Sorry about the cheesy – salesman type headline. I wasn’t sure how else to share this important message.
So here is the thing – on my birthday I received a lot of happy birthday emails from credit cards, stores I frequent like Victoria Secrets (I hear it is now canceled – my wallet is thankful), Bath and Body, ish this beautiful shoe store that promises you handmade shoes, clothes stores, etc., etc
Is your inbox full off offers? Mine is 🙁
From Chipo’s email
Also from Chipo’s email
Chipo suffers from FOMO, so this hurts
I get a ton of these emails every day. I share my email address to get a discount, and before I know it, I am spending more than I need to. You can use unroll to unsubscribe from several stores all at once or do it manually as you get the emails.
Raise your hand if you have ever clicked on a promotion link and ended up spending $100 or more- be honest. Honesty is the only way this relationship between us will work.
Stores know how to pull at our heartstrings; they also know that everyone likes to feel like they are getting a good deal. As a reformed (reforming is more accurate) shopper I can confess that you are not getting a good deal if you are buying things you do not need. If you spend $100 after 25% off, you did not save 25% you spent $100. If the $100 was not in your budget, then you have stolen $100 from yourself.
Strategies to deal with online shopping struggles
- Set a monthly budget – is shopping for item X included in your budget for this month? Yes-continue to X website No- get off the internet and run five laps in your kitchen.
- Unsubscribe – you do not need notifications to spend your hard-earned money or to sink into more debt
- Write down things you may need to buy but that are not urgent. I need two new blazers for work, shoes and work pants. All my shoes have developed holes – how is this even possible? Granted I walk everywhere, but this is quite stressful.
- Figure out how much you can afford for the things you need but that are not urgent
- Delete your credit card information from stores. I know that if I have to re-enter information, I am less likely to finish the purchase.
- Marie Kondo your closet or home –
- Clothes- If you have not worn something in a year (unless you have some legit reason like being pregnant), then it has to go. You can sell any clothes you no longer need on threadUp, donate to charity, or do a swap with friends.
- Household items- if you have not used something in a year, it should go – sell the items on craigslist or have a garage sale. Alternatively, donate any extra stuff to a nearby church they always have families in need for bits and odds
Wait – give yourself 24 hours after putting something in your cart before you buy it. If you forget about it then it wasn’t important
- Track your savings – focus on your financial goals. There is something you need more than another pair of $100 yoga pants. It hurts me to say this because yoga pants are the best. Have you seen these new office yoga pants? Phenomenal. Do I want them? Yes- do I feel that I deserve them- of course, I do. Should I get them? No, because we have goals booooooooooo
- Consider participating in a no spending week – I will write more about this. I am trying this shopping fast where I for a week without buying anything -not water, coffee or even cherries (this kills my soul). We still do our weekly groceries during that week, but we do not shop for anything else.
This is the goal – SAVE and watch your piggy get fatty fatty
I love food. I love yummy food. I bet you too love food or at the very least, see the need to eat. A variety of studies suggest that many of us around the world spend the majority of our money on food. Perhaps more importantly and sobering is that we tend to waste much of the food that we buy. Food goes bad before we consume it, or we buy things we do not like.
Do you know how much you spend on food? Do you break down your budget to get a sense of how much you spend on eating out – the quick coffee (guilty), casual lunch, etc.?
In 2017, the average family in the U.S spent $7, 729 on food that is about $644 per month.
How much do you spend? We are spending between $240 and $400 for two people, including eating out. There is def more room to cut down our spending, so I am actively thinking about these things.
Thoughts on ways to stay within your food budget in no particular order
- Look at your receipt after every food purchase. Most of the times, people toss their receipt before checking how much they have spent. This is not very wise -for several reasons
- What if the cashier made a mistake and charged you for something you did not buy?
- What if you were overcharged?
