easy to carry, and they’re good for you! You can buy prepackaged 100-calorie bags of mixed walnuts and almonds at my local grocery store.  Each box has 5 bags in it and costs about $4.59, which is around $0.98 a serving. A few months ago, my mom found these great small plastic containers that were meant to carry salad dressing or other condiments (as seen above).  She started buying bulk bags of almonds and walnuts for about $2.29 each, mixing them together in a big container, and then putting scoops of the nuts into the little condiment containers for me.  By doing a little of the packaging work ourselves, we get 15 servings of nuts instead of 5 AND each one only costs about $0.30.  It might only save me $0.68 a week, but over a year that’s $35.36. If you have 4 or 5 items on your shopping list that you could buy with less processing, you can see how the savings would really add up!

5. You Don’t Need to Be Extreme, but DO Try Use Coupons – I’ve always wanted to be one of those people on the TLC show “Extreme Couponers” who go to the store and get $650 of stuff for $6.50.  Realistically though, I don’t have 40 hours a week to clip coupons or the storage space to stockpile my non-perishables.  Though my dreams of extreme-couponing are on hold for the moment, using coupons in a more traditional fashion is still a must for smart grocery shopping.  Browse the fliers for your favorite store when they come in the mail or in the newspaper so you know what’s on sale this week.  Clip out coupons for items you typically buy.  For additional coupons, you can visit websites like http://www.coolsavings.com or http://www.smartsource.com; they allow you to select the coupons you want and then print them out from your computer.  Also, check out your store’s website.  Grocery retailers often post coupons or deals online that they don’t in store.  The key here is, only clip coupons for things you will use.  If you won’t eat it or don’t need it, there’s no sense in buying it just because you got it for a good price.  Use coupons as a tool to help you shop, not as the determining factor of what’s on your grocery list.

6. Buy Generic – Your mom was right when she wouldn’t let you buy the expensive cereal as a kid.  Generic brands of food items are often made with the same ingredients and taste just as good as the brand names, but cost way less.  At my local store this week, a package of Perdue Brand Grade A Chicken Breast is $4.69; a package of Grade A Store Brand Chicken Breast is $3.49.  When I compared labels, these two chickens were identical – same serving size, same ingredients, same everything. So where does the extra $1.20 come from? My only guess is that you’re paying for the name, which doesn’t seem worth it if you ask me.  So the next time you go shopping, buy generic!

7. Use Cash – Another simple way to stay on budget while grocery shopping is to pay with cash.  Before you leave, determine how much you can spend and only bring that amount of cash with you. A cash-only approach will force you to stick to your spending limit. When you have debit, credit, or even checks, you have the wiggle-room to pay a little extra.  If you go over budget, no big deal – you won’t be embarrassed at the register when you don’t have enough money to pay for everything.  But if you bring cash, you’ll be more conscious of those impulse purchases that tip your budget over the line and therefore more likely to stick to only the necessities.

8. One and Done! – Go grocery shopping once a week and then you’re done! No more stops for the rest of the week.  Maybe you’re someone who stops buy the store on your way home from work to pick up dinner for the night.  Maybe you stop at the gas station once a day to get soda or chips.  Every time you make extra stops at the store, you’re spending extra money!  Multiple trips to the store generally means that you buy bigger portions of food items, add extras like gum or magazines to your cart, and that you’re spending more in gas for the extra trips.  Plan ahead and bring extra snack or drinks from home with you for your day; it will make you less tempted to stop at 7-11 for that 2 o’clock power snack.

9. Buy Bulk – This is a tip you’ve probably heard before, but that’s probably because it’s a super important one!  When it comes to buying stuff like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning stuff, and toiletries it just doesn’t make sense to buy small quantities.  Bulk packages tend to cost less per unit than small packages, so overtime you are saving money.  Example: my store has a 24 pack of toilet paper on sale this week for $6.49, or $0.27 a roll.  A 4 pack of the same generic brand is $2.49, or $0.62 a roll.  Toilet paper doesn’t go bad and you know you’re going to use it – DON’T pay extra just because you don’t want to carry the big package around.  Buying in bulk it totally worth it.  Same goes for non-perishable food items.  If you need a staple like rice or pasta, buy it in bigger quantities.  Not only will it cost you less over time, but you’re less likely to run out and have to make an emergency trip to the store.

10. Take Your Time – One big thing I learned in all of my grocery research is that shopping frugally takes time! Don’t rush yourself.  Give yourself plenty of time to browse for items and compare prices if needed.  If you’re like me and big crowds make you nervous (I think it’s because I’m worried everyone can tell that I don’t know what I’m doing), plan to visit the store when you know it’s not busy.  Remember, you’re only going to go grocery shopping once a week, so you want to make sure you do it right.

I’m hoping that all this grocery knowledge I have acquired will make my next shopping adventure a little less hectic and A LOT less stressful.  Do you have any tips for smart grocery shopping that I missed? Let me know! I need all the help I can get 🙂

Becoming a Millionaire by Age 65!

