Fit for Less

The new year is the health industry’s Boom Season. Everyone wants this to be the year they lose 25 pounds and keep it off; this is the year we’re cutting out soda and eating more greens.

But if you’re Young Without Money, it can seem like there are some serious obstacles to getting/staying healthy. Gym memberships seems too expensive. Yoga classes are for some reason scarily expensive. The food that actually came from the ground or some nearby trees is more expensive than Hot Pockets (and take way longer to prepare). So screw it, we’ll just keep the Netflix going and consume strange things like Takis to no end.

The cool thing about getting healthy is–it’s a bit easier than mass media would have us believe. Did you know that you can do these things called calisthenics and use your own body to make your body healthy? Yeah, this was news to me, too. And there’s actually a whole sphere of the internets devoted to making easy, quick, cheap yet healthy meals.

As it turns out, getting healthy is the same as getting your finances in order. You have to overcome ignorance, denial and indulgence. I’m gonna help you face the ignorance part to figure out how to afford to be healthy– overcoming the denial and indulgence part will require the reading of another health-based blog.

Working Out for Little to No Money:

1. Do calisthenics. Use your body as it’s own gym. There’s a whole range of exercises you can do at home with absolutely no equipment. You can check out books in the libs or do a Google or Youtube search. Personally, I’ve pinned workout on Pinterest. It helps to create a schedule of which exercises you’ll do on what day. Just 30 minutes will send you to bed sore in that awesome workout way.

2. Go running.

3. Get workout videos from the library or Youtube. You can find everything from P90x to yoga in all its forms to Pilates to Step Aerobics to Jazzercise (you get my drift) online or in the Libs. Follow the videos and be diligent and you’ll find your body in better shape in 4-6 weeks and your bank account will never know the difference!

4. Find the deals. Gyms around you right now are offering special deals for this special time– no sign up fees, special rates, etc. Do some research and find a gym near you that offers what you’re looking for and sign up now for their special deal.

5. You could do that thing where you take advantage of the free visits of all the gyms in your area, but that’s so much work and super awks.

Eat Healthy for Little to No Money:

The step before number one is: know what’s healthy.

1. Make a menu for the week. Seriously, it helps to know what you’re going to make yourself to eat for the week and then buy only that. Then when you’re hungry, you’ll have no option but to eat what you planned. Or be hungry and whine. Try to reuse items. Buy rice and make it three different ways– that’s three nights of a different rice dish, and leftovers= 6 meals. Whoa. Use meat sparingly, as it’s expensive, but when you do buy it, buy it in bulk and freeze the rest, then make new meals with it.

2. Have healthier snacks. Fresh or dried fruit. No-sugar granola. Popcorn. Yogurt. Veggies and hummus. Dark chocolate. Also, drink healthier. Try to cut out soda. Drink water! It’s free! This pin is helpful:

3. Buy what’s in season. Buy fruits and veggies that are on special and make special meals from that. Remember what I said about the rice in number 1?

4. Don’t overbuy. You’ll be surprised at how quickly stuff goes bad and then you will have wasted food and money.

5. Change your portions. Make them smaller and make your non-meat/dairy/bread portions bigger. Greens=good for you.

5. When you go out to eat with friends, don’t feel bad treating yourself!

6. Don’t eat fast food anymore. And by anymore, I mean try to limit it to once a week at least.

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IDK Wednesday: Saving on Shopping

In addition to Monday’s post about how to save money on shopping by using deals, loyalty cards, etc., here are a few more tips:

1. Only go with cash. Leave your cards at home. You’re basically guaranteed you won’t go over your spending limit.

2. Ask yourself three times, “Do I really need this” before you buy it.

3. Go with a list. Only get what’s on your list.

Questions?

Coupon Queen

You know those loyalty cards you get offered… everywhere?

PetCo, Ulta, Borders, FroYo places… little punch cards where every time you get something, you get a punch and when you get the final punch, you get something free. Or if you’re a member, you get 10% off.

Or you know those silly paper coupons? Buy one get one free deals? $3 off whatever.

Or the brochure or weekly ads you get that say “10% off 6 bottles of wine!”

Or the emails you get saying 25% off purchases over $50!

It’s so easy to get these things. To sign on or up for them. It doesn’t hurt anyone, right? In fact, knowing when sales are happening can be helpful, right?

That is true. But let’s see if we can take this habit of signing up for membership cards, loyalty cards and email newsletters and use it to our advantage and make sure that marketing isn’t getting the best of us– and our wallets.

Loyalty cards. I went in to get an icy treat earlier this summer and was offered a loyalty card upon purchase. Before answering, I thought to myself: how often to I come to this place to get froyo? The answer was: this is the first time, and I’m not too impressed, so I don’t plan on coming back. So I said no. And I haven’t regretted it. On the other hand, one of the places I work at offers a loyalty card so that when you purchase 5 meal-deals, you get your sixth for free– this is a great value, especially for customers that come in twice a week. I think a wise rule-of-thumb is: How often do I come here? If the answer is weekly, or at least a couple times a month, a no-cost loyalty card won’t hurt. The only inconvenience is making sure you have it on you when you go shopping.