- What if your rewards weren’t applied -get that rewards card? I also love keeping coupons for the stores we frequent
- Making a grocery list is the best way to stay within your budget and ensure that you have everything you need. Trust me, it is crucial. For the last few weeks, we kept forgetting to buy butter. Dry toast is a pain
- Be honest about the number of meals you eat at home and how much you eat out. You can tally up food expenditures from your credit/debit card report.
- Be honest about the food that you like and what you hate. The most significant waste on most of our food budgets is ingredients that go bad — the avg. American family is throwing out food worth over $2,000 annually.
- Educate yourself on the real cost of food – the price for bread, milk, eggs, and rice should generally be consistent across stores. If you are paying $5 for a loaf of bread you are probably spending too much -bread in wholefoods ranges from $2-$13 it is tough to imagine why anyone without special dietary needs would pay $13 on a loaf of bread. Eggs vary widely, but I would guess spending $2-$3 on a dozen sounds about right, a gallon of milk in wholefoods Is about $4- I am using wholefoods examples because it is the most expensive store, therefore, if you are buying groceries at a regular store and spending more than these numbers you may not be shopping right.
Try to make your lunch: When I worked at the World Bank, I was in love with the cafeteria, BUT I was spending at least $13 on lunch. This is not sustainable. According to the labor stats, people in the U.S. spend over $3k on eating out. The only way I managed this was because I was paying subsidized rent for my friend’s extra-large closet/guest bedroom. I like to keep my lunch simple – 3 pieces of fruit (mostly because I start on my lunch as soon as I get to work. I believe there are support groups for people who do this – do not judge me). A small tin of yogurt and P&B sandwich. No need for reheating (most work microwaves can be nasty) reduce chances of fighting office Becky for eating your lunch lol
*If you do like buying lunch be honest about the cost and factor it into your monthly budget
- Make your meals at home- I am not a good cook, so I understand the anxiety around cooking.
- Benefits of cooking at home
- You know everything that goes into your food
- You can control sodium intake
- Takes less time than eating out
- Can be therapeutic
- Leftovers can make a great lunch option
- You save a lot
- If for some reason your lifestyle (or skillset) does not allow for cooking at home
- Budget your meals and be honest about your expenditures
- Get well acquainted with the food options around you and have a list of budget-friendly options. If you live alone eating out can be good for the budget if you prefer exotic meals with plenty of ingredients
- Buy food you enjoy – the worst is ordering a $20 meal then throwing it all out
- Eat what you buy
- Shop the outside aisles – the middle is packed with items that will hurt your wallet and your health.
- Get to know your grocery store- if you know where the things on your list are located then you will be able to stick to your budget
- Avoid big box stores – this is controversial, but I do find that unless you have a big family shopping at Costco can hurt your budget. Do you really need 20 gallons of spaghetti sauce for two people?
- Try to go to the smaller local stores that offer fewer brand options per product. We have found Trader Joes to be budget-friendly because they have fewer options, and their quantities per item are small enough for us to consume within a week.
- Do buy in bulk dry goods that you use often- we make rice at least 4 times a week, so I get this 10lb bag of rice online from Walmart when we buy our cleaning supplies. There is no difference between Walmart and whole foods rice. Do the same for pasta, spices and any sources you like. In Harare, I go to the Mbare market for all our long shelf veggies and grains. We always get to the market by 7 am for the freshest products and great bargain prices.
- Go to the grocery store just once a week. Yep! You will save a lot of money that way. Of course, we all forget things that we need for a meal but if you can avoid a midweek run do it. We once forgot to buy tomatoes – a midweek run for tomatoes ended up costing us $30 because suddenly we realized all the other things we “absolutely” needed.
- So how much should you spend on food? Try using the 50-20-30 budgeting system where you automatically save 20% of your take-home salary, spend 50% on necessities like housing, debt payment and groceries (10%), and 30% for flexible spending or additional savings.
