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Monday, August 1, 2016

Pay off Student Loans

Here's a trick to causing a little less pain during your student loan repayment years, and also a great way to stack up some savings to boot!
So its been 10 years, and guess what? I finally paid off my student loans-AND it ONLY took 10 years! Ach.

When I initially took out the loan, ten years to repay seemed like forever*; And as I was diligently paying my sum every month, it still seemed like forever...for the first couple years anyway!

However, as soon as I opened a separate checking account for some of my longer term loans (i.e. student, car, etc.); then, set up direct deposits from my paycheck into those accounts; and finally automatic loan payments from those accounts...everything became different.

Once these payments were out of sight-out of mind, these loans felt like they paid themselves off without me having to do a thing! The key was setting up this completely separate account (preferably at a different financial institution). This way, I did not even count this money into my budget every month since it never landed in my primary checking account.

This works for longer term loans (or short term loans), but also for savings. If you set it and forget it, and the money never hits your primary account, it will grow and grow (or pay down and pay down) without you even thinking about it! Before you know it, you will have a nice cushion in your bank account or a loan paid off.

I would definitely recommend at the very least setting up a separate account for your student loan payments. Most of us are on the 10 year repayment plan...and that can get long, so set it and forget it (especially if you have a decent interest rate...remember you want to focus on paying down your high interest debt FIRST; traditionally student loan debt carries lower interest rates).

 Another idea is to go ahead and set up a separate checking account for ALL of your fixed expenses AND savings**; and then set up automated bill payments. You should directly deposit whatever you need into that account every time you get paid and then have the rest go into your variable spending checking account. This way you know your monthly bills are being paid, and paid on-time, and you also know that your savings is on the up and up. Furthermore, you don't have to double check if you'll have enough money to make your car payment every time you want to go out to eat!

How is your student loan repayment going?

*And technically 10 years is a long time, a lot can happen in that time (say--move cross country- twice, get married, have kids, buy 2 cars, buy 2 houses- sell 1, get a cool job, met awesome people, etc etc).
**Only savings for emergencies and short term purchases should be held in a checking or traditional savings account due to lack of interest/ growth; you should consider other savings/ investment vehicles for longer term savings.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fraudulent message from the IRS

Tax season is a ripe time for fraudsters to prey on the innocent public. This happens every year with everything from shady tax preparers to official-looking emails that mine for personal information that ultimately lead to identity theft and people losing money.

My parents just got an automated call from the "IRS". The message was that they were being sued by the IRS and they need to call the 'department' number immediately.

This is a SCAM. To begin with, the Internal Revenue Service would never send an automated message to someone that they are filing a lawsuit against. One would likely receive some sort of communication via the mail, probably certified mail. The number they ask you to call is not tied to any sort of IRS office.

This message is intended to scare people; the scammers then hope to get a call at the number they provide and will ask for personal identifying information or even money "to settle your IRS debt at a discount even!"

Share with your family and friends and don't let these scammers win!

If you are ever concerned that you may be in trouble with the IRS, go to the IRS website and find the number you need to call, never rely on a number someone sends you in an email or over a voicemail message.

Check out the message here.

Update: this number is already out of service, thank goodness. This clip is still a good example of what to watch out for!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Not Saving Enough for Retirement? Look at a picture of yourself in 40 years.

Gotta love Carl in the movie Up (Disney/ Pixar).
Why is it so hard for us to save for retirement? I mean we all hope/ assume that we will be around for a long time or at least the foreseeable future right? We have heard that Social Security may be just a fond memory from our past. We don't really want to work every day until we die either; we want to spend our golden years doing something...right?

Saving for retirement is logical. However, its surprising how few people actually contribute what they should in order to live a comfortable retirement lifestyle; more than half the US population will not be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement (read more here). So while saving for retirement is the logical, rational, thing to do... we as humans are notorious for not being logical or rational in many of our decisions (think eating habits, exercise, spending too much!).

So why don't we connect with the idea that what we are doing today, directly impacts our future selves? According to Ersner-Hershfield, Wimmer, and Knutson (2009), we humans, don't think about ourselves in the future as actually being ourselves in the future, our brain patterns actually showed that it was similar to us thinking about a complete stranger! So essentially when it comes to saving money its like we are choosing between spending our cash now or giving it to a stranger!

So more research was done based on the idea that maybe if a person can feel more connected to their 60, 70, 80 year old self, that they might be more inclined to save at a higher rate for their golden years. How can they feel more connected? What about having them view a digitally mastered image of themselves in the future?

What was found that when, we humans, were able to see our future self, we were better able to relate, and also see the 'person' (me) who would be dealing with the implications of our savings decisions. This led to "results suggest(ing) that interaction with a vivid version of one’s future self causes individuals to give modestly greater weight to long-term saving." Read the entire article from the National Institute of Health (NIH) here.

