Category Archives: Money Management

Spend Less Time Budgeting with Toshl (In Canada, Too!)

This post is in collaboration with Toshl Finance. All content has been generated by Femme Frugality, and opinions are 100% honest and my own.

So true! I feel like social media has taken over my life, but I love using Toshl as my budgeting app.

A few years ago, I was at a conference for mothers. One of the speakers was the founder of a very large and very successful realty firm started here in Pittsburgh. This lady was bad-a, rocking the working mom gig back in the 70’s before it was cool.

Her words were inspiring, but also surprising. At a certain point in her talk, she told us how she did not envy us; how everything was a lot easier when she was going through what we were experiencing now.

How could this be in an age where women are more empowered today than they ever have been in US history?

As it turns out, she wasn’t talking about the difficulties of being a woman in business. She was talking about the difficulties of being a woman–specifically a mother–in the age of the internet.

I wasn’t sure what to think initially. Yes, we now have Instagram and email. But why did she think these things make life harder?

As she delved further into her talk, she explained that today, we have no time. Especially the mothers among us. We still carry the bulk of household responsibilities at home. Many of us work outside the home. And then there’s all this internet nonsense on top of it.

If you’re unlucky, your boss may expect you to be checking your inbox all weekend. While my mom sent out pictures of us once per year except on rare occasions to very close family members as was normal in the days of Windows 95, I get guilt tripped if I’m not emailing or uploading one of the thousands of pictures of my kids the day after I take them.

We connect with friends on apps rather than picking up the dang phone, and I can’t tell you the last time I was actually bored. There’s always so much to do, and I can and therefore feel obligated to do it from the convenience of my handheld computer–which is with me at almost all hours.

Oh, and on top of all of this, you’re supposed to manage your money well. Hit all the due dates. Don’t overspend. Always know how much is in your bank account. Optimize, optimize, optimize.

It’s overwhelming for a lot of us. And a lot of personal finance blogs and apps will teach you how to do a total overhaul all at once. It’s a time-consuming process, and we all know that time is something we have in short commodity.

It’s not just time-consuming; it’s also emotionally draining. To do a complete 180 on your finances overnight means killing bad habits. Learning new ones. And staying on top of it all in perpetuity.

If that sounds unrealistic to you, I have good news which I present with a spoonful of irony: there’s an app for that!

Toshl Encourages Better Money Habits Gradually

toshl finance

These adorable monsters guide you through the budgeting process!

Toshl is a budgeting app. At first glance, it may not seem as robust as similar apps on the market, but don’t let that fool you. While some apps try to give you a money makeover in 24 hours, Toshl’s developers realized that changing your habits can be daunting and take some serious time.

That’s why they ease users into the process. If you’re a first-time budgeter, you’ll be able to start out just by building a budget. Once you get more comfortable with that, you’ll be able to track your spending by category. Got that down pat? Now try focusing on the categories where you routinely spend more than you should be, shaving your spending down so you can have a healthier financial life.

Because everyone’s needs and styles are different, Toshl offers three different plans:

Toshl Free

toshl monsters

 

The free plan contains the basics. You’ll manually enter your income and spending as you track up to two financial accounts via up to two budgets. (The ability to use multiple budgets makes this app great for couples who have separate finances or families.)

You’ll be able to export your data as a .CSV file.

Toshl Pro

With Toshl Pro, you’ll still be manually inputting your money data, but you’ll be able to set it up for unlimited financial accounts and establish unlimited budgets. You’ll also be able to export as not only .CSV, but also PDFs, Excel files, Google Drive files and Evernote.

On top of that, Toshl will start giving you graphs to help you plan your future spending, remind you about upcoming bills and payments, allow you to enter certain expenses as recurring, and let you upload pictures of your receipts.

Toshl Pro is $1.67/month.

Toshl Medici–Now in Canada!

toshl budgeting app medici

Toshl Medici is the top tier plan. It includes everything Pro gives you, but it will also sync with your bank and credit card accounts so you don’t have to mess with the manual entry anymore. Super convenient–and only $4.33CAD/month or $3.33USD/month.

