3 Money Resolutions You Can Keep in 2016

 

Happy 2016! It’s January 6th which means you may have already set a New Year’s Resolution. It’s also possible that you have already broken it (no judgement if you did). New Year’s Resolutions can be tough to keep, especially if they take us out of comfort zone or force us to break a bad habit. Often the only resolutions that stick are ones that are small steps to long term change. So if your plans for 2016 include being smarter with your money, I came up with a few resolutions you might like. They’re easily to do and might help you change how you use your money. Here they are:

  1. Spend Money on an Experience – It sounds cheesy but it’s actually science – spending money on an experience makes you happier than buying material things. In 2016 plan a vacation, get tickets to a concert for your favorite band, or take a class to learn something new. A study done at San Francisco State University showed that while people tend to know that a life experience will make them happier than a physical purchase, it can be much more difficult to place an economic value on our memories. That’s probably why we keep buying stuff rather than investing in experiences. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely regretted dropping $100 on random stuff at Target. However, I have never for one second regretted spending $100 on One Direction tickets. Same amount of money, but while I cannot remember what I bought on that Target run, I will probably tell my grand-kids about Harry Styles’s weird dance moves and glorious hair. So do yourself a favor this year; skip the upgrade to the latest gadget or expensive clothing binge and use the money on creating a memory instead.

    1D OTRA

    If you can’t tell from our excited faces, it was worth the price of the tickets to have floor seats at 1D.

  2. Make Your Checking Account Work for You – Do you pay a fee if you don’t keep a minimum balance in your checking account? Do you pay a monthly service fee just to keep it open? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you need to switch financial institutions ASAP! It’s just plain silly to pay for something you can get for free.  According to BankRate.com, the average consumer who is charged for failing to maintain a minimum balance in their checking account pays their financial institution around $14.76 a month in fees. That means switching to a free checking account could save you over $175 a year. Sure it can be a pain to switch your direct deposit and automatic withdrawals, but your wallet will thank you for the effort. Plus why would you pay for a checking account when some financial institutions are paying YOU to bank there? My credit union offers free Kasasa® checking accounts that allow you to earn rewards for banking with us. What that means is if you use your debit card 12 times a month and check mobile banking, you could earn up to $6 cashback a month*. I use my debit card like 66 times a month and check my mobile app everyday so they’re basically giving me $6 for stuff I would do anyways. You can search for a financial institution near you that offers Kasasa here so you can start earning money on your checking account too. You won’t regret it!
  3. Donate to a Cause That’s Important to You – It could be $5, $50, or $500. The amount doesn’t matter, just the fact that you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. We often think that just because we don’t have a lot to give we can’t make a difference. But nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to making positive change, a little goes a long way. So this year donate what you can to a cause you care about. Help out your local food pantry or contribute to a fundraiser for your high school’s athletic department. You could even go online to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to search around for a cause you feel passionate about. Whoever you chose to help out, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your support. And you’ll feel good about how you spent your money.

Hope your 2016 is happy, healthy, and financially fit!

 

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22 Inexpensive Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! I am notoriously an indoor person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment. Despite my vampire tendencies I am all about going green, because it saves energy AND money. So in honor of Earth day, here are 22 inexpensive ways to help the environment.

earth day

1. Turn off your computer. Sleep mode uses a lot of energy, because even though you’re not using it your computer it’s still on. At the end of the day at work or when you’re done using your computer at home, shut it all the way down.

2. Use both sides of the paper. Every year American businesses throw away 21 million tons of paper. That’s about 175 pounds per person. You can cut your paper waste in half by setting your printer default to double-sided. Or once your done with one side of the paper, use the other side as scrap paper to scratch notes on.

3. Get a power strip. Plug all of your electronics into it and then turn it off before you go to work or before bed.

4. No more snail mail. Switch all the bills you can to electronic statements to save paper. You can also see if your credit union or bank as online bill pay, which would allow you to make all of you payments securely online. It’s fast, easy, and a lot less hassle than paper.

5. Reuse gift bags and wrapping paper. When you get a gift, don’t throw the wrapping away! It’s expensive and can usually be reused a few more times. I’m pretty sure my mom hasn’t bought Christmas wrapping in about 8 years.  She even leaves the name tags on bags and just puts stuff for that person in a bag from the year before. She has it down to a science.

6. Get reusable grocery bags. This is actually the simple solution to my plastic bag problem from my last blog. Plastic bags are terrible to store and terrible for the environment. Invest in a few reusable ones to keep in your car so they’re always handy when you go shopping.

7. Use matches, not lighters. Lighters are made of plastic and are filled with butane fuel, both of which are petroleum products. Using matches instead saves a lot of precious fuel. Also cardboard matches are usually made from recycled material. Or you could just avoid lighting anything on fire in general . . . safety first, kids.

8. Use E-Tickets. You can get e-tickets now for a lot of movie theaters and concerts. Plus using e-boarding passes when you fly saves time, paper, and money. It take $10 to process a paper ticket when you fly, but only $1 for e-tickets.

