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Single in the City: Financial tips for flying solo in Atlanta
Being single has some real advantages, like the ability to sleep starfish style, the freedom to come and go as you please, and never having to worry about someone else hogging the remote. But, there’s also a lot less built-in accountability. When you’re working with a single income, your saving and spending habits not only need some guardrails, but they need a reality check once in a while.
Singles in the city have more opportunity for dining out, shopping, and entertainment, which can easily translate into serious spending. We’re not saying that you need to pay your rent, binge-watch Netflix, and eat ramen noodles until you win the lottery, but if you incorporate a few of these helpful tips, you’ll find that your finances and your future will be substantially less stressful and a lot more fun.
Create a budget
A budget is the foundation for financial success. Whether you’re running a business or managing your weekly paycheck, you need to know where to allocate your resources. Monthly bills, retirement savings, your emergency fund, trendy wardrobe, and caramel latte addiction are all vying for financial attention. And those tickets to see Drake at Phillips Arena aren’t far behind.
A budget will allow you to pay your monthly expenses on time, stash away some savings, and know exactly how much discretionary income you have to spend. It will inevitably make you decide if those Lululemon leggings are more important than running through the Starbucks’ drive-thru every morning or if your weekly visit to DSW is the best use of your lunch hour.
Enlist a money mentor
Accountability is a big part of accomplishing almost anything. Everyone needs someone to gently counsel them and help them talk through important decisions, like buying big-ticket items. Find someone you trust who’s a little older and wiser, and can speak from experience. Allow them to keep you accountable and know that even when it’s uncomfortable, you’ll be better for it in the end.
Create your monthly budget, meet for coffee, and then talk through your financial plan for the month. Give them permission to ask the tough questions and allow yourself to answer them honestly. Listen to their feedback and recommendations. They’ll inevitably help you avoid their past mistakes and help you work toward financial success.
Recognize impulse buying
Ever find yourself mindlessly surfing online retailers like Amazon, H&M, or Nordstom Rack? You don’t need another pair of skinny jeans, but there they are, and they’re on sale! Boom—there’s a quick $60 you’ll never see again. If you thought about it for more than a few minutes, you probably would have passed.
Ever add another item to your cart so you can qualify for free shipping? Sure, spend another $35 on a shirt you’ll probably never wear just to avoid the $7.99 shipping cost. It makes you feel like a savvy shopper when really, you just got duped into spending more than you intended. Why can’t you leave Target without spending $100 every time you walk through the door? We feel your pain. Work from a list, shop with intention and avoid surfing the web to pass the time.
Find some free or cheap entertainment
When you live in a busy city, there’s always something to do. Fun doesn’t have to cost you anything, especially in Atlanta. Every Wednesday night, Centennial Olympic Park has Wednesday Wind Down and free music. Visit the National Archives and trace your family tree. Run, walk, or bike through Piedmont Park or visit the Atlanta Farmer’s Market. Make plans for the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival or take in a Singles Event at Buckhead Church.
If you want to pack a lunch and head OTP, you can hike the Indian Seats Trail, visit Toccoa Falls, shoot the Hooch, or relax on Lake Altoona. Avalon in Alpharetta hosts a live band on the lawn every Friday night in the summer, and their Athleta store offers free yoga classes. Grab a friend and go!
Some things you don’t even have to leave home to enjoy. Invite some friends over to watch your favorite TV show or host a game night. The possibilities are endless.
Shop consignment stores
Consignment shops and vintage clothing are all the rage. If you haven’t ventured in, you’re missing some great bargains. Not all the items will match your style, but you can snap up some gently used, designer clothing, purses, and accessories at affordable prices. You’d be surprised at how many people want to offload last season’s styles. It’s always an adventure. You never know what you’ll find, and the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun.
Here’s an extra bonus: If you’re a fashionista and have items that no longer fit or flatter you, consider a consignment shop as a way to purge your closet and make a few extra dollars.
