Connie's Blog

10/14/2014

Don't judge a book by it's cover

As I stated in my previous blogs, I did not save as I should have coming out of college, nor did I contribute to my 401K. An online article from Essence.com, featured an interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, who explained her history with money as a little girl and how it influenced her as an adult. The part of this article that resonated with me the most was, “My little girl self wants to spend all my allowance...My grown woman self can make a different choice—one that honors my sometimes scary past, recognizes the abundance of my present and plans for a secure future." (read entire article here: http://www.essence.com/2014/10/03/money-matters?hootPostID=a6d4f717054936836b0073abd295f61f )

I still struggle in terms of instant gratification versus long-term sustainability. But it’s getting better. That’s the point of all of this, right?

There are so many individuals that have different reasons why they are--good or bad--where they are in terms of their financial health. And understanding that it can stem from anything such as childhood experiences, young adulthood setbacks, or unexpected life events (divorce, illness, economic hardship, etc.).

Project Money has innately allowed me to have open conversations about money more than I ever had. It’s still a sensitive subject for me but I use my experience as an education tool to others. However, I’ve come to realize that no one really has it ALL together. No matter how great the package looks on the outside. (That person that instantly comes to mind--I promise you, they don’t have it together either.) AND if they do--there were stumbling blocks along the way. GUAR-AN-TEED.

My mother still often tells me “I want more for you, than what I had”. So I strive to set myself up for success to give the same for my [future] family. Undoubtedly, saving has become the “new” cool. And I want to earn my debt-free patch for my letterman's jacket.

10/06/2014

Be Grateful

Every year, my job has a campaign to raise funds that go towards the United Way of Dane County and Community Shares. Both of these organizations focus on specific issues that are in need of being addressed.

Last year, I gave $5 from each paycheck to equate to $125 for my annual giving amount. Still wanting to contribute this year, I have decided to cut that down to $2/per pay period, equating to about $48 for the 2015 giving year. Additionally on Monday, we will have a potluck and cornhole tournament during lunch. I will be teaming up with another coworker for a chance to win tickets to the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival on November 1st, the entry fee was $10/per person. We have cleverly coined ourselves as “Baby Got Bags”!

We also had a staff silent auction where co-workers auctioned off goods and services with proceeds also going to the campaign. Some of these items included Coach handbags, IronMan paraphernalia, gardening tutorials, and a snow car fairy(who will clean your car in the event of snow). I had the winning bid of $16 on “Made to Order Waffle” service 5 times throughout the year. My coworker will make waffles in the office with flavors of my choice on mornings of my choosing. Needless to say--I am REALLY excited about this!

So many fun ways to contribute to such a great cause! With my job being to sell Madison as a destination to visitors and groups--it is important that we take care of what is going on in our own backyard. While I can see the dollar amount adds up, I can take pride in the fact that it is going towards a great cause and will benefit families in the Madison community.

Through all of this--I must remind myself that while I am striving to achieve the financial goals and aspirations I have set forth for myself, there are others within our community that have far worse problems and less resources to address these issues. So along with my time in volunteering, I like to give back in other ways as well.

 

09/29/2014

Beware of Big Bad Deadlines

My employer gives us the option to participate in a flex spending account which allows participants the ability to allot a certain amount of money (TAX FREE) to utilize on health expenses not covered by our insurance. A portion of the amount is deducted out of my paycheck every 2 weeks to go towards the overall allotment for my account. I initially set the $350 amount with the anticipation of it going towards various doctors visits. With most of 2014 almost over, I still had $274 left on that account. Knowing that the deadline was coming up pretty soon--I made a last minute effort to make sure I get all the appointments I needed from regular check-ups to specialty doctors scheduled as needed. I wanted to make sure I spent the last $274 I had left in my account so it wouldn’t go to waste.

So this past week, I went to a doctors appointment anticipating my $40 copay. I whipped out my flex med card, and [beep, beep] it was declined. After the receptionist tried this 2 other times, I reluctantly handed over my personal checking card to take care of the balance. I stepped outside in the lobby to call the company that my flex med was through when they confirmed I indeed had that amount left on my account. After asking the doctor’s office to try my card again--it was again declined. I just decided to make the claim and submit it manually. I then gave the company a call back and that's when I found out that the deadline to render services was NOT 9/30 like I had originally presumed. It was 9/15.

And unfortunately, I had to complete appointments and services by 9/15 to get reimbursed or use that $274 left on my account. So here I am on 9/23, just a little over a week past the deadline $40 poorer because I did not do what I was suppose to do.

