Category Archives: debt-free living

How I Saved $70 a Month on My Cell Phone Bill (And You Can Too)!

rwOne day this past Fall I woke and realized at age 26 I needed to get my life together financially if I wanted to pursue both my passion of travel and also return back to graduate school for my PhD studies. I’ve never been bad with budgeting and finance, but I’ve never been extremely good either. Back in October I sat down and created my Mint account to establish my first real budget that I was going to stick to while I worked to reduce my debt and increase my assets.

One of the first things I did was to scrutinize all my expenses and examine where I could cut costs. One stood out from the rest – my cell phone bill (okay, maybe Starbuck trips were up top there too). My plan with Verizon, which included about 500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, and 2GB of data on my iPhone 4 cost me a whopping $96.98 (including taxes). I was paying close to $1200 a year for something that wasn’t used much. That $1200 could easily go to paying off my student loans!

My Verizon contract expired in September of last year so I was free to change plans to whom ever I decided would meet my needs. I looked into AT&T, US Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The cheapest plan I could find at the time was Sprint at about $70-$80 a month. That would give me about $10 a month or $120 a year in savings, but I knew I could do better.

So I did what every normal person would do and “googled” cheap/budget phone plans. At first I was convinced that I would do a Straight Talk Wireless plan. Straight Talk offers no contract and unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 a month plus taxes. Not a bad deal I thought! And then I found out that you had to pay full-price for a new phone! My Verizon iPhone would not work on their system so I would definitely have to purchase a new phone. For a new (or used) iPhone I was looking at a price tag of $400-$650 for a new phone depending if I purchased a used iPhone 4s or a brand new iPhone 5.

I kept Straight Talk as a strong contender, but I really hated the idea of dropping over $500 for a new phone. At first during my new cell phone plan search, I was set on getting an iPhone. I wasn’t until I found Republic Wireless that I was open to switching to an Android phone. I found Republic Wireless through Mr. Money Mustache’s website. He is one of my favorite personal finance/frugal living bloggers. He spent a lot of time researching and trying new cell phones that fit his frugal lifestyle. Republic Wireless was his winner and continues to be so today. If it was good for him (and many other frugal bloggers) then it would be good for me.

Republic Wireless is a special wireless company. You can now choose from two phones: the Moto G ($149) or the Moto X ($299). When I made the switch in January I only had the option of the Moto X. You only have these two options because these phones are made especially for Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless had extremely low cell phone plan pricess because the company builds in a wireless transceiver into each phone. If you’re in an area with wifi your call will be made over the wifi connection. However, if you’re in an area with no wifi, the call will be made over the Sprint and/or Verizon cellular networks. The phone will automately switch from wifi to cellular if you walk outside the wifi zone (it’s worked great for me).

I’ve been using Republic Wireless since January and I love it! I purchased the Moto X for $299 plus taxes. I love the phone! It does everything I need it to do and the camera is about 1000 times better than the camera on my iPhone 4! You can google reviews of the Moto X for more details and comparison to other phones. I’m not a techie and I’m even going to pretend to be one either! 🙂

Republic Wireless has 4 plan options:

For the first four months I used Republic Wireless I used the $10 a month plan because about 90% of the time I was surrounded by wifi spots. It worked great for me and allowed me to recoup some of the costs I spent when I purchased the phone. In May I switched to the $25 a month plan because I would be riding my bicycle outside and wanted the ability to use Google Maps to find out where I am if I got lost. Thus far, my reception has been great. Of course, if you are considering changing to Republic Wireless, make sure you check their coverage maps HERE.

One of the best things about Republic Wireless is the ability to switch between the plans twice a month. When I travel out of the country (like my trip to Belize and Guatemala in May), I switched to the $5 a month plan for that week and as soon as I hit tarmac in Atlanta, I switched back to my normal monthly plan.

Another major benefit, which I haven’t used yet because I wasn’t aware of it until after my trip, is the ability to make calls out of the country back to the US if you’re on a wifi network. For example, when I was using the wifi on my phone at the hostel in Belize, I could have called my father in Maine. As noted above, I have not used this feature yet so I’m not 100% sure of the quality.

