Intentional Spending: Frugal vs. Cheap

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I’m in a facebook group for frugal living and a question came up regarding personal care spending.  The question went something like this: 

“Do you spend a lot for your shampoo?  I believe mine is making my hair fall out. “

The responses ranged from “do not skimp on caring for yourself” to “this could be related to something other than shampoo, such as thyroid issues or vitamin deficiencies.”  But the responses were consistently and unanimously on the side of not skimping on personal care items when choosing frugality could possibly cause you harm.

Obviously there’s no way for the internet congregation to know whether cheap shampoo is actually the cause of her issues, but assuming it is, then the group definitely sided with self-care over being cheap.

It made me realize that sometimes choosing a positive lifestyle choice, be it with your finances, your fitness or anything in between, being so extreme that it’s causing more harm than good is not the way to go.  While I can’t say that this is or isn’t the case for this particular person, there are many times that people put a goal over safety or good decision-making.  And that can be dangerous. 

I love being in groups sometimes because they do often bring out interesting discussions, and this group did bring up some pretty good points.  Here are some thinkable moments that came out of the discussion:

You only get one body.  Take care of it.  This should be a no-brainer but it’s a good mantra to keep in mind for so many reasons.  I know that I take my body for granted every single day.  And I need to stop that. 

Skimp in other areas so that you can pamper yourself and your body.  I think this is a great idea.  I have never been an every-two-weeks mani/pedi girl, and I don’t go to the hair salon often at all, but I do believe that you should figure out how to set aside money to pamper your body from time to time.  Massages, hair treatments, whatever is important to you…figure out how to incorporate it into your life in a way that makes sense financially.  Sinking funds or cash envelopes are a great way to budget for these items.

I don’t go to salons, but I buy nice quality items to give myself nice at-home hair treatments and manicures.  There are great products in the store that are affordable.  Figure out those great products that work for your hair and your skin.  Look for them when they are on sale, grab a coupon, or take advantage of specials.  And honestly, this is possibly a splurge area for me.  I have a face cream that I love, but I’ve also found a good store brand knock-off, so I alternate each time I purchase face cream:  one month cheap stuff, one month good stuff.  But for me, I’d rather spend the money to do upkeep versus spend a lot of money down the road trying to correct issues that could have been avoided. 

You should see a doctor/dermatologist/nutritionist/etc.  Let’s face it.  There are a lot of people who only go to the doctor if they are truly debilitated.  Things that are labeled as small, cosmetic, or discretionary are often overlooked until it spirals into a more serious issue.  I’m not sure if this is a frugal thing or not.  For some, it could be, but for others, it may be a hassle that just doesn’t rise to the occasion of a doctor’s appointment.  These “small” symptoms can often be the piece of a larger puzzle.  Squeeze those doctor’s appointments into your schedule.  They could be crucial for catching something before it’s too late.  Quick story which I plan to blog about later…a visit to the dermatologist for something I chalked up to my own vanity ended up catching a malignant tumor for me in November of this past year.  It wasn’t causing me pain, it was just annoying and I hated looking at it.  Even the dermatologist told me it was nothing, and said I didn’t have to do anything unless I wanted to.  And when it was removed and biopsied, the result was skin cancer.  So yeah, that’s my quick lesson about getting “little” things checked out. You just never know.

Try a different product. Many people in the group provided product suggestions.  Sometimes people feel like there’s only one product that works for them.  And while there’s no real way to tell if something that works for an internet stranger will also work for you, at least it does get you into thinking about other options.  Some people have been buying the same shampoo since the 90’s.  It’s routine and it’s comfortable.  But it could also be time to venture out to something new.  Our bodies change over time, hair included, and another product could be a better option for you.  Doing a little research and trial and error could be the answer.

I agreed with all of these points, but I question how frugal someone is living if it means that something as dramatic as hair loss still makes them question whether they should spend a few extra dollars.  In the days of extreme couponing and store discount cards, there are a lot of people that make big decisions based on price—even if the price difference is insignificantly small and does not justify buying the cheap product over the more expensive option. I shop based on price comparisons quite a bit, and a lot of times I regret skimping. 

