Do You Control Your Money or Does Your Money Control You?

money troubles

money troubles

I had a conversation with someone who has consistent financial troubles. I learned the main issues were a lack of sufficient income and money management skills. I began to offer suggestions such as searching for a higher paying job, limit eating out and carpooling to work. Unfortunately, every suggestion I gave was immediately shot down with what I considered to be an excuse. In the middle of the conversation I realized I wouldn’t be able to help this person. In hindsight, I don’t think the person wanted my help. It made me realize that some people aren’t truly ready to make improvements to their finances. If you want to improve your finances you have to be ready to get real. The first step is to take responsibility for making your situation better.

I began noticing a pattern when speaking to people about their money issues and concerns. What I heard was complaining about not having enough money and not getting ahead in life. The few times where I interjected and asked what they planned to do about it, I could tell my question was unexpected.

I pose the same question to you, if you are unhappy with your financial status, what do you plan to do about it?

Do you honestly want to put in the work required to generate change? Or are you hoping your money issues will work out on their own?

Do you believe that you can live a better life? Or do you quietly tell yourself that everyone struggles with money and you are no different?

Today I saw the quote, “In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.”-Nikos Kazantzakis

The mind is an incredibly powerful tool. If you don’t have the correct mindset you can sabotage your journey before you even take the first step. You can be told over and over that it is possible for you to increase your quality of life and decrease your financial stress. However, it will never happen if you do not BELIEVE it can happen.

If you are having a hard time taking control of your finances and you think the task is too big, then start small. Set small obtainable goals and prove to yourself that getting a handle on your finances is possible. Your goal should have clear and measurable results.

For example, if you need to increase your savings, make a goal that every time you get paid you will put a certain amount into a savings account. You can start out small with $25 or 5% of your pay. Challenge yourself to do it for three months. Another goal could be to decrease the amount of money you spend on eating out. Allow yourself to eat out only once a week for a month.

The goal is for you to turn these trial practices into habits, but you have to take the first step. Once you have smaller challenges under control you can then begin to focus on your bigger financial problems. Remember you didn’t get into your current financial situation overnight. It may take some time to get you on the right path, but slow progress is better than no progress at all.

Continue to remain encourage and move towards progression. “If you believe it, you can achieve it”, may be cliché, but it holds a great deal of truth.

Free is for Me!

January 27th  marked the beginning of the last year of my 30’s. Getting older and finding random gray hairs can be slightly depressing. Although, I was reminded of how joyous another birthday could be every time I opened my e-mail and found a special gift just for me. These gifts were coupons for free stuff! I got them from various corporations because I am enrolled in their membership clubs. The membership clubs offer reward programs which are usually based on a point system.  You accumulate points based on your spending totals. Once you have spent a certain amount of money you will receive a coupon for a free item or a discount on your next purchase. Many of the corporations will give you an extra bonus for your birthday by giving you something for free.  As the saying goes, “Free is for Me!” `

Since January is my birthday month, I have received coupons for free meals from IHOP and Houlihans, wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, ice cream from Cold Stone, a beverage from Dunkin Donuts, and my choice of an appetizer or dessert from Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I also received $25 in coupons from DSW and $15 from Best Buy. This is only a partial list of membership rewards I received. Signing up for membership clubs at many stores and restaurants is free and normally an introductory gift is given just for signing up.  The corporations use their membership clubs to keep customers aware of new product offerings and sales. The preferred method of communication is e-mail. If you do not want the store promotions intermingling with other personal or business e-mails, I suggest setting up a separate email account for your club memberships.

Receiving these coupons can be an extra little perk, but they can also save you a significant amount of money over time. I have a dog that eats expensive food that doesn’t go on sale often. I am enrolled in the Petco rewards club. Every time I reach $100 in purchases, I receive a coupon for $5 off my next purchase. That is an 8% savings on a $60 bag of food.

