Monday, January 12, 2015

Money Monday: The Beauty of Automation

For most of us, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to spend less and save more. If you head over to CNN Money, MSN Money, or Yahoo Money, there are articles with titles like "How to Save in 2015" or "Save Money Now." We all know that saving money is important, but for so many of us, the problem is not the concept of saving money, its controlling the person looking at us in the mirror. So often, we make excuses for why we don't save, or we simply don't get around to it. We say things like "I don't make enough money" or "After this happens, I will begin to save."  But, for many Americans, that day never comes. 

We have all heard that we should "pay ourselves first." All that means is, before you pay your bills or any other obligation, pay yourself. Put money into a savings account first. Obviously, the more you save they more you will have, but even if you can only save a few dollars a week or month, getting into the habit of savings will set you on a path for a more sound financial future. Again, most of us understand the concept, the problem comes when we have to put it into action. 

 Today, that has literally never been easier. Almost every bank offers automatic transfers for free on their online portal. It takes about 2 minutes to set up a transfer from one account to another. Once it is set up you no longer think about it. It has been my experience that after a few months, you don't miss the money you have saved, and begin to operate as if those funds never existed. Meanwhile, your savings will grow, and you are able to tap into those funds when you need them, be it for an emergency or for a goal you were trying to save for. 

Years ago, I read the book, The Automatic Millionaire, and in the book, David Bach argues that automating your finances bypasses the human element (aka the lack of discipline) and makes savings easier. Bach's main thesis is that wealth is not necessarily determined by what you earn, but rather what you spend, and by making savings an automatic process, you will be able to build wealth over time. 

My husband and I set up automatic savings years ago, and now, we are accustomed to those funds being transferred on a certain date each month. However, one area of our financial life that we have not automated yet is our retirement savings. My company offers a 401K and I fully participate and receive my company match, but for our Roth IRA's, each month I still write a check and send it in via snail mail. My goal is to make this action automatic as well. I want January to be the last month that I send funds to those accounts by paper, and have them automatically transferred each month. 

In the end, I think the more you can automate, the better. It removes the human element and temptation not to save. It bypasses the excuses, and assures execution. 

Tell Me: Are your savings automatic? Has anyone out there read The Automatic Millionaire or any other of David Bach's works? 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Money Monday: 2014 Coupon Savings

2014 is quickly coming to a close. As I began looking at my 2014 goals, the one that I was most interested in was my coupon savings for 2014. While I do track how much I save, I don't keep a running total throughout the year.

Total Coupon Savings for 2014: $1,704.39

My goal for 2014 was to save $2,000, and this year it looks like I missed my goal by $295.61.

But, there were some savings that I never calculate.

First, I am allowed to price match at my grocery store. I do this when I purchase produce, because its based on pounds purchased, or number of items. I don't have the time or desire to calculate those savings, so those are never included in my totals. (For example, if I have an add showing apples for .99C a pound, but my store is selling them for $1.25 a pound, I just show the cashier the add for the lower cost apples and they price match them to the lower price.)

Second, I don't calculate the rebates or incentives that I get when I purchase products. For example, at one store, I currently have $25.00 in rebates. I collect those rebates each week, and I am waiting until I earn $100.00 in credit before I cash them in. Again, I don't calculate that into my savings.

Finally, there are usually 2 or 3 mail in rebate offers that I participate in per month. These are the programs where you purchase a product, then mail in the upc code and receipt, and they send you the purchase price in the form of a check or gift card. Those are usually only a few dollars each, but they do add up. Again, I don't factor those monies into my savings totals.

In the end, when simply looking at the recorded numbers, it looks like I didn't meet my goal, but when I factored these other items into the total, I believe I ended up saving more than the $2,000 goal I set for myself.

In 12 months, we managed to save nearly $2,000 on things that we normally purchase. Those are real dollars, and real savings. For us, those savings allow us to stretch our dollars. According to the USDA, food prices in 2014 rose a little over 2% in 2014 over 2013. Using coupons and deals, we have been able to keep our food budget steady, and did not have to
increase it in 2014.