These are just a handful of ideas that can help you stick to your budget without feeling the pinch. Atlanta is never short on entertainment, so do some research, find some things you’ll enjoy, and consider some new experiences. C’mon, it’ll be fun!
High Fashion, Low Budget: 7 Tips for Frugal Fashionistas
Style is a funny thing…one day it’s in, and the next day it’s out. Pulling off chic and trendy can be expensive, especially if you’re keeping up with the Kardashians. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.
If you want to be a fashionista but still need to pay your rent, read on. We’re giving you tips that will help you fill your wardrobe with affordable styles that are nothing short of fabulous.
1. Visit consignment, thrift, and vintage clothing shops
Consignment shops are popping up faster than Starbucks coffee houses these days and for a good reason: there’s a big market for pre-owned, well- cared for clothing and accessories that are still current. Shop early and often in the more affluent areas and you might just find those to-die-for leopard print mules you drooled over last winter. In terms of quality and condition, consignment shop owners can be quite selective when choosing which items to accept, but you should always inspect items for imperfections.
Thrift store shopping is en vogue right now and a goldmine for the bargain fashionista. But, you have to be a person who enjoys the thrill of the hunt. From t-shirts to designer handbags, from chinos to ball gowns, they have it all. Items arrive in various conditions, so inspect your purchases carefully.
Vintage shops are trending lately, especially because the look is really timeless. Vintage clothing is unique and often one-of-a-kind. Fancy buttons, interesting fabric combinations, and hand-sewn embellishments are their trademark, which is what makes them so fabulous. Sometimes the clothing can take you back to another time or, combined with a modern look, it can add that pop of interest that ultimately makes the outfit.
2. Don’t discount the resale sites
Poshmark, Depop, eBay, ThredUp, Swap…they all offer pre-owned stylish pieces at deeply discounted prices. The secret, though, is to be specific about what you’re looking for. Search NWT (new with tags) or EUC (excellent used condition) and don’t be shy about asking the seller to post more pictures. Look for tried-and-true brands that always fit you well. Before you make a purchase, be sure to review the site’s return policy since you’re basing your purchase on how you imagine it will look. Accessories are a less risky purchase since they always fit!
3. Connect on social media
If you thought Facebook was just for catching up with old classmates and posting pictures of little Johnny’s first birthday party, you’re living a sheltered life. Facebook Marketplace sells everything from futons to fur coats, clothing to crock pots, all at rock-bottom prices. Usually, clothing items are those that sellers think could earn them a few extra bucks, especially the ones with designer labels. Join your local Facebook garage sale groups and you never know what you might find.
Love the Stitch-Fix personal shopper concept, but not crazy about their prices? There’s a Facebook group that resells new and gently worn items from the Stitch-Fix family of labels, and another that finds the same or comparable styles on sale at local stores. Are Anthropology, Free People, and Urban Outfitters some of your faves? Yup, they’re there, too! Go ahead. Use that search button and go wild.
4. Shop discount stores
Discount stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, and Saks off Fifth are ideal for the savvy, designer-minded shopper who doesn’t want to pay full price. Generally, these stores negotiate the lowest price on overstock and end-of-season inventory from other companies and then sell it at 20-60% below retail prices.
Discount stores are less concerned with purging last season’s inventory with end-of-season sales but they’ll usually markdown items twice a year, in January and July. At TJ Maxx, a price tag with a red dot means the item has been discounted only once, and a yellow dot means it’s been marked down to its lowest price. You might have to buy your winter coat in July, but it’ll be a steal!
Head to your favorite discount store and find out which days of the week they receive new inventory or when the next clearance sweep is scheduled. There’s no big secret; all you need to do is ask. Plan ahead and get there early for the biggest selection.
5. Plan a swap party
If you have friends that are the same size and have similar tastes in style, host a clothing swap party. Each season, head to your closet and choose items you haven’t worn, are bored with, or don’t fit your shape quite right. Swapping clothes with your friends can boost your wardrobe and bring new life to unloved and neglected pieces that are perfect…for someone else.
