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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Buying Contacts & Paint like A Pro

It’s Thursday and it’s been a pretty exhausting week at work. I remember thinking when I was in school about how much I would enjoy working because of the different challenges. Well, I guess I got what I wanted? I’m constantly getting pulled in 20 directions at once. It’s different.

When shopping for big purchases, I’m always on the lookout for deals. We price compare most options. I even look at Discover’s merchant list to see if I can get an additional percentage on my cashback rewards. Shopping around means I spend less upfront. Just imagine me singing “more money in my pocket, more money in my pocket.”

This week we made two purchases outside of our “regular food, utilities, and gas categories.” First, I decided, a bit on a whim, to paint the master bedroom and kitchen for months. It took me eight months to decide on a color. I took advantage of Lowe’s Labor Day Sale on their paint. You get a $10 mail in rebate when you purchase one gallon of select paint brands. This is a 30% discount at least; depending on the paint you choose. So there I went to buy three gallons of Valspar paint. I, also, went to the U.S. Postal office to pick up the “mover’s package.” Inside the mover’s package is a 10% off Lowe’s coupon. Hurray!!! Unfortunately, Lowe’s is no longer in Discover’s merchant network, so I could not get the 5% cashback if I ordered it online. Here are some words of advice when painting: prep takes more work than you think, having a paint party with your friends reduces the stress of painting, and popcorn ceilings soak up a lot of paint!

Buying contacts is expensive. I have a learned a lot since purchasing the first contacts for my husband. Today, I logged into 1-800-Contacts to buy contacts for my husband. 1-800-Contacts is having a back to school sale. Use their coupon code, 20OFF175, to get 20% off your order. If you have a Discover card, just login to your online account and click the 1-800-Contacts link offer. It’s 10% cashback! In addition, 1-800-Contacts has a $100 mail-in-rebate with certain brands. The brand he is using, Acuvue, qualifies for the $100 mail-in-rebate. In conclusion, use your Discover for 10% cashback, take advantage of the back to school sale by saving 20%, and send in your $100 mail-in-rebate. By now, you should be getting the contacts at 50% of the original cost. I will, also, be asking for a reimbursement from my Vision Care Plan. I think its $100. Although I don’t count that as additional discounts, since we pay for Vision insurance.

If you are planning to buying contacts or paint, there are some great deals out there. Take advantage of them.

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How to Succeed in Corporate America

This past June, I completed my second year in Corporate America. It has been thrilling roller coaster ride! I have learned a lot about myself and I have even picked up a couple things on how to succeed in this type of environment.

First, I don’t know if Corporate America will be the rest of my life. Sigh sometimes I kick myself in the foot for not considering other opportunities. Looking back I had a couple of chances to go a different direction, but I didn’t believe in myself or thought I wasn’t cut out for that kind of work. I’m trying to be more confident and asking about any and every opportunity. For example, I have asked about a job opportunity when came up in my department. I even asked about a global opportunity. I figure the more I ask, the more comfortable I get asking, even I face rejection, which I often do. Which leads me to the first lesson learned that will help you succeed in Corporate America

  1. Don’t be shy, talk to everyone, and ask about everything. One of the biggest challenges I had at the beginning of my job assignment as my serious lack of confidence. Don’t know why, but I was so intimated about approaching people. It took me a few months to get over this fear. My boss even pointed it out in my review. He thought it was strange because our previous interactions had not been like this. So, I got over my fear, and as I have become more comfortable in my area, my confidence as grown. I smile at everyone! Talk to everyone! And ask questions! Remember ask questions. Get to know people. Most of the time people are super nice and are willing to help. I know I am more than willing to help, sort of like returning the favor. When you hear about an opportunity to gain deeper breath, ask. This is harder than it seems, but now my boss sort of knows I will ask about any opportunity I hear about, no offense to him. I am at a point in my career where I need to grow, after all.
  2. Become a Subject Matter Expert in Your Area. Most likely you will come into your first job in Corporate America with absolutely no knowledge in your area. Holy crap, I still don’t know what I’m doing it, but the first couple of months were the craziest. I was getting asked to do things and about things that I had no clue how to answer. Even though I’m in sourcing, since I work for a tech company, my job includes a lot of tech lingo. So, I find myself reading a lot of technical material. I listen to the engineers. I listen to the suppliers. I listen to everybody. Some people have noted I am very well versed, and are surprised to find out I have only been in my position for 2 years. This makes me gush with happiness to know all my hard work is paying off.  You can become a subject matter expert by doing your research. It will pay off.
  3. Create an internal network. I have to admit I am not the most social person ever. And I’m part of a very hard working team that may or may not believe that socializing is acceptable as part of your work duties. But you can’t advance without creating a strong network. I have worked really hard to create a network within my company. I have joined Toastmasters, I am volunteering at special events, and I am trying to eat lunch away from my desk. Has it paid off? I’m not sure. BUT. One of the directors called me up on Friday to see if I was interested in another volunteer opportunity. She said she thought of me and thought I would be a perfect person for the opportunity. Hey! I’ll take it. I’m on people’s minds!

