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The following is a staff writer post from Amanda L. Grossman at Frugal Confessions. She covers how to live a frugal decadent life where saving and living in the present are both held in high regard.
Organizations that accept donations of money, belongings, and time always see an uptick in willing givers during the holiday season at the end of the year. The end of the year gives a marked deadline for tax-deductible donations, many are feeling warm and fuzzy from the holiday season, and online and offline donation campaigns add exposure and convenience to the whole process. According to this Online Giving Study, one third of all online donations are procured in December of each year. An astounding 22% of annual giving happens in the last two days of the year alone!
The end of the year is a wonderful time to donate. But what about the rest of the year, during times when there are no natural disasters to rally our hearts and our wallets? Even if you do not have much money to spare, there are many ways that you can still donate and make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Commit Random Acts of Kindness
Have you ever had a Random Act of Kindness committed to you by a complete stranger? What an easy and fun way to spread joy in this world! After seeing an episode about this on Oprah, my parents began committing Random Acts of Kindness to complete strangers during my childhood. The one I remember most was when we were at a toll booth and my parents randomly paid the fare for the car behind them.
Without knowing the person, their situation, or really anything about him/her, by committing a Random Act of Kindness you can make someone smile while they think about all of the good in this world. Some ideas are to pay for a person’s order in the car behind you at the drive-thru, pick up an extra Sunday paper and leave it at someone’s stoop with a nice message, or perhaps leave a roll of quarters with a note at the Laundromat. Can you imagine the look of surprise on your recipient’s face?
Donate by Playing Games
Do you have time and the desire to increase (or test) your vocabulary? At FreeRice.com you can play multiple-choice vocabulary quizzes. For each word that you define correctly, 10 grains of rice will be donated to the World Food Programme to help end world hunger. You start at Level 1 and can go to Level 60. There is also a wooden bowl for the rice on your right-hand side, and you can watch it fill up (I worked up to 3,080 grains of rice in the writing of this article; fortunately for me, they do not take grains of rice away for incorrect answers)!
You can also play crossword puzzles at Charitii and choose which charity you would like your wins to be donated to (charities include charity: water, Invisible Youth Network, The Nature Conservancy, The Oaktree Foundation, and Philippine Aid Society).
Donate by Pushing Buttons
CharityUSA.com is a good place to find several, legitimate, click-to-give charities on the web. For any of the charities that you find on this site, 100% of sponsor advertising is paid as a royalty to GreaterGood.org, an independent 501(c)(3) charity that makes grants to charity partners delivering services in its mission areas. As an example, in the month of April over 357,000 pounds of food were donated from people clicking on buttons. And all you have to do is click a button (there is no cost to you)! Charities include Feeding America, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., the World Land Trust-US, and Feed Our Vets.
Sometimes a donation of time can make a world of difference. You could mentor a young child through programs such as Big Brother Big Sister, you could tutor children in a nearby elementary school, or why not volunteer at the zoo? Any project, mission, or organization that you are interested probably has a volunteer position that you can fill. This is especially true if you have skills to offer, such as my aunt who used her managerial and resume-writing skills to work with an organization that helps women transition from welfare to work.
I hope that this inspires you to donate throughout the year and not just around the holidays or surrounding natural disasters. Imagine how much more of an impact there could be if everyone did this?
I am sure nearly all of you have heard “Thrift Store” by Macklemore by now. If not, you HAVE TO watch the YouTube video at least once. There is some naughty words, so don’t listen at work unless you have a boss like me, lol. But to summarize, it’s a fun rap song about finding a unique style via thrift stores. I usually avoid rap since I just don’t get it, so the fact I love this song says something. My sisters loves rap and also loves this song, so that says something too, hahaha.
My Recent Finds
Anyway, ”Thrift Store” has become one of my personal anthems and I sing it to myself while browsing the ones near me. Since our new house is within a half mile from a Goodwill and a Upscale Resale Shop, I actually can browse for new arrivals at least every month or two without going out of my way at all. That’s how I found my new-to-me black dress a few months ago, and yesterday I bought the new boots, jeans, and shirt below for about $23 with tax!
Aren’t these awesome?! They look brand new and only cost $8.00!
The jeans also look brand new, make my butt look amazing, and were only $8.50!
New Personal Challenge
Given that I am even more happy with these discounted shops than I ever am at regular stores, I have started a new personal challenge. I will not buy any new item of clothing (other than undergarments) for at least the next year. And I should be pretty set with my undergarments anyway, so this really should cover everything.
