Category Archives: Money Management

How a $1,000 Emergency Fund Can Help You Pay Off Debt

Today’s post is contributed by Ashley at Budgets Made Easy. She teaches people how to budget, save money, and pay off debt in order to build long-term wealth. Ashley was able to pay off $45,000 in 17 months. Now she helps people budget their money so they can pay off their debt. You can follow her on Facebook.

I wouldn't have thought this would be a good way to get out of debt, but now I'm totally building up this mini emergency fund.

Having a small $1,000 emergency fund is the first step in building long-term wealth. It is the first step to changing your financial habits and stop using debt so you can build wealth and give generously.

Imagine all the things you could do once you are debt-free. How much more you could give back to your community? Where would you travel and what you could do for your family?

It all starts with $1,000 emergency fund.

Why You Need a $1,000 Emergency Fund

Emergencies will happen

A $1,000 emergency fund will not solve all your problems, but it is a start. It will keep you from having to use credit cards or debt when something unplanned comes up.

Think about the last time you had an emergency. How much was it? Chances are that it was less than $1,000. Most things can be covered with $1000.

This is especially helpful when you are just starting your budget. It will take a little time to save up for specific things. If something comes up before you have saved for it, you have your small emergency fund.

It’s important to only use this fund for emergencies. Once you get other funds saved up, it will be easier not to use it for things you just forgot about.

Avoid Debt

A small emergency fund will help keep you from using credit cards when something unplanned comes up. When you want to build wealth, you must stop using debt. But there are times where an emergency may be more than $1,000.

However, you can find other ways to get the cash above the $1,000 or as a last resort, use debt. If you have to use debt, at least it’s a smaller amount than you would have used without the emergency fund.

Spend Less

If you have cash and you know you don’t want to use debt, you will find a way to save money. It is harder to spend cash. You actually spend 15-20% less with cash than with a credit card. There is a reason that companies give you rewards on credit cards. They know you will spend more with a card.

If something comes up, you can negotiate better with cash. We had to replace our HVAC system this year and saved several hundred dollars by offering cash. A lot of small businesses will give you a discount for using cash. It saves them fees from the credit card companies. They also don’t have to worry about credit card disputes.

It also gives you power by saying, “I only have this amount–take it or leave it”. Some places will try to pressure you to use debt because they get a kick back from the lender. However, stand your ground and push for the best deal for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a cash discount! Even at major retailers, some can and will negotiate.

You may be thinking, “That’s all great, but how do I save $1,000?”

Here are some tips for saving money quickly. Remember our, goal is to get $1,000 saved and pay off our debt as quickly as possible. I was able to pay off $45,000 in 17 months! I did this while working as a police officer. It is possible to be debt-free and do it fast.

Make a Budget

The first step in saving money quickly is to do a budget. I have even put together a step-by-step guide to help you do it. When you make a budget, you will feel like you got a raise!

Making a budget is the foundation for your finances. Everything starts with a budget. It will help keep you organized, save money, and spend less.

Cut Expenses

The next thing to do is see where you can cut expenses. Make a list of all your expenses and categorize them by needs and wants. Now really think about this.

Cable is not a need. Starbucks is not a need.

Food and clothing are needs (within reason.) Transportation costs are needs.

You can cut back things slowly so that you are successful. It’s hard to quit something completely all at once.

Call your providers, like cell phone and cable, and negotiate a different package or price. Call around and get new quotes for insurance.

Cancel things you don’t use, like subscriptions and gym memberships.

Cut back on eating out and start sticking to a food budget. When I did my first zero-based budget, I realized we were spending $1,200 a month on food and eating out. We were spending nearly $300 every time I went to the grocery store. I now meal plan and have groceries down to $600 for a family of 5. This includes household items and dog food.

Sell, Sell, Sell!

Start selling everything! You would be surprised at the stuff people will buy. You can even check out dumpsters in nice areas or free stuff on Craigslist to resell. You can literally get items for free and turn around and sell them without any effort.

