Category Archives: Budgeting Tips

Simple Tips to Get Your Finances Organized

Here’s a video of Lena Rizkallah from Money Moxie at last month’s “The Art of Fashion & Finance” event- offering 5 simple tips to get financially organized.  Set and keep a budget.  Know what you spend on, how much and why.  AUTOMATE YOUR LIFE! Establish an emergency fund. Save for retirement.  Enjoy the artwork in the background!

Hairy Therapy

I am your typical New Yorker.  Like many of my fellow city-men and -women, I know how to hail a taxi without getting side-swiped.  On escalators, I stand on the right and walk on the left.  I let people get off the train before getting on.  I give tourists succinct, exact directions–even offer restaurant recommendations– but don’t linger for small-talk.

However, as a New Yorker, I am an enigma.  That’s because I do not have a therapist.

It seems that every friend, colleague, acquaintance or person behind me in line at Duane Reade has at least one therapist and sees that person pretty regularly. It’s not uncommon for a friend to start a conversation with, “Dr. Tony says my journaling is really helping me work through my issues.”  Or, “My therapist thinks it’s because my father never came to any of my piano recitals.” Or “My shrink is thrilled that Xanax is helping me manage my panic attacks!”

I know that going to therapy is good for one’s mental health and can actually help people learn to deal with anxiety, stress or depression–I think that is great!

Bethenny getting getting down to business with her therapist.

However, as a woman of Middle Eastern descent, I prefer to spend my therapy money on more pressing matters–specifically on laser hair removal, electrolysis and waxing.  No therapist will help me get over the memory of me as a little girl in the fourth grade, sitting in my reading circle surrounded by my classmates.  Compared to the cute, skinny blond girls in their bobby socks and tennis skirts, I was a thick hairy rectangle that smelled like hummus, sporting tube socks up to my thighs to cover up my hairy legs.  That’s a memory that is burned into my psyche and for that reason, I prefer to get rid of the evil that caused my anxiety, rather than go sit with someone and have a chat about it.

But everyone needs therapy–or even self-reflection–in order to take responsibility and move forward. Over the years, I’ve learned how to deal with some of my misadventures and bad habits, and while I’m not a professional, I think taking responsibility for one’s actions could be a great first step.

Similarly in personal finance, it’s important to do a little self-reflecting.  Especially around tax time–when we see in black and white how much (or little) we’ve earned the past year, what our annual living expenses came out to, how much money we spend annually on food, entertainment, travel, and how much debt we have–it’s helpful to examine our finances, be honest about our spending and saving habits, and set some new goals to change bad behavior.

Here are some tips for planning a more financially rewarding 2012:

1. Before you file everything away into oblivion, review your 2011 tax return and 2011 budget.  Be painfully honest with yourself and ask, am I happy with the amount of money I made last year?  Am I OK with the amount of money I spent on food and entertainment?  By actively taking the first step–looking honesty and critically at last year’s finances and identifying your satisfaction level with it–you can begin to set the right goals for next year.

2. Add up your total annual expenses plus any additional debt.  What is the ratio of expenses to income?  Do your expenses and debt (minus mortgage) surpass your income?  Were you able to manage debt and also save last year?  If not, review your spending/budget from last year and find three things you can cut out in order to reduce spending, manage debt and/or save.  Allocate the savings to a specific debt or to your savings in order to reach a particular goal.  Be specific.

3. Don’t have a 2012 budget yet?  SET ONE UP NOW!  Use Mint.com to set up a budget online, create an excel spreadsheet to track expenses or just write it down old-school.  Find a way to track your spending and then do it.

4.  Make sure you have the basics covered.  Manage debt by consolidating into a low-interest rate credit card and make sure you are paying more than the monthly minimum if you can.  Budget and save up for a six-month emergency cushion.  Make sure you are contributing to your company’s 401(k) and if your company doesn’t offer one, set up an IRA or a Roth.

5. Grow your money.  If you have a savings account, consider taking a chunk and investing in short-term CDs or bond funds.  These can be low-risk options that can help you increase your savings instead of lingering in a low-interest savings account.

6. Set a personal financial goal (that is also attainable) for 2012 and take the steps to get there.  Do you want to increase savings by 20%?  What are the steps to go about this?  Do you want to get rid of all credit card debt?  If that means taking an additional shift at work or getting a part-time job, do it.  Are you ready to invest $15,000?  Check out some of the top online brokerage sites like Fidelity, Scottrade, or Etrade that also offer research and investing tools so you can do it yourself.