- More importantly, track your food spending – each family is unique. Health and financial needs shape what we can afford to spend. Don’t stress 🙂 Relax, breathe and then … stick to a single shopping day, write down your grocery list, take note of what you like to eat, and the budget should work out. Honestly, I am not even YOLO about this – honesty with yourself is the first step to making good financial choices.
Chipo confessions: we like wine, we like ice cream, we like salmon, and we buy two different types of bread because -different needs. We have found a way to stay within our $100/week budget even with these splurges.
REMEMBER: I am not a financial advisor these are simply my thoughts
Disclaimer: Not a financial advisor – just sharing my thoughts
So, credit cards – yay or nay? Given all the trouble they seem to be causing my gut response is no. I know that many of the Financial Independence people like Dave Ramsey, Chris Hogan, etc. would tell you no credit card and to pay for everything in cash. The idea behind this way of thinking is that you won’t abuse what you do not have. Credit cards are a trap. Now, before you roll your eyes, remember that banks are capitalists. They are not your friend. Banks want to make as much money as possible. Think of it this way- Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo give tiny interest rates for their savings accounts. They provide interest rates between 0.03% and 0.75%. These rates are insultingly low. Compare these terrible rates to what they charge in interest for credit card purchases. Some rates are as high as 27% APR. They use your savings to make themselves rich. They will use you to get rich if you miss payments or only pay the minimum balance. Learn more about reading your statement here.
Do you hate credit cards?
If you hate credit cards you are not alone. My husband, who really should be writing this blog because he is better with money than me hates credit cards. He prefers to pay cash (debit card) for everything. I am more flexible, but I understand his concerns and agree that he is right, so we have found a middle ground. You can read more about the credit card free life from Rachel Cruze, two families interviewed by Nerd Wallet, a spender who is now watching her wallet and this Forbes piece.
When I was growing up in Zimbabwe, no one in my family had credit cards. My parents paid cash for everything, and they did not believe in loans -their mortgages were paid off decades before I was born.
I am not sure that I ever had a choice in the matter of opening a credit card account. The first week of college banks came to campus, we opened accounts we got credit cards, and that was it.
While I think a credit card free life is probably ideal for most people, I am not sure that it is practical. We recently bought a new car and our credit score mattered. I think the rules are even stricter if you are a black immigrant.
Let us be honest –
Most of us will not stop using credit cards so we might as well learn strategies to use them wisely.
- Do not open a million credit cards. You only need to show that you can pay your bills on time to build your credit history so no you don’t need a credit card from every store
- Closing cards will not hurt your credit score – even if it did- bad credit habits are more harmful than just closing off cards that are burdening you.
- Pay off your entire balance every month
- Pay off your balance on time – the due date is not a suggestion
- What if my salary pay date changes? Simply call your credit company and ask to change your due date. Changing your due date is not impossible
- Do not go over your balance- seriously don’t
- Avoid cash advances. The interest rates and associated fees are not worth the headache
- Do not fall for the 0% APR offers. Very few people actually pay off the balances within the stipulated time frames.
- Do not play the revolving 0% APR game- nothing hurts your credit score quite like revolving debt. Also, that is just stressful.
- Do not spend on things that you can’t afford. If your debit card balance is lower than the price tag for whatever you want to get, then you can’t afford the purchase
- Do let the credit card work for you-
- Save for big purchases and pay for them with your credit card to take advantage of rewards. I pay for flights and furniture with a credit card and pay it up with the savings. We have our cash rewards set to auto-transfer into our fun fund.
- Do use a credit card while abroad because if it gets stolen, it is usually much easier to cancel
- Do get an understanding of rewards available to you – some cards give 2% for every purchase, 3% for groceries, etc
- Do use a credit card that provides insurance for big purchases. In graduate school, I treated myself to an iPad only to have it stolen. Big City problems. American Express protects most purchases for up to 90 days, so I was able to get a replacement
Pic from bankrate.com
Disclaimer: Not a financial advisor – just sharing my thoughts
So, credit cards- so much to think about.
