Me, My Car and I

I love my car but sometimes when I think of the added expenses of owning a car, I cringe. As I type this post, I am standing at the train station on my way to pick up my car from the repair shop. I feel like a parent about to go get a child out of jail. I only have to post bond for said child. In this case, I have to pay $600 to set my car-free. It is about $300 more than I had budgeted when I first took it to the shop for routine maintenance of changing my brakes and oil. Anyway, I have no choice but to pay the money to get my car.

One of the reasons I moved to the Boston area was because it had a robust public transportation system. The MBTA is relatively easy to use and has a good spread. In that sense, I am lucky because I know in most parts of America, a car is not a luxury but a necessity because of bad or non-existent public transportation. I really did not need a car when I first moved to the city. I could hop on and off buses and trains.

A few years in this city though and I yearned for more. So I got a car. My car has allowed me to do things that I never imagined. For one, I was able to change jobs to one that required driving from one city to another to visit clients. In this aspect, my car has been asset. However, sometimes, I get frustrated with the added cost of owning a car.

It starts with the monthly car payment and included random costs like car wash and tolls. The thrice-weekly visits to the gas station. I have even turned buying gas into a game. I am always looking to see what gas prices are everywhere I go. Even though gas is cheap at some places, I don’t like buying gas anywhere. I am always afraid of ruining my engine so I have my trusted places to buy gas. I tend to like buying gas from BJ Gas or Speedway. Both places are cheap and reliable.

Now that I have bought my car for myself, I feel like there are things that I have learned. I am already dreaming of upgrading my car and how to make a better purchase decision. I’ll definitely start with going to more than one dealer to look at cars.  I bought the first car that I road tested because I just fell in love with it.

I might complain about my car but it is my baby. I love that Toyota Scion xB because I bought it and it made me feel all grown up.



Redefining Self-Care

Self care is not about candles and lazy days. Self-care is a daily commitment to care for yourself
I honestly try not to click on Thought Catalog articles when I am on Facebook. Really, I try but I am one of those fishes that bite on click bait. So I end up opening up the article and I am disappointed.

Imagine my surprise when I clicked on an article from Thought Catalog and it made me think deeply. It struck such a nerve that I actually saved it so that I could read it again and again until I was clear on what it had struck.

The article made me rethink the meaning of self-care. I am one of those ones that thinks of self-care as doing calming/relaxing things. My favorite self-care so far has been getting an hour-long massage when I was stressed out this summer. It was glorious. The thing the Thought Catalog article made me realize that though is that self-care should not be about managing stress alone. Self-care should be about designing a life that minimizes stress and encourages self-fulfillment. Read more

#PFSunday: Giving

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Personal Finance Sundays: Taking Control of Your Money

When we think about giving, we often think about billionaires or millionaires who give in such a lot way. Or we think about some big charitable donation. Or some heart warming story. All these are good examples of giving. But if giving scares you because you feel like you can’t make a grand gesture, there are ways to give in bits and pieces. There is no wrong form of giving.

As a child, one of the rituals that my mother built into our journey to school was giving. At the Festac gate, when traffic would trap us, she would extend her hands out and give to the beggars on the street. In my family, quite a few people are known for carrying spare change that is specifically for giving alms. Now as an adult, that is a habit that I am trying to cultivate. A habit of giving not in extraordinary circumstances or quantity but just as an habitual thing that I don’t think about. I have built a margin of giving into my budget.

For me, I have found that one of the easier ways to give is through my pay check. My company supports a charitable foundation whose goals are aligned with my ideals, so I simply have always chosen the option to donate a fixed portion of my paycheck. The other avenue that comes for giving is through tipping. Yes, there are times when I refuse to tip generously because of bad service. However, there are certain services that I have committed a certain level of tips for such as my taxi ride home. There are days when I want to give less but I have learned to give regardless of my circumstances at the moment. I have found that when I give, I never lack; and for that I am thankful.

Giving for is an act of self gratitude. It is a way of recognizing and appreciating my privileges. In the past, I have tried to give through specific organization like Kiva that allow me to give money as a loan and recycle the money. This something that I would like to return to in the future when I can make larger commitments. In the meantime, I intend to keep giving in bits and pieces here and there

How have you cultivated a habit of giving? Tell me in the comment section


#PFSundays: Practice Spending

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Personal Finance Sundays: Taking Control of Your Money

In the past couple of years, I have pretty much maintained the same financial commitments. I have lived in the same house. Taken public transportation work. Used the same phone plan, etc. Lately though I have been thinking to myself that I want to move closer to the city or at least buy a car. Then I sit down and do the financial maths. I think I can afford to do this. However, there are days when I get scared and I tell myself to thread carefully. What about all of the other savings goals that I have set for myself?

