Dollars and Sense: Frugal Foodies

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Whether we are making healthier food choices, exercising more, or organizing our surroundings, a new year can be motivating. I personally love organizing. Chad and I just spent an afternoon completing our yearly budget overhaul. While certain larger expenses are easily spotted budget saboteurs, we fail to notice many of the little things.

The yearly budget often overlooks a few key areas, such as food waste. According to the American Chemistry Council, the average American household throws out just over $650 worth of food each year. I recognized that we can save money by committing to a few simple changes:

 

A List of Staples
I find it helpful to plan a half dozen meals in advance, purchasing grocery staples from a list. Then I am less likely to buy items that are never used and later thrown out. Also, included in this list are a couple quick meals.

Quick Meals
With our busy, modern lifestyle, take-out food has established a prominent role at meal time. To help reduce the need and cost of take out, we created a handful of easy recipes. For example, every fall I spend an afternoon and put up 10 lbs. of Italian meatballs. These make quick meals, ready from freezer to table in less than an hour. We pair them with vegetables, rice, and of course spaghetti night.

A New Spin on Pizza Night
Try purchasing less pizza and pair with a veggie and some fruit or make naan bread pizzas

The Charcuterie Board (That’s a fancy way of saying a meat and cheese tray)
With 30 minutes of slicing some meat, cheese, veggies, and opening a can of olives and sleeve of crackers or slices of baguette, you can enjoy a lovely, simple meal. We enjoy carrots, celery, and radishes paired with slices of prosciutto, adding a small bowl of black olives and a small chunk of goat cheese with herbs (Also a nice variation of date night).

Change your Way of Thinking
My grandfather was a Navy cook on the U.S.S. Virginia during WWI. As a result of his training, many of the family dinners handed down were rich and calorie laden, required to maintain energy through a hard day’s manual labor. Our modern tasks rarely require so many calories. Have you ever tried making dinner a lighter meal?

Left over Night
Take a night each week and consume what’s left in the fridge. To combat our waste of lettuce, we keep tortillas, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of refried beans in the pantry. If the lettuce needs to go, we use up the lettuce, along with any extra cheese, hot sauce, sour cream (or none if we’re out) and make bean tacos.

 

By reducing waste, organizing your grocery list, and decluttering the fridge, you will have less stress, be more focused, and perhaps end up with a few dollars in your pocket.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

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Dollars and Sense Part III: An Open Letter to the Class of 2016

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As both high school and college graduates are preparing to take that next step, long term financial planning often takes a back seat to other pursuits and interests. While my husband and I have, for the most part, made sound financial decisions, there are a few bits of wisdom I wish we would have known and applied earlier. So here is an open letter to all graduates, sharing the pearls of wisdom we learned along the way.

To the Class of 2016,

While your parents may have started discussing this with you, long term financial planning is probably the farthest from your mind right now. I want to share three of the investing tips we learned along the way, specifically those things we wish we knew in our late teens and 20s.

First, if you are working and at least 18, you are eligible to sign up for a retirement IRA. The Roth IRA is a powerful retirement savings plan, which allows the investor to add up to $5,500 per year. While there is no upfront tax advantage, your money grows tax free, and in retirement, all withdrawals are tax free, and investors are not forced to make RMDs, Required Minimum Distributions. Meaning, the government does not force you to make yearly withdrawals from the account (The Traditional IRA requires a yearly RMD starting at age 70 1/2). Roth IRAs grant the investor the flexibility to make retirement withdrawals when needed.

In addition, investors often utilize multiple accounts because many businesses offer a retirement plan with a company match. This means for every dollar you add to your individual retirement plan through work, the company will match a portion of your investment (up to a set amount established by each individual business). In the future, if you work for a company that offers a match, invest in your company’s plan before any other contributions. A company match is extra money for your retirement!!! A common investment strategy begins with maxing out a company’s retirement plan (401K, 403B, etc.) utilizing the company match, then using any extra funds available for a Roth IRA.

The final bit of information I wish we had known at your age is just how much additional money is earned by investing early. Every $1,000 you invest in your late teens and 20s is the equivalent of your parents investing around $4,000 as adults in their 40s. Historically, an investment account doubles every 8-12 years. Think about that for a minute:

$1,000 becomes $2,000
$2,000 becomes $4,000
$4,000 becomes $8,000…

Imagine being in your 50s with $500,000 saved? Watch yourself reach $1,000,000!

Many might ask, between regular bills and loans, just where am I supposed to find any extra money? While budgeting entails another post, Hubby and I kick ourselves sometimes when we consider what a difference forgoing the occasional weekend pizza, the impulse purchases, or those fancy coffee drinks could have added to our financial security. Those extra $5-$20 truly add up! As a starting point, could you invest $500 per year by giving up a few extras?