Let’s look at a comparison of the three cell phone plan options I narrowed down on:

Wireless Company

Monthly Payment

Cost of Phone

Yearly Cost of Plan (including cost of phone)

Verizon

$97 (w/ tax)

$200 (upgrade to iPhone 5)

$1364 (+ 2-yr contract)

Straight Talk Wireless

$33 (w/ estimated tax)

$550 (for iPhone 5)

$946 (no contract)

Republic Wireless $29 (w/ tax) $300 (for Moto X)

$648 (no contract)

It seemed like a no brainer when looking at the above table. Because I chose the $10 a month plan for 4 months, I should only pay about $605 for my total 2014 cell bill. If I had stayed on Verizon without upgrading my phone, I would have paid roughly $1164. I just found an extra $500 a year just by changing cell phone plans!

If you’re looking to change cell phones and save a boat load of money, I highly suggest checking out Republic Wireless! As a loyal Republic Wireless customer, if you use my referral link you can get a $20 credit (and I will also get a $20 credit). Win, win for everyone! Here is my referral link: Try Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless also offers a 30-day money back guarantee so if you don’t like it, you’ll get your money back! 🙂

** The above link is a referral link. As I mentioned above, I will earn a $20 credit if you decide to switch to Republic Wireless using my link. Republic Wireless did not pay me for this post and all my opinions are my own. Obviously, I really love this plan and phone or else I would not be using it and promoting it! 🙂

 

Personal, Professional, and Financial Goals: 6 Month Check-in

Where has the time gone?! 2014 is now officially half over and it’s time to do a 6-month check-in. I never posted my 2014 goals on this site, but you can click over to my coaching and training site and see them there.

Here are my professional and personal goals for 2014:

Professional:

  • Grow in my job – I have been in my current job for just over 3 months now and I really love it thus far. Throughout my public health graduate studies, I would have never thought that I would find a job in healthcare technology. It was a topic that never really interested me; however, now that I work in the field, I love it. Not only is healthcare technology important in the United States, but globally, where my heart lies in global health and international development. My job is challenging and rewarding. Each week I am learning new skills that will only improve my work quality and also aid in my future career development. In 2014 I look forward to working hard, learning new skills, and furthering my future career path. I’m still loving my job and I have expanded my skill and knowledge set that is not only valuable in my current job, but in my future career. I’ve been given some more responsible recently, which makes me happy and hopefully that will continue. I hope that I’ll be given some writing assignments by the end of the year that I can dive into since writing is one of my passions.
  • Grow my business – If you have read my blog for a while you have probably noticed the changes over the past couple of months. I plan to officially launch my new business in a couple of weeks. I started my own coaching and personal training business because it is my passion and I find great satisfaction in helping people achieve their goals. I don’t plan to make a million dollars in my business, but a few extra dollars to help pay my student loans would be nice. I have some interesting plans and opportunities in the future so stay tuned for future developments! My business is doing well. It’s still very small, which I prefer. I only take on about 4-6 clients total between both my personal training and coaching clients. I’m not out there to make a ton of money and I prefer to give each client individualized attention. I am currently in the process of becoming a certified RRCA run coach (I just need to complete a first aid course). I’ve also taught a lot of spin classes over the past few months at Zone 3 Fitness and the Bay Club and really love teaching.
  • Learn French – This has been one of my goals from early fall 2013. I want a future career in global public health and international development, thus I need to become bilingual, or at least competent at a second language. I’ve been slowly practicing my language skills via software programs, but I will continue in 2014 with french lessons at The Language Exchange in Portland. I don’t naturally pick up language quickly, so this is going to be a tough goal, but it is necessary and important for my future career goals. After traveling in Central America in May, I’ve discovered that I love the Latin American culture and have decided to switch from French to Spanish. I took a year of Spanish in college, but I don’t remember a whole lot. I begin my first class on Monday! 🙂

Personal:

  • Become more financially stable – The last couple of years have been a bit tough financially. Last year I took a risk with my career and it did not pan out as well as I hoped. The last couple of years were also riddled with unexpected purchases, i.e. lots of car repairs and health bills. My graduate student loans also kicked in and I quickly realized that about a third of my monthly income goes directly to SallieMae and Nelnet. Awesome. With my new job I received an increase in pay from my old one. I need to buy a new car some point this coming year and thus I have begun to put some cash away for that big-ticket item. I’m still driving my little car until it dies for good (or is going to cost me a zillion dollars to fix). I also plan to stash some money away again into my emergency fund since it became low due to said expensive car repairs. For the past few months I have created budgets and reviewed my spending habits to determine where I can cut back. Going into 2014 I feel pretty comfortable with my monthly budget and I have been researching ways to live more frugally. Stay tuned for that journey. Well, my little black car died in March. It was a sad day, but I am very happy with my new car! My father was very generous and gave me a down payment for my car, but I still have a $13,000 car loan plus about $32,000 in student loans. See below for more of my financial goals.
  • Travel – It’s ironic that one of my main goals is to save more money and live frugally, but I also seek adventure outside the US. I haven’t been to a new country in a couple of years and thus, 2014 is the year I discover a new part of the world. My mind has gone crazy with ideas, but I yet to commit to anything yet. I may travel to South America with a friend, go on a medical mission to a developing country, or take a solo trip to Southeast Asia or Europe. I love daydreaming about traveling the world and I know this year will be the year of an adventure. Anyone looking for a travel buddy? I traveled to Belize and Guatemala with one of my best friends in May for a week and will be going to the Azores Islands in November. All were new countries for me and definitely reignited the travel bug in me. I’ve been resisting the urge to impulse buy a plane ticket to Columbia! I traveled to New Orleans for work in June and absolutely fell in love with the city that I hope to pursue my PhD studies in. Montreal and Newport, RI are also in the planning stages as well as a couple big trips in 2015.
  • Volunteer more – This past fall I joined the Junior League of Portland, Maine and have met some pretty fabulous and inspiring women. The organization is built on giving back to the community, which is one of the main reasons I joined. I look forward to volunteering around the community with the JLP, but I also hope to give back to my community in other ways. I have been researching various organizations related to my career interests and will be making contact soon so hopefully I can help in any way needed. Junior League is awesome and I think all women should join! 🙂 I’m still seeking out more opportunities to volunteer as well. Since I have more time on my hands due to my hip injury, I am reaching out to a couple of organizations after the holiday.
  • Read a book once a month (or more) – I love to read and you periodically will have book reviews on my blog. For a collection of old book reviews click HERE. I’m an avid reader and I usually read daily, whether job related papers or pleasure reading. My goal in 2014 is to finish a book at least once a month; however, I would like to read more than just 12 books a month. Heck, in the past 5 days I have almost finished all three Hunger Games books. I have a stack of half-finished books so I will start my reading list there. I fell off the bandwagon on this one, but began back up again in May. I’m doing a summer book challenge which has inspired me to read about a book a week over the past two months. You can find out more information about the book challenge here.

Financial Update:

  • My Emergency fund is now up to also $1200! My goal is to have about $2000 in it by the end of the year. Right now, I’m a head of my schedule. Currently I put in $100 each month automatically from my checking account, but will increase the monthly payments to $150 in October. I keep my E-fund in an online bank. You can read more about why I use an online bank and how you can earn a free $76 by opening a savings account with Capital One 360. I just learned today that if you open a checking account and make the 5 purchases within 45 days, you’ll also earn an additional $100! Their checking account is fee-free and no foreign transaction fees!
  • Since March I’ve paid $1512.04 towards my student loans! Since April I’ve been paying an extra $150 towards my SallieMae loans. One of my $778 loans will be paid off this month (YAY!) and the second one will be paid off by hopefully October. I’m planning on selling my tri bike this fall and will use that money to pay off another bigger SallieMae loan. My goal is to pay off my SallieMae loans by the end of December 2015.
  • My net worth is getting closer to zero! My total net worth was about -$31,223 at the end of December 2013 and over the past six months is now sitting about -$17,896. The main reason that it shifted towards positive by nearly $15,000 is the purchase of my new car. Yes, my car loan currently sits at about $12,500, but my car is worth, according to Kelly Blue Book, $17,000. My investments are doing well. I currently put in 7% of my yearly income into my company’s 403(b) with a company match of almost 7%. I rolled my old 401(k) into a Roth IRA in March and have finally reached over the $6000 mark in April. I am planning to start contributing to my IRA this fall.
  • I haven’t been very good about sticking to my budget over the past few months. May was expensive because of my vacation. I had planned a head so I knew they were coming. June had some unpredicted extra expenses, such as $300 dentist bill, a few business-related expenses, and a $330 plane ticket to Portugal in November. My goal for the remaining summer months is to reign in my spending and stick to my budget better. I know I will have some extra expenses coming up such as another $90 dentist bill and an eye exam. I just need to stay out of the J. Crew outlet store!

