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Travel Tricks

20 May

When I was growing up, we never really traveled.  Sure, I remember a few family vacations, but for the most part, we stayed put in our house.

As I’ve gotten older, I have started realizing the awesomeness of traveling.  The BF is a major part of this revelation– he’s all about exploring new places, and I love it!  Together we’ve taken quite a few road trips, and learned a few tricks along the way.

Neither of these tricks are revolutionary, and I’m sure quite a few of you already use these without even thinking about it.  But for the rest of you (like me!) who don’t think about these things… this is for you :)

1.  Food

I have a love-hate relationship with car travel.  I enjoy getting to our destination, but often get bored after… oh, about hour 2.  On our most recent trip, I got smart and packed the one thing that entertains me.  FOOD.  I packed up 4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a couple apples, and some water.  We each ate a PB&J around lunch time and then shared an apple a couple hours later.  When we reached our destination, we had another sandwich and that held us over until dinner time!  (and we saved the 2nd apple for the next day).

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This was the perfect idea!  It saved us a ton of money (it probably would have been around $10 for lunch for both of us if we had stopped, plus another $5-10 for a snack once we reached our destination) and saved us from having to make a pitstop.  Win-win.

2.  Parking

I always assumed when visiting a new place that we would have to park somewhere pricey.  I would always write it off, figuring that we were traveling to a brand new to us place and there’s no way we would be able to find a cheap/free/safe parking area.  Boy, was I wrong.

Before we set off on trips now, we will google “free parking in (city name)” or we will just drive around to the slightly farther out areas (usually the industrial looking areas) of the city until we find a stretch of road with no ‘No Parking’ signs.  Most cities know that people won’t walk over .25-.5 mi to get into the city, so they never put meters too far out from the city center.  We’ve found maps like the one below that point you to the exact areas that have free parking.

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The important thing to remember here is to make sure you feel comfortable leaving your car in these free areas.  As I just alluded to, many of these free spots will be fairly far away from the “downtown” area in a more industrial or less populated area, and it might be hard to swing by and check on your vehicle while you’re out sightseeing.  The location we parked in Montreal looked like this…

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Not exactly a “pretty” area but it worked!  In this case, we scoped out a few spots before we found one that we were comfortable with.  Just make sure:

  • it’s on a well-traveled road
  • triple (or quadruple) check that there are absolutely no signs restricting your parking
  • triple/quadruple check that you’re not in a driveway of any sort (or near a fire hydrant!)
  • take a brief scan around you– check for any possibly shady characters who you wouldn’t want to leave your car near :)

It hasn’t happened to us (knock on wood!) but I’m sure there’s nothin’ worse than coming back from a long day of exploring to find out your car has been towed.  Just make sure you check everything!  We have successfully used this method to get free parking in Lake Placid, Montreal, and Philadelphia, and $3/day parking in Baltimore.  No towing in any place!

What are your favorite packable travel foods?  How do you normally find parking in new cities?

Sure Deposit vs. Security Deposit

7 May

The BF and I recently went through the glorious (that’s not sarcasm, I really do enjoy it!) process of apartment hunting.  We decided on an absolutely perfect place, and headed to the leasing office to begin the application process.

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As we walked up to the office, we noticed a sign outside.  It advertised something called a “Sure Deposit” instead of a security deposit.  Interesting.  We walked inside, and the leasing agent started giving us the new-renter spiel.  She soon mentioned the security deposit; instead of paying the required $500 security deposit, we had the option to pay an $87.50 “Sure Deposit”.  Many people had been taking advantage of the Sure Deposit option, she told us.

In our (foolish, so foolish) minds, we thought the Sure Deposit meant that we could pay the $87.50 and be absolved of any and all future payments to the apartment complex.  We could move out and they wouldn’t be able to charge us anything (for dirty carpets, chipped  paint, etc) since we had paid the Sure Deposit.  We thought that was pretty cool, especially since we had read a few reviews of the apartment complex online which seemed to say that these apartments would nickel and dime you to keep as much security deposit as possible.

So, we signed up for it.  We wrote that check for $87.50 and walked out of the office, excited that we were “saving money”.

A few days later, the BF brought up the Sure Deposit again.  We started talking about it, and thinking through the whole process.  “So, we could totally wreck the apartment and we wouldn’t have to pay any money?  That seems too good to be true…”

We finally did what (hopefully) any smart renter would do– we googled Sure Deposit.  Turns out it wasn’t such a great service, after all.  You don’t get absolved of any further payments.  If the complex finds any problems after you move out, they bill Sure Deposit for the charges, and Sure Deposit turns around and bills YOU!  Essentially, that $87.50 Sure Deposit was “loaning” us the $500 security deposit that the complex charged.  If you do the math, that comes out to a 17.5% loan*!!!!!  Umm… NO THANKS!

We immediately called the complex and asked if we could switch to the traditional security deposit.  Later that week, I dropped off a check for $500 and ripped up that Sure Deposit check for $87.50.

Please, please, PLEASE– do not get pulled in by the siren song of Sure Deposit!  It is nothing but a very expensive loan.