Recently, I sat down with my Sargent General of Savings (aka my boss Katie) and came up with an attack strategy for my retirement.  My mission: to become a millionaire by the time I retire at age 65.  Our plan: start NOW and be aggressive.  I will update you in 40 years on whether or not the mission was a success (unless I am too busy drinking champagne on my yacht by then). In the meantime here are some steps the average office soldier can take to get on track for retiring rich:

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Step 1 – Start Saving NOW!!!

The thing about saving money is, it takes time.  Even Bill Gates didn’t invent Microsoft and become one of the world’s richest dudes in a day, so give yourself as much time as possible to save for retirement.  The longer a savings account has to accumulate interest and the more time you have to make contributions to that account, the more your money will grow in the long run.  Contributions don’t need to be large, just consistent.  According to learnvest.com, in order to have $1 million saved by the time you retire you only need to put away $6,500 per year if you start to save at 25 as opposed to the $28,185 you would need to save annually if you wait until age 45 – and who would want to put almost 30 grand a year into savings?  More likely than not, you’ll end up with more money saved if you start early.  And if part of your retirement savings plan includes investing in stocks and bonds, starting young means you can take more risks because you have time for your portfolio to recover from a bad investment.  If you haven’t already, visit the HR department of your office today and find out what sort of retirement plans your company offers employees – don’t wait another minute to start planning!

Step 2 – Learn the Lingo

Mutual Fund. Stock. Bond. 401K. IRA. These are all words that we hear occasionally but do you actually know what they mean? Really, truly know what they mean?  Like you could give a dictionary definition?  Or when asked if you know what a mutual fund is would your answer be, “Umm, yea . . . I think so . . . sort of . . . like I have an idea but it’s hard to put it into words . . .”

I may or may not have given that exact answer when Katie asked me that question. The truth is, I know I’ve heard the word before (I do work at a financial institution), I know it has to do with investing money, but I know nothing else about it.  When you start to plan for your retirement, give yourself a little background knowledge.  It’s easier to know what you want and what financial tools can help get you there if you understand the language being used.  Here’s a quick overview of some common retirement terms:

Bonds: a loan to a company or government, the money is returned by a certain date, with interest.

Stock: a small piece or share of a company, you earn money from owning stocks if you sell your shares when the price is higher than when you bought them, prices go up and down frequently.

Dividends: as a company makes money, some of that money is paid out to the shareholders, the amount is based on what percentage of stocks you own in that company.

Value: when a company grows, the price or amount that this stock is worth increases.

Mutual Fund: a professionally managed investment vehicle that pools money from several investors to purchase stocks, bonds, and other securities.

401K: a retirement savings fund offered by private companies to their employees, money in the account in invested in mutual funds and/or target date funds so that it grows.

IRA: individual retirement accounts, accounts offered through a financial institution that offer tax advantages for retirement savings.

(Note: I used my favorite resource, “The Kids’ Money Book” by Jamie Kyle McGillian for these definitions along with learnvest.com and dailyworth.com.)

Step 3 – Use Every Tool Available

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not take advantage of every resource offered by your employer.  Most employers today sponsor some sort of retirement savings plan for their employees.  Whatever the plan may be (401K, 403b, and 457’s are the most common) you’re leaving money on the table if you’re not enrolled.  Some companies even have a matching program, where the company adds money to employee contributions as a savings incentive.  Here’s an example of how matching works from learnvest.com: “. . . your company matches you dollar for dollar up to 6%. That means that if you contribute 6% of your salary, you will actually save 12% of your salary every year even though only 6% is being taken out of your paycheck.”  So basically, as long as you agree to save the money for your retirement, matching is a benefit that increases your salary! In that same scenario if you only saved 3% of your salary, they only match 3%, and you end up with half of what you could have potentially saved.  The lesson here: max out your benefits! Don’t turn away opportunities given by your employer to save for retirement.

Step 4 – Be Aggressive, B-E AGGRESSIVE

If you are smart, savvy, and young, don’t be conservative with your investment accounts.  You want your money to work for you and to grow.  The only way it will do that is if you allow yourself to take some risks.  Diversify, as they say, or spread your investments out, that way your success (or failure if things don’t go well) isn’t tied just to one fund.  There were two primary kinds of mutual funds that I reviewed for my portfolio; growth funds and growth and income funds.  Growth funds take all of the money you earn from investing and reinvest it into the company; you don’t earn dividends from these funds.  Growth and income funds reinvest some of the money, but also give some back to the investors.  At my age (24) it makes sense for me to invest mainly in growth funds, because I am a long way off from retirement.  Everyone’s investment needs are different, however, so I recommend working with a financial advisor to implement a plan that works best for your age, needs, salary, etc.  Don’t freak out if the value of your stocks go up and down – that’s what they do! Part of being a good investor is having a strong stomach.

