budgeting

No Spend March: Week Four

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We made it! The final week of No Spend March. While I feel that it was a good experiment and challenge to try, I will admit, the idea of forcing myself to not spend money felt like I was, in a way, shackling myself to my work and my home. While I may have a few extra dollars in my bank accounts, I passed up on many opportunities to see friends and socialize because, “I’m doing a no-spend challenge for work.”

Sure, it was entirely my choice to partake, but I definitely felt why it can be difficult to not spend money, especially when everyone around you is.

Let’s go over my final week!

Friday I repeated a mistake I made the first week - I found myself after a photoshoot hungry with no preparation, so I ended up going to Jimmy John’s for lunch. While it may be slightly better for me than McDonald’s (who am I kidding?), it was certainly not better for my wallet. Money spent: $11.11

In case you forgot, this Saturday was my day to allow myself to spend money, because I went to the Comic Convention and Entertainment Expo (also known as C2E2) in Chicago. I bought two Blu-Rays of shows I had been looking for for such a long time, and got Joel and I Taco Bell after our hellishly long day driving in Chicago traffic and walking 20,000 steps. We were not in a mood to cook. Money spent: $156.31

Yes, you read that right. Thankfully, I kept some restraint for the rest of the week, because I know I had to make up for this past weekend.

So, now that this challenge is over, what have I learned?

  1. I figured out times where I am more likely to spend money. My impulses are driven by hunger, always. This is why diets are the worst thing in the world for me (the latter of which I’m trying to attempt in an effort to clean up my eating habits). So, if I know I’m going to have a long morning or day of being on my feet, I need to prepare myself for that.

  2. I now take my time to decide what purchases take priority. Not being able to spend money has given me a lot of time to figure out what I need and want to purchase. I give myself less grief spending on items I need, and find more joy in spending on items I want, because I now give myself more time to reflect before purchasing.

  3. Sometimes, I’ll have to spend money, and that’s O.K. I’ve always made myself feel guilty when making purchases. Have you ever gone shopping with someone who carries an item around the store with her for most of the time, only to put it back right before you leave? Yeah, that’s me. Sure, reflecting is good (as I mentioned in my prior point), but also - I shouldn’t deny myself the simple pleasures of life simply because I feel guilty parting with my money.

Now, I better understand not to spend money frivolously by being prepared ahead of time, think about the purchases I want to make, and then, when the time comes, actually go for it and enjoy the process.

How did your month of no-spending go? Did we inspire you to try a no-spend month? What did you learn over the process? Leave your comments below!

(Also, if you’re nervous about not spending money - did you know Milborn Advisors can help you make a budget? Budgeting is a great way to figure out where your money is going and how not to spend it impulsively. Contact us today for a free consultation!)

No Spend March: Week Three

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This week seriously felt like it dragged. This is probably because I’m going to C2E2 this Saturday (Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo), and I’m beyond excited. It’s my first time going to a convention this large, and there’s a very strong chance I’ll be in the same room as Paul Rudd at some point - excuse me while I fangirl at the age of almost-30.

But, why do you care about my nerdy pursuits!?

Well, financially speaking - Saturday is also my cheat day! I’m looking forward to spending guilt-free; I tend to hold myself back at conventions and not really buy things for myself, so I’m looking forward to splurging a little bit more this weekend.

With that being said, let’s go over my week.

Friday started off with a bit of spending - I was low on some skincare items, which, while they aren’t technically a necessity, they are something I prefer to have just because good skincare makes me feel better, inside and out. So, we’ll add those items to the spending. Money spent: $60.04

This was also the weekend we celebrated my brother’s birthday, so on Saturday, I got him a super nice jean jacket with an old-school Metallica poster sewn into the back of it (he loves metal and rock music). Money spent: $105.15

While the first two days were rocky spending-wise, the rest of the week went off without a hitch. I got to see some friends and relax on Sunday, and then Monday was back to my usual routine. I’ve actually been enjoying making my own lunches every day and seeing what Joel comes up with for dinner at home - plus, Thursdays are my fish night (he doesn’t like seafood), so I always look forward to salmon, kimchi, and jasmine rice to end my work week. Plus, cooking is - dare I say it- kind of fun?

