Tag Archives: budgeting

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?

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! 🙂

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps

AprilChallenge

No, I’m not actually living on food stamps or now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I do not qualify for food stamps or assistance nor would I utilize them unless I was in a bad situation and I had no other options. I believe that food stamps and any welfare assistance should be available to those that truly need the help to survive.

When I first began budgeting, I wasn’t sure what my monthly food budget should be. It’s just me (and well, my dog, but she has her own separate budget category although she likes to think I share my food with her). I estimated $300 for grocery, $80 combined for restaurants, coffee shops and bars. That seems like a lot of money for a single person. Now that I have a monthly car payment (you can read about my new car purchase experience HERE), I’m looking to cut back on my food expenses.

I did some research to determine how much the average American spends on food monthly. A 2012 Gallup Poll survey determined that the average American family spends about $151 a week for food. The survey also revealed that the average young adult (cough, cough… Me) spends about $173 a week in food. That means the average young adult spends about $692 in food a month! Yikes! I definitely know people who probably spend this amount or more in food for just themselves in a month.

I rarely eat out for food. I generally spend less than $350 a month in food. I rarely go out to dinner so my restaurant budget is normally $0. However, March was a busy and expensive month this year. My birthday was in March so I went out with a few friends, which obviously killed both my restaurant and bar budget. I also bribed my father with pizza and beer to come to the dealership with me to buy my car. It was $44 well spent I think. I almost always bring my lunch and snacks to work, but usually once a week I get tired of what I bring and grab lunch somewhere. I also stop at Starbucks a few times a month.

All those small purchases add up over a period of time! During my food budget research I discovered the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Official Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels reports. The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion tracks each month what the average person spends on food and reports out the figures to the public. SNAP benefits for individuals and families are calculated using the “thrifty plan.” Although this site indicates how much you might qualify (for a single person you can get up to $189 a month). In January 2014, the average female aged 19-50 spent $37.90 a week on food using the “thrifty plan.”

For the month of April I am challenging myself to live on $37.90 a week on food. This would be the same allotted to me if I were to be on SNAP. I’m not allowed to go out to eat or stop at any coffee shops. The only exception is if I have to travel for work and cannot take food with me, which at this point I don’t think will be much of an issue. I am doing this challenge for two reasons: 1) I am trying to save money and to see if I can truly reduce my monthly food bill, and 2) I want to see what it is like to be on SNAP and if it’s possible to eat healthy. As a public health professional, I’m well aware of the major issue of having healthy food options at a low price. Most of the healthier options are too expensive for a family on SNAP and thus they buy cheap, processed food leading to obesity in the low-socioeconomic population.

I’m giving myself two rules:

  1. I can only spend $37.90 a week on food
  2. I’m allowed to use food that I have in my cupboards and freezer (this could be viewed as cheating but I’m going with it)

Each week I will check in with purchases, what I ate and how things went. I encourage you to try my April Challenge as well!

The True Costs of College: How I Plan to Pay Off $20,000 in 3 Years

thetruecostsofcollege

Last post I mentioned at the end that my plan is to pay off at least HALF of my student loan debt by 2017. Why 2017? Well, that is my target date for returning to graduate school to earn my PhD. Of course, opportunities may arise and my plans may change, but by end of 2017 I want half my student loan debt gone.

My student loan debt weighs on me heavily. Student loan debt isn’t bad debt to have. Creditors look at it as good debt and the investment in my education was well worth it. But, it makes me nervous. There are so many other things that I want to pursue in life and I feel like my student loan debt holds me back like a ball and chain.

If I continue to pay my loans monthly on the standard 10-year plan, I will pay all my loans off by the end of 2023. That’s about 9 years from today. I’ll be 36 by then. Yikes! My ultimate goal is to pay them off by 2020… three years earlier. Most people will probably debate me on this choice, but I do not want to have children until my student loans are paid off in full. Now, children are definitely not in my 5 year plan, and the outlook in the 10 year plan is so-so. Children are expensive and if I choose to have one then I want to make sure that I can afford the lifestyle that my future child deserves and I will be able to afford a portion of their future education.

Anyway, back to my plan of attack. Here is my student loan debt summary from my first post, The True Costs of College: My Student Loan Debt Story:

Undergrad Loans

Year Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14
Year 1 – 1st Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.88
Year 1 – 2nd Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.37
Year 2 – Full Year  $          3,500.00  $                     2,854.02
Year 3 – Full Year  $          5,500.00  $                     4,825.22
Year 4 – 1st Semester  $          2,750.00  $                     2,480.00
Year 1 – Gate Loan  $          1,300.00  $                               –  
Year 3 – Private Loan  $          5,000.00  $                               –  
Year 1 – Perkins  $          2,000.00  $                               –  
Total  $        22,674.00  $                    11,650.49

Grad Loans

Semester Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14
Summer 2010  $          1,714.00  $                     1,716.06
Fall 2010  $          3,351.00  $                     3,354.83
Spring 2011  $          3,435.00  $                     3,438.93
Summer 2011  $             368.00  $                               –  
Fall 2011  $          4,004.00  $                     4,008.63
Spring 2012  $          4,128.00  $                     4,132.98
Fall 2012  $          4,429.00  $                     4,669.01
Total  $        21,429.00  $                    21,320.44

Total Debt

$      44,103.00

Remaining Balance

$      32,970.93

As you can see, I am nearly half way to paying off my undergrad student loans. My main goal is pay off half my student loans by 2017. Let’s break them down into small goals:

  • I want to pay off my entire undergraduate student loans before my return to grad school (remaining balance is about $11,000).
  • I will continue to pay the minimum on my Nelnet (grad loans) each month resulting in over $3400 in payments each year. In 3 years that should reduce those loans by about $10,000.

