Author Archives: femmefrugality

Hack Your Personal Budget for Success

I'm always down for a good budget hack!

Today’s post is contributed by Ms. LLC, founder of Lovely Life Cents.

Budgeting is boring and hard–right?

Well, it can be, but you can hack your new budget for extra excitement to make it a little more interesting. Maybe this time you actually stick to it!

Give yourself some ‘fun’ money

When someone sits down to budget seriously for the first time, whether they’re trying to get out of debt or save for a holiday, that first sacrifice is always ‘fun’ money. It might seem optional when compared to Food and Rent, but if you’re going to stick to your budget, fun money is the number one category you shouldn’t short yourself on.

It might not make sense logically, but consider this: Not having fun in life can put some strain on your mind, and you’ll be more likely to break your budget.

Don’t go overboard by giving yourself $1,000 a week, but if you’re used to spending a hundred bucks a month going out to dinners and bars, then setting your fun money budget to zero is something you’ll never stick to.

Consider cutting your current spend in half, or lower it by $10 a week of it for a couple of months. That way you’ll still be enjoying yourself without feeling completely deprived. After all, $10 a week is just a couple of beers. You can still go out with your friends. You’ll just have to take advantage of happy hours and house specials to keep the budget on track.

Get your friends on your side

Speaking of friends, no one likes doing things alone. Get yourself a budget buddy to keep you accountable. If you’re saving to go on vacation, the best budget buddy is the person coming along with you. That way, they’ll be right with you on the saving journey.

Of course, support is all well and good, but what can step your budget hack up to the next level is competition. Instead of a buddy having your back to make sure you stick to your budget, consider challenging your buddy to see who can do better.

What ‘better’ means is up to you and your friend. Maybe you want to see who can spend the least on booze in a month. Maybe you’re looking to see who can shovel the most money into the vacation fund, or pay down the most debt.

Choose a challenge that works for you, and check in with your buddy regularly.

Track everything

Lastly, there’s no point in giving yourself ‘fun’ money, or getting your friends on your side if you don’t actually track how your spending is going. Sitting down each night to log your spending can be arduous–which is why you should take advantage of the super high tech device in your pocket.

Multiple phone apps exist that will track your spending for you. Apps like Mint and You Need a Budget can be linked up with your accounts and will track and categorize your spending. Mint is even free.

With just a few button presses, all your expenses will be right there in your pocket, broken down into categories. You can see at a glance whether you’re winning at your budget, or whether you should skip that third pumpkin spice latte for the day.

With all the information at your fingertips, you’re ready to hack your budget for ultimate success.

How to Negotiate Your Salary As a Woman

Pinning for my next annual review! Great, unique tips on how to successfully negotiate your salary.

Women get paid less than men. It’s a fact.

Part of the wage gap has been attributed to the fact that women don’t feel comfortable negotiating. There is some level of truth in that. According to a study done by Glassdoor, only 32% of women negotiate their initial salary with an employer compared to 48% of men.

But do women have justification for being more hesitant?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. In Glassdoor’s study, only 4% of women secured more pay via negotiations, while men had a success rate of 15%.

Another study–this one scholarly–showed that women are 25% less likely than their male counterparts to get a raise when they request it.

Still others show that not only do women not get the raise, but they’re sometimes punished for asking at all.

But that doesn’t mean all is lost. Today, we’ll get some hot tips from the experiences of four successful women–all of whom have successfully negotiated substantial pay increases.

Have a job offer on the table? Here is how to negotiate your salary.

Negotiating Your First Salary

Being one of the millennials that unfortunately reached career-entry age at the height of the Recession, I understand being hesitant to negotiate with no experience. If you have a job offer on the the table, you don’t want to lose it.

But the year is not 2008 anymore, and the pay at which you enter the workforce compounds over your entire career. Negotiating your very first salary will mean higher pay throughout your working life; if someone wants to convince you to make a lateral move, they’re going to have to offer you more money than your first boss is paying you. The more money your first boss is paying you, the more money you’ll be able to demand for that lateral move.

