a year of Wooden: week 17

Hi, friends! Happy Monday! Time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge, wrapping up our last week of April before we transition into May…

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day (financially).

Last week, the challenge was to make a small change of habit that results in more money in your savings account. When I was working as a graduate student teacher at Purdue, my paycheck was deposited into my checking account automatically each month, and I began immediately transferring a couple hundred dollars into my savings account. And as a result, my savings grew steadily each month.

Now that I’ve graduated and stopped working at Purdue, I’m working as a freelance writer and editor and don’t have a paycheck automatically deposited into my checking account each month. So for this week’s challenge, I’ve made a small change of habit of depositing a quarter of the checks I receive into my savings account instead of my checking account.

For this final week of April, the challenge is to make a financial goal that you want to accomplish this year and an action plan to achieve it. My goal is to put $1,000 into my Roth IRA by the end of the year, which means I need to save $20 a week, or about $85 a month.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Coach Wooden that always inspires me:

John Wooden fortune cookie

Question of the day:

  • What is a financial goal you have for this year?
  • What steps might you implement to achieve this goal?

a year of Wooden: week 16

Hi, friends! I just got back from a lovely trip up the California coast to Mendocino {pictures & highlights coming tomorrow!} … we unexpectedly did not have cell phone or Internet service, so I was unable to post this week’s year of Wooden challenge until now. I guess it is more of a weekend year of Wooden challenge at this point. Thanks for being patient with me!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation.

Last week, the challenge was to take one of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar. Instead of going to Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up, I brewed some black tea at home and sipped it out in the sunshine. In Mendocino, we packed brown-bag lunches a couple days and enjoyed picnic meals out on the hiking trail and at a rest stop along the highway instead of eating out in a restaurant every day.

This weekend, the challenge is to make a small change of habit that results in more money in your savings account. For example, when I was working as a graduate student teacher at Purdue, my paycheck was deposited into my checking account automatically each month. I found the more money that was in my checking account, the more money I was likely to spend. So I began immediately transferring a couple hundred dollars into my savings account, knowing that I could always transfer it back to my checking account if I needed it to pay bills. But, guess what? I never even missed it. And as a result, my savings grew steadily each month.

Another small habit might be related to the “cash back” incentives of many credit cards. Instead of using rewards points to purchase gift cards or material items, you might think about using your rewards points to deposit cash back into your savings account. I started doing this towards the end of last year and am on track to put about $200 of “free money” into my savings account this year.

Before I go, thanks to blog reader Tracy for telling me about financial guru Dave Ramsey — I love this quote of his:

dave ramsey

Questions of the day:

  • What are your current savings habits?
  • What small changes could you make to ensure more money ends up in your savings account at the end of the month or year?

a year of Wooden: week 15

Hi, everyone! Monday means it’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation.

Last week, the challenge was to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts. Not counting staple items like groceries and drugstore purchases, I tend to spend my discretionary money at Starbucks, bookstores, the movie theater, and going out to lunch at places like Panera.

This week, the challenge is to take just ONE of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar instead. For example, maybe I’ll swap one of my Starbucks chai lattes for a mug of home-brewed green tea on my own back porch. Or instead of meeting up with a friend for lunch at a restaurant, maybe we can meet up for something free like a walk outside in this beautiful weather.

Having a savings safety net is so important, and these little actions can really add up! I’m inspired by these words from Coach Wooden:

john wooden quote

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you tend to spend your discretionary money?
  • What small change are you going to make this week to drop a little extra money into your spare change jar?
  • Have you ever had the experience of not taking the time to do something right the first time, and having to go back and do it over?

a year of Wooden: week 14

Hi, friends! It’s time for this week’s year of Wooden challenge!

For this month of April, we’re going to be focusing on Coach Wooden’s creed to “build a shelter for a rainy day.” This metaphorical shelter includes family, friends, good work, faith — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, right now we are focusing on the financial interpretation. In other words: save now to weave a safety net!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day.

Last week, the challenge was to create a “spare change jar.” Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop it into the jar. This week I ended up with $3.49. I’m planning to continue this spare change jar throughout the year!