Membership cards. I secretly love these things. Especially the little keychain cards. These have the same rule of thumb as loyalty cards– “how often do I come here?” I have a card for PetCo and it saved me $15 last time I went and stocked up on kitty accessories. Again, having them on you is a priority for their usefulness, but oftentimes your phone number can be used to gain the benefits of your membership card if you left it at home. I suggest saying yes to free membership cards of places you visit often and places you know you want to shop at. For example, I said yes to the membership card at a local jewelry and accessory store not because I go there weekly, or even monthly, but I know that when I do want new pretty shiny things, I’ll be going there– so why not reap some auto-benefits that cost me nothing?

I think free loyalty/membership things are good to have in moderation. You don’t need to say yes to everything– but saying yes to places you’d shop even if there wasn’t a benefits program will only save you money.

Looking out for deals is smart. Seeking out excuses to buy more is not smart. When you go grocery shopping, there are always deals– you just may be oblivious to them. Next time you walk in, pause and look for the weeklies or coupons. Here’s the catch: don’t buy things you don’t actually need just because they’re on sale or there’s a special deal on them. At my local grocery store, there’s a coupon for “Buy a 12-pack of Diet Coke, get 1 NYC Nail Polish for Free!” I don’t drink Diet Coke, and the nail polish is only $.99 anyways. Just get the polish; the coupon is a trick to get you to spend more. Now, if you drink Diet Coke, and it was on your list anyways, why not swing by and get the nail polish? Look for deals and specials on things you were already planning on getting. Another way to benefit from coupons and weekly ads is taking advantage of deals on things that are dream or wish items. Special, exotic chocolate bars on sale for 1/2 price sound like a nice treat to me, even if you weren’t planning on getting chocolate.

Emails. These are the most dangerous offenders of retail marketing there is. Browsing your favorite store–clothing, accessory, whatever– you’ll be prompted to sign up for emails telling you about special deals. Beware. Doing this will make you want to buy the things. Retail will always have sales. They have a calendar stocked full of them. These emails will tempt you will special, limited-time offers, but more often than not, they’ll be having another similar sale, soon. Now, if you’re in the market for new shoes and it’s in your budget, and you get an email from your favorite shoe store saying it’s buy one, get one half off, before you go crazy and come home with four pairs of new shoes, think to yourself– do I need two pairs right now or do I just want them? There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of a deal that was made specifically for you to buy more merchandise, but being informed makes you more responsible. Just remember–you can always unsubscribe to the store’s email, and when you need to buy something, visit the website and see if there are any deals going on.

If you feel like it’s silly not to take advantage of every deal there is, you might be Honey Boo Boo Child’s mom.

The Plan: the Fun Stuff

Now that you know how to pay for things you absolutely need in order to survive, let’s move forward and look at the things you want to pay for in order to more than survive.

Whatever you have leftover from your paycheck(s) after you pay for the necessities is called a discretionary income. You can use your discretion (hence the name) to decide what you want to spend it on. It can be difficult to not go overboard or not budget enough for these things–keep in mind what we talked about concerning indulging.

Here’s what I suggest– figure out the minimum you need or want to spend on each of these things, then do the math to figure out if you have any discretionary money left over and then go back and add more on to things you want. Some things are easy, for example, your gym membership is going to be the same each month. Some are harder, for example you don’t need a haircut every month (probably) so that budget will change from month to month.

 
Now, entertainment is a whole other animal. You need to take a quick second to figure out how often you do fun things and how much they cost. Do you like going to the movies once a week? Do you get popcorn when you go? That’s $15 a week times four weeks is $60 a month for movies at least. Like to go out and eat and drink with friends? Let’s say you get an entree at a mid-scale restaurant. That’s $15 with tax and tip, maybe. Then you go out for drinks with friends at a bar; you get three drinks and buy a round for friends? That’s $40 easily including tax and tip (and that’s at a cheap bar, where each drink is $6). If you like doing this at least once a week, that’s $220 a month for restaurants you have to put aside.

If this sounds too complicated you can do what I like to call the EZ-Fun Method: Income-necessities-known discretionaries (gym, educations, health/beauty costs, travel, finances)= leftover amount can be used for all the entertainment/restaurants/shopping it can get you.

 
The two that can be most intimidating for people our age is travel and finance–but they’re important. If you go home for the holidays, have a week-long trip you want to take with your significant other when your vacation comes up at work, or if you have a big European tour you want to take, you have to save money for it. Figure out the exact cost of your trip (listen, if you can’t figure out how much a Spring Break trip to Mexico is going to cost you, you shouldn’t go. I don’t care. Don’t forget any shopping you want to do wherever you go.), then divide that amount by how many months you have until the trip date. That amount is how much you have to save a month, which you have to budget for. If you can’t afford to save that much monthly, then you obviously can’t really afford the trip– either push the date back, cut back on some of your other discretionary budget items to prioritize the trip, or get more money.

Financial. What is that doing on your budget? You need to plan to put money away to either make more money or to use later. Allocate $50 a month (or more or less) to investing. Grow that money! Or put some away to save for a special plan– wedding, car, house, huge trip abroad, whatever. Whenever you plan on paying for this special thing, divide the amount you want saved by the months you have until the big day and that’s how much you need to put away a month.

