I Tracked My Spending for a Week. Here’s What Happened

I’m not great at tracking my spending. As someone who rebels against rules and hates feeling confined by regulations, being told to track my spending felt unpleasant. It seemed like yet another task to add to my to-do list: Brush my teeth, work out, drink water, sleep enough, look at my phone less and track my money.

But I kept hearing about the magic of tracking. There were so many stories of people saving money and finding spending leaks that I decided to try. I wanted to know if it could help my finances.

Over the course of one week, I tracked everything from the coffee I drank to the books I ordered on Amazon. I’m surprised by what I learned.

Groceries don’t always save money

In one week, I spent $120 on groceries. Considering I rarely eat out, that might not sound too bad. After all, cooking at home is supposed to save money. But the truth about my grocery bill is that it was the result of impulse purchases and haphazard planning. As I passed the produce section in Costco, I grabbed a bag of fresh snap peas on a whim and scooped up a package of pomegranate seeds seconds later. On my way to the checkout line, I stopped for a 24-pack of protein bars “just in case” and got a bag of tortilla chips for good measure. The problem? None of these items were on my list, and at a place like Costco, each additional item can add $10 to $15 to your total.

The fix: As I reviewed my grocery spending for the week, it became clear I viewed my grocery list as as a set of guidelines. After seeing the numbers on paper and facing the reality of my impulse grabs, I’ve begun to think of my grocery list as a set of rules. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t enter my cart. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.

Hanging with friends adds up

Over the course of one week, I went for lunch with former colleagues, grabbed coffee with three different friends, bought frozen yogurt with my wife and ate sushi with my sister. The total? $35. It might not seem like a lot, but for one week, it’s a big chunk of change. Grabbing coffee always seemed like an inexpensive way to see my friends and catch up, but after realizing I spent $10 on coffee in one week, it became clear I underestimated the financial impact. Over the course of one month, I’m on track to spend $40 on coffee. That’s nearly half the price of massage, which is a luxury I’ve told myself I can’t afford. Looking at the numbers in black and white, it’s clear I could afford a massage every other month if I simply stopped spending money on coffee.

The fix: Never hanging out with friends isn’t an option. Neither is cutting out lunch dates with friends and family. But $35 per week on coffee and lunch doesn’t align with my priorities. I knew something needed to change. Instead of using the coffee shop as the default place to meet, I’ve gotten creative. This past week, I had my sister over for homemade banana bread and invited a friend on a walk to catch up. The cost? Less than $2. They may seem like small changes, but it wasn’t until I actually looked at the numbers that I realized these “small” expenses equaled $140 per month.

Online shopping is convenient. Too convenient

Overall, I’m happy with my shopping budget and the $38 I spent on “extra” items during the week. I bought replacement fairy lights for the living room for $10 and two books from Amazon from $28. All my purchases were intentional and mindful. The lights are replacing an item that broke. The books are ones I’ve already borrowed from the library and know I want to own so I can read them again and again. But as I looked over my purchases, I realized how easy it is to shop online without paying attention.

The fix: I’m normally pretty good at controlling my urge to shop, but there are times I find myself scrolling through the Amazon app or browsing ASOS with no intent to buy. To avoid the temptation, I’ve deleted the apps from my phone and no longer store credit card information on my laptop. One-click shopping makes spending a little too convenient. Creating barriers is an easy way to make it less enticing.

For the first day or two, it was annoying to track my spending. But once I got into the habit, it became second nature to make a note of my spending. Even though I don’t plan to track my spending all the time, I do plan to use it as a financial tune-up every few months. It’s easy for spending to become mindless. Tracking is a simple way to ensure the reality of your finances falls in line with your goals and ideals.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.
Image: PeopleImages

 

Money Manners: How to Talk About Money Without Being Awkward

Truth: Talking about money can be awkward. In fact, we’d much rather shoot the hay over politics and sex than discuss how much money we make. But, here’s the thing: we should talk about money – just as freely as anything else.

Indeed, it’s important to talk about money with your family and friends. Why? How else can you get to the root of your money woes and collectively solve them? To take out the A-W-K-W-A-R-D out of money talks, we exploring here are some money manners on general dos and don’ts to go by for talking about money:

Don’t: Pry

Nobody likes a nosy person. And, there are many instances where it’s better to mind your own money matters. For instance, asking a first date questions about his personal taxes or outright asking an acquaintance for a loan may not be the best idea. A good money manner to live by is remembering that you just never know someone’s situation and it’s better to stay away from prickly, sensitive topics with folks you don’t know well.