6. Take on the department stores
Department stores are not the worst places to find your style, but don’t buy anything without a coupon. Macy’s will price match Macys.com and you can still couple it with a discount code. They’ll also honor online prices for the same item from a list of competitors like Belk, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Lord & Taylor.
Love the superior customer service of Nordstrom? Join their rewards club and earn points for every purchase. When you reach 2,000, they’ll send you a $20 Nordstrom note to use on a future purchase. While their sales may be few and far between, they offer free personal styling and free alterations. Price matching is standard policy as are ten-day price adjustments.
7. Love it or leave it
We all have our favorite stores and brands. The key to scoring the best deals is to know the opportune time to shop–when shipments arrive, at the end of a season, before your coupon expires, or during a promotional event. It’s also important to buy pieces that you love when you see them, not merely when you need them. Ever try to find a dress to wear to a holiday party during your lunch break? You’d pay double for one that simply doesn’t make you look like you’re wearing a trash bag just to get out of there.
Your wardrobe should also be versatile, lend itself to be easily mixed-and- matched, and include enough neutrals to balance the other colors and patterns. Wear a vintage embroidered blazer with a pair boyfriend jeans, or change it up and pair it with a pencil skirt. Match that navy tunic with a pair of white capris and a shabby chic denim jacket. Replace the tunic with a striped t-shirt and grab some tennis shoes for a whole new look. Maximize the possibilities and it’ll seem as if your outfits are endless.
Befriend Your Budget: Stick to your budget without sticking it to your social life
As the single one of my friend group, I know how hard it can be living the #strongindependentwoman lifestyle while all of my friends are living it up as double-income households. Relationship status aside, it can be tough managing your social life when you’re on a budget. Even if you make good money, you may have it earmarked for other financial goals, such as knocking out those pesky student loans or saving for a big vacation and don’t want to blow it on social activities. So, how do you balance your budget without becoming a hermit and alienating your friends? Fear not, we’ve got a few tips to help you out.
Be the first to suggest an activity, not the last.
It’s common to fall back on the norm of dining out at restaurants when it seems like there’s nothing else to do. If you take it upon yourself to suggest alternatives, you can decide on an activity that fits your budget. Living in a city like Atlanta, there’s always something going on that’s either cheap or free, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Once you offer up a few new and fun ideas, you’ll become the go-to planner for your squad, and you won’t feel as much pressure to overspend.
Get comfortable with saying “no.”
You don’t have to decline every invite, but you should get used to saying “no” when an outing is out of your budget, such as a weekend-long music festival or a spur-of-the-moment road trip. You don’t always have to say “no” outright; offer up a more wallet-friendly alternative if you can. If you do have to pass on an outing with friends, be honest about why you can’t make it – true friends will be understanding about your financial situation.
Focus on your long-term goals.
Paying off your student loans, buying a house, or saving for retirement might not be as glamorous or fun as backpacking through Europe with your friends, but that doesn’t make it any less important. How much does the cost of eating out with your friends every week set you back in terms of reaching your larger goals? Sure, 50 bucks here or there may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but your small “splurges” add up over time. We’ve all heard the example that a $5 cup of coffee at work each day will cost you $100 a month – the same concept applies when spending money just to hang out with your friends. Think about where those dollars could be better put to use and focus on that to keep your #FOMO in check.
Tips for how to maintain your car without breaking the bank
When you purchase a car, new or pre-owned, you don’t necessarily factor in the cost of maintenance or repairs. Ensuring your car is in good, working condition helps keep you safe and extends the life of your ride. Routine maintenance is what keeps it running every time you step on the gas. Why then, do most people stall when it comes to caring for their vehicle?
Car maintenance does not come cheap, and most times, especially in our hectic lives, it’s somewhat inconvenient. Think about it, though. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’ll likely be a whole lot more expensive and ill-timed that the alternative.
It’s a smart idea to add a line item to your monthly expenses and start planning your car’s recommended maintenance schedule. Now, all maintenance doesn’t need to be done at the dealership—mostly because it’s cost prohibitive for most people—but you should make friends with your local mechanic. And don’t underestimate your own skills, either.
