Thursday, February 25, 2010

In This Economy...

I probably hear someone start or end a sentence with "in this economy" at least once a day, and 9 times out of 10, it's negative. Understandably. Circumstances are still pretty bleak for many. But, being the optimistic person that I am, I thought I'd play Mad Libs with this phrase and talk about how I've benefitted and learned from the recession. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

In this economy....

my husband lost his job, but accepted a new one at a great company.
I have begun paying myself first.
we bought our first house.

In this economy...

I have become an expert coffee maker.
I have learned more about myself.
I am very grateful for what I have.

In this economy...

saving money has meant being better to the environment.
I put a priority on taking better care of my health.
shopping is more fun when there are coupons and sales.

How would you use "in this economy" in a sentence? Have you gained anything in this recession?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Art of Happiness with Your Bank

Are you happy with your banking? Have you even asked yourself that question? I did recently, and I'm not. And I'm not alone. Among the consumers who bank at the Big 4 (Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo), most banks averaged around 70% customer satisfaction. Honestly, I was surprised it was that high! Between horrible customer service if you ever run into a problem to fees for everything to very low interest rates (although they aren't entirely to blame), I have a case of the bank blues.

As I was going through my mail the other day, I noticed a letter from ING Direct and decided to check them out. Their interest rates are double that of my current bank for a savings account! ING Direct is purely online - they don't have any branches - so depositing and transferring money is all done via the internet, phone or mail. But the good news is they pass what they don't spend on brick-and-mortar locations to you!

Although I ended up signing up for an account with them, I'm not saying you should. What I am saying is you should think about taking a few minutes to evaluate if your money is working as hard in your bank accounts as you think it should be. How do you know? Well, if you sign up for, it automatically shows you how you could be saving money and exactly how much you'd save over the course of a year! If you aren't signed up with Mint, I'd suggest checking out your local credit union, smaller regional banks, or online banks, like ING Direct or Ally. What was the satisfaction with "other" banks (i.e. those I just listed)? Over 80 percent!

Are you happy with your banking situation? Have you recently moved your money?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Discussion: Are You Cheap or Frugal?

I hear the word "cheap" and I cringe a little. But I ask grocery store clerks to give me a deal if I'm buying something on its due date, I clip coupons, I ask for free samples and I hate paying for parking. Am I cheap?
So I looked up the definition of cheap, and it states what I thought it would - stingy and miserly. On the other hand, frugal means prudently saving or not wasteful. I would say that I'm more of the "frugal" than "cheap" but I love this quiz from Moolanomy - it discusses your dining out habits, your shopping habits, and even your gift receiving habits. I got 25 points - I'm definitely frugal!

After taking the quiz, what was your score? If there's a way for you to save more money, what are your solutions?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Freezing Your Way to a Lower Grocery Bill

I think it's been well documented in this blog that I really am not a huge fan of leftovers. I don't mind eating them the next day for lunch, but if I eat the same meal for dinner, lunch, dinner and beyond...well, I'm not a happy camper.

Enter my new best friend: the freezer. First off, I do buy most of my meat in bulk and freeze it. Costco has individually wrapped chicken breasts and salmon fillets that are super easy for weeknight meals and are really reasonably priced. But now, I've gone beyond using the freezer for frozen things and now use it to freeze my leftovers for later! For some of you who may already be freezer pros, this is probably not news to you. However, I have a feeling that most of you are throwing away food because it's going bad! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans throw out about 11 BILLION pounds of fruit and vegetables every year! We're not just talking fruit and vegetables - how often do you make something for dinner, put it in the back of your fridge and then you forget about it until you smell it? Yeah, that's gross. Do something about it!

