Tales from the Wallet: Setting Financial Goals

You always see personal finance articles advising you what to do at the end of the year — but I see far fewer of them advising what to do financially in the beginning of the year. Personally, I like to do two things around now:
a) I take a “financial snapshot,” and
b) I make three or four financial goals for the year.

(Pictured:  FOLLI FOLLIE Blue Stripes Wallet, available at Lord & Taylor (having awesome sales of up to 80% off today) — was $85, now $51.)  

The “snapshot” was inspired by the Excel spreadsheet that I started when we were looking to buy the apartment.  It’s just a listing of all of our accounts, investments, debts, and property — and it lists the current value for each of those line items.  Big deal, you say — you get net worth info from Mint or any other financial-tracking software. But what I haven’t seen those do (and maybe I’m just missing some easy button to push) is show you how the numbers changes over time, even if they’re just paper gains and losses. So now, every six months or so, I take a “financial snapshot,” intended to memorialize what our financial situation is at that moment in time — I start a new column in the Excel spreadsheet, and manually input the values. That way, I can compare things across years, as well as to say, “well, our investments are growing!” or “wow, we paid off $10K in debt last year!” It just helps me focus on the big picture, as well as to give myself a pat on the back for whatever we may have accomplished.  (I was just talking about this with my father, who likened it to that old quote, “you can’t control what you can’t measure” — except with finances it’s more a matter of “you can’t control it if you DON’T measure it.”)

Another thing I like to do now is to make financial goals for the year. After we bought the apartment, this included things like “Get emergency fund back to $___,” and “Save $__ for kitchen renovation.” When I was thinking of quitting my job to focus on the blog full-time, “Bank all of my paychecks” was on the list (as in, immediately put them into savings). Currently, “figure out how to balance our investments, and consolidate all of my retirement savings” is one of my goals — it’s daunting, but giving myself a year to get it done makes it better.

I think it’s particularly helpful, every year, to set a savings goal for yourself — 10% of your salary, say. Then, with your trusty Excel sheet in front of you, you can try to figure out how to do it: if you put $X into your 401K every month, how close will that get you to your ultimate year-end goal? If you automatically invest $50 a week, how close will that get you? It’s just my $.02, but if you have stress or emotions involved with financial planning, sitting down in one day and doing it with an Excel spreadsheet (where it’s just numbers!  not actual money or anything!) is a good way to remove that emotion.  (This is also helpful for goals about paying down debt, saving for a big trip/renovation, etc.)

Readers, what kind of financial stuff do you do at the beginning of the year? Do you set financial goals? Does anyone else do a “snapshot” like I do?

Comments

  1. Dessert Doctor :

    I’m looking forward to these responses! On a similar note, does anyone have suggestions for how to “get smart” about real-world money issues? I’m married, 30, and DH and I are just about to leave many years of higher education and training for our first “real” jobs — i.e., ones with a retirement account and employer matching, opportunities for a flexible spending account, etc. We don’t have investments or own a home or anything like that, and we both know nothing about how to manage/maximize our finances, consider stock options, etc. While I’ll have access to a financial adviser through my employer, I’d like to walk in knowing at least a little more than I do now. Does anyone have tips for helpful books, resources, etc.?

    • I’m financially extremely conservative (though you wouldn’t think it, if you saw my closet) and go against a lot of the generally accepted wisdoms of American financial planning. For example, I save too much and don’t get into debt ever (even when a cheap loan is available and I could be investing my cash at a better rate, I just try to avoid debt like the devil). I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day attributing my austerity complex to my European background. So, you probably don’t want most of my lessons, but there’s one: Set yourself a time frame of 12-24 months after school where you continue to live on a dirt cheap student budget. And I mean it. Be ruthless, spend as stingy as when there wasn’t a paycheck coming in and use every single cent for building up savings, paying off student loans, starting retirment etc. Just see it as another step before you are ready to “graduate” into grown up life. DH and I did that for the first two years after undergrad and accumulated enough to be able to pay for grad school without any loans. After those two years, we went a little crazy and didn’t save lnearly as much as we used to, but we never touched the grad school bits and can pay tuition bills as soon as they are due.

      Another method one of my friend tries (also not generally accepted financial planning wisdom but I’ll throw it out there), she only focuses on one financial goal at a time. She says its easier for her to have a sense of accomplishment. So for a while all her money went to paying off student loans, then to save for the down payment of their house, then she did three years of saving up mostly everything for her newborn’s college fund and finally at nearly 35 she can put every cent towards retirement and living.

  2. I rely on my DAD to set all of my finanecieal goal’s. He save’s for me in my 401k, he got me my apartement, and he pay’s the mortegage and mainteneiance, and he manage’s my credit card bills for me.

    All I have to do is make sure the manageing partner direct deposit’s my pay check into my dad’s account and that’s it!

    Of course, my dad is aware of EVERY expendeiture I make and he get’s mad if I do not ask him before spendeing on anything other then for my METRO CARD, and even there, he want’s me to walk to get steps so that I loose wieght! FOOEY!