So as you begin your financial journey, please remember these three things:

  1. Sign up for a Traditional or Roth IRA in the near future. Note: In my opinion, Roth IRAs provide an excellent starting point and unique benefits in retirement.
  2. If your employer offers a retirement plan with a company match, invest money there first; then apply any extra to your Roth.
  3. Remember how much farther investing in your 20s will advance your financial goals.

Just where can one sign up for an IRA? Ask your parents, browse on-line articles, and educate yourself on the best path for financial independence! Investing can be confusing and retirement seem so far off; however, take the time now to learn about retirement investments. A financial advisor can help with questions and concerns. Google “Roth IRA calculator” and enter whatever you think you can save; see just how large your nest egg can grow! The financial decisions you make in the next ten years will greatly affect your future! Be smart!

Best of luck,

Maggie

Dollars and Sense, Part II

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Happy 2016, Readers! It’s that time of year again when I don my financial cap. Chad and I began our journey into finance in the late 90s when Chad attended a course on budgeting and investing. Keeping close attention to our spending and saving has become a hobby of sorts. Earlier, I wrote about dating while on a budget and the modern piggy bank: Virtual envelopes. Recently, I noticed a few flaws in our finances while reviewing the previous year’s expenses.

Chad and I create a monthly budget spreadsheet every year and attempt to record all expenses (still working on that). Then in January, we review our budget and make necessary adjustments for the following year. While fully embracing my “budget nerd,” I noticed a flaw in our system: Large, once per year expenses.

While home and car insurance and property taxes were planned, many expenses throughout the year interfered with the budget: Snow plow services, senior pictures, garbage/recycling services, hay for the farm animals, car tags, etc. These bills ended up being paid at the cost of other things in our budget. Date Night is a big deal to me; losing a few to a budget error motivated me to improve our financial plan. That’s where the previous year’s budget sheets helped. I was able to see many expenses that did not fit in our regular budget, which month the expense was needed, and how much extra was needed for the future.

After some organizing, I formed a plan. Adding a line to our budget for Miscellaneous Expenses took care of many larger expenses (If you try this, be sure to record those miscellaneous expenses for future reference). However, some expenses exceeded that amount. We saved for larger bills by adding just a bit of extra money to the savings account where home and car expenses were paid.

Where will this extra money come from? Personally, I enjoy eating out, not just date night. While little money is spent (usually $5-10), the frequency adds up, so limiting the number of trips per month was a first step. I also admit that I bring home too many animals.  Can anyone recommend a support group?

Can your budget be modified? Morning coffee from Starbucks?  Are you expecting a tax refund? Adding that amount to savings could create extra funds for occasional expenses. On the other hand, if you’re receiving a tax refund, perhaps readjusting withholdings would create enough monthly income for a Miscellaneous Account. The government doesn’t need an interest free loan.

In closing, as Michelangelo said, “I am still learning.” Last year, I noticed we weren’t saving for our next vehicle. After a few adjustments, the Car Account is slowly on the way. I’m really hoping my car holds out for a couple more years! Between adding money to a Miscellaneous Account and setting a bit extra in savings, our finances are another step closer to where they need to be. Keeping a budget helps meet our needs and pursue a few wants.

Happy budgeting and thanks for reading!

Dollars and Sense

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How many of you are dreading that one piece of mail due to arrive soon? The credit card statement! At some point in our lives, we lean too heavily on easy credit, and it comes back to bite us. This is the first of a few money organization posts to help avoid unnecessary debt.

Many of us are skilled at developing and maintaining a budget; however, what about those expenses that do not fit neatly in a monthly plan? This is where the use of virtual envelopes can streamline a family’s finances. Virtual envelopes are small savings accounts where money can be added and saved throughout the year. I use my local credit union. (Note: Their technical term is just a sub-savings account. I named them virtual envelopes, each labeled for specific use.)

Gifts: How many of you despise the monthly credit card bill that arrives after Christmas? Or the birthday present you figured to pay later? I have a “Gift Fund” virtual envelope set up through my credit union. Every paycheck, a certain amount goes in and when birthdays arrive or Christmas, we have a budget to work from (or at least an amount to start with and add from our monthly budget).

Vacations: How many of you take vacations with only the current paycheck, then the following month dread the credit card bill with all the unexpected purchases? Yes, even vacations require a budget. Setting aside a virtual envelope for the year’s weekend adventures, day trips, or spring break is a useful tool for staying on track or even planning for that once in a lifetime trip (see how we saved over a seven year period for our family trip to Ireland!).

Any other envelopes needed? Do you heat with propane and need to save for winter fill ups? Do you need funds for specific teen activities, camps, driver’s education, etc.? A little planning and organization now will prevent future credit card anxiety. Do you have more needed “envelopes” than money? Pick the two or three that interfere with your budget the most. Even in my own hyper planning, I still have neglected to start an envelope for future vehicles…baby steps. Those of you who usually receive tax refunds in a few weeks, consider starting your family’s fiscal year on a positive note by paying off credit cards and setting up a few virtual envelopes.

Happy Budgeting!