Cut the Chord

I was sitting down for lunch last week with a group of coworkers and industry professionals. The age range was wide, ranging from one millennial to a couple of Baby Boomers.  We started talking about cell phone plans, supporting kids after college, and then figuring out ways to cut bills.

As a personal finance blogger and a frugal shopper, I’ve tried to find ways to cut costs. One of the ways I’ve cut costs is by looking at forms of entertainment.  So I started sharing with my coworkers, hoping my ideas would insight conversation that would eventually lead to more ideas.

  1. Cut Cable – In our household, we haven’t had cable in a couple of years. I remember when my hubby and I moved together, cable was on the must list to have. We would end up watching endless hours of TV just because it was there. HGTV and Food Network became two of my favorite channels. But the cost of cable was outrageous, especially considering we were broke students. I finally convinced my hubby to cut the chord. Savings are about $80.  We had the smallest package. My coworkers at the lunch table told me they spend $300 a month on cable. Guess HBO, Showtime, NFL package, Starz, sure add up.
  2. Hulu and Netflix – Instead of spending money on cable, I only pay $16 a month on Hulu and Netflix and I can cancel at any time without having to talk to anyone over the phone. I can watch Hulu and Netflix, anytime, anywhere.
  3. Buy an HD Antenna – If you really want the local channels, for example, to catch the sports events, consider getting an HD antenna. We got a $25 HD antenna at Wal-Mart and now 11 local channels.
  4. Get a Chromecast – If you don’t have a smart TV, get a Chromecast. As long as your TV has an HDMI port, and you have a smart device, you’re set. No need to upgrade your TV.
  5. Skip the Movies – Last time we wanted to go to the movies, we checked out movie ticket prices. $11.50 per person for adult matinee. Can you believe it! For two people, it would be $23, not to mention any snacks you pick up on the way. Instead watch movies at home with new releases from Tesco and make your own popcorn.
  6. Exercise at the park – We are so lucky to live in the US. We have so many parks that are free. When I went to visit family in Monterrey, Mexico, we went to what I considered the only “green” area in the city. It took an hour to get there in traffic and you had to pay an entrance fee. Here the park is less than a five-minute walk from my house. It’s so awesome.  One of the reasons I love the neighborhood.

There are so many ways to get entertainment at affordable rates. When I introduced all these ideas, everyone at the table said they couldn’t get rid of their cable. So many devices were too much of a hassle. All they wanted to do is sit on their couch and grab their remote at the end of the day. Well, I rather pocket the savings.

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Insanity Max 30 Is Killing Me!

As part of my plan to regain focus and concentrate on myself in 2015, I decided that I needed to get back in shape.

I injured my shoulder last year and unfortunately it just took me out of commission. The first time I seriously pulled a muscle, so I waited three weeks, nursed it and went back. I lasted maybe two weeks before I pulled it again. It was really bad, so bad I had migraines because the shoulder muscle was pulling another neck muscle. So, I decided to take off more time. I think I waited a month and then started going back. I think my body was just telling me no because I pulled a lower back muscle. Funny story but I couldn’t bend down, so I quit my workout early, somehow drove home, and managed to get out of my car. Except I couldn’t exactly take off my clothes to get in the shower or basically do anything. My hubby wasn’t home, since he was playing basketball at his gym, so I had to call the gym and tell a guy over the phone to please go find him in the basketball court because it was an emergency. I told him to come home. I was desperate. The incident basically told me I had to take it easy, so I took time off to heal my body.

I went back the first week of January!

On a side note- My work has afternoon classes that are run by company employees, so I get to workout with a fun group of people and I don’t have to pay a dime! No gym membership for me baby! Savings of $40 a month. Plus, the workout room is in my building, I just have to tell myself I can make it down three flights of stairs instead of having to convince myself to drive somewhere.

We started an the insanity max 30 program. It’s a super intense program but it only lasts 30 minutes a day. You think this is short? Well, it might be short but you end up dead afterwards. I’ve been so tired after work, I have just been falling asleep on the couch when I get home.

It’s getting better…last week I probably made it to 9:30 PM each night? Considering I was passing out around 7:30 PM, this 2 hour improvement is much better!