    But considering everything, I perfer that Dad handel everything for me so that I can FOCUS on being a competent attorney, duly admitted to the bar of the State of New York. YAY!!!!!

  3. I also take financial snapshots in excel, I find it to be very motivating. I recently started using mint, and love it, but it is not the same as going through all the numbers yourself.

    I have also recently created a spreadsheet that looks forward a couple of years, this helps us set savings goals and it also great motivation to keep saving.

    At the beginning of the year we try to set savings goals in terms of dollar amounts. Max out our 401k (the limit went up by $500 this year to $17,500). Put $x in 529 plans for our two kids. We also make a list of any big purchases we might need to make this year- car, furniture, vacation, anything like that.
    And then make sure we have this money set aside in cash on top of our emergency fund.

  4. Does anyone have recommendations for a fee-based financial planner in Boston? I’m a second year in biglaw, and I have basically no idea what I’m doing with my money.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Before you give someone your money, both to tell you what to do and to control it, learn about financial planning. spending $50-60 bucks on a few books and learn about money will be a much better use of your funds….

      Search this site – there are several threads with beginner books. don’t read just one, read 4-5. It is rare that one book will have all of the right answers for you. Read several and create a plan, so if and when you go to a planner, you understand what you want, need or are being offered.

      Avoid whole life life policies.

      • As an aside, I’ve recently gone back and re-read this site’s financial posts, and Divalicious11 has a lot of great advice/tips. I’ve gotten a lot more serious about “paying myself first” (ramped up my contribution %s and savings) and I’m enjoying watching my dollars grow! So thanks, Diva (and everyone else who makes this site a great source of information.

      • That’s solid advice, and something I’ve been pursuing in addition to this. My initial post may have been too flippant. I already track my financial situation using Mint and a series of spreadsheets, and I’ve set some savings short-term and long-term goals. I’m still interested in finding a trustworthy, knowledgeable adviser who can help me prioritize and then accomplish those goals.

      • I second that on books. The two that I’ve found most helpful are All Your Worth by
        Elizabeth Warren for the basics on setting up a budget and the Bogleheads guide to Investing for the basics on that.

        • Divaliscious11 :

          And even though is disagree strongly with much of his advice – Dave Ramsey should be read. I also like the Millionaire Next Door, Young, Broke and Fabulous and your Money or Your Life….

    • Diana Barry :

      Caroline Gaffney, I think her firm is Atwater.

    • Boston fee-based CFP: Jennifer Lane of Compass Planning in Boston is very good. Harvard Law used to bring her in every year to give a presentation that I found hugely helpful each time I saw it. My now-DH and I met with her for half an hour (at a discounted rate for law students) and she really set us on a good course. She was also very accessible for follow up questions.

      Book recommendations: Yes, you can get a financial life by Ben Stein is a pretty good jumping off point. Jane Bryant Quinn also has a super comprehensive door stop that I consult off and on.

    • The big thing to remember is that typically you’ll be paying a lot more on your loans than you can earn on savings, so beyond enough of a cushion to support you for six months or so (you may feel happier with a smaller cushion if, say, your parents would be able to help if it all hit the fan, or you may want a larger cushion if you feel like it would be necessary) you should be aggressively paying off debt instead of saving.

  5. Farewell Threadjack:
    I restart my computer for some mandatory software updates and find this site blocked. Am typing this out on the crippled keypad of my not-smartphone.

    So, the time has come (the walrus said), to talk of many things…of shoes (yessss!) And ships (vacation threadjacks were always fun) and sealing wax (I <3 paper stationery more than email)…

    I have enjoyed your company, wisdom, elegant style advice, street-wise savvy, and kindness. I'll miss playing on here. For those of you who want to stay in touch, look for me at my Tumblr site. Au revoir!

  6. Anne Shirley :

    Awkward to admit but . . . I’m struggling with setting goals because it would be reasonable for me to aim to buy an apt in NYC in 18 months, but I’m single, and I just really want a husband, a house in the suburbs, and a baby on the way. And while I know none of that should impact my financial planning, I’m struggling to really ramp up the savings when I don’t want to buy. Anyone else dealing with financial and personal lives not moving in sync?

    • Anon For This :

      Yes – me. I was saving pretty intensely for a move to be with my SO and an wedding in the next 18-24 months. Recently found out that we are no longer on the same page with regards to our future. I had been putting off finishing my condo or potentially saving for a new one and now that it appears that my savings goals have changed, instead of being motivated to continue saving for a bigger place, I’ve been shopping. In my mind, if I’m not engaged, at least I’ll have pretty clothes.

      Sounds pathetic I know but I think there are a lot of emotions tied up in financial goals and I keep trying to tell myself if I’m not paying for a wedding, I’m sure there is something else I can do with that money and try to push myself to keep saving.

      I’m a planner at heart and so I try to sync my financial goals to my life plans but that’s failing me now so I’m now saving without earmarking that money. And I’m saving automatically (the $$ comes out of my paychecks automatically) so I don’t really feel that I’m saving for a goal that will never happen.

