Tuesday, October 29, 2013

$35 Grocery List - Week 1

As I work hard towards many financial goals on a small salary, I'm forced to keep a small grocery budget. As in $35/week.

Thankfully I'm only responsible for feeding myself, but it definitely requires a few tips and tricks!
  • I consider what I have in my cabinets/fridge/freezer and use sale items to compliment them for meals. This allows me to spend half my budget on meals for the current week and still have money to stock up on sale items that will help in future weeks.
  • Yup, you'll see I focus on sales. Each Sunday I look at the ads of 3 local grocery stores. I base my shopping list and meal plans around the sales and then use the any remaining budget to buy staples or specific ingredients a meal might need.
  • I threw brand loyalty out the window. It's not always easy since I do prefer some brands over others, but when there's a coupon or sale involved, I go for the price. I almost always get the cheapest item available, with some discretion on quality.
  • Make sure you prepare meals you really like because leftovers will become your best friend. I get 2-6 meals out of each thing I make.

So what do I buy? Here's a recap of week 1:
  • Loaf of bread
  • 1/2 lb of ham from the deli (on sale)
  • Head of lettuce
  • Salsa
  • Taco seasoning
  • Taco shells
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Old fashioned oats
  • 1 individual plain Greek yogurt (I use it as sour cream)
  • 4-pack strawberry Greek yogurt
  • 2 pasta sides
  • Coffee
  • 4 apples
I had a few bags of frozen chicken from weeks prior. I eat apples w/ peanut butter for breakfast most days. I make my own granola to go in my yogurt for snacks. I made 6 sandwiches and 5-6 meals of tacos. I supplemented other meals with food items I had slowly collected.

I'm almost positive the only way to make $35/week work is when you use some of the budget to buy items that roll over. Then you always have mix & match options or can plan ahead for meals you may not always be able to afford on a weekly basis.

Now, I absolutely know that reading someone else's grocery list is mundane and maybe even weird. These posts are really meant for the budget diva's or wanna-be's out there that want to shrink down their spending. So if cheap groceries aren't your thing - skip these weekly posts. I don't mind!

When I started realizing this budget actually works for me, it was after making my list for week 2. Sorry for lack of pics and details in this inaugural post - I swear it's going to get a little more interesting in this series!

Monday, October 28, 2013

This weekend I...

It's another Monday and I'm excited to kick ass and take names this week! But first I want to recap the weekend, especially since I got to meet the lovely link-up owner this weekend!

...did the Monster Dash with Lauren, Jess, Syndal, and Bridget! We might have froze and had 20-minute miles but it was a gorgeous fall day to people watch!

We were the Minneapolis chain of lakes - I'm pretty sure that idea wins for originality!

...babysat both Friday and Saturday night for adorable twin boys. Man, twins are a handful, proven when I arrived Saturday to find one of the boys had broken his arm that morning! The exhausted boys slept most of the nights and I had plenty of time to read - best gig ever!

...had time! My schedule stays pretty packed but I enjoyed two lazy afternoons with Legally Blonde, Property Brothers and lots of football! It felt great to set aside my to-do list and relax.

...enjoyed visiting my parents and puppy for Sunday night dinner, a load of laundry, and the Vikings/Packers game. I am so very thankful because just a month or two ago we weren't sure if days like this would exist for our family again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Grand Plan

It's no secret that I have some pretty big financial goals. Pay off student loans, buy a house, get a new car when needed (likely soon), afford to travel and participate in weddings, and have a backup savings. On an entry level salary, it's impossible to accomplish all of these goals at once, no matter how impatient I am.

I constantly flip flop on my financial priorities and then get frustrated when it feels like no visible progress has been made anywhere. At the start of the month I made an executive decision to get my priorities in line once and for all and to stick to it for a whole year! It will take longer than a year to pull of all of these goals but it gets me out of the habit of flip-flopping. I even considered the advice of close friends and family to ensure my plan is worth sticking to and easily enough, everyone was on the same page.

So I'm putting it in stone (on the blog) to solidify plans and fill you in on where I'm at. My regular paycheck covers all of my expenses without a penny to spare - and yes, this is a bare bones budget. In order to even look at financial goals, it all comes down to my side jobs and extra income.

