Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Same Old Message

I grew up in a pretty frugal household. From what I understand, it runs in the family -- sometimes out of genuine need and other times because we believe there's no sense in wasting money when you could save it to use for something better.

Years ago, I remember the subject of Phil Donahue's talk show was pinching pennies, and I recall my mom saying that she wasn't learning anything. She was already doing all of the tips they were suggesting -- and more! "Why don't they tell me something new?"

I'm really a glutton for saving tips. It becomes more and more challenging to find a new idea because like Mom, I'm so tuned into these things, it seems like I've heard them all. However, once in a while, I find a new one that will really work for me. I love that!

But why keep repeating all of the tips it seems like everyone should know? Here's why: people don't always listen, and sometimes it takes several times hearing the message before we'll try something new. We may not all have been reading the magazine or watching the news report that told, for what seems like the millionth time, to pack your lunch for work instead of eating out every day. That's not "new" news anymore.

Wait a minute -- it is old news to me. However, recently I've been looking at what my neighbors are carrying on the bus to work in the morning. Very few (some days, none) look like they are taking their lunch to work. Sure, maybe their employer does like my previous employer did, and they get free lunch at work. Maybe there is a grocery store beside their office, like mine now, and they get a super cheap microwaveable lunch every day. But I'm willing to guess that a lot of them are going out to eat every day.

Perhaps one day they will tune into world of saving tips, start bringing their lunch, and socking the extra cash away for something better than a hamburger and fries on a daily basis. There's hope, but the rest of have to keep listening to the same old message that we already know and abide.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gift Bags, Gift Wrap Gallore

I spent a while yesterday working on organizing all of the gift wrapping supplies that we have. The volume of stuff is incredible! Michael asked, "Where did you get all of this?"

Well, I had a bunch -- bags, tags, wrapping paper, tissue paper, bows. I used to buy it when I found it on clearance (usually at Target). He also had some that he brought to our household when we got married. But the bulk is from the wedding.

I was pretty lucky in that I had several friends and family members who wanted to host a bridal shower for me. It wasn't really possible to combine any of them. So, I had three showers thrown in my honor. Then, of course, there were all of the wedding gifts. Many of them were shipped to us without wrapping. However, quite a few were delivered in lovely boxes and bags with ribbons and bows.

I'm not a hoarder, but I do hate throwing good stuff away. I want to either give it away, sell it, or use it...not throw it away. All of these wrapping supplies were no exception. In fact, that stuff can be kind of expensive if you buy it full price. So many people gave us gifts in such nice bags with beautiful ribbons and bow -- it seemed crazy to throw it away from an environmental and financial point of view.

As a result, we now have about $600 in retail value of wrapping supplies. Okay, I don't actually know the value of it, but it's a lot of stuff! In fact, after organizing it and boxing it up, I'm not sure I can all be stored under one bed.

If you get a gift from us in the next 10 years or so, it's probably going to be wrapped in reused tissue paper, in a reused gift bag, or tied with a reused ribbon and bow. I hope you'll be able to pass it on too.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Keys to Financial Success: Dedication & Perseverance

With all of the gloom and doom economic news lately, there are a lot of reports on how to save money, especially on the morning programs. I love watching those segments.

I was just watching this report on the Frugal Family Challenge on Good Morning America Weekend Edition. The financial planner who was helping the family that ended up saving the most said something interesting: "Saving money is more about dedication and perseverance than it is dollars and cents." I really believe that's true.

One of the financial planners we saw at the CFP Board's clinic the other week told us that financial planning and saving money isn't "rocket science," but it just takes "time, thought, and organization." I believe that's true too.

It's easy to just buy the first thing you see on the shelf at the first store you enter. It takes more time to shop around. It's a breeze to pay your bills but never think about the total you are spending. It takes thought to create a spending plan and stick to it. It's simple to walk into a store grab a few items. It takes more organization to plan a shopping list around sales and coupons.

However, if you persevere and stay dedicated to saving, you'll benefit a lot.

Here's my little secret: there are days I don't feel like making a grocery list (with sale items and coupons) or walking downstairs at night to turn off the TV, router, and cable box at the power switch or logging all of my receipts into my financial software. I can be so lazy. But I usually dig deep, suck it up, and just do it! And it pays off when I realize what we are able to do -- save for the future and do fun things now like travel, despite living in an expensive area on average salaries.

And that's my motivation: save for fun!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheaper Chicken

Today at Harris Teeter I was going to buy Perdue chicken breast which was on sale for $3.99. I knew that was a good deal, but I always like to confirm. So, I checked the price of the Harris Teeter brand chicken. It was $5.29/lb. (regular price). I was ready to load some Perdue into my cart when something caught my eye.

The large package of Harris Teeter chicken breast was only $3.29/lb. That was the regular price too. However, it was $2.00/lb. less than the exact same thing in a smaller package. It was also cheaper than the sale price for the Perdue chicken.

Wow! I guess when I was only buying for one person (before I was married), I never paid attention to those huge packages. Michael and I still won't eat $14 worth of chicken in one meal or even one week (thank goodness!). However, I have learned the value of freezing individual servings. So, I'm off to the kitchen now to prepare the chicken for freezing. We eat a fair amount of chicken, but this will last us several weeks.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Jump on Your Money Bus

It just so happens that a Certified Financial Planner reads Save 4 Fun, and he's also a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). After reading about me going to the CFP Board's free financial planning clinic, Brian brought another fun event to my attention: Your Money Bus.

