Summer is coming. The threat of swimsuit season can push people toward a number of trendy crash diets out there on the internet. But don't forget about your financial waistline. If you've gotten lazy over the past few months and want to tighten up your finances in order to ensure a care-free summer, avoid simply slashing your budget to get your accounts back into shape. Crash budgets can complicate your relationship with money, lessen your overall enjoyment of the money you do spend and lead to overspending.
Think about the ways you can cut the fat from your budget without crashing into bad habits. Just remember: If your budget isn't painful, you're more likely to stick with it (but it still may sting a little).
More or Less, Not All or Nothing
According to Psychology Today, the idea of setting stretch goals for ourselves, while seductive, can leave us feeling defeated and inflexible if we don't meet them. That's what a crash budget is--it's a goal that sounds great, i.e. "I'll just cut out all entertainment and fun and save $100," but sets unreasonable expectations for yourself. We all stumble. The key to a realistic budget is recovering from that stumble, not falling down.
Budgeting is about acknowledging what you're likely to spend in a given time period and knowing what you're able to spend. Again, you may be tempted to just drop categories completely. If you need to save $100, reduce your spending in a category by $50. After that, plan to reduce it again the next month. So instead of going from eating out five times to cold turkey, go to three times a month and see how that feels. Even if you stumble and eat out a fourth time, you're still saving money based on that previous budget.
Develop Good Habits
If you're thinking about a crash budget then something's gotten out of line for you. While it's tempting to want a quick fix, good habits and setting up systems are the secrets to success. As James Clear argues, systems are better than goals because while “goals are good for planning your progress … systems are good for actually making progress.”
Additionally, if you're able to put in place a plan that works, you won't spend time continually revising that plan. You won't have to look at it and wonder what else you can cut or where you went wrong. By being mindful in your approach from the beginning, you allow yourself to develop habits and free up your attention for more interesting things.
According to Daily Finance, one of the primary reasons we tend to overspend, is our personal need for instant gratification. Buying things impulsively can wreck a budget just as quickly as a cupcake can wreck a diet. With a budget, you know ahead of time what you hope to spend on a given category, and you can use that as the first line of defense against the temptation to spend.
You put in your time and studied your heart out. At long last you're finally gearing up to graduate. But instead of reveling in your significant accomplishment and getting excited for the next chapter in your life, you're crunching numbers and stressing out over the cost of getting that diploma. What's wrong with this picture?
Graduation costs have skyrocketed in recent years, and even if you're lucky enough to have parents who are willing to help cover them, you're still looking at hundreds of dollars or more. These days, you can expect to pay:
- $20-$55 for a cap and gown
- $20-$200 for announcements
- $100-$300 for photos, with some packages costing over $1,000
- $70 and up for a class ring, with high-end options topping the $1,000-mark
- $65-$100 for a copy of your yearbook
On top of these, if you're finishing up your college degree, don't forget about graduation fees, which could run anywhere from $25-$250 or more. Many schools charge these regardless of whether you attend your graduation ceremony. And then of course there's the cost of a graduation party, which can be anywhere from a few hundred dollars for a smaller, simpler affair to many thousands for a big-time extravaganza.
Ways to Save
Unless you've got really generous (or rich) parents, you'll probably want to do your part to cut down on some of these expenses. While some of these costs are non-negotiable--graduation fees, for example--you can save plenty of money by getting creative in other areas:
- Borrow a cap and gown instead of buying or even renting one (renting may only be marginally cheaper than buying).
- Create your own graduation announcements using online tools.
- Take your own graduation photos, or gather a group of friends and hire your own photographer at a discounted rate.
- Host your graduation party in your home or backyard. Even if you get it catered, it'll be cheaper than doing it at a restaurant or banquet hall.
Eliminate the Things You Don't Really Need
You can also save a fair chunk of money by compromising and foregoing some of the things you probably don't really need. Take your class ring, for instance. Sure, it might be a nice thing to have, but at several hundred dollars, is it really worth the price tag? The same goes for your yearbook. If you're the sentimental type, the $100 you'll spend might be worth it. But if there's a good chance that your yearbook is going to wind up buried in a box somewhere in your parents' basement, there's no sense in paying for something you're never going to look at.