This week’s challenge is to keep track of where you spend your money — even small amounts, like that Starbucks pick-me-up or the impulse drugstore purchase. For the next three days {or the entire week, if you’d like} make note of every penny that leaves your pocket. We’ll work with the results in next week’s challenge!

coach wooden quote details

Questions of the day:

  • Have you ever kept a strict budget before?
  • What are the “little details” that have made a big difference in your life?

a year of Wooden: week 13

Hi, everyone! Apologies for my extreme delay with this year of Wooden post… this week has flown by incredibly fast. My mom was in town, I had two job interviews, and last night was my final reading as part of my Steinbeck Fellowship. {More about that in tomorrow’s fabulous friday post!}

Now that we’re into April, we’re going to be focusing on a new topic for this year of learning from Coach Wooden’s philosophies and teachings.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books.
  • February: Make friendship a fine art.
  • March: Help others.

Last week, the challenge was to help someone less fortunate than you are. I dropped off a donation of clothes to a local thrift shop; books and magazines to the library; and canned goods and toiletries to a homeless shelter. In these next two weeks, I’ll also be volunteering at an event my church is holding called “Winter Nights” in which we feed and shelter homeless families from the area until Easter Sunday. I’ll be helping cook and serve dinner and leading some activities for the kids.

  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day. 

This month’s challenge also comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed. I thought rainy April would be an appropriate time to focus on this credo! I like to interpret “building a shelter” in a multitude of ways: family, friends, work that satisfies and sustains you — but, since we will focus on these elements in other months, I’m going to focus this month on the financial interpretation of “building a shelter against a rainy day.” In other words: save now to build a safety net!

For this week, the challenge is to create a “spare change jar.” Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop it into the jar. You could continue this challenge all month — or even {as I plan to} all year long! How much spare change will you wind up with at the end?

I’ve always loved this wise sentiment from Coach Wooden:

wooden quote peaks valleys

This month, we’ll work on building a shelter to keep life’s inevitable valleys that come along from getting too low!

Questions of the evening:

  • What are your favorite tips for saving money?
  • In what ways do you “build a shelter against a rainy day” in your life?

saving money & time by utilizing my freezer

One of my goals for this year is to put at least 10% of each paycheck into my savings. I’ve always been a saver — I was the kid who saved up my Chuck E. Cheese ticket winnings visit after visit to eventually spend on the coveted 1,000-Ticket Big Prize — but in the grown-up world saving isn’t always that easy. As a grad student, there are months it seems downright impossible to put aside any of my small paycheck for savings. Yet I know how important it is to save for the future, and I know how fortunate I am to have a job — after all, even a small paycheck is better than no paycheck.

With that mindset — that even small savings deposits are better than no savings! — I am aiming to discover little ways to save money throughout my daily living. Since I hate wasting food, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying small amounts of produce every week — even produce I really like and eat often — because I don’t want anything to go bad and go to waste. Sometimes this caused me to lose out on good weekly deals because, though I knew I would use up a lot of that specific fruit or vegetable, I wasn’t sure if I would eat it quickly enough. This also lead to some situations where it felt like I was racing against the clock to eat up all of the peaches or blackberries or celery before it went bad and into the trash.

freezing produce

Then I came across this post from my blogging buddy Andrea at Simple Organized Living about how she cuts up and freezes her fruits and veggies {and lots of other goodies, too!} … and it really inspired me! It seems so obvious, but it had never occurred to me that I could freeze my fruits and veggies and use them later. It was like a light-bulb went on in my brain!

Serendipitously, this week at the grocery store, they were having a great sale on bell peppers, something I use often in my cooking. Normally I would have bought one, maybe two, and made sure to use them up in dishes this week. But now I knew exactly what to do to take full advantage of the sale: use my freezer!

I bought half a dozen bell peppers, used two in recipes this week just like I normally would have, and then took a few extra minutes to chop up the rest. Then all I had to do was put them into ziplock baggies and into the freezer!

bell peppers

I used one small bag per bell pepper, because typically my recipes use one bell pepper at a time. An extra bonus is that cooking with these frozen veggies will be easier than ever because the chopping is already done! Surprisingly, it seemed much faster to get in the zone and chop up four bell peppers in one go than it does chopping them up one at a time.