And if you’re ready to seek professional help, visit FPAnet.org to find an advisor in your area or NAPFA.org for fee-only advisors. Like a therapist, a financial advisor can help you identify bad habits, set priorities and help you reach your goals.  But they probably can’t help resolve any lingering daddy issues.

Value Vodka

Today during my morning hustle, I came across this billboard.

The message is clear: drink this vodka, save money.

It stopped me in my tracks for a number of reasons.  For one, I’m pretty particular about vodka so I was curious about the brand and the marketing.  I happen to be a fan of Russian Standard Vodka–it’s a clean, crisp vodka that you can actually taste but it doesn’t slap you in the face like others do.  This Sobieski Vodka on the billboard–never tried it–but I must admit I might give it a go just because I appreciate their marketing strategy!

The tagline “There is still a deficit people, spend wisely” resonates with me for two reasons.  For one thing, it underscores the often misguided notion that the more something costs, the better it will be.  Of course, this is far from the truth.  Sure, you can go to the club and order a bottle (that’s ONE bottle) of “premium” vodka like Grey Goose or Belvedere and pay about $500 for bottle service.  On the other hand, if you choose to “slum it” and get a lesser brand like Stoli or Absolut, you’re bottle service bill may be lower.  But does that mean they are lesser quality than the others?

Listen, I’m not a professional vodka taster and I’m not Russian so I can’t weigh in one way or the other.  My point is that some things we buy are marked up not because they are better quality than other brands, but because the marketing is so bad-ass that it creates a huge demand for the product.  The lesson here: don’t be a sucker.

If you truly want to buy a $40 bottle of vodka at the liquor store that tastes like um….water…then by all means go ahead and splurge on that bottle of Grey Goose.  The lack of taste will not conflict with your cosmo or orangini anyways. But if you really appreciate the bite and flavor of vodka, you will probably have a better experience AND save money buying a different brand like Stoli, Russian Standard or maybe even this Sobieski.

Similarly there are ways to maintain value in the food, drink, clothes, vacations and activities that you enjoy, without paying the premium.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Do your research.  If you want to try a new restaurant, spa or business, yelp it, google it, whatever.  Make sure you get what you pay for.  If you see too many bad reviews or alternatively, if you see that only hipsters have reviewed the place, avoid.

2. Don’t be distracted by the shiny people.  In other words, just because everyone is drinking it, eating it, buying it, doesn’t mean it’s worth it.  Know your taste and don’t be afraid to be different.  You might even set a new trend!  If your bougie friend is trying to convince you that the Minetta Tavern Black Label burger is worth $30 but your gut is (literally) telling you Five Guys will do, do Five Guys.  You can help yourself to shelled peanuts in the barrell while you wait–what’s better than that?!

3.  Do your fancy drinking and eating at home.  In this economy, people are thinking twice about going out for drinks and dinner like we did back in 2006.  These days, more of my friends are having blow-out dinner parties, with premium drinks and delicious, fancy dinners at a fraction of the cost of going to a restaurant.  And no attitude from the waiter!  We alternate weekends so each of us has a chance to cook and have the gang over.  It’s good clean fun for the whole family!

4. Look for happy hour deals.  More businesses are offering good happy hour deals and happy hour dinner menus, so take advantage of them.  Go out with friends for a drink and a bite after work, then go home and walk the dog like a grown-up.

5. Get your Groupon on!  Take advantage of some of the deals offered on discount websites like Groupon, Living Social etc.  I recently saw a coupon for $50 for $100 worth of food at a premium steak house in Tribeca.  This is a great way to try out a new restaurant or dine at an old favorite, at a discount.  And even at these fancy establishments, NEVER be embarrassed to bust out that coupon!

The other reason that the tagline resonated with me is that there is a deficit, people.  What that means is that while our cantankerous Congress continues to argue over whether to raise taxes or not, given the size of our federal debt (over $15 trillion) and last year’s deficit ($1.3 trillion), and considering the mandatory allocation of government spending that is only increasing (Social Security, paying interest on the debt), it’s inevitable that taxes will go up in the near future.  That means less cash in our pockets, and more change for Uncle Sam to pay the bills.