Where do you stand on the issue? I have often times opted for cheap when I should have splurged, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is right, but I definitely feel like you should spend money when the cheap way is causing you harm.

What’s something you’re always cheap on? What do you always splurge for?

My Reading List: Bloganuary Entry #12

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Writing Prompt: What book is next on your reading list?

I really have slacked off with my book reading, and I should be absolutely embarrassed by this. I will never be one of those one-book-per-week kinda people because my free time is so little and the list of things I need to accomplish in my free time is extremely long. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t read ever.

To make matters worse, I have an extremely short attention span, so I will pop onto a blog or read short articles or listen to a podcast when I do have some time to sit. But I have not been motivated to read a lengthy book in a while.

I have downloaded a few things that are ready to go on my kindle over the past few months, and I’ve also gotten some book recommendations that I’m dying to jump on. So in no particular order, I’ll go through what I like to read and what books are on my upcoming reading list.

What I like to read: In general, the types of books I love to read are going to either be smut, forbidden romance, LGBTQ smut and romance (which covers the previous two topics), and things that make me think or learn. There’s something about people powering through every reason they shouldn’t be together so that they can love and be loved. I also love a good sex scene. And I love trying to get my life together. So, the books that I read typically fit into those boxes.

When it comes to getting my life together, I absolutely love Brene Brown, Tony Robbins and authors similar to them. My boyfriend and I love to discuss these books because they help us keep a pulse on our thoughts, emotions and goals. I love to learn about business and social media, and I love lifestyle books that inspire me. I particularly love anything that covers intentional, simple, or minimalist living. I also love to learn different ways to organize and budget.

So without further ado, here are the six books that I’ve downloaded and/or plan to read in the near future:

Saint (Priest Book 3) by Sierra Simone: Smut smut smut. I already read books 1 and 2, so this one completes the trilogy.

Strictly Professional by Kathryn Nolan: more smut. I haven’t read this author yet, but I started following her on IG and FB, so her book is on my list.

A Way Home by Kiera Andrews: A gay Amish romance, and the third in a series. I loved the first two books so I’m excited to find out what’s next for the main characters.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker: This author is a master of living a minimilist life, which is something I’ve been interested in for quite some time. So I’m super interested to read his thoughts on the topic.

Down to Earth (a guide to simple living) by Rhonda Hetzel: This book is on my blogger friend, Rebekah’s, Book of the Month list. It seems right on par with my simple living interests.

Kakeibo: The Japanese Art of Saving Money by Fumiko Chiba: I am really intrigued by this concept of budgeting and intentional spending and saving. I feel like sometimes something that should be simple is made difficult, and I feel like the Japanese concept of budgeting, kakeibo, takes budgeting and pares it down into simple concepts. It’s essentially a minimalist and mindful approach to budgeting, and I’m intrigued.

So that’s my upcoming reading list. What types of things do you enjoy reading? Do you have any book recommendations? I’d love to hear about it!

7 Steps to Overcome Roadblocks

I recently found myself at a crossroad. 

I knew I wanted to accomplish a certain goal, and the way to accomplish this goal was to use this specific application.  The issue for me was 1) I didn’t understand what this application was; 2) I didn’t understand how this application fit into the overall process of what I already knew; and 3) I didn’t know how to use or implement this application. 

To add to the obstacle, in order to play around with and learn this application, it would cost money.  No free trials here. So I would have to pay money just to figure out what the application was was and how to use it, before I actually even implemented it.  So in addition to my lack of knowledge, I would also have to spend money.  In my budget-DIY world of learning and business, it just wasn’t checking the right boxes for me.

Overall, these items ultimately became my stopping point.  Instead of figuring it all out, I just shut down and did nothing. 

For about a year. 

Lazy + Cheap = Absolutely no movement towards my goal. For a year.

That. Is. Ridiculous.

In the meantime, I tried other variants of actions.  Low scale, small results type actions that helped me learn a little and earn just as little.  But ultimately did NOT get me to where I had been striving to get.

SO now here I am again, a year later, realizing that, in order to advance to the goal that I set, I have to learn this application and implement what I learn.  I finally said to myself…LEARN THE D*MN APPLICATION!!!! 

Like…am I going to risk just not accomplishing my goals because of this ONE thing I don’t understand???  Chick…are you actually serious???  NO!  I did not come this far to let something so small be the reason I don’t accomplish my goals.

So I got out of my own way.  I googled some articles, read some manuals, and got to work!  And in literally one evening, I made more progress than I made in a year. Now I’m well on my way to being able to implement the knowledge and hopefully also well on my way to accomplishing the goal I set for myself. And ultimately on my way to MAKING MORE MONEY!! KA-CHING!

Please tell me I am not alone.  Do you ever find yourself immobile because you just cannot find the energy, strength, or money to figure out how to progress forward?  I’m going to assume I’m not alone with this.  (Please tell me I’m not alone!)

If you are like me, and find yourself stuck, I want to help.  Because being stuck sucks.  Especially when you’re stuck because of your own self.  So here are seven steps that helped me get going. You can use these when you find yourself at a mental roadblock and are unsure how to move forward.

  1. Envision what you want.  Be clear.  What does success on the other side of this blockage look like?  What specifically will you be/have/do once you clear this hurdle?  Is it a financial accomplishment?  Health?  Education?  Envision yourself in your new home, finishing that marathon, wearing that bikini, or writing that new accomplishment on your resume.  Visualize clearly.  Let that be your motivation.
  2. Identify the specific action or thing that is preventing you from moving forward.  The action may be something big or it may be small.  Do you have to pass a test?  Are you unable to find time?  Do you not quite understand one thing, and that one thing holds the key to bigger things?  Write down the one, or the few things, that are keeping you from accomplishing the goal ahead. 
  3. Note the specific reason that this action is difficult to tackle.  Dig even deeper and get to the root. Are you unable to study because you don’t feel like it?  Is there one thing in the material that requires explanation?  Do you not have time because you have to work, take care of children, and find time to rest?  Are you not sure which method of moving forward is the best option for you and now have analysis paralysis?
  4. Write down a list of ways that you could clear that obstacle.  Is there someone you could ask for help?  Is there a website online that may have an answer?  Do you need someone to babysit?  Are you hesitant to spend money?  Can you research the best option online?  Do you need to speak to someone about their experience?  What specifically will help you overcome this obstacle? Write down one way, or a couple of options for clearing this obstacle.
  5. Designate a specific start time.  Look at your calendar, figure out your upcoming schedule.  Pick a time that you will start devoting to your action.  If your action is researching options, pick a time that you will sit down and begin your research.  You may not hammer it all out in one sitting, but if you don’t make a plan and set aside time, that time will pass and you will be no further along. 
  6. Be intentional.  Even if you only have 20 minutes of solid time this week to devote, make that time as productive as you possibly can make it.  Turn off distractions, put your phone down, have your note-taking devices prepared. Make that time count.
  7. Designate a specific time for your foreseeable sessions.  If you know that you have an hour before the kids get off the bus, let that be your specific time going forward.  If you’re working on losing weight, have your sneakers, sports bra, headphones and gear set out and ready.  When that hour approaches, you can jump to action as soon as it hits. No excuses. No fetching. Get to it.

What I’ve noticed is that each small action snowballs into the next action.  Getting started helped me to gather the momentum to keep going. 

Once you hit the brakes on a plan, you just have to figure out how to get going again. Get unstuck and keep moving!  Don’t dismiss how important this goal is to you and your future. Your goal is important and you are worth the effort!

Do you have any tips to add? Anything work for you that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know your thoughts on roadblocks!

Adult Orthodontia: Five Things to Consider

I have never shied away from a smile.  I’ve always smiled big and boldly, never hesitating.  Even though, up until I was 35, I suffered from a severely overcrowded bottom row and a poked out top row. Some teeth were turned all the way around, and others leaned to the side and fought for space.  

