Category Archives: Finance

Finance Friday – 5 Ways to Save $1,000 In 1 Year

If you could save a thousand dollars in a year by making a few changes to your weekly routine, would you give it a try?

At our house, with a wedding on the horizon and new home expenses, we have been making a concerted effort to save where we can.

These five lifestyle changes could save you up to $1,000 each per year.  And if you can do all five, you can probably afford that dream vacation, downpayment, or pesky credit card balance you’ve been chipping away at.

1. Check your coffee habits.  If you’re currently making a stop at your favorite coffee joint every day, you may want to evaluate the impact on your wallet.  I know it might be the best part of your morning, but hear me out.  You don’t have to cut out those coveted coffee trips completely.  If you cut back to 3 trips a week, with an average drink costing $5, you can save $1,040 in one year (assuming you are cutting out 4 days). You can still frequent your local coffee shop on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to dull the pain of the week. But for the other days do some coffee prep at home. You won’t regret it.

2. Reevaluate your cable & insurance bills.  I know how the cable fairytale begins… there is a great 1 year rate on a bundle deal, 6 months of free HBO, and sometimes even a prepaid gift card… before you know it you have a DVR/HDMI cable box in every room of the house and you’re all set to live happily ever after… until that 6 months to a year is up.  It’s not unusual to stop one day and wonder how your cable bill has sky rocketed to its current rate.  I know first hand how excruciating it is to call the cable company.  It seems like a chore just to get a real person on the phone, but if you play your cards right you will walk away with some extra dough in your pocket.

A cable representative can help you walk through all of your current options and identify areas you could cut costs.  Do you have 4 DVR boxes in rooms that you rarely use?  If your current options are already pretty lean, you can price out other companies and go to bat with your current company.  They  might give you what you’re looking for up front, but if they don’t, be prepared to walk away… or at least pretend you are.  Most companies will ask you what they can do to keep your business (within reason), and if they don’t they usually give you more than enough chances to re-install or change your mind before they will actually terminate your service.

At the very least, if HBO is an absolute must in your home, switching from the cable company to HBO Now will probably save you an easy $5 a month.

Another area with major savings potential is home and car insurance.  Here is a great article on switching car insurance.

3. Pack your lunch. Let’s say after meal, drink, and tip, the average cost of eating lunch at a restaurant is $10.  Now let’s also say that the average cost to pack a lunch is $3.  If you’re currently going out everyday at lunch, try packing or eating at home 3 days a week.  If you can pocket that extra cash you will have an extra $1,000 a year.

4. Replace one dinner out. In our household we have an intense love for pizza.  We would usually go out to eat one night a week for our favorite food group.  It’s actually kind of crazy how much a large pizza costs these days.  Say you go out to a restaurant and order a large one topping pizza with drinks, before you know it you’re $25 in the hole.  In our budget madness, we recently discovered that Wegmans sells 3 packs of pepperoni pizza in the frozen section for $10… and the best part… they’re actually pretty darn delicious.  With a savings of about $22 a week, you can easily save $1,000 a year on pizza alone.

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5. Evaluate all areas of spending.  If you can spot an opportunity in your lifestyle to save $20 a week, or around $80 a month you can pocket up to $1,000 in one year.

What would you do with an extra $1,000?

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5 Things You Can Do Now to Increase Your Tax Refund

Happy Finance Friday!  (Emphasis on the Friday)

5 ways to increase tax refund

I know what you’re thinking.  The topic of this post pains me as well.  I can’t believe tax season is right around the corner.  It’s painful to think about, but a little planning might go a long way when you’re expecting that big refund check in the Spring.  Here are a few things you can do now (before the holidays hit), that might help you maximize that refund:

1.Make donations to charity

-This can include money, clothing, food, travel, etc. that was spent to make a charitable donation.

-If you are receiving something in return (i.e., race entries) you must deduct the value from the total.

-Just remember to keep in mind only 501(c)(3) charities are deductible and to keep your receipts.  Make sure if you are making a large donation that you receive the correct paperwork for your records.