So bust out your crock pot and that bottle of Absolut like your mom did back in 1985.  Thriftiness and value are back.

Don’t Be A Baller

You know her.

She’s the successful independent professional New Yorker that every little girl from Milwaukee wants to be when she grows up.

She’s always dressed to the nines; Theory pantsuits by day, platform Manolo’s and some cleavage showcase from Intermix by night.  She shows up to her hair appointments every six-weeks, heeding the directions of her hairdresser like the most loyal disciple, for her single process, low-lights and hi-lights, Keratin treatments and scalp massage.

Her nails: reverse French manicured, shellaqued, crackeled, and occasionally sporting a Swarovski-adorned manicure, especially around the holidays.  She matches her Birkin to her Balenciaga without being too obvy.  Her designer sunglass collection varies depending on her travel plans.

She lives in a trendy neighborhood, slightly gay, maybe a few strollers, and definitely a gallery on her street.  The barista at the local French café knows how she prefers her soy latte and when she’ll be in to pick it up every morning.  Her apartment, while not huge, has some luxurious amenities.  A large closet to house her designer threads.  A state-of-the-art kitchen, although she doesn’t cook.  Maybe a terrace where she can go outside and have her morning cigarette.  And of course there’s Roberto the doorman who always accepts her Fresh Direct deliveries.

Maybe you know her in passing, maybe she’s more than an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend, the girl that always gets a round of drinks at the bar just because it’s Wednesday, the girl who knows the guys at the door who can get you into the place so you can walk up to the big guy at the rope and get into the VIP room.  She knows the chef who made your food who also has his own show on the Food Network.

You’re not sure what she does and how she pays for her lifestyle.  Maybe she’s in finance or PR.  Someone mentioned she’s an architect.  Works at a start-up.  Or a day trader?

Whatever she does, we all know who she is.  She’s a baller.

What’s a baller?  From the Latin phrase “basketballer/baseballer/footballer,” a baller refers to someone who spends a ton of money, usually on champagne and strippers (if you’re a guy).  Female ballers go shopping.

How does she afford this lifestyle?  Can she afford this lifestyle?  While some people do have the means—or the trust fund—to pay for this type of life, chances are she’s not only living at her means, she’s living beyond her means, swirling in debt even as she’s trying to keep up with the impossibly luxurious life that she’s created for herself.  It’s likely that the $120 check she just wrote for her spray tan will bounce.  And she’s already spent the $75,000 bonus she’s slated to be paid after Q1.

Fabulous life but can they really afford it? I'm talkin to you Carrie...

The truth is, it’s not how much you make but how much you save that determines your net worth.  You can make $300,000 a year, but if you’re spending it all on rent, dinner, vacations and clothes, you could be worse off than the woman buying school clothes for her kids at Goodwill.  On the other hand, it’s possible to make a significantly smaller salary than our friend The Baller, and with careful budgeting and smart money choices, you can save money and still take part in the activities you enjoy.

Think of your net worth as your assets (salary and investments) minus your liabilities (expenses, credit card debt, rent).  If you come out on the other side with a little extra in the bank, in savings or in a retirement plan, you’re in good shape.  On the other hand, even if you make a kajillion dollars, and you spend that amount and more, you could be in a tough place, and it could take you a long time to get out of that ditch.

Figure out your budget:

Calculate your fixed expenses (rent/mortgage, telephone, utilities, transportation, insurance, etc.) plus your variable expenses (gifts, dinners out, entertainment) and subtract that from your income (salary plus other sources of revenue such as dividends, rental income, etc.).  If you have a little income left over, you might be in good shape.  But make sure you’re maximizing your income, paying off debts and saving; in some cases it might be beneficial to eliminate or reduce some variable expenses to save more.

On the other hand, if you owe/spend more than you make, it’s time to rethink your spending habits.  Review your fixed expenses to make sure all the items are truly necessary costs.  Check out your variable expenses and figure out where you can save (i.e. cut out the bottle service, hair extensions and Hamptons share).  Make sure that you include as a line item in your fixed costs the amount necessary to make the minimum payments on your credit cards and other revolving credit every month.  Eliminate variable expenses and allocate the savings to pay down debt.  Once you have paid down debt (and reevaluated your spending habits) start saving.

Staying in once in a while, cooking, shopping at (gasp!) Macy’s with (double gasp!!) coupons and paying down debt may not be socialite cool.  But neither is bankruptcy court.  Don’t be a baller.