In addition, using coupons has allowed us to build an impressive stockpile of goods. Now, if we need razors, shampoo, cleaning products, or food, we have them here, in stock. That is a great feeling.

We have also been able to use coupons to purchase items for free or very cheap. If they are items that we don't need, or don't use, we give them to family or friends. We are also able to create bags to pass out to the homeless around our community.

If you are interested in coupons, and how to find deals, cut coupons, and organize them in less than an hour a week, please check out this post, or feel free to email me. I would love to help you out. Also, if you are interested, please feel free to check out my coupon savings page that I update throughout the year.

Tell Me: Did you do any couponing in 2014? How much did you save? 

**Disclaimer: I am not an extreme coupon user. I don't purchase coupons online nor do I dumpster dive for coupons. I spend $5.00 each week for a double issue of the newspaper to get those coupons, or I print them from sites on the internet. I have never purchased more than 6 items at a time, and have never used more than 1 cart while shopping. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Last Christmas

This Christmas week, has been very merry indeed. Its been filled with family, friends, food, laughter, presents and love. But, its also been bitter sweet.

I've spent nearly 30 Christmas' in this home, and this year is the last one I ever will. My parents are retiring in 2015, and they are moving to another town to be closer to family, which is wonderful and exciting. But these past few days, as we've helped my parents clean out the attic and sort through the stuff, there have been moments where I felt nearly paralyzed with sadness as I was overcome with memories and emotions. 

My parents close on their new house on January 9th, but won't retire until the summer. But, that weekend in January, they plan to begin moving things to their new house each month, to make the final move easier. The next time I step foot in this home, there will not be a bed in my room, or things in my closet. The end is very near. 

Last night, Christmas eve, we went to our final Christmas service at church. The church were I was baptized, where I met Jesus, and went to Sunday school. The church where I made friends, played on the lawn, spent countless hours. During our final song, I stood quietly looking at the alter, taking it all in, just wanting to remember the church, because its been exactly the same since I was a child. 

And last night, I woke up after everyone went to bed, and wondered the quite rooms of this house.  A lot of life happened between these four walls. Good things and bad. Memories and moments that we treasure, and a million others that we have long since forgotten. Dreams came true, hearts were broken, fights and make up's occurred. First kisses, slow dances, parties. They all happened here. It is just a house, just brick and drywall, but somewhere along the way, it became home. A refuge from the storm, a place where love always prevailed. 

We leave tomorrow afternoon to head back to Dallas. So this, my final night, in my home before everything changes, before everything is different, before normal is no more, I will take a moment to thank this house. Thank it for always being warm and inviting. For always keeping me safe from the storm, and for being more than just a house. 

In these last few hours and days of the only "normal" I've ever known, I'm reminded of the quote by Steven Rogers. "Beginnings are usually scary, endings are usually sad, but its whats in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today was a Good Day

Today was a good day.

Scratch that, today was a wonderful day.  A day filled with hard work, frustrations, and finally, some sweet tears, and a precious moment that I will hold dear in my heart, forever.

Today started like most others. I arrived at work and hit the ground running. Emails, projects, meetings, repeat. I don't talk about work much on the blog, but I work in commercial real estate and I am the manager of several assets that are worth millions of dollars each.

I am fortunate to have a great team that works hard, plays hard, and are some of the best in the business. They work their backsides off, and I am so grateful for them.

A few weeks ago, I was able to approve and send out bonuses to the professionals on my team. While everyone was excited and grateful, there were a few grumbles, but for most everyone, they expected their bonus.

Today, however, I was able to give out a bonus to the housekeeping folks who take care of the buildings. They are on their feet all day, doing the work that no one wants to do. They take out trash, clean the bathrooms, and do a lot of the dirty work. Around 4:30, I walked into the lobby of one of my properties, and met one of my housekeepers. He is the newest member of the team, and has only been working with me for about 6 months. This afternoon, I was able to hand him his bonus, and when he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.

He is an immigrant from Mexico. He works 2 jobs, and comes in everyday with a smile on his face.  I told him how thankful I was to have him on my team, and how impressed I have been with his work. Still with tears in his eyes, he said thank you. He explained how much the money meant to him because he has been wanting to buy a Christmas present for his little boy, but he didn't have the money. He also said he has been wanting a Christmas tree, and he was so excited because he could take his family to buy one.

As I watched this grown man cry over his bonus, tears filled my eyes. His bonus was $250.00. For many of us, that is a lot of money, but it is not life changing. Many of us drop that much over the course of a weekend on clothes, dinners, and events with friends.

With tears in my eyes, I told him how thankful I am to have him on my team, and how much I appreciate him. Before I left, I leaned in to give him a hug, and he kissed my cheek and squeezed me tight, and again, in his accented English, whispered "thank you so much, you have such a big heart" in my ear.

That moment, that hug, that interaction is my Christmas present. That moment is all I need this year. Not because he paid me a compliment, but because I was able to do something for someone else who really did need it. He made my day, he made my week, and he made my Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Money Monday: The Cost of Juicing

14 days ago, my husband and I decided to do a pure fruit and vegetable juice detox. At first, we were planning on doing a 3 day detox, but, after 3 days, we decided to keep going for a full 10 days.

The detox has been both hard and unbelievably rewarding. We have both lost weight, slept better, and feel healthier overall. We are currently continuing to juice for two meals a day, while eating a healthy sensible meal of salad and lean protein each night.

The lessons we learned from juicing will come in another post later this week, but for now, lets get down to the nitty gritty of our 10 day challenge.

To start, we needed to purchase a juice. We chose to purchase the Breville Juice Fountain from Bed Bath and Beyond. The list price was $149.00, but I found a coupon, and saved $30.00, so we only paid $120.00 (pre tax).

Then, we purchased the fruit and veggies. The first shopping trip was the most expensive, because we were not sure what we were going to like, and spent around $75.00. That first round of produce lasted around a week. Since then, we have done four shopping trips, and each trip has varied in price.

The four shopping trips cost the following (rounded up to keep the math nice and simple):

Shopping Trip 1: 75.00
Shopping Trip 2: 35.00
Shopping Trip 3: 35.00
Shopping Trip 4: 35.00
Shopping Trip 5: 35.00

So here we are, day 14 of juicing, and while we are no longer doing a pure detox. Again, we are still juicing during the day, and eating at night.

The grand total for 10 full days of juicing: $335.00

This is the first time that I have calculated how much we spent on this challenge. Honestly, that number is a bit shocking. That is not cheap at all! But, when you pull out the cost for the juicer, the cost for the produce was around $215.00.

As I stated above, this was not a cheap experiment, but we knew we were going to spend more than we normally would on food this month. But, I am also taking into account the long term effects on our health and our budget. We see food as fuel, and while we are not opposed to taking medicine, we both prefer to take as little medicine as possible. By spending a little more money now, on the front end and improving our health, we are saving money on the back end because we don't have to spend those dollars on health care. Therefore, I have no problem spending the extra money.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Juicing Detox, Day 3 and 4

Here we are, the end of day 4, and we are still going strong.

If you have not been following along these past few days, my husband and I are in the midst of a juicing detox. In this challenge, are only allowed to drink pure fruit and vegetable juice, no food, just juice. We decided that we would spend 3 days doing the detox, and reassess. If we felt good, we would continue for a few more days. If we were struggling, we would see if we need to make some modifications.

First, its not been easy, at all. I never realized how much time and effort I spent either eating, preparing, and thinking about my meals. A significant portion of my day is spent cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals. Now that we are not sitting down to eat, the mornings are much slower, and the nights are longer.

Second, I never realized how much I snacked throughout the day. This detox is making me much more mindful of what I put in my body.  Even though many of my snacks were healthy, I still ate without thinking about it. For me, I think I spent a lot of time eating out of habit, boredom, or as a form of entertainment. I very rarely asked myself, "Am I actually hungry?"

For me, day 3 was extremely hard. I had to drink some juices that I did not enjoy at all, and they were a bit tough to stomach. There were two drinks during the day that were majority kale, and they did not go down easily. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and had a headache. I ended up going to bed before 8:00PM because I didn't feel well.

Day 4, (Thursday) has been much easier for me. I had 2 more kale juices today, but they were not quite as bad as day 3. I've found that I just have to chug them down quickly rather than sip them. As much as I detest the kale drinks, I cannot deny that after I drink them, I get a huge burst of energy for a few hours.

For my husband, day 4 has been a challenge. The newness of the challenge has worn off, and now we know what to expect from what we drink. He was already laying on the couch when I came home from work, so I know he's been struggling today.

There have been a few bright spots these past 2 days. We added spinach to our juice for the first time, and I didn't mind it at all. I wouldn't say it was good, but I would say it was much better than kale.

I've also found that I can stomach the harder, heavier juices in the middle of the day. Most days my stomach is a bit off in the mornings, so I need something light. Plus, I have found that I enjoy having a pure fruit juice in the evening as a treat, which encourages me to drink the harder, greener juices during the middle of the day.

Things are good here in the house o' juice. We have struggled a bit, but are staying strong. We both know this is for our own good, for our own health, and that when we are done, our bodies will be stronger, healthier, and better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Juicing, Day 2

Kale sucks.
This is overpriced organic kale. It was terrible yesterday, its terrible today, and will be terrible forever. 
I don't like to eat kale. I don't like to drink kale. I hate kale. And in juice, kale is everywhere.

Kale has been and should always be a garnish, only. 

I may need to backtrack for a moment. My husband and I are currently doing a dextox where the only thing we consume is fruit and vegetable juice. We are doing a mix, making our own and purchasing some from a juice bar. (Could that sound any more pompous....juice bar). 

Today, Tuesday, marks the end of day 2 of the challenge. 

Today's menu
Breakfast: Orange, carrot, and celery juice, 8 oz. Homemade 
Snack: Orange, carrot, and celery juice, 8oz. Homemade
Lunch: Beet, kale, carrot, and parsley juice, 8oz. Juice Bar
Snack: None
Dinner: Orange, pineapple, and pear juice, 8oz. Homemade. 

Day 2 of the detox has been better than I thought, yet still difficult. This morning, it was extremely hard to wake up, I was just exhausted. Most mornings, I wake up quickly, and head straight to the gym. This morning, I could not even fathom getting out of bed, so I slept an extra hour and half. I also noticed that I was stiff, sore, and my joints were aching. I took a hot bath, and did some stretching, and felt a bit better. I called a friend on the way to work, and she thinks I am detoxing from sugar, because those are some tale tale detoxing signs. 

Around lunch, I found that I was really hungry. I broke into the beet juice, and that drink was rough. I ended up having to hold my breath and chug it as quickly as possible. It tasted terrible, but, it kept me full for the rest of the afternoon. 

Finally, around dinner time, my husband and I were both hungry, and craving something sweet, so we made our own pure fruit juice. It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! By far, the best tasting juice of the day!

Over all, today was much easier than I expected it to be. I am finding that if I drink juice every two hours, I don't get hungry. I've had very few headache's like I thought I would. Plus, my cravings for processed foods has been waining. 2 days of no eating, and while I am not hungry, I have found that I miss the act of eating. I just want to chew something. 

If anything, thus far, this challenge has taught me how often I mindlessly snack, and give into my cravings. 

As far as my husband, yesterday he was having some pretty severe caffeine withdrawals. He was fighting some nausea and a terrible headache. Today, it has subsided just a bit, but he has been really strong and pushed through the pain. 

Overall, we are doing well. Day 3 is going to be tough because we have some pretty terrible juices waiting for us, so we will have to be pretty disciplined to get through it. I will report back tomorrow!