    • espresso bean :

      I’m in exactly the same position. The practical thing to do would be to buy a condo, but I always thought it would be something I’d do with a husband. I’ll probably move forward with it, but it’s hard. If you’re not ready to buy, can you wait another year or two? I do think the emotional aspect of purchasing a home is just as important as the financial part.

    • I am also debating between buying a condo now or waiting for a husband to materialize. I should know better, I have always been financially independent and career focused but it just feels like a big step doing it all by myself.
      Actual finances are not the issue, I have sufficient amount of down payment and emergency funds saved up, good credit, little debt and the interest rates are the best at this time. I keep looking at redfin but somehow just don’t feel emotionally ready to pull the trigger. There are so many nice places which I feel I could easily afford if there was a second income but it would bit of a risk if I were to loose my job or have to move. Plus I feel like I really don’t need that much nice space just for myself. I won’t be cooking meals in that double oven or giving sitdown dinner parties – that’s what grown up married people with “real” lives do. Perhaps it’s time to toughen up and invest in my financial future even if it is without a prince charming on the horizon.

      • OK, no offence AnnonFoo, but this attitude annoys me. You don’t need a SO or husband to do any of those things. Why can’t you have fancy sitdown dinner parties as a single person? Why can’t you cook meals in that double oven? You can do all those things and more, and I have. Do those things if you want to do them.

        • No worries Nonny, I need this smack in the head.
          I know my attitude above is totally irrational. I am lucky to be in a position to afford my own place. Back in the day women couldn’t get a mortgage of their own or make enough money in the first place. I should be grateful for where I am and take pride in my hard work instead of putting plans on hold for a hubby. This is my usual rational thought process most days but I can’t help how these nagging “double-oven/dinner party” thoughts keep creeping up in my brains when I look at house and keep doubting myself.

          • Senior Attorney :

            You definitely need a double oven for dinner parties, whether you have a husband or not! ;)

      • Midwest Transplant :

        I struggle with this decision too. I could afford an apartment and have been saving for a down payment, but I’ve heard that you shouldn’t buy if you would move within five year. The places I can afford would likely be too small if in five years there is a partner sharing it. So I’m actually taking the tact that purchasing would be less advantageous than renting (in the positive thinking that I will find a partner in the next few years.)

    • Why can’t you buy a condo as planned to get yourself into the market and start building your equity, and then sell it and get a new place if/when you want to buy later with someone else?

      • Anne Shirley :

        I’m not sure it makes financial sense to buy in hope of selling in 2 years, and I would need to sell in order to afford a down payment on a new place.

    • Senior Attorney :

      The house in the ‘burbs will still require savings. And the wedding will have to be paid for. So my suggestion is to start socking it away for “future plans,” and when you have enough to buy that condo you can reassess whether you want to do it, or hold out and keep saving for the picket fence life.

    • Not Carrie Mathison :

      In my experience, the only way to make the husband and babies appear, is to buy a condo that will be either too small or too yours. :)

      If you think that that will ensure your spinsterhood though, what about buying a vacation condo or mountain cabin somewhere you like to go? That way, you have something that you will always use and enjoy and can feel like you do have something.

      Or, if husband and babies materialize, realize that you’ve now got yourself a rental property for when you move to the ‘burbs and now you’re in business (so plan accordingly when you buy).

      • Anne Shirley :

        If I had vacation time that would be on my list for sure ;)

        • Not Carrie Mathison :

          FWIW, houses, even condos take a lot of time. I didn’t budget for wifi and a home computer (why? I worked all.the.time), but I needed them when various things broke and I had to wait for the person to come (or spend all weekend making various trips to the Home Despot). I miss renting sometimes, where my only responsibility was to write a check that didn’t bounce.

      • Agreed re your first paragraph! I never met my SO until I had bought a gorgeous little house that I never wanted to leave. Then things got serious with SO and I had to move to a different city. Sigh.

      • Senior Attorney :

        I agree with all of that, especially about how empowering it is to buy a house on one’s own. I bought a house for myself and my son after my divorce, and 16 years later I’m still living in it with The Second Mr. Senior Attorney.

    • East Coast Anon :

      Buying a home as a single twenty-something was one of the most empowering things I did for myself.

      • Anonymous :

        I bought a home as a single twenty something and it’s the best decision I ever made.

      • Me too. I lived in it for 3 years and made enough selling it to have a down payment for our current house. You can buy a place even if you only plan on living there for a few years so long as you buy a place with resale potential ad at a good price. For me that meant sticking to neutral colors and picking a home where the mortgage was lower than the rent I had been paying.

    • BigLaw Refugee :

      Buying in NYC is not a sensible move if you think there’s even a chance that you will end up wanting to move in the next 10 years. Don’t follow the advice offered for buyers of HOUSES; you’ll be buying a co-op condo, which means:
      – your annual costs will be almost as high, and just as much out of your control, as rent, which eliminates one of the major reasons to buy a house;
      – you will pay .5% more for your mortgage;
      – if you want to renovate (one of the major pluses of owning) you’ll have to jump through a million hoops; and
      – when you sell, you have a lot of extra costs (including a standard 1% flip tax).

