Monday, June 14, 2021

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Find the Best Value - When to Splurge

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Find the Best Value - When to Splurge: To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth , I'll be sharing excerpts each week o...

Find the Best Value - When to Splurge

To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth, I'll be sharing excerpts each week on this blog. 

This excerpt is from Chapter Two, Find the Best Value, and it discusses the importance of focusing discretionary spending on the things and experiences you value most. Getting the most value out of your money is not unlike deriving the most satisfaction from your allotted calories when trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight. 

All my life, I've struggled to keep my weight under control. I tried every kind of crash diet: grapefruit, bananas, fasting, Atkins, Slim-Fast, seven pounds in seven days, counting calories, counting carbohydrates, low-fat, low-sugar, etc. Most of them worked well enough, and I lost the weight. But then I celebrated finishing the diet and went back to my old eating habits. The weight returned.

One New Year's Eve I reviewed several past years' resolutions, and weight loss always led the list: lose five pounds this year, lose ten pounds this year, get back to 110 pounds, get back to 120 pounds, fit into my skinny jeans again by summer.

In 2004, I joined Weight Watchers. Rather than a diet, Weight Watchers is a lifestyle change. The program incorporates good health habits that can be sustained for a lifetime. You eat normal food, not pre-packaged menu items. There are really no foods off-limits, so you don't have to say goodbye to your favorite fattening snacks forever; you just have to work within a daily and weekly "point" allowance. The program forces you to make choices that balance the taste experiences you crave with eating foods that are good for your body.

For example, if someone brought donuts to work, I didn't necessarily have to shun them because I was doing Weight Watchers. But at the time, a donut cost six points, a big chunk from my daily allotment of twenty. That twenty points had to include three servings of milk or milk products (lower point deduction for the low-fat variety), two teaspoons of olive oil, a source of protein, and four to five servings of fruits and vegetables (fortunately, many fresh vegetables contained one or zero points). If I gave up my glass of wine with dinner (two points) and my scoop of ice cream after dinner (four points), I could sink my teeth into a sugary donut. If the treat were day-old glazed from the supermarket, I’d pass. If the donuts were fresh and hot from Krispy Kreme, or one of my favorite frosted flavors, and I was craving something sweet, maybe I’d succumb, but I’d choose carefully and eat the treat slowly, savoring the flavor. No chance that I would wolf down two; twelve points was definitely too much to spend on empty calories. And eggnog? I can still enjoy it occasionally, but I can no longer chug a cup a day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s—not if I want to pass December's weight check.

Financial fitness works something like the Weight Watchers program. Most of us have a finite amount of money to spend each month, and there are essential expenses that must be covered. There’s not enough left over to satisfy every whim, so we have to choose the splurges that give us the most pleasure, and then savor them, make them last, make them worth it.

For more tips, read or listen to Live Well, Grow Wealth by Sharon Marchisello.

Sign up for my newsletter at sharonmarchisello.com

 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 2

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 2: To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth , I'll be sharing excerpts each week o...

Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 2

To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth, I'll be sharing excerpts each week on this blog. 

This excerpt is from Chapter One, Live Within Your Means, and it discusses how to squeeze the most out of the money you have. 

Do you drive to places where you could walk or ride a bicycle? Change that habit and you'll help the environment, do your body a favor, as well as save money on gasoline and wear-and-tear on your car.

Next time a server brings you a generous stack of paper napkins, take the unsoiled ones with you when you leave the restaurant; use them in your car or at home. You'll reduce what you spend on paper products—and help reduce the quantity of paper that gets thrown into our landfills.

I once overheard a colleague of mine lamenting to another, "I had to drive back to the grocery store last night after I unpacked everything, because I'd forgotten to buy trash bags for the kitchen. And today was trash pick-up!"

His friend commiserated. "Yeah, what would the garbage collector think if you'd had to stuff your trash into a Publix bag!" They both laughed at the horror of the scenario.

I kept silent. I rarely buy kitchen trash bags. I have a waste can under my sink that fits the plastic bags that come free at grocery stores. I suppose the garbage collectors are making fun of me right now! I'm repurposing something my colleague would wad up and throw away in his "official" trash bag. But my house is paid for; his isn't.

One Saturday, we were taking yard waste to the county recycling center and noticed someone had dumped half a dozen brand-new biodegradable bags on a bed of grass clippings. These sturdy paper bags are suitable for multiple uses, as long as they don't get torn or wet, and the ones we spotted were in pristine shape. We emptied the bags and took them home to reuse; most remained intact for months afterwards. I'm not advocating "dumpster diving" as a way to save money, but if you can maximize your use of every item before discarding it, your savings will mount, little by little. The homeowners who dumped those bags will probably go out and buy new bags next time they clean up their lawn, when they could have easily reused the old ones.