This first post is for those who want to learn how to read their statement. The next post will be on the benefits and advantages of using credit cards.
Do you know how to read your credit card statement? There is no shame in not knowing how. It took me years to fully understand how credit cards work.
Figure 1: credit statement from handsonbanking.com
- Your account number -do not share this with anyone
- Statement Closing-The day the bank created the statement-this also determines how much you need to pay for the month
- Credit line- This is your spending limit. How much you can borrow
- Available Credit- how much loan access you have to.
- ACCOUNT SUMMARY – activities on your account.
- Previous Balance- What you owed in the last month
- Payments -what you paid towards the previous balance
- Purchases and other charges – if you bought anything this month the amount will charge here
- Cash advances- Try and avoid these – this is when you get actual cash from the credit card. The interest is a lot more. You do
- Finance Charge- interest charged if you did not make payments toward previous balance or if you made a partial payment
- New Balance- if you did not carry over a balance from last month and did not make any other payments your balance should be = purchases and other charges
- New Balance – What you owe this month
- Minimum Payment- This is the least that you should pay each month to avoid penalties. You can pay more -highly advisable to pay more or all of your balance.
- Scheduled Payment Due Date – This is the final day for you to pay your bill (F). If you do not make a payment, you will get hit by LATE FEES + INTEREST + WHATEVER ELSE THEY WANT
- MINIMUM WARNING- Banks are required by law to inform you how long it will take you to pay off your credit card if you just pay the minimum and how much it will cost you.
- Rate Information: How your fees and interests are calculated- IMPORTANT –most cards can start with a promotional rate -say 0% for 12 months. If you make late payments, you can lose that. After the year is over the rate might increase to something like 24%. They also have different rates for purchases and cash advance with CA always having a high rate.
- Transactions- the list of purchases and payments you made. Double-check that you are only being charged for what you spent on.
- Payment coupon -repeats all the payment information
You need to start saving now !!!!!
Do you have a piggy bank
As I was researching for this post, I got into a rabbit hole reading about payday loans. I did not think these were legal in the United States. We have the system of chimbadzo in Zimbabwe (very high interest -short term loans- APR over 30%). It turns out in the U.S. similar loans are legal, and they are a money pit. For example, if you are in a bind and borrow $100, they will want between $100 and $130 in a week the interest will double each week you are unable to pay. One guy borrowed $2400 in a few months he owed $4000. It is crazy!
don’t get scammed
What struck is me is that we often assume that people needing these loans are the working poor, low financial literacy, irresponsible, etc. but that is not necessarily true. I read a lot of horror stories on reddit. Reddit is like the craigslist of knowledge for savvy millennials. It was, after all, founded by Serena William’s husband. If educated people with somewhat stable jobs are struggling financially to the extent of needing these predatory loans, it means the working class, the poor and honestly all of us are at risk of ending up in these money pits.
Money is an uncomfortable subject, and yet it is so important. I finally submitted the revisions to my article on money in politics – even politicians do not want to talk about how much they are spending to get elected. It is an uncomfortable subject- I get it. Dear friend, let us find ways to plan so that we can be prepared for the various challenges ahead.
Saving is a lifestyle habit that should start very early on. However, it is never too late to learn new tricks. You’ve got this!
I am going to discuss some strategies that I have learned or read about to get me on the path to saving.
Whatever stage you are in life, you need a healthy savings account. I know the thought of saving can be scary. Everyone, IS talking about a 6-month emergency saving when you are just trying to have $150 saved. SCARY! Baby steps!
Stage 0: No savings account
- Start very small. Challenge yourself to set aside just $20 a month for three months then double that to $40. As an undergrad, I saved $50-$100 from my small paycheck every month. By the time graduation came, I had enough saved to invite family to my graduation and cover three months of rent ($500/month) in DC for my unpaid internship.