      For all of these reasons, I regret having purchased an apartment and I don’t recommend it as a wise financial move. Try to find a landlord who will be willing to let you treat an apartment as your home (i.e. minor renovations at your expense) rather than buying.

      Buying is just a big commitment, and whether it’s a hubbie and a house in the suburbs, a great new job in another city, or just getting a place with roommates, there are too many things you might want to do in the future to commit to buying in NYC now, even if you can afford to.

    • Anonymous :

      Oh dear. Look, women are more likely to die in poverty then men. AND THIS IS WHY.

      If you save and buy or just save you will have a huge step up when you do find Mr. Right.

      Right now you are stealing from the old lady version of yourself, stealing from your future kids college funds, hell, even stealing from a super awesome or amazing vacation with your future husband. Even if you fall madly instantly in love with the perfect guy tomorrow he could be hit by a bus the day before the wedding.

      Your financial life should have nothing to do with your emotional life. Unless you want to die alone surrounded by shoes that haven’t been in style for decades.

      (said with love and a smile)

  7. Mint does graph your net worth over time- click on ‘trends’ and then ‘net worth.’ But sounds like what you do gives you more information.

  8. SoCalAtty :

    I struggle with eating out. It is the single largest expense that we can change (our insurance, etc. other expenses have been shopped to death) and we can probably drop like $800 a month on eating out because we’re just so exhausted during the week. I did buy a slow cooker, I just have to get things ready on the weekends.

    I need to start prepping meals on Sunday, or getting good about prepping the slow cooker the night before! It’s just so hard because I’ve been so tired, and so has my husband. We both work deadly hours and can’t seem to get it together. We’re not running up debt or anything, but we’re not saving or paying down debt as much as we could if we would get it together on this.

    • Maybe you could start off easy – buying pre-chopped vegetables, meats and sauces to throw in the slow cooker. Once you’ve established a habit, then maybe ramp up to chopping everything yourself?

      • SoCalAtty :

        What a good idea! I always buy the bag of carrots / celery / whatever, and look at it like “go chop yourself. I don’t have the energy.”

        I just looked. In Jan. we’ve already spent $1000 on restaurants ($400 of that was feeding my Dad during his visit, but still).

        Shopping ban? No, I think I have to institute an eating out ban. Who wants to set a challenge for me? A week? Two? Just starting tomorrow because we’re going out for my nephew’s birthday tonight :)

        • I’ll join you. I’ll start this weekend because the more I think about this, the more I see that this is a battle for the grocery store. I like the thought of cooking for just one week – surely I can do that, right? YOU WILL NOT DEFEAT ME, LEERING CROCKPOT OF DOOM.

          • SoCalAtty :

            Whoo! Starting this weekend, eat-in for 1 week challenge! 1 work week – Saturdays can be our “free” night :)

            I’m going to print this thread out with all the ideas. Thank you so much ladies!

          • SoCalAtty :

            One more challenge idea – at the end of the week, you take the total amount of money you would normally spend eating out that week, subtract the grocery cost, and put whatever is left over into your savings account.

            Mint tells me we are spending, on average, $929/month on restaurants (HOLY BLEEP). So if we do a week, it would be $232 minus groceries into savings.

            Let’s do it!

          • I am ALL OVER anything food-related today. OM NOM NOMMMMMMMMMMM!

            Also, I’m really excited about doing this.

          • KS IT Chick :

            That is close to what we’ve done. We made a commitment that we eat out no more than once per week. By cooking & eating at home, we’ve save nearly $300 already this month.

            My husband has lost almost 10 pounds. I’ve put on 4 pounds. :(

        • just Karen :

          Maybe instead of trying to cook every night for a week, you could set the goal of cooking three meals at home every week for a month? With leftovers factored in, that would get more than half your dinners covered without being too overwhelming. I tried this prep-ahead/freeze/crockpot combo and was really happy with the results – it took me more than the single hour to get it all prepped (maybe I am just slow), but definitely less than two hours to create the core of five different meals.
          http://www.savingyoudinero.com/2012/06/12/1-hour-1-mess-5-crock-pot-meals/
          I also second buying pre-prepped food from the store – still way cheaper than eating out!

          • just Karen :

            Another site people wanting to cook at home might find helpful – I purchased a plan with a groupon, and have to admit I haven’t done more than look at the recipes, but I have good intentions :). They give you five recipes per week using very little processed food and give you a grocery list etc… They re-use ingredients through the week to cut down on the number of things you’re shopping for, which is kind of nice, as well as giving you tips on what to prep on the weekend to make weeknight cooking easier.
            http://www.thefresh20.com/

          • Meg Murry :

            Another website that does meal planning for you similar to what just Karen recommended is thescramble.com . I haven’t used it yet, although I keep intending to, but I have a coworker that swears by it.
            If you want to try making food in advance that can be frozen, onceamonthmom.com has recipes that you can make in advance and freeze. Whoever set up the website has far more advanced chopping and organizing skills than me, as there is no way I could cook as much as they mention in one weekend, but one of my goals for this year is to make at least 2 recipes from this site each month and freeze 4 meals worth of each, so in a couple of months we’ll have a few meals to be able to pull from the freezer. One tip I learned here – when you buy chicken or other meat intending to stir fry it, chop it up and put it in a ziploc with the marinade ingredients – then all you have to do is pull the bag from freezer to fridge in the morning, then just dump in a pot and stirfry when you get home. So much easier than defrosting, chopping and making a sauce when you get home from work exhausted.

