Save money while also enjoying life

Budget Spa Treatments

by Ashley
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Every girl loves a trip to the spa to relax after a long week, but not every budget has room for that luxury. While a massage and a manicure are fabulous ways to unwind, at many spas services can be quite expensive. With a little creativity and a few minutes of research, you can get spa-quality treatments for at-home prices.

Find local deals. Log on to an online resource like spafinder.com and search for special rates in your area. Several times a year, spas offer promotional discounts to market their services. Keep an eye out for these deals by signing up for newsletters and e-mail updates. Another option is to dust off your phone book and flip to the spas section. Smaller local day spas often don’t have an updated website. Call a few places and ask when they’re having their next sale or promotion.

Look for student discounts.
Massage and beauty schools train up-and-coming therapists and aestheticians. Part of the training includes hands-on practice. Beginning students will sometimes give free massages or manicures, though it can be nerve-racking to be at the mercy of a brand-new therapist. Instead, sign up for services provided by advanced students. While these services do have a cost associated, the discount is steep and you can feel more confident in the student’s abilities. For added savings, take advantage of student rates for services beyond massages, including hair cut and color, facials, and reflexology.

Discover package rates. If you’re planning a business trip or vacation, check out the spas in hotels. Often, guests are eligible for a package rate along with room reservations. Another fun option is to organize a group of friends to do a daylong package. Spas offer the same services at a group discount, and with group packages, additional goodies like a light lunch or product samples are usually included. Just be sure you set it up: The organizer usually gets a steeper discount for doing the planning.

Get creative. Retailers host in-store events that sometimes include a chair massage or hand massage. Some yoga and Pilates studios include deep-tissue massages as a perk to purchasing class packages. The same goes for gym memberships and personal-training packages. Keep your eyes peeled and use a little creativity, and you may never again have to pay full price for spa services.


Do You Have a Savings Plan?

by Ashley

The monthly paycheck you get (cha-ching!) is a reflection of your hard work. While setting aside part of your salary may sound important, it can be hard to figure out just where to put your extra dollars (especially when you’d rather use the money to buy an expensive handbag). Read on for a breakdown of savings options.

Savings Account: Perhaps the most basic of savings plans, this is just one step up from tucking coins under your mattress. A savings account does have advantages, however, especially if you’re just starting to build an emergency fund. Most savings accounts let you deposit money at any time, withdraw it at your leisure, and even make transfers online. If you don’t have a savings account already, you can set one up at your local bank.

While your dollars will earn interest in a savings account, keep in mind that the earnings will be minimal. The interest rate is usually quite low, ranging from below 1% to 3%. Once you’ve stored up enough cash for a rainy day, you’re ready to move on to other investing options.

Money Markets: There are actually two types of accounts that fall into this category: money market accounts and money market funds. You can get a money market account through your bank. Interest rates attached to money market accounts are significantly higher than those that come with a basic savings account. Money market accounts are FDIC-insured, meaning if anything happens to the bank, the government will make sure you get your money.

A money market fund is similar to a money market account, except that it is not FDIC-insured. If you’re not sure which choice is better for you, ask a financial adviser about your options. Also, head to Bankrate.com for in-depth coverage on money market accounts and money market funds.

With either option, expect to have certain restrictions on the account. Most include a minimum balance requirement, as well as a limit on how many withdrawals can be made each month. Ask about transaction fees and other charges before signing up.

Certificates of Deposit: Also known as a CD, this option usually includes a higher interest rate than a money market account or fund. With a CD, you invest a specific amount of money for a certain period of time. When the time period, or term, ends, you receive the amount you invested plus the interest you earned. The average term for a CD ranges from three months to five years.

One thing to remember with CDs is that you are not allowed to withdraw the money until the term ends. If you need to take it out beforehand, expect to be charged a steep penalty. To avoid this dilemma, make sure you have other sources of cash you can easily access before you get a CD.

Bonds: From low-risk U.S. Treasury bonds to high-risk corporate bonds, this type of investment comes in a wide variety of forms. When you purchase a bond, you’re really lending someone money. That person, or institution, will return your money, along with the interest you earn, after a certain period of time. If you’re interested in taking your investing to this level, you’ll first want to fully understand the market. Visit Investopedia.com for a complete lesson on bonds. Check in with a financial adviser to discuss your options.

The key to a great savings plan is to start slow. Once you’ve built up a cushion, you can branch out into other areas. You’ll soon have a nice nest egg to fall back on.