Do: Be the First to Share

Among my social circle, I’m typically the first person to talk about anything money-related, from deals I’ve snagged to how much money I’m making. By being transparent, it usually puts others at ease to do the same. Now, there’s definitely a fine line between over-sharing and being open. You don’t want to come off like someone who is recruiting unwilling participants to your pity party. If I don’t know someone well, one of the best money manners to employ I’ll steer away from heavier topics and stick to light-hearted conversation that can potentially lead to deeper dives and meaningful talks about moola.

Don’t: Be Judgy

Leave judgments at the door. As someone who is obsessed with frugality and saving money, I have a tendency to shake my head when I’m around spendthrifts. As you can imagine, this doesn’t win me many friends.

No matter what your money situation is, Instead of being judgy, come from a place of understanding and empathy. You just never know someone’s entire life story, or what they’re struggling with.

Do: Have a “Team Approach”

As a good friend of mine says, “A shared joy grows twice in size. A shared pain gets cut in half.” If you get to a place where someone is confiding in you with their money issues, help her drum up ideas on how to tackle the problem. Anytime you can help a family member or friend sort out money issues is a shared win.

Don’t: Bring Up Certain Topics in Front of Strangers

I’m quite embarrassed to admit this, but in my younger years, I had a good friend who owed me a couple hundred bucks. I remember reminding him every so often about this loan, even when other people were in earshot. Needless to say, it created tension between us. I learned the hard way how to be tactful when discussing money. Nowadays, when I meet someone new, I usually stick to discussing my own frugal wins.

Do: Find the Right Time and Place

Building upon what I discussed above, timing is everything. And so is the location — at least when it comes to talking about money. For example, you don’t want to ask your Uncle Henry to borrow money, or ask your friend about the money he owes you during a shindig. Instead, figure out the appropriate time and place to have these sorts of candid talks. For instance, a handful of people I know go on “money dates” with their partners. This is when they meet up on the regular to discuss the household budget, their retirement goals, and how to go about saving for that dream vacation.

Don’t: Turn It Into a Competition

Money is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. It’s certainly not a status symbol, and it’s not necessarily a sign of success. I know, I know, society taught us differently. But, try thinking about  money as a resource — where ideally you have enough flow (i.e., income or streams of revenue), systems and habits in place. This can help reduce financial stress.

When you discuss money with others, instead of getting competitive with how much money you all have, try to share in each other’s wins and failures.

 

15 Fun Things to Do This Winter That Won’t Ruin Your Budget

Shorter days, colder nights and…deeper pockets?

When the weather changes, so do our spending habits. But with a little planning and this list of 15 budget-friendly outdoor and indoor winter activities, it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy about your finances – even when you’re out in the cold.

Go sledding.

Don’t have a sled? Make one using items you have on hand such as a yoga mat, shower curtain or even a trash bag.

Build a snowman.

Even if you’re no longer a kid or don’t have any of your own children, this is still a timeless activity that you can enjoy if it snows in your neck of the woods.

Enjoy a winter hike.

Hiking isn’t just for warm weather conditions. But, if you’re going on a long or treacherous winter hike, be sure to prepare adequately and travel in a group.

Go ice skating.

Some ice rinks offer free admission and only charge for skate rental. This will typically run you only a few dollars. But, if you’ve got your own pair of skates, then this can turn into a free winter activity.

Build a bonfire or firepit.

Invite a group of friends over for s’mores by the fire. Except for the cost to buy the ingredients for the s’mores, this is free. Another perk: you won’t even have to leave your house, thus saving you money on gas or public transportation.

Go star-gazing in your backyard.

One of my friends recently told me that star-gazing is her favorite winter pastime. So, invite some friends over and ask them to bring blankets for the perfect budget-friendly winter night. You can even throw in hot cocoa.

Check out a local festival.

You might be surprised to learn that local outdoor festivals exist in the winter and sometimes they’re free. This is a great opportunity to meet people if you recently moved into a new neighborhood.

Lend a helping hand. 

Volunteering your time or skills is a great way to give back without breaking the bank. Help a neighbor shovel snow or consider volunteering at a local festival (free food is often involved).

Try a new recipe.

If you’re craving comfort food this winter, why not try out a new recipe or two instead of ordering in? I recently stepped up my culinary skills and finally learned how to make hearty chicken soup at $1.50 per serving.

Host a potluck.

There’s no need to give up entertaining during the winter because of the cost, and hosting a potluck offers the perfect solution. If your friends prefer to contribute cash instead of their favorite dish, they can easily send you money through the Chime app.

Learn a skill on Netflix.

There’s nothing I love more than curling up on the couch with a plush blanket, popcorn and hot chocolate to binge-watch my Netflix shows. The best part? Many Netflix shows offer pearls of wisdom that can be applied to your everyday life and that includes your finances.

Schedule in some self-care.