“I was too afraid to negotiate my salary when I landed my first career-level position,” says Chonce, a current freelance writer who runs My Debt Epiphany. “Now, I regret that because I probably could have earned more money instead of just accepting the raises I was offered.”

Chonce’s regrets are not unique. In fact, only one of our experts negotiated her first salary. She also entered her career in a 1099 position rather than being a W-2 employee.

“I started by negotiating my fee for my first piece of content written for a client,” says Miranda Marquit, freelance writer of Planting Money Seeds. “It went reasonably well, I suppose. I didn’t get what I asked for, but I did get more than they originally offered. However, I didn’t really understand market rates and I perhaps should have done more research.”

Talk to people in the industry to find out the nuances of current market rates. While finding info on the internet is a starting point, it’s unlikely to be completely useful for regional markets or your specialized skill set. That’s assuming the data you find is even current.

Talking to a real-life person is the best way to get an idea of what you should be charging.

If you're good at what you do, use it as leverage to negotiate your raise during the interview.

How to Negotiate a Salary Increase

Are you great at what you do? Then don’t be reluctant to ask for a salary increase!

Natasha, who works in Public Health and owns Inspiring Single Mothers, didn’t feel comfortable negotiating her pay until she was offered her third professional position. But when she did, she went in prepared.

“I became more confident and knowledgeable of salary ranges for various positions,” she says. “I talked about my knowledge of the work, and had a reputation for being the subject-matter expert in that area for the division.”

Even if you know you’re phenomenal at your job, you might still feel nervous asking for a pay bump. Freelance writer Kayla Sloan has a life hack for knowing what to say when negotiating salary–or, in her case, freelance rates.

“I use a script–this makes me less nervous about what to say! I point out our past working relationship, the results we’ve achieved, and how I’ve helped their bottom line.”

She also shares what she’s done to increase her skills and knowledge base since the last time compensation was discussed.

When you’ve been doing everything right in your career, document your efforts. It’s the information you’ll need to convince your client or boss to up your pay, and simply reviewing your experience and training should give you the confidence you need to ask for the raise in the first place.

Let's get into the finer details of negotiating a salary increase.

The Nitty Gritty of Negotiating a Raise

Okay. You know it’s important to negotiate for more pay. And you know you need to have an idea of what others are paid on top of a documented list of what you’ve done to bring value to your employer.

But how do you even bring this topic up? And once you do, how do you exude the necessary confidence  to do this successfully?

“Leverage your annual review if you have an employer,” Chonce advises, “or just reach out to your boss or clients and ask for any feedback on your performance.”

She does so every six to twelve months.

Once you’ve opened up the conversation, Natasha has a specific formula for your conversation:

  1. Receive an offer.
  2. Reply with a counteroffer only.
  3. If the recruiter/manager/boss asks why they should give you the amount you countered with, present the information you’ve prepared on your value and accomplishments, including  formal and informal commendations and awards.

Oh, and that counteroffer? Miranda reminds us to make sure it’s higher than what we actually want. That way if they come at you with another number, you’ll have room to negotiate without going below your bare minimum.

Get a script together before negotiating your salary so you know what to say.

What if I really need this job?

If you can’t walk away from negotiations, it does take a lot of your bargaining power away. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make an attempt.

“If I were in this scenario,” Kayla says, “I’d ask for more than I wanted, hoping that during negotiations the final number would be closer to what I had in my head as “ideal”. For example, ask for 25% if you really want 20%. If you want 25%, ask for 30%.”

If you find you’ve hard-lined yourself into a position where you have to walk or cave, another tactic is to negotiate something other than money.

“In the past I accepted what I had to and actively looked for other gigs that would pay more so that I could quit the lower-paying job,” Miranda recounts. “Another tack is to talk about other benefits, like flexibility or days off, rather than pushing on higher pay. ”

By bringing these other benefits into the picture, you may be able to convince your boss to still give you something–even if they’re unable to give you a raise. This allows you to keep both your job and your confidence as you’re not walking away defeated or empty handed.