I sucked my thumb until I was 16 years old. It wasn’t until high school biology that I realized exactly how gross it all was and stopped immediately.  But the damage had been done by that point.  My teeth were a wreck. 

It never occurred to me to be bashful about smiling.  I never really thought about it.  Until one day I laughed heartily about something, and my mother looked at me and said, “I always regretted not being able to get you braces.”

The comment wasn’t meant to be hurtful, and honestly, I didn’t take it that way.  But it did make me a little self-conscious.  We were really starting to enter the age of social media and taking selfies and photographically documenting every moment in life became the norm.  I started noticing more and more that I would filter pics so much that you couldn’t detect any crookedness at all in my teeth.  Though people may not have noticed it in pictures, they definitely saw it in person.  After mulling it over for the better part of a year, I eventually found myself on the quest to get braces. 

I did my research, visited a few dentists and orthodontists.  I consulted friends and family, and sometimes I even got a lot of unsolicited feedback from people that caught wind of my plans.  I actually had someone ask me why I was bothering with braces when I’m already so old.  I was floored!  I was 35, I wasn’t dead! 

But what I was at the time was broke. Or at least broke-ish.

I was at a point where money was tight, and it was hard to fathom paying for something so costly.  Especially something that was NOT a necessity. I had some plotting and planning to do if I wanted to get this done.  There were a lot of factors to consider, and I wanted to make sure I did my due diligence before I got started.

Quite a few things factored into my thought process. Here is a list of my top five things you should consider if you are thinking about adult orthodontia. 

  1. Know your insurance options.  When I first began this voyage, many dental plans did not cover adult orthodontia. A few plans were just starting to cover adult ortho up to 50%, and many plans did not even do that.  Some required you to be a plan member for a year before they would cover adult ortho. Others covered adult braces the first year you enrolled in their plan.  If you are considering braces, do your research when your open enrollment period happens. Talk to the plan representatives, read your materials, and get a full understanding of which plans cover what costs.  Another thing that helped financially was enrolling in a flexible spending account (FSA). This allowed me to use my pre-tax dollars to reimburse myself for medical expenses.  It’s really important that you make your benefits work for you as much as possible.  Ask questions. Know your options.
  2. Shop around.  Every orthodontist does things differently.  Some orthodontists do Invisalign, some only do traditional braces.  And believe it or not, there are other options in between.  In my case, I visited three orthodontists prior to the one I selected.  They all wanted me to get several teeth pulled before they’d put the braces on.  I had no interest in doing that.  It involved more money, more pain, and coordinating between an oral surgeon and the ortho.  When I finally met my ortho, she told me about something called fast track braces.  They moved the root and tooth simultaneously (whereas others move the tooth, and then the root moves after the tooth moves…WHAT???)  She also told me that she wouldn’t need to remove any teeth because there are different facial profiles, and as an African American, my facial profile is a little wider around the jaw than a Euro or Caucasian facial profile.  She told me that she could move my teeth without making space first, and thus, no teeth needed to be pulled.  The downside was that she didn’t do Invisalign so I would be a very noticeable metal mouth for the duration of my process.
  3. Do what’s best for you and no one else.  When I was confronted by the naysayer who asked why I was bothering getting braces “so late in life”, it almost discouraged me to the point of reconsidering.  But my orthodontist told me something: “The years are going to pass regardless of whether you do this or not.  Why not have a pretty smile at the end of it?”  She was so right.  I knew this was something that I wanted.  I was paying for it, I had to deal with how my smile looked, and it was not up to anyone else whether I did this or not. If that person thought I was too old, that was on them. I knew I had plenty of life to live, and I wanted to do it with a smile that I loved.
  4. Commit to the entire process.  I cannot stress this enough.  Do everything that your ortho tells you.  Stay on schedule with your appointments.  Stay away from foods that will cause damage to the braces or your teeth.  Clean, floss, use mouthwash, all of it.  Braces cost entirely too much to do the process half way.  As an adult, you have better appreciation for what you are spending your hard earned money on and what you are sacrificing to get the work done.  So make sure it’s done well and done right. Do your part to ensure a successful outcome, and make sure that your money and time are not wasted.  And the most common advice from everyone that has ever had braces…wear your retainer.  The process is not over just because the braces come off.  Wearing your retainer afterwards is crucial to making sure your teeth don’t slip back into their old formation and that you haven’t thrown money into the trash. 
  5. Realize that braces are more than just a pretty smile.  Getting braces, for me, was not just a cosmetic issue.  Getting braces improved my overall oral health.  First and foremost, the process helped me get serious about my cleanings, dental procedures, and keeping my teeth healthy.  I became diligent about flossing, and I make appointments at the first sign of any issues such as cavities or other discomfort.  I had previously developed a habit of waiting until issues got bad and resulted in costly, painful procedures.  Getting braces made me change my overall mindset about my oral health.  Getting rid of the overcrowding in my teeth helped reduce my near bouts with gingivitis and gum disease.  And honestly, I love going to the dentist now.  Having regular appointments and establishing a rapport with my ortho made me feel a level of comfort when I walk in the office.  Now when I go in for visits, I am excited.  I want to chat with the people there, and I want to show my dentist that I’m sticking to the things she’s asked of me.