Not to wish away the remaining six months of 2014, but I’m really excited about the prospective of nailing all my goals this year. I feel that I’m in a solid place both personally, financially, and professionally. I know 2016 is going to be a big transition year for me with my future goals of going back to school so I’m happy that I’m well on my way to be able to pursue my dream of attaining my PhD. And hopefully reach a net worth of $0 within the next year! 🙂

Frugal Fridays: I’m a Hustler Baby!

frugalfridays

I’m a hustler baby,

I just want you to know,

It ain’t where I been,

But where I’m bout to go, (top of the world!)

-Jay-Z, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)

Okay, I’m not a hustler in the way you may be thinking. I’m definitely not a pimp or drug-dealer, so please don’t start those rumors!

The Dictionary defines a hustler as an aggressively enterprising person; a go getter. Or a prostitute. I’m definitely NOT a prostitute.

In the personal finance blogging world, we call ourselves side hustlers. I’m a proud side hustler. A side hustler is someone who makes money on the side by doing a variety of things, such as blogging, virtual assisting, mystery shopping, freelance writing, or anything else.

There are a slew of awesome personal finance bloggers out there in the interwebs that describe their side hustles. The beauty of side hustling is that you can do anything that you set your mind to, although I would hope that you would avoid illegal activities!

I first got serious about side hustling in January. This past fall I sat down and took a hard look at my financial landscape. I added up all my debt and all my assets and created my first real monthly budget. I spent some time figuring out a 5 and 10-year plan on where I wanted to be in life both personally, professionally, and financially. I just started a new job with a much higher salary than my previous job. But, my monthly student loan payments more than doubled since my graduate loans came out of there grace period.

Having a storm cloud of over $35,000 of student loan debt hanging over my head scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t find an umbrella big enough to keep me dry. I couldn’t ask for a raise. I already cut back on the extras in my budget to make extra loan payments. I had just started reading a lot of personal finance blogs and discovered side hustling. I was sold.

My Side Hustles

  1. Teach Spin Classes – Since January I have been teaching spin classes at both Zone 3 Fitness and The Bay Club. Since I’m both a personal trainer and certified triathlon and cycling coach, this was a perfect hustle for me. I love it because I get to kick people’s butt in class and also kick my own during class. The money I make teaching classes goes directly to making extra payments on my SallieMae student loans.
  2. Personal Training & Triathlon Coach – I wouldn’t necessarily call this a side hustle because in actuality it is my business. I train several clients in their homes and also coach several athletes in endurance sports. I’m putting this in here because side hustles can be created from things you are passionate about and are good at. I love fitness and triathlons and thus I became a coach and trainer to share my love of the sport and living a healthy life and hopefully changing lives while doing it. And, of course, if you’re looking for a trainer or coach checkout my website – Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training.
  3. Freelance Writing – I love writing. I’ve always loved writing from an early age and would write stories all day long if I could – especially if it was about horses. I have two blogs myself (I don’t currently make money on either of my blogs, but some people make money with their blogs) and I dabble in freelance writing. I am a staff writer at OneSmartDollar.com and hopefully will be publishing some travel posts on a couple of sites in the very near future. I don’t make a ton of money doing freelance writing at the moment, but I love it and will continue doing it to help develop my writing skills, share my story, and make a few extra bucks.
  4. Selling Stuff on Craigslist/eBay/Amazon/Etc. – This past fall I had to buy a new wardrobe for my new professional-attire job. When I buy new clothes I always try to make an enough to go through my closet and get rid of the clothing that I haven’t worn in a long time. I brought clothes to the consignment shop, sold some online, and then donated the rest. I went through my room and house and also sold things on Craigslist and eBay that I no longer used. I sold an old cycling trainer and old GPS running watch online. I am also planning on selling my triathlon bike at the end of the season in prep for returning to grad school in the near future. So heads up if anyone is looking for a sweet triathlon bike with a power-meter!
  5. Surveys – I fill out online surveys to earn airline miles. I’m not actually making real money doing these, but I count it as a side hustle because those miles count towards my mileage award balances that I can then use to earn free plane tickets. Thus, saving money!