Here are some auto maintenance basics that could use your attention:
Change your oil
Changing your oil is one of the easiest care requirements to follow. Check your owner’s manual to see the manufacturer’s recommendation, but the majority suggests an oil and oil filter change between 3,000 and 7,000 miles.
Check out area high schools or technical schools to see if they offer free or reduced price oil changes performed by students. You could try and tackle it yourself, but it does require some upfront costs, like an oil drain pan ($10), a jack ($40), a jack stand ($30), a funnel, and some towels. Going forward it would save you some cash, but there are some concerns and environmental issues to think about, and it does make a mess. If you’re not too keen on DIY projects, don’t go to a drive-through oil change shop without a coupon—or a Groupon.
If you’re a Marietta or Cobb County school employee, check out this staff appreciation deal at Ed Voyles: Free Oil Change
Replace your air filter
Your air filter keeps dirt and debris out of your engine and should be changed every 15,000 miles. A technician will almost always ask you if you want it done while you’re having your oil changed, but it’s much less expensive if you do it yourself. Check out YouTube for one of the many quick tutorials and an easy 15-minute DIY project that’ll save you some cash.
Change your brake pads
Now, this sounds a lot harder than it actually is. It requires an initial investment to buy the tools you need, plus about $30 for the replacement pads. It might take a few extra hours to figure out exactly how it’s done, but after the first time, you’ll be an expert. In the future, one afternoon is all it will take, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars over the life of your car.
Replace your own windshield wipers
Worn out windshield wipers are not only frustrating, they’re dangerous. But having them professionally replaced is just downright silly. It’ll cost between $20 and $53 including parts and labor and depends on the type and length of the blade. You can easily replace them yourself, or head down to Pep Boys or Advanced Auto Parts and they’ll have a technician install them for free. No kidding.
Flush the radiator
Flushing the coolant in your car’s radiator keeps metal engine components at their best, prevents rust and your car from overheating. It ultimately helps the engine perform at its optimum level. A flush removes the old coolant that is no longer effective and replaces it with a fresh dose. The DIY version will cost significantly less than a mechanic. The only things you need to purchase are new coolant, a flushing agent, and distilled water. Money wisely spent…and saved.
Repair your own flat tire
If you’ve got a spare and some elbow grease, you’re all set for the moment, but don’t run out to buy a replacement tire, or even pay for a tire repair. If you have some tools and a patch kit you can save yourself twenty bucks at a minimum and maybe the cost of a new tire. Better yet, if your tire is underinflated and is leaking air, or is even completely flat, take it to Goodyear, Kauffman Tire, Tires Plus, Discount Tire, Pep Boys, and many others who fill fix your flat for free.
While we’re on the subject of tires, make sure they’re always properly inflated to the appropriate pressure and rotate them as recommended by the manufacturer. You’ll get greater fuel efficiency, and the tires will wear more evenly and extend their useful life. Check the shop from where you purchased them since many offer free tire rotations. If you have a jack, it’s an easy DIY, too.
Diagnose your car for free
Is your check engine light on? When it is, it’s important to find out why, but paying $75 -$100 for a technician to hook it up to a computer and spit out a report just adds to your frustration. Head to AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts and they’ll happily diagnose it for free. If it’s a fix that you can handle, you’re already at the store, so pick up the parts you need and get to work. It’s an answer and a solution all in a matter of minutes.
At the end of the day, it’s important to keep up with scheduled maintenance and make the necessary repairs to your car as soon as they’re in need. An inexpensive repair can grow into hundreds or thousands of dollars when they’re not addressed. With tons of information and DIY tutorials, there are many things you can do to save money, but don’t sacrifice the safety or the quality of your ride.
5 Tips to Rein in Holiday Spending
The overflowing expectations around the holidays can entice us to spend more than we can afford. Not only do we have bills to face once the decorations are put away, but 43% of respondents to an Experian survey say extra expenses also make the holidays hard to enjoy.