I literally felt like I had $274 in dollar bills and held them in my hand out the window of my car on the beltline and gradually let them go.

$274 down the drain. Long story short--don’t let deadlines get away from you or you will pay...literally.

 

 

09/22/2014

Can I Get a Window Seat?

Hi, my name is Connie, and I LOVE to travel. Being a contestant with Project Money has brought my personal travel all to a halt--knowing that traveling is one of the biggest contributors to my personal expenses, coming only second to dining out. This time last year I was snorkeling, ziplining, and getting poolside service in Kona, Hawaii. Definitely one of my many highlightsfrom last year!

In addition to that trip, I traveled to Orlando, FL, Austin, TX (twice), Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL (twice), San Antonio, TX, New Orleans, LA, Omaha, NE; and back home to the DC Metro area--all in the course of 12 months. I went somewhere almost once a month. No, it was not good for my pockets but it was great for the book of memories. Unfortunately, my book of memories won’t pay towards my debt.

Needless to say I am currently having some serious withdrawal.

Working literally everyday, if not 1 job both of my jobs is catching up with me. Usually a quick trip to visit family or friends is my way of decompressing, but again that will not be the case. So in the next week or so, I am planning a stay-cation where I do absolutely nothing. This is to not only to put my physical wellness in check but also my mental wellness.

While I am forging ahead and trying to do all that I can to make sure I save more, spend less, and pay down debt--I am here physically but my mind is on a tropical beach somewhere soaking up the sun. :)  

09/15/2014

Tell me what’s the word, Threadup!

The weather is changing rapidly. Leaves are beginning to turn beautiful reds, oranges and yellows; and my mornings are met with low temperatures and crisp breezes. It is certainly my favorite season of the year, Fall! With the change in seasons, I am a strong proponent of revamping a wardrobe by swapping and selling items that you already have to replace them with new pieces.

I am not a regular shopper but I do shop for trips. Since I am not currently taking any personal trips, I haven’t had the need to go shopping. Simple as that. As a result of my many trips within the last year, I have bought pieces that I have only worn once. I bought an outfit to see Jill Scott and Maxwell in concert at Essence Music Festival in New Orleans last summer. Never wore it again. I attended by old roommates’ wedding in Austin last April, and purchased a green number to wear to the outdoor wedding. Never wore it again. I have several items of clothing that are either too big or too small, and frankly they are just taking up space in my closet. Why not get cash for these items?

During one of my frugal shopping lunch conversations with some coworkers, I learned about ‘Threadup’. This online consignment shop appraises your gently used clothing that you send in to be cashed out via paypal or used as a credit to the online store. Sounds like a winner to me!

Then during another conversation, I also learned about ‘ThreadFlip’, another online consignment shop that will virtually do the same thing as ‘ThreadUp’ but it seemingly has more designer items that they sell. I really couldn’t decide which one to entrust my clothing with so I decided to try them both. I dropped the pre-stamped bags off to Fedex and USPS and based on experiences from coworkers I look forward to seeing what my cash in value will be within a few week:). The total spent is around $250 (purse, suit, dress, and pant jumper). If I was able to 50% of that back I would be exactic!

Suggsstion:

Do an inventory of your closet and what you can sell that may be a benefit to someone else(ie. snow boots, children’s snow coat, etc.)  or items that you know you will never wear them. This again is a great way to revamp your wardrobe or get some extra cash.  

Here are a link to the websites and additional information:

http://www.threadup.com

http://www.threadflip.com

 

 

09/08/2014

Supermarket Sweep...in reverse

So confession--I LOVED watching Supermarket Sweep growing up. I bothered my mom so much about going on the show, that we made our own game whenever we went grocery shopping. We would guess how much the total of the groceries were going to be, and at the end of the transaction, whoever was closest...WON! Bragging rights were always enough for me to whip out my best math skills in the checkout line.

However, somewhere along the way grocery shopping was not fun for me anymore. Many things have changed: 1) I pay for my own food; 2) I don’t buy pop tarts or toaster strudels anymore; 3) My parents aren’t challenging me to run down the aisle and get the grocery item that they needed, and bring it back to the cart within the allotted time (yes, we did that! Ha--I see what you were doing now mom and dad!) In adulthood, grocery shopping was met with obligation to feed 1,  and counteracted with dinners out rather than meals in. So with eliminating expenses, for the month of September I challenged myself to not eat out for the entire 30-day duration. This is with the exception of any work-related functions that I am required to attend.  I set a $25 or less grocery budget for myself. I knew I had to revert back to my childhood and make it fun again!  I deemed Sundays as my grocery shopping and cooking days to prepare for the upcoming week.