I’m already noticing a difference.

I must curse out Sean T a dozen or more time during the 30 minute training. “Sean T you suck…Sean T you don’t need to take off your shirt because you’re tired…Sean T whyyyyy???”

Working out is helping me a lot. I feel better about my body and I feel much healthier. I’m also eating better and avoiding so much fast food. Slowly but surely, I’m getting back into shape. I just wish I had more time in the day because it just goes so quickly.

Are you staying with your new year’s resolutions?

Starting 2015 with a Positive Energy

Happy New Year’s everyone! I can’t believe 2015 is here. I’m 24, about to be 25 in a few months, and learning to appreciate my age and experience. When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being in my mid-20s. I would sit and daydream about how life would be. I won’t lie; I loved Friends because it showed just how life could be in your mid-20s and later. 2014 was an interesting year for me. I stopped writing for a bit because stress got to me. The summer and fall were crazy busy for me as picked up additional responsibilities at work. Other personal stress also affected my balance and happiness. After all this blog, is not only about finances, but, also about managing life, and to some extent family. Family…I’m not even sure how to tackle this subject without going down a depressing road, but I think it’s important for people to understand the struggle.

Family – I’m Mexican. I was raised by conservative, Mexican immigrant parents. Culture has always been a challenge with us. Even though I do understand my Mexican heritage, I speak Spanish fluently and I am caught up on current events in Latin America, I am an outsider. I was raised in the United States and thus, picked up a lot of American customs. My marriage to an American has strained the relationship with my parents. Furthermore, as I progress in improving my life, resentment has set in with my parents. I am, in their eyes, leaving them behind. Without getting mean and bashing on any events, this is the best I can come up with at the moment. Unfortunately, their actions due to this fear that they are losing me have caused a break in our relationship. This saddens me because I had tried extremely hard to put a focus on family ever since graduating school. At this point, I can’t do a lot. My parents and I and hubby are taking a break until further notice. I refused to be defined by any culture. I refused to be boxed in just because of my heritage. I am intelligent enough to take the best out of many cultures and lifestyles and apply it to my life. The hope is one day my parents will understand this. One day they will understand that I am doing my best to have my definition of a healthy, happy life; my choices, my consequences, my life. Once they understand and accept me for who I am, our relationship will begin to improve. Until that point, we will continue to be unhappy in our interactions. They will wish their daughter to be different, and I will wish for them to accept me for who I am. It has taken many months of tears and heartbreak. There has been a crack building for quite some time and finally the fissure erupted. It’s going to be hard, especially as birthdays and holidays come up, but I have to stand my ground. This is about my identity and finally being accepted for who I am. I’m tired of pretending to be someone I’m not. It doesn’t work. I write this with acceptance. I hope my story can help those who are facing similar challenges.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.-

Reinhold Niebuhr

I’m starting 2015 with a new found energy and momentum. I want to appreciate life’s precious moments. I need to find my inner happiness so I can radiate it and infect other people with happiness. It’s a challenge especially since life seems to throw a lot of negative feedback at you, but life is good. I have to thank my husband for providing light hearted wisdom and constantly repeating to me the little things don’t matter in life, so let them go.  Finally, I want to stop being afraid. Fear halts you from progressing; it paralyzes and leaves you stranded.

2015 will be about accepting me, being happy, and letting go of the little stuff.

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Items to Consider When Moving Abroad

Winter has come early to Texas! This means lot of cuddly, snuggly weather and lots of home improvement projects. My family is coming for the holidays and I’m busy trying to make the house more hospitable compared to last year! However, I can’t be an energizer bunny all the time. Today, I painted the guest bathroom, five hours later I was exhausted!!! How can such a small bathroom take so much energy? I tossed my sore body on the couch after all the physical activity and turned on some Netflix. I started watching House Hunters International. Isn’t that show addicting? Get to see new places and houses!!! Then, my brain started thinking.

What do people do when they move to a foreign country? How do they get around to get a driver’s license or figure out how to turn on the water? I recall from my international studies classes in college that the little things in a different country can add up quickly especially for foreigners with no language skills.

