Thursday, December 30, 2010

One More Day of 2010

Image from:
Lately, I've been reflecting on this year and the past decade (technically, the past eleven years, but I digress). It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time "flies by." My sister warned me that "after 21, it's all a blur." Blur or no blur, I'd like to review some of my accomplishments and a few things I am looking forward to in the new year.
What I'm Proud of... 
  • Procuring a higher-paying position with an organization I admire and a wonderful group of colleagues. 
  • Making massive additional payments to eliminate my car loan debt.
  • Reining in credit card spending and managing the account so that I have a small balance (i.e. less than 30% of my credit line) or zero balance.
  • Sharing my financial experiences with the world [wide web].

What I'm Looking Forward to...
  • Increasing my savings and investing amounts (including maxing out IRA and getting on track to save $10,000).
  • Increasing my net income.
  • Finally eliminating my car note...and increasing my principal payments to my student loan debt.
  • Consistently paying my credit card balance in full.
  • Expanding my knowledge about insurance, taxes and investing.
What was YOUR biggest financial accomplishment of 2010?

P.S. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Have fun and be safe!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hooray for Tax Cut Holidays!!!

2011 is right around the corner and with it, our paychecks will have a little something extra. As part of the deal extending the Bush-era tax cuts, a number of employees will receive a 2% reduction in payroll taxes. As of now, this reduction is temporary (it will last only a year). What does this mean for me and likely for you? Mo' money! $40 'extra' per paycheck in my case. I used a nifty calculator at Kiplinger's website to confirm my own calculations.

Naturally, the first thing I did was update my 2011 spending plan to reflect this anticipated increase (too soon?). Then I started thinking about what I would do with an extra $80 a month. It isn't much, but it kinda is (with the price of gasoline going up, I think these few bucks will definitely come in handy!). At any rate, I'd like to plan how I would spend it. Here are my ideas:
  • Add to my car payments
  • Use for travel (particularly airfare to see the beau; I haven't budgeted for this for the first quarter of 2011 and I need to purchase airfare for February and March).
  • Add to my savings (I did say I want to save $10,000 in 12 months, didn't I?)
  • Add to my Roth (I also said I wanted to max out the ol' IRA...)
  • Go shopping...a little
The last idea is inspired by my long-held desire to dress more stylishly. Undoubtedly, this is also what is expected of us, as this tax cut is labeled a sort of "stimulus package."

What are your plans for the few bucks additional to your 2011 paychecks?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Financial Goals for 2011

In my most recent post, I shared that I'd been organizing my finances (reconciling savings plans, debt reduction plans and budgets). Naturally, the next thing for me to do was to think about what my goals are for the upcoming year and what I need to do to make sure these goals are achieved. Below, you will find my goals and the steps I intend to take to make them a reality:
  • Zero credit card balance: My goal is to end every credit card billing cycle without a balance. This is one way to ensure that I don't spend above my income. I can make regular purchases, such as gasoline and groceries, with my credit card. In fact, I've been considering a rewards card to earn points for ___________ (<<that means I don't know, yet >). This year, I paid $68.21 in interest charges.  That's enough money for gas (and then some), a nice dinner with my boyfriend, an outfit, or a small contribution to my savings plan (after all, it all adds up!).
  • Max out my Roth IRA: You already know that I've been kind of obsessed about paying off my car note. As such, I don't have much money left over to max out my IRA. With a projected payoff date of April 28, 2011, I have May 2011 through April 15, 2012 to contribute $5,000 to my individual retirement account. What do I have to do to make this happen? Contribute $454.55 each month to the account. With two "extra" paychecks in 2011, I may have the flexibility to reduce the monthly amount, but this requires that I'm diligent about redirecting a sufficient amount of those checks to the IRA. Knowing me, I'd like to set a few bucks aside for fun =)
  • Pay off my car note: Originally, I planned to pay off my car note by June 2012, that is, until I ran the numbers on my beau's proposition of significantly increasing the principal payment amount. Currently, I am on track to achieve this goal by the end of April 2011, especially if my assumptions about my anticipated tax refund are correct. If they are less than I estimate, I may have to postpone the due date for this goal (which, undoubtedly will effect the savings goals). Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope I am at least right :)
  • Generate at least $250/ month in extra revenue: Before I took the job that I currently hold, I had a steady goal of generating $3,000 in net income each month. With my deductions for my defined contribution plan, I am short of this goal by $222 each month. For the past few years, I've been toying around with a business idea that promotes personal finance. My goal for next year is to get serious about a web design and marketing plan so I can realize some income. $250/month of income to be exact. To be clear, I'm not looking to pocket all income; undoubtedly, I will reinvest into the business, but having the income will definitely provide some peace of mind.
  • Accumlate $10,000 in non-retirement savings accounts by 05/31/2012: These funds would be available for immediate access and as part of my emergency savings. Why $10,000? Frankly, it's an arbitrary amount, but it's definitely a "stretch goal." There are a number of factors at play. Let's start with the not so good possibilities: what if I don't pay off my car by the end of April? What if I don't generate enough additional income? Well, my $10K goal within 12 months will be postponed (by the way, I'd redirect my "car payment" money to this goal). For me to achieve this goal, I need to set aside $833.34/month.  
If you recall, I have $1255 available as discretionary money each month. I'm comfortable spending $200 of this amount for fun stuff. So $1055 - $454.55 (Roth)-$833.34($10K goal)= $-232.89. A girl MUST increase her income to make these goals come true. Even if I sacrificed fun stuff every month (i.e. the previously mentioned $200/month), I'd still be a few bucks short! 

At any rate, these are my financial goals for 2011. What are your financial goals for 2011, if any? How do you intend to achieve them?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Budgets, Holiday Stuff and Revisiting Financial Goals

...and I'm back! I sincerely apologize for being absent last week, but I'm back now =)

So, what's been going on? The usual, the not-so-usual and some more of the usual. Let's get started with the usual.

The Usual
I've been diligently tracking my expenses in my tracker housed on Google Docs. I've exceeded my allocated amount for food and car expenses: footing the bill for my sister's birthday dinner; being a bit impulsive (eating out, mostly); increasing gas prices (is anyone else paying around $3/gallon?); and regular car maintenance (the coupon for my oil change this time around wasn't $19.99 + tax :<).