          • A second endorsement for “convenience food” at the grocery store. An $8 bag of pasta, vegetables and meat, pre-seasoned, and ready to throw in the skillet is still less expensive than a $15 meal out. And, though not as healthy as homemade, is probably better than McDonalds.

            Obviously, if you enjoy actually cooking from scratch you can do that. But my middle road is to let the store do as much prep as possible. Pre-trimmed pre portioned chicken breasts, pre cut vegetables, jarred sauces, prebagged washed and mixed salads, etc.

        • I love making soup in the winter, but it takes forever to chop the ingredients. I received a food processor as a gift, and it still makes me giddy that in a few seconds I can roughly dice an onion or chop up a carrot. Some veggies work better than others, but it’s great for prepping huge quantities (aka during Sunday’s cook for the week session).

        • SoCalAtty :

          One more challenge idea – at the end of the week, you take the total amount of money you would normally spend eating out that week, subtract the grocery cost, and put whatever is left over into your savings account.

          Mint tells me we are spending, on average, $929/month on restaurants (HOLY BLEEP). So if we do a week, it would be $232 minus groceries into savings.

          Let’s do it!

          • TO Lawyer :

            I would be in but does anyone else find that their social life tends to revolve around eating out? I live on my own so generally if I want to see my friends on evenings and weekends we go out for dinner or brunch or something. I can cut back and eat at home but then I don’t get to see my friends and find I get a little depressed because my budget is getting help but I end up with less social interaction….

        • You may be surprised by how much food you have at home. We started off the year not grocery shopping for 3 weeks. It was kind of fun, having to be creative in using up pantry and freezer items. I’m going to try to make it for another month not buying any groceries other than perishables, e.g, no pastas, rice, spices, sauces, e.g.

      • Exactly, it’s not all or nothing. Even if you spend $1.50 more on a bag of pre-wwashed, pre-chopped veggies, that’s still less than you would spend on a take-out salad or eating out. Check the freezer section of the grocery, you can find all sorts of prepped veggies like onions which makes life that much faster.

        • I am a banana. :

          Along those lines, TJs has frozen pre-chopped herbs. Best idea ever…and I’m sure you could make your own if you wanted.

        • Merabella :

          I also have found that if I buy the pre-chopped veggies they actually get used, where if I buy the whole veggies they go to waste. So in reality I am probably saving money.

      • And if you haven’t done this already, you might consider getting some easy-to-make items (veggie burgers, taco ingredients, salad ingredients, Amy’s burritos if you are good on sodium, pasta)…you can also do things like make and freeze soup / lasagna / pizza over the weekend…

    • I love this slow cooker recipe. I make it every couple of weeks:
      http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/thai-style-pork-stew-10000000354826/

      Just make sure to double the sauce ingredients…

    • Bewitched :

      SoCal Atty, another idea is to just focus on meals which can go from prep to table in 30 minutes. That is about 100% of my weekly meals. It helps avoid crockpot fatigue. For example, anything grilled plus side dish plus salad; jarred spaghetti sauce with grilled ground beef or turkey with sauteed chopped onion over pasta; omlettes with cheese and veggies; sauteed scallops with sauteed veggies over rice. Soup and sandwiches. Others have recommended frozen Trader Joes entrees or side dishes. There are also some good cookbooks which focus on dinners which can be made in 30 minutes or less-as others have said, once you get a few meals under your belt, this will seem feasible, even with a very busy schedule. Good luck!

      • Paralegal :

        Seconding this. When I get home, I am HUNGRY, and I don’t want to wait an hour while something bakes.

        What helps me is starting dinner the moment I walk into the apartment. Making pasta? I’ll fill a pot with water and start it heating up, THEN go take off my coat, change out of work clothes, etc. By the time I am done getting settled, the water is boiling and I can add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, I cook the meat/tofu, vegetables, etc. I try to buy thinner cuts of meats and stir-fry everything (or use a little George Foreman grill), so it all cooks quickly. I would estimate 10-15 minutes of active cooking time.

      • As a family with 2 working parents, we rarely eat anything on a weeknight that isn’t on the table in more than 30 min. Many, many meals can be done in 30 minutes. We usually do grilled/broiled/baked meat, veggie or salad & rice or pasta side dish. Stir fries (with frozen or pre chopped veggies from the store) and many main pasta dishes (especially if you make your sauce on the weekend & freeze it in serving sizes) can be ready in 30 min, easy. Many soups can be frozen, defrosted in the fridge & reheated after work. I’ve also made a big batch of chili, frozen some, and reheated it in the crock pot so it was ready to go when we got home. Soups & stews can be prepped the night before & then simmered in the crock pot all day – just add the non-root veggies 30 min before serving so they don’t end up mushy & flavourless. Baked potatoes can be baked in advance & reheated in the microwave too.

