Follow me at: http://projectmoney.summitcreditunion.com/katie/

My blog about my Summit Credit Union Project Money 2014 participation will continue for the next 6 months at: http://projectmoney.summitcreditunion.com/katie/

In January 2015, I will return to posting on this page.

Keep following my journey!  See you on the other site!

 

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Finding “hidden” savings

You always hear stories or watch television shows about people who are extreme coupon clippers and get incredible deals.  I’ve always wanted to be like them, but I’ve never been one to be willing to spend a ton of time each week scouring ads, searching for online coupons, or clipping Sunday papers.  After all, time is money too!

So, this week, I want to share the “hidden” savings I’ve found and strategies I’m using to save money on groceries:

#1. Shop and plan your meals around sales.  I shop at Pick N’ Save and their weekly ad comes out every Thursday.  Since I’m single and just cook for myself, I don’t have to shop very often and usually just need to pick up fresh items.  But, I watch the ad to see what is going to be on sale and make meals around those sales.

#2. Register for store rewards.  I primarily shop at Pick N’ Save, Walgreens, Aldi and Trader Joes.  The first two have rewards memberships and, trust me, I use these rewards to my advantage!  They also both have special coupons available online that you can “attach” to your card.  Below are tonight’s purchases.  I spent $26.08 in total, having reviewed what was on sale (#1), using coupons from the Sunday paper, and using all the special coupons and store rewards I could find (without spending a ton of timing looking, though).  I am especially proud of my Walgreens purchases- $1.59 in total.  Yes, $1.59!!!

Walgreens

My Walgreens purchase= $1.59

Groceries

Total of all of my purchases= $26.08

#3. Stock up on regularly used items and essentials when they’re on sale. You may be laughing at some of the stuff I purchased.  I now have enough mac n’ cheese to last me into fall and ice cream to last me all summer, but those purchases cost me only $10.50 and they are items that I will certainly use; this same purchase at “regular” price would have run about $22.  Tissues were on sale at Walgreens for only $1 a box.  The coffee was on sale for $2 off a box, then there was a mobile app coupon for another $3 off and a coupon from the Sunday paper for $1.50 off.  Lastly, I am very particular about the type  of contact solution I use, which unfortunately tends to be quite expensive.  So, whenever I see this type on sale, I buy it.  The brand I bought tonight is a new product that is being launched, so the manufacturer was giving a $4 off coupon to encourage people to try it.

#4.  Watch for incentives for things you do anyways!  Last week, Lincoln (my cat) and I got summer haircuts. The cost? Technically, (gasp) $148.  Yes, this may seem like an extravagance, especially when I’m supposed to be on a tight budget.  But, Lincoln is much more comfortable during the summer when he has a summer shave, and since I’m not using air conditioning this summer, I would be a mean cat-mom to make him endure the heat with his long hair.  So, what am I trying to prove? Wait for it… I got my yearly physical back in March and my insurance gives you a $150 gift card if you send in proof of your physical.  So, actual amount spent for the cuts: $0!

Lincoln

Our new summer cuts= $0

#5. Learn to love the dollar store. Since going on a tighter budget, I am learning all about the deals available at the dollar store.  I had been struggling a bit the past month because there were certain items that I wanted to purchase, but couldn’t justify buying them because they weren’t “necessities.”  For instance, this seems so silly, but I really like floss picks. But, they were $2.99 for 90 at Walgreens; at the dollar store, I found a bag of 150 for… $1!  I also recently got four items for a gift I made for someone from the dollar store.  I estimate that had I bought these same items at Target, I would have spent about $20 for the items… so, $16 in savings!

 

My second step: a budget

At the beginning of June, I met with Adam, my Summit Credit Union Project Money coach, and we began putting three things into place: a budget, a loan (I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I’ll explain later), and a whole bunch of savings and checking accounts.  I’ll write a separate post soon detailing the loan and outlining the savings/checking accounts and the intention of each of them.

Let’s first start with the budget:  I’ve tried to write out a budget each month for the past year.  I did pretty well, for a while, managing an excel file that detailed all my expenses.  But, eventually, this became cumbersome and I couldn’t stay motivated to keep updating it.  Then, in December, I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.  I highly recommend reading this book and/or attending one of his Financial Peace University seminars.  One of his main teachings is that every dollar of your income should be assigned a purpose.  He recommends putting your money into different envelopes so that you’re physically aware of what you are spending and how much you have left.  Honestly, I don’t think I could ever do that.  First, I don’t like the idea of having a thousand or more dollars lying around the house or in my purse in envelopes.  Second, it just doesn’t seem efficient.  Personally, I began using mint.com and I LOVE IT!  I have the mobile app on my iPhone and I am able to track literally every dollar I spend and know what it was allocated to.  I can also set a budget within the app and monitor my spending within the budget.  Just like Dave’s envelope plan… except brought into the twenty-first century!  Summit Credit Union also has a great online tool that you can use once you’ve joined the credit union.  Through their online branch, you can use their “Goal Tracker” to set budget goals and track where your money is going.