 

*Their site actually says: “Using SureDeposit in place of your rental security deposit can help you keep more money on hand for the things that matter.”  Well, I hope that whatever “things that matter” to people are worth a 17.5% loan!

Thoughts on Saving

16 Apr

I apologize in advance for the jumble of thoughts in this post.  It’s one of those times that I just want to get my thoughts out without caring too much about how the ideas flow…

It can be tough to start a new financial journey.  (Most of us) have grown up in a very consumerist society where it is expected that you’ll spend a majority of your money buying things.  If you don’t buy things, people will think that you don’t have enough money and will worry about you.

I was taking a mini road trip with my mom this weekend and we got on the subject of saving money.  I mentioned to her that I’d been reading a lot of financial blogs that discuss the idea of saving a large percentage of your money in order to “retire” at an earlier age.  I told her that saving 40% when you’re younger can allow you to retire way earlier than usual.  She looked at me and said, “well yeah, but it is almost impossible save 40% of your paycheck!”  I looked back at her (okay, glanced back at her; I was driving during this conversation) and said, “Mom, I save over 40% of my paycheck right now.  Does it look like I’m living super frugally?”

She admitted that I didn’t live my life like I was poor, so I suppose I got some of my point across and she now knows it is possible.

I think that I’ve been reading so many blogs that talk about a high savings rate that I’ve become immune to it.  40% in my head doesn’t even sound high (in fact, it’s probably on the verge of laughable in many extreme-early-retirement communities) but to the average American, it’s practically unattainable.

I’m not one for “bragging” about my life, so I find it hard to bring up my savings rate to friends and family in an effort to change their way of operating.  I think it may be hard for people to come to terms with this “extreme saving” concept*- their immediate reaction will probably be much like my mom’s; that it’s a fairly impossible goal.  I’m torn between WANTING to brag and teach everyone that they don’t need to buy so much crap, and just keeping quiet to keep the peace.

But it’s sad- I hate to see my family members struggling financially when they could just change their mindset and cut out their useless spending.

*again, “extreme savings” here used in comparison to the average American.  40% is not so impressive to most financially-independent bloggers ;)

Do you tell friends and family about your financial goals?  Do they understand, or do they think you’re crazy?  Is it even possible to bring this up without sounding judgmental about people’s spending habits?

Tracking Your Spending

3 Apr

Do you know where your money goes each month?

I think one of the most exciting things about graduating and becoming a “grown up” was the paycheck.  I had worked some full-time stretches in undergrad, during winter or summer breaks, but I always knew those awesome paychecks would only last for a few months.  When I graduated and joined the workforce, it dawned on me– I was going to get this paycheck every 2 weeks for as long as I work- what a phenomenal concept!  After the initial excitement wore off, I decided I needed to start tracking where I was spending my hard-earned money.

Mint.com

Mint Logo

Enter Mint.com.  I use Mint to track my daily transactions.  It is an incredibly easy site to “set and forget”- you plug in all your account information (I’ve read a few articles about Mint’s safety, so I’m not worried about my identity being stolen) and Mint automatically tracks every transaction you make on those accounts.  Super, super simple.

For beginners, the best thing you can do is set up an account as soon as humanly possible.  If you’re still on the fence about how closely want to track your money, that’s okay.  Mint can be as involved as you want it to be.  For now, if you just want to sign up and only log in once every few months, do that!

It won’t take long for you to get addicted to tracking your money.  After a few months of using Mint and watching your money flow in and out, I am confident that you’ll soon reach my level of Mint OCD.  I log on a few times a week!

Categorizing

Mostly, I log on frequently so that I can make sure my transactions have been categorized correctly.  Once you’ve been bitten by the financial bug, one of the best things you can do to really track your spending is to come up with a list of categories that you generally spend money on.  Having each transaction categorized makes it easier to compare how much you are spending month to month.

Here are a list of my main Mint categories:

  • Home (rent)
  • Bills & Utilities
  • Auto & Transport (gas, car repairs, car inspections, parking fees, basically anything related to transporting myself around)
  • Groceries
  • Entertainment  (this is a catch-all for everything that I don’t NEED to have to live… just those fun things like going out with friends on the weekend, buying a new nail polish, taking a road trip somewhere just for the heck of it)
  • Health & Fitness  (gym membership, things related to fitness like new workout clothes & workout DVDs, race registrations, and also prescriptions or medical co-pays)
  • Personal Care  (soap/shampoo, toothpaste, hair cuts, etc)
  • Clothing
  • Gifts

When you log on to Mint, check the Transactions tab and make sure each line item has been assigned to the correct category.  An example of categories making a difference in your tracking would be when you make purchases at Target.  Mint always categorizes my purchases at Target as “Shopping”.  But what about those times that you’re buying groceries?  You’d need to change the assigned category from “Shopping” to “Grocery”.

So the moral of this story?  Take the plunge and start using Mint.com to monitor your transactions.  Logging on a few times a month to ensure all is correct is all you need to set yourself up for monthly tracking!  You’ll be able to compare spending from month to month, making it easy to see where your money is really going!