A new take on Gifts : Guest Post

Mr & Mrs Quest are a Los Angeles based couple working to achieve financial independence and retire early at www.ourquestforfire.com See their take on buying gifts.

Mr. Quest and I have been together for over a decade and rarely buy each other gifts. Is it because we are stingy misers or do we struggle to get by? Not at all. We just hate the pressure.

By pressure, I mean the timing of it all. For example, Christmas always falls in December and we just feel that there is so much pressure to buy the perfect gift at that time. What if he doesn’t need or want anything? Am I buying something just for the sake of buying something? Am I just throwing away money for the sake of having a Christmas gift for him? It’s stressful. It’s especially stressful when I’m wandering around the mall or on Amazon but I just can’t seem to find the right present for him.

Ever since we adopted a more minimalism approach to our lifestyle, we really want to shy away from collecting a bunch of stuff in our house. Instead, for big yearly celebrations like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or our anniversary, we spend our money on an experience. For example, a broadway show, a short trip (with the help of credit card points), or even a nice dinner out. We have fewer things but we have so many more memories now. It’s more fun to look back at old pictures to see what we did together than having a random gift we bought each other for Christmas.

This doesn’t mean we never buy each other gifts. Because let’s face it, everyone likes gifts. Without the pressure of finding the right gift for that right occasion, we tend to buy each other presents during random times in the year. These random times are great little surprises because there is no expectation for a gift. These presents can be something he was eyeing for a while and I happen to see it on sale. Maybe it’s Mr. Quest buying my favorite chocolate candy bar as a small treat while he’s at the grocery store. By not being confined to a certain time to give a present, I can get him what he wants at a discounted price. Also, the more expensive the gift does not necessarily equate to the amount of appreciation I feel. Sometimes getting my favorite candy can solicit the same feelings as getting a nice sweater.

We like to keep things simple and our gift-giving culture works for us. More importantly, it helps us save too. Is gift shopping ever stressful for you? What is your gift-giving culture like in your relationship?

Grocery shopping like a pro

grocery

Want to make your money stretch?

Want to be sure that you’re getting the most for your money?

Want to spend less time in the store?

Use these 6 tips to make the best of your time and money when grocery shopping:

1 – Know your budget

The first and most important point is to have a budget! If you don’t have one yet then you may want to start by taking the 30-challenge of tracking your everyday expenses. This will give you a good idea of where and how you’re currently spending your money. This is a great way to start your budget.

If you already have a budget; well-done!

2 – Make a list

Having a shopping list will not only clear your mind and take the “I’m forgetting something” feeling away, it can also speed up your shopping. You can keep a list on your fridge or on your phone and add to whenever you find you need something. Then, before your next shop, read it through and add any extra items you need. Be like Santa and check your list twice.

If you are doing a big shopping spree then categorize your groceries by the following (or something similar that works for you):

  • Fruit & Veg (fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs)
  • Frozen goods (anything in the freezers)
  • Dairy (any dairy goods)
  • Meat (if you eat it)
  • Dry goods / Other (tins, spices, bread, juices and anything that you would store in your cupboard at home)
  • Toiletries (not really groceries but needed)
  • Cleaning products

Generally stores keep similar type items together and if you have a list of what you need from each area it saves you from walking around the store several times. You can categorize your items in whatever way makes the most sense to you, but don’t make your system too complicated as you probably won’t keep it up then.

3 – Don’t shop when you are hungry

If you’re hungry you’ll probably pick things off the shelf that you want to eat now! You’ll also over-cater for your next meal as your poor starving brain cannot deal with the sight of all the food. Another concern is that if you are really hungry and feeling that your blood sugar is low, then you will most likely rush to get through your shopping as quickly as possible. Saving money and sticking to a budget will be your lowest priority. Hangry is a real word!

Keep yourself from temptation and rather delay your shopping trip if you’re hungry.

4 – Check prices per unit

Stores change their prices often and we’re conditioned to think that the larger quantity “bulk buying” is always cheaper. Well, it isn’t! Don’t assume something is cheaper just because it’s in a bigger box or because the packaging tells you to “buy in bulk and save”. Always check the price per unit. Not all stores display the “per unit” price but that’s when you need to take out a calculator and work out which size is best to buy.

5 – Use cash

If you only take cash to the store and no credit or debit cards then you really have no option to spend too much. The embarrassment of not having enough money will surely drive even the most out of control shopper to calculate exactly what they have in their trolley. It’s amazing how good you become at shopping when you only have a set amount of cash and no more.

6 – Join the store loyalty program

Most stores have a loyalty card (points card) of some variety. The savings vary but if you shop at the same store often then it is worth joining their program and using whatever savings are offered to you.

Be aware of the marketing though and remember that they will try to entice you to spend more. So remember your budget and shopping list and don’t be tempted to veer off.