Then there's that graduation party. While you certainly have every right to celebrate, you can save yourself (or your parents) hundreds of dollars by opting for a small dinner with your immediate family instead. And if you're worried that skipping the party will inhibit the influx of presents you're hoping to receive, fear not. As long as you send out graduation announcements, those inclined to shower you with gifts will be thoughtful enough to put theirs in the mail.
Even though your high school or college graduation is that once-in-a-lifetime event, you don't have to spend a crazy amount commemorating the occasion. As you calculate your costs, think about some of the ways you could otherwise be spending that money. Ask yourself what's more important: a class ring, or furniture for your apartment or dorm? Fancy photos, or money toward a car? At the end of the day, it's really all about priorities.
If you're trying to save money, a good place to start is by cutting back on dining out. Americans spend at least $1,000 per year on lunch alone, according to Forbes. But you don't have to cut it out completely just because you're on a budget. Here are some tips for saving money at restaurants:
Sign up for e-mail alerts. If a restaurant has an e-club or allows you to sign up for e-mails, go for it. Many restaurants offer freebies just for signing up or for your birthday. Plus, they will send you coupons, discounts and deals while keeping you up-to-date on any money-saving promotions. To stay organized, create a separate e-mail account just for restaurants and stores so your important e-mails don't get lost in the shuffle.
Follow restaurants on social media. You're spending time on Facebook and Twitter anyways, so why not use it to save some money while you're at it? Restaurants will often offer discounts and coupons via their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media accounts. Plus, it's a great way to learn about daily specials that could help you save, too.
Go during lunch or happy hours. Chances are, lunch is going to be cheaper than dinner, but the hours between lunch and dinner are where the real savings are at. Many restaurants offer happy hour discounts on regular menu items like half-priced appetizers. Check the restaurant's menu to see if they offer a happy hour or use an app, like Happy Hours or Happy Hour Finder. Always find out what the special is for the day which could be a cheaper option.
Look for deals. There's always a deal to be found. Groupon, Living Social and Restaurants.com are just three websites that can save you money on dining out. Some restaurants offer deals for checking in on Yelp. Find coupons and deals in local papers and magazines, too.
Read reviews. Customer reviews on Yelp, Google and Facebook are usually a great look into the restaurants top dishes, service and average wait time. People often include helpful money-saving options, like if a particular meal is enough for two or if a restaurant offers a great weekly special that's super cheap. Not to mention, you'll be able to get a feel if the place is even worth it to begin with.
Use the discounts you already have. Bring your student I.D. and always ask if there are discounts for students. It's not just students who can get discounts, either. If you're an alum, serving in the military, a member of various groups or organizations or even a resident at a specific apartment complex you may be eligible for deals at local restaurants. And when you're traveling, don't forget to ask the hotel, campground or motel you're staying with if they offer any coupons for nearby dining options. Many times restaurants offer discounts to try and get travelers to stop in.
Order smart. If you're looking to save, simply order with some thought behind it. Opt to have friends over for dessert afterwards instead of ordering it at the restaurant. Instead of a dinner, order a few appetizers. If your dinner is a big portion, ask to have half wrapped up right off the bat. Besides saving some extra calories you'll have lunch or dinner for tomorrow, which is stretching those dollars even more.
Whether you're traveling, strapped for cash or just staring at an empty pantry, know that there are still options out there for dining out that won't break the bank. Be proactive and know the discounts in your area. You could be well on your way to enjoying that can't-make-at-home meal and saving a few dollars while you're at it.
It's a subject most of us don't want to think about, along the lines of cavity fillings, colonoscopies and other such uncomfortable scenarios. But at one point or another in our lives, we need to face reality—or, rather, smack ourselves in the face with it—and get serious about writing our wills. While creating a will isn't fun, it's actually not such a hard thing to do once you get over the mental hump. Here's what you need to know about getting started.
How Young Is too Young?
If you're under 18, you can let yourself off the hook for now. In most states, you need to be 18 or older to write a will. Once you're of legal age, there's really no such thing as being "too young" to write a will. It's more a matter of where you're at in life and how much you want to protect your assets and would-be beneficiaries.
Now if you're among those without a will, you're in good company. About 55 percent of American adults do not have wills in place, and among those under the age of 34, about 71 percent are without wills.
