Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Financial Planning is so Important

After a meeting with my financial planner this morning it made me think about how hesitant I was to use one in the first place. My hesitation came from the fact that we have very little assets and not a whole lot in savings. My first thought was that we wouldn't receive a lot of attention from the planner and why not just do some research and pick a mutual fund to invest my money in. Boy was I wrong. Our planner is great and provided us with some great help as we think about our goals. She asked good questions like what is the goal of your general savings? How much money do you want at retirement?

All questions I didn't really know the answer to. Turns out that while I'm a good saver, I'm saving for the point of saving and as Budget Babe mentioned before having goals is critical to saving. Our problem stemmed from we didn't know how much we needed to achieve those goals.

We knew we wanted a comfortable retirement, but had no idea what that sum looked like or how much we needed to save based on our returns to achieve that. My planner is currently creating a spreadsheet that will let us know exactly how much we should be saving each month to reach our retirement goal at our specified ages. I'm looking forward to (and a little nervous) to find out how much we will need to save.

So I encourage everyone if you haven't met with a financial planner, do it immediately. The cost is minimal (usual a percentage of what you initially invest, plus a few annual fees) but the valuable is fantastic. And the sooner you begin saving the larger retirement you will enjoy. If you need a referral don't hesitate to e-mail at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Money Well Spent

"Two dollars means a snack for me, but it means a big deal to you," - "Mr. Wendal", Arrested Development.

This has been a really tough recession. It has left us with less money, dramatically reduced retirement accounts, and even worse, has caused many people all over the country to lose their homes and jobs. Not only has this recession been tough on the average American family, it's been even worse for society's vulnerable. Agencies and organizations that were already tapped for resources are now really struggling to help all the people in need.

Despite the bad, there is definitely a lot of good out there. I started volunteering at the Humane Society this week, and I was struck by the generosity of one couple who came in. They spent a half hour playing with the kittens and then came up to the front desk to donate $50 just because. They wanted to do something and couldn't have an animal at home, so they wanted to help as best they could. It definitely gave me the warm, fuzzy feeling and inspired me. Earlier today, a girl I mentored for over 4 years called me up and told me she was getting an apartment on her own. She's 18 and had been in foster care most of her life, so this is a really big step for her. She said she had enough money for half of her deposit, and without a thought, I offered to give her the other half. I was so proud of how far she's come and understood that she needed a little help to get on her feet. It was the best $50 I ever spent.

So I challenge you. Think about how you're really spending your money. Sure, you might really like that new pair of jeans, but do you NEED it? I feel people would be a lot happier if they spent their money on helping others instead of adding to their piles of "stuff". Need ideas of where to send your money? I recommend food banks. Two meals and snacks are provided to kids during the school year by their schools, and with school out, food banks take on feeding more people during the summer. Or donate to an agency you are passionate about. I guarantee that money will be greatly appreciated and you'll remember it much longer than those jeans will last.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I'll make this quick...

Coupon for a FREE burrito at Baja Fresh with a drink purchase. It's only good for today (11 AM - 9 PM).

I have to find one near me because someone forgot to pack her lunch this morning...

Yum! Enjoy! Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Okay, sorry to all the non-Seattle readers....

But Cupcake Royale, one of my very favorite cupcakeries, is handing out FREE cupcakes tomorrow at their brand new store on Capitol Hill at 1111 E. Pike to celebrate their grand opening. All you need to do is say "legalize frostitution" (cute, right?) and they'll give you their cupcake-of-the-month (mmm...strawberry) for FREE! I don't think there's anything much better than that to beat the Hump Day Slump. Thanks Megan for the tip!

Oh, and here's a great article from Wise Bread about how plain ol' vinegar can replace a ton of products you're buying! It's frugal and definitely a greener way to clean.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Deals

Happy Friday! Here are some great deals to start off your weekend!

*FREE Breakfast at IKEA this weekend! Check IKEA's website for your local cafe's hours and to make sure your IKEA is participating (sorry Hicksville, Houston and Stoughton!). Note: IKEA's breakfast's are already very reasonable...99 cents plus a free cup of coffee! But who doesn't like free!? Does anyone know what Swedish potatoes are?
*Already mentioned earlier in the week, but just in case you missed it, FREE piece of bakeware from Easy Bakeware!

*FREE pint of Starbucks Ice Cream for Facebook users! Yum! Go the the Starbucks Newsroom for details, but hurry, the offer ends on Sunday, July 19th.

*Another free Starbucks goodie, get a FREE pastry with your drink purchase on Tuesday, July 21st. Just make sure to get in by 10:30 AM!