I’m starting to realize that there are circumstances where spending will be inevitable, because of birthdays, or holidays, or other events happening (no matter how much you may try to DIY-it or try to find another way to not spend money), but I’m also realizing that spending is okay, as long as it’s mindful. Make sure your spending has a purpose, rather than spend just to spend.

Total Spent for the Week: $165.19

No Spend March: Week Two

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For the entire month of March, Amy is taking part in a no-spend challenge! Want to join her and track your progress? Join the Facebook Group!

The first two days of this week went pretty well. My dad texted me asking if we wanted to get dinner with him and my mom, so we went to a place on the East Side called Strange Town. It’s an all-vegan tapas-style restaurant that’s super cozy and reminded me of dining in New York. It was super cool - if you don’t mind foregoing meat for a meal, definitely check it out!

Thankfully, my parents know about my no-spending month, so they picked up the tab - which, I believe they were going to do anyway, but I made sure to thank them profusely.

Sunday, unfortunately, was a bit of a different story. I had two photoshoots back-to-back that day, which meant I didn’t have time to go home for lunch, nor did I have time in the morning to prep my own. So, McDonald’s was my saving grace. Felt gross and terrible about spending money, even if it was a small amount. Money spent: $5.28

Monday comes around, as do my new classes for school. Looking at the syllabus, I realized I had to purchase a textbook. The school store was offering it for $186- I found a PDF version on a different website for under $20.

Also - remember how I was lamenting about having to discontinue Amazon Prime after the two-week trial? Well, turns out they have a fantastic special for students - so now, I get six months free with my school e-mail! Thank you, Jeff Bezos. Money spent: $19.95

The next day, I had my hair appointment that I had scheduled prior to my decision to do a spending freeze. Since it isn’t a necessity, I suppose I should count it, along with the Lyft ride that got me there. Money spent: $98.65 (eek).

The rest of the week went well - no reason to spend money, so I didn’t!

Total Spent This Week: $123.88

Comparing to last week, I did much worse in terms of spending. The only one I truly feel guilty about, however, is the fast food purchase - it was the only thing I didn’t need and didn’t plan out ahead of time, so now I know that if I’m going to be in situations like Sunday, I need to make sure to prepare myself ahead of time.

Is your spending freeze still going strong? What are some purchases you have trouble curbing? Comment below!

No Spend March

By Amy Lancaster

By Amy Lancaster

So, this post is a little different from the rest.

As someone who is newer to the personal finance world, and – as someone who likes a challenge – I’ve decided to embark on different monthly challenges to help me improve my finances.

Looking back at my budget last month, I was floored by how terrible of a job I did. I tried to limit myself to $25/week in eating out, and $50/week in shopping (clothing, makeup, fun materialistic items, you know – things I don’t really need), and I absolutely failed. Granted, I had to do some extra spending for upcoming photoshoots as well as indulge in one of my nerdier interests via a local convention – but those acts alone made my budget completely crash and burn for the rest of the month.

Therefore, this month, I am forcing myself to do a spending freeze. Here are my personal rules:

  1. Only spend money on absolute necessities. This includes bills, groceries, transportation, and prior commitments (I have a hair appointment this month, but I feel it’s a bit of a win in terms of saving money because I have been able to work out a deal with my hairstylist to make it less expensive).

  2. Allot for one cheat day. This month, I’m going to Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo on March 23rd – this will be the one day that I will allow myself to spend money on whatever I want (within reason, of course).

  3. Figure out ways to save more money. There are a few things I could most likely do without that I am paying for every month. This month, I will go through any recurring expenses and see where I can cut some corners.

  4. Share weekly updates. I’ll be posting weekly updates via this blog to share my experience, what went well, and what I can improve on for next week.