Even if you're fairly young and healthy, you may want to consider putting together a will if:
• you own property or have a fair amount of assets
• you have children
• you are joining the military
Without a will, your state of residence will decide how to allocate your assets. Even if you're not particularly wealthy, wouldn't you want to be the one to determine where your hard-earned money, prized possessions or even your beloved cat or dog will go?
How to Do It
You don't need a lawyer to write a will. There are plenty of online templates you can use to create one yourself. For the most part, you'll need to decide:
- who will inherit your assets
- who will be your executor (the person to carry out the terms of your will)
- who will be your children's guardian (if they are still considered dependents)
You'll then need to sign and acknowledge your will in front of at least two witnesses to make it legally valid.
Keep It Safe
Once you create a will, keep it some place safe and easily accessible. You can store your will in a bank safety deposit box, but be sure that's not the only copy stored somewhere. (If you're the only one with access to your box, and you're not around, it can be an uphill battle for your loved ones to get in there.) Other options include a personal safe at home, an attorney's office or your best buddy's basement. In other words, it really doesn't matter where you store your will as long as the people who need to access it can do so. Once you make multiple copies of your will, let others—especially the executor of your estate—know where to find it.
How Much Does it Cost?
If you decide to use a lawyer to prepare your will, be prepared to pay anywhere from $150 to $600. Some attorneys offer a flat fee for creating a will, whereas others charge by the hour. Be sure to understand the costs involved when deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer. Creating your own will is an inexpensive option, as online templates generally cost $20-$100.
Just Do It
Unplanned life events can happen at any time. Having a will in place is your best option. And as unpleasant as it can be to think about, creating that document may actually give you some much-deserved peace of mind.
As I stood staring at the expensive handbag that I didn't need, but purchased anyway, I tried to remember how I got to this point. It had been a crazy week. School, two jobs, little sleep and attempting to move to a new city had taken an emotional toll, and I only know of one full-proof way to blow off some steam: shopping.
Why is it that when emotions take over, we turn to spending our hard-earned cash on items we may not need or even necessarily want?
In a study conducted by TNS Global, more than half of Americans (64 percent women and 40 percent men) admit to turning to "retail therapy" as a way to cope with stress and elevate mood.
There have been numerous studies that even prove that shopping can be good for you. According to TIME, benefits of shopping include easing transitions from a bad relationship, creating a new wardrobe for a better job, tapping into the part of your brain associated with creativity and aesthetics, relaxation and even a social lubricant.
However, for those of us on a budget or dealing with debt, retail therapy can cause more stress with each swipe of the card.
So what are we to do when those sale signs are flashing bright in our eyes and our wallets feel heavy with money that isn't there? Here are some wallet-friendly ways to deal with stress without racking up those dollar signs:
Engaging in some sort of physical activity is not only proven to reduce stress, but it's proven to improve alertness and concentration, enhance cognitive functions and reduce fatigue. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise has been shown to "decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem." Uh-oh.
Look--I'm no chef, and yes, I burned dinner last night. But I always find a sense of satisfaction after creating a meal and sharing it with a friend or loved one. Cooking can not only help to reduce stress, but can also help heal a broken heart, soothe nerves and help with insomnia and anxiety.
For those Do-It-Yourselfers out there, with the help of Pinterest thousands of craft ideas from clothes to home décor are available at the click of a button. Crafting is a type of therapeutic healing often used for children and seniors, but it's beneficial for everyone! Crafting can boost self-esteem, allows for a creative outlet, can lower your heart rate, blood pressure and even improve sleep.
Write it Out
Keeping a private journal can be a great place to vent about the car that cut you off earlier or even to gush about the cutie in the cubicle next to you. Getting words down on paper is one of the easiest ways to get them out of your head, reduce stress and help deal with trauma or unexpected life events. Make a list of your worries and stressors and the visual representation can help you make a better plan of attack to cross them off your list.
The next time that e-mail comes in with the top deals and steals of the day, think about why you want to turn to fruitful spending. If money is tight, remember that there are other effective ways to improve mood and reduce stress that won't get you, or your wallet, into trouble.