If you really need the money and an extra day off just won’t cut it, Chonce suggests taking more on.

“You can also ask that you add an additional task to your workload. That way, you’d get your pay increase, but you’d be doing more or different work. ”

This isn’t necessarily a raise in the traditional sense, but it does allow you to pad your bring-home pay so you can make ends meet. It also provides your boss or client with even more value so they’re not walking away from the meeting with a bad taste in their mouth.

Be Cognizant of the Pay Gap at Your Place of Employment

You may have heard the argument that the gender pay gap only exists because women choose to go into lower-paying fields. While that does have some effect on the overall numbers, it doesn’t account for the entire gap. Women frequently get paid less than men for doing the exact same job.

“Do your research and know your worth,” Miranda advises. “Talk to men in your field to find out what they make. I was shocked when I talked to another writer, and he was charging twice my fee. I was a better writer. I just didn’t realize that I could charge that much. Know the going rate, based on experience, skill, and knowledge, and ask for that.”

Increase Your Negotiating Power with Your Personal Finances

When asked what a woman should do as she prepares to negotiate her salary, Natasha gave sage advice that she should empower herself by getting her personal finances in order.

“She should put herself in a strong and steady position as soon as she’s employed–whether entry-level or mid-range–by staying out of debt, building savings, and forming genuine connections in her field. By doing these things, she is in a stronger position to negotiate or walk away.”

 

 

 

Have you ever negotiated your salary? Share you experiences in the comments!

Seven Free or Inexpensive Activities in Toronto

I’m happy to introduce you to Lisa Goodmurphy from Gone With the Family. I absolutely love her blog where I learn about great, family-friendly activities in all the amazing places she goes—with the kids! Make sure to check out her full bio below to see all the different places she writes and the best ways to follow her.

Totally taking my kids to the fourth one on this list of free/inexpensive things to do in Toronto!



Toronto is a wonderful, family-friendly city, but like most cities it can also be a very expensive place to visit.  This is especially true for families who have to multiply the costs of admissions, meals etc. by the number of members.  Fortunately, there are a number of things to do in Toronto that are fun for families but won’t break the bank.

1.  Parks/Green Spaces

The municipal government, which would like Toronto to be known as “the City within a Park”, is responsible for nearly 1500 parks within the city.  There’s no charge to take the kids to some of the cities great parks to run around and blow off steam.  One of the best in the city is High Park, a 161 hectare park located in the city’s west end which boasts hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, gardens and a zoo.  The park is easily accessible by transit and is the perfect place to entertain kids for an hour or more with little expense.

2.  Ferry to Centre Island

Just a short ferry ride from downtown, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of the city on the car-free Centre Island.  The ferry ride isn’t free but it is relatively inexpensive ($4-8) and for many kids the boat ride is an adventure in and of itself.  Parents will also enjoy the fantastic views of Toronto’s skyline on the boat ride to and from the island.  Once on the island, families can enjoy bicycle paths, a petting zoo, wading pools, swimming and other activities which are free or inexpensive.  Parents should be aware though that there is an amusement park on the island as well so they will want to steer clear if they wish to avoid the kids begging for rides.

art gallery of toronto sculpture

3.  The Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario (“the AGO”) is located in downtown Toronto and is one of the largest art museums in North America.  The AGO has a large Canadian collection as well as many masterpieces of European art, contemporary art and photography.  It’s a world-class art museum and it’s one of the most family-friendly galleries we have visited.  Families on a budget will also appreciate that entry to the permanent collections is FREE on Wednesday evenings from 6pm – 8:30pm.