Here's what I do: after dinner, I begin packing my lunch for the next day with that night's dinner. The rest of the meal gets put into a freezer bag, labeled and stored in the freezer. If it's a large quantity of leftovers, I might save it in two separate bags so I don't defrost more than I'll eat (I don't recommend refreezing things - gross). What else do I do to get the most bang out of my buck? I freeze fruit and vegetables that I know I won't eat before they go bad. Last week, I got a 3-pack of bell peppers and couldn't finish the last one. I cut it up into strips and now, I'll use them for chicken fajitas this week.

But is it worth the work? I think so - I spent $20 on groceries for the WEEK. That includes 4 dinners, things for lunches AND Golden Double Stuff Oreos. Uh huh. Yeah. Jealous? ;) Not only that, but meal prep will be as easy as thawing and heating up. I get the best of leftovers and avoid the dreaded "I'm eating that AGAIN" thoughts!

Freezing isn't quite as simple as it looks. I love this article from CBS/Real Simple Magazine that talk about the best way to freeze things.

I'd love to hear if you all have freezer strategies or other ways to make sure the food you buy doesn't go to waste!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Are Vice Taxes Good for the Economy?

Have you heard we're in a recession? Well, we are, and with declining revenue in most states, the government is coming up with ways to avoid huge cuts to programs important to everyone, like schools, social services, police and firefighters. The governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, came out with her plan yesterday, and it includes taxes on:

*Bottled water (1 cent per ounce)
*Candy/gum (9.5%)
*Cigarettes ($1/pack)
*Soda (5 cents per 12-oz can)

It is estimated that these taxes would raise at least $600 million! Wow! I'm all for it, considering I don't drink bottled water, I rarely eat candy or drink soda, and I don't smoke! It's not like any of these things are essentials - people can live without junk food. And I feel that if it's harder to buy things that are bad for you, maybe we'd have a healthier population and wouldn't spend so much money on health care. That said, should the government implement a "vice" tax? Is it discriminatory?

What are your thoughts? Should we have to pay more for things we enjoy that aren't necessarily healthy? Should the government tax vices?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Discussion: How Do You Handle Finances in Your Relationship?

Although I'm a little embarassed to admit it, The Real Housewives of Orange County is among one of my favorite shows. I'm just so intrigued by these women - how they raise their families, what kind of cars they drive, how they spend their money. I definitely don't agree with most things they do, but that makes for more entertaining TV, right?

Anyway, last week's episode was totally up my alley - personal finance! It had one of the housewives, Lynne, getting served an eviction notice because her husband had not paid a deposit on their new rental house (because they were having trouble in the house they owned...eeeekkk...). Basically, Lynne's husband was in charge of all the finances in the house, so Lynne had no idea that they had no money. Not only did he keep all of it from her so she "wouldn't worry", but he said there was no deposit when in fact it was a $10,000 deposit. Obviously, Lynne was furious and they went their seperate ways after an intense discussion. Oh, then she went to San Francisco and spent $1200 on a leather jacket. But I digress....

This is so interesting to me. Money is a HUGE source of conflict in most marriages, and because it's often such a hard subject to talk about, many couples would rather not until it's too late. People have such different ideas of how to spend - there are some who have a very hard time parting with money and save, save, save. Some people spend money all too easily - you can't take it with you, right? Some people fall in between. Ultimately, this indicates your values and how you want to spend your life, and the more you know about your own relationship to money and your partner's idea of how to spend, the better off you'll be in the long run.

So how does money play into your relationship? Here are some questions (feel free to answer any and all in the comment section below).

1) Do you and your partner have the same idea of what money means? If not, how do you find that balance to make both your relationship and your bank account work?

My husband and I have a pretty similar style - we fall somewhere closer to the "saving" side of the spectrum rather than the "spending" side. I would say that he used to be more interested in saving than I did, but now I really enjoy finding creative ways to save a few bucks here and there. And nothing makes me happier than seeing my saving account increase every other week.

2) Do you have a joint spending account for expenses like housing and groceries? Do you split things 50/50 or do you have another strategy that works for you?

