Category Archives: budgets

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 3

AprilChallenge

I just finished week 3 of my April Challenge. It’s getting harder! I’m hungry… like all the freaking time! I can tell you now, this week (April 20th – April 26th) is my last week. It will mark 4 weeks. I was originally thinking of extending it to 5 weeks since April 30th ends on a Wednesday. However, with my first triathlon on May 3rd, I would like to be properly fueled.

Week 3 groceries from Trader Joe's
Week 3 groceries from Trader Joe’s

This week’s grocery haul from Trader Joe’s:

  • TJ Double Crème French Brie – $3.91
  • 2 cartons of Organic Plain Yogurt – $5.98
  • TJ Gluten-Free Granola – $3.49
  • Demi Baguette – $1.19
  • Frozen Berry Medley – $2.99
  • Canned Chicken – $2.99
  • TJ’s Spring Mixed Greens – $1.99
  • Baby Spinach – $1.99
  • Avocado – $1.39
  • 3 Organic Granny Smith Apples – $2.67
  • Brown Rice Tortillas – $3.49
The evidence (minus my missing Hannaford receipt)
The evidence (minus my missing Hannaford receipt)

The total rang up as $32.08. I also spent an additional $8.37 at Hannafords. I can’t find the receipt and honestly, I have no clue what I bought. Wednesday I had to buy lunch due to a work meeting in Augusta. I had an Asian chicken salad from the cafeteria and chips for a total of $5.18. Tuesday we had a work lunch meeting. My boss bought us Portland House of Pizza. I do not like PHOPs pizza, but I was so hungry that I ate several pieces! I’m surprised that I didn’t bite someone’s hand off either. I spent a grand total of $45.63 (including my work lunch) on food during week three of my living on SNAP challenge.

I’m quickly losing steam during this challenge. I’m hungry. Living on an extreme food budget and being a very active athlete does not mix well. You’re hungry all the time! Certainly I could eat pasta and bread none stop, but I’m not a huge fan of a lot of carbs (with the exception of vegetables, fruits, and legumes) in my diet. Adequate protein is tough to consume on a regular basis living on SNAP. For my active lifestyle and my current body weight, I should be consuming about 105g of protein a day (based on 0.8 grams per pound of body weight). I’m lucky if I’m currently eating half that! My main protein staples have been beans, yogurt, canned chicken, and peanut butter.

A sample of week 3 lunches
A sample of week 3 lunches

Fruits and vegetables have been limited as well. This week I did spend more on greens to get into my diet. I miss big salads at lunch, but fresh vegetables are expensive. When you can only spend $37.90 on a food a week, you have to be creative and pick the biggest bang for your buck, especially if you want to feel full after a meal.

Next week I’ll summarize my last week of my April Challenge and expand more on my findings and feelings about eating on the cheap.

 

In case you missed the previous weekly recaps:

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week One

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week Two

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 2

AprilChallenge

My second week living on $37.90 a week for food was a  bit harder due to the fact our refrigerator died mid-week. I keep a lot of my lunch food at work so I don’t have to pack a lunch each morning. It’s convenient for me, but I’m sure I annoy some of my coworkers by taking up prime real estate in the fridge at work. However, I have a lot of frozen food and then all my eggs, yogurt, greens, etc. in my fridge at home.

The broken fridge...
The broken fridge…

My father rushed all the frozen stuff and the eggs and dairy products to his girlfriend’s house for two days. The remaining fridge items spent two days in a cooler in ice outside on our deck. I was content with breakfast and lunch items at work, but dinner was a little harder to plan and cook due to the fact a lot of my food was not in the house. I tried to get creative though.

I spent a total of $41.32 for the week in food. I was $3.42 over budget. Womp, womp, womp…

I ate dinner Wednesday at my Junior League meeting. I had Italian sandwiches for the first time in years and I actually don’t really like them. I think I was just super hungry from my strength training workout prior to my meeting. On Friday we had a team meeting at work and I ate an entire small Mashed Potato pizza from Otto’s. #sorrynotsorry My excuse – I just ran 3+ miles before lunch….