Sell things you aren’t using. If you haven’t used, worn, or thought about something in 6 months, sell it.

We sold a ton of stuff when paying off our debt. I even sold my living room decor and lamps! It looked like we just moved in but I didn’t care. I wanted the debt gone and fast.

Focus on one thing at a time

When I saved my $1,000, I only focused on that. So, no paying extra on debt–I only paid the minimum payment.

You don’t want to stretch yourself too thin. You also want to do this quickly. If you have money going in a hundred different directions, it’s hard to gain traction.

You can also adjust your tax withholdings. Check out the IRS withholding calculator to see what you should adjust it to. I would check it a couple times a year just in case you need to make another adjustment.

What’s next?

Once you have your $1,000 emergency fund, you need to make a promise to yourself to no longer use debt. This is extremely important for your long-term wealth building.

The next step is paying off all your debt except the mortgage. The small emergency fund is only for getting you through paying off your debt as fast as you can. If you continue to use debt, you won’t be able to move forward in the process. You won’t be able to be debt-free.

Once you are consumer debt-free, then you build a 3-6 month emergency fund. The small emergency fund is just to get your through paying off debt.

In conclusion

A small $1000 emergency fund is the start to paying off debt and building wealth. It is possible to be debt-free; you just have to figure out how to get there as fast as possible. Emergencies will happen and the more prepared you are, the less of an emergency they will be.

There are few true emergencies in life. Most things are just unplanned events. Your car will get a flat tire. It will break down at some point. Your house will need to be maintained and things will have to be replaced.

The more you are prepared for these things the more they become an inconvenience instead of an emergency. Plus, if you have planned for them, the less stressed you will be.

When you are less stressed about it, you’re more likely to make a better decision, and you’ll have more time to shop around. When you are stressed, you are more likely to rush into a decision.

 

Things I’ve Bought Because of Social Media

These purchases have added value to my life, but my frugal self is torn because I wouldn't have ever made them without the influence of social media advertising.

I’m a fairly tight-fisted person when it comes to my money. It takes a lot for me to make a purchase, and a lot of times even when I do, I get serious buyer’s remorse and make a return. Even one of my passions–travelling—typically comes with steep discounts and cheapy tricks.

I’ve noticed, however, that even someone like me can be susceptible to algorithms and social media advertising. I’m not 100% sure that I hate that fact. As I reflect back on the purchases I’ve made because of social media, they’re all things I don’t regret buying. But the fact remains that I probably wouldn’t have purchased them without the social media exposure.

I bought it because I saw it on Pinterest.

The very first purchase I made because of social media happened a couple years ago, not too long after Lemonade came out. I was on Pinterest, and a paid ad popped up in my feed. I don’t even remember which site I purchased from, but it was one of those flash sale sites where the item was only going to be available for a couple of days.

This is what I saw (and ended up purchasing):

beyonce inspired tank lemonade

Yeah, I’m in my 30s and bought a graphic tank. I could lie to you and say it’s the only one I own, but I don’t want to deceive you guys.

I knew in that moment that I was falling victim to a few different sales techniques. First, Pinterest’s algorithm was obviously onto the fact that I’m into Beyonce. They probably also know I’m into reading as I belong to a group board for my Around the World in 80 Books challenge.

Also, by running a flash sale, the company forced me to violate my own wait-and-see-if-I-actually-want-it-or-if-I’m-just-getting-caught-up-in-the-moment rule. Well, they didn’t force me. But they did encourage me and I gave in.

The thing is, despite knowing I fell victim to these sales techniques, I have zero regrets about this purchase. It’s one of my favorite articles of clothing, and it’s gotten a lot of use. Per-wear pricing is down into the pennies now.

I bought it because I saw it on Instagram.

On Instagram, I’m apparently very prone to influencer marketing. I have a ton of stuff bookmarked because I want to buy it, but in this case I am following my wait-and-see rule.

