Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Update on the 60-Week Challenge Part II

On January 3, 2015, I posted an update on my 60-week challenge savings goal. On that day I had by week 8 for the dollar challenge, $36 dollars saved. For the quarter challenge I had $9 dollars saved. Now I am a third of a way through my savings goal and to be honest, I didn't think I would make it this far. I wasn't sure if I would be held over at the store past the seasonal work shift. Plus there was a bit of uncertainty when it came to consistent work hours that I felt would scuttle my attempts to follow my plan. 

Luckily for me, things have worked out and I have been able to keep socking money away in the coffee cans. As you see below, at the 20-week mark, for the dollar challenge I have $210-dollars saved. In the quarter challenge can, I have $52.50 saved. 

From here on in it only gets harder. The amounts per week get higher. But I think that I can stay on course. I'll update on my progress at the halfway point: Week 30.

Until next time,

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Using Store Flyers To Save Money

Another way that I try to save a few dollars when doing my food shopping is by perusing various stores and their flyers. Using the little key chain cards that stores love to give out to their customers can really save you some money and get you some bang for your buck if really know how to shop.

As you can see above, I like to look at a variety of weekly flyers to find the best deals. Even chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS can provide amazing deals if you look closely. Here's an example of one such sale I took advantage of.

CVS a few weeks ago had the 12oz bag of Starbucks Breakfast Blend coffee (just like the one to the right) at $6.99 per bag. Now if the flyer noted that if you bought $20 dollars worth of Starbucks products, you would receive a $5 dollar Extrabucks rewards coupon to use on any purchase before February 15, 2015. Not that I needed any more incentive to buy three bags of coffee but utilizing the sales to get coupons to be used at a later date is something I couldn't resist. Especially since what I was buying was something that I would use.

So I turned around and used the coupon on a sale that CVS had a week or two later for three boxes of Crispix cereal. Now Crispix is one of the few cereals my daughter enjoys and as one of the Kellogg's "Healthy" offerings, it is one of the most expensive selections. The sale had the cereal at buy 3 boxes for $7-dollars. Using my coupon, I ended up getting 3 boxes for $2-dollars. I can't even get a regular priced box for under $4-dollars so to get 3 for $2 was an amazing coup. That is the key here. Buying stuff you need with the coupons you earn instead of just buying stuff for the sake of getting a coupon or to use a coupon.

That seems to be the methodology of the extreme couponers you see on TV who fill up four to five shopping carts worth of products that they will just sock away so they can use manufacturers coupons to reduce the price of the products they want. Don't get me wrong, it looks amazing on TV to see the large amount due whittle down to virtually nothing after the coupons are scanned in. But its not something that I can do. I do try to buy things that are on sale in order to stock the back-up pantry and if I have a coupon for items on top of a sale price, I try to use it. But back to the key point from above.

Make a list, stick to it and buy what you need. We've all been guilty of walking into a store without a list and leaving with bags full of stuff that caught our eye as we walked down the aisles. Hell, that even happens when we have a list. The key is to fight the urge to buy something that is not on your list. You need to show some willpower, moderation and frugality. If a sale focuses on a store brand rather than a corporate brand name, take advantage of it. There's nothing wrong with a store brand especially when you are trying to stay within budget like I am.

The day will come when you can splurge, but by then if you re-train your way of doing shopping by taking advantage of sales, you won't feel the need to do so. But that is just me. I can only make the suggestion. You guys have to make the effort.

You have any suggestions on what works for you? I'd love to hear about it. For the next post, I did a little test on how much coffee I can get out of a 12oz bag of coffee in the Thermos I received for Christmas and how it compares in terms of price to a daily cup of coffee bought at a store.

Until Then,

Friday, January 16, 2015

Frugality Sucks and Its Really Hard to Keep To The Plan

As I've posted in recent weeks, I've been trying to find ways to lower expenses and save money in a financial situation where I am not making as much as I have been in the past few years. A couple of nights ago, the weight of my goal hit me squarely in the face when I found myself re-routed due to train construction. 

Fast track was happening on the 6-train and the re-routing would have consisted on taking an express bus from 125th Street to Hunts Point Avenue, just to get off the bus to take the train to my stop to HOPEFULLY catch my bus before it stops running for the night. Yes, it is just as convoluted as it sounds. And time consuming to boot especially since I was working an opening shift the next morning after a closing shift. The other option is to take the express bus that leaves me four blocks from my house. Now here is where I realize what I am trying to accomplish with my frugality and how my life has truly changed since my bar days.