- Open a high yield savings account
- These accounts will give you at least 2% interest. In South Africa, these accounts would give you about 7% interest but no point getting jealous hahaha. If you are in SA, please tell me you have taken advantage of these generous rates. 2-3% is quite common in most developed countries. Banks are stingy- it irks me that they will charge you 14% for a loan and give 0% for your savings.
- Which ones- I hate to endorse any products, but I can say look for accounts that do not require a minimum balance even a $100 minimum balance. No Fees! Banks are already making money from your money – they do not need to charge you a fee for this. I am looking at you Bank of America. I use American Express but I am pretty sure there are better options online these days.
- Direct deposit: The best way to save is to do it when you still have money
- You can ask HR to split your paycheck into multiple payments to your checking and savings. You can tell them how much to put in each account. Nearly every HR department will do this.
- Solo Set up auto savings from your checking to savings – as I mentioned before I used to transfer $27 each week from my checking to savings. This is my fun money now. It also saved me this month because I forgot that faculty housing you pay rent at the end of the month not in advance like most rental situations. I had a rude awakening- thanks to this fun fund we did not have to deep into a savings account.
- Essential steps towards financial health that I think about
- Create a budget and stick to it
- Write down your financial goals -even lofty ones
- Save at least $1,000 for an emergency fund
- Pay off debt (ALL DEBT-) except your mortgage –
Let me start by saying the cheesiest thing- the choice comes down to what do you need and what can you afford?
My husband and I get asked a lot if we have bought a house and the answer- which also applies to many frequented questions is NO. Although we have been married five years and we have been officially out of school for a while, we have not yet bought a home. Several factors influence our decision-making process. Hopefully, this post will help you if you are debating similar issues.
One of the things people say a lot is that renting is wasting money. It is not – you get a place to live in. You can waste money in either situation; if you rent or buy a home that is way beyond your means or bigger than you need (McMansion ALERT). Having a place to stay that is within your budget and financial goals is not wasting money-it is a blessing.
Some questions to ponder before you make a decision
- How much can I afford to pay for my living situation? If you can only afford to spend $500 a month for the roof over your head, then you may not be ready to purchase a home.
- Do I have consumer and or student debt? If you have a lot of debt, you may not want to buy a house and add a mortgage to your debt bill –
- Do I have a solid emergency fund? The experts suggest 4-6 month’s worth of living expenses saved in an easy to access high yield savings account before making major investments. Fellow millennials and baby cousins in Generation Z- please trust me when I say emergencies happen. You need an emergency FUND.
- If I were to buy a home, could I afford a decent down payment to avoid paying PMI and other protections? You can probably take advantage of many first-time buyer deals and put just 5% down, but some financial experts say it is always better to have at least 10-20% down payment saved. If you don’t use it all for the downpayment you may need it for closing costs and moving expenses.
- Do I have money set aside for home ownership related expenses that can occur as soon as I move in? These can include flooding basement, failing AC or heating system, leaking roof, etc. Things happen. Unless you are getting a brand new home chances are that it will have some issues.
- Could I comfortably pay my mortgage if I lost my job? This is important.
- Do I plan to live in this home for at least five years? If you are still moving jobs buying a home may be risky – if you are unable to find a renter, you may find yourself paying a mortgage for an empty house. If you find a terrible renter, you may still pay your mortgage plus rent at your new place.
- The cost of buying a home is more than the cost of a mortgage and down payment. You will need to pay taxes, homeowners insurance, fix things, mow your lawn, keep up with neighbors and their gardens – heating a home is also kinda expensive.
- Owning a home is also fantastic – you can paint the house fun colors, and you do not need permission to drill the walls.
- A home purchase can be a worthwhile long-term investment, especially if it is in an area where home values appreciate.
At the end of the day, do not feel pressured to rent or own a house. Your bank account will tell you what you can afford. The heart might lead you astray.
P.S. I am not a certified financial advisor this is just my fun blog