There are many inexpensive ways to practice self-care such as taking a long bath, making a homemade face mask or even carving out some time to read a novel by your favorite author. Taking care of your mind and body year-round can have a positive impact on your financial health as well.

De-clutter your home.

You can either donate items to a local charity or consider selling items for cash. Sami Hageman of Eat Pray Budget has been selling unwanted stuff online using websites like Facebook Marketplace. The extra cash ($2,000 in the last two months alone) has helped her pay off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Hageman likes Facebook Marketplace because you get to screen who you do business with, plus you can either arrange for a pick-up at your front door or ship the items to the buyer.

Start a side hustle.

My favorite thing to do instead of spending money is to make more of it. There are many ways you can earn extra income that are easy to start from the comfort of your own home. You can learn to code, become a proofreader or even become a virtual assistant.

Get started on spring 2018 plans.

As the saying goes, the best part of winter is when it ends. That said, it’s never too early to take a look at your calendar of events for spring and prepare your budget accordingly.

Bonus Tips: Winter-Proof Your Budget

While you’re planning all kinds of budget-friendly winter activities, take a look at a few of our top tips to help keep even more money in your pocket as days grow increasingly longer and colder.

  • Beef up your emergency fund. For the past two winters, my husband and I have added a little extra padding to our emergency fund, and it always seems to come in handy. This year, we’ve already had to use some of it, with an unexpected expense of $250 to repair our furnace. However, having the extra money in the emergency fund gives us peace of mind whenever these winter-related expenses decide to pop up.
  • Unlink payment methods. This tip is especially important for my fellow winter homebodies. While staying indoors can sound like an inexpensive option, this isn’t always the case. Unlinking payment methods to Amazon and other online stores can help remove the temptation of overspending. We often think twice about making a purchase if we have to take out our wallets and manually enter our payment details.
  • Switch to debit. Another excellent way to prevent overspending is to use a debit card for online purchases. A debit card is similar to using cash in that you can only spend what you have in your bank account. However, sometimes it can be difficult to get a handle on your actual bank balance to ensure that you make the most informed financial decisions. Luckily there are bank accounts out there – like Chime – that are designed to help you track your finances with features like daily balance notifications and automatic savings.
 

Struggling With Money? Here’s Why You Need to Speak Up

It’s not easy to talk about money, especially when you’re not managing it well. In a society where appearances are sometimes more important than the truth, it’s easier to put on a good face — and maybe buy a shiny new car — than to admit that you’ve got money issues.

It doesn’t help that money is a taboo topic. According to a 2014 survey by the American Psychological Association, 32% of Americans feel uncomfortable talking about money with family. But even if you grew up thinking that talking about money is a no-no, here are 5 reasons why discussing your struggles is crucial to your financial future.

1. Vulnerability is empowering

The main reason it’s hard to talk about money problems is the fear of judgment. In some families or circles of friends, that fear is more than a mere possibility. But if you continue to act like nothing’s wrong, nothing will change.

Even if you don’t expect your family or friends to be super helpful, talk about it anyway. The act of sharing something you’re grappling with can give you the emotional strength to face it.

This process also forces you to be honest with yourself about your situation. Once you reach this point of self-honesty, it’s easier to take the next step and address it.

2. They might have some good advice

There may not be a financial advisor or money coach in your family or circle of friends, but that doesn’t mean your friends and family can’t offer guidance. Since they all deal with their personal finances on a daily basis just like you, they may have experiential knowledge that may be useful.

And, since money can be a tough topic to talk about, it’s likely that you don’t know what their experiences are until you ask. For example, if you’re considering bankruptcy, a family member or friend may be able to talk about a similar experience and how they got through it financially and emotionally.

Even if they don’t have experiences that they can draw upon, your family and friends may still know about some options that you haven’t considered yet. But again, you won’t know until you ask.

Along these lines, your inner circle may know of some good resources you can tap into. They may know a financial advisor or money coach that can help you out. Or perhaps they recently read a great book on managing finances, or know about some good websites that offer helpful advice on various personal finance topics.

3. They’re not perfect either

We’ve all made money mistakes.

Even if your family members or friends are in a good place financially, they may still be able to empathize with your situation based on past experiences. In some cases, that empathy can help you feel as if you’re not alone. It may also give you the confidence to get back on the right track.

4. They can keep you accountable

By reaching out for help, you may get more than you expect. For example, maybe someone in your inner circle will even volunteer to be your sounding board, aka accountability partner.

As you’re working toward improving your financial situation, having this partner can help you stay on track. For example, you can set up a time to chat with this person once a week to talk about how you’re doing. Or, if she has experience managing money, you can even ask her to take a look at your budget and help you see your blind spots.

5. They care about you

Above all, it’s important to understand that your family and friends care about you and want you to succeed.