 

Have an Emergency fund

It’s always a good idea to have an Emegency Fund available where you can quickly access money. You never know when something is going to happen. Think of how you would cope with a car service which costs 3-times what you expected, or if you needed to be admitted to hospital but your medical insurance requires you to pay upfront. Perhaps your washing machine suddenly stops working, or a power failure causes everything in your freezer to go bad. You could even have your credit card blocked and be in a difficult spot for a few days.

It’s just useful knowing that you have something saved for that rainy day. And, it is a great stress relief knowing that you are sorted for emergencies.

emergency

How much do you need?

Circumstances are different for everyone so you need to make this decision yourself. Think about things that may have happened in the past where you suddenly needed extra money. Also think about things that could happen.

This is certainly not an exact science, rather just a ball-park figure which would make you feel comfortable and less stressed. Having something is better than nothing, so if you really can’t figure out how much to aim for, just set a low limit and see how it goes.

Type of account?

The three important factors about the account you use for this Emergency Fund are:

The purpose of an Emergency Fund is that you can access the money immediately. Anytime, day-or-night. Imagine needing to draw cash at at ATM at 2am – would you be able do so? Even if it involved using your online banking to transfer money between accounts; as long as it can be done quickly.

If you have a home loan from a bank, it could be very helpful to stash this extra cash in that account. Provided of course that the home loan account allows for withdrawals or transfers. Doing this would allow you to save interest on your debt, and this is often high. If you’re not sure contact your financial institution.

Have you considered keeping all your savings in one account and simply tracking the various goals in a spreadsheet? Have a look at how to use Savings Pockets to simplify your life.

How to start?

The best way to start anything is just to start! You don’t need to have enough money or know exactly what you’re doing before you start; just make the conscious decision. A few guidelines though would be:-

  1. Decide on your number. How much would you like to have saved in this fund?
  2. Decide which bank account to save it in – investigate the options but remember to keep your life (and admin) as simple as possible.
  3. Create a budget if you haven’t already.
  4. Set yourself a goal to save the necessary funds.

Once you have started you will see that circumstances may change, or you may need to use your fund sooner than expected. That is all fine, just relook at this often and be sure to be working towards this.

Is it better to Save or to Pay Off Debt?

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 1.51.16 PMIt’s easy to feel pressured to have a savings account or some type of investment. Is it better though to be saving or to be paying off debt?

Let’s have a look at some ways to calculate the answer…

Interest Rate

Generally speaking (and almost always) the interest that you earn on savings is far less than what you would pay on debt. Let’s look at an example…

You bank account may give you 4 – 6% (as an example) and fixed-term savings accounts may give you a bit more. Unit Trusts or other investments will probably be even more although they vary each month but you can get a general idea of the growth by looking at an investment summary sheet.

Debt – whether on store accounts or credit card is often charged a much higher interest rate. Add to that “fees” and penalties and all sorts of made up costs. Store accounts are designed to trick you because they often offer 3 or 6 months interest free debt, but remember that they charge you other fees each month (club fees or Special Member fees). And, if your debt is not paid within the interest-free period, they hit you with very high rates.

Thus; find out the interest that you would earn if you save your money and find the interest that you are charged (look for your account where you are charged the highest interest). That should give you your answer. Most of the time it is better to pay off debt!

Tip: If you have a home loan that you can access (pay extra into and withdraw when you need it) then you can save money by paying off your loan. If you pay extra into your loan account you will earn interest at the rate of your loan (currently in South Africa home loans are offered at around 12% interest). This is a good way to save for emergencies but at the same time you are paying off debt.

The Cost of Debt

Let’s look at a simple example of how much debt can cost you. If you have 1000 and you put in in a savings account for 1 month with an interest rate of 4.5% you would earn 3.75 interest. If you owe 1000 on a loan and the monthly interest rate is 20% you would pay 16.66 in interest.

Thus, if you “save” your 1000 for the month it is actually costing you money! You will have to pay 16.66 interest on your loan and yet you only earn 3.75 on your savings. You have to pay 12.92.

In this example, if you choose to save the extra money, it is actually costing you money and not saving at al!

Risk

Did you know that is most cases (if not all) the creditor (person or company you owe money to) can call up your debt at any time and insist that you pay it immediately. This is especially true for banks who can call up your home loan. This would put you in a terrible situation and could be disastrous to you and your family.

Debt always comes with a risk and therefore it is better to pay your debt as quickly as possible! Being in charge of your money means that you minimize risk by knowing and understanding the consequences of what you do.

Peace of Mind

Having debt causes stress. It’s not nice knowing that you owe someone money and especially if you are struggling to pay it. The consequence of not paying your debt can be dire and this all adds to your stress levels.

If you have the choice of saving 500 in your bank or paying debt off you should consider the peace of mind that you could “buy” yourself. Having no debt would be a wonderful feeling so if you can get to that state by slowly planning, budgeting and working towards being debt-free this would bring great relief to life.