Here's the grand plan:

Each month set aside $150 for a separate savings account for weddings and travel. Events will happen, and almost all of them are long-distance. Capping myself at $150/month will prepare me for these expenses and then let me focus on other priorities with any extra cash I can bring in.

Build my savings to $9,000. Yup, sounds like a lot. But there's a purpose for every dollar and this is my number one priority. Save $5000 for a down payment on my house by the time my lease is up. Save $2500 for an older used car. I drive a totaled car and no matter how loyal it is, if I'm in an accident, insurance won't cover it. I need to be prepared for this to happen any minute and if it takes a few years then I will just earn interest in the mean time! Save $1500 for a back up savings cushion.
Since my paycheck does not cover money for savings, I need to be ready for bigger expenses that are
bound to come up. $1500 isn't much but it's a start I'm comfortable with before I focus on loans.

Pay down credit card and manage these cards to stop wracking up balances. My card is interest free until May 2014 and I refuse to waste money on credit card interest. Balance is $2,500.

Go ape shit on my loans. Once I get a home, I hope to get a roommate or two to free up expenses for additional loan payments. I have $60,000 in student loans and I want them gone by the time I'm 30 - in 4.5 years. That might be a bit crazy but I'm determined!

Increase my savings and retirement funds.

So there you have it! It kills me to set aside my loans that are wracking up interest but I need to be prepared for regular life as well. I started at $0 and I'm already looking forward to sharing the great progress I've made in October!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Crazy Eight Brain Dump

  1. As I'm here in NJ, I only brought my work computer, which is beyond outdated when it comes to the Internet, and my iPad. I've been using the Blogger app but let me tell you, it has minimal functioning. I'm no genius because I just finally realized I could use the Blogger website on the iPad.
  2. If you need a good smile, take best friend 7-year-olds to a park. They are so innocent and full of laughter and it is contagious. If you don't happen to have a pair of kids on hand, watch Too Cute on Animal Planet. It's all about baby animals that are ridiculously adorable. 
  3. I forgot to put a quarter in the meter while I stopped for a bagel and I returned to a $20 ticket. Oops! I cannot get enough of NJ bagels though, they really are the best in the nation.
  4. I think tea kettles are adorable. Too bad I won't have one in my tiny apartment for some time because instead I will use the microwave for free. 
  5. I rode a bike for the first time in ages this weekend. I was rusty at first but the expression is true - I picked back up in no time. 
  6. Life is crazy expensive on an entry-level salary and student loans. I'm working my booty off to change that though. I even want to attend FinCon14! 
  7. I finally started watching Freaks and Geeks and this cast is insane. I'm pretty sure everyone got their big break from this show! Seth Rogan, Rashida Jones, James Franco, Jason Segal, and so on!
  8. I come home on Tuesday and as much as I've loved the east coast visit, I'm looking forward to getting back to my schedule and apartment. I've lined up babysitting jobs, fun outings with new and old friends, a book club to join, and a new place to volunteer right away when I'm back! It's about time I get life somewhat back on track!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to get 2 Extra Paychecks a Year!

For those of you who are paid bi-weekly, twice a year you'll get a 3-paycheck month. Now, I know everyone budgets differently, there are nearly endless options. But if you're anything like me, you can always use a little built-savings plan or an extra boost to your income.

Here's how I make it work:
Some expenses are monthly, like rent or a cable bill. Other expenses are bi-weekly, like food or gas. Each month I split my fixed monthly expenses in half and make sure my 2 Paychecks cover those costs for the following month. Then when a third paycheck month rolls around, the portion of your paycheck that normally goes towards a monthly expense will be extra available money! 

For example, heres a normal 2-paycheck month:

October happens to be a 3-paycheck month for me. 

Payday is Oct 1, 15, and 29. Ill use the money from Paychecks 1 & 2 to cover typical costs for November. Then when the 29th rolls around rent, electricity, Internet and student loan bills will already be covered and I will only need money for a few biweekly expenses and I can save the rest. 

In my case that frees up over $500 to save or pay student loans. Or blow on a vacation....just kidding! 

I'll have a post soon about what my financial priorities are these days. But for now, I hope this strategy can be a useful budgeting tool! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Back that azz up, Friday!