Here are a few things I did to prepare for my meal planning:

1) Look at my schedule for the upcoming week. Do I have any off-site lunch meetings? Do I need to bring dinner for my part time job?

2) What do I already have in my pantry? What can be utilized as side dishes?

3) Check the circulars and what is on sale. Any coupons?

4) Write my list.

Imagine my excitement when I literally spent $24.53 at SuperTarget. SCORE! I actually did a silent yes, and fist pump to myself. For those that you are wondering, I definitely put some things back before approaching the checkout because they were not on my list. Rule #1--don’t deviate from the list. I also went to Trader Joe's to get snacks. Although I went over the budget, I purchased trail mix and granola bars for morning and afternoon snacks for the next 2 weeks for $7.96. I discovered that by buying the bag of mix versus the bags that came already wrapped with individual servings--I saved around $1.50. When I got home, I then divided the mix into 10 ziplock bags to pack in my lunch bag. Convenience most times means more money.

This week I made 2 meals to last the entire work week. For breakfast I made, turkey bacon, egg white, and cheese English muffins. I wrapped them individually in foil. I left 2 in the refrigerator and froze 3 for the remainder of the week. For lunch/dinner, I ate sloppy joe's with sweet potato fries and pork chops with garlic red fingerling potatoes.  

I am happy that I was able to make it through the first week, but I know 1 small set back can get me back on the habit of eating out once again. I think as this becomes routine, I will feel more accomplished and will have more fun cooking...and saving money.

 

09/02/2014

Back away from the sale rack…

Currently, I work part time at Charming Charlie, an accessory store located at West Towne Mall. This store has necklaces, rings, bracelets, purses, wallets, shoes, scarves in every color in season. Really it’s like accessory heaven if there were such a thing. I decided to get this job because I wanted to save aggressively.

I usually work 4-5 shifts every week; equating to around 20 hours. This unfortunately has cut into time and opportunities that I have to hang out with my friends. I have uttered the words, “No, I can’t go. I have to work.” More times than my friends could probably count.

Although my time is limited--it is forcing me to become more protective of the free time I do have. This also translates into me being more cognizant of how and when I spend money.

I chose to work a retail job because it was a mindless way for me to earn some extra cash after work and on the weekends. I am heavily involved with other activities--so my schedule is setup in a way that has allowed me to work around stand-in meetings and activities.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tiring because it very much is. But i keep in mind that I am doing this for a purpose--and that purpose is to build my savings account. I also would be lying if I said the deals aren’t tempting. Not more tempting than working at DSW Shoes though. I did that several years ago part time--and I didn’t see any money because I bought shoes with my weekly paychecks I got. However, I now understand that jewelry, shoes, other unnecessary buys are wants versus needs. I have no problem with helping customers without having the need to splurge out of control.

This week--the store manager did let me know that I was chosen as the “Fashionista of the Month” for September. I was humbled, and thanked here. I do like genuinely helping people, and I like dressing up, so this is a perfect part time gig to have fun, and make some money while doing it! 

08/27/2014

Changing of the Guard

This past week, my coach, Kelly Schippers, reached out to me and asked if I had time to chat. I knew that either A) she was going to call me out about going to Chipotle on Sunday because she saw me (just kidding!) or B) there was some bad news.

Much to my delight and surprise--it was neither! Kelly actually wanted to let me know that she accepted a new HR position with another organization. I was excited for her because she has expressed that HR was her career passion and the focus for her degree. I was sad to hear that she would not be my coach anymore, but I reassured her that 99% of this was based on my actions and behaviors, and that I would not want her to make a choice based on me. She informed me that my new coach, Emily Merk, would continue through the process with me.

Last Friday, the 3 of us had the opportunity to meet face to face, and I had the chance to meet Emily for the 1st time!

Here’s what I know about her so far:

1) She loves Starbucks!

2) She has 2 little ones, ages 4 and 2

3) She’s a financial superstar and has been with Summit for 6 years

I am really excited to keep the momentum going as I continue to refine my  goals and achieve financial wellness. I look forward to the upcoming months and all the ideas that Emily has to offer.