In years past I wouldn't have even given a second thought of catching a cab home from 125th Street, or dropping the $6 bucks for the express bus. Hell, I would have sat at the Live Bait Bar on 23rd Street and had a couple of cocktails while waiting for the scheduled bus to arrive. Instead I stood at the bus stop 20 minutes dreading having to spend 2+ rides worth of Metrocard rides on one ride. That's to the degree that I am trying to maintain a budget. Unfortunately, the unlimited ride Metrocards don't work on the express buses. Now, luckily I got home no later that I would have if the train and bus were working normally. But I guess after a busy shift at work, walking to the express bus from Union Square and walking the four blocks home from the stop on Bruckner Boulevard, I was much more tired than I thought. To the degree that I woke up the next morning feeling like a truck hit me and I felt as if I was hungover at work without having done any drinking. So what keeps me from coming off the rails and spending money in ways I shouldn't? Routine.

I stick to the plan by maintaining a strict routine. I don't carry any of my credit cards to avoid the temptation of sitting in a bar (I'll go into this in a later post), spending money while waiting for the bus or using them to shell out for a cab ride. I don't carry any cash so that I don't spend any money frivolous manner. What I do maintain as a part of the routine is a journal. I have one journal that keeps track of earnings and spending. I have a second one called Building the Best You: A Two-Year Discovery Journal by Caroline Harper. Here is how the journal is described:
How can you become the person you’ve always dreamt of being? Personal transformation begins when you take stock of where you are and what you’re doing right now…and work to change it. And with this two-year self-discovery journal, based on the tenets of Positive Psychology, you’ll not only see results from year-to-year or even month-to-month; an amazing difference is visible day-to-day. All you have to do is answer some basic questions and take five minutes of “focus time” daily to get there. Best of all, charting your entries is an affirmative experience, because you’re responding to queries like “What am I grateful for today?”, “What challenged me?”, and “How can I overcome that challenge?” It highlights the courage, joy, hope, forgiveness, and love that live inside you.
The unique and attractive design places year one and year two questions in two side-by-side columns, so you can easily compare answers, notice patterns, and celebrate how far you’ve come in only 12 months.   
The questions are very repetitive but the idea for me is to create my routine by maintaining my journal and putting what I feel to paper to avoid taking it with me to bed and carrying it over into the next day. My maintaining of a routine journal certainly helps with the budget aspect since I keep both journals together and if I update one, the other one reminds me to update the other. It also helps me realize that this journey isn't easy and many a sacrifice has to be made to reach the level where I want to be both financially and spiritually.

So I take the good days with the bad and keep rolling with the punches. It sucks but so can life sometimes. No? Ok, enough of the complaining. LOL. I go back to my efforts to save money in my next post in the form of using store circulars to save money on items that we need on a daily basis and to try and stock the pantry for a later date.

Until next time,

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Living Within Your Means Part I

In my quest to create financial freedom for myself, I've relied on a series of books for advice and ideas. I previously mentioned that I have been referring to Nancy Dunnan's How to Invest $50-$5000. The Small Investor's Step-by-Step Plan for Low Risk Investing in Today's Economy. Tenth Edition.

I've also been reading two very different books in terms of tone with each other. One is You're Broke Because You Want to Be: How to Stop Getting By and Start Getting Ahead by Larry Winget. Winget's tome is very much in your face from the start with a very honest, tough love kind of financial advice that some might not find comforting in the least. Personally, I find it amusing and quite appreciate the forthright tone of Winget's words. This is a man who reached financial success, lost it and climbed the mountain anew learning and using the lessons of his failure.

The second book Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better by Clare Levinson. Levinson's book takes a more friendlier tone using personal anecdotes to relay her message that being frugal isn't being cheap. It just means that you are aware of your financial situation and not only respect where you want to be financially but that you care about where you want to be.

Now while both authors have different ways to bring about their message, one of their common threads is living within your means. Now this sounds like a simple concept, but you'd be amazed at how many people fail to live within their means. The over-reliance on credit to pay for virtually everything leads people to live a life way beyond that they can afford. This leads to massive credit debt that takes forever to pay off, leading to big profits to the credit card companies. Now my case is a little different.

Before I was fired from my job at the end of June, I was living within my means. Doing so, I was able to put away a decent little nest egg and was able to live comfortably. My mistake during unemployment was that I didn't "cut the fat" fast enough. What do I mean by that?

I made the assumption that I would find a job soon after my time off to enjoy the summer with the kids. I mean, why wouldn't I. I had 12-years of experience at one bar and a total of 20-years experience in the bar business. Lo and behold, I was in for a big and humbling surprise. Nary any interest in my resume led me to realize that my days in the bar business were over and I had to look in another direction for employment. Now I don't want to harp on ancient history, but what I should have done was cut my expenses from the beginning, instead of doing so when I saw that I would eventually take a considerable pay cut.