It has been an awesome week for music so I'm linking up with Whitney to back that azz up today!
Yes, there's Miley. And honestly, I kind of love the whole album. For my favorites, check out Whitney's page since she's already nailed it. 

 Then there's Amos Lee's new album. I have some new favorites in my collection but mostly, I was disappointed. It's a little to folky and I would rarely listen to the whole album through. Bummer. 

 But the song of my week is "Come to Me" by the Goo Goo Dolls. If it's not the sweetest song I've ever heard, I'm not sure what is. Maybe it's just how my heart has been feeling lately but man, it's a good one. Listen to the lyrics on this one, trust me. 

 Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New York vs. Minneapolis

I grew up in a small suburb in Minnesota and by the time I graduated college, I was convinced I would leave and never come back. It was too cold, people were less active, ate too many hot dishes, and frankly I thought people were simple minded. 

When I got the chance to live in New York City, I was living my dream. I was surounded by culture, food, people WAY smarter than me, and random walks that felt like a scene from the movies. Turns out fantasy was better than reality though. It was also crowded, smelly, shallow, and most of all, outrageoulsy expensive, especially for an entry level salary with student loans. The movie scene settings were crowded with tourists, our $2000 apartment didn't even have room for a microwave, and it was exhausting doing some of the most basic things. Lugging 10lbs. of laundry down 3 flights of stairs and down the block so strangers can wash your clothes. Grocery shopping and carrying your bags up the block and up 3 flights of stairs. The quality of life was low. Not to mention, once on my commute home from work I came across two homeless people having sex on the sidewalk. 

When I moved back to Minneapolis, I realized how much the city has to offer. Yes, the weather is still miserable nearly half of the year. But Minneapolis is one of the most active cities in the country, it's much more affordable, and the people are much nicer. I even took my mom to see Wicked two weeks ago for half the price it would have cost in New York and the music scene is amazing. 

But no one writes songs about how incredible Minneapolis is. Minnesota isn't exactly the setting for some of the most famous movies, besides ya know, the Mighty Ducks trilogy and Fargo. So there's still something uncomparable to New York. And to be honest, as much as I don't want to live there again, the awe of the city will never wear away for me. I will always want to visit. 

So while I'm visitng my Godmother in New Jersey, I get the chance to hop on the train and go into the city. In fact, just last night I had dinner in Time Square with one of my New York girlfriends. It was a quitecensial New York fall evening and I couldn't help but love every second of it, even the awful smell behind a dump truck. But while I paid $14 for my glass of wine, I couldn't have been happier to have my affordable apartment back in Minnesota waiting for me. 

I've done my fair share of wandering in my early twenties and I wasn't sure I'd ever find a place that felt like home. No matter how much I love home, I will always want to explore. My dream was to find a happy place I would feel settled but could still afford to travel regularly.

It's not easy to have things figured out in your twenties. Lord knows, in most aspects I have anything but my shit together. But having the best of both worlds when it comes to location is a really good place to start.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Follow your arrow

"An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it's going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming."

Latest addition. I choose my arrow to point forward :) 

Take the leap

I moved into my apartment at the start of September after an incredibly stressful summer. Before my last box was unpacked I was asked to fly to New Jersey to help my Godmother recover from rotator cuff surgery for 3 weeks. Overwhelmed was an understatement, especially since I was given one week's notice and during that week I would already be visiting my BFF in Florida. 

I didn't know if I was ready to postpone establishing a routine. I didn't know if I was prepared to help another after giving up so much to help my dad over the past 6 months. I didn't know if I would be ok once again living away from family and friends that I had been leaning on for support. In fact, I almost didn't go. 

But my Godmother has bent over backwards for me and I love this family as my own. Having a chance to help her for once was a no brainer. So I cancelled all events on my upcoming calendar, packed my bags and took a chance. 

"If you wait until you're ready, you may never be." 

Yes, I have my moments of anxiety still but getting away from some of the major stresses of this year will do me a world of good. A new environment with people that I love and love me will help me heal from life trying to kick my ass all year. A new environment to distract me from the annoying parts of life that seem to play on repeat in my head. 

And because it's true what they say: the best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up. What better way than lending a hand after a tough surgery? 

So for the next 3 weeks I'm using this time and space as therapy. It won't cure all but it will send me back prepared for a long, sometimes lonely Minnesota winter.