This plan has been available in the US, but I have great news for all you Canadian readers–it’s now available in Canada, too!

That’s right–you can now sync accounts from Canadian financial institutions, making your life less of a panic attack as you lay awake at night wondering if you actually logged all of those little purchases you made throughout the day.

Visualizing Your Money

Some of us are good with numbers. Others words. And yet others are visual learners.

That’s why these apps come with charts; they allow you to see where your money is going rather than giving you a list of digits.

The monthly overview chart gives you a big picture view of your money habits:

The river flow chart is super helpful, too. If you need another way to visualize how you’re doing on your budgeting goals, this option can definitely help:

 

While working on cutting back your spending, you can look at expenses charts, which will even allow you to group several line items together. For example, child #3 might be costing you money in diapers, daycare expenses and supplemental formula.

budgeting expenses

Open Up Space in Your Schedule

I’m a big fan of Toshl’s Medici option. It automatically tracks your spending and savings, notifies you of due dates, and helps you plan future spending with ease. When the app does the work, that frees up a good chunk of time in your schedule.

Just be sure you don’t spend all that extra time on Twitter scrolling through all the bad news du jour.

Use it to do something useful–like being bored.

Cash, Cards & Money in Japan

So glad I read this before I travel to Japan! Otherwise I wouldn't have brought enough cash--and then would have had trouble getting money out of an ATM!

True story: I hardly ever use cash. Living here in the US, I use cards for virtually every transaction I make. I rarely run into cash, and when I do, it’s a pain in the butt to get deposited into my bank account.

We were going on this big trip to this super modern, super tech-y country: Japan. Before we left, I did exchange some dollars for yen. I wanted to dodge the poor conversion rates you usually find at the airports and have enough for the entire trip. I just assumed I’d be able to use my card pretty much everywhere, but I also knew it wasn’t the best idea to be in a foreign country with zero dollars in my pocket.

I was in for a surprise, though. Less than a week into our trip, my money was gone. We had to spend it at restaurants, at a hair place for my sibling, and overall just on little things at businesses that only took cash.

For example, in Kyoto we ate at several restaurants that were cash only. Sometimes they were the only thing open, too, when we grabbed dinner later in the evening!

Fun Fact: We found food to be the same price in Japan as it is in our home city of Pittsburgh. And, yes, the portion sizes were just as generous! The food was usually a lot healthier, too.

Delicious ramen and gyoza in Kyoto Japan

I also bought an umbrella at a store front across the canal from us; they also only took cash. Because I didn’t know exactly where would and wouldn’t take my plastic, I burned through the paper money relatively quickly. It was spending I was planning on anyways–I just didn’t expect to use cash as my medium of payment quite so often.

Finding an ATM in Japan That Will Actually Work

When I first had to hit up an ATM, I went to one run by Japan Bank. Supposedly these are compatible with US-issued cards.

That was not the case for me. And I had my friends interpreting for me through the process, so I know it wasn’t a language gap.

Eventually, we discovered that while my card didn’t work at the Japan Bank ATM in the grocery store, it did work at the same ATMs at the post office and 7-11. These were both quite prolific in the parts of Japan we went to.

If you’re at a bigger train station, that’s usually a good place to find both a post office and 7-11, though they were spread throughout the cities, too. You might just have to google where they are if you’re in a more rural area, as there wasn’t the same build-up of businesses around the rural train stations we visited.

You don’t have to tip in Japan.

money fro around the world

Money from around the world at my favorite restaurant we ate at while in Japan–they just happen to serve Mediterranean fare.

My friend’s family cooked us delicious meals and took us out a few times, too. But mostly we ate at restaurants while we were away. It felt really weird not tipping the first time we ate out, but you’re not supposed to in Japan. Apparently they actually pay their waitstaff a living wage.

Go figure.

Converting to Dollars is Easy

The following was true for me on my trip, but you’ll always want to check current conversion rates before you embark on your own journey.