Live Well for Less

by Ashley
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We’re all trimming our budgets these days, which also means we’re steering clear of any wallet-draining vices like a dieter avoiding a doughnut shop. And that’s a shame, because that daily latte habit or weekend movie indulgence gives us something to look forward to during a stressful workweek. It’s time to live well for less.

Fortunately, there’s no need to go cold turkey. You can still enjoy your vices—and save money—by changing your habits so that they’ll cost less. Here’s how.

A Cheaper Cup of Coffee
The best way to save on your morning coffee habit is to downsize it. Start ordering your drink in a smaller size and you’ll save a chunk of change every day. Bring your own mug to snag additional savings. And, if you’re a Starbucks addict, start paying for your drink with a preloaded gift card. A prepaid card helps with budgeting, and Starbucks gives users pricey add-ons like soy milk and syrups for free.

Happy-Hour Hints
It’s hard to pass up a post-work nosh with your closest associates. To save in this category, consider turning your dinner dates into happy-hour get-togethers. You can still enjoy their company but will spend less on the same food and drink you’d sample come dinnertime.

A Whittled Wine Budget
If you pour a glass (or two) of wine to unwind after work, you know that a nightly wine habit can quickly drain a bank account. The irony here is that you can save on wine by buying more of it, or at least more of it at once. When you purchase a case of wine (typically 12 bottles) instead of individual bottles, most grocery stores, wineries, and bottle shops will give you a discount of 15 to 20 percent off your purchase.

A Budget-Friendly Blowout
When you’re polishing your professional image, salon bills add up—especially if you insist on frequenting a high-end salon. The key to saving money and looking good is to put your faith in a local beauty school. Beauty school students can cut and color your hair and perform other salon services for a fraction of the price a big-name salon does. If you’re worried about working with a novice, ask for a senior student or have their instructor nearby during your appointment.

Fine Films for the Frugal-Minded
Weekly trips to the theater are a big budget buster, but not everyone is willing to save money by watching blockbusters on their television at home. Find a middle ground by locating a second-run theater in your neighborhood. You’ll have to wait a few weeks (or months) before the buzzworthy movies arrive, but your ticket price will drop drastically for the same experience the big-chain cinemas offer.

Wallet-Friendly Reading Material

If you can’t pass the grocery-store checkout without grabbing a glossy, it’s time to order a yearly magazine subscription. Or, join a service like MAGHOUND  that delivers subscribers a selection of magazines each month for a set price. Finally, try the library, where you can check out back issues and novels from your favorite author for free.


Pay Off College Debt

by Ashley

Getting a degree is a big boost for your career: Statistics show college grads earn more, on average, than others. But while it may feel like your college days flew by, those tuition bills can linger for decades. Here, a guide to help you gain control of your student loans and pay them off ASAP.

Start with a plan. If you’ve taken out more than one type of loan, it can be hard to keep track of the different interest rates and payment schedules. Take some time to sit down and look through your loans. Figure out the total amount you owe (don’t get scared—you don’t have to pay it all at once). Also look at the different payment schedules that are available. Call the loan issuer to discuss which payment plan would work best for you. Many student loans let you defer payments if you go on to grad school, can’t find a job, or have an unexpected financial crisis. You can also extend the life of the loan to reduce your monthly payments. Find a system that’s manageable and fits into your lifestyle.

Consider consolidation. Consolidating all of your loans into one can have advantages. You may get a lower fixed interest rate by doing so. And having all of your loans in one place might be easier to handle. However, depending on the type of loan you have, consolidation may not be an option. SmartMoney.com lists reasons to think twice before consolidating. Before making a decision, research carefully and ask your lenders about your options.

Make more than minimum payment. Once you have a plan and have decided whether or not consolidating is right for you, you’re ready to pay off those loans. Each month, if possible, try to pay more than the minimum amount required. By doing so, you’ll chip away at the principal amount and reduce the overall debt. If you have multiple loans, choose one account to focus your extra cash on. Pay off the loan completely, and then concentrate on another one. The faster you get rid of college debt, the sooner your income will be free for fun splurges.

Look for forgiveness. You may be able to reduce your student loans by getting involved in certain areas of work or volunteer programs. If you’re a teacher, for instance, and you take a job in a low-income area or a place that has a teacher shortage, you may qualify. Public service employees who meet certain criteria are also eligible. Read more about this option at the Federal Student Aid website.

Having to pay off student loans is not necessarily a bad thing; it means you have an education that will help you move up the corporate ladder fast. By understanding your options and finding a payment plan that works for you, you can put the loans behind you for good. Once you do, be sure to celebrate—you deserve it!