Being a part of these memberships clubs has shaped the way that I think about spending. I almost never want to pay full price for anything. I seek ways to find discounts and keep more money in my pocket! Below is a list of some stores and restaurants that offer membership club rewards. Go sign up and enjoy your savings!

  • Benihana
  • Best Buy
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Chili’s
  • Cold Stone
  • Dairy Queen
  • DSW
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Houlihans
  • IHOP
  • Longhorn’s
  • Panera
  • Petco
  • P.F Chang’s China Bistro
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback
  • Red Lobster
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Starbucks
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New Year, New You…Same Old Bank Account

Now is the time to change your financial position

Now is the time to change your financial position

As we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015, I want you to also say goodbye to your poor financial habits and welcome in a new financial discipline. You need to shed the stress and worry from not having your finances in order. Now is the time to usher in changes that will help you to create a positive financial outlook.

“Change is the only constant in life.”-Heraclitus

This means the only thing you can be sure of in life is that change will occur. Therefore, change is something that should be embraced.  It will happen if you like it or not. The best way to approach your finances is to be proactive versus reactive. This mean you will need to have a financial plan.

Ask yourself, what are your financial problems? What are you doing to contribute to your financial instability?  Now ask yourself this very important question, “What are you willing to do differently?”

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”-Albert Einstein

You cannot expect your financial position to change by continuing to do what you have always done.  The reason I started this blog was because I have seen too many people struggling financially. They had no clue how to turn things around. I also think people begin to believe that struggling financially is a way of life. They see other people in the same boat and have accepted it as a norm.  My goal for you is to become empowered and take steps to financial freedom. This isn’t just a catchy phrase, but can be a reality for your life.

I want you to think of your top 3 financial headaches. Write them down. For example, you may have too much debt, not enough in your savings or your credit score is too low. After writing them down, read them out loud. I want you to read them out loud so that you fully acknowledge that these concerns require your immediate attention.

Believe me when I say that you have the power to change your financial position and put yourself on the right track. If you are willing to put in the effort, I guarantee you will see results. Below are the topics that have been covered in my previous posts:

  1. Start Managing Your Money
  2. What is Coming In and What is Going Out
  3. Why Don’t I Have More Money
  4. Creating a Monthly Budget
  5. Money Saving Tips
  6. Make Saving Your New Habit
  7. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
  8. Don’t Spend Money You Haven’t Earned

For those unfamiliar with the posts I invite you to read them all or the ones you think will address your financial situation. The posts contain solid advice as well as action plans.

I am excited for what 2015 has in store. I plan to continue to bring you practical and useful financial tips as we continue our journey to finances made simple.

Don’t Spend Money You Haven’t Earned

It is that time of year again, when we gather with friends and family around a large feast and discuss why we are thankful. While you take this much needed time for reflection, know that there is a well-developed plot against you that is about to unfold. It is what many Americans have come to know as Black Friday. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving that marks what some say is the official start of the holiday shopping seasoning. The term “black” refers to retailers making a profit or “being in the black”.  The day was designed to separate you from your money.

Studies have shown that Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. According to the National Retail Federation,  in 2013 consumers spent $57.4 billion dollars during the Black Friday weekend. What makes Black Friday so different from the other 364 days of the year? The lure of rock bottom prices, steals and deals that retailers claim you will only see on this one day. People line up and camp out at stores, hours even days before the Friday store opening, to ensure their chances to purchase that “must-have”.

I am not sure if this is capitalism at its best or at its worst. I don’t think I need to say (but I will), that $57.4 billion dollars is a heck of a lot of money. I wonder how much of that was actual money that consumers had versus credit they used. I know it is easy to be lured in and to think that you are actually saving money with Black Friday deals, however it is only a deal if you have the money to make the purchase.

Get out of the habit of spending money that you have yet to earn. That is exactly what is happening when you use credit cards with the intention of paying them off at a later date. After paying the interest that accrued, I guarantee you that the purchase wasn’t much of a bargain when it is all said and done.