    • espresso bean :

      I was the same way. This month I set a goal of spending only $150 on eating out — enough to allow me a few nice meals and room for takeout/work lunches out, but still way less than I had been spending (upwards of $400, just on me!). A few things that helped:

      *Consciously centering my plans around other things besides dining out. I invited people over, suggested coffee instead of dinner or lunch, or made plans centered around cultural events, concerts or TV events (I had people over to watch the Golden Globes). It was still cheaper for me to host friends for wine and snacks than it would have been to dine out (everyone brought something, so it evened out).

      *Committing to cooking two big meals a week (that created several meals’ worth of leftovers each). I always make something on Sunday night, which helps get the week off to a good start. Once I got in the habit of this, I froze at least one of the leftover meals from each recipe I cooked, and soon my freezer turned into a fun smorgasbord of frozen meals. The rest of the week, I rely on pre-made or really simple items like turkey sandwiches, spinach/feta omelets, chili, pasta with TJ’s turkey meatballs, etc.

      *Tackling produce immediately after I get it home — cleaning, chopping, and Tupperware-ing. If I don’t chop peppers right away, they just go bad in the vegetable drawer. But somehow if I chop them, they get eaten! They’re the perfect “I want to crunch on something but I’m not really that hungry” snack.

      *Stocking up what I call my office pantry — the bottom drawer of my desk at work. Right now it has a TJ’s carton of red pepper/tomato low sodium soup, a can of tuna, a can of chili, peanut butter-stuffed pretzels, an apple, a jar of peanut butter, crackers, and two of those Picnic meals from Target (at 310 cals, for me they’re more like a snack, but they’re still good ready-made snacks to have on hand). I bring a big container of spinach each week and a bottle of dressing to the office fridge along with pre-chopped veggies, so then I only have to worry about lugging stuff to the office once on Mondays and I have salad for the week.

      Okay, I’ve inadvertently typed a novel. Hope this helps — didn’t mean to be so long-winded!

      • Houston Attny :

        Love your suggestion of tackling produce & veggies when I get home. If I chop that pepper or at least one of the onions right when I get home, slice up my apples for the week immediately, wash the grapes, etc, it’s done and will likely get eaten. Great tip – thank you. Am I the only person who can bring the same apple for lunch for 3 days in a row because I won’t eat it if it isn’t sliced? Crazy for sure.

        • Turtle Wexler :

          Prepping produce when you get home from the grocery store is a great idea. I usually try to prep the night before, while whatever I’m making that night is cooking — I find that if I prep in advance, dinner gets on the table SO much faster. I’m sure prepping for multiple meals at once would save even more time. My only issue is that raw onions stink up the fridge, even through “airtight” containers, but I just recently saw a suggestion to carmelize several pounds of onions at once and freeze them in one-cup portions…that would help for some recipes, at least.

        • Dude, you gotta buy an apple slicer, the round kind with compartments. You just center it over the apple and push down. Entire apple sliced in approximately 3 seconds. I use mine daily. I never bite into apples because the skin cuts my gums, so I would never eat a whole apple either.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      More inspiration for you. No matter how careful I am when eating out, my stomach never feels “right.” I can control every ingredient in my food when I make it myself. You may find your gut issues get a lot better when you aren’t eating out. You would be shocked to know the number of dishes with hidden cheese, milk, cream, flour, preservatives, dyes, sugar. . .

      • SoCalAtty :

        You’re SO right. Part of the reason my eating out bill is nuts is because now I’ll only eat at the organic / free range / whatever places which are way more than say, grabbing a bite a Chevy’s or something. Even then they aren’t always great for me.

    • I would also add: don’t derail your goal of not eating out if you don’t get something in the slow-cooker. Keep frozen veggies and meats in the freezer to have on hand. Or swing by the grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken and some lettuce. Or just have canned soup and simple sandwiches if cooking seems like too much effort. Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy – it just has to feed you.

    • Anonymous :

      From yesterday’s thread and per The Happiness Project: “Buy anything you want at the grocery store. It will always be cheaper than a restaurant.”

    • One thing I’ve found that helps is menu planning for two weeks at a time. Then you have everything on hand and don’t have to worry if you want to switch meals up. Also, I thaw 2-3 days worth of ingredients ahead of time. Again, that way if I decide I want chicken instead, I don’t just order out.

      In addition to the crockpot, I’m a big fan of bakes/casseroles. Usually you can mix everything together in advance (in the morning) and then when you get home toss it in the oven. I find that what sounds ilke forever (30-40 minutes) isn’t actually that long when I consider takeout usually takes an hour anyways.

      The biggest thing for me is having something I can grab right when I leave work/walk through the door and am starving. I highly recommend an ‘after-school snack.’ Apple with peanut butter/pre-washed/chopped salad, microwave soup. By the time I have this, change, and play with the animals dinner is done.