9. Get a reusable water bottle. Plastic water bottles can be handy, but they’re terrible for the environment. There’s also a misconception that bottled water is safer than tap water. But actually, tap water has almost the same requirements for purity to bottled water in the United States, so fill up a reusable bottle at the tap and bring it with you wherever your day might take you. You’ll save money, resources, and probably be more hydrated.

10. Work from home. If your company gives you the option to work from home, take them up on it! You’ll save on gas money. Plus you can wear your pajamas all day. 🙂

11. Carpool. We all have busy schedules so it can seem cumbersome to share a car. But when you can, ride with a friend. It will help you save on gas. Plus road trips are more fun with a buddy.

12. Get the junk out of your trunk. Carrying extra stuff in your car decreases your fuel efficiency. Empty that trunk out once in a while to lighten your load.

13. Use cruise control. I always forget that my car has cruise control, but I paid extra for it so I might as well use it. On long trips, using cruise control can get you p to 15% better mileage.

14. Go vegetarian once a week. I love bacon too much to be a vegetarian full-time, but at least once a week I try to have a meat-free menu. It takes a lot of resources to raise livestock and manufacture meat. For example, it requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. That’s a lot of water! Plus meat tends to be more expensive than vegetables or grains. One meat-free meal a week will help the environment, your wallet, and your diet.

15. Reuse items for crafts. I. LOVE. TO. CRAFT. It’s a great way to make gifts or decorate your home in a personal, fun way. Plus it can often save you money. I have an awesome blanket that my friend’s mom made me out of old swimming t-shirts. My dining room at my apartment is entirely decorated by old wine bottles. And I made awesome valentine’s this year using magazine clippings. Before you throw something out, get a little creative and see if there’s a way you can reuse it.

16. Take the stairs. Not only will you save electricity, but you’ll get a work out at the same time. Plus in the event of a fire or zombie apocalypse, you’ll know where the stairwell is.

17. Take a shower, not a bath. This tip actually makes me sad because I love baths. Especially bubble baths. I tend to read in them and then fall asleep. But my love of baths aside, they do use more water than showers. Take short showers during the week and then maybe treat yourself to a luxurious bath on Sunday.

18. Avoid dry-clean only clothes. Dry cleaning is expensive. And it uses a lot of chemicals. And you generally have to drive there to drop-off and pick up your stuff. All things that are bad for the environment. My sister, a noted fabric expert, recommends googling the material your clothing item is made out of to see if it really needs dry cleaning or if you can hand wash and air dry. Hint: if it comes from Forever 21, the fabric is not quality enough to need dry-cleaning. 🙂

19. Only do laundry when you have a full load of clothes. The average washing machine uses about 30-40 gallons of water per cycle. The less you do laundry, the more water you save. Sounds like the perfect excuse to wait until you’re down to your last pair of underwear to do laundry to me!

20. Donate. Before you throw anything out, think about donating it instead. Is it still in good enough shape that someone else could use it? If so, check out places like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other second hand stores that take donations. It’s not just clothes they want, it’s also stuff like books, DVDs, toys, electronics, and so much more.

21. Borrow. Don’t buy that new book, borrow it from the library. Don’t purchase a new dress for that upcoming wedding, raid your roommates closet. Avoid buying if you don’t have to. And when you can, purchase second hand.

22. Plant seed. Plant a flower. Plant a rose. You can plant anyone of those. Keep planting to find out which one grows . . . Sorry, I had a Hanson moment there. But really, doing a little gardening is great for the environment. Plant some flowers, a bush, or a tree in your yard. They’ll look pretty and make our air a little fresher.

I got a lot of info for this post here. It’s a great article and you should check it out for more ways to go green.

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.

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!

5 Ways to Save Money at Halloween

Some of these money-saving ideas for the Halloween Season are serious and some of them are not. You might even say some are “tricks” and some are “treats.” I’ll leave it up to you to decide which ones are which. 🙂

Trick or Treat!

Trick or Treat!

  1. Save money on candy by asking for the “trick” from trick-or-treaters instead of giving the “treat.” How bad could it be? I mean, they’re just kids . . .
  2. Pinterest, pinterest, PINTEREST! There are a ton of free, easy-to-make costume ideas on Pinterest. It’s a great place to go for everything from homemade costumes that you spend weeks making to last minute ones you throw together 10 minutes before a party. Check it out.
  3. Always DIY your costumes. Homemade costumes are not only less expensive, they’re also always more creative and fun than store bought ones. Places like the Dollar Store and Goodwill often have great costume items at low prices. And you can recycle stuff from around your house (like cardboard, bottle tops, and other miscellaneous items you were throwing out anyways) to add details to your costume. Get a little crafty to save a few bucks.
  4. Wear your regular clothes and when people ask what you are, tell them you’re a “Muggle.” Or better yet, don’t show up to the party at all and then tell people you went as a “Ghost.”
  5. Trade old costumes with a friend. Maybe it’s not funny to go as Miley Cyrus at the 2013 VMA’s anymore, but you could re-purpose the foam finger to be a crazy Patriot’s fan or use the mouse ears to be one of the Three Blind Mice. No one wants to be the same thing Halloween after Halloween, so trading items with friends let’s you have fresh items in your wardrobe without purchasing them brand new.