2. Open a Traditional IRA

If you and/or your spouse do not have access to a work retirement plan, this is a great option to investigate.

irs traditional ira table

(Source)

3. Pay January’s mortgage in December

I realize this is a lot to ask, especially with only a few months left in the year and the holidays around the corner.  But if you think you can swing it, the mortgage interest paid is deductible on your tax return. (Note – you may want to consider what you pay in mortgage interest to evaluate whether this is worth it or not.)

4. Maximize 401k Contributions

If your employer offers a 401k, you may want to consider boosting your contributions for the next few months.  The more you can stash away here, the lower your taxable income will be.

5. Contribute to a 529 Plan

If you are saving for college, this is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.  However, this is a state plan, so it may vary.  Consult your tax professional or look into the benefits of this plan to determine if it’s right for you.  A little research might go a long way.

Here’s another article that includes different topics to consider that could save you some money:

9 Things You Didn’t Know Were Tax Deductions

Note –  taxes are complex and everyone’s situation is different, please discuss these options with your tax professional before you implement them to make sure that they are right for you.  

On another (more fun) note, I completed this indoor workout last night and it kicked my butt (in the best way possible).  I would highly recommend it.  It takes approx 15 minutes to get through the circuit, so if you’re low on time you can make it as long as you like!  I followed it up with a fresh cheeseburger casserole:

cheeseburger casserole

Amazing.  I couldn’t get enough.

cheeseburger casserole pickles

Have a great Friday, everyone!

Finance Friday – Cleaning Out the Freezer

Good morning, and most importantly – happy Friday!!!  It’s been a while since I had a Finance Friday post.  This one is a little more light hearted, but it’s completely legit.

freezer and wallet

Over the past several months, while consolidating our lives and attempting to save for big purchases like a house and a wedding we have become fairly thrifty with certain things.  One of the biggest expenses that we were battling was our food bill.  Food is just plain expensive, especially healthy food. So that’s when we had the idea to start using our freezer for more than emergency food (you know, those days when you don’t feel like cooking so you decide to take a look in the freezer?).  It does require some planning, but it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it!  So here are my tips:

1. Buy the family size portions of meats and produce

Lots of times there will be sales on bulk items and I used to think “I’ll never finish that before it goes bad”.  Now I think, “yes! freezer potential!”  (OK, maybe I’m not that excited, but you get the picture).  Side note – it’s much easier to split things into one meal portions BEFORE you freeze them.

2. Plan your meals for each week

At the beginning of every week, I take the items out of the freezer that we are planning to use and put them in the fridge.  It will take a day or two for them to thaw completely.

3. Shop the daily deals

OK, this may seem like a no brainer.  But I’m specifically talking about the meats that are on sale.  You know those ones that you usually walk right past because they might be a few days older than the rest?  They are perfect! If you’re taking it home to put it directly in the freezer, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been on the shelf for a few days. (Just make sure once you thaw it that you use it timely.)

We have been slowly implementing this in our house for a few months, and while there are other factors that come into play (how many times we eat at a restaurant, etc.), I charted out the amount I was spending at grocery stores over the past 3 months and this was the result:

food bill graph

In August (at the beginning), our food bill was almost $600 for two people.  Now granted October is only half way over, we’re under $200 and going strong!  Even if we continue at this rate we will have cut our bill by nearly half.  Plus, it makes you feel really accomplished when you’re not wasting food.  We all know that food guilt. *Insert picture of your grandmother telling you there are starving children in the world so you should eat your broccoli*

So in the words of our newest YouTube obsession, Matt Bellasai – that’s it, that’s all, that’s everything.  I hope your Friday goes fast and your weekend is long!

Finance Friday – What is Living within your Means?

Happy Friday!!! Thank goodness we have finally made it and the weather here in Buffalo is supposed to be beautiful this weekend.  There is nothing quite like knowing you are on the brink of a great weather weekend to get you pumped up for the day!

But first, I’m bringing back Finance Fridays.  Today’s topic is something that many people probably struggle with and just so happens to be a question you ask yourself quite often when you’re making big decisions (like buying a house??). How do you know if you are living within your means??  And what does that even mean??