      And when in doubt cereal. Breakfast for dinner is awesome.

    • Can you ease in with some super easy dinners that will prevent you from having to get take out? How about baked eggs/omelette/eggs over easy on toast? Baked potatoes or yams? You can warm up baked beans (from a can) and put it on top of a potato for a fairly-nutritious quick dinner. Can you buy bagged lettuce and a bottle of dressing or olive oil, maybe some crumbled feta and throw together a quick salad to have with your eggs and toast? How about canned soup for now, and working your way up to homemade? You can buy things like healthy-ish chicken sausages or frozen veggie burgers for a quick protein add. I liked to hard boil some eggs early in the week and throw them into my salads or just eat plain with cheese and crackers on nights when I just don’t feel like cooking. Trader joes has some instant indian-style meals that are not incredibly amazing, but pretty decent, and much cheaper than take out. Don’t feel like you need to go all or nothing…just 15 minutes in the kitchen (that you would spend picking up take out) can sometimes be enough to make a fairly healthy, quick dinner!

    • I just don’t see the need to cook a real dinner every night (or have someone cook it for you). Dinner in my house on weeknights is usually one of the following: pasta with Classico pasta sauce; scrambled eggs or omelette; cereal; a flour tortilla rolled up with some Perdue grilled chicken breast strips, salsa, and black beans from a can and then thrown in the microwave; canned soup and a grilled cheese sandwich; a can of beans, drained, mixed with some salsa and shredded cheese, heated up. None of it is elegant. But they’re all easy, relatively tasty, and leave me with time to do things like read a book or watch TV. DH fends for himself in the same way.

    • Look for some food blogs to give you inspiration and recipes to keep you from making the same thing over and over. My personal faves include:

      Skinnytaste
      Annie’s Eats
      How Sweet It Is
      Confections of a Foodie Bride
      Iowa Girl Eats
      Well-fed Newlyweds

      Not all of them will be weeknight meals but I’ve had a lot of success looking at these to help us through food ruts.

      Also, baked potatoes. You can make them in the microwave and they’re a good way to use up those leftovers where you don’t have enough for two servings but it’s too much for one. Or slathered in sour cream.

    • I know you guys are super tired, I understand, I’ve been there. However, you can make quick and decent meals for dinner. Most of our meals take way less than 30 mins to prep (as long as you thaw your meat before hand) and 30 mins or less to cook. We usually stick with steak/lean hamburger/boneless-skinless chicken breasts/boneless pork chops and veggies of some sort, sometimes another side like mac & cheese, rice, or some type of potato. Occasionally, I things that take a little longer, but those are usually reserved for nights I’m not about to pass out. Cooking at home doesn’t have to be time consuming or difficult…not even gourmet, especially when you’re exhausted. Make it simple & make sure it tastes good :)

      • Some ways to cut down on cooking time during the week:

        ** I live in a house of 2 people, but I always cook at least 6 servings or more. We use the leftovers for lunch, or dinner the next day.

        ** Usually I go for the one-pot meal. It’s pretty easy. Buy some rice, quinoa, barley, lentils or garbanzo beans; add lean protein (chicken or pork); some canned diced tomatoes; onion, bell pepper, and kale; chicken broth. Cook the lean protein with the veggies, cook the grains with the chicken broth and diced tomatoes, and then mixed everything together. It makes for a hearty, delicious, balanced meal that you can cook in a variety of ways, and you have lots of leftovers.

        ** Use the slow cooker to cook chicken breasts. Cook a couple breasts with a jar of salsa and some chicken broth, and at the end of the day you have “shredded chicken.” Add to taco/burrito ingredients (can buy pre-shredded lettuce, salsa for tomatoes, pre-shredded cheese, avocados, sour cream).

        ** Make a bunch of burrito ingredients on Sunday and put the burritos together and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. Put them in the fridge and grab and go, or freeze them if you can’t get through them in a couple days. You can get 10 meals out of 25-30 bucks, and that’s with good ingredients.

        ** Buy an immersion blender. It makes soup-making much faster and you don’t have to worry about cleaning a blender. You just cook your leek/potato/mushroom/sweet potato/corn soup (you can make any soup with onions, shallots, or garlic, some hearty veggie like the ones listed above, chicken or vegetable broth, and some fresh herbs) and then use the immersion blender to make it all smooth.

        ** Bake chicken breasts or fish fillets in aluminum foil packets with marinade and veggies. All you need to do is marinate in the morning, chop when you get home, and pop in the oven. Plus there’s no clean up.

        ** Buy groceries on Sunday for the whole week, and only supplement with fresh produce if you need to. This means that I can stop at the grocery store on my bus route home from work and be in and out in 10 minutes, because I’m only grabbing a couple things.

        Anyway, those are my two cents!

    • I try to make a few things on the weekends so that I have dinners ready when I come home and don’t feel like cooking at 7-8 pm during the week, but a lot of my social interaction involves going out to eat with friends, so I hate to give it up!