Now’s the time to plan so your December spirit doesn’t lead to January bills. We asked five experts on frugality what they do to avoid holiday overspending.
Recognize your triggers
Donna Freedman, author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times,” says you need to recognize your spending triggers. Are you trying to make the holidays more magical for your family? Can you resist anything but a great a deal? Knowing what drives your spending can help you stop. Here’s what she recommends:
- Carry your list with you even after you’ve finished shopping. When you see a killer deal or a gift that’s “more perfect” than the one you’ve wrapped up, use the list to remind yourself you’re done.
- Make a game out of spending little or nothing for a gift. Freedman likes things that represent “a stirring tale of thrift.” She uses one such gift, a vase with a hole in it, to keep money she finds — on the ground, in vending machines, wherever — for giving to charity each holiday season.
- Consider limiting children to four gifts, asking them to choose “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” It helps children set realistic expectations.
Work with a list
For Tiffany Aliche, aka “The Budgetnista,” step one is making a list of whom you plan to give to and how much you plan to spend. Make sure your gift budget fits into an overall holiday budget that accounts for shipping, decorations, food, travel and entertainment. Her top tips:
- Check that list twice. It’s easy to forget thank-you gifts for coaches, teachers, the letter carrier, party hosts. Decide what you want to give each person. Once the list is set, adjust it as you go to keep planned gifts and your budget in sync.
- Use technology. “Price-check online before you buy or go in a store,” Aliche says. Know your price range for every gift on your list and set up price alerts. One of Aliche’s new favorites is the Chrome extension Wikibuy, which looks for better offers as you shop online and applies the best coupon when you check out.
- Consider making an experience the gift. If you’re already planning a holiday outing with a group of friends, can you agree it will be a gift to one another?
Match your approach to your values
The blogger who writes under the pseudonym Mrs. Frugalwoods says her family’s frugality is “larger than the holidays.” She notes that while the season is “wonderful and it’s fun, it’s not an excuse to dip into your emergency fund.” Her tips:
- Decide what’s most important and spend accordingly. For her, it’s a family gathering. She hosts Thanksgiving and cooks from scratch rather than buying pre-made or going to a restaurant.
- Shop with gift cards or cash-back rewards. She prefers giving an item rather than a gift card but occasionally passes along gift cards that were given to her. It’s regifting at its finest.
- Let your values be your guide. She favors “small, reasonable gifts” and shopping locally.
Know the difference between cost and value
Mary Hunt, the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” blogs at Everyday Cheapskate. She says it’s important to understand that your credit limit is not a license to spend. Try these instead:
- Shop with cash only; leave your checkbook and credit and debit cards at home. Need more cash?See if you can cut your grocery bill temporarily by using up items in your freezer or pantry, or track down unused gift cards to fund holiday shopping.
- Know the difference between a gift’s value and its cost. A $20 toaster that you found on sale for $8 is still a $20 gift. If you budgeted $20 but paid less, that doesn’t mean you owe the recipient $12 more in gifts.
- Define “gift” more broadly. Can you give your expertise, such as setting up a website for a tech-challenged friend? Do you have a treasured possession to pass on? One of Hunt’s favorite gifts was vintage crystal that belonged to her mother-in-law: “She wrapped it up for me for Christmas and got to see me enjoying it, rather than just leaving it to me in her will.”
Plan for thrift
Having a plan is central to being thrifty, says Gary Foreman, founder of The Dollar Stretcher. “If you don’t have a plan, you’ll overspend,” he says, noting that some people don’t finish paying for Christmas until April or May. His tips:
- Subscribe to online price alerts so you’ll know about price drops for a specific item or for travel. (And unsubscribe later so continual alerts don’t tempt you to spend.)
- Regifting is OK, especially when you know someone will love something you can’t or won’t use.
- The thought really does count, and thoughtful gifts can be inexpensive. One of his favorite gifts came when his daughter tracked down an ethnic bakery to get him some kolaches, Bohemian pastries his grandmother used to make. “Once you have needs met, the gifts that make a difference are the ones that say the giver knows who we are. Those are the best and most memorable gifts,” he says.