But there is one influencer that has gotten me to purchase not once, but twice, over the past few months. Her name is Natalie Benci, and she works in local media here in Pittsburgh. She’s always off doing something awesome, and I’ve done a couple awesome things I only knew about because I follow her.

For example, she convinced me to pay extra for a special exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center:

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Thank you to @nataliebenci for bringing @nathansawaya ‘s exhibit at the @carnegiescictr to my attention! We had so much fun at #artofthebrick yesterday–extra loved the #pittsburgh three sisters tribute! . . We went for less by using our ACCESS card. Remember that if anyone in your family is disabled, a foster child, or receiving SNAP or other state benefits, they and up to four family members can get into tons of museums in the PGH area for crazy cheap. Honestly, the Science Center is the most expensive with ACCESS in my experience, especially with the added cost for this exhibit. But I’ll be posting more of our summer discount adventures soon! #disabled #disabledkids #fosterkids #fosterfamilies #welfare #pittstagram #daburgh #goldentriangle #familyoutings #adventureswithkids #savemoney #cheapfun #cityofchampions #yinz #cityofbridges #familyadventures #pgh #412 #pittsburghgram #instaburgh #northshore

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Honestly, me and my kids were making some summer rounds to each of the various museums in the area, anyways. But The Art of the Brick was an exhibit you had to pay extra to view (though, as I mention in the post, we did get a discount because of the ACCESS card.)

I might have balked if I had not seen Natalie’s endorsement and experience at the exhibit. Paying extra is something I rarely do at the Science Center.

But it was so worth it. For me and the kids.

Then, there was the time she posted this, and I subsequently became obsessed with GRAMs Pittsburgh:

 

Most of my jewelry looks like it could come from someplace like GRAMs, so I immediately started following them on Instagram, too.

When a birthday rolled around, they had been in my feed enough that I knew they had something that would make a perfect gift. So I went into the store in person and purchased it. I dorkily mentioned I followed them on Instagram, and they surprised me with a social media discount!

I don’t regret spending money on either of these purchases AT ALL, but again, they’re both things I likely wouldn’t have purchased without the influence of social media.

I bought it because I saw it on Twitter.

For my birthday, I got a gift card to Sephora. It was my first time shopping there, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they carry foundations that are the same price as the stuff I usually buy.

While I was in there, I remembered this tweet:

 

Because I’m so cheap with my makeup, my eyeliner is always smudging or fading or whatever. I asked if the girl at Sephora if they carried this on a whim, and they did. She grabbed it for me. It was $20–a little more than double what I usually spend on my eyeliner.

But guys. I accidentally fell asleep in it last night and it hasn’t smudged even a little. It’s way easier to apply than the stuff I usually buy, and at this point, I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

But there’s no way in hell I would have ever spent $20 on eyeliner without being exposed to this viral tweet.

Torn

Then there are the times I’ve bought something because I’ve seen it on a blog. That’s a different realm of social media as far as I’m concerned, and most of the bloggers I follow I now know well enough personally that it’s just not the same as being prompted to purchase from a random social media post.

I’m really torn on how I feel about this. On one hand, I don’t regret any of my purchases even one iota. Which is weird for a hyper-financially-conscious woman who almost always gets buyer’s remorse. These have been good purchases if I’m measuring by the amount of emotional distress vs enjoyment they’ve brought me.

But at the same time, I’ve spent money on things I wouldn’t have without the susceptibility social media brings. In the early 2000s, no like medium would have existed to convince me to make these purchases.

The question is this: even though I am happy with the purchases, I’m spending money because I’m being advertised to. Does that expose a weakness in my financial discipline, or is social media doing me a service by exposing me to products and experiences that add value to my life?

I want to hear your thoughts on this one. Because as I sit here, I’m still undecided.