My primary responsibility is to rock at my job since it’s my primary and biggest source of income. It’s challenging starting out because there’s no secret recipe. Everyone has different circumstances and experiences. Do you have any additional ideas to succeed? Please share!

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Controlling the Budget- Castle Edition

I mentioned in my previous post I’m scrutinizing all our expenses and even opportunities to maximize any returns. I was a bit lazy the past few months since we moved into our new house. Once we bought a house and had no immediate savings goal where we would get something tangible, we were a bit NOT motivated to continue saving at the previous aggressive rate. Sure, I set goals to max out retirement accounts and start a brokerage account, and we kept saving a long. But we started spending a bit more here and there.

EXCEPT A BIT MORE HERE AND THERE REALLY STARTS ADDING UP!!!

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I would try to rein in the wheels, but then we would see shiny things like food. It’s embarrassing how much money we have spent food in the past six months, well in general forever! Food is always our week point. We may not necessarily go out to bars, but we do love take out.

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DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO REIN IN FOOD SPENDING???

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We would just postpone the budget talk. I would hope every month our Discover credit card bill would be lower than the next. Since we had other house expenses on top of the crazy food spending, we would go over budget. Sigh. What’s the point of a budget if you break every single time?

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We’re buckling down and going in a budget again. Check it out below:

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Our biggest challenge is keeping our food and gas bill in check. We have a weekly allotment of $62 for gas. This amounts to about two tanks of gas, one for each of us. Doable. The food is the challenge. We are basically cutting $500 off our budget. This is hard! $150 a week on all food is a challenge. Considering we go on a grocery run and spend $80 bucks on food that is easily gone in 3-4 days, and probably eat out a couple times ($20 each time for the both of us).

Now, I will have to more creative. I will have to look at ads and we will have to make meal plans. It’s going to be challenging.

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Have You Checked Your Investment Fund Fees?

In my effort to look for every easy penny in our finances, I went to Personal Capital to check out my investment fund expense ratios. Let’s be honest it’s easier for me to control fixed expenses than it is the variable expenses.

For example, we cut the cable chord in 2013! Savings? $50. Work for employers that pay for cell phone? Yes! $100 savings?

Controlling variable expenses are a lot harder for me. So, onward to look at fixed expenses. I read an article on the Wall Street Journal that most people don’t know how much money in fees they are paying for over the years!

Have you checked out your investment fund fees lately?

I have!

I pay a total of .09% each year in fund fees! In 20 years, this will cost me a grand total of $3,300.

To see a detailed table of the investments and their fees, see below:

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I have made a conscious decision to choose funds with low expense ratios. I’m so glad my company has given me the option to choose low cost Vanguard funds in my 401K.

The less fees I pay, the bigger return I get to keep!

In conclusion, take ten minutes to look up the expense ratios of your investments.

This has been a message from Savvy Financial Latina!!!

Peace.

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My Body is Breaking Apart at 24

I’m only 24 but it feels as if my body is falling apart.

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I have been dealing with a lot of pulled muscles lately. Last year I pulled a muscle on my right shoulder blade. It took me 6 months to get back to full speed.

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I was working out this afternoon, squatting actually, when I pulled a back muscle. It hurt. I tried stretching out, to see if I could continue working out. No, very bad. I couldn’t. I made it to the car to drive home and grimaced the entire ride home. Here’s the worst part! I undressed – apologize for the gory details -. Except I couldn’t pull my pants off.

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My husband was playing basketball and his phone is always in his locker. I was stuck. Barely made it to bed, and I couldn’t get undressed or move. I decided to hunt him down. I needed those pants off so I could shower people!

I called his gym and asked for the receptionist to go the basketball court and tell him to call me. The pain was that extreme. I have never done this before, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

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My hubby came and rescued me. I love him! Thank god because being stuck with spandex pants halfway off you is no fun!

I’m officially old.

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