So I have decided that the best way to ascertain if I can actually afford to increase my financial commitment is to act as if I have those commitments already. A few years ago, I was watching a talk show and I think it was Suze Orman who advised a couple to determine if they could afford a bigger house and a bigger mortgage by pretending like they had made the leap. The trial phase helps to figure out how much of a strain making the increased financial commitment would be on a day-to-day basis. It is always easy to make a budget on paper. You cut a little bit of this and a little bit of that. However in real life, your daily happiness quota might just hang on being able to afford that extra manicure every month. Or knowing that you can see a movie on a whim without breaking the bank.

Financial planning, I am learning everyday, should not be about living a miserable life now to reach some happy place later. Financial planning has to balance current needs and WANTS with future needs and WANTS! This is why I think practicing increasing my financial load will help me determine if I am ready or not. Practicing would mean figuring how much extra moving into a new house or buying a new car would cost me monthly. The extra is then deposited into my savings account. In about 3-6 months, I will be able to determine if the extra commitment is livable. At the end of the trail period, I am rewarded with more money in my savings account that I can use to cover short term expenses of either buying a car or moving house.

Do you have any goals that you need to practice for? Tell me in the comment section.

#PFSundays: Reviewing Subscriptions

Picture of cash spilling out of purse
Personal Finance Sundays: Taking Control of Your Money

You may have seen one of those lists that get around on Facebook everyone is a while asking you for random facts about yourself. Or you may have filled quite a few online dating profiles where you have to create an image of yourself that is extraordinary enough to catch someone’s eye, but simple enough not to scare them off. One of the random facts that I always list is my love of the New York Times. I started reading NYTimes when I was 17/18 and living in California. I have read NYTime through my travels and changes in life. I was broke, unemployed and depressed when the NYTimes paywall went up in 2011. I remember being elated when I discovered that Chrysler email offering me a year-long subscription. Then that year was over and I had to find all kinds of cunning ways to read the NYTimes because I  just could not afford to pay the subscription fees.

In December 2013, about 3 months after I started my current job, I finally subscribed to the NYTimes. I cried when I paid it. For me, being able to make that commitment to auto-pay for a subscription was a sign of financial stability. Yes, making a commitment to pay less than 20 dollars a month was a dream come true because it was one of the benchmarks of financial success for me. Since I made that commitment to the NYTimes, I have subscribed to other services ranging from gym services with Boston Sport Club to make-up sample delivery service with Ipsy to Netflix, even Skillshare, an online learning platform.

Recently though I had to take a step back and assess my commitments. Were they worth the money I was paying? In the short term, I can justify paying out 10 dollars a month. But in the long term, 120 dolllars a month is 120 dollars plus accrued interest that is missing from my savings account or my 401K plan. So I started canceling subscriptions. I cancelled my gym membership for the summer simply because I realized I was not going. Instead, I started doing fitness videos at home and walking around my neighborhood. I cancelled Skillshare because I never used it.

In the end I was able to make small monthly savings by focusing on the subscription services that added value to my life. I look forward every month to my new make-up from Ipsy and I use to the samples regularly. Also Netflix is something that has filled the void of not owning a television. Now, I am also more discerning in what I choose to pay for. I think I am more likely to do one time payments now than monthly payments simply because I like knowing that payment is finite.

Tell me in the comment sections if you have any subscriptions that you maybe should be canceling. Also, does anyone else have a moment when they realized they had a reached some measure of financial stability? Share it with me in the comment section.

Thanks for reading!

#PFSundays: Off the Budgetary Wagon

Picture of cash spilling out of purse
Living a cash only life

I fell off the wagon. It is week 4 of my living on a cash budget lifestyle and I fell off the wagon. I got bored and I started shopping. Before I knew it I had spent 50 dollars on clothes. Earlier in the week, I had also indulged by ordering out. I feel really guilty. However, I am glad it happened.

Yes, I said “glad”. The reason I am glad it happened is because I expect that as I walk towards securing my future financially, there would be detours. There are going to be times when my impulses are stronger than my control. At this point, the important thing is not whether I got off my cash budget. The important thing is what I intend to do after.

For me, that has meant logging into my bank account and taking stock of the damage that my impulse buying has caused. With knowledge of this damage, I am figuring out ways that I can correct the issue. Is it possible to return some of the stuff I bought? Probably. So that means that I am able to recover some of the damage.

The other thing I did that helped was confess to my sister immediately that I had fallen off the wagon. My sister is the person that I share my goals with. She is the person that I am comfortable breaking down my bank account to because I know she is supportive of my goals. There are times when I am really broke and we figure out a way for me to move cash around. There are times when I having money and she talks me down from the high of wanting to spend all my money.