So why not check out your old(er) self! You can find many sites and apps that will do this; try the Aging Booth app (there's also one for Android), or this website. They may not be 100% true to form, but let me know if it freaks you out enough to save more for the future!

An additional note... companies could potentially provide some sort of visual aging software to their employees if they upload a picture, but there is still an impact if, when an employee is in the midst of selecting retirement options, sees an older avatar smiling with more savings and frowning with less- they tend to contribute a higher percentage. Interesting!

Another additional note...this research was done on college students, and for good reason. If we can get all our 20 somethings saving for retirement now...just think of what they could have in the future! Don't you wish you started saving earlier?


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fake a New High End Countertop for $150

When we bought our first home in Baltimore we put in lots of sweat equity especially when it came to painting. I went a little nuts; after finishing the walls in every room, I moved to the cabinets and kitchen counter top.

The cabinets were not easy as traditional wood cabinets, because they were the lovely white laminate stuff that doesn't like paint. I found the Gripper primer that makes anything stick and it worked great.  The first time I painted the kitchen cabinets I did them in red (lasted for a few years until I needed a change), the second time in an espresso faux wood grain finish (I just dragged a rag vertically to get a grain effect).

I even painted the counter-top in the kitchen by applying the gripper, 2 coats of high gloss black, I created texture by applying gold and silver paint using bubble wrap, and then sealed with 5 coats of Polyrylic (I probably didn't need to do that much but I wanted to be sure it was sealed). I sanded between each coat to ensure a smooth finish. It was a bit of a process but ended up looking pretty awesome. I had a hard time locating a picture of the black "granite" that I painted a while ago, but you get the idea here (you can also see the espresso cabinets which were just changed from bright red):

The counter lasted 5 years and it was still looking pretty good but we decided we wanted to lighten it up a bit. We still didn't want to spend a couple thousand on a new counter at this point so I did some research and found the Rustoleum Countertop Transformations product. It turned out wonderful and took a fraction of the time to complete (compared with my previous painting procedure!). I would highly recommend it if you are looking to enhance your kitchen for less than a couple hundred bucks (and don't want to spend 7 straight days painting, sanding, and waiting for 24 hour drying times). The both looked quite nice actually, but the Rustoleum product was a lot easier.

This picture shows what it looked like after the transformation, we used the Desert Sand color. This product created a lot smoother, more professional finish, in no time. We also later added a back splash that tied the cabinets in nicely! The pictures don't really do it justice, but it really looked nice! When we sold our house this year the Realtor wrote down high end counters- when we saw that we told him what we actually did and he was amazed!

Monday, January 4, 2016

7 Easy Ways to Reach your Financial Goals in 2016

Do you need a foolproof plan to get your butt into financial gear this year??

First step, what are your financial goals for 2016? Take a minute and write down the first 3 that come to your mind.

If you are like many others, you have likely listed one of the following:
  • Save more
  • Spend less
  • Stick to my budget
  • Pay down my debt
  • Make more money
  • Get organized
Second, be more specific. Do you want to save $100 more each month? Why? Is this for retirement, college savings, or just that vacation you want to take? All of the above?
Go through your list and make each one more specific, that way you can celebrate more and be comfortable that you are on your way to reaching your goal.

Now that you have your specific goal, what can you do to make it EASY to work towards and HARD to fall to the wayside?

Here are my 7 tips on making things EASY (or at least easier )on your financial mindset this year. Try them and let me know how they work!
  1. Dedicate a separate checking account just for your expenses. Figure out what your fixed expenses are (rent, utilities, cell phone, internet etc.) and then have them automatically paid from this account. Divvy up your direct deposit, or paychecks so that the appropriate amount is going into your expense checking account and let it be. This way you know everything is getting paid and paid on time. And it helps with budgeting, since you don't have to constantly check in on yourself to make sure you didn't spend your rent money.
  2. Set up a savings account for each goal. You might already have a retirement account or college savings set up. But what about for your other savings goals? Set up a separate account for each goal. This way you can track your progress and are less likely to pull out cash on an impulse. This means one for the emergency fund, one for the vacation fund, one for the house improvement fund etc. Even if you only start with tiny contributions to each, you have started.
  3. Set up an automatic debt payment tied to every time you get paid. This should come out of your expense account. Whether you get paid twice a month or once a week, set this payment for the day after. This way, the payment is out of your face before you have a chance to spend it! 
  4. Set up an automatic savings contribution tied to every time you get paid.  Same deal as the debt payment, set this up for the day after you get paid and bam! Before you know it you are on your way! This should also come out of your expense account (you are paying yourself). This takes 5 minutes or less. 
  5. Transition to online statements. You not only reduce clutter in your house, but then you can find what you need quickly, oh, and help save the planet.
  6. Switch to the envelope method for problem spending areas. Is one of your goals to spend less on take out? Or maybe its shoes? Give yourself a monthly cash allowance for these, and literally put it in an envelope. When its gone its gone.
  7. Ask for a raise (if you deserve it)- its surprising how many people just go with the regular 1-2% annual raise and never think to ask for more! You don't know if you don't try! Don't deserve it yet? Enhance your skills so that you will. Whether its taking a free (or employer paid) class online or just dedicating a couple hours a week honing a skill/ hobby you enjoy. Just make sure that when you do get some more cash, you divvy a good chunk of it up to your monthly savings or debt reduction plan!
Do you have more? Let me know!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Snacking Makes you Immune to Advertising?

