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!

Why Don’t I Have More Money?

I know that I said in my last post I would tell you how to create your monthly budget.  Before we do that I want to address a situation that you, amongst many others, may be in. After calculating your monthly disposable income, (by subtracting your monthly expenses from your net monthly income) did it appear that you should be doing better financially than you really are? On paper, do you have money left after paying all of your bills but still fall short each month? If this is the predicament you find yourself in, we need to further exam exactly what you are spending your money on. You are spending more than you can afford and you need to be conscious of where your money is going.

I remember when I did a financial evaluation because I was starting the process of buying a home. I was happy with the final numbers and the amount of home that I could afford. I was also fully aware this was nothing more than my financial picture on paper. My financial reality was slightly different. I had a few bad habits that I knew I was going to have to get under control before I actually purchased my home. I ate out way too much and I was known to frequent the mall a little too often.

To tighten the reins on your spending habits, begin by making a list of things that you have a consistent cycle of spending money on. For example, how often do you go out to eat, to the club/bar, get your hair done/cut, buy clothes or engage in one of your hobbies? If you did not include food, gas (or transportation expenses) as a part of your monthly expenses from the last exercise, include them on your list.  Once you have the complete list, give a dollar amount of how much you spend on these items each month.

Being realistic about your expenses and your spending habits is key to being able to create a budget that works for you and will allow you to stick to it. If you are having trouble figuring out exactly where your money is going, then I want you to track every penny that you spend for one month. Yes, I really did say, every penny for one month. Remember, I said I would help you make your finances simple, however it will take some effort on your part.

To track your spending, you can use your debit card for purchases so that you can have an electronic account of your spending in one place. If you need to pay in cash, keep all of your receipts. To make it easy on yourself, I suggest tallying your receipts each week. Then add up the grand total at the end of the month.

Once you have this valuable information, prioritize how important these expenses are to you. Think of how you can begin to scale back or possibly eliminate expenses. Once again, make sure that you are realistic. If you eat out 3 to 5 times a week and spend about $50, don’t make your goal to stop eating out altogether. Instead make a more realistic goal like eating out once a week with a limit of $15. If you stop each morning before work to grab a $2 cup of coffee, you can start making your own coffee at home. You can save $40 a month on the store bought coffee.

After evaluating your spending and figuring out ways to cut back, if you still don’t have enough disposable income, you need to figure out how to increase your income. Keep this in mind though, for every dollar that you earn you only keep a percentage of it due to taxes that will be taken out. However, you will be able to use the full amount of each dollar that you are able to save by cutting back on your expenses. Therefore, cutting back on your expenses, if you can, will be more beneficial.

Thanks for reading and walking with me towards “Finances Made Simple”. Make sure to check out my next post when I help you to create a monthly budget.