NAPFA's fee-only financial advisors will be touring the country in this bus -- telling Americans all about the importance of saving and how to do it. It's starts off in DC on October 1 and 2. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make it since those are weekdays, and I don't work very close to the National Mall. They are, however, doing a symposium on "Understanding Debt, Saving and Your Financial Well-Being" at the District of Columbia Public Library (G St NW) on the evening of October 1, which is free and open to the public.

It looks like Your Money Bus will be touring the East Coast at least through November. Their website says they'll be crossing the country, so stay tuned to their website to find out when it will pull into your town. If it's anything like the CFP Board's clinic, it will be worth checking out. (If it's not coming to your hometown, you can keep up with the Bus and even ask the advisors questions via the blog on their website.)

Take a look at their You Tube video.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Financial Planning

Yesterday, as scheduled, Michael and I headed downtown to go to the Certified Financial Planner Board's free financial planning clinic. It was definitely worth our time -- and it was free!

I drew up the draft of our new spending plan earlier this week and then got Michael's input before we both approved the final version. This morning, I printed it out along with a report of our current net worth which detailed all of our accounts (assets and liabilities). I drafted some questions so we knew what we wanted to find out from the financial planners. And after Michael returned from a 18-mile (marathon training) run, we ventured off to the clinic.

We talked with 4 different planners in 3 different topic groups: general financial planning, retirement planning, and income tax planning. I guess we spent about 10 to 15 minutes with each one. We wanted their opinions on our newly minted spending and savings plan, on priorities (saving versus paying off a high interest car loan), on retirement savings, on saving for a down payment on a house, and on filing joint income taxes.

It was helpful that I took our detailed information with us. Generalities really don't work very well in financial planning. In fact, the CFP Board's introduction to the clinic told us that. So, we were able to get some tailored advice. And like all of the planners told us, just knowing our net worth and thinking about financial matters puts us well ahead of the curve.

The good news is that we seem to be on the right track. Our natural instincts were in line with the professionals' advice. Now, we just need to stay the course.

If the CFP Board does a clinic in your area, I highly recommend going. But whether you go to a free clinic or pay a planner or do it on your own, just make sure you make a financial plan. You'll reach your goals a lot easier and faster.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Give & You Might Receive

During the past week, I've been working on our "married" spending plan. On paper it seems like it will work. (But that's a whole other story.)

One thing that I put into the plan and that Michael approved was for giving to charity (including church). We have no intentions of giving with the expectation that we will personally gain something directly from our gifts. We just believe it's the right thing to do.

However, I recently received something because of a gift I gave...

In June 2006, I went to a Girl Scout Silver Award ceremony at the Pentagon and afterwards got to go with them on a tour. It was my first time to the Pentagon. I love tours, and I've always been curious about that mammoth building. So, this was great!

We got to go to the memorial room and chapel that were built where a conference room had been prior to September 11, 2001. For a variety of reasons (including the fact I live 2 miles from the Pentagon and felt my house shake the morning of the terrorist attacks), I've always felt a strong connection to that event despite not personally knowing anyone who was affected. So, while I was touring the Pentagon, I picked a brochure about the Pentagon Memorial Fund and decided I would give a little money to that cause.

Finally, in May 2007, I got around to actually giving a gift to the Fund. It was a mere $100 -- probably a quarter of a drop in the $22 million bucket. However, even if it was just a little, I wanted to give something. I wouldn't have my name printed or engraved anywhere. But I would just always know that I helped (even in a small way) to build that beautiful place.

Then, a few weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, thanking me again for my donation and offering me a ticket to the dedication. Wow! I felt so special. I like being a part of those kinds of things. And again, this one held a little extra meaning. So, I asked them to send me the ticket.

I took Thursday off from work and went to the dedication with about 16,000 other invited guests. I felt pretty honored to be there. After all, on 9/11/01, I was just the 25-year-old down the road who had the day off from my job as a hotel manager...who was literally shaking at the time of impact, not because I knew what had happened but because I knew whatever it was, was big. But there I was with all of these military people, first-responders (even search & rescue dogs!), victims families, people who had been in the Pentagon that day, the President and Vice President of the United States and members of the Cabinet...watching the dedication of this lovely place that will help with healing and help us to never forget.

I gave, and then as a surprise, I was included.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Getting Ready for the Free Financial Planning Clinic in DC

Now that the wedding is over, you'd think I'd have more time to blog. However, we've been trying to get the house set up and in order. We've made some good headway, but we still have a long way to go.

Another big project I'm working on is getting some kind of hold on our finances. I need to input all of my receipts over the past month (ugh) into my financial software. I normally do that every few days or at least once a week, and then it's not so bad. However, with the wedding planning, wedding, and honeymoon, I just didn't have time and/or wasn't home.

After I finish that, I need to look at our joint finances and figure out where exactly we are. Then, Michael and I both need to figure out where we want to be in order to set some goals. Considering his aversion to financial talk, that ought to be fun. But because of pre-wedding financial planning (I made him talk to me about all personal finances about 3 days after we were engaged!), I, at least, have some kind of understanding of how that conversation will go. He'll warm up to it -- after all, I save 4 fun!!!

Anyway, the big rush on getting a hold of the finances is because on Saturday, September 13, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is hosting a free financial planning clinic. Qualified volunteers from their organization will be available to talk to people about all sorts of financial topics. They promise no sales pitches and that they don't even take down your name or information. I figure that's a good place for us to get started before we consider paying someone to consult us.

So, I've already registered us. I got Michael's consent before I registered. The deal is that we just have to be home before 3:30 so that he can watch the UGA football game. No problem. We'll be there when they open at 11 AM and talk to as many people as we need/can and then head home to cheer on the Dawgs.

Now, I just have to get our money matters in order so that we can have some good questions at the clinic.

If I'm not posting as often as usual, you now know why...

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