You probably know what your parents have done, you know what your friends appear to be doing, but when you cut the crap and get straight to the heart of the issue, could you really define what is within your means?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic formula that will give you a straight yes or no answer, but I did find this article on Yahoo that has some great tips:

8 Signs You’re Living Beyond Your Means

I shared on the blog a few days ago that Kris and I are building a house, so obviously this is a time in our lives that we really need to make sure that we are living within our means.  But even between the two of us, we each have slightly different ideas of what that looks like.  Does this mean that one of us is right and one is wrong?  I don’t think living within your means is really a one size fits all, but I do know that it is a balancing act between living in the moment and preparing for the future (retirement, anyone?).

In a world where credit is easily accessible, decisions are made with the click of a button, business/jobs are constantly changing, and social media paints a picture that isn’t always true, it’s hard to know what the right answer is.  But I think these 8 signs are a nice benchmark to make you really take a look at some of the important things to consider when you evaluate whether you are living within your means.

So in conclusion, at the very minimum:

– Don’t make decisions based on keeping up with friends,

– Keep a monthly budget,

– Put money from every paycheck straight into a savings account,

– and have an emergency fund.

If you at least do these things, you’re on the right track.

savings meme

(source)

And on that note, I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Finance Friday – Optimize your Credit Card Rewards

Happy Friday! With another weekend on the horizon, I’m looking forward to spending some time in the ‘burgh, helping my sister move, and catching up on The Blacklist.  But first, it’s time for another Finance Friday post:

#4 – Optimize your Credit Card Rewards

I think it’s safe to say that most people have at least one credit card, and others are deathly afraid of credit card debt.  However, if you can play the system correctly and exercise self control, there is a lot to be gained by swiping that plastic.  Many credit card companies offer various rewards for spending with them.  Whether it’s an airline, a favorite place to shop, or just cash that you are after, there is a card for everyone.

Here are a few with rewards that are worth looking into in 2015:

Citi Double Cash Card – this credit card gives you 1% cashback for every dollar you spend AND 1% again for every dollar you pay.  Now that’s hard to beat.

Discover it – 1% cashback on all purchases plus an additional 5% cashback on the quarterly deal (Jan-Mar 2015 – 5% cashback for gas and ground transportation)

Chase Freedom – 5% cashback on the quarterly deals listed (Jan-Mar 2015 – 5% cashback at grocery stores)

And if you want to search all of your options (airlines, hotels, department stores), the nerd wallet site will help you search for the exact card to fit your lifestyle and interests:

http://www.nerdwallet.com/credit-cards/

Now for the daily line-up:

Workout: I made it to the 5:45am spinning class this morning!

Breakfast: a panera bagel with cream cheese and some raspberries

Lunch: kale chicken rice bowl with 2 clementines and grapefruit carbonated water

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I have to admit that yesterday my day went a little differently than planned (in a good way) and I ended up eating a Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom and a Shamrock Shake for lunch, so I will be eating yesterday’s lunch today.

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Snacks: Chobani yogurt with steel cut oats

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Dinner:  TBD

Have a great weekend!

Finance Friday – Creating Good Habits

Happy Friday!! This weekend I am headed up to the Great White North once again for some skiing and quality time in the snow.

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But first, it’s time for another Finance Friday.

#3 – Make conservative spending a habit

This may seem simple, but just take a minute to think about it.  When you walk into Target, do you get sidetracked by fun gadgets in the $1 section?  Browse the magazines and snacks at the checkout? (yes. yes.) How many times do you walk into a store and walk out with way more than you planned (or could have ever needed)?  I personally feel like I can relate these items to sugar.  The more I eat, the more I crave… and the more I give in to my random store cravings the more I allow them to take over each time I enter the store.  And let’s be honest… I have no idea what becomes of most of those random buys (they probably end up in a trash can or a goodwill bag).

Speaking of Target, it is the worst (and the best).  I’m not sure what happens when I walk in there but I lose all self control and suddenly end up wanting things I never even knew existed.  I will actually make a loop around the store just to check out sections that are no where near the items I came in for, and by the time I leave I’m not even sure what day it is.

