The Simplest Way to Factor Fun into Your Budget

Being on a budget doesn't have to be boring. How to amp up the fun factor when following a budget! |

Does your fun meter take a hit when you’re on a budget?

I'm sure everyone's unanimous response is: YES!

When we started to crack down and get serious about our budget I dreaded that our fun meter would fall to zero. So far, January’s been fun and we haven't broken the monthly entertainment budget. We got to experience The Escape Zone at a price tag of $57.51 for two people. Basically, it's an hour long puzzle/mystery where (up to 8 people max) have to solve clues to escape out of a darkened room. As much fun as I had, I kicked myself afterwards when I found out that another participant got her tickets for 60% off using a Groupon discount. Guess what site I'll be checking now before I pay for anything else?

Here’s the big secret: FIND THE FREE (or relatively cheap) experiences!

It’s necessary to exercise some restraint in order for you to begin seeing progress in your financial journey. I know all too well the feeling of outlining a fantastic plan only to completely overshoot my projections and ultimately defeat myself before the month has even come to an end. I don’t want that to happen anymore yet I also don’t want to compromise having fun either!

If you’re one of the few that aren’t using a budget and find yourself missing your mark each month it’s time to get serious about your goals. Over time having a hawk-eye watch over your finances will begin to feel less like a chore and you may even start looking forward to the process.

Finding the Free

For the past couple months, Mr. RNW and I have begun adhering to a strict budget and we’ve found ourselves being more cautious towards our spending habits. A while back I discovered our apartment complex and a local studio offers a free yoga class once a week, and I've been taking full advantage of that perk ever since!  Most of all, we love to eat out and enjoy new experiences but those things cost money and when you’re on a budget it may not be the greatest idea to indulge as much.

Our mission for February is to go after the FREE and not sacrifice our fun! Instead of staying inside and staring at the walls we’re going to get out commit to being Experience People vs. Things People (Debt Free Guys), this time with a deep focus on budget friendliness. If you live in a mid-sized city like us, it’s likely there’s some type of free event happening every week that you may be interested in attending.

Here’s the catch: You’ve got to get creative with finding these events! Free events (that’ll be worth your time) aren’t usually broadcasted loosely to the entire public, you usually have to go digging for them! Here’s some of my favorite spots to stalk in order to find the best free (& cheap) events taking place in my surrounding area:

  • Community newsletters & local papers
  • Chamber of commerce website
  • Online event calendars of surrounding cities
  • Random announcement areas - i.e. Panera's community bulletin board (each location has one), local library activities board, etc.
  • Groupon - catch a deal on something you’ve wanted to try so you don’t facepalm yourself later!
  • Eventbrite - enter your city & select free (under prices)
  • Meetup - great place to find comaradarie in others while learning a skill or starting a new activity.

That’s our plan for February, to still having fun while sticking to our budget. As of today, I’ve found 3 free events we’d like to attend next month and I’m hoping to still find more!

Tell me, what resources have you used before to find entertainment on a budget?

3 Solutions to Break Out of Blogger's Block

What's worse than having a blog with no readers? Having a blog with no recent content! 3 Solutions to break out of a blogger block. |

I've heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Although this may be true about love but I don't think this applies to blogging. I haven't written a single word on this blog in a little over a month. But give me some credit, I’ve stayed rather active on social media following the journeys of you guys over the holiday season. Either way, I've done a poor job of documenting my journey as of late.

Sure I can like posts, comment under pictures and retweet everyone else's content but something was holding me back from writing and drafting posts for my little piece of the internet here at RNW.

Long time, no activity!

Although I’ve yet to put my finger on what exactly was the main issue with my posting habits, I think it may be a mix of several things. What I do know for sure is: I want to blog more and I want to create a solid track history of posts to look back on as I traverse through my debt journey.

So today, I break the month long silence by confessing about my apprehension that held me back from posting more on this blog. While I read through others blogs, I’ve realized not every post has to be ground-breaking to be effective and warrant publishing. As an example, I spotlight Krystal Yee’s (Give Me Back My Five Bucks) fantastic blog, she does a great job balancing her posts with both personal and revenue generating content.

There’s still a few things I need to work though when it comes to creating content for the blog, most importantly is being in the right "head-space" to write! If you’re currently struggling the same way I am then try taking a step back and break down the reasons to why you aren’t producing or performing to your desired level. Everything else in your life gets done because it ranks somewhere on your priority list!

Solutions to blogger's-block. How to get back on track.

Problem #1: Is my life too boring to be a blogger?

SOLUTION: Of course, you may not be living the lavish life but someone out there is living very similar to you or is aspiring to get to the level that you’re currently at. Example: Yes, I’m still in student debt but my husband and I still go out to eat and have an entertainment budget. Someone just starting out might be baffled about how we manage to pay back student loans and still have money for dining out. The key is to have a budget!

Someone, somewhere is trying to get to the level you’re at right now and you can be their example of hope. The deeper you look into your past accomplishments (no matter how small) the more it will become apparent that you relate to others more than you think.

Problem #2: I have no ideas for blog posts.

SOLUTION: I know this feeling all too well! So, you want to create a blog post but the words just aren’t flowing out into anything cohesive? Aside from the fact that you can go to Google & Pinterest and get a host of ideas, the real ideas lie within your daily lifestyle. That’s what people are craving, the thoughts and actions that drive you to do what you do.

Remember, each post doesn’t have to be a grand event and your readers aren’t expecting an earth-shattering discovery each time you hit publish.

The easiest approach is to look back on your past week (or time that has passed since your last post) and pick out some of the key events. I use a paper calendar to track everything from doctors appointments, dinner ideas, family activities to vitamins and my water intake. Ask me on Friday what I did on Monday, I couldn’t tell you unless I look at my planner, it’s my life line. You’d be surprised with how reviewing your regular events can be your saving grace and trigger an idea for a blog post. Try it!

Problem #3: I’ve lost my direction. What am I doing this for again?

SOLUTION: At some point this will happen, whether it’s while attempting to dig yourself out of a writer's slump or when you’re 5 years into the blogging scene and you feel like you’re moving in circles. Instead of just re-asking yourself why you started in the first place, take yourself back to the feelings that you experienced before starting your blog.

Before starting this blog I was:

  • NERVOUS - about how my current student debt would hinder my future
  • OVERWHELMED - when having a simple conversation about finances
  • GUILTY - for not becoming more serious about my financial situation sooner
  • CONFUSED - about how to build a solid financial plan together with my husband

When I take the time to revisit those feelings I instantaneously get a boost of confidence and determination. How you felt at the beginning should be light years away from how you feel now. I started this blog with little knowledge and even smaller confidence. Each day I continually learn new things from the personal finance community, much more than I ever knew possible. And for that reason I feel as though there shouldn’t ever be a shortage of inspiration that would lead to a blogger-block.

Was there a time when some degree of blogger-block kept you away from creating content for your blog. What post did you use to break the silence?


5 Ways to Keep Your Sanity In-Between Jobs

Those first couple of days after I left my last job I was elated. Finally, free at last! No one telling me where to be or what to do.

How to switch from panic to enjoying your newfound freedom. Why being in-between jobs isn't as bad as you think! |

So you’ve given your job the deuces, now what?

At some point in the weeks following the resignation the reality of my joblessness hit me like a ton of bricks. My elation turned into worry and feelings of uncertainty. After reading this post from Adventures of Reece I realized that worry is ok and it's one of the 6 emotions your bound to expereice when quitting a job.

Although I’m technically still in-between jobs, at least I’ve found peace with my situation. Some of the coolest things can happen while you’re between jobs if you allow yourself the opportunity to experience them.

In-between jobs, now what?

Specify if you want a new job or new purpose? Many times the panic of being unemployed will cause a person to grab any job just to fill the void. Instead of jumping into the next thing take some time to explore a bit and figure out exactly what you’d like to tackle next. Is your field not as you expected it or was it simply the organization you worked for that deflated your enthusiasm? It’s important to identify the true reason for the separation, specifically if it was a reactive decision to certain circumstances.

Also, it’s necessary to note the importance of an emergency fund and how it becomes crucial to your sanity and wellbeing during this period. Finding yourself jobless is way less stressful when you’ve got a 20K emergency savings fund to tide you over until things are solid again.

Reevaluate your career & life goals. For years I thought of jobs as being steps on a single ladder - taking each step methodically to reach the next rung on the same ladder until you reach the top. But recently, I’ve realized that life is more akin to a jungle gym full of monkey bars where you’re not restrained to one ladder and you have the ability to use skills learned from another bar to propel you further on another set. Life is an adventure, if you're not having fun anymore simply find another playground to play on!

Start a side project or hobby. 40 hours a week. That’s how much time you can expect to give to your employer when working a full time job. Now factor in the daily commute, overtime for deadlines, making dinner then sleeping and you’re left with only a handful of hours that you can truly dedicate to your personal hobbies. I commend those folks who become entrepreneurs and create businesses from the ground up with the leftovers hours of the week. Those are the real hustlers! Whether starting a business or honing a particular skillset you’re bound to see faster progress now that you’ve got the maximum uninterrupted hours to devote to the goal. So, use that newfound free time to your advantage!

Volunteer your time to learn new skills or find new interests. Undoubtedly, the best thing I’ve done during this particular period of unemployment is to start volunteering with the county in a position that is helping me to learn more about surveying, mapping and GIS. I’ve been interested in this field for awhile now and it feels great to get hands-on experience with professionals in the field twice a week.

If time permits, volunteering is one of the best things you can do to occupy your time while gaining access and experience in any field. Telling an organization you’ll willingly show up and be ready to learn the daily tasks and duties of the career field boggles the minds of many. But for me, it has been one of my greatest experiences, it's a win-win situation plus you gain connections if you decide to pursue that field further.

Organize and streamline your life. When you were working did you ever find yourself saying “If I had more time I’d clean out the garage storage, the attic, etc?” There will always be those weekend chores that were just way to large or cumbersome for you to tackle while you were employed full time. Like really, who wants to clean out the attic over Memorial Day weekend? Now is the perfect time between jobs to tackle some of those larger projects that eluded you during your employment.

Have you ever been unemployed for an extended amount of time? What advice do you have for someone who is struggling with their time in-between jobs?

original photo credit: decision via photopin (license)

How to Prevent a Financial Derailment

Three weeks ago we had a family emergency that required my complete attention for about a week. During this time I had other priorities that took precedence over keeping a strict eye on our finances. Due to my diligent practice of creating financial flexibility our finances remained unscathed as if they were running on autopilot.

If you've been a reader for a bit you'd know that I'm not really a fan of putting anything regarding finances on autopilot. Besides Netflix and our cellphone bills which both require auto-payment everything else requires a human action. We all know what happens when the flight crew gets too comfortable in the flight deck? People get lax, key details get looked over and planes stop landing on runways! Which is why I prefer the hands-on approach when it comes to our money!

Will your finances resist an unexpected derailment? If your world was temporarily turned upside down would you be able to stay afloat?

Would you consider yourself in control of your finances or are you easily shaken? How to stay ahead and prevent a financial derailment with my 5 tips! |

It's better to have a bit of financial flexibility to fall back on if you find yourself in an undesirable situation. Minding your finances and staying ahead will give you one less thing to worry about when your priorities are elsewhere.  

So, if you're like me and aren't a part of the automated finances club maybe you'd find some interest in my tips on how we prevent confusion and work together to keep our finances running smoothly.

Develop a system and include your partner/spouse.

Too often you hear stories about a family member dying or becoming temporarily incapacitated thus leaving the rest of the family floundering in attempts to put together the financial pieces. In most households one person is primarily responsible for paying the bills and monitoring the finances, that's ok and completely normal. What's not ok is letting one person having complete control in making financial decisions without consulting the other party. Not only is it unfair, its risky!

Whether you live alone, have no surviving family or live with dependents be proactive and make sure your power of attorney and beneficiary information (Young Finances) is in order. Nothing is worse than having relatives jump through unnecessary hoops due to your naivety. Make time to set meetings with your partner in order to discuss increasing insurance premiums, brainstorm new investment ideas or create budget changes. Your openness and ability to communicate will have a positive effect on you relationship.

Have an emergency fund readily available, including a plan of action.

You do have an emergency fund, right? If not, check out this post by The Simple Dollar if your on the fence about whether you need one or not.

Here's my logic: Safety belts, mandated by law force us to have an extra layer of protection against getting thrown out of the vehicle in a crash. What's protecting your short-term financial wellbeing, do you have a built-in buffer?

Once your emergency fund is established there needs to be guidelines for dipping into that cash. Which decision would you chose in these situations?

  • The car requires a $1,000 repair, do you reach for the emergency fund now or do you cancel the trip you have planned this weekend? 
  • You just got handed a pink slip, in two weeks consider yourself jobless. Do you go and dump your entire emergency fund into your checking account or do conduct business as normal and simulate a payday by depositing a "paycheck" bi-weekely from your emergency fund?

Could go either way, right? These are only some of the scenarios to consider when discussing how to use your emergency fund. Having these type of routine discussions up front will avoid any further confusion on top of an already stressful situation. Calamity cannot be avoided, it will come but being prepared will allow you to cope through the tough times easier.

Check in with your finances regularly.

Feel free to use the word "regularly" at your discretion. If every Monday at 6pm is regular, go with that just make sure you stay on top of it. For example, I have different frequencies of checking the finances depending if bills are due that week, if a paycheck is being deposited, or when I'm expecting a credit. There may be times I'll check the account every single day if there's a lot of activity that week. Taking the time to assure the correct funds are in place is important especially when you have money going in all different directions at different times.

Pay your bills early, if you can.

If you're on a really tight budget it may be difficult to pay a bill as soon as you receive it, that's understandable. Billing cycles are weird and at times irregular. Is it me or is everything due all at the same time? Money in, money right back out! If you've built wiggle room into your budget or are like us and pay many bills with a credit card you have the ability to pay as soon as bills arrive instead of waiting on your paycheck to clear. That's one of the pleasantries of using a credit card, the other is the rewards that you get for everyday expenses like paying the light bill. I must advise, only utilize a credit card for paying bills if you can afford to pay the entire amount of each month otherwise you're giving away money in interest. The rewards mean nothing if you had to give money away to receive them!

Make time for an end-of-month review of your general spending and progress towards financial goals. 

Why did she spend $200 on clothing last month? Before you flip out and accuse your partner of secret spending a simple discussion may reveal that your children grew like weeds over the summer and have outgrown their winter coats. Often times, unexpected expenses come up and must be addressed in a hurry. Give yourselves the opportunity to come together to review certain actions and take steps (like buying next year's jackets two sizes bigger on clearance after Christmas to be prepared for next winter) to prevent spending as much next time. Always remember to keep your financial conversations positive, productive and non-accusatory that way all parties are respected and stay willingly engaged.

What are your thoughts? Are the lines of communication clear regarding finances in your household? Are you the primary bill payer, if so do you feel supported by your spouse? I'd like to hear your input on my tips we use keep our financial discussion as open as possible!

original photo credit: 20008 via photopin (license)

October Update & Blogger Interview

October was a new beginning of creating systems and making strides towards organization. I consider myself an ambitious person that's always looking for the next challenge. At times I find myself at a loss trying to tackle everything I'd like to accomplish. I've noticed since making structured organization a part of my daily lifestyle I've seen more results and less wasted time. 

If you don't have a plan, you're planning to fail. My October 2015 updates + my first financial blogger interview. See what I'm doing to stay on track. |

Successful people are generally organized, if not outwardly then I'd assume they've got a solid mental plan that they reference multiple times daily. To say that you have a goal or aspiration but neglect to create and follow a plan of execution will lead to wasted time if any progress at all. 

I've always been a "go by the seat of your pants person" until recently. I've reverted back to the paper & pencil methods by utilizing a paper calendar and writing down things that need to get done. Utilizing a pretty paper calendar, physically writing down intentions and tasks in pen and holding myself accountable to what's on the page has helped me tremendously. Take yesterday for example: I'd planned to go to yoga at 7pm but around 6 I felt tired after dinner and could've easily skipped out on the free class. Instead I guilted myself into going because I didn't want to have to cross out the event in my planner just because I was being lazy. Turns out I had an amazing time and I'm feeling super limber today as a result. I guarantee if I still was utilizing a digital planner I could've easily done a quick CTRL+Z and the yoga class would have disappeared in a flash!

Figuring our monthly finance plan

Sure we all want to save more money or be debt free but which daily, weekly or monthly tasks are prepping you to reach that goal? I'm still pressing out major kinks on this whole finance thing, it truly is a process. I'm proud to say that last month my husband and I finally hit the official "Save As" button on how we're managing our student debt payoff, investments and building up our emergency savings. Have you nailed down a solid system or plan for your money?

I'm looking forward to sharing our new system with my readers soon. If your household uses a credit card (come on, those rewards are great) as the primary method of payment then you may benefit from our new system as well. 

Give your extra money a purpose

A huge perk of our new system affords me the ability to add a second student loan payment each month. That in itself is great news and it feels so good to know that we're knocking out my loans that much faster. Last month we were able to give $881.27 for our bonus loan payment at the end of the month! What's one small thing you can add to your system to streamline the process?

Discovering health insurance outside of employer sponsored plans

Also in the month of October we've finally selected a non-employer sponsored health insurance provider. When we found out my husband's new job didn't provide health care we were overwhelmed and honestly felt kinda duped. But now that the process is over we have a different perspective on the situation. Having employer sponsored health insurance is a perk, you can find just as great or better plans as an independent member. Looking back, paying out of pocket for insurance no longer feels like an unwarranted punishment, which is exactly how we thought of it in the beginning. Seeking independent health insurance forced us to compare and learn minute details from numerous plans.

I swear, this is the most we've ever stared at any health related documents in our entire lives! Plus, I'm sure we're almost on a first name basis with some of the representatives because I call so frequently when I don't understand something about in our plan. Is your health insurance currently sponsored by your employer? If so, would you ever consider electing independent coverage to supplement?

First timer blogger interview

Lastly, your girl recently had her first finance blogger interview with LaTisha Style's of Young Finances! Check out the entire interview, it was a fun opportunity to share my story with LaTisha's readers! Also if you're looking for new finance bloggers to follow check out Young Finance's Blogger Interview section!

Hello November, here we come!

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3 Ways Your Paycheck Could Leave You With Zero Retirement Money

I've been trying to write this particular post for about a week now. But really, there's no good way to shine a turd. So, out of the blog post draft section and into the universe it goes. 

I failed to enroll in my past employers 401k program.

I was employed at my last job for about 390 days. Yep, a little over a year. I know, it's a bit embarrassing to admit such a financial blunder being that I blog openly about finances. She's apparently got all her stuff together right? Wrong!

3 Ways Your Paycheck Could Leave You With Zero Retirement Money -- Make sure you're paycheck is working for (not against) you & your financial future. My biggest mistake yet! |

I'm not sure when the ball was dropped because I do remember filling out the proper forms during orientation and turning them into HR. Unfortunately, due to a number of external factors I didn't realize my error until I'd parted ways with the company and inquired about rolling over previous 401k funds (Young Finances) to an IRA. 