Some waste occurs because we're disorganized or careless. Check your receipts from businesses to ensure you weren’t overcharged, and that any discounts or coupons were properly applied; also, make sure nothing you purchased was left behind. Don't leave money on the table by forgetting about gift cards, store credits, coupons for events or services you know you plan to use. Or what about items you purchased but found you don't need? Most stores will take unused goods back within a reasonable amount of time, so do it; get your money back. Keep the item and receipt by the door or in your car so it can be returned on your next visit.

Waste a little bit here, a little bit there, because it's too much trouble to do otherwise. What does it matter? It's not that much. You feel stupid and cheap taking home paper napkins and reusing bags. You have better things to do than stand in line to return a product. But over time, frugality adds up. You've squandered money and resources that could have been used to grow your wealth and buy the things and experiences that add value to your life.

Once you get the hang of it, once you start to respect yourself for being frugal instead of being embarrassed because people will think you're poor or a cheapskate, reducing waste in your life and squeezing the most out of your money and possessions will become one of the easiest ways to shrink your financial footprint and begin living within your means.

For more tips, read or listen to Live Well, Grow Wealth by Sharon Marchisello.

Sign up for my newsletter at sharonmarchisello.com

Monday, May 17, 2021

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 1

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 1:   To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth , I'll be sharing excerpts each week...

Squeeze the Most out of Your Money - Part 1

 

To celebrate the audiobook release of my self-help, personal finance book, Live Well, Grow Wealth, I'll be sharing excerpts each week on this blog. 

This excerpt is from Chapter One, Live Within Your Means, and it discusses how to squeeze the most out of the money you have. 

We live in a rich country, and most of us are guilty of waste: wasting food, wasting resources, wasting money. We overbuy, we overpack, and as a result of our wasteful habits, we overspend.

You have probably seen someone use half a roll of paper towels to clean up a small spill, ruin a half-full can of paint by not bothering to put the lid back on, leave good tools outside to rust. Walk through any restaurant and observe how much food is left on customers' plates, ready to be thrown away.

Examine your own life to see if you can cut expenditures by wasting less, by recycling and re-purposing. Do you throw away a tube of toothpaste before squeezing out the last bit? Do you open a bottle of water, take a sip, set it down somewhere and forget about it? Instead of recapping it and putting it back in the refrigerator, do you just pour it down the drain? You could at least water the house plants or rinse a dirty dish with the contents if you're not going to drink the rest of it.

I have neighbors who let their newspapers pile up on the driveway while they're on vacation, and then throw them away when they return. Not only does the collection of newspapers send a signal to potential burglars that the residents aren't home, they are paying for a service they aren't using. With a quick phone call or online request, they could suspend their subscription and have their account credited for the time away, or perhaps have the papers donated to someone who might enjoy reading them.

Print on both sides of a sheet of paper when feasible—and don't waste ink and paper to print out anything unnecessary. I worked with colleagues who printed out every email they received. Why? Learn to trust electronic storage. (But be sure to back up your data regularly.)

Excess copies, documents printed in error or no longer needed, and even junk mail and opened envelopes can be used as scratch paper. No need to ruin a clean sheet of paper to write yourself a note or make a grocery list.

Don't mail anything you can pay online or hand-deliver. I've received Christmas cards, thank-you notes, and invitations from next-door neighbors that were stamped first-class and processed through the Post Office when the person could have walked over and handed it to me or slipped it under my door.

If you use a credit card that offers reward points, periodically check your balance and redeem your points as soon as you’ve earned enough to purchase something you want or need. Don't let the points expire or become devalued by the company's policy changes. And take a moment to compare your redemption options to ensure you're getting the best value.

For example, when I first signed up for a Discover Card, I received a cash rebate once a year which equaled approximately one percent of my qualifying purchases. Now Discover has converted to a point system and added a lot of gift cards and products as redemption options. I still assumed I would prefer to receive the cash, which I usually applied to my current Discover Card bill. But after closer review, I found I needed fifty reward points to redeem fifty dollars in cash (or credit toward my bill). However, I could redeem only forty-five reward points for a fifty-dollar gift certificate at certain restaurants where we dined frequently. As long as I selected a gift certificate I knew I would use in its entirety, I was able to squeeze an extra five dollars from my reward points.

For more tips, read or listen to Live Well, Grow Wealth by Sharon Marchisello.

Sign up for my newsletter at sharonmarchisello.com

Monday, April 26, 2021