Your Financial Foundation for 2012

Happy New Year!

Have you made your New Years resolutions yet?  For most of us, the resolutions begin on January 1 and fizzle out somewhere around the afternoon of January 19th.  During this time, the gyms are packed, with new members lingering on the cross-trainer during peak times, not wiping down machines and packing exercise classes.  Others start the year on a cleanse, diet and/or alcohol-free, and then realize that’s no fun.  By the end of the month, many of our resolutions have been kicked to the curb and we’re back to our old carb-heavy, red meat-eating, martini guzzling, once-a-month-at-the-gym habits.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  The act of making resolutions comes from our desire for change–especially positive change that pushes us towards a better version of ourselves.  However, as we all find out every year, change doesn’t happen merely because we want it to happen, or because we make a resolution and say it out loud.  Change happens when we start with a plan, stay focused on our goal, push aside our bad habits and not give into excuses or laziness, and stay the course.

One of the most popular New Years resolutions people make is to get their financial house in order and start saving.  But before any change can happen, it’s important to establish a foundation.  What’s the popular phrase??  You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been…..Or something like that.   Here are some tips for establishing a smart financial foundation that can get you ready for financial success in 2012:

1. Get organized.  Get your bank statements, credit card bills, school loans and other monthly bills together.  Organize them by bank/credit card and by month and then file them away.  Start preparing for tax season; the sooner you organize and clear away last year’s bills, the sooner you can start to organzie for 2012.  Do it this week.

2.  Get ready for tax season.  If you itemize and keep receipts, make sure you have your 2011 receipts organized and filed away so that you can easily access them come tax time.  Make sure you have also kept track of possible personal deductions and have the receipts–such as charitable contributions, travel expenses for work, costs associated with job interviews, co-pays for health care and doctors visits, mortgage interest, etc.  Do it this week!

3. Go online.  Make sure you have you can access your bank acounts online, and that you can pay your bills that way as well.   I know it sounds so 2002 but many of us still don’t do our banking online and/or have a few bills that we have not yet connected to our bank accounts.  Take the time to connect your bills with your bank accounts, and  make sure you have some kind of overdraft protection whether through a line of credit account or credit card that is attached to your checking account.

4. Automate payments.  Again, very 2002, but it’s worth mentioning.  Most credit cards, loans and utilities offer auto-pay; that is, you can authorize the bank to pay a specific amount to each credit card everry month from your checking account, whether it’s the minium payment or a specific amount.  In that way, bill payment is automatic and you’re less likely to miss or delay a payment.  Later, you can always go back and make an additional payment but at least your minium payment was made without any hassles.

5. Clean out your closets!  Seriously!  January is a slow month, it’s cold, most of your friends are off alcohol, dessert, meat, etc. and will probably be at the gym for the first 2 weeks, so it’s a good time to complete some projects around the house. I cleaned out my linen closet, bathroom cabinets and desk drawers today and what a difference it made!  I dumped a bunch of old receipts, bills, cards and notes, and recovered some treasures too.  I found a gift certificate for a massage that I had forgotten about, 5 blank cards for various occasions, a bunch of notepads, a $20 bill, some great lipstick shades and bottles of nail polish that I overlooked since last winter, and tons of beauty products I can still use.  It’s a simple idea and maybe a little bit of a drag, but if you space out the cleaning (ie. clean one closet a day), find that old Prince CD and pump up the jam, it won’t be so bad!

Start the year off right by establishing a financial foundation, and get yourself geared up to tackling your New Years resolutions!

Compromise is NOT a Four-Letter Word

Posted December 26, 2011

Last week, I took an amazing yoga class.  I hadn’t been to my favorite yoga studio, Laughing Lotus, in a while and I was waaaaay overdue for some serious downward dog!

By the middle of class, I was my usual sweaty mess.  And starving! So by the time class was winding down, and while the rest of my classmates were chanting “Om shanti shanti shanti” I was doing what I usually do during the chanting. I was planning lunch.

I finally decided on noodles–Thai noodles to be exact–and I knew exactly where I could get my grubby paws on some.  There’s a place in my neighborhood, on my walk back from Laughing Lotus, that has the best lunch special.  Here’s the problem: I really really really wanted a heaping plate of greasy generic pad thai.  But I knew that trillion-calorie dish would erase all the sweaty poses I just endured in yoga.