No new clothes until AT LEAST June 1, 2014.
If I need anything (dresses, pants, shirts, etc,) between now and then, I have to find it at a thrift store, a garage sale, or anywhere with used clothes. And I bet I’ll still get some new clothes as gifts around Christmas and my birthday, but this is an exercise for me. If this works out as well as I think it will (especially since I only go shopping once a year normally anyway), I may very rarely buy anything new ever again. We’ll see…
For the past year, we really haven’t been able to stick to a specific plan for saving, investing, and putting aside money for fun. From April through October 2012, we were stashing away as much cash as possible just to close on our new house that was being built. From October through December 2012, we were rebuilding cash reserves and making an attack plan to pay off our rent house mortgage. And from January to early April 2013, we were redirecting all extra money towards that mortgage which is now paid off. So, for the first time in a year, we could really use a plan that isn’t all-or-nothing.
The New Plan
Mr. BFS really misses the balance that we had up until this time last year between paying our bills, saving for our future, and budgeting in the fun stuff . He wants to get back on track. I agreed that it was time to step back and breathe a little. So here is our new spending and savings plan…
Step One – Cover the Stuff in Our Budget
Here is our current budget of necessary expenses, chosen luxuries, and the new-to-us car savings goal that we need to be able to cover every month no matter what…
Income Taxes – $2500
New-to-Us Car Fund – $500
Home Mortgage – $990
Home Insurance/Property Taxes/HOA – $750
Rent House Home Insurance/Property Taxes – $275
Health Insurance – $360
Life Insurance – $30
Car Insurance – $55
Electricity – $175
Water – $60
Natural Gas – $40
Gasoline – $150
Eating Out – $250
Groceries – $250
Sprint – $150
Cable/Internet (DSL) – $120
Medicines – $20
Toll Roads – $25
Housekeeping – $175 (average over the year)
Lawn – $80 (average over the year)
Miscellaneous – $200
Cash – $100
Total Expenses = $7255
Then comes the fun part. We bring in about $8000 a month from the business and at least $2000 from rent house and reffing income that Mr. BFS brings in. So, in a normal month, it looks like we’ll have about $3000 extra to leverage how we wish. Here is what we came up with.
Here is how we are allocating the monthly extra until our 2013 Roth IRA’s are taken care of:
Roth IRA’s – 60%
Emergency Fund – 10%
Rental Property Maintenance Fund – 10%
Mortgage Payoff – 10%
Vacation Account – 5%
Fun Money Accounts – 5%
Long Term Plans
We aren’t 100% on all of our long-term plans, but we do know we want to be financially independent as soon as possible. That mostly means that we want to work towards complete debt freedom and funneling more into our retirement planning. With that in mind, when the Roth IRA’s are fully funded, we will be opening a SEP IRA and Mr. BFS will start investing in some of our favorite stocks again. In fact, we may end up doing it this way every year – fully fund all of the Roth IRA’s and then move on to putting as much into the SEP IRA and stocks as we realistically can while still having fun with 10-20% of the extra too.
Anyway, thanks for reading along as we figure stuff out. How have you been doing? Anything you want to just let out?
Okay, so we have made some decisions over the last week, yay! It actually ended up being a pretty easy decision when we looked at the numbers. Here is our plan for the rest of the year.
Our Financial Plan for 2013
So I took a closer look at all of our savings accounts and that helped make up our mind. With the $2000 we added to the mortgage payoff total at the end of our own budget month, that savings came to $17,000. We also had $3000 set aside so far for our Roth IRA’s for 2013 that we could pay back before year’s end. Seeing that $20,000 ready for the mortgage payoff pushed us to the conclusion that paying off the rent house mortgage just needs to happen.
Sooooo, we’re going to borrow $2000 from our emergency fund and pay off that loan within the next 3 weeks. I’ve already requested the official payoff quote.
Once that mortgage is nice and dead, we’ll spend the next 6 months paying ourselves back. We’ll owe $2000 to our emergency fund and have to build up $11,000 for the Roth IRA’s. I will look into refinancing our current mortgage in May 2014 after we have two tax returns that show nothing but our self employment income. Throughout all of that, we will take a close look at our goals and savings all over again and decide what our next steps will be.
As a few of you pointed out, at least this loan payoff will mean that we will always own at least one house outright and we’ll be freeing up about $500 a month. That’s cash that can be used on whatever our priorities are…paying ourselves back, saving for retirement, new investments, etc.
