Wednesday, October 27, 2010

YNAB, Mvelopes and Dave Ramsey...

Until now, I've been using a simple budget that I created in Excel. However, lately I've been reading up more on budgeting ideas. I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps interesting and have been considering following his approach and maybe even attending his classes. However, I've found some other budgeting software that sounds interesting. One program that caught my attention is called "Mvelopes." It seems to match up with Dave's philosophies (envelope budgeting) and makes it easy for people to track their envelopes electronically. Today I discovered You Need a Budget which seems to push the idea of not living paycheck to paycheck (our current problem) and makes it easy to track your money and get ahead. This also sounds interesting. My frustration is that as I'm trying to dig myself out of debt, I'm not interested in spending more money to buy a program to help me do it. I'm a smart girl and I think I can just use Excel and be fine... however, that approach hasn't worked great for me in the past. Right now I'm considering downloading a free trial version of YNAB to see what that's like. I'm hoping maybe I'll be able to get a few ideas for my spreadsheet which will help me along the way.

Question : Do you follow a certain system or philosophy in your get out of debt journey? How do you do your budget? Do you use any special software to track your budget? If so, have your experiences been positive or negative, it is worth it?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Weekly Money Check-Up

While reading a pf blog today that I enjoy, If I Were A Wealthy Girl, she mentioned a blog that she reads, My Pretty Pennies, that has a cool fill in the blank weekly update. I've decided to give it a try and see how it goes. The first 4 questions are always the same and the 5th one changes.

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on my haircut - first one in about 6 months! The wash, cut and blow-dry was $40 but with a tip, it came to $50. I was growing it out for our wedding, but it sorely needed a trim. I had been taking care of the bangs myself and actually watched some You-Tube videos on cutting your own hair, but I decided not to take the chance. It came out very nice, if I do say so myself :)

2. Today I feel anxious towards money. Now that we are back from our trip, I'm excited to buckle down and work our budget, however, there's already been a few kinks - which we've handled. I'm just feeling anxious that there could be more in the near future which would certainly make things more challenging!

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free/inexpensive thing I did last week that made me happy was that I finished reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I'm happy to say that reading this book let me cross another thing off of my personal goals for this year!

4. I will consider this week a success if I don't spend any more money on groceries. Since our budget is tight this week, I'm really hoping we can make it through this week without buying any more food. Time to clean out the pantry!

5. This year for Halloween I am dressing up as... myself. We don't have any plans for Halloween so as of right now, I'll just be me. If something changes and we end up dressing up or going out, I'll let ya know.

Ups and Downs... but I DID IT!

So, Friday had some ups and downs for us...

My Husband's Job: My husband got his paycheck for the time we were out of the office. Turns out that his boss did not put in for vacation time pay for him, so his check was about half of what we expected. Ouch! Unfortunately, my husband's hours were recently cut and he is no longer considered a full time employee, so he doesn't qualify for vacation time. Glad we knew about that BEFORE we planned on taking time off. Now that we are on a budget this threw me off a bit. I know that there will be unexpected challenges along the way and I guess this was our first. I was able to creatively move things around a bit so that we can still make ends meet for the time being, but it was tricky. It may also require us eating some of the several boxes of pasta that we bought, Pre-Atkins, that are now gathering dust in the kitchen cabinet. We'll have to cut costs somehow this week...

*On a side note, my husband's hours will be cut AGAIN as of November 1st - when his company starts closing an hour earlier each day. Not only will this effect our car pooling schedule some, but our budget will take another hit. This weekend we did lots of job searching for him and hopefully (keep your fingers crossed) we'll find him something better with full time hours soon!

My Job: At my job, I had the opportunity to put my name out there for a promotion/salary adjustment! I ended up doing it via email, which may not have been the best approach but due to timing and circumstances it just worked out that way. (Plus, I do tend to express myself better through written word than in person, so I was kinda relieved.) I'm really proud of myself for taking this step and making some progress towards one of my professional goals that I wanted to achieve by the end of the year. If this comes through, it will give us the breathing room needed since my husband's check will be less. A friend shared a phrase that I'm going to keep in mind on this : I have not, because I ask not. So I asked. Let's see what happens!