How Living Frugally Can Alter Your Mindset

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

The benefits of living frugally are numerous. So glad I checked out this list.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they need to knuckle down and take the rocky path to financial success. Whether paying off debts or saving for a dream holiday, living frugally is a means to an end that can often be an unavoidable aspect of managing finances. We’ve all been there, hankering after a new car or simply just the feeling of being free from the shackles of monthly repayments. After all, who doesn’t want peace of mind when it comes to their finances?

Although it sounds easy enough, living frugally can be hard work. It is often tricky to stick to the plan when temptation kicks in or a bad day gets the better of good judgement. But, while frugal living is often a difficult way to achieve goals, there are plenty of painless money-saving tips for everyday life to get started. Once you’ve started with these smaller actions, you might start to feel a shift in the way that you think.

It’s the little things

When you start to pay attention to where each penny goes, a wonderful knock-on effect happens. You will start to notice things that you might have dismissed or overlooked previously. This is because practicing mindfulness with your money will inevitably lead to a more mindful approach in the rest of your life. If you are currently on a frugal financial plan, think about the deliberate actions you take with each penny and use that considered and deliberate approach with other aspects of day to day life, such as walking the dog or hanging the washing out.

Ready for action

Another great aspect of being careful with money is that it encourages a sense of being proactive and in control. This is incredibly empowering, particularly if you have been feeling out of control with your finances and letting them get the better of you. Spiraling debt repayments and escalating charges can have a negative effect on anyone’s mindset, so taking control of this and turning it into a positive outcome is a great way to correct your mindset.

live frugally

It will be worth it in the end.

Patience, patience

The thing about paying off your debts, or saving for the future, is that it doesn’t happen overnight. Sure, you could wish that you won the jackpot and all of your problems would be solved in one go, but life often doesn’t work like that. Living frugally teaches you to have patience and determination, even in those times when you would rather hide under the bedcovers.

Letting go

By making certain changes you can work towards a better lifestyle and bigger long-term goals. To do this its key to let go of unhelpful thinking patterns. This could be negative spending habits or irrational misconceptions and superstitions about money. Believe it or not, plenty of people think that eating lentils on New Year’s Eve will bring wealth, while others believe that you should always pay off your debts when the sun shines. If you have any unusual superstitions about money, now is the time to let them go. Think of it as a fresh start for your mind and your wallet.

Rational thinking

Finally, living frugally offers the chance to practice rational thinking, which many of us could use! Those times when you see something, and you simply must have it? Everyone gets them– it’s about making the distinction between whether you need it or want it. Understanding the difference between the two leads to rational thought processes which are super useful, not just when it comes to money. Having control over impulses and emotions is a great life skill that will benefit you in all aspects of your life, so make sure you really analyze your motives each time you find yourself impulsively buying something. Do you need it? Or do you just want it?

Remember, it’s not forever. And by the end of it, you will have a huge sense of achievement as well as plenty of new life skills!

 

The Hidden Costs of Owning a Home

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

Hmmm..maybe I should save up some more money before taking the plunge into homeownership...

It’s no secret that buying a house is expensive. There’s a great deal of financial responsibility that falls on the buyer including a down payment, home inspection, insurance, appraisals, closing costs and other miscellaneous fees. Even if you’ve managed to budget for and can afford all of the above, it pales in comparison to the financial responsibility you’ll have as a property owner. Here are some of the costs of owning a home most people don’t think about until after they’ve moved in:

Utilities

To live in a modern society you need the bare necessities which include clean water, heat, and energy. These services cannot be avoided and will cost you a few hundred dollars each month.

Plumbing

Your plumbing system is responsible for transporting clean water into your home and removing waste. Periodically, you’ll need to have your pipes inspected or replaced, your septic tank flushed, or other parts of your plumbing serviced to ensure it continues to work efficiently. There will also come a time when you having plumbing emergencies. A burst pipe or serious clog will have to be fixed by a plumber.