Happy Halloween!

5 Tricky Spending Traps

This was actually a pretty good movie, in a "girl's night" kind of a way.

This was actually a pretty good movie, in a “girl’s night, drinking wine while gossiping over the dialogue” kind of a way.

I recently took an online quiz called, “Are You a Shopaholic?” Thankfully my results were negative, but it might only have been because it was fairly obvious which answers the compulsive shopper would choose and I consciously avoided them. If I was an honest quiz-taker, I might have had to change a few of my answers because I do go shopping “just for fun” or buy things sometimes “just because they were on sale.” Obviously there’s a big difference between me and a compulsive shopper; my bad retail habits are occasional and mostly harmless, whereas their’s are habitual and life-ruining. But I think we all fall into the “spend more than you need to” trap retailers set for us every now and then. So here’s a reminder of a few common retail gimmicks to look out for:

1. “CLEARANCE!” = “Buy it!” –  Just because something is on sale, doesn’t mean it magically becomes a necessity. How often do we grab stuff we don’t need off the sale rack just because we think we’re getting a deal? If you don’t need it at full price, you probably don’t need it at sale price either. Avoid the clearance rack unless you’re on a specific mission.

2. BOGO – A.k.a. “buy one get one free.” BOGO is awesome if you were already planning to buy an item because you’re getting more bang for your buck. But if you weren’t going to buy just one of the item, why on earth would you buy two? Retailers know the power of a “bargain,” and they’re using that psychology to tempt you into buying stuff you don’t need just because it’s a good deal.

3. Multiple Purchase Price – You see this trick a lot at grocery stores. “Get 10 yogurts for $10!” or “2 bags of chips for $3.00.” Sometimes there really is a discount to buying in bulk, but not always. Check the unit price (or the price of buying just one of the items) before you grab multiples. Maybe the yogurt retails for $1.50 each, in which case the 10 for $10 deal will save you $5. But maybe each yogurt retails for $1.00, so you don’t need to buy all 10 to get the best price.

4. Point of Sale Add-Ons – Gum. Candy. A magazine. We’ve all made that impulse buy while standing in line at a register. That’s why stores strategically place those small, luxury items at the check-out. I don’t really need that issue of Comso magazine. If I did I would get a subscription. But when I’m stuck in a long grocery line and I spot it, I always end up buying it anyways. And doing that each month adds up to a lot of extra money spent. Think twice before grabbing that check-out line treat!

5. “FREE Shipping” – Free shipping is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but there’s usually a catch. “Free shipping when you spend $75 or more” encourages you to spend more than you planned just to save $4.99 on shipping. Similar to a lot of the “deals” listed in this post, free shipping is a great bonus if you were already planning to meet the spending requirements, but you should never buy extra stuff just to get the deal.

Save a Sweater: Easy DIY Patches

Sweater Patches

I have a favorite cardigan that I wear 24/7. It’s gray, so it goes with almost everything. It’s not too bulky, so it’s easy to cram into a bag or carry around during a night out. It also fits just right. And it’s comfortable. I have had it since college and have worn it approximately 2,367 times. I love that cardigan!

So when it started to get holes in the elbows I was devastated. It was starting to look worn-out and old. It was borderline not work appropriate. But I am emotionally attached to that cardigan and the thought of replacing it was just too much.

And that’s when I had a brilliant idea – instead of spending $30 on a new cardigan, why not patch up my old favorite for free! I have more exercise t-shirts than any one person could ever need (You know, those baggy unisex t-shirts they give you at 5Ks and other sporting events? I own 300). So I used an old t-shirt to create elbow patches and sewed them onto my cardigan. It only took about 15 minutes for my favorite sweater to look brand new.

Here’s how you can DIY some patches for your favorite sweater or sweatshirt:

1. Find an old t-shirt you don’t mind cutting up.

2. Measure the size of the hole you are trying to cover up. Hint: Make sure you give yourself and extra 1/2 inch – 1 inch on each side of the hole to work with. If you make the patch the same size or smaller than the hole it will be impossible to sew it on.

3. Use the measurements from Step 2 to trace on and cut out patches from your t-shirt fabric. I made heart shapes but you can do anything you want like squares, circles, animals, flowers . . . go crazy! Hint: If you’re bad a cutting out shapes, draw or print something on paper first to use as a paper stencil. Then you can trace your shape onto the fabric lightly with a pencil to make cutting out a clean shape easier.

4. Pick a fun colored-thread that will go well with the t-shirt patches you made. Then hand-stitch each patch over your elbow hole. Hint: Here’s a great video on how to hand-stitch if you’re a beginner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2mfJweh8a0.

5. Viola! You’re ready to wear your sweater.

As you’re getting your fall/winter clothes out of the closet, I hope this helps you bring some older sweaters back to life!