So I compromised.  I decided to get the shrimp fritters appetizer—deep-fried minced shrimp and chicken in a won-ton wrapper and slathered in a spicy sauce—and follow it with the “healthy plate”- steamed greens and tofu with brown rice and a side of black bean sauce.  Pretty bland and a far cry from the slop of pad Thai I really craved, but it was a good compromise.  I could satiate my greasy craving with a few bites of shrimp fritters but stay on track with the healthy plate.  And with enough hot sauce, it wasn’t so bad!  Plus at $7.50 was a bargain!

This idea of compromise can also translate to our personal finances.  So many times we want to indulge—in a mani-pedi, facial and back massage; a fancy dinner at a steak restaurant with cocktails at the bar to start and a full-on meal; the sleek dress at the Madison Avenue boutique that makes you look like a million bucks; a new haircut, color and highlights with a deep-conditioning treatment thrown in at the fancy hair salon that offers tea or champagne as you enter.  How many times have we pushed doubts aside and given in, reasoning, “I deserve it!”?

I’m not saying to never indulge in any of these fantastic treats; once in a while, we should splurge on ourselves.  A little special treat can lift our spirits, boost confidence and can sometimes inspire real change.  But it’s important to balance a splurge with a saving.  Here are some quick and dirty tips:

–       Plan ahead.  If you’re hankering for some red meat and cocktails on the weekend, plan it with friends and make it an event.  Then, for the rest of the week or month, pack your lunch or go easy on the outings.

–       Stagger the beauty services.  Instead of getting your nails done every week, make it a monthly thing.  Other weeks, invest in a couple cool nail shades and face masks, and give yourself some beauty treatments.  That could also be a cheap night-in, catching up on “The Train Wrecks of Beverly Hills.” (My guilty pleasure.)

–       Make room for necessities.  Keep track of when your car is due for a tune-up, oil change or necessary repairs and make sure to cut back on extras that week.

–       Add gifts, weddings, birthdays and holiday expenses to your monthly budget.  Be aware of those costs and cut back when you can.  Make sure to meet you commitments but also pay bills and save a little.

–       Lunch specials can be AWESOME!  Same with Groupons, Living Social and other coupons.  But don’t go nuts.  Take advantage of deals, especially for your favorite restaurants and make that your big splurge.

–       Decide on a cut-off time.  If you live in a city with public transportation, use it as much as possible.  But give yourself a cut-off time so that if you’re out late, you can be safe and take a taxi home.  But don’t go taking taxis willy-nilly.

These are just a few ideas, but you get the picture.  The important thing is to be aware of your present and future expenses and plan for them.  Make sure your priorities—paying your bills and saving—are in check and then compromise on the splurges.  It will make you look good AND feel good too!

The Holiday Budget Blues

Posted December 17, 2011

It’s the holidays, and along with spiced eggnog, Christmas carols and family gatherings, there are also some not so cheerful side effects that come with the season.  Like super-dry pine needles that fall off the Christmas tree and get all over the fricking place.  Or the guy that gets carried away at the office holiday party and tells everyone how he really feels.  Or fighting over parking spaces at the mall.

We’re talking fist fights.

Another negative by-product of the holiday season is the blown-up budget.  As careful as we can be with our money throughout the year, it always comes to a head around the holidays.  Between shopping for gifts for families and friends, the hostess gift or bottles of bubbly brought to holiday parties, and year-end charity parties (and donations!) it’s tough to stay on a budget.  And let’s not even talk about what it takes to throw your own holiday party, from the food to the drinks to the hot party threads!

Luckily with a little thoughtful planning you can make it through the holidays without blowing up the bank account.  Here are some tips:

Create a separate holiday budget.  Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking you can magically stay on budget without factoring in the extra holiday expenses.  Figure out how many gifts you must buy, the parties and the one cute holiday outfit, and put it down in writing.

Instead of buying a gift for every family member, pick out Secret Santas and buy one gift for that special someone.  In my family we pick a Secret Santa among the adults and then we all buy gifts for the kids. Or in my case, everyone gets a gift card.  It may seem thoughless but gift cards can mean Christmas in July–literally!

If you must look cute at the holiday party, buy one new sparkly sexy top or amazing shoes to pair with black leggings or skinny jeans already in your closet.  The more glitter and cleavage you show, the more people don’t notice the faded H&M leggings you’re sporting.