The Unusual
Holiday stuff. You know, buying gifts and bringing in whatever you signed up for for the holiday party at work. Actually, the work stuff was easy. We had a cookie swap and I brought a non-cookie item to swap: brownies. Had I not been distracted by the massive amounts of sugar tempting my waistline, I would've repackaged the cookies and sold them for income =) The not so easy stuff is holiday shopping. To cover the expense of Christmas gifts without regretting it in January (i.e. financing all purchases with my credit card with no clear way of paying it off), I decided to decrease the amount of my car payment this month to $356.98 (I know, it's a weird amount). At any rate, doing so allowed me to spend $705 of "car payment" money on gifts for my parents, sisters, boyfriend, best friend and godson. Sadly, I've spent $690 and some change and I still have a few items to pick up. Fortunately, I have a few bucks in my "immediate access" savings account (this is NOT my emergency savings account) that I'm comfortable using to cover these items.

More of the Usual
Revisiting goals and planning. I spent quite a bit of time today updating my savings plan [another Google spreadsheet I use to track the balances of my savings account linked to my checking account (see "immediate  access" savings account above), my ING Direct account (emergency savings), my Roth IRA, regular brokerage account and 403(b)] and reconciling it with my 2011 budget. It feels SO DARN GOOD to account for every single penny. Did you get that? EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY. I know where it came from or where it went and for what purpose. Moments like these help me feel in control of my finances, and not vice versa...something that I occasionally freak out about. Nevertheless, I am on track to enjoy my boyfriend's birthday (I've planned a surprise trip for him), my girlfriend's birthday (we're going to be "Bahama Mamas"), a winter weekend getaway in the Poconos with a gaggle of friends, my 2nd year anniversary with the beau, paying off my car note, and my friend's wedding. And all of these things are happening in the first half of the year! To be fair, I am making assumptions about my anticipated tax refund, the bulk of which will go towards principal reduction on the note. Everything else is accounted for (i.e. planned to come from my regular income).

As I prepare for 2011 (and the end of my car note, hooray!), I'm considering the opportunities to save more, invest more, and to be better equipped to pay for travel and entertainment expenses that inevitably have a habit of "popping up." My post later this week will focus on financial goals [and concomitant action plans] for 2011.

How have you been handling expenses related to the holiday season? Did you set up a budget? Are you "winging it?" Have you started to plan for 2011 financially? Have/will you do a "2010 Year in Review" for your finances?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Needed this LAST WEEK!

I'm rather disgusted with how I've spent my money the past several weeks. Thoughtless credit card charges...countless transactions for eating out...blatant disregard for my spending plan. I've got $10 to my name (excluding all savings - easily available and not). Am I happy about it? Absolutely not. Is it the end of the world? Again, no.

So what's next? Buckle down and pay off the credit card balance and remind myself - DAILY- of why I have a spending plan. Then, make a list of things to purchase and stick to it. This should help me achieve some sense of redemption, because reflecting on the past several weeks of spending is not inspiring!

Have you ever gotten "down in the dumps" about recent spending? What have you done to reduce the likelihood of repeating such regrettable spending?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This Way or That?

The very nature of my blog highlights the point that there are often a multitude of ways to achieve one's financial goals. I wish I could say that the motivation for today's post is purely financial, but it's not. Nevertheless, there are many applications of the concept of achieving a task in a variety of ways. For example, you have read my many posts about paying down my car note. Initially, my goal was to eliminate my car note by June 2012 by making monthly principal only payments of $230.89. My boyfriend, who paid off his $30,000+ vehicle loan early, recommended that I see what areas of my budget I could make adjustments to in order to add more to this additional payment. After number crunching with loan amortization tables and a variety of savings projections, I settled on $1245/month to pay the car note (this amount includes the original $269.11 payment), this amount later became $1045/month as a I soon realized that twelve hundred bucks a month left me with no wiggle room.

I've also thought about the variety of advice/information promulgated about:

Investing: asset allocations based on age, how to pick a stock, what indicators to assess when selecting a fund, how much to save for retirement, tax diversification...

Saving and debt management: what debts to pay first, saving a set dollar amount or a percentage of income, what type of savings instrument to use, how much to set aside for emergencies....

Insurance: how much coverage, term or whole life, who to list as a beneficiary or beneficiaries...

The list goes on and on. I can only imagine that as my income increases and my options within financial planning expand that this list will grow even larger! However, I am comfortable knowing that - despite how overwhelming it may seem- I am constantly learning about and taking control of my finances. Regardless of the recommendations, I am ultimately responsible for the consequences of my decisions: to save one way or another, to pick a stock or bond fund because of a certain indicator, or whatever the case may be.

Have you ever received advice about the way you should handle your finances? Was it solicited or unsolicited? Was it more helpful or harmful?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taking Stock, Stocks

Last night, I had a moment. Another one of those, "oh crap, what am I doing?" moments. This is what spurred the end of every month, I take a look at my balances for my savings account, Roth IRA, and regular brokerage account. I then update the amounts in a spreadsheet I've called "Savings Plan." In reviewing my balances, I looked at the asset allocation of my Roth and brokerage account, and much like it has been for the past umpteen months, a considerable amount has been sitting useless as cash. I call it a "considerable amount" because the amounts I had in cash were close to the amount I've indicated to be "automatically invested,"  at least for the Roth....the regular account had zero cash.

To help you better understand what the heck I am talking about, I should share that I invest using the discount brokerage Sharebuilder (for both the Roth and regular brokerage account). I currently use an automatic investing plan for both accounts, whereby when certain dollar amount is available in cash, Sharebuilder will invest that certain amount in the securities that I have indicated. 

Side note: these securities include a small cap exchange traded fund (ETF), IJT, and a handful of my favorite companies: Johnson & Jonhson, Walmart, McDonalds, Pepsico, Honda, and Microsoft. Each time I purchase these securities, I pay $4 for each trade (i.e. $4 per company). 

Anyways, the "certain amount" I planned to automatically invest was $229 for the regular brokerage account (which holds one security, the index fund) and $1374 for the Roth (which holds the aforementioned six stocks; you'll notice that $1374 = 6 times $229). Why $229? Like I said before, there's a $4 fee for each trade; with that accounted for, I invest $225 in the respective securities. I wanted to be mindful of keeping my investment fees low, so my $4 fee for every $225 invested means I pay 1.7% in fees to invest. Make sense?