And I felt so proud putting these babies into the freezer. I pictured a harried, midterm version of my Future Self, hungry and desperate to get dinner on the table, and I thought, “This is my gift to you, Future Self.  You’re welcome!”

Do any of you use your freezer to stock up on produce? I’d love to hear your money-saving tips!

ecomom’s “green” friday sale

Just a quick post to let you know about a really great sale one of my favorite “green” living sites is having this week …

Ecomom.com is a site designed for moms who want to buy healthy, organic, nontoxic products for their home and family. They have everything from organic baby food to non-BPA reuseable water bottles to natural products for your home. I especially like their organic hair products and natural home cleaning supplies. You don’t have to be a mom to find great products on their site that can make your daily routine healthier for your body, and for our planet!

Until November 25, they’re offering:

  • $20 off orders of $50-$99
  • $40 off orders of $100-$199
  • $80 off orders of $200+

This might also be a great way to stock up on some early Christmas gifts!

Here’s the website again: www.ecomom.com. Happy shopping!

10 ways to save money on date night

Happy Friday, everyone! For many people {including my sweet parents!} Friday tends to be date night. Date night is a wonderful way to have some special one-on-one time with your sweetie and remember what it was like when the two of your first started dating and you walked around with butterflies constantly flitting around in your belly.

The downside to date night is that it can get pretty expensive! However, here are some small ways to save money while still having a super fun and romantic time together.

1. Instead of dinner then a movie, try going to a movie first and then having dinner. Most movie theaters offer matinee prices, and a late-afternoon movie rather than a nighttime movie can save you a few bucks a pop. Over the course of a month or a year of movie outings, those few bucks add up!

2. Cook a romantic dinner at home and rent a movie to watch. Because I tend to cook tried-and-true, quick-and-easy recipes during the busy workweek, date night in is a fun time to try making a new recipe I’ve had my eye on. A recent favorite was turkey enchiladas updated with green chile enchilada sauce and bell pepper. And for movie rentals, Redbox charges only a dollar or so for a night’s rental {extra money-saving tip: there are one-time-use free-rental codes available online for most major retail chains that have Redbox kiosks}

3. Whether having date night in or out, an inexpensive bouquet of fresh flowers is a guaranteed way to make the night feel special.

4. Going out to eat? Instead of ordering wine or beer at the restaurant, why not order water instead and have a glass of wine or beer when you get home? In college, my roommates and I had fun concocting homemade margaritas or Kalua milkshakes or fruit-filled sangria. This can also be a way to tweak the ingredients of your drinks to be slightly healthier, and also to ensure that you don’t order one drink too many and then get behind the wheel when you shouldn’t.

5. Same goes for dessert — get more bang for your buck by making something to satisfy your sweet tooth at home rather than splurging on an expensive dessert in a restaurant. I am a huge fan of Betty Crocker mix brownies — it only takes five minutes tops to pour the mix and water and oil in a bowl, crack in an egg or two, mix everything up and pour it into the baking pan. Then curl up on the couch with your honey to watch a movie {maybe in your jammies with a glass of wine, too!} and in about half an hour the brownies will be ready!

6. If you do get dessert out somewhere — like, say, ice cream — why not split a medium size instead of getting two small sizes? For example, at my local Cold Stone, the “love it” size is only about a dollar more than the “like it” size, so getting one “love it” instead of two “like it”s saves a few dollars … which, like the matinee movie tickets, does add up over time!

7. You don’t need a restaurant for a special date night… at least, not in the summertime! Why not pack dinner in a cooler and go for a picnic?

8. A lot of restaurants, especially chain places, will occasionally offer gift card deals — most often I’ve seen them around holidays. As an incentive to buy their gift cards as gifts for people in your life, restaurants will throw in something extra for you — say, a free $10 gift card when you buy $50 worth of gift cards. If the restaurant is a place you go often, and the gift cards don’t expire, this can be a great deal for you to buy and then use yourself.

9. Google the restaurant to see if they have coupons available online — many do!

10. Be on the lookout for fun, alternative date-night ideas. Groupons are often terrific deals! In the past, I have gotten amazingly discounted deals for dates like dinner and a magic show, a murder mystery dinner, and an art museum.