When I was 17, I scored a summer job at an investment banking firm. Since my only prior work experience was that of camp counselor or babysitter extraordinaire, I remember my first day getting off to a rather rocky start--not because I messed up on the job, but because I had no clue how to fill out the mountain of paperwork I was asked to complete.
To spare the rest of you newbies the awkwardness of not knowing how to tackle these forms, here's a quick guide to some of the documents you may be presented with at your first corporate job:
This standard form is what companies use to determine how much federal income tax to withhold from your paycheck. On this form, you'll be asked to claim allowances based on your individual circumstances. The more allowances you claim, the less tax your employer will withhold. Many find this form confusing, but the gist of it is as follows: If you don't have any dependents and aren't married, you'll probably wind up claiming a total of one or zero allowances. Claiming zero allowances means erring on the side of being overtaxed, but if you're afraid of owing money to the government, you can always go this route (worst case, you'll get a tax refund instead of getting more money in your paycheck up-front).
This basic form is used to verify your identify and ability to obtain work legally. You'll be asked whether you're a US citizen, and if not, what your legal status is. Note, however, that you'll need to bring in a passport, or a driver's license and social security card, as your employer will need this documentation to process your form.
The Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA)
Also known as a confidentiality agreement, an NDA is essentially a contract you sign promising not to disclose certain information about your company without permission. NDAs are designed to protect companies’ trade secrets, which can include things such as software codes, marketing strategies or manufacturing processes. If you sign an NDA and then a year later get hired elsewhere, you won't be allowed to divulge your first company's trade secrets, as doing so would be a violation of your contract (not to mention a rather unethical move).
The Non-compete Agreement
By signing this type of contract, you basically agree not to start a competing business or work for a competitor for a certain period of time after leaving your job (be it voluntarily or otherwise). Many employees are hesitant to sign noncompetes for fear of having their options limited in the future. Before you sign a noncompete, make sure you understand its terms--specifically, what counts as competition and the length of time during which the contract can be enforced. If you're uncomfortable with a noncompete's language, you may want to consult a lawyer or ask your employer to alter its terms so that they're not quite as limiting.
Though that initial pile of paperwork may seem overwhelming, if you take the time to read through everything carefully, you shouldn't have a problem filling out those forms. And if you do hit a snag, don't be afraid to ask your HR person for help. Had my 17-year-old self not been so timid, I could've been spared a lot of internal panic that first day of my big summer job.
Congratulations--there's a job offer on the table with your name on it. Now all you have to do is convince your employer to pay you what you want. Whether you're fairly new to the working world or have years of experience under your belt, negotiating a salary can be a daunting endeavor. In fact, in a survey conducted by payscale.com, 28 percent of respondents said they'd never asked for a raise because they were uncomfortable negotiating salary. If you develop a strategy before going in to talk numbers, you'll be in a better position to get the salary you're after.
Be Clear about Your Title and Responsibilities
Job titles aren't universal; the term "manager" may mean one thing in one company and something totally different in another. Before you can even begin to talk salary, you need a clear understanding of what your title encompasses and what responsibilities come with it. From there, you can compare your role to similar ones in your industry to come up with a benchmark for what you ought to be earning. Keep in mind, however, that factors such as experience, or lack thereof, may impact your salary for better or worse. In other words, don't expect the same salary as someone in your position who's been doing it for five years longer than you have.
Do Your Research
Once you're certain what your job title and responsibilities will entail, it's time to do some research. The last thing you want to do is randomly throw out a number without having any data to back it up. There are several online tools you can use, such as salary.com and glassdoor.com to determine a salary range for your role based on your industry and geographic area. You can also try using networking sites like LinkedIn to seek salary advice from fellow professionals in your field. Your employer is more likely to take you seriously if you come in with a nice set of hard numbers supporting the figure you're targeting.
Consider Peripheral Benefits
Your salary is only one component of your overall compensation package. Perks like health insurance and 401k matching can nicely complement whatever number your employer throws out. If you're unhappy with the salary offer and your employer seems unwilling to go higher, try asking for additional compensation in the form of performance bonuses or extra paid time off.
Establish a Bottom Line
Before you attempt to negotiate, decide how low you're willing to go based on your living expenses coupled with the demands of the job. It's one thing to be flexible, but it's another to compromise too much to the point where you're unhappy with what you'll be earning.