Electrical

Households have become increasingly dependent upon energy to power electronic devices. Your electrical system needs to be maintained and kept up to code. Electricians may need to be called to deal with power outages, shortages, damaged wires, outdated systems, electrical installations, and more. They can also be useful for energy audits to help sustain the efficiency of your home.

Pest Control

No matter where you live, pests find a way to enter the home. You may be able to take care of the occasional ant or spider, but if you’re dealing with mice, roaches, bed bugs, or other difficult pests, you need to hire a professional. And every region is different– a company offering pest control in San Diego will provide different services than an exterminator in Miami.

HVAC

Living in a home that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer is ideal for everyone. This means maintaining your HVAC system. You’ll need to have vents cleaned, filters changed, hoses replaced, and other minor tasks done to your heater, furnace, and air conditioner to keep them running efficiently. After several years you’ll also need to cover the cost of major repairs and appliance replacements.

Roofing

Here’s a home maintenance job that a lot of homeowners forget until they’re dealing with a major disaster – the roof. Your roof is supposed to last several decades, however, it can only be done with regular maintenance. Roofers need to be hired periodically to clean the gutters, inspect the roof, repair damage, and replace missing materials. This all helps to prevent leaks, mold, water damage, and structural damage to the house.

Appliance Repair

The things in your home may work efficiently now, but they require maintenance and eventually, will need to be repaired. From your refrigerator and stove to your washer and dryer, you’ll need to hire repair experts to maintain the appliances you use most often around the house.

How to Cover it All

As you can see, there’s a lot more to owning a home than the initial purchasing costs. You’ll also be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the property and systems within. Failure to do so could result in the deterioration of your home and significant health issues for you and those who live with you. So, how does one cover all of these expenses? Here are a few suggestions:

Buy what you can afford – Before signing on the dotted line, get an average of how much these expenses will cost you over the course of a year. If it is more than 30% of your annual income, chances are you can’t afford the home.

Keep up with maintenance – Though maintenance services are still going to dip into your household budget, they’re a lot less expensive than paying for emergencies or repairs. Try to find contractors who offer annual contracts for additional savings, or consider learning how to do some of the maintenance jobs on your own.

Create a budget – Now that you’re a homeowner, managing your finances is imperative. If you don’t have one already, create a household budget. It can help you stay on top of your finances so that you have additional funds to set aside for household maintenance and repairs.

Rainy day fund – It is recommended that you have a savings account that has between $1,000 and 3 months worth of expenses in it. This can save you in the event that there is a household emergency you can’t afford.

Becoming a homeowner is rewarding, but it is not without its fair share of responsibilities. You are financially responsible for making sure the home remains safe, efficient, and comfortable for you and all who reside with you. This means covering the costs listed above. Before signing on that dotted line to accept such a significant role, be sure that you’ve prepared yourself for these costs so that your biggest purchasing decision doesn’t become your biggest financial mistake.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

This book is so needed! Excited to be one of the first to get my hands on The Feminist Financial Handbook. Fighting the patriarchy and kyriarchy while building my wealth.

I’ve mentioned in passing that I’m writing a book.

Well, I can now say that I’ve written a book.

That’s right, guys. It’s getting real up in here.

Now that the manuscript is done, I wanted to tell you guys a little bit more about the project, what it entailed and what comes next.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

Even before I was blogging about money, I was interested in personal finances. I’d read book after book on how to make my money better. There were some crazy great hacks. Like opening CDs before the Recession. Or investing your money starting young so you could take full advantage of the power of compound interest.

And I was all, “I can’t wait until I can do this stuff!”

I wrote out goals and future budgets, but something was missing. That missing thing was an income which met more than just my baic needs so I could do things like save and invest. I was great at money management; I just didn’t have enough green to do all the responsible things I wanted to do.

I now recognize that there were some systemic road blocks in my way at that point in my life. I also recognize that there are women out there who face far larger and more frequent road blocks than myself.