Even when it was painful, I enjoyed the process of having braces.  I embraced it for all it was worth.  I got the colorful rubber bands, and I got them changed every month.  I had people hit on me because they thought I was much younger than I was, and it cracked me up every time. 

I have always loved laughing and smiling.  And now I love looking at my selfies. I don’t try to cover up or whitewash my teeth with filters.  Even in my worst picture, my smile makes me smile. And I love that. It was worth every penny spent and every pain endured.

Have you thought about getting braces as an adult? What concerns do you have? What’s stopping you? I would love to hear from you and I will gladly share my experience!

Why The Annual “State of My Finances” Is Important

state of finances 2

Money, money, money money….MONEY!!!  Some people got to have it, some people really need it…and some have no idea whether they have it or they need it because they don’t take the time to review their books.  “What books??” You ask.  Well, whether it’s a book or a spreadsheet or an app on your phone, I’m talking about your finances.

Every year kinda goes the same way when it comes to my finances.  I have a pretty strong start with being disciplined and focused, then I eventually lose focus but somehow the bills still get paid, and by the end of the year, things get pretty loosey goosey.  I am not aware of balances, I stop telling myself “no” to purchases as much as I should, I start becoming really focused on when I get paid again, and the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality kicks in a bit.  Then January rolls around and I force myself to get reacquainted with my finances, and I become focused and disciplined all over again.

So…here we are…it’s January and it’s time to know what’s happening with my finances.  It’s time to regain control, see the big picture, know my numbers and dates, and make the promise to myself to be more fiscally responsible than I was last year.

Where to begin:  I have a spreadsheet which has been my trusty companion for the last five years or so.  I use it to track account balances, financial obligations, and monthly payments.  So I pulled that out and got to work.  I went account by account, checked balances and limits, minimum payments, and due dates.  One page of the spreadsheet contains every debt that I owe for every monthly payment I make.  It has the date that those payments are due each month, the current balance of that account, the limit for that account, and the method which I make my monthly payments.  I update it for any new accounts and delete any old accounts that no longer apply.  I sum this all up and I see where I stand from a total debt perspective.  Then I compare that amount to the debt reported on my freecreditreport.com report.  (Side note:  Freecreditreport.com is a very useful tool. I highly recommend this or some type of credit monitoring service.)

So here’s the spreadsheet template that I use.

budgetspreadsheetcapture2

After I’ve updated all the accounts on my current payment roster, I go to my other sheet that lays out my monthly perspective.  I put in my paycheck dates for the year, the amount of each paycheck, and the bills that I pay each month.  This is where I track each time I get a paycheck, and each time I actually make a payment towards my bills.  This is also where I become a little lazy because most of my payments are set to be automatically paid.  I like that these payments occur behind the scenes and that I do not have to monitor them on a daily basis.  I feel like I should stay on top of my monthly payments, but because God invented autopay, I just don’t have the need to monitor it super close.

budgetspreadsheetcapture

So…between these two spreadsheets, this is how I go about performing my “State of My Finances” review.