I say this from experience because I would shop on Black Friday religiously, and used my credit cards without hesitation. I would swipe my cards without any immediate consequences and rave about the money I “saved”. Once I received the credit card bills, reality set in. I, like many other credit card holders, didn’t have the money to pay off my balances. I then struggled to figure out how to pay these new bills with my existing expenses.

As the saying goes, “When you know better, you do better”. I no longer make this common financial mistake.

Going into debt to get more “stuff” simply isn’t worth it. Being able to sleep at night without financial worries, is far more valuable than the last electronic or a new pair of jeans.

Remember, if it is not in your budget, you can’t afford it.

Happy Holidays and remember to be financially responsible!

Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

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Negotiation is a powerful tool that consumers do not use enough. Salespeople know the majority of buyers would rather not engage in haggling over price. Initially, it can be uncomfortable talking about cost and your unwillingness to pay the stated amount. I would shy away from negotiating because I didn’t want to appear as if I couldn’t afford the item I wanted to buy. I was actually concerned about how the salesperson would view me. One day I realized this was a bunch of psychological nonsense. There is a psychology to selling and I was playing right into the hands of the person that wanted to take me for every dime possible. I will offer you this useful advice, if you are scared of negotiating….get over it!

You work hard for your money, don’t give it away easily. As I said, there is psychology to selling goods and services. It is all designed to create a transaction that is most beneficial for the seller. Use the tool of negotiation to make the playing field a little more even. Negotiating is a skill but anyone can master it. It will require that you do a little homework, but the small amount of time you spend doing research can potentially save you a significant amount of money. You will need to gather information from a few different sellers/providers about the price of the goods or services that you are looking to purchase. If the seller/provider that you choose to do business with doesn’t have the lowest price, use the information you gathered to negotiate a better deal.

There are a few rules to remember when negotiating. First, have a predetermined amount that you are willing to spend. Always exhibit confidence and stand firm in your decisions. Lastly, if you don’t think you are getting the best deal or what you want, don’t be afraid to walk away.

There are certain situations that are notorious for negotiating, like buying a car. There are other situations where negotiating can be used as well, such as having work done around your house. I recently tried this myself and was very happy with the outcome.

I needed to have the fence that surrounds my backyard replaced. When having any type of work done it is best to get three estimates so that you can make an informed decision. That is exactly what I did.   I was shocked by the huge difference in the estimates I received, but decided to use it to my advantage.

The three estimates were:

Company A-$3,008

Company B-$2,554

Company C- $1,925

I ruled out the estimate from Company A, because it was significantly higher than the other two. Even if I negotiated a lower price I thought it would still be inflated. I wanted to contract with Company B because I believed they would do the best work. Despite that, I couldn’t  ignore the $629 difference between them and Company C. I wasn’t going to do business with Company B unless we negotiated a lower price.

I contacted Company B via e-mail and attached the estimate I received from Company C. I explained I would like to do business with them but I received another estimate that was significantly lower. I asked that we split the difference between the two estimates and contract for $2,239. I received an e-mail back from Company B, stating that Company C neglected to include the $150 cost of a necessary permit in their estimate. Based on that Company B stated they would do the job for $2,314.

This prompted me to do a little more research and I found out my township didn’t require a permit for the type of fence I was going to have installed. I e-mailed Company B back with this information and requested that the full amount of the permit be removed from their estimate. My request was granted and I was very pleased when we agreed on a final price of $2,155. That was $399 off the original estimate I was given.

I saved all that money because I wasn’t scared to negotiate. I did my homework and I went into the discussions prepared. I did not cave when I received resistance to my first counter-offer. Like with any skill, you will get better and more comfortable with negotiating the more you practice. So don’t hesitate to use negotiation when you can. Don’t forget to share your stories with me. I would love to hear them!

Money Saving Tips

We all know there are a million and one ways to spend money. There are many ways to save money as well. It takes a little more effort to save but I have tips that can help. You will feel great once you begin to reduce the costs of things you purchase.