Creative Ways to Make Extra Money

by Ashley

Need extra money?You’ve been singing the budget blues ever since your 401(k) took a nosedive and your friends started getting laid off. Frankly, living like a college student and surviving on ramen noodles and generic soda has lost its charm. We hear ya! If your boss vetoed your plea for a raise or you’re nearing the end of those unemployment checks, then this article is for you.

Moonlight. Retail jobs may be slim pickings right now, but if you can find a shift that starts after 5 p.m., then you’ll also bag an employee discount. More flexible options include babysitting, pet-sitting, or plant-sitting on the weekends for extra money. Those with a knack for writing, graphic design, Web development, or other creative skills might pick up a few freelance projects. However, if you’re collecting unemployment, then you’ll want to double-check how an extra income will impact your eligibility. And if you’re employed (and want to stay that way), then find out if your company has a policy against moonlighting. You may be able to get around it by working in an unrelated field (banker by day, bartender by night).
Sell your stuff. Last season’s DKNY jeans could be this season’s cash. Ditto on all those unread books and unwatched DVDs languishing on your shelf. Some consignment shops buy items outright, but you’ll have to split the proceeds with the store. By doing a little extra legwork and setting up a listing on eBay or another online shop, you’ll be able to command a higher price. Find a local buyer for larger items like furniture and electronics by posting a free listing on Craigslist (just be sure to follow their instructions to avoid fraud). And if you’re the crafty type, then consider selling some of your wares on Etsy.com.
Join a focus group. A short, one-shot focus group can pay anywhere from $50 to several hundred bucks. All you have to do is show up and give your opinion about products, issues, or company messaging, which you do among your friends for free. Look for focus groups on your local edition of Craigslist (search “focus group” and “market research”) or sign up for alerts through FindFocusGroups.com. In most cases, you must go it alone (bringing friends can bias your opinion) and you’ll have to answer a set of questions about your buying habits, your brand preferences, and the like before you can qualify. Still, women ages 18–35 are a hot consumer demographic, so it’s likely that you’ll get the chance to give your opinion in exchange for a little extra green.


Best Sites to Manage Your Money

by Ashley

From your rent to your gym membership, student loans to credit-card bills, the list of things you owe money on is endless (and overwhelming)! So how can you manage your hard-earned cash and have some left over for a social life? These free websites put your personal finances into perspective and make it simple to take charge of your money.

Mint.com
Just like the name, this site is a refreshing, stress-free way to manage your money. Setup takes less than five minutes, so no excuses! All you have to do is enter a valid e-mail address and the log-in info for your online bank, student loans, credit cards, and other investment accounts you want to consolidate in Mint. Then, Mint automatically pulls together the data and categorizes all your purchases, showing you how much you spend on everything from after-work drinks with the girls to gas and groceries. Log in daily to track your budget and get the big picture of your finances in seconds. Other cool features include a system that alerts you when your balance is low, if there’s unusual activity in your accounts, when you have upcoming bill payments, and if there are banking fees. Plus, Mint looks for ways to help you save money by finding products and bank offerings that are relevant to your life. And finally, you can compare your spending habits to what others typically spend in the same category. You’ll know once and for all if your shoe obsession is walking all over your checking account…
SmartyPig.com
This site is like having an online, grown-up piggy bank. While these days you’re most likely saving up for a beach vacation rather than Malibu Barbie, the concept is the same. You want something specific, and this goal-oriented site helps you pay for it with monthly contributions (automatically deducted from your bank account). You can even create a “public savings goal” where you allow friends and family to see your financial goals and make contributions. Someone better teach Grandma how to use the Internet…ASAP! SmartyPig offers a competitive interest rate, and once you reach your goal, they can help you redeem it with the right retailer. For added motivation, they’ll send monthly e-mails encouraging you to keep up the good work. So go back to your childhood money-saving strategies with this simple way to save. The website’s design is just as cute as a real piggy bank.


INGDirect.com

Creating a no-fee, no-minimum, high-rate Orange Account through ING Direct is a great way to put away money without putting in a lot of effort. By setting up an Automatic Savings Plan, you can make sure a fixed amount of money is transferred regularly to your Orange Savings account from your checking account. Even if it’s just $25 a week, in a month you’ll have $100 in savings that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise. All you have to do is go to the website to transfer money from your ING account to your checking, and vice versa. And be sure to take advantage of their online tips and tools like the Savings Account Shopping List, monthly e-mails with Savvy Savings Tips, and printable forms like the Wedding Budget and Vacation Worksheet.