  5. Encourage others to join. This is where you come in! Because I have the discipline of my cat the moment a treat enters her field of vision, I will be creating a Facebook group for this that anyone can join! I’ll also be promoting the hashtag #milborntosave on our social media – so, if you want to share anything pertaining to this, make sure to use the hashtag!

Your rules don’t have to be exact to my own – everyone’s circumstances are different, and people have situations where they have to spend money on things besides the necessities. Just make sure to tailor your rules to your situation in the best way that will make sure you come out ahead by the end of the month!

Ready to join the challenge? Join the group and comment below if you’re #milborntosave!

My 2019 Financial Goals

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By Amy Lancaster

Me 5 years ago would have never believed that I would have this much control over my money situation. I always thought I was doomed to forever live from paycheck-to-paycheck, stuck in a small apartment eating ramen in the dark and only traveling in my dreams. But, I will say – working at a financial firm has seriously changed my life in terms of my finances. Just from being at Milborn for less than a year, I’ve managed to keep a consistent budget since August and put away over $2,000 in savings.

Still, there’s always room for growth – and, as a millennial always being told to live her “best life”, I know I can’t settle for my current situation. While I am in a much better position than I was just a couple years ago, this momentum has given me motivation to aim my goals a bit higher and start experiencing life the way I’ve always wanted.

With that being said, here are my financial goals for 2019.

  1. Save over 3 months’ worth of income in an emergency fund. I’ve done a lot of research into what exactly I should have in my emergency fund, and it’s ranged from $1,000 all the way to one year’s worth of income. Of course, I believe that having more in there is better, but at some point, I don’t want to spend the rest of my career putting away money into an emergency fund and instead put that money to work, so I’d like to have a cap-off. While the finish line will be six months for me, this year it’s more realistic for me to get to three months.

  2. Put money away towards my July trip to Japan so that I don’t have to dip into money from any other accounts. This is a goal I am very excited about. I’ve wanted to go to Japan for a very long time, and it’s been years since I’ve left the country. I never thought I’d be able to properly budget my money or make enough to make it a reality to actually save for a trip, but now that I’m in a more comfortable position financially, I want to take advantage of that. The goal is to have $3,710 (which, according to Money We Have, is an ideal budget for a  two-week trip), which means I’ll need to save $742 a month from now until July (along with the $530 I already have put away).

  3. Buy a new computer. After my big financial save for Japan, my next savings goal will be to get myself a new computer. While the one I have is good for day-to-day work and school, I want a computer that can handle my photography and creative endeavors, and one that I know I can rely on for years to come (whereas I’ve had this computer for less than two years and the keyboard is already broken, as well as the laptop-to-tablet switch feature is glitchy). The model I’m eyeing up – MacBook Air 256GHz (in rose gold, of course) is $1,399, which means if I want it by January of next year, I’ll need to put away roughly $117 every two weeks starting in August.

  4. Start putting away 10% of income towards retirement. After that goal, I will think of another savings goal (probably save up for an iMac, because I’d also like a desktop computer), but I know I really need to look into saving for retirement because – I’ll be candid – I have nothing saved. Stocks, IRA’s, and all that jargon really scared me until I started working for Milborn. Now, I have a better understanding just from hearing the day-in-day-out talk between Mark and Drew. By knowing I can save for retirement and still have fun in the present, I can be a little more willing to, you know, actually save.

  5. Invest? Actual investing, however, still intimidates me a little bit. I don’t have to start paying off school loans until I graduate (summer of 2020), so I may hold off on this until I pay those off – which are thankfully as of right now my only source of debt. Nevertheless, I will continue to do my research so that I have a clear plan of how exactly I want to invest when the time comes.

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Writing down goals always helps me stay on track. Plus, sharing goals keeps me accountable! What are you financial goals for 2019? Comment them below!

How to Follow Your Dreams With a Financial Mindset

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By Amy Lancaster

Before I got into this totally foreign world of personal finance and investing (shout-out to Mark and Drew for hiring me), I was on a completely different path in my life. The 4-year-old in me was burning to come out, and at the age of 23, I decided to respond to that desire by pursuing a dance career.