Just because you’re on a budget, doesn’t mean you can’t throw your signature holiday party.  I always say the more imagination you throw into planning the party, the less money you need to spend.  Find a theme for your holiday party, like one of these:

-Holiday wine and cheese–You provide the cheese and crackers and tasty treats and your guests bring their favorite bottle of wine.

-White Trash Christmas–You serve the food we loved as kids but probably shouldn’t have eaten.  Think Twinkies, Rice Crispie Treats, Velveeta and salsa dip, cheese spread on Ritz crackers, pigs in a blanket, and Vienna Sausage bites with mustard. Take some notes, Rachel Ray!

-Cookie Exchange–Your friends bring their already-baked holiday cookies and a tin and exchange cookies with other guests.  The host can make a simple dish, like chili or goulash, mulled wine and a salad.  It’s social, can be held in the afternoon or early evening and after enough mulled wine, no one will care who brought the box of Entemmans’s.

Now is the time to make your year-end charitable donations and receive a tax deduction.  This is the time of year when we get hit up by all kinds of charities for last-minute donations.  With the economy in poor shape and grants hard to come by, it seems that charitable orgnaizations are really beefing up their fundraising techniques.  I think they’re even showing the commerical for the ASPCA more than usual because I can’t get that weepy “In the arms of the angel…” song out of my head!

If you are able to give–even $20–then do so but take the right planning steps.  First think about how much you can contribute this year, and then consider the charitable organizations you want to support.  Don’t forget to add the contribution amount to your budget and make sure you get a receipt or letter from the organization.

Happy Holidays!

Budgeting Tips for Freelancers, Actors and Small Biz Owners

Posted on Facebook November 6, 2011

Yesterday I hosted the first ever Money Mondays Boot-Neck Bootleg Boot Camp for Artists, Actors and Creative Peeps.  It was a one-day workshop held at my cozy apartment where we covered budgeting, credit cards, debt and credit; discussed the economy, the financial markets, investing and taxes; and tackled the tough topic of saving for retirement.  It was a long day but full of great conversations about the issues that many actors and freelancers face when managing their money.

All the women who attended yesterday’s workshop were actors, artists or musicians, and almost all of them also had a part- or full-time job not related to the arts.  A few had even started their own businesses.  As questions popped up, it was interesting to see how the attendees had similar concerns, since most everyone was pursuing a career in the arts but also toiling away at day jobs to pay their bills.

Because of the nature of freelance, part-time and seasonal work, as well as the risk of starting your own business, financial planning can be especially challenging.  It’s tough to create a budget when your income is sporadic.  It’s also hard to manage debt when, during some difficult moths, you have to decide whether to pay your rent or pay your credit card bills.  This financial instability can seem overwhelming and futile, and it’s easy to feel helpless and just ignore your bills for a while.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some tips on money management for freelancer, artists and small-business owners:

1. Establish a budget.  Because of the fluctuations in monthly income it may be difficult to establish a budget–but it’s very important that you do so.  Use an excel spreadsheet, Mint.com or another budgeting system to track expenses, capture monthly income  and pay down debt.

2. Be especially aware of your fixed vs. variable expenses.  Include in your fixed expenses mortgage/rent payment, utilities, phone, food and all the basics of living.

3. Insure your health and your assets. Don’t forget to include a column for renter’s/homeowner’s/health insurance.  If you don’t have either of these types of insurance, budget for it.  Renter’s insurance is a cost-effective way to insure your home and belongings in the event of fire or damage to your home.  You can check with Allstate, State Farm and others.  For health insurance, check with your employer (even some temporary agencies offer health insurance), actor’s unions or freelancers.org.

4. Make your minimum payments. As part of your fixed expenses, add up all the minimum payments for your credit cards and other revolving debt.  Include the minimum payments as a “fixed” expense and if you can, try to pay more than the minimum on your credit cards every month.

5. Average your  monthly income. Because income on a month-to-month basis may vary, my rule of thumb is to average out your income from the past 6-8 months.  From that average, you can allocate your money to cover your fixed expenses.  During the months that you bring in more income than the average, make sure to save some money to cover bills during the slower months.