StickK.com

Do you always make fabulous New Year’s resolutions and then fall off the wagon by Jan. 3? Well, make them stick all year long with StickK.com. This website helps you stay committed to a goal (whether it’s saving money or losing 20 pounds by your high school reunion) by holding you financially accountable if you don’t follow the “commitment contract” you have set for yourself. If you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, you pay an amount that you’ve agreed to in advance. You’ll be more motivated if you risk losing money (perhaps to a charity whose mission you don’t actually agree with!) when you break your resolution. Donation: 25 bucks. Scaring yourself into saving money? Priceless.


10 Easy Ways to Save Money

by Ashley

If only money really did grow on trees...

Dealing with the credit crunch can almost never be called fun, but with a little imagination you should be able to find ways to save a few extra bucks here and there. Here are 10 switches that can add up to big savings.

1. Switch from in-store to online. It’s no secret that if you sign up for a company’s newsletter, you’ll be sent information on sale items, free delivery promotions, and more. Take advantage of these by logging on and snagging your purchases without having to invest extra time or gas money in getting to a store. Also be sure to Google the store name and “coupons” or “discounts” to see if there are any other offers floating around that you could take advantage of.

2.  Switch from luxury to basic.
It’s easy to find reasons to splurge, but with a few adjustments you can still treat yourself to something nice without blowing your budget. Opt for cotton instead of cashmere, sparkling wine instead of champagne, tap water instead of bottled, generic instead of brand—you get the picture. Compromise on these everyday items for a month and no doubt you’ll be shocked by your savings.

3.  Switch from far-flung to close by.
Everyone dreams about that trip of a lifetime to Fiji, the show of a lifetime on Broadway, the meal of a lifetime in Paris, but what you have to remember is that “once in a lifetime” usually means just that. Save your pennies for these ultimate blowouts, but in the meantime find some substitutions close to home for more frequent visits.

4.   Switch from evening to afternoon.
Check out any restaurant’s menu and you’ll see that lunch is less expensive than dinner.  Same goes for theater tickets, some movie tickets, taxis without a surcharge, and sometimes even hair and beauty salon promotions. For the price of getting up and out just a little earlier, you could save yourself some major cash.

5. Switch from store-bought to homemade.
Yes, it’s infinitely easier to stop by your favorite boutique and pick up a gift than to create something all by yourself. But not only does making something show others that you care, it also shows concern for your bank statement. Buying supplies and making a cake, holiday cards, knit scarves, or scrapbooks will likely cost you less money than purchasing the equivalent item at a store.

6. Switch from dinner party to open house.
Hosting a dinner party often costs less than taking others out, but hosting an open house usually costs even less than a dinner party. Provide a few soft drinks, beer, wine, and nibbles and you’re good to go.  Sharing the hostess duties with a roommate or friend will cut your costs even further, as will making your open house a potluck, so all you’ll have left to worry about is having a good time!

7.   Switch from trendy to unique. Keeping up with trends can be expensive. What’s hot today is cold tomorrow, so take yourself out of this race and instead opt for a style all your own. Build up a unique image by purchasing pieces you love, rather than throwing money at each new trend as it comes along. Vintage shops and sites are often perfect for inspiration and quirky accessories to set your style apart, and shopping at sample sales and flea markets can really save you some cash.

8. Switch from extra heat to extra layers. Speaking of cash, why watch yours burn every time you turn up the thermostat?  Bundle up with an extra sweater, a cozy pair of socks, a snuggly scarf, and/or your favorite blanket instead. The more layers you wear, the less you’ll need your home heat.

9.   Switch from out of season to in season. Eating local is good for your health, good for Mother Earth’s health, and good for your local economy’s health, but if that’s not enough to convince you, then remember that it’s also good for your bank account’s health. Local, in-season products cost less than out-of-season products that have to be shipped from around the world. To find out what’s in season right now, log on to eattheseasons.com.

10.  Switch from quantity to quality.
It can be tempting to buy the cheapest clothes possible when you’re trying to save money, but often this is a false economy. Cheap clothes are usually made from cheap fabrics with shoddy craftsmanship, so they are much more likely to rip, stain, fade, or otherwise wear out in just a little while. This means that you could spend a great deal of money just replacing items every season. Instead, opt for the best quality you can afford, particularly when it comes to coats and shoes, and you should be able to wear them for years to come—leaving you more money to play around with next year, and the year after, and the year after. And maybe even the year after that.


