Tales from the Wallet: Leave Room in Your Budget to Take Advantage of Sale Prices

leave room in your budget for salesI just saw a great study on this, so I thought we’d discuss — do you leave room in your budget to take advantage of sale prices?  Do you do it in a disciplined way (“I have $300 to spend for fun purchases, no more!”) or is it just part of your budgetary cushion? Which sales do you splurge on? 

This seems like a great follow up on our recent post about how to make a budget: Of course it’s great to be aggressive with your savings, student loan payments, and investments — but be wary of trying to live on too tight of a budget if you don’t have to. Probably the biggest long-lasting effect the recession had on my money habits is that I leave enough room in my budget for unexpected sales on household items. When I’m in the grocery store or the pharmacy, I look for items with good sale prices and then purchase them even if we don’t need the item immediately (provided we have the storage space). The headline of the HuffPo article I saw about a relevant study says it all: “Poor People Have To Spend More On Toilet Paper Than The Rich: Study.” The study found that low-income households don’t have the cash to buy in bulk, so they end up paying higher per-item prices; the article also mentions that poorer people often end up paying more for “discount” toilet paper than richer people do on “premium” toilet paper. (A lot of readers agreed with me when we talked about everyday splurges: sale prices or no, life is too short for cheap toilet paper!)

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Tales from the Wallet: How to Make a Budget

how to make a budgetFor today’s money feature, let’s discuss living within your means — how to make a budget and stick to a budget. What does “budget” mean to you? What tips and tricks have you used to set a budget, pay down debt, save money and protect against lifestyle inflation — and what alarm bells have you used to tell you that it’s time to reassess? 

The No-Budget Budget

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think every person needs to make a budget — there were years in BigLaw where I would automatically move my second paycheck to savings/investments, living entirely off my first paycheck (and auto-contributing to my 401k). That was enough of a “budget” to me, with no further thought. I knew then and know now I was lucky in those years, and I’m still so grateful for them — that simple decision has laid a great groundwork for me and for my family.

Pictured: MICHAEL Michael Kors ‘Jet Set’ Travel Wallet, on sale for 40% off in purple; at full price in several other colors.

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Tales from the Wallet: Paying Down Debt vs. Saving

paying down debt vs. savingIt’s the New Year, and I heard a lot of chatter among commenters about when they should be paying down debt vs. saving. It’s a huge question, and we’ve talked about some related things (like how to pay off huge student loans and live within your means), but we haven’t talked about when to save vs. when to pay down debt in too long. Readers, what are your best thoughts on paying down debt vs. saving? When is getting out of debt a priority?

(Pictured: Comme des Garçons ‘Super Fluo’ French Wallet, $204 at Nordstrom.)

A few thoughts from me:

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Tales from the Wallet: Tips for Open Enrollment

Tips for Open Enrollment | CorporetteAs we’re coming up on the end of the year, I thought it might be interesting to talk about benefits — and specifically tips for the open enrollment period.  (One of our guest posters got into this a few years ago when she talked about using your benefits package at work to save $10K.) Interestingly, studies have found that people spend less than two minutes on benefit selection — but it really can make a difference (particularly if you’re thinking about getting pregnant or otherwise planning some health changes). (Pictured: the extremely well-reviewed Hobo’Sadie’ Wallet, $108-$118 at Nordstrom.)

To get some expert tips for navigating open enrollment, Kate talked to Shannon McLay, a financial planner and the founder and president of The Financial Gym, a company that offers classes on personal finance as well as one-on-one conversations with financial trainers. (Shannon previously gave us advice on finding a financial planner.) Here’s what she suggests: [Read more…]

Tales from the Wallet: Eldercare and Finances

eldercare-financesToday we’re bringing you our next installment of our Money Milestone series, where we’ve previously discussed paying for grad school, wedding finances, home buyingfinancially planning for a babyfinancial strategies for divorce, and saving for retirement.

Readers requested one on eldercare, finances, and aging parents — and I think that can certainly make an impact on one’s finances, so let’s have an open thread on it today. Have you had to help care for a parent, grandparent, or other loved one? What do you wish you’d known about it ahead of time in terms of finances (yours and theirs)? What were the best resources you found?  

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Tales from the Wallet: Retirement

retirement-womenLadies, how much are you saving for retirement? How large does retirement loom in your thoughts — and where does it fall in your priorities?  Welcome to our next installment of our Money Milestone series, where we’ve discussed paying for grad school, wedding finances, home buyingfinancially planning for a baby, and financial strategies for divorce.

I haven’t retired yet, obviously, but it does loom fairly large in my thoughts and priorities just because getting enough saved by the time we want to retire — and hopefully meet a personal goal of paying for college for both boys — is not going to be a simple matter.  Constant vigilance is the key, I think!  Of course, you don’t want to save so much that you can’t enjoy your life right now — after all, not to get too dark on this sunny day, but not everyone will have to worry about retirement.  We max out my husband’s 401K and my SEP-IRA every year, and we save what else we can in tax-savvy investments and with automatic investing.  (I just started using a new app called Acorns, which is interesting: you can link it to bank and credit card accounts, and it will round up every transaction and invest the difference in Vanguard funds.  Spent $8.95 at the drugstore? It’ll take that $.05 and put it in a queue to invest when you get to $5.  It’s a bit wonky right now — it mysteriously hasn’t updated in 10 days — but I think it shows a lot of promise.)

Readers, are you throwing everything you can at retirement — or are you prioritizing other goals first (like keeping investments fairly liquid for a home purchase or other big expense like a wedding, or paying down debt)?  (Incidentally, we did try to answer what retirement assets you can use for a first home purchase in a previous post.) 

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