This doesn’t mean that discussing money will be an easy conversation. It also doesn’t mean that your family and friends will have all the right answers. But it does mean that your loved ones will do anything they can to help you figure things out.

Next steps

Some of the best financial advice you can get comes from the people closest to you.

As you consider your situation, think about family members or friends that you feel most comfortable approaching to talk about your finances. And, if you don’t feel comfortable at all, push yourself a little. Once you get over that first conversation, your path forward will become a lot easier.

 

How to Avoid Falling Into the Money Comparison Trap

Everyone has one of those relatives. You know who I’m talking about—the ones who seem to be wildly successful in every area. Maybe your cousin just bought a house, or your sister just landed a high-paying job and just returned from an amazing vacation.

What’s even worse: these relatives aren’t afraid to talk about the latest and greatest around the holiday dinner table – as you quietly sit and listen. And then, as the conversation lulls, Uncle Bob turns to you and says, “so, what’s going on in your life now?”

It can be tough to resist comparing yourself to your more-successful relatives in these situations. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can get over this trap. Read on to learn more.

Luck is a bigger player than most people realize

Sure, your successful relative worked hard to get where she is. But, what people often don’t acknowledge is the role luck plays when it comes to getting ahead.

Your relative may have simply got lucky because she works in a well-paying field or lives in an area where real estate isn’t as expensive as the Northeast city you call home. Or, maybe your cousin Tom has never dealt with hardcore student loans because his parents paid for his college education. There are thousands of other ways your relatives may have ended up where they are today.

But, there’s good news too: you can also be lucky, maybe even in ways that your more-successful relatives aren’t. Maybe you have talents that they don’t have. Just think: you can use your talents to create a side hustle to earn extra money and improve your situation.

Move ahead financially

Good news! You’re not stuck where you are today. You can always improve your financial state.  

Remember when you graduated from the kids’ table to the adults’ table at holiday family gatherings? You can do the same thing and graduate to a better personal finance situation.

I’m not gonna lie and say it’ll happen overnight or it won’t take a lot of work. It’ll probably be quite the opposite, in fact. You’ll need to make sacrifices, get out of your comfort zone, and become more disciplined. Maybe it’ll even be harder for you than for others. But, you can do it.

Practice gratitude

You might have noticed a theme here. By being thankful for the things you do have, you can directly counteract the negativity surrounding your supposed “failures.” In fact, it’s been proven that showing gratitude can actually help your finances improve.

But how do you actually do this and make it stick?

For starters, it’s important to focus on rewiring your brain so you can instead see a more balanced side with the positive aspects of any given situation. This isn’t so easy because, as humans, we’re biologically hardwired to always recognize the negative side of things. To get around this, try keeping a daily gratitude journal and each day, write down three things that you’re grateful for and why.

It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering like “I was promoted to a director position.” It can literally be as simple as “I am grateful for the heat in my apartment” or “I am grateful I don’t have a serious health condition.” These are good things after all, right?

You can also practice gratitude rituals before regular daily occurrences. Saying a quick mental thanks every time you eat a meal or arrive home from work can go a long ways towards shifting your perspective from the negative to the positive.

Boast about your wins

Okay, so we aren’t advocating to actively compete with your relatives and rub your successes in their faces…but, a little boasting can help motivate you to continue to improve your situation.

Think about how great it will feel to show up at a family holiday gathering and say, “you know what? I’m debt-free now,” or “guess who just got a fantastic new job?”

Just remember, don’t become that person who won’t stop talking obsessively about his achievements. Let your relatives know how you’re faring financially, briefly bask in the glory, answer any of their questions, and move on to celebrate everyone else’s successes.

Wrapping up

Family holiday gatherings can be tough at this time of year, especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet and save money. But we also know that falling into the money comparison trap with your relatives can only serve to make this time of year more difficult.

To that end, if you remember these tips and stop comparing yourself to others, you can instead focus on more productive things—like moving ahead financially!

 

Friendsgiving Ideas on Any Budget

You’re not alone if you won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving with your own family.

Maybe you can’t afford to travel to be with your parents. Or, perhaps you have to work over the holiday. If you are flying solo without local family around, you may even decide to host the holiday at your house and create your own Friendsgiving tradition.

Being the host allows you to set the menu and invite who you want. You can spend as much as you’d like on your Friendsgiving dinner. At the same time, you may be limited by budgetary constraints. Fortunately for you, there are tons of Friendsgiving ideas for every budget that can make your event a memorable one. Take a look.