4.  Riverdale Farm

Riverdale Farm is located in a park-like setting in the downtown Toronto neighbourhood of Cabbagetown and represents what a rural Ontario farm would have been like in the late 19th/early 20th century.  Visitors can tour the 7.5 acre farm property, observe the animals and chat with the farmers as they do their daily chores.  Homemade refreshments are also available in the Farm Kitchen.  Admission is always free at Riverdale Farm which is open year round and hosts a number of special seasonal events.

5.  Explore Neighbourhoods

Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and its neighbourhoods can be a lot of fun to explore with kids.  The best known are probably Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy and Little India and a couple of hours in any of these neighbourhoods can feel like a day trip to another country.  Families can stroll the neighbourhoods and soak up the sights and sounds, browse the shops and sample authentic foods while spending far less than they would in malls or mainstream restaurants.

6.  Harbourfront Centre

Harbourfront Centre is a not-for-profit cultural centre located on Toronto’s waterfront which provides year-round programming as well as outdoor shows and events during the summer season.  Some of the offerings have an associated fee (particularly crafts workshops), however, there are many free events and activities as well.  For example, during the upcoming winter season, the Harbourfront Centre will have free skating all winter, free concerts, free holiday movies, a winter scavenger hunt, and a holiday market with free admission, free storytelling and crafts for kids in Miss Lou’s Room.  There are numerous festivals and events during the course of the year that will appeal to families as well.

St Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada

7.  St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market has been thriving in downtown Toronto since 1803 and has recently been recognized by National Geographic as the number one food market in the world.  Anyone who enjoys food markets simply must make it a priority when visiting Toronto.  It’s absolutely free to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere of delicious sights, sounds and smells and it’s an ideal place to purchase an inexpensive lunch.  If you’re lucky then you might even find entertainment there too as it’s a popular place for buskers.

 

 

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer living near Toronto, Canada. She left the corporate world to stay home with her two daughters, Katie and Emma (now aged 16 and 9). Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, Lisa considers herself fortunate that her husband and kids are equally enthusiastic about exploring the world.

As well as writing about her family’s travel adventures on her blog Gone With The Family, Lisa has written for a number of travel websites and is a regular contributor at Travel Mamas as The Spunky Travel Mama. You can also follow her on Facebook, on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily and on Pinterest.

Toronto has amazing things to do for free as Lisa outlines.  If you’re looking to do more of the tourist-y things, CityPass offers a steep discount. Visit Toronto’s CN Tower plus 4 other attractions for up to 45% off with CityPASS!

Phase Two of Moving: Things You’ll Need to Do Once You’ve Moved

Am I glad I read this before we move! I never would have thought of these, but there's still so much to do after you unload the truck.

Anyone who has ever moved before knows exactly how stressful it is. The idea of having to put all your belongings into boxes is daunting and requires a lot of preparation. Hiring a moving company, deciding which things you don’t want to pack, packing your things securely into boxes, and everything in between needs to be done to pull off a successful move. However, having your belongings loaded onto the moving truck is not the end of the moving madness.

After months of planning, you’ve finally arrived at the front of your home or apartment. Once everything has been unloaded from the truck, the quest to get comfortable and acquainted begins. Here’s a look at some of the things you’ll need to complete once you’ve moved into your new place:

Setting Up Services

If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to start setting up common utility services. This may or may not include the need to have your gas, electric, and water turned on, as well as cable, television, and internet services.

Fortunately, a lot of this can be done online. You can browse the web for service providers in your area and choose an option that works best for your needs and budget.

Locating Medical Services

If you’ve moved far from your old town you’re going to need to find new medical services near you. This can include locating a dentist, eye doctor, physician and pharmacy for any prescriptions you’ll need filled.

You can check with your health insurance provider to find medical practices in your area that accept your insurance.

To find a pharmacy, you can complete an online search using terms like ‘find a pharmacy near me.’ You should be routed to several options from which you can choose the most convenient.

Updating Address

While you may have already notified the post office of your address change so that mail can be routed to your new address, there is still one more step you’ll need to take. In most states, you have approximately 2 weeks to change your address with the local Department of Motor Vehicles.