So this is where building good habits comes into play.  I always think back to college and wonder how I kept my credit card bill under control on such a limited budget.  I think the difference is that I made it a habit to get in and get out without even thinking about what else I might want to pick up while I was there.  So if we can make it a habit to work out everyday, or make healthy food choices, why can’t we make it a habit to spend money conservatively?

So I did a little research… the bad news is that according to this article from The Huffington Post, research has proven that it can take anywhere from 2 to 8 months to form a new habit (as opposed to the old 21 days study).  But the good news is, baby steps are OK.  The most important part is perseverance.

Want more Finance Friday Posts?

#1 – Contribute at LEAST the company match amount to your 401k

#2 – How to protect your Identity and your tax refund

On the menu for today:

Breakfast – The last English muffin with PB and berries!

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Coffee

Lunch – 6 al fresco chicken meatballs with a slice of swiss cheese and a side salad (baby spinach, banana peppers, yogurt bleu cheese dressing), and the last of the berries

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Green Tea

Snacks – inner peas and carbonated water (afternoon), and a banana with some yogurt before I hit the road this evening

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Dinner – tbd

On a side note, last night I ran my second fastest 3 miles ever.  While it’s nothing too impressive, it always feels great to start seeing improvements!

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Have a great weekend!

Finance Friday – Protect your Identity & your Tax Refund

Good morning, and happy Friday!!!! Man, that feels good to say.  With Valentine’s day on the horizon and a possible 3 day weekend, this is certainly a good Friday (as if there is such thing as a bad Friday).  Since it’s officially the most wonderful time of the year, I figured we could take a few minutes to talk about everyone’s favorite subject – taxes!  With company data breaches on the rise, there is a lot of concern regarding stolen identities and falsified tax returns (someone else filing your tax return and receiving your refund).  Which leads me to the second Finance Friday topic:

#2 – How to protect your Identity and your tax refund

Employers are at an increasing risk of security breeches that result in personal employee data being stolen.  When a malicious person has your company’s information and your personal information (i.e., social security number), the results can be devastating.  But there are precautions you can take to protect yourself on a daily basis.

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1. File your taxes as soon as possible

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is the best way to guarantee that someone else doesn’t steal your information and file a fictitious return in your name.  Sadly, if someone else files a tax return under your identity it is not a short process to attempt to correct.  The IRS simply doesn’t have the resources to launch a speedy investigation and get you your refund (and let’s be honest, their business is not exactly driven by customer satisfaction).

2. Make sure you receive your W-2

Companies have until February 2, 2015 to send W-2 tax document information (the statement that tells you how much you earned in 2014), and you should receive one from each company you received compensation from in 2014.  If you still have not received this documentation, contact your employer.  Not only do you need this information to file a speedy return, but if your employer claims to have sent it and it seems to have vanished that may be a red flag.

3. Protect your identity year-round… buy a paper shredder!

One very simple way to protect your identity year round is to be aware of the documents you are throwing away.  An average day’s mail includes many documents with personal information including credit card offers, sometimes even blank checks ready to be signed!!  I cringe when I receive something like this, and promptly shred it to pieces.  It just screams identity fraud risk.  If you have a fire pit – even better.  Call me paranoid, but all it takes is one time.

4. Monitor your credit score

If you haven’t seen your credit score in a while, take advantage of one of one of those obnoxious free credit score commercials and make sure everything checks out.  Ever seen the movie Identity Thief?

5. Do your duty to keep your company’s information safe

If you have the capability to log on to your company’s network from a remote location you are an additional risk to every employee at your company.  Be aware of your surroundings! Make sure you do not leave your computer unattended, always log out and be sure to use strong passwords.  Also be aware of the internet source you are using, there are many malicious individuals and programs out there designed to hack computer information, and logging in from a sketchy internet source is a great way to put your private information at risk.

6. What to do if you suspect identity theft or tax return fraud

If you suspect someone has filed a fraudulent tax return in your name, contact the IRS as soon as possible.