Low Budget ($20-40)

Unfortunately, it’s tough to have a free Friendsgiving dinner – unless, of course, you provide no food yourself. As the host with the most, this probably won’t go over well with your friends. But, you can host Friendsgiving for as little as $20 to $40. Here are some Friendgivings ideas for a low-cost event:

Food

Why not make it a budget meal and ask your friends to pitch in? For example, ask one person to bring the stuffing, another to make the potatoes, and so on. In fact, if you supply only the turkey, gravy, and beverages, you can probably keep your costs to around $30 to $40, depending on how many people you invite.

Invitations

Invite your friends by word of mouth, social media, or free e-invitations found on the Internet.

Decorations

You can make your own Friendsgiving decorations using supplies you have at home or ask to borrow stuff from your friends. For example, use paper sacks to create placemats. Twigs and bits of greenery can also spruce things up, and a single pumpkin in the center of the table makes for a great centerpiece.

Entertainment

Play music you already have, or put a friend in charge of this. You can also forego music and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Moderate Budget ($40-100)

For those who have a little more to spend on Friendsgiving, you may be able to pay for everything yourself – if you budget wisely. Check out our suggestions:

Food

With a little planning, you can buy a turkey on sale at your local grocery store. Do the same with the stuffing, potatoes, and other foods you plan to serve.

If any of your menu items are canned or boxed, you can also stock up ahead of time by purchasing these on sale or using coupons. You may also want to consider serving only flavored waters and other low-cost beverages instead of wine and beer, as alcohol can get expensive.

Invitations

You can still use social media and free e-invites if you wish. However, you can also print them up from your home computer and mail them. Assuming you aren’t having a gathering of the masses, postage shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars and your guests will enjoy receiving mail that isn’t junk.

Decorations

To create a festive Friendsgiving table while keeping costs down, try picking up a couple of yards of burlap to make placemats and a table runner. For a centerpiece, buy a pumpkin and some small gourds, and add some votives or other candles you have on hand. You can also collect and use pinecones from your yard or a nearby park. Artistically arrange everything and you will have a beautiful table your friends will admire.

Entertainment

You can sign up for the commercial-free version of Pandora for $5 to have some background music for your Friendsgiving. Or, you can place a friend in charge for free.

Go All Out ($100 and up)

Of course, when you have plenty of money, you can host Friendsgiving without having to worry about the cost. Here are some options:

Food

You can relax and let someone else do the work if you choose. Have your meal catered or order all the fixings ahead of time from your local supermarket. All you’ll have to do is pick the meal up and set everything up before your guests arrive. Of course, if money is absolutely no issue, you can always take all your friends out for dinner and foot the bill for everyone. Just make sure you check ahead of time to ensure the eating establishment of your choice will be open and available. Many restaurants offer set price menus and seating times for Thanksgiving, so you may be better off making a reservation ahead of time.

Invitations

Have fancy invitations printed from a local print shop, or design them yourself and have them shipped to you ahead of time. You can then mail them out and await the responses from your appreciative friends.

Decorations

To decorate your home and dining room, you can buy decorations at a local craft store or even order a fancy centerpiece. Or, if you’re planning to eat out, talk to the restaurant ahead of time to plan for your ideal Friendsgiving table decorations.

Entertainment

If you want to go all out, you can hire a DJ. For a more low-key option, you can purchase special music that you can play on your laptop or home entertainment system.

If you’re dining out with your group of friends, ask the restaurant manager if the staff can arrange to play music while you all eat, drink, and share the holiday meal.

Give Thanks

As you can see, hosting a Friendsgiving celebration is a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving. Whether you have a lot of money or just a little, you can refer to our Friendsgiving ideas for plenty of options to fit every budget.

 

This is One of the Best Ways to Keep Yourself Accountable for Your Finances

Have you ever been working hard on a goal – only to fail? I’m sure you’ve experienced this at least once in your life. But, I’d venture to guess that more often than not, these failures are tied to not having enough accountability to help you stay on track.

Truthfully, accountability is the single biggest factor that separates success from failure. This is true for all types of goals, including health and weight loss, as well as financial success.

If you’re not exactly sure what accountability is, that’s ok! The simplest way to explain accountability is to be responsible for all of your actions, good and bad. Successes and failures. It also means being honest with yourself and others instead of making excuses for your actions.

Where to Find Accountability

There are lots of ways you can start being accountable for your goals and finances. For me, I started a blog so that I could be honest about my experiences and financial goals.

Some people also hire a financial coach or planner. This person is usually paid to help you create a plan with actionable steps to reach your goals. The coach will review progress with you at each appointment and assess what worked and what didn’t. A good coach will also provide you with tough love when you need it to help you get back on track, because, let’s face it: we all get off track sometimes.

Finally, you might decide to enlist an accountability buddy to work with you on improving your finances. For many people, this is the easiest and most affordable accountability option.

Why Having an Accountability Buddy is Awesome

No matter if you’re single, co-habiting, or married, having an accountability buddy who isn’t in your immediate family can be helpful. In my case, my accountability buddy helped me make big progress at paying off my debt.