I tried to keep life as it was before I was fired and that was my mistake. I couldn't live life as before because I was only getting a fraction of what I was making, first from unemployment and then from my current job. So what I, and many of us need to do is this: LIVE WITHIN OUR MEANS. So what does that exactly mean.

I'll put it this way. If what you pay out in bills and expenses in a month is less that your income then you are living within your means. If you borrow from Peter to pay Paul on a monthly basis to help pay off what you spend in a month then you aren't. Now in my experience, its a matter of looking at your expenses and finding out what isn't needed and "cutting the fat away."  One of the things that Larry Winget suggests is taking an account of what you spend in the form of a budget sheet. Here is the sheet he has listed in both his book and on his website (You can download it in PDF format):

If what you make is less than what your number is on the Total Debts and Expenses line then you need to lower your expenses.

Two recent examples of expenses that I lowered was my Cable and Netflix. My cable consists of cable, internet and phone and I was paying close to 220.00 a month. This is an obscene account. If it was up to me it would all go with the exception of the internet and the phone. Since my wife and I both work similar daytime schedules, the kids come home alone after school. Since they don't have cell phones (no need to additional expenses), the house phone is our link to the kids. I was able to lower the cable bill by almost $60 dollars by lowering my plan from the Gold plan to the Value plan. Now this eliminates all our premium channels and other channels.

In terms of Netflix, I've always had the movie rental plan. When Blu-Ray movies became available I upgraded the plan. At most I used the 5-movie at a time plan which caused me to pay almost $50 a month. Now I could afford that plan because we really don't go out to the movies. That in itself is a BIG expense, especially if you have kids. Since July, I downgraded from the 5-movie plan to the 3-movie plan to the Streaming only plan. I went from paying close to $50 a month to less than $7.99 a month. As per the post A Quick Update On Our Streaming Plans And Prices from Netflix blog page dated May 9, 2014:
To continue adding more movies and TV shows, we are increasing the price of our $7.99 a month streaming plan by one dollar to $8.99 for new members. Current Netflix members get to keep their current price for two years, enjoying HD-quality movies and TV shows on any two screens at the same time.
With the channels we do have, plus Netflix and Hulu there is enough to watch. I should see a savings of close to $80 a month with the reduction in Cable and Netflix services. If I could find these layers of expenses to cut, I'm sure you can to. You just have to evaluate what you need and what you don't.

I'll continue to revisit my attempts to live within my means in future posts. Feel free and comment to let me know what tips and tricks you have utilized to live within your means. I'd appreciate hearing what you've done.

Until next time,

For Further Reading:
- Larry Winget's official website
- Clare Levinson's official website
- Nancy Dunnan's column Dunnan on Dollars from the Online Investor website

Monday, January 5, 2015

Bagging Your Lunch To Save Money

I originally wrote this post in November but decided to hold it over until the New Year. Maybe those of you who are feeling "New Year's Resolution Fever" will take heed of the message that I am putting out in this post. I'm sure food is expensive in most major urban centers but eating in New York City is expensive, especially if you work on the island of Manhattan (yes folks, NYC is more than just Manhattan).

Now I guess you can eat off the value menu of places such as McDonalds and Wendy's or have street meat on a daily basis. But why would you do that to yourself and your stomach. Even pizza, which used to be an economical way to have something to eat has gotten ridiculously overpriced. So I calculated the amounts that I would have spent on lunch and decided that it was easier and cheaper to just bag my lunch.

The calculations are based on estimates on what I used to spend on lunch/dinner when I bartended. We would order wings from a local wing spot and between the wings, tax and tip, we'd drop $20 each for the bill. That was roughly the same when ordering from the diner or any other take out spot. Spending that much on just food adds up. Not to mention that we would spend extra getting something from the local deli whenever someone did a run to the store. I am not in the position to spend that kind of money on a daily basis and I'd rather utilize those funds to buy food that I can make at home at a considerable savings AND make to satisfy more than just one meal. So for the purpose of this exercise, I'm dealing with round numbers so your estimates might be less than mine.

So let's say you work a five-day week and let's say your daily expenditure for lunch rounds out to $10 a day. Multiply that by 5 and you spend $50 a week on lunch. Multiply that same $50 by 52 weeks and you find that you spend $2600 a year on lunch.
  • $10 x 5 days = $50
  • $50 x 52 weeks = $2600
That's a pretty hefty amount and I'm not even taking into account the money that is spent on your morning coffee, donut, roll and danish.