Well, last night I moved some money. I transferred $230 to the regular account from my emergency savings account (the savings account balance is now around $950). And I changed the automatic investment amount from $1374 to $1080 (I have $1084 in cash, about $290 short of the pre-set amount; this breaks down to $176 per stock plus $4 each to trade). I decided not to transfer any additional funds from the savings account to reach the $1374 because: 1) I am planning to use some of those funds in the next three months and 2) I don't want to be up a creek without a paddle in the event I need to access some cold hard cash. And yes, I realize that by changing the actual investment amount from $225 to $176 that I will pay about 2.3% in fees. Don't get your panties in a bunch, I'll reset it to $225 after this trade goes through. Besides, I am a bit consoled by the fact that some people pay much more in fees to those folks who are into active trading (for my account, that would be $9.95 a pop. Yikes!)

Overall, why did I make these changes? Because my accounts have been performing well and I haven't been using the cash in them. It's kind of like the lottery (which I don't play) you gotta play to win and frankly, my money isn't working for me as cash.

Would you have done the same thing? 
Or would you do things differently? If so, how and why?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Funky Credit Card Action

Last week Wednesday, I received a recorded voice message advising that I call Capital One because fraud had been detected on my account. When I checked the message, I was getting ready to take a nap, but nothing makes your mind wander -and interrupt your ability to rest peacefully- more than a financial woe. So I postponed nap time and called back. It's still not clear to me how and why my account was flagged, but as a precaution, I was asked to verify several recent purchases and to agree to a new account number and card. Fine. What wasn't so fine was that Thanksgiving was a day away, I was at the very end of a pay period and I was asked to make some unexpected purchases (bundt cake pan, anyone?)

Ordinarily, I would have made such purchases using my credit card, but that sucker was out of business. With just over nine bucks in my checking account, I transferred $50 from my savings account so I could go shopping. Luckily, the total of the items I purchased came under $50, so I transferred the remainder back to my savings account (after my direct deposit cleared, of course).

These events made me wonder....should I keep a buffer of $100 in my checking account (or some other amount; frankly, $100 is an arbitrary amount). In doing so, I wouldn't have to use my credit card to make purchases [and dip into funds set aside in subsequent pay periods/spending plans].

Do you have a cushion or buffer amount in your checking account? Or do you access funds from your savings account as needed? Have you ever experienced fraud on a credit card account?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Set it Right or Else...

The title of this post refers to your perspective. Two posts ago, I shared that my money fear boiled down to being financially unstable and restricted by debt. Well here's a quick update about my "mini-dilemma." The car repair wasn't some irrational amount of money. After my coupon, I paid $231.66. No more "service engine light" and no more "gettin' jiggy with it" action from my engine.

Now about my perspective...
I'm not the type of person to spend my resources recklessly then look to someone else come to my rescue. But I do know, for sure, that if I legitimately faced an issue that cost me more than I have in all of my bank and investment accounts and more than my credit card limit, I still have somewhere to turn: family and friends. I know they would come to the rescue because they have in the past. For example:
  • I'd worked through most of my undergraduate studies to pay for rent and tuition (whatever scholarships and loans didn't cover). It wasn't until my senior year that I focused my efforts on saving up to purchase a car. What I'd saved wasn't enough to purchase a reliable car on my own. And heading into grad school with a $1300 monthly stipend spoke volumes about my capacity to re-pay a car loan (that is to say, it wasn't in the budget!). You might argue that I didn't "have" to purchase a car, but I was headed to a place where I had no networks and there was little (read: absent) public transportation. In short, I was forced to purchase a car. Who dropped some stacks to fill the gap? Dad.
  • After opening a Maaco credit card and spending $2500 of my own money to repair my car after an accident, my mom fronted me several thousand dollars to use for a down payment on another car. Unfortunately, when I retrieved my car from the body shop, the engine seized. Estimated replacement cost: $5600 for a rebuilt engine. I paid about that much for the car. And considering that I had JUST gotten out of the repair shop, it didn't seem prudent to drop that kind of money on it. So I got another car, with the help of Mom.
  • The car I purchased (with help from mom) was stolen. Everyone knows that when you file an insurance claim, you have to pay a deductible for services rendered by/through your insurer. At the time, my deductible was $1000 (it was this high because I wanted to pay lower premiums). However, stupid me didn't have the full $1000 in liquid savings. I would've been forced to pull funds from my investment accounts (which would suck: fees and penalties and crap) had it not been for my boyfriend. He surprised me and put a check in the mail. As it turns out, I didn't have to pay the deductible because of the way my appraisal turned out, but he was there for me nonetheless.

Going forward, I should be reminded of these instances - and many more- of support around me and not freak out (as much :>) when I'm faced with a financial "dilemma."

Who would you turn to if you exhausted your resources in case of emergency/major unexpected expense?

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Bad!

Hey there! I'm sorry I didn't post on time (i.e. yesterday). I came across a really neat concept to encourage people to save money and thought you might like it. Too bad it's illegal in 49 states...

Check out this Public Radio Marketplace interview, "Savings security with gambling thrills."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Money Fears

I struggled a bit with what to discuss today. I sought a little inspiration from the Financial Planning Association's blog and a few of my favorites. Then I got distracted....I stared thinking (again) about how much my car is gonna cost me. If you've read my previous posts, you know that I am working diligently to pay off my car note. I've got just over $8400 more to go. Not bad, considering that I've owned the car for 15 months and the original balance was $13,275. Nevertheless, my "service engine soon" light came on Friday. Wistfully, I hoped that it would turn off just as quick as it came on. Not so much. Instead, on Saturday and Sunday, my engine has been "getting jiggy with it" and shaking a bit.

I drove my sister's car to work yesterday and today to reduce the likelihood of me getting stranded somewhere along the 40 miles between our home and my job, yet I'm still reluctant to take it in for servicing. Well, I'm not SO crazy, and I realize that machines are machines and they often need fixing. I'll drop my car off tonight so it can get serviced some time tomorrow (based on my conversation with the car shop dude, it may need a tune up). It doesn't tickle my fancy to drop another hundred (or two hundred) dollars on the car. Especially considering that since September, I've spent just over $780 on maintenance and repairs. 

I've decided that the real root of my concern is not having enough money to pay for subsequent emergencies. I've got just over ten hundred bucks in my emergency savings account and I worry that [yet] another car repair (or some other unexpected expense) will place me closer to being financial unstable. It's frightening. In fact, I get ill at the thought of using my credit card to pay for unexpected expenses (I've been there and done that; trust me, digging out of debt is no fun). I think of the restrictive feelings associated with being obligated to paying off a loan, rather than using the money to do what I want (like, treating my friends to an occasional lunch, or buying a nice outfit).