For those of you who are single like me, an accountability buddy can help eliminate the “It’s my money and I’ll use it how I want” mentality.

If you’re married, you may think turning to your spouse for accountability is the best option. Yet, I recommend choosing another accountability buddy who can provide an unbiased opinion. This way it doesn’t always turn into a he said, she said argument.

What to Look for in an Accountability Buddy

Once you’ve decided to find an accountability buddy to help you with your financial goals, make sure you’ve put some thought into your goals and who can best help you achieve them. An ideal accountability buddy is someone who is on the same path as you, even if the two of you aren’t at the exact same point in your journeys.

For example, my accountability buddy and I are both working to pay off debt. But, we don’t have the exact same amount of debt left to pay off. If my accountability buddy had never been in debt and was working on other goals, like investing, she may not be so effective in understanding me and offering up ideas for my debt payoff journey.

Secondly, it works well to find an accountability buddy who perhaps has some different life goals than you. If your lives are too similar, for example, you may end up in an echo chamber. With a new perspective, however, your accountability buddy can help you come up with different ideas that can help you with your money matters.

In my case, I live on my own and I’m in my 20’s. My accountability buddy is married and in her 40’s. She can give me advice since she’s already experienced her 20’s and has lived to tell the tale. Meanwhile, I can help her by providing new ideas that she may not have heard of yet as I tend to keep up better with modern banking features, tools, and more.

Keep in mind that regardless of who you choose, having a financial accountability buddy should be beneficial for both parties. Once you find the right buddy to help you with your goals, you can then work on achieving success. Are you ready to buddy up?

 

Money Manners: How to Split the Rent With Your Roommates

Getting ready to move in with a roommate or two for the first time? If so, you probably have all kinds of questions on your mind.

You may be thinking about how to divvy up household chores or who gets which bedroom. But, you might also want to turn your attention to how you plan to split the rent. After all, sharing the rent and other bills is one of the best benefits of living with roommates as this can save you loads of money.

So, before you move into your new abode, take the time to figure out how you’ll split bills with your roommates. Along with that, make sure you sign a roommate agreement with your housemates as this will help you all avoid problems down the line.

To make things easier for you, take a look at our suggestions for living with roomies.

Create a Plan

Among the many perks of living with roommates, you can live in neighborhood or home that you may not be able to afford on your own.

But, before you decide to move in with roommates, come up with a plan ahead of time about how you will share the rent and other household costs. This may help you avoid future disagreements about who should be paying for what if money gets tight.

Because discussing money can be stressful, make this conversation more relaxed by sitting down with your future housemates over pizza or snacks to talk about rent and other shared bills. During this time, you can jointly decide how to divide up bills and any expenses that won’t be shared. It’s also a good idea to designate one person to take notes and write down all that was agreed upon. This helps avoid confusion down the line.

View Rentals Together

If possible, view rentals together so everyone gets a say. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each property so that you and your roommates can decide together on the best place to live.

If you can’t all go together to look at rental properties, try to go separately. Once everyone has seen all of the options, you can get together to compare notes and make a final decision.

Arriving at How Much Rent Each Will Pay

There is more than one way to figure out how much rent each of you will pay. As with many things, some calculations are simpler and others are more complicated. Here are three ways you might decide to split the rent.

Divide Evenly by Number of People

Perhaps the easiest way to figure out who pays what is to simply divide the total rent paid by the number of people living there. This doesn’t require figuring out specific room sizes and often works well if the bedrooms are about the same size.

By Bedroom Size

Oftentimes bedrooms will be different sizes – some bigger, some smaller. If some rooms are significantly bigger than others – perhaps offering larger closets or private bathrooms – it’s important to decide who will get which bedroom. And, this often means some roomies pay more than others. A simple way to factor in the rent here is to take the square footage of each bedroom and divide by the total square footage of the rental.

This figure represents what percentage of the total space each person occupies. Once you have this number, you can multiply it by the total rent payment to arrive at a rent amount for each person.

Figure in Extras

Something else to think about that was briefly touched on above is how to figure in any extras. For example, what if one person’s room has a larger closet or an en-suite bathroom? Or, what if one of the rooms open to an apartment complex pool or has a private balcony?

This might require putting a price on each “extra”. Once you have added these assigned extra costs into your basic rent figures, you will have a more accurate breakdown of the amount that each roommate should pay.

Create a Roommate Agreement

Now that you’ve found a place and decided how you’ll split the rent, it’s time to draw up a roommate agreement. This is a good place to include which room each roommate is assigned and how much the rent will be for each person. Also, you can use this agreement to detail how you will deal with the situation if someone decides to move out. Lastly, be sure to designate when rent will be collected from all to be paid to your landlord.