Before we got married, we lived together for 4 years and thought it would be really convenient to set up a joint checking account. We each contributed the same amount, which really got to me because my husband was making significantly more money than I was. We agreed that it made more sense for us to contribute the same percentage of our salary for joint expenses. Now that we're married, most of our money is joint, but we each still think it's important to keep our own individual accounts.

3) Who pays the bills? Do each of you have a basic understanding of what goes in and what goes out of your accounts?

I pay all but 2 bills - cable and cell phone. Since I am the primary bill payer, I think I have a better idea of what's going in and coming out than my husband does, but he can easily log on to our accounts to see. We'll talk about it too, for instance, if we had a really expensive water bill, and how to lower our costs for next month.

4) How frequently do you and your partner talk about money? Can you talk about it without arguing?

I think my husband and I talk about money at least once a week. We don't talk much about the day-to-day spending, but more of future goals - how much are we going to spend on furniture in our new house? How much do we need to have saved for a baby? And we talk about priorities - do we want to go on a weekend vacation in May or would we rather save that for a bigger trip at the end of the summer? I wouldn't say we argue about money all that often. After he got laid off, I think it gave us a great perspective on our priorities and we just learned to make more with less. Now that he has a job and things are good, we still make more with less and just keep building that cushion in our savings and retirement accounts.

Overall, I think we have a pretty good grasp on our joint finances. How do you and your sweetie measure up?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Deals!

Apologies for the lack of posts this week - Frugal Femme and I have been a little busy! No matter - here are your Friday Deals!

*Cefiore wants you to share the love with your sweetheart. FREE froyo when you buy one! Participating locations only, and I think you may have to print out this little graphic below...

*Martin and Osa are having 20% off, plus FREE shipping, now through Monday! Don't forget to add the promotional code 34197998 when you checkout online.

*Bath and Body Works is having a Presidents' Day Sale - buy 2 get one FREE aromatherapy, 5 for $5 pocket hand sanitizers, and more! I'm going to get their pillow mist. I love that stuff!

*FREE 10 day sample of Bare Essentials BareMinerals foundation! Redeem this coupon at a Sephora inside a JC Penney or order online at with code BEBARE for the original and BEMATTE for the matte foundation.

*50% off spring styles at Ann Taylor LOFT, now through Monday! Wow!

*Buy one, get one FREE pant offer at New York and Company!

*FREE digital copy of Sister Hazel's new album, 20 in '10 on How good of a song was "All for You"?

*And if you need a place to go to dinner this weekend, is having 80% off their usually cheap gift certificates - you pay $2 for $25 worth of food when you enter HEART at checkout.

Have a fantastic Valentine's Day weekend, and if you're lucky enough to have a 3 day weekend, enjoy it! Cheers!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Celebrating Valentine's Day on a Budget

With Valentine's Day less than a week away, I figured you all are deciding what to do to celebrate. I'll be honest right off the bat - Valentine's Day is not one of my favorite holidays. I consider myself a thoughtful, romantic person, but having a day essentially forcing you to be thoughtful and romantic...well, that seems counterintuitive.

But just because it's not one of my favorite holidays, that doesn't mean I don't celebrate it. In fact, I like to celebrate it by spending time, not money. Does it mean you love someone more because you spent more money on them? Of course not.

Here are some great and inexpensive way to show someone you love them:

1) Put it in writing. Write down everything you love and admire about your valentine on little slips of paper. Then, put them in a jar or a canister. It's a very thoughtful and easy gift! Bonus: put the slips of paper in fortune cookies! I was asked to Prom with this technique (totally creative, right?). When I asked how he did it, he said he used a bent paper clip to hook the old fortune and get it out of the cookie, then slid his personalized fortune in! If you have more time, here's a Wiki of How to Make a Fortune Cookie.

2) Speaking of fortune cookies, Valentine's Day shares the same day with Chinese New Year this year! See if your community is hosting a celebration!

3) Grant a wish. This is kind of like a reverse coupon book, but have your sweetie write down things they would like (make dinner, night out on the town, etc). And then grant one wish every week. This works particularly well, because who doesn't like extended presents?

4) Do something your love likes to do but isn't your favorite - foreign films, ice skating, or going to the theater. It'll mean something to them that you made the extra effort to make them happy.

5) Related to #4, do something your sweet HATES to do - organize the garage, clean the bathroom. That might mean more.

6) Bring luxury in - create your own spa! Get some wine and cheese, light some candles, put Enya or Sade on the stereo, and fill up a tub with bubbles and rose petals. Maybe offer a massage, and even make your own massage oil for pretty cheap!

7) Make a Favorite Things box. Put all of your honey's favorite things in a bag or box - for my husband, I'd include Swedish fish, a Ruination IPA from Stone Brewery, a Guns and Roses mix, anything Oregon Duck related, and a promise to make his mom's Chicken Parmesan. This shows the other person you pay attention to what makes them happy! How romantic is that?

8) If you wanted to go the flowers/chocolate route, don't get an overpriced bouquet that will die within days. Get a potted plant that will grow and bloom - like your love. :) And you can make your own chocolate! Go to CreateMyChocolate and choose a chocolate base (dark, milk, white), fruit, spices, nuts, grains and more! Or get a gift certificate for them to make their own.

9) Check out your local paper on free or inexpensive events to do around town.

10) Breakfast in bed. Who doesn't like breakfast in bed? Breakfast foods are usually cheap and easy to make and it's a great way to start your day!

I'd love to hear what you all are doing for Valentine's Day! Anyone incorporating budget-friendly ideas?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Deals!

Good morning everyone! Hope you all had a good week! I am definitely looking forward to the weekend and the Super Bowl! I'll be making this yummy dish to bring to a party and rooting on the Saints! Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?!

*FREE sample of 2 Breathe Right strips! I've always wondered if these I might give them a try!

*FREE sample of Kashi foods! Choose from two cereals or a yummy looking dark-chocolate coconut fruit & grain bar (I bet you have no idea which one I chose).

*Keeping on the snack food, participating Starbucks stores will be handing out samples of Kind Bars today as part of incorporating healthier foods in their stores. Yum! Thanks to Fantabulously Frugal for the deal!

*J. Crew is still having a good deal on sale merchandise - up to 40%! Crazy! I purchased some items a few days ago when it was 30% off, thinking it wouldn't get much better! Wish I waited!

*Friends and Family discount at Express this weekend! Save 20% in-store or online with this coupon.

*$2 off Peet's Coffee in your grocery store!

*And I'm sure you've probably seen the commercials - I listen to anything Taye Diggs says - but you can get a FREE ticket to Disneyland by volunteering! Here's the site where you can get information on eligible agencies/opportunities and other rules.

Have a great weekend! Cheers!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One Soup, Four Ways!

Yum! As I was reading through this month's SELF magazine, I fell in love with this concept of one soup, four ways! You take a box of roasted red pepper and tomato soup, like so:

Then, by adding different spices, veggies and meat, you have completely different meals! I love concepts like this - adding a few ingredients to make something new. Check out the old post from my favorite Women's Health article!

How about you? Any multitasking recipes you have? I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The 60/10/10/10/10 Rule

I'm constantly in search of a new and easy system to budget. I tried doing the all envelope system, while it was helpful, it was way to confusing and time consuming. Although I did find an extra $100 in an envelope I almost through away, so I guess there was an added savings benefit. And I'm constantly trying to figure out how do I decide how much to save?

Then last weekend my husband came across a great new system. Here is the premise. You use 60% of your income to live on, and save 40%. Of that 40% you break it down as follows:
  • 10%-Retirement

  • 10%-Long Term Savings: usually you won't touch this money. It's for emergencies are a very large purchase like a down payment or remodel. Of course, you never want to deplete your long term savings either, so make sure you still leave some for emergencies.

  • 10%-Short Term Savings: first paying down any debt aside from a mortgage, then for vacations, Christmas presents, vacations, new appliances, etc.

  • 10%-Fun Money: Anything you want to do during the month, eating out, going to a show, new clothes.

You take what is leftover from your 60% after fixed costs, utilities, car insurance, mortgage/rent and divide into three envelopes. Gas/transportation, Food/household supplies and Entertainment.

So far the key seems to be having that savings money deducted at the beginning of the month, so you get use to seeing only your 60%.

We're playing with this new system and will let you know how it goes. So far it's upped what we're saving by a lot. I'll keep you posted about any tips/tricks along the way. Has anyone tried a similar system?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

To become rich, stop acting like it

I read a great article in the Washington Post today, that I highly recommend to all of our readers, To truly become rich, you need to start acting like it.

This article is fascinating and about a new book by Thomas J Stanley called "Stop acting rich...and start living like a millionaire." The idea is that most actual millionaires "those with assets of 1 million or more" are spending a lot less and differently than those who are deemed "pretenders." Here are some fun facts.

-86 percent of prestigious or luxury vehicles are not driven by millionaires

-$16 (including tip) is the average cost of a millionaire's haircut

-Number one shoe brand worn by women millionaires is Nine West

Well clearly, they are putting it all in their house then right? Nope, three times as many millionaires are living in houses valued at $300,000 or less than in homes more than $1 million.

I suddenly feel a lot better about my paid-off non luxury cars, beauty school haircuts and very modest home.

The whole idea is that the "pretenders" are consumed with consuming, instead of investing their money wisely. And as the author points out, don't put most of your wealth into your house, as we've seen that when home prices fall, you're wealth is no longer there. Instead, diversify among cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and even shares in private businesses. This what he says most millionaires do.

This article has truly inspired me and I'm going to feel just fine about my older reliable cars, small home and lack of the latest "it" handbag. Because I know that I'm working toward money in the bank, which is where I'd rather have than on my feet. Afterall, I'd much rather be a millionaire than a pretender. How about you?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Discussion - How Do You Manage Your Finances?

I loved this post by J. Money at Budgets are Sexy so much that I decided I wanted to hear from you guys about how you make your finances work. Here are 6 questions and I'd really love to hear from you!

1) How do you spend: cash, debit, or credit?

I am all about using credit cards RESPONSIBLY. This means paying off in full every month, and deciding what credit card suits your needs and lifestyle. I think credit cards are convenient, they help me track my finances better AND you get cash back or other rewards. Nice!

2) Do you bank online? Do you use a financial aggregator (Mint, Wesabe, etc)?

I am completely paperless when it comes to banking. I pay bills online with Chase, although I'm thinking about moving my money. I also have accounts set up with USAA (love them!). And you've definitely heard me rave about how much I heart Mint. It's so easy to track your spending and also figure out if there are better options for your banking needs.

3) What recurring bills do you set on autopay?

I only have my car payment, cell phone bill, and cable bill on autopay. Everything else fluctuates a little too much for me to have it on autopay and I think it keeps me more on top of my budget when I look at my bills every month. (Another plug for Mint - it reminds you of due dates!)

4) How are your finances automated?

The only automated part of my finances is funding my 403b. Other than that, I move money from one account to another as it's needed. I'm trying to keep just what we need with a tiny cushion in checking while putting the rest (and promising not to touch it) in savings.

5) Do you use checks? If so, how often?

Our joint checkbook is so old, it has our previous address on it...and we moved almost 4 years ago! My personal checkbook has my COLLEGE address on it. Wow. Needless to say, I'm not a big check person. Just rent. And scratch paper.

6) Where do you keep your short-term savings?

I keep short-term savings in a savings account; however, I am thinking about switching to a no-penalty CD, which have higher interest rates than most savings accounts.

There! As I mentioned, I would love to hear how you all keep it together - respond in the comments with your 6 answers!