The evidence
The evidence

Here’s the breakdown:

Trader Joe’s

  • 3 Kiwis – $1.47
  • Organic plain whole milk yogurt – $2.99
  • Green Kale – $2.29
  • 2 Green apples – $1.38
  • Frozen mixed berries – $2.99
  • 1 Red onion – $0.89
  • Coconut milk unsweetened – $1.99
  • Sweet relish – $1.99
  • 1 Avocado – $1.39
  • Bag of organic whole carrots – $0.89
  • 1 Dozen cage-free eggs – $2.99
  • Brown rice tortillas – $3.49

Hannaford

  • 2 Muffins – $1.78
  • Hot cocoa mix – $1.79
  • Sandwich baggies – $1.99** non-grocery item
  • Romaine hearts – $2.79
  • Frozen red raspberries – $2.99
  • Potato chowder soup – $3.49
  • marshmallow peeps – $1.39

Damn you marshmallow peeps! Peeps are my guilty pleasure and I only eat them around Easter. I tried to be strong, but their little chocolate eyes just stared me down and begged me to buy them (and then eat them)! If you remove the sandwich baggies, I spent a total of $39.33 on food for the week. I purchased the soup Thursday night for dinner since our fridge was dead and almost all my food was either at work or at my father’s girlfriend’s house.

A collection of lunches for the week
A collection of lunches for the week

My lunches and dinners consisted mostly of my poor man’s “Chipotle” bowl and soup. Breakfasts consisted of yogurt and fruit or eggs (when I had them in my fridge). Very similar meals as last week. I did find a recipe to make cauliflower soup, which is why I purchased coconut milk, but haven’t made it yet. That’s on this week’s agenda. One of my favorite lunches (not pictured) was chicken salad (made with canned white chicken, plain yogurt, and sweet relish) on salad greens on a brown rice wrap. Yum!

Let’s hope I can under-spend the next couple of weeks so I average only spending $37.90 a week. It’s getting tougher though. I so badly want to buy more fresh fruit and veggies, but I’m trying to work with what I have. I’m heading to Belize in less than 4 weeks for vacation, so I’m hoping to focus on using the food I have in my pantry and freezer instead of buying a ton of new foods. I definitely need to get creative and find some new recipes!

Do you have any healthy-ish recipes to share? preferably ones that work well for someone on a tight budget?

Frugal Fridays: My 3 Year Financial Goals

frugalfridays

I’m now officially in my late 20s. Oh the horror! I will turn the ripe old age of 30 on March 8, 2017. My goal is also to return to graduate school for my PhD by Fall 2017. For the next 3-4 years I have some big goals that I hope to achieve with a lot of hard work and hopefully a bit of luck.

A large majority of my goals are related to financial stability and freedom. Hence why I created this blog; I want to convey my journey in personal finance, as well as travel and life. Through this blog I am very candid about my personal finances. Personal finances have always been a taboo topic in modern American culture, and I believe that money needs to be discussed more openly.

According to the NerdWallet, as of March 2014, the average American household debt is:

  • Average credit card debt: $15,252
  • Average mortgage debt: $152,209
  • Average student loan debt: $32,986

Those statistics are scary figures and I personally believe that a part of it has to do with poor personal finance education and discipline. I believe that the more open people are about their money and personal finance, the more others are aware of it and the more educated they become about money.

I grew up with a pretty good understanding of money. My father really enjoys lecturing me about personal finance, investing, and really anything else. Personally, I think he just likes to hear himself talk half the time. I have a BA in biochemistry from a small state university and a MPH in public health from a private university. I graduated with a total of $44,103 of student loans (not including interest over time).

I’m pretty good with money and tend to save more than I spend. The past few years I have been competing in the sport of triathlon, which I absolutely adore and it is a major part of my lifestyle. The sport of triathlon is not cheap. The further I got into the sport, the more I wanted a better and more expensive bike and to compete in bigger and more expensive races. I ended up spending way more than I probably should have on equipment and expenses related to triathlon (I never went in debt because of these purchases). I don’t regret my purchases, but I had wished that I focused a bit more on paying off student loans etc.