 I was classically trained in ballet since I could walk, but, unfortunately, I missed the boat on becoming a principle dancer at a company, so I thought that door had closed.

Enter the world of ballroom – a new style of dance to me. One that would give me the best memories of my life. One that would provide a celebrity-status lifestyle that I never even dreamt I could have. One that would let me live my dream of being a professional dancer in an entirely new world.

And one that nearly killed my wallet – and me.

While I enjoyed the ride, it was the most unstable rickety roller-coaster I had ever ridden. And the end result left me physically detesting dancing and cutting it out of my life for a good period of time.

If you’re struggling with the idea of whether or not to pursue your dreams, know that it’s not too late, and know that you should at least give it a try. You should, however, give it a try in the right way. Here are the mistakes that I made that led me to have to walk away from my dream, and here is what you can do to (hopefully) prevent that, and if not, how to overcome walking away.

1.      Have a cushion.

This was my first mistake. I should have known that pursuing a dancing career from the beginning meant literally being a starving artist. I went into my adulthood with no savings, and, because I was only 23, still had no savings to speak of. As if you’re starting your own business, I would make sure you have at least six months’ worth of expenses in your bank account before making any career change this large. I thought the job that came along with ballroom dancing would take care of it, and it would have – if I had put the work.

2.      Make sure your day job will pay for it.

The competing itself was fun. I loved staying at the studio until the late hours of the night perfecting my craft for my own dancing. The job itself, I loathed. As much as I prefer to tell people I was a ballroom dancer, I was truly, at the heart of it all, a ballroom instructor. Because I didn’t think this way, however, I didn’t succeed. If you’re teaching enough and have enough students competing, you can absolutely afford your own competing (we paid for everything out of pocket – travel, entries, coaching, hotel, costumes, shoes, hair and makeup – all of it). I was absolutely not teaching enough. Because I had the mindset of being a dancer, and not a teacher, I never perfected my skills to make sure I had a steady income. Most of my days, if I wasn’t teaching the maybe 2 out of a possible 10 lessons I could have had that day, was spent sitting on my butt wondering why I couldn’t keep a student to save my life. It was all about my mindset.

It took me a long time to come to resolution that I needed some sort of stable income to pursue what I really want to do – even if that meant working a “day job” to make that happen.

So young, so innocent, so…broke.

So young, so innocent, so…broke.

3.      Don’t fall for the lavish lifestyle.

This may be dependent on what exactly your dream is – but this was certainly true in my case. Ballroom dancing is a very glamorous lifestyle. I had some of my fanciest, richest, elbow-rubbing-est life experiences in this job. I wore $3000 dresses like they were a pair of jeans. Necklaces donned my décolleté that were worth more than my rent. Could I afford any of it? Absolutely not. But, you had to look the part. It was expected to be well-groomed, high-fashioned, and lavish at all times. The other, more successful instructors wore Jimmy Choo’s and carried Louis Vuitton bags, so I tried to keep up with my knock-offs. Turns out, knock-offs cost money, too.

Keeping up with the Joneses is never a good idea. It’ll just make you unhappier, not only with your lifestyle, but with your finances as well. Plus, you may end up putting yourself in a more dire situation – like losing your apartment.

4.      Know it’s O.K. to ask for help.

As I got older, and my parents became more strict on giving me money (which, thank you for that, by the way. Seriously.), I grew this perception of being so independent that I didn’t need help, and that asking for help was a sign of weakness. I also got this idea in my head that my parents wouldn’t help me as an adult, because they did not “help me” as a teenager. Now I know that, as a person who was a late teen during the housing bubble burst, they financially could not help me. They are still recovering from this. I know now that of course they would help me – but financially, they just could not. And this stung during my dancing days.

Don’t be stubborn about asking for help. Even if you don’t think you do, there is a very good chance that you have someone in your life who will help you get back on your feet, whether it be financially, or giving you a place to live, or even driving you to work to save on gas money. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People want to help, believe it or not.

Unfortunately, in my case, it was too little too late – by the time I admitted I needed help, I was already at the head of my career, and I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life.