Step 5 – Picture It

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What does your retirement look like? Will you retire to your beach house on Cape Cod where you can enjoy the sunset over the water each night with a glass of wine?  Or maybe you’ll move to Florida to play golf every day.  Or maybe you’ll get a cabin in the woods and read mystery novels with no one around to bother you.  Or maybe you’ll travel the world with your significant other, just like you always wanted to when you were young.  Whatever your retirement looks like, just having a visual of it in your mind can actually help your saving plans stay on track (according to money specialist Jean Chatzky).  I know I have a hard time even imagining myself with kids, a husband, and  a house so thinking ahead to retirement is almost impossible. Make your retirement a concrete event that you can picture happening, rather than an abstract maybe in your future; it’s easier to save for a tangible object.

If you learn only one thing from this post, I hope it’s that having a retirement savings plan is a must!  Saving for retirement is a marathon, not a sprint; it can seem less urgent than other expenses because it’s not a month away or even a few years away.  It take decades to adequately save for your retirement (even if you don’t think you need to be a millionaire like me J ).  Remember – your chances of winning the lottery are only 1 in 175,223,510 so you’ll probably need a Plan B for funding your retirement.

Bad Money Habits

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Today, I got totally called out on bad spending habits by a kid’s picture book.  Here’s how it happened:

We are working on creating a parent-child money program for the local Rec Department, so I was skimming through a book I ordered called “The Kids’ Money Book” by Jamie Kyle McGillian. Chapter 4 is all about “using your money smarts” and it includes a list of excuses kids give for their bad spending habits.  I realized as I read it that more than a few of them were things I’ve heard myself say.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • I bought it because I just felt like buying something.
  • I bought it to be cool.
  • I bought it because I’ve always wanted something like it for as long as I can remember.
  • I bought it because I saw a commercial for it on TV and I had to have it.
  • I bought it because everybody I know has one.
  • I bought it to make me better looking.
  • I bought it because I thought it would make me look smarter.
  • I bought it because it was on sale.
  • I bought it so people would like me better.
  • I bought it because I thought it would make my life easier.

Even though this list was made for kids, I’m willing to bet that shoppers of all ages have said one or two of these sentences recently. I know I’m guilty! I think on 99.9% of the shopping trips I have ever been on, I came back with at least one item I didn’t plan on buying and my explanation is always, “It was on SALE.”

We all make mistakes and there’s nothing wrong with occasionally treating yourself to something new; spending only becomes OVER-spending when you have to continually rationalize your money habits with excuses like these ones.  Buying one new shirt because your wardrobe needing pepping up or a new DVD once a month for movie night is okay, but constantly spending money on these sorts of trinkets can really eat into your budget and make it harder to pay for necessities.

The next time your out shopping and you pick up an item, ask yourself why you’re buying it.  If the answer can be found in the list above, it might be wise to reconsider the purchase.

Stuff My Dad Says

In honor of Frugal Friday, I thought I would bring you a great money saving tip from my father.  When I first told him about my blog and how I’d be writing financial tips for young adults he said, quote:

“You should tell them about your number one money saving strategy – leave your wallet at home and make someone else pay!”

This is where I confess that in my family I am notorious for never bringing my wallet anywhere.  In my defense, I am the baby of the family and usually, even if I do bring my wallet, people offer to by me things; but more than once I have been caught in a situation where I had to beg my sister to buy my movie ticket or I got denied sangria at Applebee’s because my ID was in my wallet at home.  I still probably owe my best friend from college hundreds of dollars for candy and drinks but thankfully she stopped trying to collect on that a long time ago 🙂 .  Even though I swear I don’t leave my purse at home on purpose, it happens often enough that nobody believes me when I say that.

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All joking aside, there is an actual useful money-saving tip in all of this.  Don’t leave your whole wallet at home but do leave your credit cards!  In a recent video clip, Today Show financial editor Jean Chatzky said, “You will spend more with credit than with debit, and more with debit than with cash.”

When you buy something with your credit card, you’re not spending your own money; knowing you don’t have to pay the money back until later, and even then only in incremental pieces, means you are more likely to splurge on something you wouldn’t buy if you had to pay for it all at once. A good rule of thumb with credit cards is: if you wouldn’t go to the bank and ask for a loan to buy the item, don’t put it on your card.

Debit cards are a better choice than credit cards, because they deduct funds immediately from your account.  Unlike with credit, debit makes you pay for an item in full, right then and there.  However, debit cards allow you access to all of your money, all the time, which can be dangerous if you are an impulsive shopper.

The best way to ensure that you don’t overspend when you’re out for dinner with friends or hitting the mall is to bring cash only.  Before you go, decide how much money you can afford to spend during this particular outing.  Then, bring only that amount of cash with you.  When you run out of cash, cut yourself off – you’re done spending for the day! Knowing you have a concrete limit will make you think twice about spending money on items you don’t really need.

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So even though his goal was to make fun of me, my dad really pointed out a great financial lesson. Leave the cards at home and pay cash when you can!