At any rate, this is one of the costs of being an adult. I know that I have to TCB because no one else will. 
Do you have any money fears? What are they?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life Expectancy & Retirement Savings Goals

Many people are challenged by the question "how much should I save for retirement?" One of the primary obstacles to answering this question is being able to predict how long one might live. Also, who wants to face the fact of their own mortality? Nevertheless, I came across a handy-dandy life expectancy calculator at According to the quiz, I should prepare to live to 102 years old (or more). That means I have 76 more years of living...woo hoo!! It also means that - assuming I retire at 67 years old (perhaps the new normal for retirement age for my generation?) - I will need to prepare for at least 35 years of income. That's quite a bit of time...

Naturally, my next step was to use a retirement calculator to get an idea of how much money I should aspire to have (at a minimum) for retirement. Here are the results from CNN/Money's Retirement Calculator:
In retirement, you will need $36,400 a year in income. (Because of inflation, in 2051, that will be equivalent to $122,300.) 

Part of that income will come from your Social Security and/or pensions. To produce the rest, you should build up your nest egg (including your 401k, IRA and other savings accounts) to $306,084 by the time you retire. (In 2051, that will be equivalent to $1,028,413). 

To save $306,084, your investments need to gain an average of 3.04% from now until retirement. We estimate that there is a 100.00% chance of this happening."

Sadly, I think the idea of Social Security benefits being paid out to me is laughable, so I should prepare to pick up the $21,825 in expected yearly benefits. Currently, my only retirement contributions are $100 per pay period (i.e. 2800/year) to my 403(b) (luckily, I receive a partial match from my employer). I am not actively contributing to my Roth nor my regular brokerage account because I'm focusing my funds on debt elimination (well, my car note; I also have a massive student loan). That said, the idea of living past a century and having to save and invest early to be prepared for it is a bit daunting to me. Suffice it to say, I am well aware that I have to get a 'move on' with significantly increasing my contributions (to the employer-sponsored plan, IRA and regular brokerage account).

How do YOU take the intimidation out of retirement planning?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Too Soon?

Lately, I've been obsessing over what my budget will look like once I pay off my car. Assuming that I remain on track, this new budget will take effect May 2011. Nevertheless, I've plotted out what to do with the $1055 I would NOT be spending on a car note. So far, I've come up with a combination of the following expenses:
  • Increase the amount I pay on my student loan from $230 to $350 (the standard repayment amount; currently, I am on a graduated payment plan) .
    • Increase my student loan payment to $400
    • Increase my student loan payment to $500
  • Set aside $810 in my ING Direct account. In addition to the $25 I set aside in my Bank of America savings account, a total of $835 towards savings accounts will yield  $6680 by the end of 2011, and $10,020 over the course of 12 months. One of the goals I've set for myself includes having $10,000 in emergency savings.
  • Set aside $625/month (from May to December) to max out Roth.
    • Set aside $200/month for Roth.
  • Set aside$200/month to travel.
    • Set aside $100/month to travel
  • Set aside $258/month for miscellaneous expenses which may include Roth, fun stuff, additional savings, additional principal payments for student loans, and who knows what else.
I'm sure it would be helpful to see the variety of scenarios I've plotted out, but I assure you that that's an exercise in futility. You see, I've drafted more than 15 of the various budget scenarios, some in my handy-dandy composition notebook, others on index cards, backs of envelopes, and other random pieces of paper. The recurring themes, however, are that I set aside a hefty chunk for savings (especially since I haven't been doing so while eliminating this car note) and paying more than the $230 currently requested of me to pay my student loan. By the way, I my current payoff amount is $30,801.65. Yikes!

What would you do with the "new" budget?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is What I Do

For as long as I can remember, PF geeks/fans/experts have encouraged the use of a budget. In helping people understand how to create a budget, much of their advice directs folks to track their expenses (i.e. categorize and write down everything you spend) for a month, and then use such numbers as a basis for your budget (i.e. the month to month plan for spending your money). My major beef with this technique is that one month of expenses (and income) doesn't look like every other month of the year. Sure, I have fixed expenses and variable expenses to look forward to every month, but how do I accurately plan for the miscellaneous expenses? And how do I remind myself of my progress (i.e. spending within my income and setting aside funds for goals)? 

I track ALL the time. Yup. That's what I do. Moreover, I take a summary of my expenses and average it with previous pay periods (that's how I break down my expense tracking; as per my regular paycheck). Next year, I look forward to tracking on a monthly basis. To give you an idea of how this budget/tracker tool works, I've included a blank copy here. I encourage you to use it if 1) you're not currently tracking your expenses/budget or 2) what you're using isn't working for you. I'd love to hear your feedback. But before we get started, here are a few assumptions:
  • You have a bank checking account that you regularly use for transactions.
  • You have stable income (i.e. you know how much you get paid for each month)
Okay, here's your guide:

1st Tab, Annual Budget: In general, this is what your month-to-month expenses look like. Simply insert the monthly expense and the spreadsheet will calculate your annual expense for said category. Your total annual expense should be equal to or less than your regular annual income. For the folks who work on commission and have widely varying income, you could estimate the lower end of your anticipated income...or use a tool that's better suited for you.

2nd Tab, "Insert Month Here": This is where you will track your expenses. Feel free to change the name of the tab for the month that you will be tracking expenses. Enter your regular monthly income in cell M3 (it has a little orange ticker in the cell for a comment box). The reason this is here is so your expenses can be deducted from it to show you what you have available to spend. I often check this number against my bank statements. If you have additional income during a specific month, you can add it to your regular income; remember to add a note about the amount and source of those extra funds (ex: tax refund, $3269.11; overtime, $563.97).

For the "date" column, type in the date that you make a purchase (ex: 11/04). For the "Description" column, type in what you purchased and any details you'd like (ex: Publix (groceries), PetSmart (toys), TGIFs (+$10 tip). If you run out of space for the details you deem critical, simply "insert a comment" to add additional notes. Now, enter the amount that you spent at the respective store/on the respective item in the appropriate column. For example, if I spent $56.93 at Publix, I would enter that dollar amount in the food column. Likewise, if I spent $46.36 at TGIF, I would enter that dollar amount in the food column. Now, if I used my credit card to make a purchase at TGIF, I would not enter it into the food column, I'd enter the amount spent in the "CC Transactions" column. Similarly, if you use cash, track all of your cash transactions in the appropriate columns. If my categories of spending don't work for you, change them!