And that’s the piece of financial advice that seems to always be missing: When you’re motivated, disciplined and hard-working,  yet you can’t seem to get around these massive obstacles, what do you do next?

That’s what The Feminist Financial Handbook is about. It’s about recognizing oppression and its  effects on our day-to-day personal economies. Without minimizing these struggles, it looks at ways you may be able to get a leg up so you can do all those fun things like watch your wealth explode over a period of 30-40 working years through diligent investing.

It’s about being real about the real-life situations so many of us struggle with every single day, and finding ways to take action despite them.

Defining Wealth

The first part of the book looks at how we define wealth. Does money actually  make us happier? I don’t want to spoil too much, but the answer is sometimes.

In this part of the book, we also take a deep dive into the things that actually can make us feel more content, and counting them holistically in our personal wealth equations. Because while money scarcity is no good, a relentless pursuit of cash isn’t healthy, either.

Earn More

It’s no secret that women tend to earn less than men. The gender wage gap is real. But I tend to think the commonly cited reasons behind it are sexist and fictitious. Some of these arguments include:

  • Women gravitate towards lower-paying fields.
  • Women don’t negotiate.
  • Women carry babies in their wombs.

These are all poor justifications for paying women less, and some are straight up untrue. in the book, we tackle each one of them.

Gender is not the only reason for lower pay, though. Whether you’re a single mother, disabled, a woman of color, transgender, gay, or bi, society is going to punish you economically. It’s not right. But there are some workarounds for financial success, even within a system that would have you believe you’re worth less.

You’re not worth less, by the way. And this whole section of the book outlines why that is and what we can collectively and individually do about it.

Save More

Not only is there a wage gap, but there is also a gender-centric investing gap. This gap starts young, and can result in poverty in old age. We take a look at some of the basics of financial planning and how to become more aware of any internalized sexism that may be affecting your investing decisions.

We also look at how you or your child can go to college for free–or sometimes even get paid to go back to school. I promise this is real. These strategies have worked for me in real life, and are backed by a professional in the higher education industry.

And, of course, we look at budgeting. Not just budgeting, but judgement-free budgeting. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to spend the money you earn, or that you can’t stash it all away in pursuit of financial independence. But to do either one of these things, you’re going to need a budget.

When One Thing Affects Everything

Ladies, we put up with some intense experiences in our lives. Because of the normalization of sexism and other -isms, we suffer much higher rates of mental illness and domestic violence. Both of these areas have real, long-term affects not just on our mental health, but on our finances.

We also tend to make less money than our male counterparts when a child is diagnosed with an illness or is pronounced differently abled. And that’s on top of the gender pay gap.

This final section of the book looks at all of these things, offering up solutions for living a wealthy life in spite of the effects oppression can take on our bodies, minds and finances.

Pre-Order The Feminist Financial Handbook

Believe it or not, these are just some of the topics covered in the book. The pages take a deep dive into so many issues–issues not typically discussed in the personal finance sphere. Because they’re hard issues to tackle, and there aren’t always easy solutions.

But at the heart of the matter is hope. Hope that we can fight the system to build a successful career for ourselves as women in business or a fat e-fund as homemakers. Hope that you can build a wealthy life even when the system would stunt your cash flow. It affirms that you are worth it and capable no matter what society tells you, because there is no “right” way to be a successful woman with motivation.

Now that we’re getting ready to launch, you can pre-order today from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

I’d be so grateful if you could hop on board and join the waitlist so you can be one of the first to get your hands on a copy!

I can’t wait to hear what you think. It’s been a huge effort to produce, and I hope it opens up a lot of conversation about what we can do to make the economic plight of women better, whether we’re talking about society as a whole or ourselves as individual females.

This book was very much a collaborative effort. Because I cannot speak with experience to all the different issues women face, it largely features the experiences of others. These are the amazing women who gave so much of their time and heart to the effort: