Checks vs. Auto-Pay: FFF Week 1

It’s Frugal February Friday here on Good Girl Style and I’m discussing finances every Friday during February. I’d love your two cents (or a dime or a dollar!).
I’m so old-school sometimes, even when it comes to finances. I really prefer to use checks and like the control they allow me to have over my finances.
Besides, any opportunity I have to “pretty-ify” my life, I’m all about. My old checkbook cover, the standard-issue blue one from the bank, was in sorry shape and I was in the market for a new, pretty checkbook cover. A store in my town happened to be clearing out Vera Bradley, and they had one lonely (LOVELY!) checkbook cover left for 75% off. I couldn’t resist this amazing vintage-modern pattern (Cocoa Moss) and color scheme for $5. 

Now I may want to upgrade my checks from standard-issue bank checks to something like: 
Pretty Botanicals?

Are pretty checks more expensive? Nope. They are about the same, but with discounts offered all the time!
For new customers: 1-Box of checks: $5.50// 2-Boxes of checks: $11.00// 4-Boxes of checks: $16.50 and the 4th box is free ($1 more per box for duplicates)// Includes free shipping and handling Coupon Code: F4NB valid until 6/30/14

Using Checks
I think sitting down and paying my bills allows me more control over my finances and forces me to pay attention to where my money is going. Writing out a check helps me realize I’m investing my hard-earned dollars and gives me more awareness of my spending. You might be paying for a service you no longer need, but it’s “out of sight out of mind.” I prefer to sit down and see exactly where my money is going, to look at paper bills for discrepancies, see what services I’m actually paying for every month and have a record of it all (I love duplicate checks). And it’s just somehow so satisfying. We all know I’m a mail girl, even if it’s a stack of bills. 
vs.

Auto-Pay
Auto-pay or online bill pay is certainly convenient, potentially more environmentally-friendly, and saves on postage. If you ARE going the e-pay route, I personally wouldn’t recommend the auto-pay option unless absolutely necessary and if you check up on it regularly. I have had issues with auto-pay when companies have double-charged me or over-charged me and I haven’t caught it immediately. They love to sneak new charges in there. Paying all of your bills online is fine if you prefer it and remember to keep up with it. I have done this in the past, and for me it’s just a matter of personal preference.
Are you a check-writer or an auto-payer?
xo
Natalie
*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase from my links I earn a small percentage for referring you, but you don’t pay anything extra for my two cents, promise!

Week Four: Do Without

Week Four’s challenge is to “Do Without!” 
I was going to make a picture with all of the things I’m wanting to spend money on right now–and then I thought, How cruel, Natalie, to make them drool over the things you want, too! 

So none of that. I’ll just tell you, there are plenty of things I want. But do I REALLY need to spend $7.99 at the drugstore for that exact same Revlon lip gloss that Emma Stone was wearing at the Oscars? 
Um, probably not. 
And J.Crew adorable Spring catalogue items? Drool. But no. 
Polka-dot scarf my best friend just sent me the link to?
Gonna say no.
{as if this girl needs more scarves}

The small things add up. 
So practice thrift, practice self-control, practice good stewardship–do you really need that $2 candy bar at the gas station?
{when did candy bars get so expensive? seriously, $1.69, people?}
And besides, $2 can probably give clean water to a child in Africa for a day. 
{No, seriously, check it: Blood:Water is proposing a challenge for Lent to only drink water, and to give all of the money you save towards clean water in Uganda. You don’t have to join their mission, but think about saving your fancy-drink money and donating to a charity you love. Remember to make giving part of your budget! And if you find a charity your really love and believe in, it also fulfills your values & goals. I particularly love to help families access clean water.} 

Week Three: Make it Do

The Week 3 Challenge is to: Make it Do! 

Above is a photograph of my little laundry station. The green laundry bin is cracking in all sorts of places, but I am making it do! The towels are the older ones–grungy, ratty, and bleached-stained– you know the kind I mean. And the old bathroom rug is the same. I keep these in my rotation to get more use out of them drying my thrift store finds and hand-washables. I lay the old bath mat down to catch all of the major drips, and then wring things out in the towels before hanging them on an old-fashioned wooden drying rack. It’s rather a fun process, and I enjoy it very much on a sunny Saturday morning!

Photo and Art Print by Christy on Etsy

Making do also means mending–a forgotten art! I don’t do a whole lot of mending myself, I’ll admit. I have a giant old basket full of mending I need to tackle, so I am preaching to myself this week! 
But I love to re-use “make do” with worn out things! When my very favorite winter socks got nasty holes in the toes, I cut the toes off and did a quick zig-zag stitch around the bottom, and now I have the cutest legwarmers! Love it. 

And then there’s this bag, which was once (and still is) a very beloved Longchamp handbag, well-used, and looking a bit worse for it. There are decent-sized holes in all 4 corners. I tried to mend it, really, I did, but it was tough work since the material is a thick neoprene and the holes are oddly shaped. So! I thought, “OH, it’s perfect for a new lunch bag! Nothing small can fall out of my lunch bag!”