Once you have a roommate contract, make sure everyone signs it before the lease is finalized. Having an agreement like this in writing will help prevent arguments later. It can also ensure that nobody tries to renege on what was jointly decided upon.

Tips to Split Rent in a Stress-free Way

You may have heard your friends complain about this awkward situation: one person pays the rent yet has to repeatedly ask for money from the others. It does make sense for one person to be the collector as, after all, sending in multiple rent checks to your landlord gets confusing and the building manager may only accept one check or payment.

To avoid this issue, it’s best for one person to collect rent from their roommates sooner rather than later. And, to help ease the awkwardness of this situation, you have a few other options. You could designate a certain day of the month when rent checks are due to the roommate footing the bill. You might even pick a location for checks, such as a basket on the living room coffee table or a clip magnet on the fridge. Or, better yet, you can use an online tool like Venmo or a bank account like Chime. Chime members have the option to pay friends instantly on through the Chime mobile banking app or website.

Other Considerations

Once you all move in, it’s a wise idea to meet regularly to discuss anything that needs to be addressed in your shared home. Getting together on a regular basis for a roommate pow-wow also gives you all a chance to work through disagreements that may arise from time to time.

Keep in mind that moving in with other people can be stressful. But, if you mind your money manners and use the above tips, you may find that you can save money and enjoy your new roommates – at the same time.

 

How to Save Money During Wedding Season

Wedding invitations are piling up on your desk and all you can think is: “How will I ever afford this?” You want to support your friends and celebrate love. But let’s face it, wedding season can wreak havoc on your wallet — especially if you’re attending multiple weddings in the span of a few months.

According to data from the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, wedding guests in 2016 were expected to spend $703 — per wedding. Even worse, millennials spent about 27 percent more, or an expected $893 for every nuptial. With Americans slated to attend an average of three weddings per year, the costs of being a wedding guest can easily surpass the $2k mark.

So what can you do to save money during wedding season? Read on to learn more.

Save money on airfare

Traveling costs to get to the wedding can take the biggest chunk out of your budget, especially if it’s a destination wedding. To save money on flights, timing is everything.

Based on research from CheapAir.com, the best time to book travel is between one and three and a half months prior to the wedding. You can also use Yapta and Hopper to track prices so you can be sure you’re getting the best deal.

Lower costs on lodging

Do you have other friends attending the wedding as well? If so, share an Airbnb and split the cost. If you’re flying solo, see if you have any friends in the area that are willing to host you or let you stay at their place. You may be in luck. Last year I attended a wedding and stayed at my friend’s place while he was out of town. It worked out perfectly.

You can also use sites like Orbitz, Hotwire, Trivago, and Travelzoo to look for the best deals. If you’re willing to wing it, you can always use the Hotel Tonight app, which offers discounts on unsold rooms booked at the last-minute. For those looking to seriously save on lodging, consider a hostel or CouchSurfing.

How to gift on a budget

Wedding gifts are a big part of the wedding process.  But if you don’t play your cards right, you could be paying the price — literally.

Many wedding registries have tiered-prices — some low priced gifts, moderately priced gifts, and higher priced gifts. Guess which ones go first? If you don’t want to get priced out of affordable gifts from the registry, purchase a gift early on!

If you don’t act fast, you could also give cold hard cash and choose an amount you can afford. Based on the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, cash came in second place for wedding gift preferences, behind gifts from the registry.

If neither a registry gift or cash fits your budget, you can always make a gift yourself. In the digital age, a printed photo and frame can go a long way. Check out more DIY wedding gifts for a boost of inspiration.

Dress for less

If you’re attending several weddings in a short period of time, the last thing you want to do is to be caught on the ‘Gram or Facebook wearing the same outfit again and again. But if buying several dresses or suits is just not an option, what can you do?

For starters, consider buying a staple like a black dress which you can accessorize with different cardigans, shawls, jewelry or shoes to give it a new look. An affordable place to shop is actually Amazon. Sure, you can’t try on outfits but in most cases, you can return clothing within 30 days.

To save even more money, see if you can get a little help from your friends. Your friends might have clothes in a similar size that you can borrow. I did this a few years ago with no problem. I didn’t have to spend any money and I borrowed a dress that was sitting in my friend’s closet.

Looking for something a little higher end? You can also check out Rent the Runway to get serious discounts on designer wear. This way you can rent a different dress for each wedding.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out your local thrift shop where you might find some hidden gems.

Just say no

With wedding season in full swing, you may feel pressured to say “yes” to every invitation. But if you’re struggling to conquer debt or save money, consider politely declining. This is especially true if attending the wedding may send you into debt. Yeah, it’s not fun or ideal to sit out, but sometimes saying “no” is the best thing you can do for your finances. Here are some tips from The Knot on how to send your regrets.

