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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Stressed About Filing Taxes?

Stressed About Filing Taxes? | CorporetteLadies, we have a bit more than a month before (dunh dunh dunh) Tax Day. Are you done with filing taxes? (And, who is doing them?) Are you stressed about them? Are you looking forward to a refund? Are you nervous about how much you’re going to have to pay?

For my $.02, I’m just starting to get stressed. I’ve used an accountant for as long as I can remember, but this is the first year I’m trying to use a bookkeeper as well. (I’ve never actually used TurboTax or similar software for filing taxes — my father may have used that when he “helped” / did my taxes for me my first year or two out of college.) But after law school, a friend recommended an accountant to me — this wonderful, older gentleman who I really liked. I had a simple tax situation at the time, and his services were, perhaps accordingly, pretty affordable. When we bought the apartment in 2009, though, he nearly missed a major tax credit; thankfully we caught the mistake before we signed our taxes. When we started looking for a new accountant, we knew income from Corporette was making our tax situation more complicated, so we were ok to sign on with a fancier accountant who cost 4-5 times what my former accountant charged. (Something else I learned when I switched accountants: estimated taxes aren’t optional for business owners, which was something I understood after talking with my first accountant. Fortunately it wasn’t a big problem since the extra income was so small back then, but it really drove home how much the first guy was hurting more than helping.)

Every year since signing on with my new accountant, he’s sent us a huge “Tax Planner” PDF as part of filing taxes. It’s about 50 pages long in tiny print and asks a zillion questions, and it’s always taken me hours and hours to complete. This is the first year I’m trying to outsource the tax planner to a bookkeeper; my hope is that my reviewing it will take a lot less time than my doing it. (Gotta delegate, right?)

In terms of actual taxes, April 15 is usually pretty rough as a self-employed business owner because my retirement savings are due, to be invested in one huge chunk, usually; final taxes for 2015 will be due, which may be higher than what I paid the previous year in estimated taxes; and the first chunk of estimated taxes for 2016 will be due, using new numbers based on my 2015 taxes. Those are three unknown numbers — and in the past we’ve had some nasty surprises where I needed a lot more in cash on April 15 than I had set aside. (Hooray for the emergency fund!) Now, after paying work-related bills, I earmark about 40¢ of every dollar I earn for month-to-month living expenses, and save the rest in Ally accounts that get 1% interest for taxes and retirement. I’ll breathe a happy sigh of relief should April 15 come and go without too many surprises.

Ladies, how about you — do you do your taxes by yourself? Do you consider them complicated or easy?  How did you find your accountant? 

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The F@#$ Off Fund

the f-off fund -- a discussion with professional womenSomething that everyone seems to be talking about is the concept of the “f$*@#$ off fund” — the original piece in Billfold went viral, and I’ve seen it popping up everywhere in conversation from FreeKesha stories to the discussion of that Yelp employee who got fired after complaining about her salary publicly (here’s Ask a Manager’s brief link to get you started on that drama). For those of you who haven’t yet read it, in the article, a hypothetical woman has to stay with an abusive boyfriend and a sexually aggressive boss because she doesn’t have the money to leave or quit. Here’s the core of the article, but note two things: a) the original is worthy of the 6 minutes Billfold helpfully tells us it will take to read it, and b) warning: language ahead.

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Tales from the Wallet: Retirement Savings

retirement savingsLadies, how much do you save for retirement? Why do you do it? There was an interesting commenter thread about feeling saving burnout and wanting to splurge a little — do you count retirement savings as something you can cut back on, absent a strong need? We’ve talked about how much to save for retirement, what kind of tax-savvy investments exist to maximize your retirement savings, when to pay down debt vs. save, and where retirement should fit in your total money roadmap.

(Pictured: Hobo ‘Taylor’ Glazed Leather Wallet, on sale at Nordstrom for $70.)

For my $.02, I didn’t get started saving for retirement in a 401K or other tax-savvy vehicle until my late 20s, and I regret that — as they say, there are few powers in this universe stronger than the power of compound interest, and this kind of chart always freaks me out. My husband and I have generally taken the view that saving for retirement is one of our top priorities, and we max out every tax-advantaged vehicle. Like most parents of small kids, I’ll admit that these past few years (yay, childcare expenses) have been tight, and we’ve been moving money from our other, non-tax advantaged savings in order to max out our retirement accounts. (In case that’s unclear — I try really hard for us to spend less than we earn, and I kind of freak out if our take-home earnings for the month are less than we need to pay our bills. But then I remember that our retirement savings and 529 savings are deducted before they get to our take-home earnings, so as long as I can use our other savings to make up for the shortfall, I feel OK about it — within reason.)

How about you, ladies — what are your strategies for retirement savings? Does anyone get a match or perk you’d care to tell us about (anonymously)? Any good tips on how to do it? 

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Tool of the Trade: Online Shopping Apps

Online Shopping AppsWe’ve talked about some of my favorite online shopping tools before, but not in a while — and a lot of the older ones have gone belly up, so let’s discuss the best of today’s online shopping apps. Ladies, what are your favorite tools these days? These are the ones I use:

  • Covvet: This takes the place of the dearly departed Shopping NotesPoachIt, and Hukkster. The idea is simple: If you see a product you like, you click a bookmarklet on your desktop and tell the program what price you’d like to pay — then they’ll notify you if/when it goes on sale. I use this a LOT, and really like it — my only regret is that it doesn’t work on my iPad.
  • Amazon Wishlist. A year or two ago, Amazon changed their wishlist so that it now can track products on ANY site. If they can match it on Amazon they’ll let you know; otherwise they link your list to the third party site. I have zillion gift idea lists in here; it also helps me keep track of all the makeup I want to try/investigate in person.

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