In the next 3 years I am looking to pay off about $20,000 of my total current student loan debt. That’s a big number! Yikes! How am I going to do this? There are several ways I can go about paying off my loans.

  • Snowball Debt Reduction – This plan is recommended by Dave Ramsey. He suggests paying off the smallest debt first to gain momentum. You first start by paying the minimum on all your debts except for the lowest debt where you contribute extra to pay that debt off first. Once that debt is paid off, you use the money you used to pay off the first debt to pay off the second lowest debt. This method continues until you are debt free!
  • Avalanche Debt Reduction – This plan is the opposite of the snowball effect. You pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first because you’ll save money in the long run. Put your debts in line from highest to lowest interest rate and begin paying off the highest interest rate debt first while paying the minimums on the remaining debts. Once the first debt is paid off, use that money to pay off the next highest interest rate debt until you’re debt free!
  • Debt Tsunami – This method was proposed by Man vs. Debt. This plan recommends you to pay off your debt in order of emotional impact. Same idea as above, but you pay your debt off based on your own ranking system. You can read more about it here: http://manvsdebt.com/debt-tsunami-the-ultimate-method-for-paying-off-debt/.
My Plan of Attack

I’ve played around with multiple plans of attack to see what best fits my needs. With a Google search I found an awesome debt reduction spreadsheet that you can download from Vertex42.com. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s simple to use and you can play around with different debt reduction methods. The only downfall I found was you can only enter up to 10 debts. I entered all my loan balances with interest rates and let the spreadsheet work its magic. I changed the options from snowball to avalanche to custom to see what the interest rates over time would be. They all came within about $200 of each other. Before this spreadsheet I was drawn more towards the Snowball method because I am not a patient person. I want to see a return on my investment now and not years down the road (although I’m learning that in personal finance you have to be patient sometimes, especially with retirement investments).

A Glimpse at my Debt Reduction Spreadsheet
A Glimpse at my Debt Reduction Spreadsheet

With the snowball method I would pay about $7151 in interest, with the avalanche method I would pay about $6961 and with a custom ranking I would pay about $7076. I have decided to go with a custom ranking similar to the debt tsunami method because my focus is on paying off my SallieMae (undergrad loans).

I identified at least $100 a month I can use to pay off my student loans in addition to my normal monthly payments. My goal is to attack my $745 SallieMae loans first, with a target payoff date of September 2014 and January 2015 respectively. Then I will hit up my other undergrad loans from lowest to highest. My father has offered to give me additional money to put towards my student loans when we sell our family camp. I have no idea when or how much that might be, but when it happens I plan on applying it to my highest SallieMae loan.

This is my plan for now. Things may change, but I’m happy with plan going forward. I’m motivated to get this weight off my shoulders!

How are you paying off your student loans? Are you paying any additional money each month to pay them off faster? What method do you utilize?

In case you missed it:

The True Costs of College: My Student Loan Debt Story

The True Costs of College: Repayment Plans and My Story

27 Goals for my 27th Year

Reagan has nothing to do with this post, but who doesn't like cute pictures of dogs?
Reagan has nothing to do with this post, but who doesn’t like cute pictures of dogs?

I have officially entered my late 20s as of this past Saturday. I will admit; I’m still in denial that I’m now 27 years old. Where has the time gone?

Looking back a decade ago, when I was just a wee 17 year old high school girl, I never predicted I’d be where I’m at now in my life. I pictured my life so much different than it is today. But is that a bad thing? I have a Masters in Public Health. I have completed my first Ironman. I have experienced losing a parent at a young age. I have had many ups and downs on the roller coaster of life.

My life may not be the so-called dream that I thought it would be when I was 17. But that’s life. I am content and happy where I am in my life. Could things be better? Sure. Could things be far worst? Of course!

Within the past year I finally feel like I found myself and what path I really want to pursue in life. Totally cliché I know! It amazes me that as the older I get, the more I grow as a human being. What I wanted at 17 is different than what I wanted at 21. What I wanted at 21 was different than what I wanted at 25 and so forth. I’m sure when I hit 30 than I will want other things in life as well. I believe that we evolve as we age and become wiser and better people. I finally feel that I have outgrown my immature ways and view the world differently. I don’t expect the world to cater to my needs; instead, I must work hard and consistently to meet my own needs.

I’ve decided that each year on my birthday I am going to set goals based on my age number to accomplish by my next birthday. I’m a very goal-oriented person so setting goals makes me happy; but I think it will also help me in my pursuit for my ultimate career and life goals.

So, without ado… here are my 27 goals for my 27th year:
  1. Travel to a new country
  2. Learn French (or begin the process)
  3. Take a class for fun on something new that interest me
  4. Help write a grant proposal at work
  5. Land my first paying freelance job
  6. Learn to take quality pictures with my new DSLR
  7. Volunteer more
  8. Learn to deal with stress better
  9. Pay off at least $5000 of my student loans
  10. Learn the basics of investing
  11. Stick to my budget
  12. Reconnect with some old friends
  13. Grow a small vegetable garden
  14. Experience a new city
  15. Try an adult rowing class
  16. Write more often
  17. Help write an article for publication at work
  18. Grow my personal training and endurance sport coaching business
  19. Enjoy our family camp at the lake more
  20. Start studying for the GREs
  21. Hike Mt. Washington
  22. Spend more time reading
  23. Find something good in everyday
  24. Learn to cook a new recipe each month
  25. Become better at meal prepping on the weekends
  26. To have a Fall running season
  27. To enjoy the year as I’ll be another year older next year

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!