My Husband's Health: My husband suffers from panic attacks. They started happening to him randomly about a year ago. He read up on how to handle them when they happen and hasn't seen a doctor yet. Unfortunately, they've been occuring more frequently and he asked me to make him an appointment. I fully support him going because we need to get to the bottom of this, but it was another unplanned for expense. This makes me really look forward to that emergency fund that I hope to start soon! Having a little cushion to fall back on when needed will be helpful.

Car: Lastly, we discovered that someone stole the antenna off of our new car. It's been rainy lately and radio stations weren't coming in as good as they used to, so we chalked it up to that, but then we actually got out to investigate and we noticed it was gone! I think it happened at the airport parking garage we left the car at on our honeymoon. Oh well, it's not the end of the world and we can still listen to the radio some, it's just a bit staticy. So, a replacement antenna may end up on the Christmas wish list but we certainly don't need to get it right now. This is an improvement for me because the old Steph would have gone right out and bought a replacement one. Progress, I tell myself, progress.

Question : Have you ever asked for a promotion or salary adjustment? This is my first time. If so, were you nervous and how did it go for you?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ahhhh, it's good to be back!

Yayyyyy! I'm back. I had a truly great wedding and honeymoon and I'm happy to be back :) I'm ready to get on track and start our lives together.

So, to recap the adventure for those interested, we had a wonderful, private ceremony at a small, but quaint, chapel in old Vegas. We went with a traditional ceremony, rather than having Elvis (who I do like) walk me down the aisle. Believe it or not, he was booked solid! Maybe we'll utilize his services if we renew our vows in the future... :)

Anyway, I wore a simple, white gown ($99 special from David's Bridal) and bought some sexy red shoes to complete my outfit and my husband (still gotta get used to saying and writing that) wore a handsome tux. In an effort to remain somewhat anonymous, here's a pic I thought was kinda cool.

From Vegas, we enjoyed 7 days in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico (about an hour south of Cancun). We stayed at a lovely all-inclusive resort and had a wonderful time! We laid out for hours on end, swam and snorkeled til we were exhausted, did zip lining, cliff jumping and jet skiing and ate and drank til we were stuffed. We loved it!

For the most part, we stayed on budget. There were a few extras along the way that I hadn't accounted for, but I told myself not to sweat it too much. I'm a believer that there are special times in your life when you have to "let it go" and live in the moment. Our wedding and honeymoon were one of those times for us.

We returned home this week relaxed, well rested and ready to get back to work! Stay tuned for more posts and updates on our progress as we kick off this journey to being debt-free :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Boss's Day

I have a great employee. She's always there ready to do anything I need her to do and I really appreciate it. She's also super thoughtful! Since I'm going to be out of the office on my honeymoon (I can't wait - by the way!) for boss's day, she gave me a card and gift today. She's a big believer in celebrating all of the 'hallmark holidays" there are out there. I don't necessarily feel the same way. Actually for most "holidays" that are celebrated at work, I'm a believer of gifting down, not up. To be honest, I kinda see it as a being a kiss-ass when you give your boss a gift. (That being said, I don't think this individual is a kiss-ass, it's just that sometimes the gesture of giving your boss a gift can be viewed as that.)

I believe that if you have an employee who is doing a great job and going above and beyond at work, then you should thank them for that. Praise goes a long way! I also don't think they have to be thanked with an actual item. Verbal praise is powerful. However, I do think as a manager, you should take the time to find out how your employees like to be praised or rewarded. This employee I am referring to likes a mixture of verbal and non-verbal rewards. I keep that in mind throughout the year, as she does things that I appreciate.

I do have to say that I was touched by her gesture. I know money is tight for her as well and she certainly makes less than I do. The thought that she took the time to pick out a card and gift for me does make me smile :)

Question : Do you celebrate the "hallmark holidays"? What are your thoughts on gifting up or down at work?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Open Your Mail

This past weekend I spent several hours going through old "junk" mail, catalogs, and miscellaneous paperwork, in an effort to get the house cleaned before our trip so we can come home to a half way decent place. While going through the paperwork, I found some good news. We tend to get lots of offers for Vegas - free places to stay, free concerts, free food, etc. Most of the offers just get tossed in a pile, never to be looked at or used. However, since we're having our wedding there on 10/10/10, I should have looked through the pile before booking our room.