Those are things I do to make an extra $200-$500 a month on top of my monthly salary from my full-time job. All the extra money I make I put towards paying off my student loan debt faster and also stuff into my travel savings account for upcoming trips I have planned.

My advice for people is to look for opportunities to make a few extra bucks doing something you love. You can always sell your junk too. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Making extra money has allowed me to reach my financial goals quicker than I would if I just stuck to my budget based on my monthly salary income. I’m working to reaching the top of the world, because I’m a hustler baby! 😉

April Budget Check and May Goals

April was an expensive month with many expected and a few unexpected expenses.  Let’s break it down into categories.

Car Registration

The first large expense that I knew was coming was the registration of my new car. I had estimated about $500, which I planned to take out of my “car fund” that I have saved thus far in 2014. I grossly miscalculated my registration (which includes excise tax, plates, and town fees) for my new car. It only cost me $386 to register the car. Yay!

Junior League Dues

I had calculated this into my budget. Technically I had until May 31st to pay dues since I’m a “new member,” but I just decided to pay then $165 by the April 15th deadline. Funny how the deadline was on tax day. 🙂

Vacation Purchases

This is where some purchases were expected and a few unexpected. I knew I wanted an underwater camera for my vacation, which I could also use for my business as well. I decided to buy a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 because it had good reviews. I’m excited to try it out on vacation! I’m only taking carry-on baggage for my vacation and thus had to buy travel-sized toiletries, bug spray, and sunscreen. Since I’m traveling to Central America in a couple of weeks and most likely Panama in November, I needed to update a few of my travel vaccinations. I originally thought I would be all set in that department and only need Malaria pills, but I was wrong. I never finished my Hep A shot series and my Typhoid shot was no longer effective. I received the Hep A booster, which will last me for about 20 years now and I decided to take the Typhoid pills instead of the vaccine since the pills give you 5 years instead of 2 years of effectiveness. The doctor visit turned out to be quite expensive, to the tune of about $300 including the medication. I was a bit annoyed that I had to see the travel doctor because I already knew everything that he told me. I really hope that I don’t have to repeat that visit for my Panama vacation in the Fall to obtain my Malaria meds. Health insurance normally doesn’t pay travel med costs and thus I will have to pay out-of-pocket for these. Martin’s Point did bill my insurance company first, so I haven’t received a bill yet, but I’m sure it will be waiting for me when I return from Belize later this month!

Breakfast of champions - Typhoid pills
Breakfast of champions – Typhoid pills
Business Expenses

My business expenses were very high in April. I did not expect this at all. I included my new underwater camera as a business expense because I can use it to film underwater swim strokes and for my freelance writing side-business as well. Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) is offering a run coach clinic in Portsmouth, NH in June. I got the email in early April and jumped on it since registration sells out in 24 hours and it is a certification that I have wanted to get for a while. That $360+ expenses was not predicted at all, but I’m glad that I jumped on it because not only will it benefit my coaching athletes, but I also need CEUs for my other certifications this year. I attended the Maine State NSCA clinic last weekend at UNE to obtain CEUs for my personal training certification.

Student Loans

I paid an extra $150 on one of my SallieMae loans this month. I wrote a nice letter explicitly telling them to apply the check to the principal balance of loan number XX. What do they do? Apply the extra payment as a monthly payment! I was pissed and called customer service to fix it. Tony in India didn’t help. My friend Jen gave me the American customer service number, which I called the next day and my problem was fixed in 2 minutes. Urgh, what a pain in the butt. I will be applying an additional $150 each month to my SallieMae loans until the loans are completely paid off. I should have my two smaller loans paid off by November. I’m hoping I don’t have to call SallieMae each month to fix their mistakes!