Bottom line

Attending multiple weddings can add up fast. But with a little planning and creativity, you can lower costs as a wedding guest. By doing so, you can celebrate the nuptials of your closest friends, while keeping your financial life in good standing.

 

The Best Money Tools for Navigating Group Travel

Traveling with your inner circle of friends can be an epic experience. However, it can also be extremely stressful when it comes to handling schedules, responsibilities and financial constraints. Here are four group travel tips that can help you save time, money and let’s face it, your friendships:

Keep the lines of communication open but organized.

Creating a group chat using messaging apps like Whatsapp can be a good place to stay in touch while making plans and during the trip itself. But, I have found that it can easily become overwhelming to keep track of thoughts and ideas, especially in a large group. Here’s a better option: Use Google Docs to sketch out your itinerary, assign responsibilities and even include important reminders for everyone.

Having trouble deciding on a locale, things to do or places to see? Then, put it to a vote with Doodle. You could also consider using Travefy which combines all of the above features into a single app. This platform also allows you to track your group expenses which can come in very handy during and after your trip.

Figure out money matters ahead of time.

Speaking of finances, we all know how awkward it can be splitting the bill with a group of friends on a regular Friday night. You can only imagine how complicated it can be to split up vacation expenses. Yet, handling group vacation finances doesn’t have to be overwhelming if you plan correctly. Let’s break it down:

Understand that not everyone is working with the same budget. Therefore, the entire group needs to be in agreement when it comes to deciding on big ticket items and even smaller expenses like tipping. Here are some other line items to consider:

  • Transportation – more on this soon.
  • Lodging – will you be staying at an AirBnb, hostel or an all-inclusive resort?
  • Meals – don’t forget to include snacks.
  • Excursions – you might want to scale back on more pricey group tours or split into mini-groups during the trip.
  • Souvenirs – most people will want a keepsake to remember the experience.
  • Exchange rate fees for international travel – these can add up so it’s important to explore your options and plan ahead. Look for a bank account with no foreign transaction fees.
  • Incidentals – it’s always a good idea to budget a little extra for emergencies.

Consider the kitty system. A few years ago, I was in charge of buying groceries for a weekend getaway for a group of five friends. However, after the trip ended, it became a hassle to collect money from each them. The kitty system would have come in handy in this scenario. By having a kitty, each person in the group contributes an equal amount of money ahead of time to a fund. Then, after a purchase is made, any leftover money gets divvied up equally among the group.

Use an app to split the bill. An even easier way to split costs is to use Chime. Chime helps you do the math and sends a text message to your friends with a link to pay you back. If your friends are Chime members, they can use Pay Friends to instantly move funds. If your travel mates are not yet Chime members, they can always use Venmo to transfer money. Either way, these apps can help you simplify your finances so you don’t have to worry about dealing with cash or splitting checks.

Be fair in other ways. Apart from sharing costs, a Lifehacker article takes things a step further by asking the following questions: “If you’re splitting the AirBnb down the middle, who will get the bigger room? If one person has to do all the driving during your road trip, should the other one pay for a little more gas?” Make sure you take all factors into consideration so everyone feels the trip details are fair.

Navigating the skies…or the roadways.

Traveling to your final destination can be the most costly part of your trip and the hardest to plan. So, this gets its own section.

Most large airline carriers like American Airlines or Delta offer discounts and special perks if you have a group of at least 10 people. However, there are still other ways to get the best deals on your flights. For example, the travel app Hopper is an airfare price tracker app that uses data on pricing trends to estimate when fares will rise and fall.

Another option: Consider working with a travel agent (yes, these still exist) to help you score the best group deals on flights. A travel professional may also be able to find a low-priced package deal that combines flights, hotels and excursions. Of course, you’ll want to do some quick math to ensure that you’re actually saving money by choosing the all-in-one option.

If you plan on road-tripping to your getaway, you’ll have to do some advance planning as well – unless you want to spend hours in traffic and perhaps spend unnecessarily on gas. This is where Waze comes in. This navigation app offers real-time traffic and alerts based on information provided by a community of users. According to U.S. News & World Report, the app also helps you “pinpoint the most affordable gas station on your route, keeping you and your wallet content on the road.”

Remember your “why” and have fun.

Sometimes I get so caught up planning and sticking to a schedule that I forget to live in the moment and enjoy the company of good friends. I also often neglect to take photos and share them. If you’re like me, consider asking someone else in the group to capture memories and save them in an easy to access spot like Dropbox or Flickr.

As you can see, if you use these tips for navigating group travel, your next trip with friends can be, well, a true vacation. Here’s to a hassle-free next adventure!