{focus is totally off in this picture, sorry}
Ahem. SPRINKLES, friends. SPRINKLES will fall out of my lunch bag everywhere, probably forever. I had a container of sprinkle-covered chocolates that accidentally opened, and there is a veritable trail of sprinkles in my car, office, and house. I kid you not. 
What do you/are you planning to “make do” with this week or “mend”? I’d love to hear your suggestions for my giant mending pile! If I make some progress, I’ll be sure to share. 

Advanced Budgeting: Values and Goals

Two of my very best friends in the whole world (who are super good with numbers; I call them S&S Financial Advisors!) have introduced me to the concept of values and goals relating to budgeting. 

*Values are the underlying principles you want to live by, and, therefore, spend your money by. 
*Goals are specific, measurable steps you would like to take with your money.
Budgeting can be rather black and white. What comes in, what goes out, blah blah blah. But when you introduce the concepts of values and goals, a budget suddenly comes alive! You can see how it works into your whole life picture. You can see how you can use it, mold it, and shape it to align with your values and goals. 
A budget of $75 a week for groceries? Well, that’s boring, and doesn’t add anything to your life other than a number. But if you add the value that you want to buy as many locally grown vegetables each week, well, look at that! You’ve just added value to your life picture. Now, you can sew up a cute tote bag in 20 minutes, and enjoy your Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. You’re killing a few birds with one stone–a fun sewing project, supporting farmers, eating healthy food, and entertainment for a Saturday morning! One of my favorite things to do!
An example of a goal would be, say, for instance, that last winter you really got the doldrums. Just like, really, really, got cabin fever/the blues/the mean reds and/or a stomach flu. All things that made you desperate to escape, but it wasn’t in the cards (and by that I mean, the budget). So start saving! Set a specific, measurable goal: I want to save $800 for a winter vacation next January. That means you have 10 months to save, so you need to shave off (or earn an extra) $80/month to achieve this goal. 
Here’s my suggestion: Come up with THREE values that guide your money decisions, and three GOALS you’d like to see happen in the immediate, near future, and distant future. I’ll share mine in the weekly recap, and you can share yours, too! I have just been loving reading your comments and suggestions. 

Week Two: Wear it Out


The challenge for Week 2 of Frugal February is to “Wear it Out!” 
The way I see it, there are two arms of “Wearing it Out”:
 1.) Preventative care, or taking care of your things so that they last as long as possible
2.) Actually wearing things out, and not getting a new one until it is completely worn out. 
As far as Preventative Care goes, it really does save you money to take the time to properly care for your possessions. Above, I’m shining up my leather boots. This not only restores shine, but it erases scratches and makes my boots look brand new. Even better? These bottles sell for $3.49 and up at the drugstore, and I picked mine up at the Dollar Store!

Other Ideas: 

~We all know I’m a fan of finding a good COBBLER! See this post for more info
(Those boots are so almost dead again. Wearing them OUT!). Cobblers have helped me add extra holes to belts, repair heels, fix broken purses, and add new tread.
~I’m all about the “band-aid” solution sometimes, to get extra wear out of something. Weigh the costs of spending a little now vs. how long that ‘little’ will make it last vs. the costs of a new item.
~Find a good handyman, or better yet, become one!
~Take care of your CAR! Oil changes, oil filters, clean windshields, secure gas caps, clean undercarriages–all of these small details will help your car wear much better in the long haul, and will save you expensive repairs. 
~Pills on your sweater? Don’t despair! Grab a sweater stone or shaver. 
~Spend some money on your “investment” pieces for your wardrobe. They will wear much better and last much longer…spend your money where you spend your day. If you work all week, invest in quality work clothes such as a gorgeous pencil skirt, suit, and silk blouses (see my magazine article for detailed ideas!). If you are home with the kids, then invest in quality jeans and beautiful (washable!) sweaters.
I don’t want to get into “repurposing” items too much here, since I’ll be talking about that next week for “Make it Do.” But I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeve I’ll share this week! What are YOUR ideas? You’v e been sharing some GREAT tips in the comments! Keep ’em coming 🙂

Weekly Progress

Weekly Progress Check-in!

1.) Went to thrift store. Left empty-handed! Woo-hoo!
2.) Used the last of my slightly-stale Rice Krispies and overly-ripe bananas for breakfast, instead of getting something on my way to work (though I desperately wanted to!!)
3.) Used up one shampoo bottle!

You?

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Week One: Use it Up


The challenge for Week One of Frugal February is to “Use it Up!”
I don’t like the ends of things. Not of jobs or days or relationships or trips. Or bottles of hairspray, toothpaste, lotion, or handsoap. 
So I ditch. I ditch before they’re really through, and move on early.
Leaving me with (all other things aside), lots and lots of nearly-empty bottles. 
Sigh. 
So! My goal is to use up the half-empty bottles. There’s lots of money in them there bottles! 
Another great idea to “use up”? Food– I know I sure waste a lot of food by not planning ahead and using things on time. So I’ll try to manage that, as well.
What are you going to USE UP instead of buying new, to save some buckaroos?

Budgeting 101

{word heavy post tonight, sorry!}

Sooooo…what IS a budget? Some people have been budgeting since they got their first tooth fairy quarters. And some people have this vague notion of what the word means, but no real foundation.

A budget is a “GPS” for your money. It tells you what, where, and how you can use your money, should use your money, what to do if you want to “detour” for a bit and do something else with your money…It takes stock of your income, your outflow, and what’s left at the end of the month.

Getting started is easy! Print out your monthly statements for any and all debit/credit cards, and gather up receipts, your checkbook, and a calculator. Write down any cash transactions you remember from the past month. Then, make a spreadsheet.

*On one side, list all Income you get each month.

*On the other, list all of your “non-negotiable” expenses, or your Fixed Expenses. Write down everything! Do you have to pay for laundry? Parking at your job?

*Below that, list your Discretionary Spending. This includes everything else, such as: Netflix, lattes, gym memberships, haircuts, entertainment, eating out, gifts, etc.

Go through your statements, receipts, and check payments, and make sure you put ALL the numbers into this spreadsheet, adding as you go . Don’t forget to include any tithing and giving. Find your car insurance bills, and divide that by 12 to get how much you pay each month (if you don’t pay it monthly). Same with health insurance or renter’s insurance (which you have if you are renting your living space, right?!). Now you should have a pretty good idea of what you have spent for the past month. Then, look at your “ending balance” in your bank account statement. How’s that lookin?

There are a ton of good tools online to help you with this. I especially love LearnVest’s online Money Center and Financial Bootcamps (these are amazing and free!). You can also try Mint. Scour Crown Financial Ministries website (and books!) for some great, Christ-centered strategies. I’m sure there are iPhone apps, too, if you’re cool like that.

Are you shocked at all? I always seem to spend too much at the grocery store and thrift store.  But don’t stress yet!

So when you have the numbers, this is where we going gets tough. Take a critical eye to them. Do you notice that you spend a lot of money by not returning your Redbox movies on time (those extra day charges should be on your credit card statement)? Or by paying for magazine subscriptions you never read? Turns out I had an online store that was charging me $10 a month just to keep it online, and I hardly EVER logged in or tried to sell anything! Oops.

Assignment:


If you don’t have a budget, follow the suggestions above and MAKE ONE. Get a cup of coffee, clear off the kitchen table, and just get to work on it. I promise, once you do it the first time, it gets easier.


Then, try this: I like to keep one copy of the budget exactly as it was when the numbers went in. Then start another one and begin fiddling with the numbers. Slash all of those “Oops” categories immediately. Cancel memberships. Stop listing things on eBay if they aren’t selling and are just racking up fees for you. That’s the initial clean-up. 

Now….sleep on those numbers. Pray over them!!!!!!!!!! Ask for wisdom about which areas are suffering most from either too much attention or too much neglect. That’s enough of my words and numbers for tonight 🙂

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Frugal February

As Good Girls, we are called to be stewards of our finances in a way that is God-honoring. Without Him, we truly have nothing. It is not ours, but by His grace and mercy. It is another area of our lives where, with joy and thanksgiving, we can lay it down at the altar, and honor God. I think that is so exciting! And when we are obedient to God, without fail, He blesses us.
I’d love to invite you to trek with me deeper into the heart of God, as I explore stewardship and frugality as part of “Good Girl Style”. I’m talking nitty-gritty budgeting strategies and rubber-hits-road confessions. It’s gonna be real.

This is my second year of what I call, “Frugal February.” It’s something I made up for myself, after realizing that I NEEDED to take a bit more care with my finances. Being a single twenty-something is difficult, especially in these economic times, so budgeting is essential for me. I also recently finished a “Financial Fitness” class, and heard a sermon on finances, that gave me extra incentive to be fiscally responsible (and a few more tips to pass along this month!).
Frugal February comes at the perfect time of year. My budget is definitely looking a little bit overstretched (oh who am I kidding, I haven’t looked at my budget since Christmas. And I may have been overindulging a bit in those January sales. Oops). It gives us a bit of time to reflect and dust off those budgets for the rest of the coming year.
 I am actually very, very excited about Frugal February and I really do hope you’ll join me! 
Our Motto for the Month
The Game Plan
First, a “Budgeting 101” post, coming right up!
THEN
Week 1: Choose one thing to “use up”
Week 2: Find one thing to “mend”
Week 3: Find one thing to “make do” with instead of replacing or upgrading
Week 4: “Do without” one thing
PLUS
Each week has a specific challenge, or extra tips & tricks from my budget girl arsenal
+++++
I am so excited to get started! I really, really need this, and I hope you do, too.
If you’re going to join me, grab a button below and then link up!

If you want to join in on the fun, put your link here, and we’ll track progress together!

Let’s get started, girls!
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