You can complete this online in most cases by providing an updated address. You’ll receive a sticker to place on the back of your license with the new address on it.

Registering for School

If you happen to have children, you’ll need to get them registered with the school district. You can contact your local board of education to determine which district you’re in and which school your child will need to register with. Parents will likely need to fill out a ton of paperwork and have the children visit the doctor for a physical and updated shots.

It can be difficult switching schools, especially if it’s mid-year. So, work closely with the guidance counselor to ensure your child has an easier time transitioning.

Finding Employment

Unless you’ve relocated for a job or you found gainful employment in advance you’ll need to find a job in your new town. Make sure that you use job search tips like creating a professional social media account, researching companies in the area, attending local networking events, and potentially seeking the help of a recruiter from the area to help you get your foot in the door a little faster.

Making Your House a Home

Can you believe that after all of that running around you still have things to do after the move? One of the most time-consuming things you’ll have to do is unpack and start making your house a home. Finding a place for everything, figuring out the style, tone, and décor, and filling the space with memories can take years to finish, but the sooner you start, the better.

There’s a lot to moving that you probably never even thought of. While it can take a lot of planning before the move, getting comfortable and acquainted after takes just as much energy. Fortunately, many of the above-mentioned tasks can be completed online saving you time. Though getting adjusted to your new home and city can take some time, in the end, it will all be worth it.

 

 

This post is contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker.

Get Solar Energy Without Solar Panels

Power your home with solar energy--even if you don't have solar panels. Here's how to switch in just sixty seconds.

Back in April, I participated in the March for Science here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a city that has seen the very real and harsh effects of being irresponsible stewards of our environment. Our mills–which built Carnegie’s wealth and later his repentant philanthropic legacy–almost destroyed our region.

A mixture of EPA regulations and globalization leading to the weakening of labor unions eventually shut down our mills, and the city did a 180.

Today our city is gorgeous. It’s green. It’s lush. We have rivers and mountains and some of the best skyline viewing points in the world. Our two greatest sources of GDP are healthcare and education, we’re a growing tech hub, and there are free, family-friendly events all the time.

But we bear the scars of our history. Our air quality is among the worst in the nation, causing endemic childhood asthma. Our soil contains lead. In a coincidence void of correlation, many city residents’ water now contains lead, too.

Making the Environment Personal

Our environment is changing. We are causing that change in a very real and negative way. It is possible that during my children’s lifetimes, they will face daily challenges far more intimidating than setting up automatic transfers and credit card debt.

This has been important to me for a while. We’ve made small changes. We’ve tried (and failed) to cut down on how many vehicles we use.

But ultimately, it’s hard to feel like anything you do matters when the problem is so massive and systemic.

An Introduction to Green Energy

We don’t own, so I had pretty much given up on green energy in our home.

But at the March for Science, there were booths and vendors everywhere. One of those vendors was a “green energy company.” They generate green energy, and then sell it to the main utility who delivers it. Here in Pennsylvania, we have a choice of who generates our energy, but I didn’t know you could go green with it for a comparable price.

The guy started talking me up, and wanted me to sign up before I left. He was afraid I wouldn’t do it after I went home.

In a way he was right. It’s five months later and I’m only just now writing this post.

But he also wanted me to commit with limited information. I started asking him hard questions like where, exactly, was the energy was produced? How long was a fixed rate contract good for, and what did the rates go up to after our initial agreement expired? Did they offer assistance programs to low-income families like the main electric provider does?

He tried to get me away from the booth at this point. I was seriously bummed, because I did want green energy, but these people were obviously shady as all get out.

How to Get Solar Energy Without Solar Panels

I came home and started doing some research. It turns out, I was right to question the man at that booth. They used the term “green energy” for a variety of different energy sources, including dirty–or “recycled”–energy they had bought off of other companies.

I discovered there are quite a few companies touting their green-ness, but very few of them made me feel good about making the switch. If I was going to pay a few cents more per kilowatt hour, I wanted to know I was actually saving the planet.

