How to Save Money

Saving Money: What’s That?

Many people don’t think about saving money at all, or feel like they don’t make enough to be able to save. The truth is, when it comes to saving money, even a little bit counts. Just like investing, starting early, and doing it regularly can really add up over time and make a big difference in the long run. There are a lot of ways to save a little bit, and if you do so regularly, you could end up with a nice amount in your savings account. The following article discusses how to save money, even if you aren’t making a ton if it.

Trimming the Spending

The first way to save is: don’t spend. When you think of each purchase before you make it, ask yourself if you really need it, or if it will really increase your happiness for more than the short term. Is it a cup of coffee that is way overpriced, and you could make one at home for a fraction? Is it a subscription service you have had for a long time, but rarely use, or could give up without really missing? Do you need all those premium channels, or would a smaller subscription to Hulu or Netflix work just fine for your TV fix?

Try not to give in to fads. Just because the newest iPhone has come out doesn’t mean you have to have it. Is your phone working just fine? How about your watch? If so, reconsider upgrading or buying an Apple Watch or other such items that cost a lot of money. Most cell phones are smart phones these days, and the high price tag on some brands just doesn’t seem justifiable in most cases.

Shop Around

Have you shopped around and found the best price? Many times, you can save a lot of money on necessary purchases by checking out more than one vendor. Take car insurance-they say that you should be shopping around for car insurance every 6 months to make sure you are getting the best deal. Doing so could potentially save you hundreds of dollars. There are even services out there to do it for you. Buying brand names rarely pays for itself these days, as most things are made with the same cheap parts, so look for the generic version first. If you try it and do not like it, or find it is actually not as well made, then buy brand name the next time (if there is one). Most of the time you will find the generic to be just fine, at least for small ticket items. If you are buying larger items, do your research to find out which brand is best and buy that one, in hopes that it will be a one time purchase.

Saving a Little Each Time Means Saving a Lot Over Time

Regularly putting aside a small part of your income, before you spend anything, can add up to a lot of money over time. If you do it consistently, and always before you see the rest of your paycheck, you will never really miss it. For retirement, this can be in the way of a workplace 401k or 403b (which you should be participating in if it is offered, at least enough to meet the company match, if there is one), or an IRA if your workplace doesn’t offer it. Set it up so there is an automatic withdrawal each payday. You should also be aiming for an emergency fund that covers at least 3-6 months of expenses, ideally. Putting this money into a Money Market or High Yield savings account where it can be accessed if needed, but earns a little more interest than your regular savings account is a good idea. You don’t have to put in a lot from each paycheck, but a little each time will add up, and you will be grateful for it if and when you need it.

Money Pits

Try not to eat out very often. Restaurants are expensive. They have to cover a lot of overhead to serve you the same food you could make at home for a fraction of the price, and have leftovers. Try setting a goal to eat out rarely, be it once a month, or whatever is realistic for you. Then, make your own meals at home, and resolve to eat your leftovers. Wasting food is dumping money in the trash. Watch how fast your savings will grow if you put the money you would have spent in restaurants straight into your savings account. You will be amazed! The same goes for planning your meals ahead of time, and then going into the grocery store with a list and a plan. You will save money by not buying extra items each time you go in, and perhaps being able to use some of the ingredients for multiple meals.

If you haven’t set up a budget so you can see where your money is going, make a goal to do so as soon as possible. Knowing where your money is going is the first step to saving. Then, pick the category of spending that is the highest, not counting bare necessities like mortgage and regular groceries, utliites, etc. See if there is any way to trim from that category, like the restaurants example above. For us, the money pits are almost always eating out or shopping at Walmart. If we go into WalMart without a list and the willpower to stick with that list, we will always spend way more than we plan.  Making a list ahead of time is a tool we use to hold ourselves accountable.

Take Aways

Saving money doesn’t have to be hard. Making thoughtful purchase decisions and committing to setting up automatic savings will both go a long way toward having money when you really need it. Always shop around for the best price, and don’t throw money in the trash by wasting what you have bought, either by buying one time use things you didn’t need, or not eating leftover food you already made.

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How to Decide Whether to Buy Something

Anytime my wife and I go shopping, the difference in our purchase decision-making processes becomes very clear. Hers goes something like this: “Ooh! That’s cool. Can I have it?” Mine tends to be a bit more convoluted.

Whenever I am contemplating making a purchase, a lot of different things go through my head. Admittedly, I am a finance nerd. It is my hobby and my passion, so this comes into play. I’m not saying my mental decision tree is the best one, either, but it does seem to work for me, in that I rarely regret purchase decisions.