Now that I achieved one of my main goals – to become an Ironman (you can read more about my triathlon life on www.bigskymultisportcoaching.com), I have decided to refocus more on my career and financial goals.

I keep my goals in my personal finance spreadsheet that I created to keep track of everything from my monthly budget, bills, student loans, vacation budgets, etc. I’ve decided to make my goals public to allow others to hold me accountable for my goals and also to show other 20-somethings that educating yourself and making personal finance a priority at a young age will only pay off in the future (I mean that both literally and figuratively).

2014:
  • Purchase new car
  • Save $1500 in my emergency fund
  • Pay off my private student loan (Balance ~ $1500) – PAID
  • Pay off one of my SallieMae loans (current balance ~ $745; target date: 9/14)
  • Rollover my 401k from my old job to a Roth IRA and save cash for the tax payment in 2015
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Save my Belize vacation in May and also for my Africa volunteer vacation in November 2015
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2014 payments: $5100)
2015:
  • Save an additional $2000 in my emergency fund (Target end of 2015 total: $3500)
  • Pay off a second SallieMae loan (current balance ~$745; target date: 1/15)
  • Use the snowball method and pay extra on another SallieMae loan
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2015 payments: $5100)
  • Continue to save for my Africa volunteer vacation in November 2015 (estimated costs: $4000)
  • Pay off half of my car loan (4/1/14 loan amount: $13.104.20; End 2015 Goal: $6000)
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Contribute monthly to my Roth IRA account
2016:
  • Save an additional $3100 in my emergency fund (Target end of 2016 total: $6600)
  • Pay off SallieMae loans using the snowball method (estimated remaining balance: $4300)
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2016 payments: $5100)
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Contribute monthly to my Roth IRA account (ideally max out yearly contribution)
  • Pay for Lasik eye surgery
  • Start saving for future purchase needs (i.e. PhD studies, house, etc.)

My 2016 goals get a bit fuzzy because it’s hard to predict where I’ll be in 3 years. My primary career goal is to work abroad a year through a public health fellowship or possibly teach English abroad before heading back for my PhD in 2017. Ultimately I would like a position that pays a decent living wage while overseas so I can stock pile money and continue to pay off my student loans, but I’m not sure what might happen in the job front.

As you can see, my major themes involve paying off student loan debt (you can read more about my plan to payoff $20,000 of student loans in 3 years HERE) and to contribute to my retirement accounts.

Note: I have also created a unique page above in the menu for this post so I continuously check in and make sure I’m on my path to financial freedom! 🙂

March Budget Check

My March budget is full of red! So much for sticking to the budget I worked so hard to create in January…

I was way over budget due to this kind of large purchase….

The new whip!
The new whip!

It was a sad day when my old car died last week. I knew the day from coming, but was hoping that it would occur closer to December. My father was generous and gave me money for the down-payment, but I now have a $13,104.20 car loan with a monthly payment of $232 starting in April. However, before I even took the car off the lot and to finalize the car loan through my credit union I had to buy car insurance. My 6-month payment was $588. And, of course, it will probably cost me another $500 in April to register it and pay the excise tax. Woof! I’ll be using the save I have saved thus far as a car down-payment to pay for the registration and taxes.

I also went way over my normal food budget as well because of my birthday. I went out for lunch and drinks with some friends, which I normally don’t do very often. I also spent $44 on the night I test drove my car to bribe my father to come to the dealership with me to negotiate the price of the car. Although he really do anything. I spent way more at coffee shops too. Bad, bad!

Eeek Lots of red!
Eeek Lots of red!

I went over my student loan payments, which I consider to be a good thing because I’ve paid off more debt. During the month of March I paid off a $368 grad school loan that was just annoying me plus my normal monthly payments.