6. Take charge of variable expenses.  As for variable expenses–well, we all know what those are.  Extra taxi rides, dinners out, bottle service at the club, mani-pedis….the list goes on.  I’m not saying don’t indulge once in a while, but be thoughtful about it.  If you know you’re planning a girl’s night out on Friday, maybe pack lunch a few times or give yourself an at-home manicure.  It may seem like a small saving, but it can go a long way.  Most important, you are in charge of your finances and not the other way around.

7. It’s Ok to say no!  Many freelancers and artists are asked to do work for free; it’s just the nature of the business.  Sometimes that free work gives you an edge, bulks up your resume or brings you closer to a paying opportunity.   But constantly saying “yes” to readings, quick freelance gigs and other pro bono work can make you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.  You are not a gerbil so it’s time to get off that wheel.  Start saying no to gigs that may not add new value to your resume.

8. Give yourself an hourly rate.  Along with your years of experience and quality of work, add up the hours per day or week that you do this type of work and quantify it.  What is the going rate for someone of your experience and keep that number in mind the next time someone asks you to do something for free.  I’m not saying turn it down, I’m just encouraging your to give thoughtful consideration to the time and energy commitment you will be expending, as well as the lost opportunity for working or looking for paying jobs.

9. Set up an F-U Fund.  Once you have established a budget, are tracking your expenses and paying down debt, start saving for an emergency fund, or “F-U fund.”  Especially in these tough economic times, it’s really important to have enough money saved to cover your bills, rent and fixed expenses for 6-8 months.  If you’ve paid down your debt and have extra money to save, that’s where your money should go.

10. Set investment goals. Once you have your emergency cushion, it’s time to start thinking about your investing and retirement goals.   Keep in mind that it’s especially important for women–who generally live longer than men and statistically spend less time in the job market and more time than men caring for kids and older parents–to start saving for retirement ASAP. Even $50 a month into a retirement account can make a big difference down the road.

Deal or No Deal? What To Know Before You Buy That Groupon…

Posted on Facebook October 30, 2011

Yesterday many people on the East Coast woke up to a rare freak of nature—snow in October!  In NYC where I live, it snowed all day and it wasn’t pretty. The city was wet, cold and dreary, and covered in shades of gray and brown.

Luckily, thanks to a great discount deal I bought online, I managed to avoid the slushfest outside.  Back in the warmer, stankier days of August, I had the genius foresight to buy one of the restaurant “perks” that Urban Daddy, a social events and deal website, offered.  Forty dollars for brunch and booze at Beauty and Essex—done! So yesterday, I spent the afternoon at a top NYC restaurant enjoying a four course brunch and two hours of unlimited mimosas and Blood Mary’s, while others slipped and fell into ice puddles outside.

I’ve had several awesome experiences using discount coupons I’d purchased from Living Social and Groupon, online companies that specialize in offering discounted deals from restaurants, bars, nail and beauty salons, language schools, dance studios, and pretty much any type of business that offers a service.  The business signs up with the online discount company and agrees to offer a certain number of deals at a deep discount; when the deals are sold, the company offering the services gets a cut and the online deal company keeps the rest.

For the most part, it’s a win-win for all parties involved.  The company offering the service gets exposure to a group of potential customers they never had before since companies like Groupon, Urban Daddy and Living Social reach millions of consumers.  The consumer gets to try something in their local area at a discount.

Once you sign up with the online deal company, you usually receive an email a day or periodically that highlights a discounted offering in your area. Because of the generous discounts, these deals can help you try new businesses or return to a favorite business, and can save you money in the long run.

Many of these deals are great—six Italian language classes discounted 50% to $150; a facial and sixty-minute massage for $75; a steak dinner for two with wine for $70; one night at a famous Atlantic City hotel for $125!  If you set your mind to it, you can do something every night using one of these deals!

On the other hand, some deals are offered by mediocre businesses offering mediocre  or crappy services. So while these discounts can be very enticing, there are some things to keep in mind before you make that final click to purchase.