DISCRETIONARY BUDGET

Education (books, fees, etc):

Entertainment (movies, recreation, etc):

Shopping (shoes, games):

Restaurants:

Health/Personal (gym fees, doctors, haircuts, waxes, mani/pedis etc):

Financial (investing, loaning money, non-emergency savings, etc):

Travel:

Notice how savings and retirement wasn’t on the list? That’s because they’re things that you should just do automatically–before necessities and discretionary. You cannot afford not to save and plan for retirement. Trust me. How do you figure out how much you should save and put away for retirement? Luckily we’ve already covered saving.

For retirement, it gets complicated; I’m going to make an entirely separate post about retiring, but for now, just pick a flat amount per month, like $25-100 a month and put it in your savings. When we cover what kind of accounts to put your retirement money in, you can just transfer what you’ve already saved for retirement. Since you’re starting so early, you can afford to put in less per month, as long as you’re putting in something.

Congratulations! You’re continuing to take control of your finances.

The Plan: The Bare Nessecities

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with and armed ourselves against Ignorance, Denial and Indulgence, it’s time to make a financial plan that is tailored to your specific needs.
Now, financial goals are as individual as the people they belong to– you may want to save for something special, for the unknown, for a faraway wedding. You may want to get out of debt. You may want to construct a plan that allows for you to pay your student loans and have a social life at the same time. You may live in an expensive city and just want to pay all your bills and have enough to eat and go out once a week. You may want to re-do your entire wardrobe or take a trip to Turkey.

The first step to making your own plan is figuring out what you want to do with your life. Scary, I know. Senior year of college and the following months after getting that diploma, this thought permeates almost every moment of your existence. I know it’s overwhelming to think about, but luckily, figuring out your financial goals is a bit easier than finding out what career path you want to follow. Good places to start:

1. Pay for necessities. Pretty basic, right? You want to have shelter, warmth, running water, food, clothes and internet, right? (If you don’t, might I suggest the Peace Corps? You’ll do some great work for the world and also get some student loan forgiveness.) If you want these things, they need to be part of your financial goals.

2. Plan for the future. Start a retirement account. Contribute to your job’s retirement plan for you if applicable. Save for emergencies. Save for a down payment for a car or house. For a wedding. For kids. Investments. The earlier you start, the bigger the nest egg gets.

3. Pay for things you want. A new haircut. A new video game. A trip to Vancouver. Now that you know how to battle indulgence, hopefully this last part won’t hurt to much.
You need to create a plan now and reevaluate it once a year because things change, after all. During college the plan might focus on paying for things you want. After college, the plan might focus on paying for the necessities. A couple years after graduating, the focus might shift to planning for the future. It all depends on your current financial situation and where you want to be in a year.

Remember when I told you to figure out what your net worth was? It’s time to use that number. If it’s negative, you might want to create a plan that focuses on getting yourself out of bad debt. If it’s positive, you may want to focus on saving. If it’s really really positive, feel free to focus on accumulating. But the very first thing to do in order to create your financial plan is budget!

Prepare yourself mentally and physically to MAKE A BUDGET. Get coffee. A blanket. Your laptop. A fluffy cat. Put on Beyonce. You’re taking your finances into your hands now. This post is going to focus just on the necessities part of the budget– step number 1 listed above. The other steps will have posts of their own following this one.

BUDGET- the necessities

Monthly income:

Rent:

Electricity bill:

Water bill:

Internet/TV bill:

Vehicle payment:

Vehicle insurance:

Gas/oil:

(Public transportation, ie bus pass, train pass, subway, taxis, parking, etc):

Phone bill:

Health insurance:

Groceries:

Student loan repayments:

Minimum credit card payments:

Other debts (loan from mom and dad, etc):

Pets (food, vet, grooming, supplies, etc):

Those are all your necessities. But where are the gym fees? The eating-out budget? The money for buying books for classes? Those are NOT necessities. Stick to the things that you ABSOLUTELY have to pay for to function. Take Baloo’s advice: “Look for the bare necessities.”

Figure out what each one’s monthly cost is by looking at past payments and receipts. Things like the electricity bill may fluctuate from month to month, so try to average and then round up to be on the safe side. If you’re share of the electric bill was $158 in July, $146 in August and $140 in September, than budget for $145 a month. Other things like rent and your phone bill will be more consistent. Groceries may be the hardest; single people usually spend $150-200 on groceries depending on their needs. I include my toiletries, household and pharmacy needs– try not to leave anything out. Think of everything you’ve bought in the past month.

Subtract your necessities budget from your income. Now, if you have more in your budget than you have money to spend on it, we need to make some changes immediately. If you have nothing left at all, or if you don’t even have enough to cover a month’s worth of living, you’re on dangerous ground–this week’s IDK Wednesday will give tips on how to fix this issue.

Now take a break. Go watch a movie with friends and wine. Or cuddle with someone. You’ve taken a huge step to figuring out your finances. What a grown up you are.