That's all I got! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

12 "Needs" That Drain Your Cash

I saw this great article today on one of my favorite blogs (Save Like Me) and it really got me thinking about things I could do to really save a lot of money.

Some of the things mentioned, I'm already doing. For instance, the author lists "designer coffee" as a new necessity that takes a good chunk out of your wallet. The average latte costs 100 times more than the cup of coffee you make at home (saving you around $1300/year).

Another necessity mentioned - spa appointments, like manicures and pedicures. I do my own manis and pedis (saving about $1000/year - go me!), but probably would not attempt anything more serious than that!

But I could probably try harder for other things. Like cable TV. I love cable. I hardly ever watch network TV. I'm all about "Top Chef" or "Real Housewives" or "The Hills" (sorry!). But couldn't I rent most of these shows on DVD or watch on the internet? Sure, they might not be live or I might have to wait a few months, but might it be worth it to save the $50/month and not having to deal with Comcast!? Absolutely.

Read the article here and see if there are any of these "necessities" you can live without. I bet you can and you can save some big bucks in the process!

Have you cut anything out of your budget recently to save? How'd you do? Did you find you were able to get by without it?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Bakeware!

I was going to save this for Friday Deals, but I didn't want you guys to miss a great opportunity to add a FREE item to your kitchen collection.

Easy Bakeware is giving away one free item (not including shipping or tax, obviously) while supplies last!

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Is Bulk Buying Worth It?

Is bigger really better? My husband and I frequent Costco every few weeks to stock up on essential (okay, and maybe some non-essential) items. As I cram every storage space in my house with huge cereal boxes and 4 liters of ketchup, I ask myself "How much money am I really saving?" Here's what I found out:

The savings:

*My husband and I really like to get our proteins at Costco - steaks, chicken, and fish. They have a good selection, great quality, and they freeze well (which helps when you have two months' worth of meat). For instance, we buy a 6 lb bag of frozen chicken breasts for $18 ($3/pound). This week, my nearby grocery store is having a sale on the same brand's chicken breasts for $5/pound. Okay, score - I save $2 a pound! We eat A LOT of chicken, so that definitely adds up over the course of a few months.

*I think getting nuts at a grocery store is a total ripoff. Usually, they are in small containers and they cost a ton of money. At Costco, we get a 3 lb bag of roasted, unsalted almonds for $9; if I wanted the same amount at a grocery store, I'd pay double or triple. Normally an 11 oz canister of roasted, unsalted almonds costs around $5.

*We go through milk like it's going out of style. For 2 gallons of milk at Costco, I pay $3 ($1.50/gallon). At the grocery store, I've seen milk for $2.99/gallon, but occasionally on sale for $1.99. It's a little bit of savings for something we constantly go through, but it's like a jigsaw puzzle trying to figure out how to fit two gallons of milk in your refrigerator. Plus, they're a little odd-shaped and tricky to pour...okay, I actually might be talking myself out of buying them now.

*And it goes without saying that a Costco meal, while most likely very bad for your health, is a really good value. For $1.50, you can get a huge hot dog and a 20 oz. soda. Just eat a salad or something for dinner.

The tradeoffs:

*Obviously, you have to have a certain amount of space or storage to keep extra food or supplies around. If you're tripping over 50 toilet paper rolls, it might not be worth the couple of bucks you save.
*Food spoiling. I have learned my lesson not to buy produce at Costco unless I have a strict plan of what I'm doing with it. It sounds great to get a huge bin of mixed greens for salads for 1/4 of what you'd pay at the grocery store. But then, I get tired of salads after Day 2 and all that money I "saved" gets thrown in the composter. It doesn't count as saving money if you're not going to eat it.

*Limited brands or selections. Usually the Kirkland brand is just fine by me, but some people are really commited to certain brands that aren't always available at Costco. I love Yoplait yogurts, but they only have the 18-pack of strawberry and peach. I want lemon burst or key lime pie!

The moral:

*It isn't always better to buy in bulk. For my family, I like to buy fresh and frozen proteins to build meals around. It saves money, plus makes grocery shopping cheaper and easier knowing my proteins are already taken care of. But buying too much of other things will just end up taking up space in your pantry and you won't be able to finish it before it goes bad.

*Make sure to check the unit pricing to make sure you're getting the best deal. Just because something is at a wholesale club doesn't necessarily mean you're getting the best price.

*If you'd really like to cash in on the savings, see if a friend is interested in splitting some items with you. Maybe you won't use 50 batteries, but you could probably find a use for 25. Maybe you can split produce or bread or other items that have a shorter shelf life.

