Frugal Fridays: My Not So Frugal February


Today is the last day of February. Whew, the year is already flying by. As I have mentioned before, one of my main goals this year is to build financial stability. Last post I talked a bit about my obsession with budgeting.

Well… I have a major confession. I totally blew up my February budget. Yikes! At first I was nervous, but then I realized these were all big purchases I was planning to make in 2014.

Let’s take a look at my extra expenses:

  1. Travel – I was originally debating taking my Africa trip over Thanksgiving break this year, but then one of my best friends whom I haven’t seen in 3 years (she lives in Montana) told me she booked a plane ticket to Belize in May, I knew I had to buy a ticket too. Luckily, I had been saving money in my vacation fund, thus I had the $730 in my bank account to cover the costs of that large semi-unplanned purchase.
  2. New Camera – I’ve wanted to purchase a new camera for upcoming travel and also for a few projects I have in line for Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training for awhile. I finally pulled the trigger due to my trip to Belize and the fact that I can write it off as a business expense. I did some research and found out that February is generally a good month to buy digital cameras; I did some scouting around for sales. I found the camera I wanted at Best Buy on sale, plus I was able to cash in some credit card points I’ve had for several years for a $75 gift card. Win, Win! I’m now a proud owner of a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR camera. Now, to figure out how to use it… anyone want to give me lessons? 🙂
  3. LL Bean Boots – I’ve been wanting a pair of LL Bean boots for a couple of years now, but just never pulled the trigger on buying a pair. I had been wearing my Uggs boots around forever, which are ugly and falling apart. I was up in Freeport a couple of weeks ago and decided to check out the Outlet store to see if they had any boots in my size. I lucked out and found the exact pair I wanted in my size. Clearly, I purchased them and have been living in them since due to this crazy winter weather. I found out last week that LL Bean currently has a 6+ week backorder on their boots so I lucked out with my find.
Yes, I'm from Maine. I proudly wear LL Bean!

Yes, I’m from Maine. I proudly wear LL Bean!

Other than those three expensive purchases that were semi-unplanned, I stayed well in my budget. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that I increased my monthly student loan payments. When my graduate student loans came out of their grace period, I would have had paid over $500 a month in combination with my undergraduate student loans. Which, at the time, was over a quarter of my monthly budget. I decided to apply for the graduated student loan payment plan to ensure that I could pay my student loans monthly without eating ramen noodles every day!

I did a bunch of calculations recently with various student loan payment plans and realized that I was only paying interest on my graduate student loans and a couple of them even were more than I originally took out! Yikes! I played around with my budget and decided to reallocate some money to increase my monthly payments back to the standard 10 year repayment plan. It will add an additional $100 to my monthly bills, but will pay off in the long run with less interest paid. Of course, I’m hoping to pay a majority (if not all) of my student loans off well before the 10 years is up!

I will fully admit that I am obsessed with budgeting and watching my bank account and net worth increase. However, sometimes you need to make big unplanned purchases. Even though my purchases weren’t completely unplanned, I was a bit reluctant to drop hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket and camera. I will say that I am completely excited to head to Belize and see one of my best friends and hopefully come back with some killer photos.

Until next time…. happy training and keep saving!

Frugal Fridays: My Obsession with Budgeting


The first step that I took to gain financial stability was to make a budget. Well, I actually made about 500 different budgets. I’m a wee bit obsessed with making budgets now. I’m beginning to think that I should have been an accountant.

My main budgeting method is If you don’t use Mint then I highly recommend that you hop on that train. It’s completely free and you can upload all your banking data plus investments, car and house loans, and student loans. It’s a great way to keep track of your money and debt and also your overall net worth. I find that Mint is a helpful tool in determining where your money is going and ways to cut your budget.

Along with my Mint account, I also created about 100 different types of budgets through Excel. I tried out a bunch of different budgeting temples offered through Microsoft Excel, but none of them really met my needs. Thus, I created my own from scratch. From there, it involved into about a 10-sheet spreadsheet containing my yearly budget, monthly bills, student loan details, and three-year finance goals.

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A glimpse at my budgeting spreadsheet

A few of my three-year financial goals include: purchasing and paying off a new car by 12/31/15, paying off my SallieMae student loans (currently about $9200) by 12/31/16, and a volunteer trip to Africa in November 2015. I’ve calculated the amount I need to transfer to each of my corresponding savings accounts each pay check in order to meet my goals by my deadline.

By creating my own budgeting spreadsheet I was able to add everything I needed into one spreadsheet that was easy for me to edit, read, and keep track of my income and expenses. I also color-code everything because, well, I’m a bit obsessed at the moment.