5.      Know when to quit.

I still remember vividly the day that I quit, despite it being almost three years ago. I left my apartment intentionally early so I wouldn’t have to face any of my other co-workers, and I still didn’t get there until about an hour before work was meant to start because traffic was unusually heavy that day. I attempted to convince myself that it was a sign that I shouldn’t leave, but I wasn’t thinking logically at this point. I was about to lose my home. I couldn’t pay my bills. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was losing weight to the point where people would ask my dance partner if I was okay. It was killing me to stay.

It took me a very long time to get over it, but I will say – it was quite possibly the best decision I could have made for my mental health and my financial health. I’m still slowly climbing back up from the effects, but the direction is upward, and that is what is important.

Now, my work-life balance is much more stable; I have savings, I can actually budget because my paychecks are consistent – I have even been able to go back to school because I can financially afford it and I have time for it now. So, while I miss dance and what could have been, I know that this is better for me in the long run.

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I do want to figure out how to budget dance classes into my finances, however. I think I’m finally ready to go back – and this time, for fun.

How Tracking My Budget Has Changed My Life

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By Amy Lancaster. Originally published in the October 2018 Issue of the Milborn Newsletter.

Like most people my age (I'm assuming), most of my 20's have been less about financial freedom, and more about stressing about where my next dollar was coming and going. My adult life so far has been filled with nights of staying home, dodging plans, and not getting any sleep, rather than going out, partying, and traveling. Even more so, there were no saving habits to be found. Being almost 30, I knew things had to change.

Budgeting was something I knew I had to do - and wanted to do - but it wasn't until I started working at a financial firm and seeing the ins and outs of money and investing that I became truly interested in fixing my financial situation. From only two months of keeping track of my spending, I've managed to not only finally open a savings account, but I've tucked away over $700 that I just assumed I didn't have lying around otherwise. Here are a few more things I've discovered since tracking my budget:

1. I spend way too much on eating out. Lattes, sushi specials at the market, an alcoholic beverage or two - it adds up, and quickly. I'd always defend my eating out habit with "Well, I can spend $100 a week on groceries, or I can spend $5 a meal three times a day for seven days, which comes out to be the same amount." Oh Amy, you are so naiive. I'm still struggling with this, but being able to see how much I do spend on eating out (and so far, it's been 2 for 2 on being more than groceries a month) helps me curb this habit and see that I could be putting that amount towards something way more necessary (say, a new computer. I'm tired of living this USB keyboard life since my laptop's keyboard broke).

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2. I discovered automated payments I didn't even know I had. The very first day I started tracking my spending, I noticed a $40 monthly payment for a resume website I used once. Immediately I canceled it, and thanked myself for tracking my spending, otherwise who knows how long I would have paid $40/month for something I didn't even need or use. 

3. My financial goals are more tangible. I haven't had a car since February of 2017. While I've been able to mostly get around and have had wonderful people in my life be so gracious to give me rides or loan me their car, I do miss the freedom of having my own vehicle. Now that I am tracking my budget, I can stop thinking "One day when I graduate and have a high-paying job I can finally get a car", and start putting away x amount every month and physically seeing my money grow towards that goal. That trip to Japan that I've been wanting to take for years? It doesn't seem so far fetched of an idea anymore.

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4. It makes me excited for the future. One of my biggest fears for a while now has been being a financial burden on whoever my long-term partner ends up being. It's hard to admit, but in order to fix yourself, you need to admit what your problems are, and be candid with yourself. Now that I'm with that person, the last thing I want to do is put myself in that situation. I don't need to earn more than him (let's be real, I probably won't, He's a scientist, and I will brag about that at every opportunity), but rather have us spend our money on something for both of us - a spa day, a dream trip, our future home - than have him spend money on bailing me out of a bill or loan or a debt situation. By fixing my financial situation now, I can guarantee the future will be better for us - and it makes me look forward to it in a way I never have before. 

5. I can sleep at night. If that isn't financial freedom (or at least freedom from stress), I don't know what is.