Who goes to Costco or Sam's Club out there? What products do you prefer to get in bulk? What do you think is a better buy at a grocery store?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Envelope System Update

So last month I decided to try out the envelope system. It's definitely something that requires perfecting over time and here is what I did and didn't like as well as a few tips. Overall I give the system two thumbs up and will continue to update.

The upsides:
  • Because you have taken out cash, you aren't scared of checking the bank account online.
  • I felt like I had much more control over my budget and spent much less time stressing over money. I new that I had money for the bills to be paid when they came, and still money for groceries, entertainment, etc.
  • You tend to spend less and prioritize better. For instance you only have $50 left in your eating out fund. You're a lot less likely to mindlessly spend it on take-out and instead save it for a date night
  • It reduced fighting over money with my husband we both had our "fun" money. That way we didn't overspent on something for themselves, causing stress down the line. We didn't have to feel guilty for purchases the other one of us may not understand or think is a waste.

The downsides:

  • Coming face to face with your money reality is not fun. Once you take out money for bills and necessities there can be a lot less money for "fun" like eating out and entertainment. You no longer just look at your account online and decide it's okay to spend because you have money in your account.
  • Keeping track of the cash can be a royal pain. For instance if I took 10 dollars with me to work that day for lunch, and then needed to pick up something from the grocery store, I may have to put it on my debit as I don't have enough cash. Then you have to take cash out of the grocery envelope and repay it to the checking account.
  • It's difficult to throttle your spending. We burnt through almost all of our entertainment budget in the first two weeks. So the last two were a bit frustrating.
  • It takes a while to get the correct amounts in each category. For example we spent all of our entertainment budget, but had a ton left in eating out.


  • At the beginning of the month determine your cash needs and go to the bank to take out the cash ASAP.
  • Don't take out the cash in a lump sum. Make sure you've determined how many of each bill you will need for each category. For instance if I have $150 for entertainment and $150 for eating out, I wouldn't want to get 3 $100 bills, but instead 2 $100 bills and 2 $50 bills
  • Get used to carry cash. I always made sure to have $20 on me in case an impromptu lunch or happy hour came up. I'd also keep a bit on me from the grocery fund (in a separate part of my wallet) in case I needed to stop by the store.
  • Stay on top of it. I find myself checking our online account (in case my husband or I had to use the debit in a pinch) and repaying the bank or different envelopes all the time. It does get better though so don't give up.
  • I find it easier to keep the money in the account for all of the bills as we use online bill pay.
  • Decide what envelopes you will "borrow" from if any. For instance we decided we could borrow from entertainment to eat out. But not to eat out from groceries.
  • Be patient. I still don't fully have the hang of it. But I do like the system. It won't be perfect the first month and you will make mistakes. I recommend trying it for at least 3 months before you decide it isn't for you.

For those of you who have tried the system. Any suggestions?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Deals

Hey everyone! Here are some FREE treats for you to start your weekend off right!

*It's 7-11's 82nd anniversary tomorrow (July 11th) and to celebrate, they're giving away FREE Slurpees! Yum! Good way to cool down!

*Jamba Juice is still having their "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" promotion. Make sure to print out the coupon here and enjoy by July 12th!

*Starting Monday and for the next 4 Mondays, McDonald's is giving out FREE McCafes from 7 AM - 7 PM.

*Join the Blizzard Fan Club at Dairy Queen, and get a coupon for a FREE Blizzard when you buy one. Mmm....check out the Tagalong Blizzard until the end of the month. It's delicious!

Happy weekend!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Saving Money - Personal Fitness Edition

Welcome back from the long weekend! I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July! Even though I took the day off of work (love 4 day weekends even more than 3 day weekends), I'm trying to get back in the swing of things and hit the gym this morning. In honor of trying to stay in shape, I thought I'd offer a few ways I like to sweat it out and save money.

*Stop buying sports drinks. It's super important to keep hydrated while you are working out, but buying bottles of Gatorade or Vitamin Water each time you go to the gym isn't exactly a fiscally sound solution. Just drink water. It's free, it tastes good and it is functional. If you can't give up your sports drink addiction, I recommend getting the individual packets of sports drink mix and doing it yourself. I bought a box on sale AND with a coupon for 89 cents for 10 packets. Instead of spending at least $1 a bottle, I spent 9 cents. Oh, and this is a must. Regardless of what you drink, please put it in a reusable bottle! It's better for your pocketbook and even more importantly, the environment. Personally, I love SIGG water bottles, but you can find reusable water bottles just about anywhere.