When you switch to green energy, it’s not like you start getting different electricity in your home than your neighbors. Electricity is made up of electrons, and those electrons are bought by the company that delivers your energy. At this point, the energy is homogeneous–regardless of where it was generated.

There are laws in place requiring the utility provider to purchase a certain amount of energy from green sources. They do this through Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs.) If more customers start demanding more green energy, it is possible that utilities will start purchasing more RECs than legally required.

This is a good thing, as it moves us away from environment-destroying energy sources and onto more sustainable ones.

As a consumer, you don’t necessarily have to have solar panels to get solar energy. You just need to pick a green company to generate your electricity, encouraging demand and therefore growth in the sector.

At the Pittsburgh March for Science, I was offered a deal from a shady green energy company.

Questions to Ask Before Switching to Green Energy

I asked a lot of companies questions, and in the end I was most satisfied with the answers from CleanChoice Energy. They’re not just in Pittsburgh! They currently service a lot of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states–plus Illinois and DC.

Our new rate is going to be 2 cents more per kilowatt hour, which raises our bill by $12-$14 per month. The slight increase is something I’m willing to prioritize in my budget.

You can check and see if they serve your zip code. Right now they’re running a promo where they’ll give you a WakaWaka Power+ Solar Charger for your phone and devices when you sign up.

Here are the questions I asked them, and the answers they gave.

Does all of your energy come from solar and/or wind farms?

Do you use “recycled” energy stored from nuclear, natural gas or any carbon-emitting sources?

“One hundred percent of our energy comes from wind and solar farms,” said Kate Colarulli, CleanChoice Energy’s Director of Retention Marketing. “Our Standard Clean Plan is Green-e certified and meets the environmental and consumer protection standards of the Center for Resource Solutions.”

“We meet or exceed all EPA guidelines for renewable energy,” she continued, “and we apply strict standards to ensure that we source our energy from as close to our customers as possible. If you burn it, we don’t supply it.”

CleanChoice Energy was the only company in my region that gave me such a clear and straightforward answer.

How long is a contract? Do you offer fixed rates?

Colarulli told me that you can choose between fixed and variable rates. I recommend the former, personally, as you’ll know what to expect out of your electric bill month after month.

The fixed-rate plans came with a contract. Your rate stays fixed for that entire term. Our contract offer was twelve months. You can, conceivably, switch between fixed and variable rates as there is no fee for doing so, but that’s a lot to keep on top of every month.

CleanChoice contacts you before your renewal date with the new rate offer for the next twelve months. I’ll be interested to see what happens at that point, and will update you all on any pricing changes. The worst-case scenario is we switch back to the standard utility if we hit a huge price hike, but I don’t anticipate having to do that.

Do you participate in CAP, LIHEAP or any other low-income programs?

CAP is a low-income assistance program. Funds are used to pay a part of your electricity bill if you fall below a certain income threshold.

LIHEAP is a program that assists low-income households with their heating bills in the winter. If, like us, your heat is run through electric, they can help with your electric bill instead.

This was the most frustrating part for me. I couldn’t find a single company that participated in these programs. We’re not on either of these programs at this time, but if you’re trying to save the world, wouldn’t you want to make solar and wind energy available to low-income households, as well?

I found out that it’s a little more complicated than that. Colarulli was the only one who took the time to explain that while they can participate in some states, they cannot participate in others. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of those states.

Switching to Green Energy is Easy

After I had done all the research, I was surprised at just how simple it was to switch. It took me literally one minute.

First, I entered my zip code.

Then, they asked for the name, service address and customer number.

I gave it to them, and I was done.

I’ll let you all know how this foray turns out. I’m feeling pretty psyched about it right now, though, as it enables us to do solar without the panels, and gives us more control over our carbon footprint.

If we all took one minute to make a simple switch, essentially pledging $10-$20 per month to save the planet, maybe we could actually make a noticeable impact. Lord knows we need to.