A lot of people get overwhelmed with budgeting. Hence, why so many people are in debt and/or spend money on useless or unneeded things. Here is how I went about creating my budgets:

  1. Determine your monthly take-home pay
  2. Determine your monthly “hard expenses,” i.e. rent, student loans, health insurance, etc. (basically anything that you must pay each month and the amount doesn’t usually change)
  3. Determine your monthly “soft expenses,” i.e. groceries, gas, gym memberships, coffee shops, etc. (soft expenses include items that have more fluid costs each month and ones that you could probably cut back on if needed)
  4. At this point, decided if you prefer software/website programs such as Mint, or if you would rather create your own budgets through Excel
  5. Subtract all your expenses from your monthly income
  6. Hopefully you have money left over! If you don’t, then you need to readjust your expenses. Start with your soft expenses first. Trust me, there are ways to cut back on things.
  7. Stash your extra money into a savings account. You should always pay yourself first! If you have goals, such as a vacation, open a second savings account to put money away for this expense.
  8. If you have a lot of debt, especially credit card debt, put extra money towards paying those debts off! You can probably cut back on going out to eat or going to the movies to put extra money towards those extra payments.
  9. Stay on budget throughout the month! And check back throughout the month to see how you’re doing.

Budgeting shouldn’t be hard. Yes, it may not be fun because for most people, it acts as a wake-up call for where your money is going. You work hard for your money so why put it down the drain on stupid purchases or wasteful spending!

~ Happy Training!

Frugal Fridays: First Edition



One of my big 2014 goals is to become financially stable and pay off some student loans! Thus, welcome to my new series called Frugal Fridays! I plan to post at least twice a month on everything from paying off debt, making and sticking to budgets, and living frugally.

Since September I have been using the free online budgeting program,, to create a monthly budget and track my spending. The first few months I knew I would be off my budget because I started a new job and had to buy an entire new wardrobe. Hello big girl job! I also wasn’t 100% sure about my gas, health and grocery spending and what it was going to look like. The fall months were definitely a trial by error months. By monitoring my spending over the past three months or so has led to some fine tuning of my monthly budget going into 2014.

The largest chunks of my budget were student loans, food and medical. Obviously I can’t cut down my student loan payments, but I knew I could make cuts in my food and medical spending in order to grow my savings account. With my new job I get a company funded HSA to help pay our high deductible insurance plan. Last month I realized that I could use it to pay my chiropractor (since that is my medical spending)! But now that my hip is starting to “normalize,” I don’t have to go weekly. Yay!

Food is a big area most people can cut down on in order to save more money. I use to go to Starbucks a couple of times a week for a latte and a breakfast sandwich. That’s about $7 a time, which over a month can add up to a lot of dough. I will still stop at Starbucks on an occausion, but I’m focusing on making and eating breakfast at home. I don’t normally go out much for dinner so I really don’t have much to cut back there. In the recent months I have been bringing my lunch to work almost everyday to work. Sometimes if I’m traveling for work though I have to buy it and I’m okay with that.

For both my undergraduate and graduate degree, I started with about $44,000 in student loans, which I use to think was really bad, but after hearing about some of my friends undergraduate debt, I don’t feel as bad. However, $40,000+ debt is definitely scary and I want to get rid of it as fast as possible, especially since I would like to go back for my PhD. Over the past few years I have managed to pay it down to about $35,000.

Here are my mini-goals for 2014:

  1. My goal is to get my student loans under $30,000 this year. I plan to pay off two loans for sure this year: one for $2500 and a second for $1500. If I have extra money in my budget, then I may apply more money quarterly to certain loans to pay them off quicker.
  2. Saving for a car. I’ve been driving my 2000 Hyundai Elantra for over 7 years and it’s on its last legs. However, I plan to drive her to the grave. My goal is to pay for a new car with as much cash as I can manage instead of completely funding via loans. I also don’t plan on buying a brand new car. I would love to buy a Subaru, but at this point in my life, I don’t want to pay that much for a car. We’ll see though what is available when the time comes. I just want sometime good on gas and can fit my triathlon gear!
  3. Cutting back on things and sticking to my budget. There are somethings in my budget that I can’t cut from my budget, such as student loans and rent. However, I’m going to make every effort to stick to my budget and make cuts when I can. Recently, I decided to dump my $100 a month Verizon bill for a more budget friendly cell phone plan. I will let you know in a month or so how that new plan is going, but I should be saving anywhere from $50-75 a month!
  4. Packing my lunch, eating breakfast and dinner at home. One of the best ways to save money on food is via meal planning. Confession: I’m a total Type A person, but not when it comes to food. I rarely grocery shop with a list. That is going to change. I’m also considering a small garden this summer as well.
  5. Pay myself first. I had built a good emergency fund over the past few years, but the amount took a drastic hit over the past year due to some very expensive car repairs. My main goal is to build this up again to be able to have enough money to cover all my bills for 3-6 months. Hopefully I won’t have to use it, but it will be there if I need it. I also plan to add additional money to my second savings account for potential travel this year or early next year.
  6. Buy things I only need. I’ve never been a huge spender, but when I want something I will go out and buy it. I have a lot of friends that are very liberal in their spending and I have a feeling a lot of them are in some debt. Most people are in this country, especially in their 20s. I’ve started to keep a list of items that I would like to purchase over time. No more impulse purchasing!
  7. The Mason Jar Savings Plan – I’ve seen various versions of this running around on the internet and I have decided to do it this year. Frugal Beautiful gives you a good outline of the plan here (plus her blog is really a good read too!). I don’t have a fancy mason jar to put my dollar bills is; I just keep a big envelope in my safe.

So that is my plan for 2014 to save some moolah and also pay down some student loan debt. Anyone have some good advice on ways to save? I’m all ears!

~ Happy Training!