Upon completing my review, here’s what I found out— I kicked ASS this year financially!  GO ME!  1) I paid off all credit card accounts except one that I use for vacations and such.  2) My credit score has gone up, up, up despite purchasing a vehicle last year! 3) My monthly utility, cell phone, cable, etc. have all been kept at a satisfactory level.  4) I am spending significantly less than I make.  5) And I have a much healthier surplus at the end of each month.  YES!  This is what it’s all about!

Doing an annual “State of Your Finances” is an absolute MUST for everyone, and here’s why:

You know where you stand:  Every adult should know who they owe, how much they owe, and when they owe it.  You need to know whether you need to make changes or stay the course.  You need to know whether you can withstand a financial crisis or an unexpected life change.  While credit reports are a great way to know this information, sometimes they are wrong.  If you haven’t done your own work, you may not realize there are errors, and that can hurt you in the long run.  A good example for me is, when I was furloughed for 35 days, and missed nearly three paychecks, my boyfriend was actually surprised that I wasn’t a big ball of stress.  That’s because I knew I had savings, I knew I had credit cards that weren’t maxed out, and I knew what sat in my bank account.  Granted, it wasn’t a great time, I definitely avoided Target like the plague…but I was able to survive it unscathed.

Knowing your financial status is empowering:  Every year when I do my self-audit, I come out of the experience feeling better.  When they say knowing is half the battle, that’s legit.  You feel empowered to do better, to plot a course, to move to the next step.  Or you feel validated in the way you spent money in the previous year.  Even in the years when I realize my financial situation was not great, when I was completely under water and overwhelmed, I still completed my finance-check feeling better.  I’d rather know than not know.  Knowing your starting point helps you determine your goals.  Just because things aren’t great doesn’t mean you can’t improve and get to where you want to be.  Trust me.  I know first-hand, and maybe one day I’ll write about my journey to this point.

Not knowing is stressful:  Flying blindly is a bad idea.  Not knowing whether you are close to financial ruin or well on your way to financial freedom can cause stress.  Playing fast and loose with your finances is never a good thing.  Getting to a checkout line and not knowing whether you have $500 or $5 in your account is not cute.  Going to dinner with your girls, and having your stomach in knots because you don’t know what the waiter is going to say when he brings your card back…is a horrible position to be in.  Remove one source of stress from your life.  Know for sure what’s going on.  Either way, the money is either in your account or it isn’t.  Don’t add to the stress by putting yourself in embarrassing situations just because you don’t want to know your truth.

You can set the course and let go of the wheel:  What I’ve learned is that by going over my bills and payments in the beginning of the year, I actually figure out what my plan is for the year, set everything up, and then I don’t think about it.  I just let the auto-pay magic happen.  Because I know that I’m not the greatest at being disciplined, I set myself up for success from the beginning and then I don’t worry about it.  Over the course of the last few years, I always dread this audit, and then realize things are better than where I started.  But that’s because I’ve set payments up, I’ve updated when things get allocated based on my pay dates for the year, so I don’t have to constantly monitor and look at things in order for them to get done.  Lay out your plan and let it go to work!

You can take advantage of opportunities: Whether it’s planning a trip you swore you didn’t have enough money for, or increasing your contributions to your 401k, knowing definitively where you stand with your finances opens the door to more opportunities.  For me, if I have money sitting in the bank, that’s money available for me to spend.  But instead, if I allocate it before I see it, then it’s helping me accomplish a goal.  I know I’d much rather accomplish a goal than purchase yet another pair of jeans.  Let your money help you experience life to its fullest.  Don’t let it be the reason you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve been there–it’s horrible.

Start your year off right.  Don’t hesitate!  Know where you stand financially and set yourself up to be in a better position when you review your finances next year.  I know you can do it!

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