Let’s see. I had a lot of extra predicted spending in March, like my dog’s $200 vet bill for her annual exam. I picked up a couple of new shirts at Old Navy on my birthday. They were on sale! Yay! Plus, I had some small business fees as well.

March expenses by categories
March expenses by categories

I think the highlight of my March personal finances was rolling over my old 401k account to a new Roth IRA account with Vanguard and making some $$! I’ve finally been making money with my 403b account with Nationwide as well. I love watching my retirement accounts make money! Let’s hope that pattern continues for the next 40+ years. 🙂

Total Debt as of 4/3/14: $50,121.13 (thank you car loan!) <- includes this month’s credit card bill as well (I pay everything using my CC to earn airline miles)

Total Student Loan Debt as of 4/1/14: $32,842.63 (Goal: Bring total loan debt under $30,000 by end of 2014)

Emergency Fund as of 4/3/14: $850.68 (Goal: $1500 by end of 2014)

Total Savings + Investments as of 4/3/14: $12,866.13

Net Worth as of 4/3/14: $21,255.00 (does not include the value of my new car)

Frugal Fridays: My Obsession with Budgeting

 

Originally posted on February 14, 2014 on Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training.

frugalfridays

The first step that I took to gain financial stability was to make a budget. Well, I actually made about 500 different budgets. I’m a wee bit obsessed with making budgets now. I’m beginning to think that I should have been an accountant.

My main budgeting method is Mint.com. If you don’t use Mint then I highly recommend that you hop on that train. It’s completely free and you can upload all your banking data plus investments, car and house loans, and student loans. It’s a great way to keep track of your money and debt and also your overall net worth. I find that Mint is a helpful tool in determining where your money is going and ways to cut your budget.

Along with my Mint account, I also created about 100 different types of budgets through Excel. I tried out a bunch of different budgeting temples offered through Microsoft Excel, but none of them really met my needs. Thus, I created my own from scratch. From there, it involved into about a 10-sheet spreadsheet containing my yearly budget, monthly bills, student loan details, and three-year finance goals.

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A few of my three-year financial goals include: purchasing and paying off a new car by 12/31/15, paying off my SallieMae student loans (currently about $9200) by 12/31/16, and a volunteer trip to Africa in November 2015. I’ve calculated the amount I need to transfer to each of my corresponding savings accounts each pay check in order to meet my goals by my deadline.

By creating my own budgeting spreadsheet I was able to add everything I needed into one spreadsheet that was easy for me to edit, read, and keep track of my income and expenses. I also color-code everything because, well, I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

A lot of people get overwhelmed with budgeting. Hence, why so many people are in debt and/or spend money on useless or unneeded things. Here is how I went about creating my budgets:

  1. Determine your monthly take-home pay
  2. Determine your monthly “hard expenses,” i.e. rent, student loans, health insurance, etc. (basically anything that you must pay each month and the amount doesn’t usually change)
  3. Determine your monthly “soft expenses,” i.e. groceries, gas, gym memberships, coffee shops, etc. (soft expenses include items that have more fluid costs each month and ones that you could probably cut back on if needed)
  4. At this point, decided if you prefer software/website programs such as Mint, or if you would rather create your own budgets through Excel
  5. Subtract all your expenses from your monthly income
  6. Hopefully you have money left over! If you don’t, then you need to readjust your expenses. Start with your soft expenses first. Trust me, there are ways to cut back on things.
  7. Stash your extra money into a savings account. You should always pay yourself first! If you have goals, such as a vacation, open a second savings account to put money away for this expense.
  8. If you have a lot of debt, especially credit card debt, put extra money towards paying those debts off! You can probably cut back on going out to eat or going to the movies to put extra money towards those extra payments.
  9. Stay on budget throughout the month! And check back throughout the month to see how you’re doing.

Budgeting shouldn’t be hard. Yes, it may not be fun because for most people, it acts as a wake-up call for where your money is going. You work hard for your money so why put it down the drain on stupid purchases or wasteful spending!