I have not lived in another country as an adult, hence I haven’t lived through this scenario, but I do want to live overseas. I joined an international company with hopes of getting relocated. My company would take of most arrangements if I were on a short-term assignment, but once I transfer to a long-term assignment; it might be a different story. In some countries, I would have to take a local contract based on that particular country’s rules. I started thinking of all the things I would have to take care of:

  1. Moving – Moving across state lines in the US has been pretty easy. Rent a U-Haul or some Pods then get them and yourself to the next destination. Figure out where the local DMV and other important office are located. It would be challenging but much easier with Google searches! Moving across international lines is more difficult. It might be easier to hire a moving company that does everything for you. I have read about companies that move your things from the US to Mexico and fill out the documentation of your items to get them through customs.
  2. Figure out Visas – What kind of visas will you need to travel and stay in the country? The U.S. Department of Defense – Bureau of Consular Affairs has some good information. Check it out!
  3. Foreign Exchange rates – Is the country’s economy stable? If it is not, their exchange rate might fluctuate daily. An example of a country with currency exchange fluctuations is Argentina. I had a Director from Argentina come to the US and he couldn’t use his Argentinean credit cards in the US due to country having defaulted its nation debts. When we went to Peru, we realized how hard it was getting to an ATM to get USD dollars. It was extremely challenging to exchange our USD to Peruvian soles in the small villages. Next time we go to another country, I will be better prepared.
  4. Loans – If you move to another country, how will you get access to loans to buy a house (if you choose to buy a house like in HHI), or to get a car, or even a line of credit (i.e. credit cards)? In Britain, you can check out Aspire Money. Aspire Money provides personal and car loans.
  5. Make Friends Fast – Making good friends fast may be a better way to get the in to all the local places. Sometimes just figuring out which is the best neighborhood to live in can be challenging to someone who doesn’t know the area. Friends can be such a great resource.

Those are just some ideas I had, if I were to move abroad long term. Here’s to wishing my dream comes true one day!

Why Completing Your FNP Degree Online Can Be a Smart Financial Move

**The following is a sponsored post.

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Going to school to become and being a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) is a great way to involve yourself in the medical community and provide meaningful service. However, between classroom time and clinical hours, it can be difficult to balance work and your schooling. In addition, getting a degree can be costly. Check out some ways that completing your FNP degree online can be a good decision financially.

No Moving Costs

One of the benefits of online schooling is that you can stay exactly where you are. Whether you already have a job in your location, or it’s out of your budget to make a move for school, there are lots of different reasons why staying put is the preferable financial move. Finish your FNP degree from the comfort of your own home without having to sacrifice stability or your work. This is especially important if you have kids or dependents at home; keep their lives stable by taking classes at home.

Many programs also offer distance learning where only a few weeks a semester on campus are required. This gives you the opportunity to travel without having to commit to the school’s location, and it also gives you the opportunity to meet your instructors in person.

Flexible Hours

Working? Young kids or aging parents at home? An online FNP program lets you choose during what hours you do your school work, letting your life carry on like normal without jeopardizing all your time. Especially when it comes time to do clinicals, sitting in a classroom for long hours doesn’t work well for many lifestyles and home situations. Improve your future while keeping up your responsibilities with an online program. Many schools offer either full-time or part-time programs. Depending on your schedule, you can work at your own pace and still complete the program in a timely manner.

Financial Aid Availability

Nursing programs can be expensive. Most schools offer some kind of financial aid. With the average cost per course hour reaching up to $400, even more for out-of-state tuition, make sure to check out your chosen school’s available fellowships and scholarships. These can help balance out the cost, especially when coupled with a student loan.  If you don’t want to take out a loan or want to reduce the amount that you borrow, working while taking classes is often the best option. Working and participating in a traditional program can be difficult, but with the flexibility of an online program, working to support your education is a lot easier.

No Crowded Classrooms

One of the best parts about online education is the individual attention coupled with the independent study portions. If you enjoy working at your own pace and taking control of your education, an online program is an excellent fit. While it may not work well for those who have a hard time staying motivated or who like face-to-face communication, if you enjoy challenging yourself and are committed to your education, an online FNP program may provide the structure that you need to excel.