To Kelly--Thank you for talking me off the ledge and calming me down when I needed it the most. Thank you for guiding me thus far in my journey, and I promise to keep you posted on my progress. I wish you much success in your new position. Best of luck to you!

Connie + Coaches

08/25/2014

Cash Corner with Connie

Jokingly, in one of my first few conversations with my coach, Kelly, I talked about “Cash Corner with Connie”. The purpose of “Cash Corner with Connie” is an open-forum event where I have the opportunity to candidly discuss my wins, struggles, and changes I have made thus far in my journey with Project Money. This also gives me the opportunity to engage with friends who are embarking on the journey of reducing their debt and increasing their savings as well. This 2-hour session gives us the opportunity to ask questions of each other, and offer advice on different financial situations or tips and tricks we have implemented in each of our lives. I chose to host these events every other month as an update to what I am experiencing. I started talking to my friends about possibly hosting such an event; and they were all on board with the idea. I couldn’t have been more excited!

The 1st ‘Cash Corner’ event was held in June across the street at the Fitchburg Library in their 2nd floor conference room. We discussed the details about Project Money and what was required of me as a contestant. I also discussed what my coach and I coined as short term goals within the contest regarding refinancing my car and paying off my credit card.

This month, I hosted the event at my apartment. We discussed some of the behavioral changes I’ve made, the avenues of saving money on electricity, cooking for 1-2 people, and selling your seasonal clothes for extra money. My friends also had the opportunity to ask me any questions regarding the process and ah-ha moments. Everyone went home with some Summit Credit Union “swag” (Thanks, Emily :)!) as well as some MG&E information regarding saving money on your electricity bill.

I asked everyone to contribute either wine, a snack, and/or food to share with the group. I contributed pizza from Roman Candle ($28) for the 7 of us; this was not only a means of feeding the group because it did occur around dinner time (6-8pm); but it was also a thank you because at some point in time EACH of these ladies have either invited me over for dinner or indirectly and sometimes, directly helped me to save money in some form or fashion.

It was a great way to spend my Friday night with friends who have like-minded goals of being financially healthy. The next event will occur in October, where my new coach Emily will be attending as well. I will anticipate that to be a healthy conversation as the group continues to grow.

Connie

08/18/2014

Show Me the Money!

This weekend, I attended the 14th Annual Madison Money Conference at James Wright Middle School. This was my second time attending the conference--and certainly will not be by last! The admission was only $3 (I registered online in advance--so it was $4.16 with fees). I also pre-registered because I wanted a chance to win 1 of the $50 PDQ gas cards they were giving away. Needless to say I didn’t win--but I digress. With registration, I received breakfast and a tote bag with various reading materials pertaining to finances.

When I arrived Saturday morning, determination and eagerness to learn filled the air with individuals young and old alike-- ready to engage with speakers from local businesses sharing tips on various topics.

Some of these workshop topics included:

  • Ten Stupid Things Smart People do with Their Money
  • Couples and Money...You can work it out!
  • Budget Basics: What You Need to Know
  • Starting a Business and Business Planning

And my personal favorite, although it was a youth class:

  • Wants & Needs- What’s the difference?

The featured speaker was, Kyle Jefferson, a 26 year old former UW Badger football and track athlete. He spoke regarding his frivolous spending when he got extra money each semester and did not save hardly anything against the advice of his parents who encouraged him to do so. I, too, was frivolous with my money in college and did not plan for the future, and could definitely resonate with those mistakes.

My summer internship before my senior year, I was being paid based on a $45k salaried position. Where did that money go? I have no idea. I did not save ANYTHING. I was also fortunate enough (and worked hard enough) to get my senior year tuition paid for on scholarship. In addition to that, I had a work study job on campus which gave me spending money monthly. Again, where did that money go? Who knows.

I use to roll my eyes at those scenarios where “Bob saved $100 every month since he was 16, and Kyle saved $500 every month starting at age 22. Based on average market growth who would have more money when they retire?” We get it! Bob would. Now I know the error of my ways and I know that based on any mathematical finance equation--time has the biggest impact long term on your money. Which is why everyone keeps saying--START NOW!

At this point, I am investing in my 401K but I am honestly not well versed in stocks and what companies would be the best to buy into. The extent of my knowledge goes back to 7th grade Stock Market club. However, since I know that I have to make my money work for me--I have become a tad bit (just a smidget) more interested in next steps.

The biggest takeaway I had from attending this event was investing my money into reserves that will help it grow. Because today’s $1 will not buy the same things 30-40 years from now when I am planning for retirement.

 

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