How To Decide Whether to Buy Something: My Perspective

First, I ask myself if it fits in my budget. If the answer is yes, it could if I want it to, then it goes to, “how many hours of work will it take me to pay for it?” I value my time and effort, and so I like to know in real work terms how much something costs me. I work 36 hours per week. At least half of those hours are already accounted for in necessities, like the mortgage, food, gas, etc. Obviously, if it is a need, then my decision tree is shorter. That leaves 18 hours a week for me to spend on other categories, unless I want to put in overtime (which I do not). I think of it like a financial pie. There is only so much of it. I have to decide if I want lots of little slices, or one big one. If something costs a significant portion of those hours, If it costs even more, the decision would never be made on the fly. I really have to think about whether it is worth it or not. I think of what I have to give up in order to have this, and if I feel it is a fair trade. I am not rich enough to have everything I want.

Next, I ask myself if this is the best price I can get. Have I shopped around? Usually, the first place I see something isn’t the only place I could find it, and may not be the best value.

A strong factor for me is also how long I am going to have and use this item, if it is a physical thing. Is it well-made? Is it made to be used more than once or a few times? Will I just have to buy another one in a short period of time, or is it something I can use over and over for an extended period?

Last, how much enjoyment will it actually provide? How fulfilling of a purchase will it be? Will my interest wane, or will I use it every day? Is this something I have always wanted, or something I just saw and thought would be fun? Will I just want the next version of it, and the next after that? Will it make a lifelong memory that I can cherish, even if it doesn’t physically last? If what I am purchasing is something that creates an experience, I put a lot more weight on how much enjoyment it will provide, because a memory can last forever, unlike physical items. Things that bring me and my family together are always worth more to me than another piece of clutter, no matter how pretty or high tech it may be.

The One Week Rule

A good rule of thumb advocated by many financial professionals is to hold yourself to the one week rule for optional purchases. Anytime you find yourself wanting to buy something that you don’t really need, make yourself wait a week before buying it. If you still really want it at that point, and you still have the money in your budget, then you can buy it. This gives you time to really think about why you want it, and how it can add value to your life. Many times, you may realize that you didn’t really want it that bad afterall.

Take Aways:

Deciding whether to buy something or not should rarely be a split-second decision, unless whatever it is is small and/or necessary. The larger a purchase is, the more of your financial pie it is going to consume. Thinking of the money you make each paycheck in this way can help you realize that it is a finite amount, and you only have so many slices. Make sure that each slice is used in a way that it can be enjoyed as long as possible. Just taking the extra time to think about your purchases can help you avoid costly mistakes.

How do you decide whether to buy something? Do you tend to be an impulse buyer, or do you have other criteria that you use to decide? Have you ever regretted buying something, and wish you had evaluated the purchase more beforehand? I would love to hear your stories.

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When Should I Refinance My Mortgage?

By now, you have probably heard about the historically low mortgage interest rates that are being offered. There is a lot of buzz about refinancing your mortgage now to cash in on these low rates. People are asking, “When should I refinance my mortgage?” The answer is, it depends.

First, you have to know what the difference is between your current mortgage interest rate and the new one. Is it significant? Mortgage rates have been pretty low for several years now, and if you have one that is only slightly higher than current rates, it may not actually make sense to refinance. Why not? Well, it costs money to refinance, so you have to take that cost into consideration. You will probably be required to pay for an inspection so the bank can determine how much equity you have in your home (how much more it is worth if you were to sell right now compared to what you currently owe). Plus, there will be a fee. That fee can vary greatly, and can add up to thousands of dollars. Even though it gets financed into the mortgage, you will still be paying it, and the interest on it. Plus, depending on what terms you choose, you could be extending your mortgage term,  thus paying more interest over time. If you are choosing a 30-year term, you will be starting over.

Before you make the decision about refinancing, use an online calculator to see how much doing so will cost you. Think about the reason for your refinance. Is it to consolidate all your debt, by taking a cash out and paying off all your other debt besides your mortgage? If so, would doing so lower the amount of money you are forking out each month? Are you just trying to get a shorter term on your mortgage, by changing from a 30 year to a 15 or even 10 year term? Your payments could stay close to what you pay now if the interest rate change is significant, while the amount of time decreases. You would save a lot of money in interest if this is the case. Are you refinancing because you want money to improve the house? That could pay for itself when you sell, but you would have to carefully consider how much you would be paying for it over the loan term vs if you just saved up or didn’t do it at all. Will you really get more for your house because of these improvements? If the improvements are necessary, like a new roof or plumbing, then it could make sense if you don’t have access to that kind of cash any other way, and now would be the time to do it with rates this low. The best case scenario would be to consolidate your debt, refinance to a shorter mortgage term, and have a lower monthly payment, with a low initial fee. If you find a deal like that, it might be the perfect time to refinance.