I know one year isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of lifelong money but it still sucks! What do you think?

But honestly, it doesn't matter when the ball was dropped because it was ALWAYS in MY COURT, that was my money I missed out on! How is it that I looked over each pay stub yet I failed to see that 401k funds weren't ever being withheld?

We tried to be diligent about how we used our take-home pay but we still failed to see my error because we were too focused on the wrong number. Financial planning starts at the gross number. We honestly didn't look very hard into our deductions that brought from gross down to net income. That's the key, we were focusing on the wrong number.

There's no one to blame but myself. I should have been more closely eyeing my paystubs for financial accuracy instead of face value then possibly I could have caught my mistake sooner than later. Hopefully you can avoid a situation similar to mine by not getting caught up in these 3 scenarios that will destroy any chance of a comfortable retirement.

Not examining your work/life balance.

Starting a new job can be like jumping into a crocodile infested lake! My job carried a lot of responsibility thus I had to learn a lot very quickly and then jump in with confidence. Try not to let the insanity of your 40 hour schedule spill over and ruin the remaining 128 hours of the week you have to yourself. My work/life balance was all screwed up to the point where I'd hold my breath on Monday and not exhale until Friday, barely at that!

Forgetting that Friday is payday can mean one of two things: 

  1. You really love your job and getting paid is an add-on bonus OR
  2. You are so absolutely shattered to the extent that come Friday you are already dreading the milliseconds that lie between now and when you have to return to work. All you can think about is your bed and lying in it because you're free now. (true story)

Sounds dramatic, but I'm sure there's others who've lived like this at some point or another. Looking deep into your financial plan takes time, calm nerves and patience. When you're shattered all the time anything beyond paying the bills as they come in seems like a unfathomable task.

Not looking beyond the job position and the net pay.

It takes a couple moments to glance over the sheet or PDF to make sure health deductions are correct and your retirement contributions are being taken accordingly.

I know this may seem remedial but when it comes to your paycheck look deeper than the Net Pay (take-home money) line. It's your second job to double-check HR's work. Take it from me, I once got billed for uniform fees during one pay cycle and we didn't even wear uniforms at the corporate office. Thankfully, they admitted the mistake and fixed it on the next paycheck.

While looking at your paycheck there should be a balance among the effort you put in each week to match the monetary repayment for your time. In my case I was working my ass off each week yet wasn't paying myself back with a 401k plan and allowing my company to match contributions.

I was working unbalanced. (facepalm again)

Your financial future isn't an Easy-Bake oven. Don't Set It & Forget It!

No one will care about your finances more than you. 

Your boss will not call you to the side. HR will not inquire to triple-check your selections. You've got to manage your finances on your own.

In my case, I didn't follow up with my elections after the orientation period. The Set It and Forget It route doesn't work when it comes to finances. I was an individual within a company of thousands, I can't expect to be coddled by the HR department. 

Human resources is still manned by humans (not robots yet! Would they change it to Robot Resources?) so there's plenty opportunity to have an issue corrected if you find it early on. Don't be like me and completely loose out on an opportunity.

I wrote this post mainly for myself as documentation for my stupidity so that one day I can read this and laugh and not be so bitter about it.

For now, I'll remain bitter towards myself for awhile longer. 

But for those who are reading this. Please be more diligent about observing your paychecks, heck even your bills! Just because you've got direct deposit or auto-pay setup, don't count on it! Yes, you got paid today but did you pay yourself? You get the idea!

Whew, I feel better now that this is off my chest and out into the universe. I'm nearly 30, so this retirement talk is getting real. I want for this to be my first and last run-in with not paying into my retirement. Cheers to being more diligent about retirement savings and working for more than just a paycheck!

original photo credit: credit lines via photopin (license)