Online school helps you balance your personal and educational life while staying within your budget and minimizing student debt. Also, it’s a great option if you want to keep working while you’re in school and if you work well in an independent learning environment.

Progress on Decreasing Our Expenses

My Discover credit statement closed last week and we accomplished what we haven’t been able to accomplish in months: we decreased our spending. My goal to keep our spending to $1500 on our card was not met completely. We went over by $75, but $75 is way better than $500! Next month’s goal is to maintain this consistency. This past month was a very challenging month. I really had to watch our spending in the food category and delayed some other expenses till the end of the month. Keeping our spending low is hard work. I have to consistently watch what we spend our money on and make sure we are not overspending. It means logging in to mint every day and consciously thinking about our purchases on a daily basis.

This next month is going to be challenging. We have a couple of house expenses coming up. We have to have our warranty people come and perform service. Our garbage disposal is broken, our dishwasher is connected to the garbage disposal and won’t turn on, and our A/C needs service. I’m, also, updating the kitchen and will probably spend another $150 to finish buying the materials we need. Being a homeowner is not cheap! There are only five more paychecks left in the year. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, which means I have to start buying Christmas presents for the family! So much to do!

I hope the end of the year festivities does not trump our budget, but it may be this way. The fight to keep our spending in check will continue though.

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How BIG should your emergency fund be?

Emergency funds are very popular in the personal finance world. They should be even more popular outside of the personal finance world. It’s always a very good idea to have a small savings stashed somewhere. My biggest dilemma is figuring out how much to have in our emergency fund. The interest rate in our savings account is really low. I only get 0.75% on the savings account at Capital One 360.

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Debt – How big should your emergency fund be if you are in debt? You should always strive to have $1000 in a savings account. $1000 will get you through most emergencies if you are a young 20 something year old. The last thing you want is to get into more debt if you have to pay an emergency bill to the doctor or vet.

After Debt – What happens after you get out of debt? Should you build your emergency fund to the equivalent of 6 months of expenses or 12 months? I have seen a lot of personal finance bloggers increase their emergency funds to $10,000 after getting out of debt. $10,000 will equal to about 3-4 months of expenses for us. 6 months of expenses equals to $18,000.

Investing – When you are young, it’s so important to build your investments so you take advantage of compound growth. Once you max out your retirement accounts, is it ok to have a $10,000 emergency fund, and then invest the rest into a brokerage account?

This is where our finances are right now. We can continue to build our savings account, or we can divert some money into a brokerage account.

What would be your advice for a 24 year old?

Is 24, The Rut Year?

Everybody stop what you are doing now! Do you remember what your 24th year on this earth felt like? Please tell me. Because so far, 24 is pretty solidly stable. Nothing is wrong with stable except that stable is boring to write about. Maybe I’m just going through a blogging rut? I’m pulling an Erika @ Newlyweds on A Budget and using bullets to summarize my thoughts. Check out her post – The Bullet List Post.