Choose Your Words Wisely
When negotiating a salary, be firm but respectful and professional in your language. It may help to rehearse your key talking points beforehand, or write them out so they’re easy to remember.
Make your case, but try to avoid getting worked up or emotional if you and your future employer don't appear to be on the same page. Finally, be sure to approach the discussion with confidence. If you go in with the mindset that you deserve the number you're asking for, it'll come through during your negotiations.
Remember, whether this is your first salary negotiation or your fifth, the key is to be organized and well-informed. The more prepared you are, the better your chances are of being successful.
Editor's note: Experts say that women in their 20s are at their most fertile. But before you start thinking about starting a family, make sure you've worked out the financial pros and cons for you and your loved one. Writer Maurie Backman shares her pregnancy surprise: twins! See how two babies meant double the love and double the cost.
Ever since I gave birth to twin girls back in January, people have been asking all sorts of questions about what my life is like now. My answer? My life is hectic--very, very hectic. There's not a lot of time for sleeping, eating or staying in touch with friends. And since I can't hold and feed both girls at the same time, it's inevitable that I'll be faced with a screaming baby at some point during the average day.
When people find out you've had twins, they'll start asking a lot of questions:
- Are they identical?
- Do twins run in your family?
- How big were they at birth?
And they'll also start doling out random (and often-unsolicited) advice like:
- Hire a baby nurse. (We would if we could afford it.)
- Take turns feeding them overnight. (That only works if they're formula-fed.)
- Take frequent naps, or put your feet up and rest. (Ha!)
That last one is particularly unrealistic given that this is a quick rundown of how my time is now spent:
- I change anywhere from 16–24 diapers a day. Of those, approximately one in every five will leak, which leads to my next statistic…
- I do four to six loads of laundry a week.
- My girls eat eight to ten times a day, which means I spend four to six hours on feedings alone.
- I sleep about two to four hours a night, though not in a row. This is actually an improvement from the early weeks, where I averaged 90 minutes on a good night.
The financial reality of raising twins has also been an adjustment. We knew having two babies would be expensive, but check this out:
- We're spending over $300 a month on diapers, wipes and other such basic supplies.
- Our utility bills are 30 percent higher because we're constantly doing laundry and cranking up the heat to keep the house warm.
- Because our babies are small, as twins tend to be, they need extra monitoring, which means additional trips to the pediatrician and two co-pays at each visit instead of one.
- We spent an extra $600 up-front buying two cribs, two car seats and two sets of bedding.
On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that having twins doesn't equate to spending double the money all the time. We even found ways to cut corners so that certain line items on our list wound up costing less than anticipated:
- Since our twins are the same gender, we bought one set of clothing for them to share. Plus, people have been showering us with gifts since the girls arrived, and when you have twins, you get two outfits instead of one.
- We only bought one dresser, pack n' play, and swing--items every new parent needs. By not doubling up on these, we saved several hundred dollars. (Besides, we don't really have enough room for two of everything.)
- We are happy to accept hand-me-downs and scored a number of essentials.
- We skipped the baby announcements. Sure, it was tempting, but we figured we had more important things to spend our money on.
Life with twins definitely has its ups and downs, and caring for two babies at once is much harder work than anything I've ever done before. Sometimes, in my emotional, sleep-deprived state, I'll let the challenging moments get the better of me. I've burst into tears on more than one occasion, and I've been forced to skip my morning shower more times than I'd care to admit. But when things go smoothly, there's really no better feeling.
Photo by Mauie Backman, mama extraordinaire.
Editor's note: Experts say that women in their 20's are at their most fertile, but before you start thinking about starting a family, make sure you've worked out the financial pros and cons for you and your loved one. Writer Maurie Backman shares her pregnancy surprise: twins! See how two babies meant double the love and double the cost.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I was both ecstatic and nervous at the same time, and while it took a few weeks to get used to the idea, I eventually got there. But when my first ultrasound revealed that I was carrying not one, but two babies, I was instantly catapulted into a whole new reality.
To say I was stunned would be an understatement. In fact, I'm pretty sure I started laughing and shaking my head like a crazy person the moment my doctor uttered the word "twins." Once I regained the ability to form coherent sentences, I called my husband to tell him the news, and though he's normally a calm, level-headed guy, even he started freaking out.