3rd Tab, Summary of Expenses: This is pretty straightforward. Enter the total spending per category per month in the appropriate line. Put another way, copy the amounts from row 4 of your "Month" sheet to the corresponding month in the summary sheet. This last sheet will average out what you spend per category of spending (ex. food, entertainment, bills, etc.). You can then compare these amounts to your annual budget to explore opportunities for improvement.

Since using this budget tracker - about 2 years, now - I've gained an incredible sense of control over my finances. I can project where I will pull money from to make up for other expenses, keep an eye on how much I'm spending, and remain mindful about credit card transactions. I hope it is equally helpful for you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dumb Marketers or Dumber Consumers?

Since when did spending money equate to saving money? After plopping down on the couch for some good ole tube watching time, I couldn't help but realize how many companies were trying to appeal to my desire to save money. Here's the thing: they got it all wrong. Instead of asking me to change my car insurance provider to "save" hundreds of dollars, how about you offer coverage at no cost so I can use the money for an upcoming vacation? Rather than tell me I can get a ton of features from your cable/telephone/internet service for only $99/month - a "bargain" compared to competitors - cut me a check to deposit into my emergency savings account.

I've always believed that saving money was about setting money aside for future use, whether it was for a vacation, unexpected expenses or having 'enough' to comfortably use for investing (i.e. secure an amount of money I wouldn't mind "losing"; not that that's the intention, but I digress). Some may argue that saving is about, or also includes, reducing one's expenditures. Well, help me understand this...what good is the amount of money you didn't spend if you don't set it aside (i.e. save it)? Most folks spend their "savings" on other expenses. Here's a great example: you go to the grocery store and when you check out, you learn that because a number of items were discounted and you used coupons, you "saved" $25. What do you do with that $25? Do you think, "Gee, I was intending to spend $75 to purchase these items, but only spent $50, let me set aside the remainder of what I budgeted" or do you say "great, now I can go to happy hour!"?

I could care less about what you do with the money you did not spend because of reduced prices, but I am encouraging you to be clear about what saving money is. And if you're not setting the bucks aside for future use, whatever that use may be, and particularly in a savings vehicle (piggy bank, anyone?), then I'm afraid to tell you that you're simply spending less. Kudos for finding a bargain ;)

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I don't know who coined the term "free.99", but I love it! "Free.99" refers to something being free, costing zero dollars, no need for exchanging services, goods or currency, just plain 'ol "here it is." Since "6" is one of my favorite numbers, I've devised a list of my favorites that are, you guessed right, FREE!

  1. John Grisham books: Usually, I get these from friends who have purchased them. Otherwise, I'll cop one from the library. John is hot AND a marvelous author, but this chick-a-dee ain't shelling out the dough if she doesn't have to. Sorry John. You understand, right?
  2. Admission to museums and cultural attractions: When planning a vacation, I keep my eyes open for the times and days that museums offer free admission (this worked well for my boyfriend and I on a Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago). If you're visiting Washington, DC, you'll get to enjoy a-ga-gillion of the Smithsonian's museums at no cost. I also sign up for e-newsletters promoting local events, many which are free :)
  3. Information: Considering that I don't pay for internet service, I think it's fair to say that information, via the internet, is free-free-free!!! Newspaper articles, blogs, industry publications, the gamut. Hi five for free knowledge acquisition =)
  4. "Cloudware": Google. I love Google. Free email. Free access to creating documents, spreadsheets (super helpful when it comes to drafting and revising my budget), Power Point presentations. Free Google sites. Free phone number (yes, I use Google Voice). Free photo sharing via Picasa. Free blogging ;) You get the point, eh?
  5. Music: Pandora makes my days at work fly by. My favorite stations are my "Free Masons" station with dance/techno selections and my "Bill Withers" station with the "oldies but goodies." Occasionally, I'm vexed by the limitations of the free version of Pandora's music service (i.e. you are limited with the number of times you can skip a song, you can't repeat a song, you can't make a special request, etc.). Overall, I'm happy with it.
  6. Hugs: Okay, so people don't ordinarily pay for hugs, but I like them. And since this post is about things that I like AND are free, I've included them here. Besides, if I didn't make mention of hugs, you'd wonder why I included this...

What are some of your favorite free things?

Monday, October 25, 2010

7 Days and 1,604.85 Dollars Later...

Last week, I posted "Decisions, decisions, decisions..." to reflect the conundrum du jour: should I use my "extra" paycheck for a trip to Houston or do other stuff with it?

Well, it took me less than a week to blow through more than my "extra" check. Here's how I did it:
  • $717.73 for bills ($689.01 for my car payment and $28.72 to pay off my credit card balance)
  • $255.64 for "other" or miscellaneous expenses (stamps, airfare, brake lights (the DIY replacement of $6.35 is much less than the $29.99 the rotor-replacers wanted to charge...more on them, next), pet food, public transportation fare).
  • $250.10 (on a credit card) for an unexpected car repair.
    • I had my coupon ready to go for my oil change, but after a road test (something that I insisted be done because I've been hearing squeaking while braking), I was informed that my front brake rotors needed to be replaced. Unfortunately, they were worn down to the point that resurfacing them (a cheaper alternative to rotor replacement) was not a feasible alternative.
  • $197.63 for food (sadly, more than half of this was spent on eating out, including this little indulgence).
  • $71.43 for gasoline.
  • $60 for an ATM withdrawal ($49.72 was spent on a day trip to NYC - tolls and food- and state park admission for a "hiking" trip in a part of the Appalachian Mountain range. I spent another $6 as a tip for lunch that I didn't pay for.) Sadly, I can't account for the outstanding $4.28.
  • $39.53 for savings (I wanted to make the amount in my ING Direct account an even number. Lame. I know).
  • $12.79 for a bottle of vino (yes, liquor has it's own category in my spending plan). Don't judge me ;)
All said and done, I will have $34.26 left over from this "extra" check. None of which, I might add, went towards a trip to Houston. I should mention, however, that part of the airfare cost listed in the miscellaneous category includes a membership fee for Spirit Airline's "$9 Fare Club." This service, at approximately $60, will pay for itself over the purchase of two airline tickets (one down, one more to go) as I will receive special fares for being a member ($19 one way ticket to travel 900+ miles, anyone?)