When I went, though, the rule of thumb was to move the decimal point two places to the left to get an approximate conversion rate. So something that is 10,000 yen is about $100USD. Something that’s 2,000 yen is about $20.

The dollar was doing pretty well when we hopped on the plane to cross the Pacific, so we knew that every purchase would be slightly less expensive than what we had calculated using our ridiculously simple conversion formula above.

Remember the Cash

Japanese money

Ultimately, the biggest money lesson I learned while in Japan was the first one we covered: bring cash, and don’t walk by a post office or 7-11 with empty pockets without stepping in to use the ATM. Even in a place which had bathrooms so tech-y they blew my mind, paper money was still widely used and sometimes even required–even in urban settings.

When I Get Spendy

Totally needed this read. When something aligns with your values but not your budget, it's so hard to stop yourself from spending money!

One of the first steps in a positive financial journey is identifying the things that are important to you; the things you’re willing to spend money on, and the things you’re willing to sacrifice other creature comforts for.

It’s really easy to get high and mighty about our priorities. We judge others when their financial “must haves” are different than our own–when their lifestyle choices differ from the ones that would bring us joy.

Let’s cut that out.

But let’s also recognize those moments of inner conflict. Those moments when temptation can beguile us into spending money against our own values or self-interest. These are the moments when we can become fiscally irresponsible, or compromise our own belief systems in order to save a buck.

As a frugal person who also has incredibly strong convictions, I’ve seen both sides of this coin. While I typically have no trouble sacrificing in the name of financial stability, I definitely have moments of conflict. In an effort to showcase my imperfections–and hopefully help you get introspective about your own–I thought I’d talk a little bit about those challenges today.

When Spending Money on What I Value is Bad

I’m a sucker for great art. The kind of art that speaks to the soul rather than realism. It doesn’t have to be by famous artists as we all have the capability to tap into the stream of human consciousness regardless of name recognition, and I don’t mind paying a little extra to support someone who has created something that moves my soul.

The problem?

Art isn’t a necessity. At least not for me.

I might really like the visual presentation of a piece, or the melodic or disharmonious chords that somehow wedge their way into my heart, but purchasing these items is a luxury.

I tend to forget that when I’m feeling depressed, though. When we get depressed, we tend to look inwards a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; that journey inwards can help us identify what is wrong in our lives and how we can fix it.

But for me, that also means the connection I make to others’ works seems more powerful during these periods. The connection takes over my rational thinking–and my pocketbook.

Most of the time I’m able to stop myself from going on a spending spree, but there have been a couple times in my life where I paid more than I had budgeted for “extra stuff” because I needed that piece that spoke to me.

What I’m getting out of art in those moments is connection to an artist who was thinking deeply–or at least inspired me to think deeply. Rather than spend over $100 on something I can’t afford, a better way to get this need met is to seek out the people in my life who I know I can have those deep conversations with. That’s difficult to do when you’re feeling low, but it’s also a much healthier way of coping than making a purchase.

When I Have Zero Regrets Blowing Cash

I have itchy feet. I was a military brat, and at a young age became accustomed to relocating every few years. Every time I moved I learned a new vernacular, cultural norms (yes, even on moves within the US,) and discovered a new part of myself.

I love that feeling. It’s a type of fresh independence that reminds me how very little I know and how very much I can change.

I don’t move as often as I did when I was a kid, but that feeling of being on a road destined for discovery has never left me. Hence, travel has become an important part of my life. I need to change the scenery. Get outside the day-to-day. Learn something new from people I would have never met had I stayed in my own little bubble.

Travel is expensive, though. Or it least it can be. I’ve found a ton of ways to cut back on the costs via travel hacking, utilizing services like Airbnb and not being above hitting the road even when a flight would be so much cheaper. These habits definitely help me sate my wanderlust on a more frequent basis.