Anyway, organizing my monthly budget on paper was my first assignment from Adam.  This wasn’t very difficult for me to do since I have been using mint.com and had a good estimate of my monthly expenses.  So, I took it one step further and really thought about it more in an annual perspective because I am beginning to realize that I’m not prepared when I have extra expenses for the month that fall outside the budget.  For instance, I am attending four weddings this summer: where have I budgeted the money for these gifts?  (Answer: I hadn’t).  When it comes time to pay my quarterly water bill, where does the money come from?  (Answer: I usually just pull it from my savings).  Looking at my budget from an annual perspective helped me establish a better monthly budget because I recognized that I needed to budget some money each month to these future expenses.  I was able to estimate how much I’d need for the entire year and then build a “savings” for each of these expenses.

Want to begin working on a budget for you or your family?  Try out these resources:

 

My first video blog: Saving money on my commute!

One of the ways I save the most money is by not having a commute!  When I decided to buy a home two years ago, I decided to look in Waukesha to shorten my commute.  Around that same time, a foreclosure came up for sale A BLOCK FROM WORK!  It’s great!  I love walking to work and the money I’m saving in the process.

This is the first video blog that I am required to complete for the Summit Credit Union Project Money 2014 competition.  I will upload at least one every month, so stay tuned!

My first steps

When we met for our first coaching session, my coach, Adam, challenged me to consider immediate changes I could make to my budget and behaviors.  Here are the “first steps” I took, even prior to Project Money beginning:

  1. I shut off my DirectTV service.  I still had two months left on my contract and the cancellation fee was $20 per month left on the contract, so I fully expected to pay $40 to cancel (which still would have saved me money in the long-run).  But, as it turns out, you are allowed to “suspend” your contract for up to six months without any charges.  So, I’ve chosen to suspend my contract until the end of November (though I fully intend to cancel come that date).  While this may only put off the inevitable cancellation fee, I figure it’s more money in my pocket with which I can begin Project Money.
  2. I consulted with “my accountant” (aka my mom, who is a CPA) and we decided that because I had such a large tax return in 2013, it would behoove me to increase the number of allowances I take on my state and federal taxes.  This will result in a larger net pay check and a smaller tax refund come February 2015.  I’ve always been a fan of having a large tax refund each year, but my uncle has often encouraged us to keep your gross net pay as high as possible and put the “extra” money into savings.  I suppose I’ve never trusted myself enough to keep the money in savings, but I think with the motivation of Project Money and Adam’s help in defining my goals and setting up various savings accounts, I can definitely get into this habit.
  3. I contacted my insurance agent and had him run some comparisons to verify that I was, indeed, getting the best car and home insurance rates I could.  Turns out, I was able to stay with the same car insurance company and reduce my payments by $6 a month.  It’s not much, but it’s something!

What prompted this debt-free journey…

Back in December 2013, I was growing overly frustrated with my graduate student loan debt.  After reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, I knew that I was ready to “live like no one else” in order to get my finances under control and move towards snowballing the payoff of my credit card and student loan debt.  I took a few baby steps that month; I sold a few items to pay off one credit card and used the extra money to purchase holiday gifts.  I also resolved to stop using my credit cards all together.  But, as everyone knows, baby steps are unsteady and I occasionally stumbled when credit card incentives seemed to good to pass up… An extra 10% off my purchase for using my Discover Card?  Sure!  Use the “points” I’ve accumulated on a card as payment towards an Amazon purchase?  Sure!  I like good “deals,” so I had a hard time saying “no.”

Then, in March 2014, I contacted my student loan provider to discuss the payoff of my student loans.  For five years, I’ve made consistent monthly payments between $200-$250 a month.  And, in those five years, do you know how much I learned that I had paid off? $5000!  $5000?!?  My jaw dropped when I heard that!  I had paid nearly $13,000 towards this debt and all that has come off the principal was $5000?  When I asked how much longer I had until the debt would be paid off entirely, I was told 16 years.  And, to make matters worse, in that time I would pay over $14,000 in interest.  That night, I decided I needed to make more of a change.  I was determined more than ever to stop using those stupid credit cards, but I needed something more to motivate me.  I began to look a various blogs about student loans and debt-reduction strategies.  I began to scour advice from the websites of local businesses and credit unions.  That’s when I came across Summit Credit Union’s “Project Money” competition.  A competition to eliminate the most debt and increase your savings?  What better motivation?!?!  I immediately began putting together my application and three months later…  here we are at the start of a “Single Girl’s Guide to Becoming Debt Free.”
Live like no one else