I know this isn't the most impressive record of spending "fun" money, but tell me, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?

I guess I don't have "money to blow".....

From Candy Slice Comedy

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Aren't People Planning?

Have you ever had a financial premonition and were scared poopless? What were the circumstances and how did you deal with it?

I had such a moment when I participated in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at a local church (the first of 13 sessions). There were about 20-30 people in attendance, quite a few couples and only a handful of folks under the age of 30. We were asked to share our names and why we decided to attend. Stories poured forth about middle-aged individuals coming to the sudden realization that they had to find a way to pay for their 17 year old’s college education, prepare for a dignified retirement or dig out of mounds of consumer debt. In those moments, I thought to myself that there is no way that I would want to be in a similar conundrum. What’s more, these folks could have been in better [financial] circumstances if they had done one thing: plan. I recognize that recent market activity has wrecked havoc on retirement accounts, savings and other investments (I hear my family discuss how such activity has impacted their plans). I am not naive to the reality that folks have been losing jobs, either. In fact, my godmother has been through a few temporary employment stints in the past two years and she still hasn’t procured a permanent position.

I contend, however, that the individuals who planned (and executed their plans) fared better than those who did not plan (and execute) at all. Sadly, my observation about the company I was in during this class was that most of them failed to plan, altogether. Further, I find myself frustrated with individuals who find themselves in the "sudden" predicament of having to make a big purchase....and they haven't prepared for it.....and they're still spending money on random things (oh yeah! we just decided to go to Atlantic City this weekend to gamble and go shopping). So this forces me to ponder, how much time do people think they need to prepare for major expenses and how much time do they actually need to prepare for such expenses? Major  expenses = buying a home, paying for college, preparing for retirement, eliminating debt, etc. From my perspective, there are many people who are slacking on the finances, however, I could be overreacting. this dude:

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

I'm a salaried employee who gets paid every two weeks (or "every other week;" pick your preference ;>). As such, there are two months out of the year that I receive an "extra" paycheck. This month is one such month. And here's my [mini-] dilemma. A few months ago, my boyfriend and I discussed going to Houston. He's also a salaried employee and has an "extra" check, so we thought the timing was right for us to plan and pay for a trip. We agreed to spend about $500 for the trip (a nice chunk of change to cover airfare, lodging and a rental car; not enough to cover additional expenses such as airport parking, food and admission for attractions). Although we're traveling from different places, the combined cost (airfare, hotel and rental car) for us to go to Houston (this December, I should add) is around $1000.

Even though I've set aside close to half of this "extra" check to go towards my car payment, I'm tempted to postpone the trip so I can do other things with the funds, like fix that nick in my windshield, or set a couple hundred aside in savings or my Roth, or buy a few clothes for work. I rationalize that going on a trip to Houston AFTER I pay off my car would be a nice reward, a treat for having done something good (marshmallow, anyone?).

On the other hand, the boyfriend and I haven't been anywhere "new" since July, and before that, March. The weather will be nice (especially compared to the "arctic" winter of the Mid-Atlantic) and I'd like to go sooner than later.
What would you do?
Houston for 2010? Or pay bills and save money?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Like My Sweets Cheap

This post is about me being a glutton or a cheapo. Or maybe I'm a gluttonous cheapo. You be the judge...

I am a fan of Dunkin' Donuts Marble Frosted donuts. It doesn't help that there's a DD (this is what I call it in my expense tracker/budget) within 100 steps of my office. There have been a number of days when, right before work, I would make a pit stop to DD for a small hot coffee and one of my chocolate-drizzled-over-vanilla goodies. And on such days, I would spend $0.89 for a doughnut. Recently, I learned that if I purchase later in the day (say, after 3PM), I can get not one, but TWO doughnuts for the delicious price of $1! Now I know I'm spending $0.11 more than originally planned, and it's not like doughnuts are a healthy food choice, but gosh-darn-it, it feels good to know I can spend less (per doughnut) than necessary. Armed with this new information, I am less likely to get my sweet treat earlier in the morning when a premium is placed on the price. Instead, if I "have" to have a doughnut, I'll let the clock tick-tock away before I indulge (if I'm still thinking about something so relatively insignificant, I might as well get it, right?). Some of you may contend that  3PM doughnuts are, well, old. And cruddy, and no good, and stale and blah blah blah. Well, out of the many discounted doughnuts I've consumed, I can say that I've only had one that wasn't up to par. Aside from that, I've been getting my sweet-treats cheaply!

What items do you wait to purchase? 
Are you the person with all of the Halloween candy in the middle of November? Do you "forget" to go holiday shopping until after January 1?
What's worth it to you to wait to spend less?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update: Roth, Car and Wants

To date, I've fretted about Roth contributions, using savings to keep up with $1k+ car payments and a list of wants. Well, here's a brief update:
  • Roth: I have not made any changes to my budget to redirect funds to my Roth account. So far, I'm saying "screw it." I'll be able to satisfy the $5,000 maximum contribution for 2011.
  • Savings for Car Payment: You have likely read that I placed myself in the possible predicament of using my savings to pay my car note because I used a substantial portion of car payment money to pay off my credit card. Well, I haven't moved any money from savings (my ING balance is around $1200) and my credit card still has no balance. As previously reported, my balance for the car note is just north of $8,000.
  • My wants: In the "It's My Budget! Part 3 of 3" post, I listed the following wants and needs: max out my Roth IRA ($3,883.75 remaining); pay for a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday ($500); set aside money for my boyfriend’s birthday ($300), buy new clothes ($250); vehicle window tinting ($200-$250); and repair the crack in my windshield (I’m guessing $100-$200). Well, you already know about the Roth... I'm diligently saving for my girlfriend's birthday celebration in January (approximately $200/month)... I'm quite a bit unsure about what exactly I'm going to do for my boyfriend's birthday; whatever it is, I have to be realistic about it and make sure I plan for it :) Purchasing new clothes doesn't have to be a bulk purchase type of thing. Recently, I went to a discount clothing store and purchased a few items (I spent $37.07). The money came from the $66.80 reimbursement I received from work... I can postpone the window tinting. I'm likely to get it done for a much cheaper price if I looked outside the metro area that I live in... And the crack in my windshield? I got a quote for $114.95 + taxes. Now I just have to find the time to get it fixed!
What are your thoughts? Would you do the same thing if you were in my shoes?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Have You Checked Lately?