If you suspect your identity has been stolen, there is a long list of checks and notifications that need to be performed (and if you ask me it looks pretty terrifying and grueling).  This Federal Trade Commission pdf is a great place to start:

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf

On that note, have a great weekend and file those taxes!

Finance Fridays

Good morning, and happy Friday! Woohoo we made it!

Last night when I was brainstorming I had a new idea for Friday posts.  I have been struggling for a while to determine how I am going to incorporate Finance into the blog.  Although I am an Accountant and some finance is a part of my everyday life, it’s hard to find good interesting topics to write about.  So every Friday I am making it my goal to provide one finance tip!

#1 – Contribute at LEAST the company match amount to your 401k

If you work for a company that provides the benefit of a 401k, chances are they also provide a company match percentage on 401k contributions.  Often times when we are signing up for benefits we are in the midst of learning a new job and do what we can to wade through all of the paperwork and fine print.   And if you’re anything like me, you don’t go through the seemingly grueling process to change your benefits every single year.  But listen up, this is important!

Financial health and retirement are just as important as medical and dental coverage.  These illustrations break down a few different examples of company match scenarios:

smart401k.com
smart401k.com
smart401k.com
smart401k.com

The bottom line?  If you are not contributing at least the company match, then you are basically walking away from retirement money that your company is handing to you (and trust me, you are working for it).

Now on to the fun stuff – this morning I made it to an early EFX class and packed up breakfast, a chicken salad for lunch, and a yogurt snack.

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I wasn’t feeling the traditional salad today, so I went with the chicken, potatoes, a slice of swiss, and hot sauce.  (Salad veggie toppings on the side).

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After work today I am headed up to the great white north.  Buffalo here I come!  Have a great Friday!

5 Tips to Stick to Your Budget During the Holidays

Hi there! I know we are deep into the holiday shopping season, but we are certainly not in the clear just yet.  So here are 5 tips to help lesson the blow to your wallet during the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Make a budget.

This may sound like a no brainer, but I have been guilty myself of not making a budget at all.  Then I look at my credit card statement and wonder how all of those “here and there” splurges added up to an astronomical balance. Is there really a reason to buy a Starbucks drink a day just because they have red cups? (yes) Not really. There are tons of holiday traps that we fall into. Every single purchase adds up, no matter how small.

2. Hold yourself accountable

Trust me I can rationalize just about anything.  And I mean anything.  But that doesn’t do me any favors when I’m trying to stick to my budget. No one else is going to pay your credit card statement in January, and I’m betting one of your New Year’s resolutions is to save money, get out of debt, etc. Do yourself a favor, don’t start 2015 in the hole.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

3. Learn how to use Microsoft Excel

The basic functions of Microsoft excel provide everything you need to get your budget started.  Maybe I am partial to Excel because I use it almost daily, but it’s so simple to track just about anything in a spreadsheet. If you are extremely Excel averse, there are also a handful of free apps that can help you as well:

Toshl

Level Money

Mint Personal Finance

4. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.

OK, the reality is we are all going to do a little shopping for ourselves during the holidays.  Whether we get gift certificates, or can’t resist a cute Christmas decoration or a shirt at the mall (or target).  But hey, that’s what the holidays are for, right?  Splurging a little on your diet and your wallet.  My best advice for both is if you are not absolutely in love with it (aka – if you have to even think twice about it) then do not get it.  Personally, I know when I find “the one” – whether it’s a shirt, a Christmas tree, etc. – but I am still constantly tempted with imposters.  So when it comes to shopping (and food), if I have to even double take – I probably don’t want it that bad, and I will regret the purchase.  Here’s the great part – if I go home and regret not making the purchase (or eating the donut) – guess what?  It will still be there.

5. Use the power of tunnel vision

Don’t venture into the mall without a purpose.  Unless you have budgeted a small shopping spree, it will not end well.  So let’s assume you’re walking in with a purpose (to buy a particular gift for someone?).  Now here is the key – do not forget that purpose!  Don’t even look at that super cute purse that’s staring you down when you walk into Nordstrom’s. Put it on your wish list, and do some research when you get home.

The struggle is real, but stay strong!  We’re almost there.