*Create a home gym. If you don't have the money for a gym membership, there's a lot you can do for little money down. I'd invest in a set of hand weights ($25 at Target with an instructional DVD), a balance ball ($15 on eBay) , a jump rope ($10 at Target) and a yoga mat ($20 at Target). From these basics, you can do many exercises and the cost is minimal. I find a lot of my home gym equipment on eBay, at Target, or on Craig's List. You could spend the same amount of money on one month's membership for all your home gym equipment! Plus the internet is a great resource to find all sorts of workouts - yoga routines, weight lifting routines, boxing, name it! My favorite at-home strength routine right now is from Self Magazine - it's only 8 minutes! Get it here if you're interested.*Change up your fitness routine. Everyone gets stuck in a rut - some people pay personal trainers lots of money to keep things interesting and engaging for them, but you can do it by taking some time to think. Maybe you exercise on the recumbent bike? Try jumping rope for 20 minutes instead (note - it's super hard to jump rope for 20 minutes). If you belong to a gym, go to an exercise class, like Step Aerobics or Zumba. Find new cardio lessons on your OnDemand cable (if you have digital cable) - there's all kinds of free activities, like bootcamp, salsa dancing,'s great. For days I don't feel like leaving my house, I have a couple of DVDs I got off Amazon for $10 each and free shipping. The point is to not do the same thing all the time - your body gets used to the same thing, making it harder to see results. Plus, you'll lose interest and if you are paying for membership at a gym, that's money down the drain if you're unmotivated to go.

Other tips out there to save money on keeping fit?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Deals

Hey everyone! Happy 4th of July Observed! Here are some quick deals before I head off on my patriotic camping trip!

Buy 3 signature collection products, get 3 FREE at Bath and Body Works

Buy 1 Jamba Juice, get 1 FREE. Just print out this coupon!

Starbucks has started the Treat Receipt program again. Buy a drink in the morning, and after 2 PM, get any Grande cold beverage for $2. Here are the details.

FREE camping in national parks on select weekends!

Have a great weekend and be safe!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Credit Cards - Friend or Foe?

Quick thank you to The Newlywed Nextdoor for helping out us here at Lean with Green - we loved your post! If you have some great tips and you're interested in a guest post, contact us at Back to the original subject...

As soon as we began our sharp economic downfall last year (well, probably before that, but anyway), people were definitely looking for something or someone to blame. The real estate bust, sub-prime home loans, greedy people on Wall Street, power-hungry get the idea. There was a lot of blame to go around, and for sure, these things listed and other things not mentioned all came together at the same time to put us into a financial tailspin.

One scapegoat also happened to be the credit card companies. I kept hearing over and over from friends, family, coworkers, even from my 6th grade students, "Credit cards are evil!" and "I'll never get a credit card!". True, credit cards have the potential to RUIN you. There's a lot of fine print, and you have to understand the terms clearly. Do you have a different rate the first year you have the card? What are your late fees and other penalties and when are you charged? Do you have a grace period that's different if you pay the minimum balance or if you pay in full? Does it matter what time of day you pay your bill? If you pay late, that's at least a $30 fee, not to mention if you have a balance, and you're charged interest. The credit card companies are businesses, and they make a lot of money by NOT clearly stating terms. Sure, they send you that little packet when you first get your card - does anyone read it? It's like they purposely designed the system to trick you...

But credit cards are a great tool to build financial security. They can positively impact your credit score if you pay on time and don't carry large balances. Your credit score is vital to getting better rates on loans of any kind, which can save you a ton of money over the years. Not having a credit card can negatively impact your credit score much like having too much debt - why? Because lenders won't have much to go on to tell if you're a responsible borrower. Plus, many credit cards offer rewards like cash back, points, airline miles, and free nights in hotels. Whatever your interest, there's probably a credit card out there that could save you money on the things you buy most.

My husband and I have a strategy with credit cards to make the most of the rewards. First, we put all of our monthly expenses on them - grocery stores, bills, etc. Then, we immediately pay it off. If we are planning on making a large purchase, we save up the cash in our savings account first, purchase with the credit card, and then pay it off. The bottom line - if you can't afford it then, you probably shouldn't buy it. It's not rocket science, but there's a lot of people that don't think about using their credit card and then get into trouble with it later.

It's not the credit card companies who put us in debt - WE put ourselves there. I am glad to see changes coming to credit cards with the new legislation passed in May, because this is definitely an area that needs more transparency and fairness. But let's start taking some personal responsibility. Stop buying things you don't need. Don't get the biggest TV or the most expensive car. Don't give the credit card companies any of your hard-earned money - give it to your bank instead!

To find out more about the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights, go here.

What are your feelings about credit cards?