Recently, I pulled my credit reports from Experian and Equifax.  Actually, I accessed them from (the website where you access your free credit report yearly; no catchy jingles or efforts to enroll you in a "not free" credit monitoring service here). As far as I can tell, all of the information is correct, which I'm relieved to see, especially considering that some 80% of credit reports contain errors. This time around, I did something that I've never done before: I purchased my credit score. The Fair Credit Reporting Act - the federal law that allows for us to access a free credit report each year - does not make concessions for us to get a free credit SCORE. So, I paid for it. A whopping $7.95. I was a little anxious to see it considering that I recently paid off my credit card balance; I wanted to see how this action would be reflected in my score. At any rate, I pulled the trigger too soon. The credit card account reflected my previous balance of $700+. What I'm a little bummed out about is that my credit score, at least according to Equifax, is "average;" my score is 723. What's more annoying is that I am just TWO points shy of having an "above average" credit score (725 to 759). For those of you wondering, a "high" credit score has a range of 760 to 850.

Nevertheless, I am relieved that I am not shopping for credit in the near future. If you're in the market for a car loan, mortgage, credit card, or any other credit product, it is appropriate for you to pull your credit reports (and purchase your scores) at least 3 to 6 months prior to your application to make sure your credit report is accurate. The purpose of the "lead time" is to allow you to make corrections in the event misinformation is present. Additionally, it may give you a bit more time to pay down your debt (especially on those credit cards). A few things I'd like to share with you about my experience:

Additional information about credit can be found at

  1. You can get an estimate of your credit score for free by using a credit score estimator at, or I've found these to be pretty on point (especially considering that they don't have access to the in-depth information present on credit reports; said information is used in credit scoring algorithms.)
  2. Your credit score is forever changing, so don't get hung up on the minor details. A score is simply a "snapshot" of your creditworthiness at one point. If you're not pleased with your own score, rest assure that a little time and a few well-directed financial actions will give you the results you want.
  3. It's cheaper to purchase your credit score when you're accessing them through (although it is not required that you do so). I've gone to the individual credit reporting agencies (the big ones, anyways: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and (where you can purchase your Equifax & TransUnion reports and scores) where the prices for scores ranged from $9.95 to $15.95 each. The price per score drops if you elect to purchase a bundle, but it's still not cheaper than $7.95.
Going forward, I will remain committed to paying off my credit card balance each month (no finance charges here!) and paying down my car note balance ASAP. When the time is right, we'll see how this conversation goes for my $31,000+ student loan debt!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Little Extra Something...

I got a check, I got a check, I got a check, hey hey hey hey! I received a reimbursement check from my job and I don’t know what to do with it. By no means is it a tremendous amount- it’s a modest $66.80- but I’m still scratching my head as to what I should do with it. Normally, I apply such checks to my credit card balance. But I don’t have a credit card balance (yippee!). I could blow the money on something beauty-related (like this maybe?). Go out to eat. Put it in my savings account. Put it in my Roth or brokerage account. Give it away. Or let it sit in my checking account just for the sake of it.

What do YOU think I should do with my $66.80?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contribute or Screw it?

I can’t believe that I got so caught up on having a little bit of spending money that I completely neglected a time-sensitive goal. You see, when I revised my debt reduction plan so that I would pay off my car note by the end of February 2011, I figured I’d have $1245 for March and $350 for [the first half of] April 2011. My plan was to place this amount ($1595) into my Roth IRA. In a previous post, I listed maxing out my Roth IRA as a goal; by sticking to the “$1245/month” plan, I would be $2288.75 short of reaching this goal. (i.e. reaching $5,000; I've contributed $1,116.25, to date). Well, since I’ve updated my debt reduction plan (i.e. reduced my monthly car payments from $1245 to $1045) and paid off my credit card, now I won’t pay off my car until the beginning/middle of April 2011.

And the issue about my goal being time-sensitive? The IRS won’t allow me to make contributions to my Roth IRA for 2010 past April 15, 2011. Each year, I’m allowed to contribute a maximum of $5,000, and I would like very much to begin the trend of doing this sooner than later (I gotta have my money "in the game!"). Going forward, this will be a cinch, because I won’t have a car payment and credit card debt sabotaging my savings.

So, what should I do? Here are a few ideas that crossed my mind:

1) Contribute. Postpone my car payoff date and restore contributions to max out the Roth. If I did this from November 2010 through March 2011 (5 months), I would make my regular car payment ($269.11) and would contribute $776.75 to the Roth (5 months times $776.75 equals the $3,883.75 needed to reach $5K). Additionally, I’d be able to pay off the  car loan by  the end of October 2011 if, starting May 2011, I paid $729/month to the note (includes minimum payment).

P.S. I'd max my 2011 Roth by saving $316/month from May 2011 to October 2011 ($1896), $535/month from November 2011 to March 2012 ($2,675) and including the $430 overpayment for the car note from October 2011.

2) Screw it. Get $625 per month ready for every month starting May 2011 in order to max out the account for 2011 and pay no additional interest on the car loan.

Update: I had my garage sale! Okay, so I probably shouldn't put an exclamation point after that statement, considering that my operation got shut down with a quickness (who knew I couldn't have a sale on the storage company's property? I knew I should have read the contract!) Nevertheless, I earned $93 for my goods and spent less than $50 renting a pick up truck to transport the "leftover" goods to a nearby Salvation Army. Hooray for $97/month restored to my budget!!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don’t Get Punked by Retirement Calculators

I found myself toying around with a retirement calculator on to see how long it would take for my nest egg to reach $1,000,000. It asks for current amounts in taxable and tax-deferred accounts (check out the May 12, 2010 podcast for more info about these types of accounts), what you anticipate saving for those accounts and your best guess at an annual rate of return. I typed in $5,000 for taxable and tax-deferred accounts each and annual contributions of $12,000 for taxable accounts and $16,500 for tax-deferred accounts [this is the 2010 maximum contribution for tax sheltered annuities such as the 401(k), 403(b), 457)]. I left the federal and state income tax rates unchanged (28% and 6%, respectively), as well as the annual rate of return (8%). 

Guess how long it would take before I attained millionaire status? 4 years and 9 months (5 years and 1 month, if adjusted for inflation). Now you might check out this tool and run the same numbers that I did, but I assure you that your answer will be different. Turns out I inadvertently typed an extra “0” in the yearly contributions for the taxable accounts (i.e. my $16,500 became $165,000!). Good thing I had the sense to double check my entry. I mean, I love compound interest, but dang! That calculation was simply astronomical! 