  • I just woke up from a nap. I passed out as soon as I got home. I know older people at work say the young have all the energy, but after working from 8 to 6, driving home for 40 minutes, I have no energy left. All I can do is close my eyes because they hurt from staring at monitors all day long.
  • I’m so jealous of people who drink caffeine. I have to wake myself up naturally every day with a shower and then pure mental grind. FYI I don’t drink any caffeine. I, also, do not drink tea.
  • I’m stressed. My brother is a senior in high school and I’m helping him with all of his college and scholarship applications. It’s stressing me out. I thought about what the end of the year is going to be for me and on top of everything else, there’s that.
  • Working out consistently, what’s that? I was doing so well all year, until I injured myself in June. It’s now October, I can’t seem to get back on the work out train. I run a couple of days a week, but it’s not enough. Meanwhile, I’m eating worse. Ugh…stupid sweets and junk food. I eat so much better when I’m working out all the time but since I haven’t, diet is failing.
  • I wanted to sneak away one last time, a small getaway weekend, but I haven’t planned anything. I’m tempted to just do a staycation. I love our bed, our house is nice, we have trails nearby….we won’t have to deal with airports….just a thought.
  • I feel guilty about not visiting my family more. Sigh…my mom did a great job raising me I guess. The Mexican guilt trip, I can’t wash it off!! I went to see them in July? I think July. Although every time I have a free weekend I have to spend working on my brother’s college stuff, so it’s hard to sneak away. October is already packed with activities. I think it may wait until early November, when I go see my Dad for his birthday. I can’t do everything, sorry Mom.
  • Holidays are coming up. That’s it. Holidays are coming up. STRESS!!!
  • Being superwoman sometimes is so much pressure. So much to do…so little motivation or energy. Oh and time too!
  • Talking about motivation, I can’t seem to get motivated. I have to find what makes me tick again.
  • Our kitchen is under construction – Painting the cabinets, painting the walls, adding hardware on the cabinetry, and a nice pull down shade for the kitchen. Can’t wait till it is finished.
  • Finances – Our are pretty boring. I’m trying to rein our spending. I think this month, with our new budget, and ferocious Mint tracking, we might make it. I’m, also, helping my hubby’s friends with his finances. He let me take control of them…more on that laters.
  • Exciting – Helping one of my friend’s plan her DIY wedding. It’s exciting!!!
  • At 24, I find myself trying to find myself.

That’s it people’s! :)

How Toastmasters Has Helped Me Gain Confidence

When I joined Corporate America two years ago, I was the youngest team member by a few years. Starting from scratch in a new environment when everybody is looking at you because you are so young is crazy. I’ve learned a lot about Corporate America, which I’ve shared before in other posts. In one of my posts, I spoke about getting involved in groups or activities at work. I joined my company’s Toastmasters group to improve my public speaking skills. In the past year, I have seen significant improvement in how I communicate in front of audiences. Toastmasters has also helped me communicate better during one-one conversations.

I have noticed the following improvements in my speech:

  • A decrease in nerves
  • Using less crutch words (i.e. like, uh, uhm,)
  • Appropriately using pauses instead of crutch words
  • Maintaining eye contact with the audience

I have, also, met so many people from different parts of my company. It’s a really great to network passively. We are all there to build our skills, so we’re concentrating on our individual skills not talking to anybody else, thus, it’s easier to talk to people. Double win!!!

Improving my public speaking skills is going to help me in my career and life. Right now my career is my main money making scheme, so it’s extremely important to keep up any and all skills.

I still have a whole lot of work to do! Have you seen seasoned Toastmasters speak? They are AMAZING! One day I will be like them.

Until then, I have to keep practicing. This is me leaning in to my career.

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Home Ownership Expenses You Might Not Expect

I had the chance to participate in an interview by Tali Wee at Zillow. I was able to share our experience as a first time homebuyer. I was one of a few bloggers who shared their experience including bloggers from Financially Blonde, Stacking Benjamins, Student Debt Survivor, Save and Conquer, Retire by 40, Fitnancials, and Wise Dollar.

Check out the article….

Below is more Q&A that didn’t make it on the interview.

1.      Tell me about the homeownership expenses you planned for prior to purchase. What saving strategies did you use and have you used your budgets as expected?

We planned for a 20% downpayment, closing costs, and an initial fund to do some needed repairs. We were very aggressive with saving our money prior to buying our house. We were saving over 50% of our income. We didn’t go out very often and we tried to eat home.

2.       What are the most costly expenses you pay as a homeowner that you did not pay as a renter?

Maintenance has been the most costly expense. So far, we have had to call a plumber to fix a leak, the exterminator to exterminate, and now, our garbage disposal is broken. $100 here and there adds up.

3.       Is homeownership what you imagined it would be? Please elaborate.

Yes and no. I thought updating the house would be a lot more fun. It is! I love the end result, but it takes time and money. I love having our own place and being a little further away from neighbors.

4.       What advice do you have for a prospective homebuyer budgeting to purchase a home and become a homeowner?

Plan to have a 20% down payment saved up, additional savings for closing costs, and shop for your mortgage. I found out later Capital One would have given me a small refund on closing costs. Don’t be in a rush to buy furniture and update your house. Take your time and save your pennies!

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