Long Term Plans
By the end of 2013, we hope to have some plans in mind for the following few years at least…although it does seem that priorities change often enough that goals are generally suggestions to ourselves rather than rules set in stone. Our main goal is to be financially independent as soon as possible since the main fear of self employment is instability. We hope to continue our current business as long as possible, but it will feel way better to do so if it is by choice. Financial independence is a sort of power in my mind. The power to choose your path without the fear of losing your home or needing to make drastic changes at a moment’s notice based on your income. I like the power of choice.
What are your financial plans? What is your largest financial goal?
I published our updated budget in January but thought it was time to look into what we could cut pretty easily to save for more important goals. We are still aiming to pay of our rent house mortgage by the end of this year and would also like to fit in a couple of fun excursions, so let’s see what we can cut without much pain at all:
Here is how our budget looked and what is changing:
Rent House Mortgage – $505
Rent House Home Insurance/Property Taxes – $275
Home Mortgage – $990
Home Insurance/Property Taxes/HOA – $860 $750
Health Insurance – $350
Life Insurance – $30
Car Insurance – $110 $55
Gasoline – $150
Electricity – $200
Water – $60
Gas – $40
Eating Out – $300 $250
Groceries – $300 $250
Cable/Internet (DSL) – $120…maybe $50
Sprint – $150
Housekeeping – $175 (average over the year)
Lawn – $60 (average over the year)
Medicines – $75 $20
Toll Roads – $50 $25
Miscellaneous – $100
Cash – $100
Total Expenses = $5000 $4585
All of the crossed-off costs have been changed EXCEPT cable. We are looking into that cut right now. We finally want to give in to everybody’s pushing since an antenna, Netflix, Hulu, network sites, and a variety of other services can pretty much take care of our crazy tv habit. We’ll see if it makes sense for our household.
The rest sort of cut themselves or we’ve already changed our habits in order to save the money. I overestimated the property taxes for our new house, so that is a readjustment. I called GEICO and changed to a new plan to save half on our car insurance. We’re consistently keeping our food spending to $500 or less and are driving less on the toll roads whenever possible. And the new health insurance policies mean I save money every month on my regular monthly meds. No matter what, we’re looking at $4000 or more in cash we could put towards any of our other goals. That sounds great to me.
Have you taken a look at your budget lately? See anything you can cut pretty easily to save for your priorities?
The following is the first ever staff writer post from Amanda L. Grossman at Frugal Confessions. She covers how to live a frugal decadent life where saving and living in the present are both held in high regard. Amanda will be contributing meaty info posts just for you about twice a month. Please give her a very warm welcome!
There are a few downfalls to becoming an adult. Don’t get me wrong; I love the freedom and control I have over my life and would never want to relive my teenage years and prepubescent angst. But wouldn’t it be nice to still enjoy some of the magic of childhood, like believing in Santa Claus or having others throw quirky birthday parties for you just because you turned one year older?
Each year I take the time to sign up for as many birthday freebies as I can so that I can spend November—my birthday month—being lavished with lovely perks and gifts from my favorite retailers. It makes my birthdays almost as good as the good ole’ days, except there are no New Kids on the Block playing in the background and I’ve given up the bangs. Even doing just one round of sign-ups with these companies will yield impressive returns because once you are on an email list you should continue to receive birthday freebies from that retailer for as many years as they have the program in place.
Examples of Freebies I’ve Received
So what free perks have I enjoyed throughout my birthday month? In my mailbox I’ve received free $5.00 gift cards to Academy Sports. Through email I have received a coupon for a free $5.00 to spend at Jason’s Deli, a coupon for a free product at Sephora (one year it was eye makeup, the next year it was a free lipstick trio), a free soy chai at Starbucks®, a free breakfast at IHOP’s, a free Fuddrucker’s burger, etc.
A Few Pointers Before We Get Started
In case you are wondering how you can possibly eat all of this food in one day, you typically do not have to enjoy these great freebies on your actual birthday (thank goodness!). Instead, companies give you from several days to several weeks to use their coupon. Also, many times you will get freebies just for signing up, and possibly on the anniversary date from when you joined. Finally, since you will be receiving emails from all of these companies you might wish to open up a separate “freebies email” account for this purpose.
Food Freebies to Sign Up for
Jason’s Deli: Receive a free $5 gift card for your birthday. I used this along with my Fuddrucker’s free burger below and had a burger, soup, and peach tea for a birthday lunch!