  9. Posting to get ideas.

  10. Anon for this :

    can anyone recommend a good mental health treatment provider in the Boston area? I don’t know if I want/need a psychiatrist or psychologist or MSW or what, but I would definitely like to try cognitive behavior therapy as opposed to traditional talk therapy – I’ve tried traditional talk therapy with several other drs in the past and I feel it’s never been very helpful. I really want to break some negative habits/thought patterns that I have. TIA!

  11. Here’s a conundrum. Is is OK to wear the “wedding colors” if you are a guest at a wedding? I have a cousin getting married in June in a famous New England resort town, and was planning on wearing my trusty navy blue matte jersey cocktail dress. Got the save the date card in the mail yesterday, and the card is navy blue, which says to me that the wedding color is navy blue, bridesmaids in navy blue, etc. Is navy blue enough of a nuetral that my wearing it won’t look wierd or will I look like a wanna-be bridesmaid.

    • I think navy blue will be fine. The bridesmaids will have the same cut of dress, and yours likely won’t look the same. They’ll also have their hair a bit more “done” and often matching shoes/jewelry.

      If you’re nervous, wear an accessory that no bride would pick for her bridesmaids (ex. bright statement necklace, crazy party shoes, etc.). Most weddings I’ve attended have had very simple bridesmaids attire, so if you accessorize purposefully and somewhat trendy you won’t look like you’re trying to match the bridal party.

    • I think navy blue is common enough that its fine. Also FWIW, the invites/save-the-dates may not all be coordinated with the bridal party. I once got an invitation with purple writing on it so I deliberately didn’t wear a purple dress and instead wore a green one, only to find out the bridesmaids were all in green, which there was no hint of on the invite. Oops! Navy blue dresses also seems unlikely to me for a summer (outdoor?) wedding. More likely navy is one of two colors and the girls will be in the other color. But it really doesn’t matter, unless your dress is really “bridesmaid-y” and you have an updo you won’t look like a bridesmaid. But I agree, a bright pink (or some other color you’re sure isn’t in the wedding) statement necklace couldn’t hurt.

      By the way, any chance the “famous New England resort town” isBar Harbor? That’s where I got married ;)

  12. Boston Blonde :

    Any recs for products that help with lightening acne marks and scars? I have fairly clear skin, but whenever I do get a blemish, my skin seems to scar so easily. I swear I have the mark for months, and I have two in particular that are really bothering me right now. I already use a clarisonic, and I’m not quite ready for a derm appointment and some sort of fraxel(?)/microderm yet. Thanks!

    • locomotive :

      I have successfully used silicone gels that I originally got for keloid scars on acne scars (e.g. scarprin or cimeosoil)

    • I have exactly the same skin as what you described, and I have been obsessed with Mario Badescu for years!
      They have a “healing cream” that has worked wonders for me. They have other products geared towards reducing scars and redness, too, I just find the healing cream works best.

  13. We just started our Excel spreadsheet snapshot this year. I was planning on doing it annually, but every 6 months is a good idea. We finally feel like we’re doing well financially and I’m looking forward to seeing that snapshot improve each time we do it!

  14. On the road... :

    To piggyback off of SoCalAtty…

    I also struggle with eating out. I used to be SO good in school – meal planned for two weeks at a time, brought lunch to school with me, made dinner every night. Loved it and do enjoy cooking. But now I work in consulting and I’m on the road every week. When I come back, I do a lot of eating out while seeing friends, which I’m fine with. But for everything else – I don’t want to make a lot of food or have a lot of groceries that will go bad so instead I get delivery/eat out for all the time! And buying groceries for one person for 3 days ends up being pretty expensive too. Should I just start living out of my freezer? What are the best foods that keep?

  15. I want to thank Kat for turning me on to Mint. It’s making me feel so much better about knowing where our money is.

    Mint does let you see the value of each individual account for a given month or over time. You can also lump multiple accounts together. So, for example, you could see your debt over time by clicking on the boxes for your student loans, car payment, and mortgage and then pick the time period you want to see and it will give you a graph. You can do the same thing with your investment accounts. And like someone said earlier, you can also do it for net worth to see the really big picture.

  16. “financial snapshot” = balance sheet
    “how the numbers change over time” = profit & loss statement

    Why not use the correct words since they exist ? I say this not to mock or intimidate but to remind folks who may deal with financial/ accounting/ budgeting concepts all the time in their professional lives that their personal finances can be addressed with the same tools on a different scale.

    Signed, a banker who needs the reminder from time to time

  17. Does anyone know of any financial management software available in Europe that resembles Mint? I hear such great things about it, but cannot try it at the moment (I have given up checking back when it will be available where I live).
    From what I hear, it makes keeping tabs on personal accounts (which I dread) much more fun than just an excel sheet…

  18. If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    Gtdagenda. com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

  19. I used to use excel to track my networth, but lately I’ve started using learnvest.com. It allows you to set goals and budgets, and I love to check it each morning to see where I stand. It’s a financial site for women so I also really enjoy some of the articles and bootcamps from women similar to me.

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