But sometimes, travel is just expensive. The hotel I reserved in Tulum was crazy pricey, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing where I traded luxury and a feeling of security for cold, hard cash. About ten years ago I flew across the continent, then across the Atlantic to Germany to visit one of my dearest friends. Those tickets were crazy expensive. But spending time with him at that juncture in our lives was something that was worth every penny. (Chilling in Bavaria was an added treat.)

Even when my travels aren’t super frugal, taking a trip is something I never regret. I learn things about myself and the world, and those memories and lessons stay with me for a lifetime.

When Ethics Are Worth the Spend

Last year, I switched to clean energy. Our state allows us to pick our energy provider, and I picked the most ethical one in my area that uses Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to power my rental with solar and wind energy.

It’s about two cents per kilowatt hour more expensive that getting the generic energy. But I want my kids to have a habitable planet when they grow up, so I put my money where my mouth is. This is absolutely impacted by the fact that I can swing an extra $20/month; these alternative energy options aren’t available to those on programs which help low-income individuals like CAP, and in my humble opinion, that’s beyond whack.

I recently moved and made sure they were my provider of choice immediately.

When Temptation Attacks Your Values

Then, there are times when my values are at odds. When I moved into this new place, I received an offer to switch who generates my gas bill. My green provider is only for electricity at this point.

They were offering me a decent airline mile bonus to make the switch, plus I would be getting extra miles for each dollar I spent on my bill every month. Besides that, the rate was two cents lower than what I’m paying now. The frugal travelista in me was all, “Hell, yes.”

Then I saw that the energy they provided was from natural gas–a product of fracking in my area. Fracking has messed up water cleanliness in parts of Western Pennsylvania, and has causing unnatural earthquakes in places like Kansas in recent years. It’s a really terrible way to desperately go after diminishing resources, and something I’ve signed petitions and advocated to my lawmakers to make stop.

Those airline miles, though…

They were tempting, and I almost got to a place where I was rationalizing that I as one customer didn’t make a huge difference.

But I stopped myself. If I wanted to travel so badly that I was willing to do further damage to the planet beyond gasoline or jet fuel, what kind of example would I be setting for my children? That we should try to do better only when it’s fiscally advantageous?

I’m missing those airline miles, but I know not giving into temptation is the right thing to do.

Last year I met up with my mom’s cousin on one of my sojourns. We were talking about my grandfather–specifically what his travels looked like. If you brought up a kink in the plan related to money, he’d always say, “We’ll find a way to make it work.”

And he did. He was very financially responsible, and he found ways to afford the things that were important to him, like travel and time with family. I know I can do it, too. I’ll absolutely still find a way to make travel work, and I’ll do it in a way that doesn’t involve fracking miles.

Full disclosure: I’m sitting on a fair amount of miles right now, anyways. I always like having more than I need, but I don’t want to get all holier than thou without giving you the full story. 😉

 

 

What are your values, priorities and temptations—and how do you manage them within the constraints of your budget?

 

Protect the Way You Access Online Finances

This post is in collaboration with Mention Me.

I had never even heard of Blackphones or VPNs. I'm wondering how else I can protect my online banking practices now...

A few months ago, I got an alert on my phone. It was from Google, who is the one data giant I have probably interacted the most with over the years.

It was a notification that my credit card bill was going to be due in a couple days. Not just that it would be due–but how much.

I wanted to throw up. How the heck did Google know how much I owed on my credit card? I hadn’t given them permission to access my account, save my password, or anything of the like.

Obviously…

My email is associated with Gmail. So is the OS on my phone. While I don’t do much with my credit cards on my phone, I do set up those accounts using my Gmail address.

So Google pretty much knows everything about me. I’m willing to bet they know a lot about you, too.

There are obviously other data giants out there who have gone a step further and proven themselves irresponsible with our data–resulting in testifying in front of our government. Yes, Facebook.

And I’m not sure how to solve our privacy problem now that the internet is such an integral part of our lives.

But I do know there are a couple of ways we can keep our finances a little more locked up.