Take Aways

Refinancing your mortgage is a big decision. It can affect how much you pay each month, and how much you pay over time for your house. It can make sense, if your other debt payments can be rolled into it, thus creating one monthly payment. Using a calculator to determine how much that debt will cost you over the term of the loan will help you determine if it is a good idea, or not. Always do your research beforehand.

Have you refinanced your mortgage? What made you choose to do so? Are you happy you did it? Still have a question? Please comment below.

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Personal Finance Advice For Young Adults

First Job and Freedom

When I was 16, the first thing I did was get a job, because my mom said that if I wanted to get a car (which I desperately did), I had to pay for it myself. She also said I had to pay for all of it’s related expenses, like gas, insurance, and repairs. I worked as much as I could for a summer, and finally saved enough for an old, gas guzzling tank of a car. I even started my own savings account, complete with debit card. I got my insurance through my mom’s insurance agent, without shopping around at all. Perhaps that was a mistake, but I will never know. At the time, there weren’t many resources giving personal finance advice for young adults, so I flew by the seat of my pants.

Most of the time, my whole paycheck ended up going to my car. I remember sitting in Denny’s with my friends and only being able to order a soda because that was all the money I had if I wanted to have enough for gas. I didn’t mind, though, because I was “free.”

Meanwhile, I had applied and gotten accepted to college. I had filled out all the forms for federal financial aid, and been awarded an offer of grants and loans. I was to start in the Fall.

Well, my car was old and ugly, and it cost a fortune in gas. So, I got to thinking that I should buy one at a dealership, where I could pay payments. Turns out, they wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole, because I didn’t yet have any credit, but the student loans I had agreed to were already showing up in my credit file. I was furious! I had a steady job that would more than cover the payments. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Right then and there, I vowed that someday I would have good credit, and I would buy myself a Lexus like the one I test drove that day.

First Money Mistakes

Knowing what I know now, I wish I had immediately made it a habit to save some of each paycheck. Even if I had only put aside $20 per week, I would have had thousands more by now if I had started so young. In fact, I could have approximately $72,551 by now, assuming my savings earned 5% per year on average since I was 16. That is the average return on stock based investments, such as IRAs.

Mistake number 2: I didn’t apply for a single scholarship. I just assumed I wouldn’t qualify, so I didn’t put in the effort. What I got in return was a whopping student loan debt, to the tune of $85,000.

These are the mistakes I made before even graduating from high school. Since I was winging it on my own, I had to learn a lot of things the hard way as I went along. Continue to explore this site to follow along on my journey, and learn more ways to avoid making my mistakes.

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Lifestyle Inflation

 

I have been spending a lot of time, lately, thinking about the brain’s tendency to never be satisfied. I actually read a scientific article all about how the brain is actually made that way. It is the underlying reason that humans strive to be, do and have More, even when it could be argumented that they have Enough, or even More Than Enough.

In America, we call this striving for the American Dream.  Think about 50 or 60 years ago. What did that mean? What did someone have to attain to have achieved it? A home of their own. A decent job for at least one spouse that could make ends meet. Maybe a car. A kid or two.

 

Now what does it mean? Maybe the same for some. I would say, though, for most of us, it is much more than that now. It isn’t just having a home, but the best home. A fancy car with all the bells and whistles. Each and every new gadget. New clothes. Electronics. The list goes on. Don’t forget retirement with enough money to travel. Savings accounts. Cell Phones.

With built in obsoletism in electronics, and inevitable cheap construction on almost everything else, chances are we don’t just get anything once, either. Then there is inflation. Everything costs so much money. Supposedly, wages keep up to match those inflated prices, but I remain sceptical about that. My dad bought the house we grew up in for less than $60,000, 30 years ago. At the time, he made about $100,000 a year as a machinest, working a lot of overtime. I make less than that now as a nurse with over a decade of experience, and my house was $169,000 8 years ago. If I were to buy it right now, it would be about $350,000. I could not afford the payments on that. My own house. Ironic. If I sold it, and used all the extra money toward another house, most likely I would end up with a house just like it and a mortgage higher than I have now.