Food Expenses

With my April Challenge I stayed way under my food budget, but I was quite hungry throughout the month. I will recap my final week next week along with some conclusions.

Gas Expenses

I LOVE my new car! I average about 35 miles per gallon just commuting to and from work. Way more than my old car. I’m looking forward to riding my bike to work at least once a week this summer to further save on gas and keep miles off my new car. Did you know May is  National Bike to Work month?

Clothing

I spent way more than I should have in this category. I went up to LL Bean one Saturday to look at car racks for my new car. It’s going to cost me about $300 to put my bike rack on top on my new car! Yikes. While I was there, Vineyard Vines was having a huge sale and I got sucked in and spent about $150 on a few items that I can wear to both work and vacation. Of course, I can’t leave Freeport without stopping at J. Crew and succeed on spending another $140 on clothes. I only brought clothes that I could wear to both work and play to, at least, internally validate my purchases in my head.

Everything else was per the norm. I brought in about $256 in side income from my business. My business has been growing, which is exciting. I’m always looking to grow both my coaching and training business as well as my freelance writing business. May is looking to be another good month.

May Goals

  1. Enjoy vacation in Belize and Guatemala! Most of the big expenses have been prepaid, but I know this is going to be an expensive month due to this trip. I’m trying to not worry about it since I have budgeted for it.
  2. Continue to grow my freelance clients. I currently write for OneSmartDollar, which you should totally check out! I’m hoping to submit some travel articles to some travel blogs/website when I return from vacation.
  3. Begin to grow a small vegetable garden. I had a small garden about 4 years ago, and I’m hoping to have another one this summer. That is if spring and summer ever decide to happen in Maine!
  4. Strength train more. You can read more about my triathlon and fitness journey on Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training, but I want to focus most of May and June on strength training. I miss it and my hip needs a little TLC so I can hopefully have a Fall running season this year!

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?

The True Costs of College: Best Websites and Apps to Track Your Student Loans

thetruecostsofcollege

I’m all about tracking my student loans using modern technology. There is no secret that I love using Mint.com to track all my personal finance, but I also utilize other sites as well to track my student loan debt. Of course, being the ultra dork, I also created my own Excel spreadsheet to track my repayment status of each loan. I’m a little OCD if you haven’t figured that out yet.

The Best Websites and Apps to Track Your Student Loans
  1. Mint.com – I LOVE Mint for everything personal finance related. If you haven’t started your free Mint account yet then I suggest you stop reading this right now and do that. Mint allows you to link up all your financial accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards, loans (student, car, house, etc.), and your investment accounts. It uses bank security so all your data is secured. It’s a great tool to look objectively at your entire financial picture at once. Mint will also give you payment due reminders in case you haven’t set up autopay on your loans, which clearly you should do because you often get an interest rate reduction saving you money in the long run! Unfortunately with Mint you can’t apply more extensive tracking on your student loans like some of the options below. However, I am a strong believer that Mint is a great tool to track your personal finances as a whole. Mint also as an app for both the iphone and Android phones.
  2. ReadyFor Zero –ReadyForZero is quickly becoming one of my favorite tools for tracking my student loan debt. Not only can you link all your student loans, but you can also link your credit cards as well. IuseReadyForZero for my student loan debt since I do not have credit card debt, but if you did, you can use this tool for just credit card debt or the combination of the two. Once you link your accountstoReadyForZero, they will create a free personalized debt repayment plan.
    The Debt Avalanche Chart in ReadyForZero
    The Debt Avalanche Chart in ReadyForZero

    ReadyForZero uses secure 256 bit SSL encryption methods, the same as your banks, to ensure that all your data is secure and safe. To create your personalized plan, you must first begin by selecting how much each month you can contribute to your total debt payments. For example, I can budget a maximum of $550-$600 a month for my loan repayments. That includes the $450 I regularly pay for my monthly minimum student loan payments. Normally I can contribute an extra $100 to $150 a month on top of my minimums to pay my debt off faster. ReadyForZero will then automatically calculate estimated total debt payoff end date (4/18 for me!) and how much interest you’ll pay over that timeframe. ReadyforZero uses the Avalanche debt reduction method targeting the loans with the highest interest rate to pay off first. ReadyForZero displays your payment plan in graphical forms using a fun graph where you can watch your debt go down over time and a payment timeline bar. When you pay a loan off it turns gold and displays a trophy! ReadyForZero offers a free basic version and a paid subscription version where you can access your credit score and pay bills from their site. I use the free version. ReadyForZero currently offers an app for the iphone and is working on an Android app.