Photo credit: Alamy via the Huffington Post
Is there actually a benefit to munchin' in front of the tube?

According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, when you watch a commercial your brain "unconsciously practices how to say the name (even if you are not actually mouthing the words)". However, when you are chewing your "mouth cannot subtly whisper the products name". This prevents the brand from taking residence in your brain. This doesn't just work with snacking, but also chewing gum, or talking... but the catch is that it only works for brands that you are not familiar with... interesting!

So while we are told that eating mindlessly while watching sitcoms may not be good for our waistlines, it may help our wallets!

Now is it the same for kids not "wanting" something they see on TV just because they happen to be eating some Cheerios at the same time? Who knows, I don't really want to test that theory!

Topolinski, S., et al., Popcorn in the cinema: Oral interference sabotages advertising effects, Journal of Consumer Psychology (2013),

Read more at:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Make Dumplings - Save Money - Be Happy

I know its been a while... a lot has been going on!
We were out of town (back to the Minnesota homeland) for the month of December. Then we had a death of a very close family member while we were there. I also started doing a little more contract work, so I have been falling behind on my "fun" stuff!

Photo credit: *
Its been about 6 years since my infatuation with dumplings began; steamed dumplings to be exact. My favorites are still the kind you can find only at your Chinese take-out place that are really doughy and have that wonderful blend of pork and who knows what else. And the sauce... oh the sauce... sweet, salty, & spicy maybe with a sprinkling of green onions and peanuts. I still have not quite figured out how to duplicate the sauce; and its a crap shoot if I order from a random Chinese place if they will happen to make the sauce the way I like it.

Moving on. I would love to eat those doughy dumplings every time I have a craving- but that obviously will not work for my checkbook (even though they are usually not too pricey considering, but still $4 for 6) or my waistline. So, I have tried several of the frozen variety that range from $5-$8 and you usually get between 15 and 20 dumplings; some come with sauce; most don't. And usually I am not extremely impressed with what's stuffed inside, not to mention the overall taste.

If you have about an hour (or less if you have helpers). You can whip around 50 of these babies for  for under $10 (depending on what kind of  meat you use). They are not as exotic as my doughy faves, but also not as sinful... and really are quite tasty.

Steamed Dumplings
1 lb ground (turkey, pork, beef etc.- leaner the better); I think turkey tastes great, and less fat to boot [$3-$6]
1/4 cup (more or less to taste) of chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts [$1 or less]
4 scallions sliced [$0.25]
14 oz bag of coleslaw (or broccoli slaw) mix (optional)[$2]
12 oz package of wonton wrappers [$3]
2 options for sauce to add to the wonton mixture: 1) Franks Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce (1/4 cup); 2) Mixture of 1 tbsp each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, minced garlic, & minced ginger

Dipping sauce: if used Red Hot Sweet Chili- use that to dip; if used other mix 1/4 cup each of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, throw in a tsp of ginger, sugar, and dark sesame oil and top with scallions, red pepper flakes, & chopped peanuts if you want!

  • Grab your steamer basket and fill the pot with water to almost where the basket hits... bring to a boil. Fill a small bowl with tap water
  • Mix meat, shoots or chestnuts, scallions, coleslaw, and whichever sauce you are using in a big bowl.
  • Use one wonton wrapper and place tablespoon amount of mixture in middle; use water to moisten edges of wrapper and fold in half- secure.\
  • Decide how many you want eat, throw the rest on a wax paper lined cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, toss in zippie and take out as desired.
  • Depending on the size of steamer you can cook 5-10 at a time for approx 5 minutes- 8 minutes from frozen (test to make sure meat is cooked). Try to make sure they don't touch one another to prevent sticking. You can use non-stick spray on the steamer or throw down some leftover coleslaw to keep the dumplings from attaching themselves to your basket.
  • Dip, eat, love

 My 2 year old twins  really liked these; they prefer the sweet chili sauce ones to the other sauce.

* I vow to try this recipe soon, they really look wonderful