Use a VPN

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. By using a VPN, you get a lot of different privacy benefits. You connection is more secure, prevent tracking and keep your location invisible. VPNs do cost money, but depending on how much you value your privacy, they can be worth it. Just be sure to do a ton of research on the company first, as there are some shady ones out there.

Get a Blackphone

My phone freaks me out more than anything. It knows what I look at when I’m bored (sneezing baby pandas,) it knows where I am at all times, and I have so many apps on it. I actually try not to do much banking via my phone save for some budgeting and other auxiliary financial apps because it creeps me out that much.

But there is a solution to that, too:

Get a Blackphone.

Blackphones are the most secure phones on the market, ensuring your data isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to. They’re a little expensive, but aren’t priced too much differently than the latest iPhone.

Watch Your Browser

I prefer to use Firefox as my browser as they have a pretty solid history of respecting and sometimes even promoting privacy. If you want to be extra careful, use one of their incognito tabs.

If anyone knows of any even more secure options I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Get an email address with a domain that doesn’t sell your data.

On this one, I’m at a loss. I’d love to have a personal email address with a domain I can trust to never actually look at my emails and scan how much debt I’m carrying on that one card, but I don’t know if that exists.

Suggestions?

Support Autistic Artists

Wow, there's some great artists on this list--a lot of them working for Autism Acceptance! Headed to Etsy...

I’m getting ready to move in the very near future here. It’s the first time in my life that I’ll have complete control over how my place is decorated, and I’m pretty psyched about that part.

In my mind’s eye, I can already see a couple blank spaces on the wall that I want to fill. While I’m not sure I will, because budget–that didn’t stop me from engaging in my guilty pleasure: browsing Etsy.

Because it’s Autism Acceptance Month, I decided to check out autistic artists on the platform. Last year I got a pair of earrings that really spoke to me (words I never thought I’d say) from an autistic artist who communicates primarily through visuals. As April snuck up again this year, I realized I should be doing this more than one month out of the year.

Here are some of the artists I’ve found, and pieces of their work that I love.

CultureCrime

college money autism

CultureCrime is an Etsy shop run by Tiegan Hockman. After taking a break from her artistic talents for over ten years, inspiration finally struck again and she now has her art–which features various female subjects–in galleries and available via her Etsy shop. You can also check out her full website.

The one pictured above is called Our Lady of Student Debt. Which I figured was very apropos for this audience. 🙂

WhiteRabbitFlowers

black and white abstract art

WhiteRabbitFlowers’ Etsy shop aims to promote autism acceptance–not the desire to change people with autism, but the desire to accept autistic people for who they are, and recognize the great benefits our society gains from neurodiversity.

She has a lot of colorful paintings, but I’m drawn to this black and white. Her shop also has beautiful dream catchers, floral crowns and lip balms.

CadenceInspirations

autistic art

Cadence is a 9-year-old Australian girl who has produced a fair amount of art and writing for her age. Some of her work has focused on autism and spreading acceptance. I love this painting from her Etsy shop, but you can view even more of her work on her website.

HeAndSheSullivanSarah Neat Sullivan

Gah, I had such a hard time picking just one from this shop! Sarah Neat-Sullivan has a lot of work up on Etsy. Some of it’s related to autism. Some of it isn’t. She has jewelry, paintings, and art made from felt or stitching. It’s all pretty amazing, but the one I chose to show you is called On the Tip of My Tongue.

Those Blank Spaces

My budget may restrict me from filling those blank spaces right now, but when that’s no longer the case, I’m excited to turn to one of these artists to fill the void. In recent years I’ve moved from the mindset of simply spending the least amount of money possible to holding off on the purchase if possible (it’s not, always) until I am able to make a purchase that supports people or companies doing good things.

How about you? Would you rush out for that $10 poster at the mall?

Oh, god, how old am I?

Would you open up the Amazon app and get the $10 poster delivered to your door tomorrow because you pay extra for the speedy service so you won’t have to leave your house?

Or would you save up for meaningful art, letting the void just sit till your budget’s ready–forget aesthetics?