Saturday, December 9, 2017

When Paying Full Price Is a Better Value

Jean Chatzky has said that she resolved to only pay full price for items. As Tevye would say, "sounds crazy, no?" But the real question is, do we really value the items when we buy them on sale?

Now, of course, if you already have something on your grocery list, and they're selling it at half off, great! But if you're only buying something because you got a coupon or it's on the Sale page of a website, it's worth asking, would I buy this if I could only get it at the pre-discount price?

I have been donating or discarding some items in my closet or elsewhere that I don't value as much because I paid so little. Off-hand, I can remember a sweater I bought at Goodwill that ended up back at Goodwill because I never wore it. There are definitely some books in my Kindle library that I bought for .99 that I've never read. So I know what it's like to see something and think, oh what the hell for that price! But take a look at your own closet, library or whatever and ask yourself if you value the actual item, or merely the discount.

Some factors to consider before buying: if you buy a tangible item, will you follow the "one in-one out" rule and get rid of something else (i.e., donate a pair of shoes for every pair that you buy)? If you're budgeting via categories, do you have enough in that category to cover the cost, or will you have to steal from another category to pay for it? If it's an experience, are you willing to pay full price if they don't honor your Groupon?

Of course, when you know you need or want to buy something, shopping around for the best price is prudent. But that's not the same as clicking on a link simply because it's offering you a discount, or adding something to your virtual or literal cart because it's marked down.

Value is not just about the cost of something. The true value is how much you use it/wear it/enjoy the experience.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Knowing What's for Dinner

It's astonishingly easy to find yourself running around like the proverbial chicken. Trying to keep up with work, kids, social life, personal goals, etc. can be daunting with a mere 24 hours in a day. But taking a breath, spending a little time to organize these activities can dramatically reduce this feeling...and probably your spending, too.

I was surprised to learn from my daughter that we're the only family she knows at school that has a meal plan. They're all improvising on a daily basis. That sounds exhausting to me! And if last-minute meals means trips through the drive-thru or eating out at a restaurant, the lack of routine is costing you money, too.  I know we lived like that too way back when, but it seems so foreign to me now.  I thrive on our routines, and Riley does, too.

Taking a few minutes every week to plan your weekly meal plan and your grocery shopping an will not only help your budget, but your stress level.

My friend makes fun of me for my routines. I have a day where I go grocery shopping, a laundry day, a fast food night, and meals planned at least a week in advance.

I use Pepperplate for my meal planning (for free). I import all my recipes in there, then use the planner to pick the day for each meal. They also have a shopping page where I can select all the ingredients I will need to add to my shopping list.

I don't use their shopping list at the grocery store. There, I use ValueTracker, which costs 99 cents, but it was the only one I could find where it let me also track the unit prices for everything. I have a pretty good estimate even before shopping of what my total bill will be and if it's looking too high, I can change my meal plan before I go to the store to make sure it fits my budget.

We shop at Aldi. I was thrilled when they started to open in Southern California! It was my favorite store in Rochester, NY because the prices are so much less than any other store. The closest to us is still about 20 minutes away, but completely worth it. I'm getting pretty good at choosing meals where we can exclusively shop at Aldi, but every so often, we will need to go to another store to complete our list. Still worth it.

I plan slow cooker or Instant Pot meals for Mondays and Thursdays. Riley cooks on Tuesdays. I choose more labor-intensive meals for the weekends. We grocery shop on Fridays and Wednesday night is our fast food night. 

My favorite site for recipes is Budget Bytes, which now has an app and a book. I started to enjoy cooking with Budget Bytes. My second favorite is Supercook because you can search recipes by what ingredients you currently have.

Riley knows she has to choose her recipe to cook by Thursday so I can include it on the list for Friday shopping and make whatever changes need to be made to accommodate. I don't put any restrictions on what she can cook (other than it can't be dessert!) to help her have an appreciation for cooking...an appreciation I didn't gain until I was at least 35!

After the groceries are put away, I update YNAB so I can see where I am for the monthly budget, and ValueTracker with the most current prices.

On Sundays, I make my lunches for the next work week. I usually also put them in to-go containers as soon as it's ready so I don't really have to think about it in the morning.

After I do the dishes each night, I check Pepperplate to see if anything needs to be defrosted for the following night's dinner.

All told, it took me longer to write this post than it takes to do everything I wrote here, except for the actual grocery shopping. (Riley bags everything for us at Aldi - which she enjoyed more with the Fiat's smaller trunk because it was a harder game of Tetris then.)

Since implementing all of these routines, the last being switching to Aldi when they opened, we have not gone over budget with our grocery shopping. And we've also been known to buy a few things not on the list! I also try really hard not to stop by a store in between our weekly shopping trips. A few times, we've not had much choice, but usually, even if we've forgotten something or a dinner doesn't turn out right, we can improvise with what we have at home.

If you haven't yet tried meal planning, start with planning at least 2 days in advance what you'll be eating. Then 3, and then a week. Starting small may help it feel less daunting.

Eventually, I'm gonna guess that not having a plan will feel more stressful!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Available Free with Kindle Unlimited!

So proud to announce that my book is now free on Kindle Unlimited!


Monday, April 3, 2017

Financial Update: I bought a car!

My lease was coming to a close, so I decided to take some of the experts' advice and buy - but I do have a car payment, and I'm totally fine with that.

I bought a car that I love, love, love. A Toyota Prius Prime:

So pretty!
The Prime model has a more advanced electric battery that lasts longer and is utilized more often than in the standard Prius. The battery lasts for my daily commute, and then automatically switches to gas, but also recharges the battery using kinetic energy while in gas mode. I wanted a hybrid this time because I didn't want to be limited by battery life. Given that the Camry is still going strong, I also was happy to buy Toyota.

I got an awesome interest rate from my credit union and it got even better when they gave me a discount for agreeing to auto-pay. It's a 5-year loan, but I want to pay it off in 3 or 4.

Of course, most experts state that you shouldn't buy new - that it loses value as soon as you drive it off the lot and you should only buy as much car as you can afford in cash. I considered all that, but in the end, I wanted a new car because I wanted to not worry about maintenance or repairs for at least a few years. I'm not that concerned with the value loss since I don't plan to sell it - like ever. I also wanted this new car, and the market is not yet flooded with used Prius Primes. And my financial situation is what it is. I'm not about to spend my emergency savings on a car, and I can afford the car payment. I also have a lifestyle which just wouldn't work without a reliable car.

So my point here is to consider all the personal finance expertise out there, and use what you can and discard what you can't..at least for now.

My long term auto plan is to pay this off as quickly as possible, and then start saving for the next car while I drive this one into the ground. I expect this car to last at least 10 years. I do hope that the next car purchase I make will be entirely in cash, and that I'll be just as happy with that purchase as I am with this one.

But for now, I'm really happy with my shiny, new car!!



Friday, March 24, 2017

Lin, Hamilton, NY!

This makes me so happy! Lin-Manuel Miranda talked to Morgan Stanley about personal finance!!
Not only that, Seth Stewart (from the original Broadway casts of both In The Heights and Hamilton) did an interview for MarketWatch about money, too!!

I love Lin's answer about why this topic is so important. He covers almost everything on what that freedom can mean for almost anyone:

Why is building a financial foundation critical for pursuing your passions?
To educate yourself about personal finance is to empower yourself with the resources and tools needed to help you achieve your goals: whether it be owning your own home, starting a business, making a living off of your passions, providing for a family, having a healthy relationship with money, or paying it forward.

I like that Seth's first answer focuses on balance; he skimps in some areas to splurge in others:

MarketWatch: What are you a cheapskate about? What do you splurge on?
Seth Stewart: I’m a cheapskate on my rent because I’m an actor. I splurge on food and vacations. I am living further out in Queens [New York] so that if I don’t have a job for a year, I’m not stressed about my rent. Every actor’s had a dry season because of what we do. Our work is never guaranteed. I’m saving my money. But I make sure I go out and eat all the time. I love really expensive meals. I feel like that’s what life’s about: Good food and good conversation.
I love that artists are talking about money in this way. Back in my day [she croaks], money was still a fairly taboo topic with those in my little arts community. Some nights after shows, we spent way too much in fancy restaurants (but hey, I got to shake Bernadette Peters' hand once). I never minded working for free in theatre, but I did mind that I paid for that by working 11 pm - 7 am, proofreading at a law firm. We would sigh and curse money, but we never had fruitful conversations on how to manage money.

I also think it negatively impacted my ability to support myself in the field. I was too desperate for jobs to get them. I wanted them for the wrong reasons. Then, my life took some weird turns and I put that dream behind me.

Of course, there's no way of knowing what could've been, but I am hoping my girls will have more friends like Lin and Seth than I did. I'm doing what I can, but the more people talk about this, the better chance they all have of succeeding.

We're very good at talking about hard work, but not so good about talking about how to really make those hard-earned dollars work for us. The concepts are not so complex, but it's still difficult to practice them until they become a natural part of daily life.

Part of that difficulty stems from the discomfort that arises from telling friends "no" to get-togethers or walking into an audition or job interview, feeling desperate instead of confident.

I have found that it gets much easier to say "no" with practice. I remember one time, really agonizing about how to say that I couldn't contribute as much as others were to a particular gift. It was through text and after a few starts, I finally ended up just saying, "that's not in my budget. I can contribute $x." I got a quick reply that that was no problem, no one made me feel guilty or questioned it and it was done. Now, I only really think twice about it if it's something I really want to do and if so, I look for other areas in my budget where I can skimp or sacrifice to make it happen. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Just going through the process of looking helps me decide how important it really is to me.

A year ago, I wasn't even thinking of going to New York. Vacations were not a high priority for me. But in June, I got an email from Hamilton, offering me tickets for early 2017. I clicked on the link, thinking this will be for nothing. The tickets will be $900 and I'll close the window, delete the email and move on. Except that when I clicked the link, there were tickets in the mezzanine for $200. Well, that's downright doable, I thought!

I called my friend Nancy. Within minutes, we decided to go for it. We picked a day in March 2017, and we bought 4 tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway!  From that moment on, my vacation budget become a huge priority!

We got back from that trip just a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still smiling! Everything went beautifully, and I even stayed under budget! I wasn't even really trying; we went to a couple of fancy restaurants, but we also ate pizza for $1. When it was too cold or we were running late, we took Lyfts, but we bought a week pass for the subway and got around mostly that way. I bought souvenirs, but didn't buy a couple that I just thought were way too overpriced.  I didn't ever feel like I was sacrificing, but I didn't feel like I was wasting money, either. We thoroughly enjoyed it!

And now I'm back to real life, back to saving money for a car - and a few droplets in the Vacation category, too.

Okay, I have strayed very far from the original intent of this post. Bottom lines:

  1. Encourage financial conversations with friends. Real conversations, not just moaning about money, but "let's brainstorm on how we improve our financial lives now." And bonus: if you and your friends are all committed to saving money, you may find new ways to have fun together that don't involve spending it!
  2. Remain open for new opportunities. Obviously, our trip to NY wasn't what everyone would consider an "opportunity," but it was for me. It was like a dream come true that I didn't even know I was having until it became a reality. And it reminded me that I really love NY and want to go there more often that once a decade!





Monday, March 6, 2017

My Podcast Feed #TryPod

Some of the podcasts I listen to have been participating in the #TryPod campaign: encouraging listeners to share podcasts. They say share one with one friend/family member, but I don't like to choose so I'm just listing my entire podcast feed.

Now, this is a long list but keep in mind, not all of them air a new episode every week so no, I don't listen to 100 hours' worth of podcasts every week!

Missing Richard Simmons: I'll be honest, I didn't actually know Richard Simmons was missing until I started hearing about this podcast, and now I'm hooked. It's told with love, but not the rose-colored glasses kind. He's clearly searching for the truth.

The Official Disney on Broadway Podcast: It's really new, and so far, they've told the stories of how Newsies and Aladdin happened. (Fun fact: Newsies was never supposed to go to Broadway.)

Popaganda/Backtalk: From Bitch Media.  I needed a feminist replacement to Stuff Mom Never Told You. This focuses on feminist issues in pop culture.

Twice Removed: I subscribe to almost every Gimlet Media podcast. This is a genealogy show; each episode taking a different person through various stories of their family's history.

Crimetown: Gimlet Media show about Providence, RI during the height of their corruption that makes Chicago look squeaky clean. One of the best theme songs ever!

Heavyweight: Best thing about this Gimlet show is its host, Jonathan Goldstein. I honestly don't care what the episode is about, I just love how he tells stories.

Broadway Backstory:  All about how shows went from idea to stage, including interviews with the creators and original cast members.  (I should mention that it's sponsored by TodayTix, and you can use my code, FAGSL, for a discount.)

living the dream with Rory O'Malley: HamilFans will know him as King George III the Fourth. He's currently the King for the first national tour of Hamilton. He was also nominated for a Tony for The Book of Mormon ("Turn it Off"). He has long form interviews with friends of his; people like Stephanie J. Block and Joel Grey. They tend to focus on how to balance life with their art and figuring out how to have a life once your dreams start coming true...and what dreams coming true really means.

BroadwayCon: The Podcast: One of these years, I will get to BroadwayCon. In the meantime, I experience it vicariously through this podcast where they talk about how they put BroadwayCon together, as well as interviews with Broadway actors focused on their days as fans, and what theatre means to them. As NPH said (written by LMM), "we were that kid."

The Room Where It's Happening: A Hamilton Fan Podcast: Usually, interviews with others in pop culture also obsessed with Hamilton, but sometimes people involved with the show, too (their episode with Alex Lacamoire was the best). Each guest picks a favorite song from Hamilton to discuss and sing along. They're also campaigning to have the Obamas come on and talk about "One Last Time."

Katie Couric: Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Katie Couric podcast, except she has a co-host. (Come to think of it, you might expect that, too.)

Science Vs: Another one where the host, Wendy Zukerman, totally makes the show. Exploring different (often controversial) subjects, and trying to get answers.

Dear Sugar: I found this through NPR One (the podcast app that includes non-NPR shows, too). Advice show with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond.  They are both awesome.

Sooo Many White Guys: Another great theme song! Phoebe Robinson interviews those in pop culture that aren't straight white guys...and ends the season with a token straight white male.

Little Known Facts with Ilana Levine: Apparently, she knows everyone in show biz. She's interviewed Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Lucas Hedges, to name just a few.

RadioLab Presents: More Perfect: I don't know if this show is coming back, but each episode explored a different Supreme Court case that changed our country.

The Ensemblist: Focuses on those Broadway performers whose names aren't above the title. I particularly enjoyed their episodes about each Broadway musical that won the Pulitzer prize.

Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me: I mean, if this show doesn't make you laugh, I don't know what will.

HerMoney with Jean Chatzky: Financial podcast focusing on women.

Behind the Curtain: They have two different shows per week: one that interviews Broadway legends, and one of their Favorite Things: YouTube clips, books, musicals, people that may not be as well known as the Broadway legends they interview.

Broadway Stories: Broadway performers telling their own stories.

The Producer's Perspective Podcast: Usually interviews with those behind the scenes like the producers, publicists, directors, etc.

The Hamilcast:  Yes, another one. It started mainly as two HamilFans talking about the show and the book behind the show, but recently, they've been interviewing many cast members, too.

BroadwayRadio: I love starting my weekdays with this podcast to catch me up on all the latest Broadway news: casting, grosses, business stories, etc. On Sundays, they have longer episodes where they may interview someone, plus reviews of everything they saw that week, both on Broadway and off.

Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People: I first heard about this one on This American Life. Anonymous callers chat with the host, Chris Gethard, for an hour.

 2 Dope Queens: Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson host this comedy show.

Throwing Shade: A gay man and feminist talk about issues.

 The Longest Shortest Time: Parenthood from every angle.

Embedded: Kelly McEvers takes a deep dive into the people and worlds we may hear about in the news, but don't really know or understand.

The West Wing Weekly: Every Wednesday, I look forward to this podcast! Josh Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway go episode by episode, interviewing cast members (and even Aaron Sorkin) along the way. Given that this is my favorite TV show of all time, of course, I love learning more about it. Oh, and if anyone wants to get me this sweatshirt, I'd be okay with that!

Theater People: More interviews with Broadway stars! I wish I were Patrick Hinds sometimes.

Afford Anything: My favorite financial podcast with my favorite financial blogger, Paula Pant.

The Sporkful: 20 minutes about food.

Better Off with Jill Schlesinger: Shorter than her old show, Jill on Money, now sponsored by Betterment, an interview and 1 caller asks their financial question.

RadioLab:  Usually science-y, but also very much about the people and their science-y stories.

Note to Self: I actually kind of did #TryPod with Note to Self's Privacy Paradox series. About technology, but more about how we interact with tech.

The DoughRoller Money Podcast: Rob Berger has grown so much as a podcaster since I first started listening to him, and I think he's loosened up since he retired from his day job as a lawyer. Now, he's more like a financial father, explaining both the issues of the day and a more advanced course than the general basics of financial planning.

Invisibilia: Much like Embedded, a deeper look into interesting stories.

Reply All: One of those shows where you have no idea from one week to the next what they'll explore, since their basic premise is the internet, but always great storytelling.

Serial: Another podcast that doesn't really require any explanation.

StartUp Podcast: The first Gimlet Media show. The name says it all, really.

This American Life: Need I say more?

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Best show to learn about what movie or TV show you may want to watch; also comic books, theatre and books.

Planet Money: 2nd best show to learn about the financial world.

Marketplace: The best show to learn about the financial world. It's hard to keep up as they usually publish 2-3 podcasts a day, but it's what I listen to after Broadway Radio every morning and I have learned so much from this show.

Death, Sex & Money: Really great interviews with fascinating people, usually known, but a lot of unknowns, too.

Ask Me Another: NPR's other quiz show that is so much fun, particularly the musical games with Jonathan Coulton.

Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips:  Probably the first financial podcast I found.

The Loh Life: Only about 3 minutes long, I always loved when I happened to be in the car when Sandra Tsing Loh's segment was on NPR. Now, I don't ever have to miss it!

StoryCorps: Now I can't listen to this in the car because it almost always makes me cry, so I can tear up in the comfort of my own home. Whenever you need to restore your faith in humanity, listen to this show!

You Need a Budget: When I first discovered YNAB, subscribing to the podcast was part of my "all-in" strategy. I don't really get much from it anymore, but it's usually pretty short, so it remains in my feed.

I'm even shocked looking at this list! But again, because many of them aren't on every week, it usually works out. I listen while I'm doing dishes, while I'm driving, making dinner, etc.  Some of them are pure entertainment, and some of them really open my eyes to things I never really thought about before. They all explore humanity in one way or another, and I appreciate the chance to step for just a moment into their perspective.

If you have an Apple product, iTunes is the easiest way to subscribe. Otherwise, try Stitcher or the NPR One app.

















































Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Balancing your Personal Financial Responsibility

I thoroughly enjoyed Afford Anything's most recent podcast on what they're calling radical responsibility...though it's not as scary as that may sound.

As long-time readers know, there were certainly extenuating factors that contributed to my negative net worth and increasing debt obligations.

My journey as a single mom began when my girls were not yet 3 and 6 and I had no job, car or home to call my own and bad credit. X was (and is) a drug addict that didn't (and doesn't) pay child support regularly. For reasons not necessary for this blog post, I was not yet a college graduate.

After finding a steady job, I went back to school, but to do so, I had to take out student loans. I don't regret that for a moment, but it didn't exactly help my financial situation. After getting my B.A., I realized I needed to continue my education before I could really see a substantial difference in my pay. Enter more student loans.

To be clear, I am not recommending this or dissuading it. This is just where I was.

Then, one day, after financial ups and downs for most of my adult life, I was done. I no longer cared whose fault it was, I just had to make it better.

I stopped focusing on our circumstances and just worked the problem.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still a bleeding heart liberal. I totally get that everyone's circumstances are different, and that it may feel like there simply are no choices. 

I am, however, going to offer a different perspective.

Instead of focusing on what I couldn't control, I turned to what I could.

I couldn't count on X giving me child support, but I could re-work my budget to not be dependent upon it - and anytime I did get child support, I would split it between paying off debt and paying for the girls' needs.

I couldn't count on any other sources of income, so I looked to both increase my own while decreasing expenses.

Though many choices felt like choosing between a rock and a hard place, I recognized the choices that we had made. I accepted some, and changed others.

I accepted that I wanted to live in SoCal where the rents are high, but family (and free babysitting) are available. I accepted SoCal rents, but moved when rent got too high.

For a while, we chose to keep cable TV...until we changed our minds. It became a personal challenge to decrease our grocery spending month by month until now, it's a challenge to overspend!

But I think the best thing about taking financial responsibility is how empowered it makes me feel. I mean, I have nowhere near the financial net worth of Paula Pant or Emma Pattee (the ladies on the aforementioned podcast), but I am where I want to be, and I know I am headed in the right direction. Instead of feeling defeated by the problems that arise, I feel like standing taller and saying, "bring it on!" (I mean, not really, but you know what I mean.)

So my X is a deadbeat, so what? He's not worth my anger or tears, either.

When Riley needs something, she's not worried that I'm going to freak out and I am in fact, happy to oblige...because I can!

It doesn't happen overnight, of course. But it does take that moment of deciding that you are up for this challenge. Taking responsibility means that no one else can have it. You get to control your financial destiny. How cool is that?