When I first tried to book an offer online with a special discount code they provide, I was only able to get a room at the cheapest place in this family of casinos and they only comped us for 2 of the 3 nights we plan to be there. I was kinda bummed, but blaimed myself for not moving quicker once we knew what the date was going to be. I tried to make the most of it and told myself that I was going to love the big bed with the mirror over it and the huge "luv tub" in the room! However, I've stayed there before and felt kinda dirty afterward, so in the back of my mind I was hoping something else may come through.

Then, last week (pre-cleaning spree!) I found a hard coupon for 4 nights free. I figured I'd give them a call to see what we could do. The lady on the phone was an absolute doll and said she wouldn't let me stay at this place for my wedding night - if at all possible! She looked at all the other hotels and they were either booked, or charging something to stay. Since I really didn't want to pay anything for our lodging, she said the best she could do would be to comp all 3 nights (in the same hotel) and upgrade our room. Yay! I was happy with that.

On Sunday, I took the time to actually open all of my old mail and found 2 other great offers. One was for a free $50 gift card, when you check in, if you book your free stay under that code. The other was for a free room and our choice of free show tickets to see Cher, Barry Manilow, Rita Rudner or Donny and Marie! This one sounded intriging since I'd been wondering what free events we could do while in Vegas to keep us out of trouble. We've seen Rita before and she's a good laugh. Donny and Marie are a bit before our time. Although Barry is timeless, we both felt that Cher is one of those icons that you can't miss if you have the opportunity. Kinda like Michael Jackson was, or Madonna. We both agreed that we should try to get the free Cher tickets.

So, with my fingers crossed, I called today and spoke with this very kind woman who also wanted me to get out of my current hotel to something a bit nicer. She hooked me up with a suite at a better hotel (not the best, but definitely a step up) and 2 tickets to Cher! Originally we asked to see the Saturday night show, but it was sold out, so we took the Sunday night tickets instead. This will actually work out great, because our wedding is at 5pm and the show starts at 7:30. We'll have the limo drop us off right at the concert and we'll be able to enjoy the show all dressed to the nines. It's not that often you get to make (free) memories like these, so we're excited!

Lesson Learned : Open your damn mail! There could be good stuff in there. Had I not finally opened the mail and called about this great offer, we would've been in an older hotel that made me feel dirty and not looking forward to a wonderful night watching a legend perform!

My Gas Mishap!

I stopped for gas last night at a place that I don't normally go to. I used my credit card to pay. When I happened to call today to see what the balance was on the account, it was higher than I expected. I questioned the charges and found out that a charge for $75 worth of gas was put through last night, instead of the $12.50 that I actually spent on gas! Luckily, I still had my receipt as evidence. Although it was torn up, I was able to tape it back together. (I am a pack rat by nature, so just this past weekend - after spending 4 hours tossing unnecessary paperwork that I have kept - I decided to really work on getting rid of any unnecessary papers in the future... good thing I hadn't tossed this one yet!)

So, first off, finding a telephone number for a gas station is harder than finding Waldo in one of those books. After a few misses, I finally got the right number. It took 3 calls to finally be able to speak with the manager directly. He was clueless as to what the reason may be. He said that they don't normally put holds that high for gas on credit cards. He planned to call his corporate office and see what's up, meanwhile, I planned to call the credit card company back.

In my return call to the credit card company they said that there is nothing they can do for 72 hours, until it actually "posts" to my account. So, now I wait to see if it will go through for the correct amount or what... we shall see!?!

Lesson Learned : Pay for your gas with cash! It's much less of a hassle when mistakes happen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday Night In...

This is the last weekend before our wedding and honeymoon and what am I doing? Sitting home, enjoying this warm October night, reading more debt blogs and playing with our budget! It may not sound like fun to most of you, but I'm in a happy place - and I'm not spending any money :)

I am actually excited to get started on our new plan! I don't want to rush our big day or trip, but I do anxiously look forward to coming home and starting to really buckle down and kick debt's ass! That reminds me of a great blog that I read, called Punch Debt in the Face... we'll Ninja (the guy who writes that blog) I'd like to kick it in the ass!

A reader commented about how they budget money each pay period towards "fun" and that got me thinking... since I don't have a lot of wiggle room in my budget, I'll need to come up with some fun and inexpensive (preferrably FREE) things to do. I'm actually putting that on my to-do list for after my trip. I want to come up with as many ideas as I can. Right now I'm writing and playing online, while my fiance plays a video game... sure it's working now, but I can see how it may get boring after a while. So, the more ideas, the better!

Question : What fun and inexpensive activities do you recommend?