At any rate, these calculations got me to thinking about retirement. I was a bit disheartened to read Money magazine (one of my favorite personal finance publications) this month...they published an article on “7 ways to a richer retirement” (reading it spurred my visit to the website’s retirement calculators in the first place). In the accompanying magazine pull-out, the scenarios STARTED for people who are in their early to mid thirties. I recognize that Money is simply appealing to their target audience, but good golly! I think to my 26 year old self “[35] is a bit late to BEGIN seriously planning one’s retirement!”

What do you think? Am I overreacting or is their an "appropriate age" to begin planning one's retirement?

After all, I wouldn't want to be like Frank...

Update: In the previous post, I asked if I should take funds from my savings to stay on track for my debt reduction plan. I did not transfer any funds. Instead, I've made my regular payment ($269.11) and an additional principal only payment of $445.89 (total September payment = $695). The resulting loan balance is $8,483.81. If I remain "on track" (i.e. make no additional principal payments to compensate for this month's payment and go forward paying $1045/month), I will have a balance of $167.97 in April 2011...and I'll be a little late reaching my my anticipated pay off date. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stay on Track or Defer?

Conventional wisdom in personal finance circles says one should pay off higher interest rate loans before tackling lower interest loans. I’ve shared that I’m on a mission to pay off my car note by the end of March 2011. In a separate post, I divulged my shortcoming of using a credit card and not paying the balance in full. Well, I decided to pay off the higher interest rate loan, my credit card. Although it use to carry a 6.99% interest rate, thanks to my credit card company’s ability to increase rates at their convenience, my interest rate is now 15.9%. Compared to my car loan interest rate of 7.88%, it’s easy to see that, over the long term, the credit card would be the more expensive loan. I went to, used their “credit card minimum payment calculator” and learned that it would take six years and eight months for me to pay off this balance of $775.69 (I’m happy that this information is also reflected on my credit card statement; we have the CARD Act to thank for these details :>). Keep in mind that this would NOT include any additional purchases (which, if past performance is any indication of my future actions- is completely NOT gonna happen). 

My credit card company calculates minimum payments at 2.45% of the balance at the end of of my billing cycle and in the 80 months that it would take for me to pay off my credit card bill (if I only paid the minimum amount due, which is $19), I would pay a total of $1,242.87. Where the heck did this amount come from? Well, it’s the money I used plus interest: $775.69 + $467.18 = $1,242.87. If I paid $27/month (and made no additional purchases) it would take approximately three years to pay off my balance, at the end of which I would pay a total of $982 ($775.69 balance + $213.31 interest).

Cartoon from
Being a tad bit impulsive, I said to heck with the credit card debt and paid it off....with the funds I ordinarily use for my super-duper $1045/month car payment.  

Here’s my question to you: Should I make my super-duper car payment with funds from my savings account or should I make the regular payment only (and wait until next month to get back on track)?

A few notes: I would have at least $500 readily available in my savings account for an unexpected expense after moving $705 to my car payment to stay on track. Alternatively, if I make only the regular payment, I will postpone my payoff date to April 2011 (one month later). 

To be fair, the interest assessed on the credit card is for a smaller amount of money- $775.69- compared to the outstanding balance of $9,118.93 on the car note. Between now and the end of March, I will pay $251.34 in interest charges for the car loan. If I postpone the super-duper payment, between now and the end of my car loan I will pay $286.48 in interest charges (a difference of $35.14).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's My Budget! Part 3 of 3

In the last two posts, I shared my budget and categories of spending that were non-negotiable and maybe negotiable. Today we will cover the part of my budget where I have the most flexibility/options. 

Every month, I will spend $293.81 for my most negotiable spending category: Miscellaneous!
The amount available for miscellaneous expenses has increased by $200 recently because of a change in my car payment ($1245 to $1045). What exactly qualifies as “miscellaneous”? Pet expenses (I have two furry friends** that require food and litter), storage rental (I’m hoping to lose this expense SOON; a little more about this later), entertainment, gifts, airfare to see my sweetheart and occasional car maintenance (think oil changes and car wash). **I wish my cats were as cool as these two...


Although I like to think that my budget in reality reflects exactly what’s on this spreadsheet, the sad truth is that I occasionally use my credit card to make purchases.....and I often don’t pay the balance in full every month (YIKES!) What’s not-so-sexy about this idea is that I know interest charges are lost opportunity costs. Having looked at my credit card statements for the past 8 billing cycles (starting since January 11, 2010), I’ve paid $59.11 in credit card interest. That’s enough money to fill up my gas tank and buy a decent lunch! Fortunately, the miscellaneous category of expenses also includes me taking a stab at whatever credit card balance exists, so it’s not an ever-growing ball of debt.

Now about that storage unit...
I’m working on getting a nice chunk of money from selling all of what I have (it’s mostly furniture), but I am more excited at the prospect of reclaiming $97 a month (bye-bye monthly storage payment; hello more money for saving, expenses, credit card balance elimination, etc.!). I’ve posted items for sale on Craigslist and received a few responses, but none that adhere to the requests of the post (Hey Craigslist customers! Please read the entire post before you start emailing sellers silly questions about what’s for sale. The information is already there! Okay, gripe over :>)

At any rate, you might be wondering what my plans are for the “miscellaneous” expense category? Well, here’s where I’ll solicit your help. There are a few items on my list that I need to do and others that I’d like to do. How I will (or will not) attain such will be up to you. In the near future (9 months), I’d like to (in decreasing order of expense amount):

  1. Max out my Roth IRA ($3,883.75 remaining)
  2. Pay for a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday ($500)
  3. Set aside money for my boyfriend’s birthday ($300)
  4. Buy new clothes ($250)
  5. Vehicle window tinting ($200-$250), and
  6. Repair the crack in my windshield (I’m guessing $100-$200). 
Sometimes we can get everything we want, but rarely is that the case when you try to stick to the idea of “living within your means.” So, to get [all or some of] these things, I need your help to make some decisions and compromises. I will not use credit to purchase these items (clearly, this is one way to have it all, but I assure you that it’s quite costly) and I'm working within a fixed income (no overtime or part-time job here). Instead, I'll have to make some sacrifices. 

Let’s get started....
What need and want should I start saving for? Please select one of each and post your recommendation in the comment section. Thanks =)