How to create a budget (and why it’s important)
Everybody looks forward to payday, but when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it can’t come fast enough. How many times can you squeak by eating pasta for dinner and praying your landlord waits an extra day to cash that check before you figure out that there must be a better way?
It may not be intentional, but living on the financial edge is incredibly stressful. If we told you there’s a more effective way to manage your money, that you’ll be able to see where you’re overspending and even start saving, would you listen? Well, pay attention, because creating a monthly budget is the answer and it’s not as hard as you might think.
Most people think a budget is about restrictions–and that’s no fun. That’s also not true. People at all levels of income use budgeting to as a way to maintain control in their lives. The reality is, you can do anything and go anywhere you want, as long as you understand your cash flow and plan ahead. It’s all about making wise decisions and prioritizing what’s most important. It’s about having a plan, and that’s what a budget is.
Creating a budget
There are 5 easy steps to creating and managing a budget:
Step 1: What are my goals?
Write down your short and long-term financial goals. Do you want to pay off your credit cards, buy a house, start a family, retire in 20 years, fund your kids’ college education? It can be any number of things, but you have to have to have a reason that fuels your efforts. Otherwise, you’ll lose your motivation.
Make a list and post them in a place where you’ll see them every single day. If you’re a visual person, create a vision board. Regardless of whether it’s a list or a group of pictures, it should serve as a daily reminder of what you’re working towards.
Step 2: Where SHOULD my money be going?
We know there’s no budgeting equation fits everyone’s situation, but some general guidelines have proven to help keep people on the road to reaching their financial goals. Ideally, your spending should be divided among fixed costs, flexible expenses, and savings.
Your fixed costs are the bills that are generally the same amount each month, (e.g., rent, utilities, phone, insurance, credit card payments, car payment, etc.). Shoot to spend no more than 50% of your take-home pay on these expenses.
Flexible expenses are those that vary. Things like entertainment, groceries, gas, gifts, and clothing fall into this category. Thirty percent of your take-home pay is what you should aim to spend in this area.
Your savings has to be a priority if you’re going to reach your goals. You remind yourself of what you’re working towards when you look at that list or those pictures every day. In a perfect world, you could set aside 20% of your take-home pay into a savings or investment account.
3. Where IS my money going?
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you want to save some money, you’re going to need to start living below your means. That’s pretty difficult to do if you don’t understand where your money is going now.
Make a list of all your recurring expenses last month. Then, add in all other expenses including restaurant bills, groceries, lattes, shopping, dates, movies, and that late night Uber. Finally, how much were you able to save last month?
With all of those numbers in front of you, you should have a much more clear picture of where your money is allocated during the month. And, if the answer to the last questions is zero, you know it’s time to start prioritizing your spending and looking for ways to cut costs.
4. Create your budget
Now it’s time to create a budget that works for you and your personal needs.
Apply the percentages against your monthly take-home pay for fixed costs (50%), flexible expenses (30%) and savings (20%) and compare those numbers against your current needs. Are they realistic?
In the beginning, they may not be, but that’s no reason to give up. Look for ways to reduce expenses and cut costs. Shop cable providers, cancel that Netflix subscription, cook dinner at home, work to pay off that high-interest credit card. You’ll be saving money by getting rid of the interest charge sooner than later. Just be sure to keep your other credit card payments current. Every change you make is progress, and it’s one step closer to your goal.
5. Track everything you spend
The only way to know where you spend your money is to track it. There are apps like Mint, HomeBudget, and BudgetBoss, to name a few, that are designed help you create your budget and track your progress from your smartphone, computer or tablet. It’s the last step in the budget process, but it’s the most important. Tracking keeps you accountable and is a huge motivator, but if you don’t do it, all the work you’ve done to get this far will gradually slip away and you’ll be more likely to fall into your old habits again. Whether you do it yourself or use an online program, make sure you track!