    The ReadyForZero milestone payment timeline - who doesn't love a trophy at the finishline!
    The ReadyForZero milestone payment timeline – who doesn’t love a trophy at the finishline!
  3. Tuition.io – Tuition.io is similar toReadyForZero. You link up your student loan accounts to their site and they’ll help you create a personalized plan to pay off your loans.Tuition.io provides interactive graphs that displays your debt repayment over time. They will also help you visualize how much you can save if you pay an extra amount towards your loans each month. One of the best features of Tuition.io is that it educates you on the pros and cons of each time of repayment plans offered by student loan companies in case the traditional standard 10 year repayment plan is tough for you to manage. Tuition.io is free to use, but makes its money through if you decide to consolidate your loans. Consolidation can usually reduce your interest rate and reduce your monthly payments thus saving you money. Read the fine print before you explore this option. Tuition.io informed me that I could qualify for loan consolidation with an interest rate of 2.91%! That is a huge decrease from my average of 6.36% amongst my loans. When I researched the option I discovered that it is variable interest rate, meaning that it could change to a much higher rate. When I first graduated from grad school I looked into loan consolidation because my loan payments were too high for me to afford. One of the big reasons I did not end up consolidating was that if you go back to school you cannot put your loans into deferment while attending school like you can with federal loans. So be aware of this caveat. One of the coolest things about Tuition.io that you or someone else can buy “gifts” in the form of student loan payment gift certificates to help you pay off your loans. The “gifts” would make great Christmas or birthday presents! I like tuition.io, but there are still some glitches in the site. The site is still in Beta production and I’m sure over time it will improve.

    The Tuition.io debt avalanche chart
    The Tuition.io debt avalanche chart
  4. SaveUp – SaveUp is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites. It does not really allow you to track your debt like ReadyForZero and Tuition.io, but you can track it as you pay it off. It is more similar to Mint.com. You can link you student loans, bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts to earn credits. These credits can be turned into “plays.” Each day SaveUp gives you 3 plays for chances to win prizes ranging from student loan payments to an around-the-world vacation. Every time you make a loan payment or add money to your savings account you earn credits to earn more plays. You can turn up to 500 credits into 5 plays a day. The more you save and pay off debt the more chances you have to win prizes. You’re awarded for good financial choices! I’ve been playing for about 5 weeks now. I haven’t won anything yet, but I’m hoping someday I will. SaveUp just makes student loan debt a little bit more exciting instead of depressing!

As you can see there are many ways to track your student loan debt as well as all your personal finances in one or more places. I use Mint and SaveUp on a daily basis and check ReadyForZero on a bi-monthly schedule when my loan payments are processed. I also track everything in my personal finance spreadsheets on Excel. I’m a stronger believer in being proactive with your personal finances and there are no excuses when you can sign up for a website and/or app that does all the work for you!

What tools do you use to track your debt? Are there other websites and apps that I should try?

Disclaimer: I have not been paid by any of the above companies for this post. All the opinions above are my own. I am just a strong believer in the above tools to manage your personal finances and I encourage others to check them out.  

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 1

AprilChallenge

Week one of my April Challenge is in the books as of yesterday! It actually overlapped a little bit with week two because I decided to go back to my regular grocery shopping schedule of shopping on the weekend, thus I’m going to push this out to a 5 week challenge and go into the first few days of May.

Last Tuesday night after my spin class (I teach spinning at Zone 3 Fitness on Tuesday nights at 5:45pm. You should totally check it out!) I headed back into Portland to shop at Trader Joe’s. Let me tell you. The best times to shop at TJs is either late at night, during the work day, or early Sunday mornings! I armed myself with a cart, my calculator, and a notebook to make sure I stayed under my weekly allotment of $37.90.