As I go towards week 5 of this cash budget thing, I am focusing on recognizing my impulses and how to abate them. This week I bought because I was bored. I had the day off and I had nothing to do so I went to Downtown Boston and started shopping. The reason why I am able to spot the impetus behind my behavior is because I hate shopping in stores. When I do my regular shopping that is planned, it is almost always online with weeks of planning and waiting for sales. The fact that I casually walked in and shopped means that I need to find other ways to occupy my time outside of work.

Are there any financial goals that you are working towards? How are you doing with your goals? Please share in the comment section.

Introducing Personal Finance Sunday!

One of the sage saying that is supposed to make people feel better  is “Money can’t buy happiness.” And I have come to realize that I disagreed with the saying. Let me explain myself before I become branded as materialistic. Money is a tool that many get to take for granted. I am guessing the person who said that money can’t buy happiness probably had enough.

Money beyond a certain threshold can not buy you any more happiness than you already have. However below that threshold, money, or the lack of it, can lead to a miserable existence that is governed by worries and anxieties over meeting your basic needs in life. Notice that I said basic needs. I am talking about the things that are at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

It is the acknowledgement of the importance of reaching the threshold and going beyond the threshold that has informed my decision to start Personal Finance Sundays. In the past week, I have spoken about some of my personal finance tips such as spending cash only. In the future, I intend to introduce more articles about personal finance that focuses on good money habits. Writing about good money habits is a way of holding myself accountable as well because I am really at that phase in my life where I need to start building a good base.

Let us go on this journey of actively managing our personal finance together. Tell me know in the comments what kind of articles you would like to read and discuss as part of #PFSundays.


Personal Finance: Living on Just Cash

Picture of cash spilling out of purse
Living a cash only life

I have never really been a frivolous spender. Okay, I think what I mean to say is I never thought I was frivolous spender. I was not buying anything outrageous. Most of my splurges were on food items. I am a self-labeled foodie and I take pleasure in new recipes and taking food pictures.

Even with all the spending on food though, I thought I was doing well. My savings account grew and…then stopped growing and would go downhill again. I would do clean outs of the kitchen and find food hiding away that I had forgotten I bought. Somehow, I started seeing all the signs that I needed to put my spending under control and the best way to do that was to say bye-bye to my card.

My beloved debit card is one of my most precious possessions. A quick swipe and I could buy almost anything I wanted. That bag of fancy rice I dreamed of making into a pudding. The cheese that I just had to have for one meal of grilled cheese sandwich to be forgotten later in the back of the fridge. It all seemed okay because it was 10 dollars here. Another 15 there. One weekend, between here and there, I spent 200 dollars and I could not really account for it. This was one of the big red flags for me.

Last summer, while I was in one of my melancholy sessions, I confided in a co worker that my financial future was bleak. I have never been one to stress out about money. I have been lucky to have parents who encouraged me to view my success in life beyond finances. But at the most basic level, I still yearn for things like knowing that I have enough money to see me through an emergency without having to call my father. I want to be able to buy a house sometimes in the next few years, with or without a significant other. I want to dream of vacations and know that they are within grasp. These are things that I know to be only possible if I am financially responsible.

After years of skimming articles and feeling superior because I felt that I had a grasp on my spending, I took the time to read the book suggested by the co-worker. It is called Total Money Makeover. The book advocates for living a cash only life. I read that advice and I thought to myself, “I am good at math, I will just tally up how much I spend and set a limit on my spending.” Then I got a credit card to help build my credit score because I have been smart enough not to have credit cards. But now that I had the goal of buying a house, credit history seemed like a smart thing to build.
I have a very limited balance on my credit card on purpose. Even with the limit, I realize now that I abused that credit card. I would spend money on my credit card against my future income. Then spend my debit card as well. So while I was able to pay off the card every month, my savings account suffered for it.
After taking another look at my savings and realizing I was in the low phase again after a high at the beginning of the year, I went back to Total Money Makeover. I decided to do a cash only lifestyle. I am currently on my second week.
One of the things I did before starting my budget was figure out how much my monthly bills are, how much income I have coming in each month and what my weekly spend is. I wanted to set a realistic budget for myself.

One of the perks of being on a budget is making better food choices. I would rather spend my money on a banana than candy. I am baking cookies at home instead of spending money on the fancy cookies I like. More importantly, I feel proud of myself. I no longer feel ashamed to open up my account each day. Before I would see transactions and wonder what they were for. Or I had buyer’s remorse. Now that I am dealing in the absolute currency of cash, I just don’t buy because I see in my hands how much I am spending. The other day, I calculated what percentage of my weekly spend a bag of fancy cheese represented. Knowing that allowed me to walk away. I am also teaching myself to save for little items as a reward or positive reinforcement for good behaviour instead of just buying.

Ultimately I have learned from saying no to things that I absolutely don’t need all the things I thought I did. I want them and one day I can have them if I remain financially responsible.