Denny’s: Enjoy a free Grand Slam on your birthday.
Firehouse Subs: Sign up to receive a free medium sub on your birthday (my favorite sub is their Italian one).
IHOP: Enjoy a free Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity breakfast (two eggs, 2 bacon strips, 2 sausage links, and two pancakes).
Benihana: Join the Chef’s Table for free to be given an amazing $30 gift certificate to use during the month of your birthday!
Houlihan’s: Score a free menu item for your birthday.
Krispy Kreme: Join the Friends of Krispy Kreme and enjoy a free donut and drink in your birthday month.
Jack in the Box: Enjoy a dessert of your choice (chocolate overload cake or New York Cheesecake) during the week of your birthday.
Schlotzsky’s: Join their Bun&Fun eclub and receive a free small sandwich or 8” pizza for your birthday.
Spaghetti Warehouse: Join and receive a free spaghetti entrée on your birthday (and rumored that you will also receive a free sundae!).
Taco Cabana: Join and enjoy a free flauta plate on your birthday.
Which Wich: Join the Vibe Club and receive a free regular wich (sandwich) for your birthday.
Fuddrucker’s: Join the Fudds Club to get a free 1/3 pound burger for your birthday.
Dunkin’ Donuts: Sign up for Dunkin’ UpDDate and receive a free beverage on your birthday.
Genghis Grill: Signing up for Khan’s Klub will get you a free bowl for your birthday.
Starbucks: Sign up for My Starbucks Rewards to receive a free handcrafted beverage of your choice during the month of your birthday.
Other Freebies to Sign Up for
Sephora: Each year they offer something different from their store for you (and even put it in a cute little bag!).
CVS: Join the Beauty Club and receive a $3 coupon to use for whatever you would like around your birthday.
If you don’t have time to sign up for these today, you might wish to bookmark this page and the article above and come back for when you do. I hope you enjoy, as I want you to have the same smile during your birthday month as I do when the gifts start rolling in!
I’ve been writing here for almost 3 years and have already found a common thread in my money posts. That commonality is that I seem to change my financial priorities every few months, lol. I always knew that priorities change, but I didn’t understand how fast that happens. A year seems to fly by, but when I read back on what I’ve written about, a ton happens in each year. But we only seem to remember the super important stuff…the smaller things are forgotten and why time seems goes by so fast.
Since this is technically a personal finance site (not just my own personal venting grounds, lol), here is my current list of financial priorities and the thought process behind the choices:
Friends and Family
Retirement savings and investments
Our other property/stuff
Why These are My Priorities
Friends and family were my easy #1 since my life is based on the people in it. Yay for easy! The second easy choice was our business since it is my addiction as well as our primary source of income. Double yay for easy! From there on, it became tougher to prioritize.
We have two mortgages, one for our rent house with about $23,000 left on it at 4.5% and one for our current home with about $206,000 left on it at 4%. The pure mortgage payments total $1500 since we don’t escrow, but we do have to put $1000 aside per month for all property taxes, home insurance premiums, and home owner’s association dues (so $2500 a month in housing costs). Since we bring in $2300 a month in rent, these housing costs aren’t killing us, but I really rather not have $2500 in just housing costs for the next 30 years. So we are placing paying off the first mortgage as#3 and will have that taken care of by the end of this year. $500 off our monthly housing costs will be really welcome.
Our retirement savings and investments are still super important to us and only ended up at #4 because #1 and #2 were so easy and #3 is short-term. We are still aiming to be financially independent within the next 20 years (no later than 50). Right now, fully funding our Roth IRA’s is a necessity for us. The steps after that are more vague for us. I’m loving rental income and hubby does very well with high yield dividend stocks. We’re not sure what else we’ll tackle.
The rest of our priorities are pretty much at the same level for us. Mr. BFS loves being a football and softball official. We love our home and our rent house. We also enjoy the other stuff we own like our cars, our furniture, our kitchen stuff, our gadgets, etc. Luckily, these priorities sort of take care of themselves. Since Mr. BFS does love reffing, he’s great at it and stays employed. Since we love our homes and like our stuff, we take care of it. It goes hand in hand.
So, what are your priorities? And on a different note, what would you do if you were self-employed to prepare yourself for retirement?
Hi! Thanks for visiting! My name is Crystal, owner and author for BFS. I'm 30 years old, married, and proudly live in the heat, humidity, and hurricanes of Houston, TX. Feel free to check out the archives or just pop around. Hope to "meet" you in the comments soon!