Thinking about this helps me resist the urge to give in to what is now termed “lifestyle inflation.” That is when you keep increasing your lifestyle to meet the amount of money you make. In other words, we spend what we make. Constantly upgrading, or rebuying, as the case may be.

I know many people who have now bought their 3rd or 4th home. They sold each one, and moved in to the next, more expensive, fancier one. Subsequently, their mortgages have not ever gone down. Some even pay more now. While in some cases they also make more money, it doesn’t seem to even out.  In fact, many pay a very large proportion of their income directly to their house, without even making extra payments. The same goes for cell phones and countless other gadgets. I could pay more for the newest, fanciest version every year or two. I could spend all my money on Stuff. I choose not to.

Do I ever look around at all the big, beautiful houses and wish I could have the same? Sure. Truth is, I probably could. If I want to spend all my money for it. To me, though, it seems like a lot to pay, when what I have now serves the function just fine. A new house wouldn’t make me sleep better, or cook more delicious food. A new phone won’t change how I connect with people any better than the one I use now. It wouldn’t change my worldview or give me new experiences. I would rather spend my extra money on life experience. Travel. Time with friends or family. Experiencing new things.

How does one resist Lifestyle Inflation?

I make it a rule to make myself wait for new purchases, especially large ones. The bigger it is, the longer I wait, usually. I often find that if I wait a bit, the desire wanes, or I come up with reasons that I don’t really need it.

I always ask myself if this is a Need or a Want. Will it truly make my life better? Is it worth giving something else up to have it? Could that money be better used to enrich my life in some other way? Will I still have whatever it is in a year, 5 years, a decade? I tend to think things are worth more if I see myself wanting or having it longer.

I also ask myself Why I want it. Is it because everyone else has it? Is it really stupendous and unique. Will it make my life easier or happier for any extended amount of time?

Last, I consider where the money for it will come from. Do I have leftover money at the end of the month, when all the bills are paid? Did I already put some money into savings or investments? Will it have to come out of Savings that I may want to use for something truly wonderful, or even for emergencies?

Take Aways

It is a natural part of the Human condition to always want the newest, shiniest toys. We are programmed to always want more. That goes for stuff and even internally. We are rarely satisfied for long. And, that is ok. It is also what drives the human race to devise new and fantastic technology, and improve our lives. It is important to know this about ourselves, so we can consciously redirect how that internal drive manifests itself in our lives. Instead of accumulating unnecessary things, try to steer that drive toward experiences or self-improvement. Things are temporary. They are not who you are. Choose them wisely, and always leave yourself a little Financial Space at the end of the month if you can. You will find that you have a lot less stress about money if you see some of it going into savings, to be used to truly enrich your life or cover for life’s unexpected events.

For helpful products and services, visit my Resources page.

Financial Coaching

Do you have buried feelings about money that are holding you back? Does the idea of looking at your finances make you sick to your stomach? Do you feel like it is overwhelming and you don’t know where to start? Have you made some financial missteps and need a little guidance to find your way back? Just need to know how to start? We have all found ourselves where you are at some time in our lives.

You Are Not Alone

I offer 1 on 1 financial coaching to help you reclaim your financial power. Together we will find out where your money blocks are, how to get rid of them, and create a financial plan to get you back on track. You will leave feeling confident and inspired about what you can accomplish. Recapture your dream of living without constant financial stress. Take back your life. You can do it! Click on Contact above to schedule a free 15 minute session to see if Coaching is right for you.

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About Finance Plain and Simple

MY STORY

I am just a regular girl, from a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and didn’t know much about how to get ahead. My parents knew they wanted more for me than they had, so they encouraged me to go to college. I did that, but I floundered around for many years, unsure what direction my life should take. After years in college, and ultimately two degrees, I had a lot of debt and no clue how to dig myself out. 10 years later, I have paid off all my debt, become proficient in a career I enjoy, and bought a house that I am on track to pay off in the next two years.

WHY I WANT TO HELP PEOPLE

I spent so many years of my life struggling, and running around in financial circles without getting ahead. I believe that we are not learning the basics of personal finance in school that would help us be financially successful years earlier. I want to help people who are just starting out, or who have struggled like I did for years, so they won’t waste any more time in debt and living paycheck to paycheck.

THE GOAL OF THIS SITE

I am going to share everything I have learned (so far) about building a stable, happy financial life. I will teach you techniques for budgeting, debt payoff, and building savings. I will show you some of the tools I have used, and help you avoid the mistakes I have made. I will continue to share anything new I learn, as I am always trying to find ways to make life easier and more financially sound.

If you ever need a hand or have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.

To a Happy Financial Life,

Gina