Armed with my calculator, little notebook, and cart!
Armed with my calculator, little notebook, and cart!

I used to shop with a grocery list, but I haven’t in quite some time. It is something that I need to get back in the habit of doing and meal planning. I find that if I meal plan in advance I only buy what I need for the week and don’t waste as much food. Mentally I went in with an idea of what I wanted to buy and eat for the week.

My focus was getting healthy food that I could compliment with ideas that I had in my pantry. About a month ago I inventoried both my freezer stock and pantry. I highly recommend doing this every so often so you know what you have and can plan meals around items you already have.

pantryfood
Food from my freezer and pantry when I did an inventory a month ago

I made my way around the store checking prices and writing down every price of every item I placed in my cart. I periodically checked the total of my cart to make sure I stayed under the limit. And I did! I left TJs only spending $33.90 leaving me with an extra $4.

The food haul from TJs
The food haul from TJs

Here are the items I purchased:

  • Creamy Tomato Soup – $2.49
  • Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt – $2.99
  • Organic Black Beans – $0.89
  • Romaine Lettuce – $1.99
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds Snack Size – $0.99 (I was hungry after spin)
  • Frozen Mixed Berries – $2.99
  • Pretzel Stick Bread – $0.99 (once again I was hungry)
  • TJs Bacon Ends & Pieces – $2.99 (side note: not really a fan, too much effort to take a part and cook)
  • Pico de Gallo Salsa – $2.99
  • Bag of Minneola Oranges – $2.99
  • Granola – $3.49
  • Broccoli – $1.99
  • Avocado –  $1.39
  • Cheddar Snack Sticks – $3.99
  • Cucumber – $0.69

As you can see, I was able to purchase semi-healthy items. Of course, fresh fruit and veggies are bit more expense and would have limited the number of items I could have purchased. Same with meat. Meat is definitely expensive, whether its frozen or fresh. Luckily I have a bunch of chicken and fish in my freezer at the moment. Although, I didn’t eat much meat at all this week.

So what did I eat all week? I lucked out Wednesday. I attended an all day conference in Augusta for work and ate breakfast and lunch there. Actually, I ate my first breakfast at home – yogurt, berries, and a handful of granola. It’s my normal breakfast if I don’t have a ton of time to cook eggs.

My "Chipotle" bowl
My “Chipotle” bowl

 

Most of the week I mixed a bunch of food together and ate it. My favorite is my own version of the Chipotle salad bowl with lettuce, rice, avocado, cheese, and salsa. I also ate some hardboiled eggs, apples with peanut butter, oranges, and nuts. On Thursday night I cooked up some coconut flour pancakes so I could use some of the fresh maple syrup my father got at the Merrifield Farm on Maple Sugar Sunday. Yum!

On Saturday I taught spin and then did a killer strength circuit workout that left me sore for days. I then ran some errands and didn’t plan well for food after my workout. Bad Katelyn! I ended up treating myself to a frozen yogurt at Red Mango in the mall. It cost $3.76 and definitely hit the spot! On Sunday I ate some eggs and bacon for breakfast and hit up the beach with my dog and a couple of friends and their dog. Afterwards we went to Red’s Ice Cream and my friend brought me an ice cream. Thanks! After the beach I did my grocery shopping for week two at Trader Joe’s. I will recap that next week. Week two will run from Sunday to Saturday.

The evidence!
The evidence! Week one total: $37.66

Overall, I do feel hungry. I’m an athlete training for triathlons right now and of course after workouts I get hungry! Hence the frozen yogurt on Saturday. That was bad planning on my behalf. I do think with better meal planning then I would be more satisfied throughout the day. I’m currently working on that in week two. But, the latest kicker is our refrigerator just died tonight. Awesome! Luckily I keep a lot of my food at work for the week. Sorry to my co-workers who deal with me taking up half the fridge. But that means the possibility of losing some food if we don’t either get it fixed or repaired ASAP! Stay tuned for week two recap next week!

 

Do you think you could survive on $37.90 a week? Do you think you could eat healthy with that budget? What are your go-to healthy budget-friendly meals? I would love to share some! 🙂

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! 🙂