Though it took some time for the initial shock to wear off, over the next few months we dove right into planning mode. We started making lists of the things we'd need--and the things we'd need two of--and realized we'd have to rethink our budget. After all, we were looking at two cribs, two car sears and twice the amount of diapers and baby wipes. Not to mention double co-pays for medical care.
Just when we thought we'd run all the numbers and found ways to cut corners to accommodate the extra expenses, we hit another snag: transportation. Recognizing that we'd need extra vehicle space, we sold my car and financed a minivan, which added a hefty, multi-hundred dollar payment to our already growing set of bills.
Once we got our finances in order (or, rather, prepared to say goodbye to a large chunk of our savings account), we began the process of preparing mentally for two babies. We realized we'd be doing twice the feeding, twice the diaper changing and twice the holding and comforting while only getting half the amount of sleep you'd normally get in a newborn situation. At first it just didn't seem doable. Since my husband was only able to take a week off of work for parental leave, we figured we'd need some outside help, but a baby nurse just wasn't in our budget. Instead, we decided we'd have to rely on family--and lots and lots of coffee--to get us through those first few weeks.
Between the number crunching and surging hormones, it was hard not to get overwhelmed thinking about what was to come, especially while contending with the physical impact of things. Pregnancy isn't a picnic in general, but by the time I started my third trimester, my stomach was, as my doctor even put it, so large it looked like I might fall over under its weight. This translated into loads of back pain, swollen feet and many, many sleepless nights.
At some point during my ninth months, I ran into an old friend who happened to be pregnant herself. Naturally, I told her I was carrying twins.
"Yikes!" she exclaimed. "I'm so glad that didn't happen in my case."
But here's the thing: I'm really thrilled that it happened to me. There's no question that carrying and raising twins is tougher than just having one baby. There's a lot more preparation, many more medical appointments and a whole extra heap of stress involved. But once you get to bring those babies home, you realize there's no greater blessing than having twins, and that all the hard work is more than worth it.
Short on cash? That doesn't mean you have an excuse to forgo exercise. Getting your workout in is especially important if you lead a sedentary lifestyle. Here are some free and cost-friendly ways to get a workout in without forking over the dough.
If you have a desk job or spend most of your day sitting in class, be sure to walk around at least every 45 minutes. Refill your water bottle or walk to the water fountain to sneak in some movement throughout the day. Practice some chair yoga or take mini breaks to do a few stretches in your cubicle. If the weather and distance allows, walk or bike instead of driving and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Borrow or trade fitness equipment and/or DVDs from friends and family when they abandon or complete their own resolutions. If you have a yoga DVD and your pal just finished Insanity, negotiate a trade to try a new workout.
Find dirt or paved trails or neighborhood parks in your area where you can hike, ride your bike, walk, roller blade or skateboard. Invite friends or family along to keep each other accountable and active. As you walk or run, stop for some lunges, squats, push-ups or jumping jacks.
Research yoga classes in your area. Studios and yoga apparel companies often host free community classes each month. Sometimes these are donation based but many times they are completely free. Yoga and Pilates studios may even offer a free class card to try out their classes.
Find a community or a friend's pool to use to swim laps. There are also aerobic exercises you can do in the water.
Put the gym in your apartment complex or university to good use. A membership to your college's gym is often included in the tuition price. If there is no gym in your dorm or apartment building, it's likely that friends and family have one you could use as their guest. An added benefit is that you can have a gym date with a loved one.
If you prefer solo workouts, search for fitness videos on YouTube and other websites. Yoga International, for instance, has many free videos available. The BeFit YouTube channel has almost 1.5 million followers who subscribe to its training videos. You can find dance, yoga, cardio and many other types of workouts. Celebrity trainers like Denise Austin lead you through your exercise session.
An unlikely source of fitness advice may be Instagram. The fitness community is active on the social media site. Search for keywords or hashtags such as fitness or workouts to find "fitspiration" videos, photos and tutorials. Well-known fitness trainers like Natalie Jill share videos with how-to's. Similarly, users of Pinterest have shared links, photos and graphics that illustrate how to do workouts. (Just make sure that if you go this route you check to see whether the source of the information seems credible.)
With so many ways to get a workout in for free or little money, there's no excuse to not keep moving.