  1. Use Coupons!!!!

I must admit that one of my favorite things to do is use coupons. If I can’t use a coupon to purchase something, I don’t really want to buy it. I use coupons for groceries, dog food, clothes, shoes, eating out, movies, books and even appliances. I have the Sunday edition of the newspaper delivered to my house solely for the purpose of getting the coupons. The money that I save far outweighs the cost of the subscription. I also use coupons that are delivered in the mail. For the past few years I have been able to purchase a coupon book called “Kid Stuff”. Many schools sell this coupon book for $25 as a way to raise money. The book has coupons for clothes, groceries, shoes, restaurants and movies. The possible savings makes this book a great investment.

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You may be saying to yourself, “I live a busy life, I don’t have time for cutting coupons”. I am telling you that you do. You only need about 15-20 minutes a week. Buy a coupon organizer and put your coupons in order so that they are easy to find while you are in the store. Keep your organizer in your purse or in your car so it is handy when you’re out and about.

Another great way to get coupons is by signing up for promotional e-mails. I know your e-mail box is already cluttered, but you can create an e-mail account specifically for receiving coupons and discounts. I get coupons for free meals from IHOP and Houlihans each year for my birthday and for my yearly membership anniversary. As a member of an e-mail club you can receive notices about exclusive sales and events. I signed up to be a part of PETCO’s rewards program and I receive e-mails when my dog’s food is on sale. As well as coupons for 10% and $5 off purchases.

2. Membership Cards

Many grocery and drug stores will offer discounts and sales on items if you sign up for a membership card. With the help of technology most stores can use your phone number to access your account information instead of having to scan an actual membership card. This past weekend I needed to buy some vitamins. They were $11.99 for a bottle at Target. I went to Walgreen’s where I have a membership card and I got the same vitamins and same quantity for $9.99. There was a sale for card members and I got a second bottle for free! I also went to the movies this weekend and used my membership card (as well as coupons from the Kid Stuff book), and received membership awards. It included a free movie ticket and small popcorn. Who doesn’t love getting something for free? Since going to the movies is one of my past times, being a reward member is saving me money on an entertainment expense.

3. Periodically Shop for Cheaper Rates on Services

Do not get lulled into paying the same rate every month for the services that you use. If you’ve been using a service for more than a year, check around to see if it is still a good deal. Call you cable provider to see if there are any discounts that you could take advantage of. Or, downgrade if you don’t truly need all of the channels included in your package. Call your insurance company to make sure all of the discounts available are being applied to your account, such as multi-policy discount or a good driver discount. Also if you live in a state where you can choose in energy suppliers check around to see who is offering the best plan for you. In PA you can review electricity suppliers at http://www.papowerswitch.com/.

4. Buy When There is a Sale

I know it may seem like I am stating the obvious, but I am not talking about impulse buying. Once you determine you have a need for something, wait for a possible sale. I have literally painted every room in my house. I noticed that Lowes and Home Depot periodically offer mail-in  rebates for $10 off a gallon of paint and $25 off of five gallons. As a result, I began to wait until there was a rebate offered on paint to make my purchases. I would save about 25% off the cost. Many retailers have a cycle for putting items on sale. For example after the 4th of July summer clothing begins to go on sale. If you stay  relatively the same size you can get good deals for this summer and future summers.

5. Don’t Buy Items Unless There is a Need

We have all seen an ad or walked into a store and discovered a sale that we thought was too good to pass up. A sale is only a good deal if is for items that you need and within your budget. If you have not budgeted for this purchase, don’t buy it. Retailers use psychology to make you believe their product is a “must have”. I have heard many people justify buying things they don’t really need by saying “It was on sale” or “I work hard, I deserved it!” What you really deserve is peace of mind. Knowing that you are financially stable will help you to sleep better at night.

Once you begin to use these tips they will become a part of your lifestyle. As always, I hope you find this information helpful and look out for my next post about increasing your savings!