Now who are you kidding, we busy New Yorkers don't have time to have breakfast at home. Many New Yorkers are so busy that they would rather spend the money to buy their breakfast on the street rather than waking up early and having breakfast at home. Again, as with the lunch estimate, I round out the amount to $5 a day though if you use a street cart it might be cheaper and if you go to Dunkin Donuts, Tim Horton's or Starbucks it might be more expensive.

Based on a five-day work week multiple it by $5 dollars for a total of $25 a week. Multiply the $25 by 52 weeks and that's a total of $1300 a year for breakfast.
  • $5 x 5 days = $25
  • $25 x 52 weeks = $1300
So here is what we are looking at so far:
  • $2600 Estimated Lunch a Year 
  • $1300 Estimated Breakfast a Year 
  • $3900 Estimated Expenditures on Lunch and Breakfast a Year 
So we are looking at an estimated total of $3900 in meals a year and that doesn't include the afternoon coffee you sneak out to buy, the candy bar or bag of chips at the office vending machine, the fruit you buy from the street fruit vendor and so on. Multiply that by two if your spouse or partner spent the same estimated amount and you are look at close to $8000 spent on what you and your spouse spend to eat during the day while at work. I don't know about you but that is a little over five months worth of rent for me. That kind of money can be better served in other areas. So bagging lunch it is. Now am I saying that you shouldn't treat yourself? Absolutely not.

You work hard so you should treat yourself occasionally. Just do it in moderation so you can save some of that hard earned money. If you have to buy coffee while out on the streets, look into ways that you can save money to do so. Some small coffee shops have rewards programs such as if you buy a certain amount of cups, you get a free cup of coffee. Dunkin Donuts for the holidays sells a Holiday gift card (like the one shown to the right) which for $15 you would get 10-large sized cups of coffee. Normally a large cup of coffee would cost you roughly $2.50 so for 10-large sized ups you would save $10. The card doesn't expire and they cards are still being sold. This is something that would work perfectly in terms of both budget and satisfying the craving for a cup of joe.

Another option is to do what I do: Bring your own coffee to work. Luckily for me, my darling wife Momma-San listens to me and heard that I wanted to buy a Thermos to bring my coffee to work. So for Christmas, I found a Thermos sitting under the tree. Now, if you are thinking that I got an old school tan colored Thermos with the plastic lid that doubles as a cup you are mistaken.

What I got was a sleek looking container that according to the product description for the Thermos® Stainless King™ 24-Ounce Beverage Bottle from the Bed Bath and Beyond website:
It features TherMax® double-wall vacuum insulation for maximum temperature retention that keeps cold beverages cold for up to 24 hours and hot liquids hot for up to 18 hours...Holds a generous 24 ounces
If 24-ounces isn't enough, they sell a 40-ounce Thermos: the Thermos® Stainless King™ 40-Ounce Beverage Bottle, which is the same price as the 24-ounce Thermos.

This Thermos has already paid for itself. I take roughly 20-ounces of coffee with me everyday to work. It stays hot during my entire shift and now I don't need to purchase coffee during the day or even after work AND I'm not tempted to buy a donut or two which helps keep my big gut in check.

I'm currently trying to see how many days of coffee I'm getting out of a 12oz bag of ground Dunkin Donuts medium roast coffee. I just bought four bags at CVS at $5.99 a bag using their Rewards Card. I'll go into using those cards in a later post.

Basically the only daily expenditure I have is my transportation. Its gotten to the point that I don't even carry cash with me. Not carrying cash takes away the temptation of spending money. And since I hate swiping my debit card for small amounts I don't have to worry about using that either.

Times are tough. We all need to find ways to save some money. I hope this helps.

Until next time,

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Update on the 60-Week Challenge

Happy New Year to you all. Just wanted to give you all a brief update my progress on the 60-Week challenge. As I described in my last post, I am adjusting the 52-week savings challenge for 60-weeks taking advantage of the seven weeks that I was working before the new year plus one week in advance. Why one week? I figure that there will be a week where I won't be able to put into the pot so I would be ahead of the game if I did hit that point.

So far I am 12.5% into the challenge. Now I am doing one challenge at intervals of a dollar and one challenge at an interval of a quarter. So far in week 8 for the dollar challenge, I am at $36 dollars saved. For the quarter challenge I have $9 dollars saved. Now I know the amounts don't seem like much, but the savings start slow and accumulate during the year. The big challenge for me is trying to stay on mark during the weeks where the amounts to be deposited go into the double digits. Hopefully my budgeting will free up enough money that I can continue with the challenge. I guess I'll worry about that when I get to it. For now, here is how the coffee cans look like:

For my next post, I look at ways that we can save money from the perspective as New Yorkers who work in the big city by looking at the amounts of money that we spend on breakfast and lunch. Also, let me know how you are doing with your money challenge. Any suggestions and ideas?

Until next time,