Summary

It is probably a good idea to have a small amount of savings that can be used for emergencies; but generally speaking it is far better to pay off debt rather than save. If you have any spare money at the end of the month work towards paying off your debt!

Have a look at this article on paying off your store cards and apply that principle to any forms of debt that you may have.

Why Save?

This site is all about saving, budgeting and in general taking charge of your money. But saving is hard and requires you to make sacrifices. Is it really worth the effort? You might think that it’s silly to work so hard and then not spend your money; surely that’s why you work and earn money in the first place!

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Well, to start with, you need to find balance as you do need to enjoy life and spend money on things that can bring you joy. You need to spend time with loved ones and have fun. There is an old saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. We don’t want to become dull (and possibly cantankerous) simply because we focus so hard on saving that we forget how to live. To help you find this balance you definitely need to create a budget and a plan.

There is of course the concept of “living for today and enjoying each day to its fullest” but at the same time we need to look at “the bigger picture”. Saving is your tool to reach your goals and dreams. This is something that is completely in your control and the amount you save, the goals you make and the success is all up to you!

Many people feel that they simply don’t earn enough in order to reach any goals and thus don’t even bother trying. If you seriously look at what you earn and what you spend, you may find that there is actually more than you think. Unless you can find a way to earn more money, you should certainly be looking at where your money is disappearing to.

Here are some reasons why you should save (make your own list of keywords to get you started).

  • Better retirement plan
  • Less stress knowing that you have some money saved in the bank
  • A debt-free (thus stress free) life
  • Your children’s education
  • Your dream trip overseas
  • Your health (being able to afford better choices)

Why not start right away with your first goal?

Pay yourself first

This is one of those things that you’ve probably heard many times before and you know you should do it, but most likely you don’t. So let’s look at what is meant by paying yourself first, and how it will help you save.

To pay yourself first really means that once you have set up a monthly budget and worked out how much you can save each month, then you should transfer that amount into a savings pocket immediately after being paid. If your bank allows, you can set up a recurring payment to transfer the money each month.

We’re used to setting up payments for accounts and debt repayments, but we seldom take our savings “payment” seriously. You should think of this as another account that you have to pay.

The advantage of transferring the savings amount out to a Savings Pocket immediately is that you cannot be tempted to spend it. You can’t spend what you don’t have (well you can with a credit card but that is a discipline you need to solve for yourself)

Challenge

Work out how much you can save (either actual savings or extra payments towards debt) and set up an automatic payment now to transfer this money. If you’re not sure how to create a budget, read this blog.

Create a simple budget

If you’ve never made a budget before then you should really start with something simple. Not that you ever really have to get too complex, but as you work with a budget over time you may find things that you want to change or situations that don’t work easily with your budget.

Before starting it would be good to know how much you’re currently spending. If you don’t have a clue then take the 30 Day Challenge of keeping track of each and every expense.

I like to use a spreadsheet for my budgeting as it makes the maths easy; you can however use any tool including a notepad and pen.

Start off with your income. You should hopefully know how much you earn each month, but if not, go find your salary slip. I would use my “net salary” (the money that is actually paid into my account) as my income as there is nothing I can do about taxes and other deductions off my salary. Of course, you may have access to a company store or canteen where purchases are automatically deducted off your salary – and these expenses you have full control over. So, use your full salary less taxes less compulsory expenses that you don’t control. (You can use your gross salary and show taxes on your budget, but that depends if you want that kind of detail)

If you have any other stable income (that you can rely on) then add it in as well. Examples would be over-time that you always work, rental income or a personal loan that someone is paying back.

With the Income section completed, now it’s time for the hard work. You need to categorize your spending into categories that make sense to you. Everyone has different spending habits and there is no “one fits all” solution. Categories could be things such as:

  • Satellite TV
  • School fees
  • Loans
  • Insurance
  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Entertainment
  • Fuel
  • Telephone
  • Club memberships
  • Golf
  • Other (for small things that don’t fit into a category of their own)
  • etc….

Although most expenses are monthly, some may be annual expenses (e.g. club membership) or possibly even quarterly expenses. The best way to handle these is to work out the monthly amount and budget per month and save the money in a specific savings pocket so that you don’t get a shock when you need to pay the money. It’s really easy to do once you’ve set up your “system” and reminders on your phone.

The most important aim of a budget is to ensure that you earn more than you spend! If you don’t, then you have to spend less. It’s that simple, but in practice it may take a few months to change your spending habits. You may want to consider cancelling store cards as these make spending far too easy!

Basic Budget

Now that you have decided how much you can spend in each category, you must stick to the budget! You will find that you cannot control expenses exactly as you plan as things happen and we react accordingly. However, if you overspend on the Groceries category then you need to underspend somewhere else to ensure that your overall expenses do not exceed the budget.

I also like to have a category for “Other” expenses which are often unplanned things that come up.

Once you have created your budget, see if you can find any extra cash or ways to save money.

Challenge

Create your budget now!