How to Save on a Small Salary

by Ashley

Many women are working for lower hourly wages and putting off saving for the day a bigger paycheck comes their way. But just because you’re making $12 an hour doesn’t mean you can’t achieve financial security.  In fact, it’s all the more reason to get smart about saving. Just how do you save on a small salary?  Pam Krueger, host of the PBS show Money Track has the answers.

“Achieving financial security really isn’t that difficult. It’s simply about the way you approach it,” says Pam Krueger, “Once you take the first step to saving and investing, you will feel empowered and in control.”

Train yourself. A big part of being a good saver is making a habit of putting your money away. Start doing so early and as often as possible and you’ll have a nice nest egg down the road. “Set up automatic monthly transfers between your bank and brokerage firm,” says Kreuger. “You won’t even miss the money.”

Free up cash. To invest, you need to find cash to contribute to a savings account or the stock market—even if it is only a dollar a day. Start paying attention to where and how you spend your pocket change and the small bills sitting in your wallet. “As cornball as it sounds, there is this campaign called Feed the Pig,” says Krueger. “You use the change found in your purse or pockets at the end of the day to ‘feed the pig,’ and pretty soon, the pig will be full and that’s your $1 a day.”



Start a credit-union savings account.
Money that you need to keep safe and accessible should go into a savings account at a credit union (and everyone, Krueger says, should have about $1,500 to $3,000 saved in an emergency reserve fund before they start investing). Credit-union savings accounts have lower fees, more negotiable terms, and more competitive interest rates than traditional bank savings accounts. “In general, they are also just friendlier and more approachable,” says Krueger. “And the low fees help keep more money in your pocket than in theirs.”

Invest in a low-cost index fund.
“Index funds keep costs down so every penny goes directly towards increasing your portfolio,” she says. “It also gives you instant diversification and instant access to really safe stock-market investing because it spreads your money around.” To buy stocks with small bundles of cash, visit Sharebuilder.com or consider going directly to a low-cost brokerage firm, such as Vanguard or Fidelity, that issues the index fund you are interested in.

Do it yourself. “If you are interested in investing in a particular company, like any of the major companies listed on the S&P 500, consider cutting out the middleman and investing directly through that company,” says Krueger. This method is called DRIP, or Dividend Reinvestment Plan investing; what it means is you are cutting out commission fees and smartly reinvesting the dividends yourself to increase the value of your investment portfolio—and your financial stability down the road.


Spending Makeover

by Ashley

With salaries shrinking and jobs on the decline, it’s the perfect time for a makeover on our spending habits.

It’s never too late to learn how to budget and to save your hard earned cash. If you didn’t get the money saving gems from your parents – no need to worry – I’ll pass along my easy money saving tips.

Cut The Cable
Cable can cost more than $1,000 a year. Most TV shows and movies can be viewed online. You might have to deal with a commercial interruption but it’s much better than paying for it. It’s also much better than having to deal with the annoying cable networks…’cough cough’ Time Warner…

Read
I’m a huge reader but if I bought all the books I read in a year – I’d be broke. My dirty little secret is the library. When was the last time you actually stepped foot in one? The NYC library lets you reserve books online – even ebooks and eMagazines! All you need to do is sign up and sync up. You can also rent DVDs, and CD’s. I’ll admit that my friends teased me about this…until they signed up and became instant converts. As a thank you, one of my friends got me this cute tote bag. I use it to lug around my books :) .

Hang Out
When was the last time you had a game night? A great way to save money -especially living in a city like New York – is to hang out at someone’s apartment. Why not host a game night? Scrabble, Taboo, Apples to Apples, a deck of cards and Pictionary all cost under $20 and can be used for years. Invest in these items and spend some quality time with your friends. Insert cheesy Full House reference here…

 


Economics 101

by Ashley

Hi, my name is Ashley Meyers. I’m in my early twenties, living in NYC, and working at an entry level job. I’ve never once defaulted on a loan, had an overdraft or reached out for help from the bank of mom and dad. I’m lucky, my parents taught me how to save, budget but how to also enjoy life.

I’ve decided to blog because far too often I’ve seen my friends and coworkers make terrible money decisions. They didn’t have the same money guidance I had. These are things you never learn in school. You’re supposed to just pick them up as you grow up. But plenty of people haven’t – which is why the country is unemployed, and overwhelmed with financial destruction.

Enjoy the weekend and I’ll be back on Monday for my first dose of financial reality.

 


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