  1. EXPECT QUALITY.  Often if a deal seems too good to be true, it is.  When a deal offers too many items or services for a very low price, it’s right to question whether quality will be compromised.  Even if it’s a twenty-dollar deal, it’s still your hard-earned twenty dollars, so think twice.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GEMS. However, sometimes a deal that sounds too good to be true is actually great!  I’ve purchased a deal from a steak house that offers an appetizer, steak, side and dessert for two and includes a bottle of wine, all for $70!  The restaurant is an upscale steak house, albeit in a weird part of midtown that caters to a mix of Upper East Side divorcees, gweedos from Jersey and bankers stumbling in for dinner after happy hour.  But the food is consistently delish and the staff is really nice every time I go!
  3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Before purchasing any deal, no matter how inexpensive, do some research.  Like my good friend Tamar says, ‘Yelp that sh*t.’  Google it, read reviews and make sure you’re getting a quality service for your money.  My rule of thumb: don’t buy a deal from a business with fewer than three out of five stars.
  4. RESPECT THE RULES. Be sure to read the fine print.  Every deal has different rules attached to it, and most of them expire at a certain point.  Make sure you know the rules before you use the coupon so there are no surprises, and make sure you use it before the expiration date.
  5. BE A REPEAT CUSTOMER.  If it is a good deal, the business is highly rated and the reviews are good, don’t be afraid to purchase more than one deal.  These deals are a great way to save money in the long run and use your hard-earned money in a smart way.
  6. PURSUE YOUR PASSIONS! Let these deals take you out of your comfort zone and try new things.  I’ve purchased deals for wine tasting classes, language classes and sailing lessons.  These are all one-hit wonders; I’m not planning to make a career out of wine tasting and I’ve never dreamt of sailing my own boat to the Caribbean.  But the small investment I made in purchasing these deals was purely to push myself to pursue activities that I was curious about or enjoyed, without having to commit to a series of lessons and a big chunk of change.
  7. KEEP IT REAL. On the other hand, make sure you will follow through and do the activity.  If you’re afraid of heights and left your own fingernails imbedded in the armrest the last time you flew home to Virginia, don’t buy the paragliding deal on Groupon.  Seriously, don’t do it.  I’m telling you now, you’re not going to jump out of that plane so save your $150 for something you need.
  8. GIFT IT.  Consider buying a deal for a friend.  Since many of the discount companies let you purchase the deals for someone else, this could make a great and unique gift.  Buy a deal for yourself and make it a date.
  9. DON’T LET JUST ANYONE TOUCH YOU.  Beware of the massage/facial/laser/combo deals.  Especially when you are dealing with skin, make sure to research the business and find out whether their aesteticians are legit, the products they use are quality, how long in business, etc.  It’s possible to find a real gem and get a fabulous facial for $40, but there are a lot of shady businesses out there that will take your forty bucks and leave you with blackheads and bachne.
  10. REMEMBER YOUR SERVER.  Be sure to tip on the meal or service; most people tip on the original value of the meal but it’s up to you.  If you do opt to tip on the value of the coupon, consider adding a couple bucks  🙂

WARNING: Fall Weather May Provoke Irrational Shopping Frenzy–READ THIS BEFORE HITTING BLOOMIES!

Posted on Facebook October 23, 2011

Even though it’s been 175 years since I was in high school, I still have the same reaction when the weather changes from summer to fall.  I need to shop.  I remember being 15 years old, trolling the racks of baggy argyle sweaters at the Limited, browsing for bolero jackets and acid washed Z Cavarricci’s at Up Against the Wall, and splurging on my favorite striped blazer from Paul Harris (that unfortunately made me look like a referee at an upscale soccer match).  I would come home from the mall loaded down with all my shopping bags and try outfits on for my sister, who was never impressed since she was “mod” and preferred long black shirts and pajama pants to my fruity preppy look.

Of course all this shopping was for a purpose: a new school year, so the excitement made sense. Nowadays, though, since most people work at the same place for years and see the same tired faces every day, maybe there is less incentive to shop when the seasons change?  Nope.  Even though I’m not in school anymore, and shopping for work can be pretty uninspiring (do we ALL have to shop at Ann Taylor and Banana Republic???) I still get the same feeling of excitement in the fall, and some evil force of nature keeps pulling me towards Bloomingdales.

Fortunately, I have learned some tricks along the way, and thanks also to some thrifty and stylish friends, I’ve learned how I can make my wardrobe work overtime for me, and head to the mall only with specific key pieces to shop for.  Not only do these tips save me money, but they also help me to find my own “personal style” as well as periodically purge my closets and donate my stuff to some great charities (can you say ‘tax write-off’???).  Check out my tips below and let me know how you save money yet still manage to look amazing!

–       LOSE IT–Take advantage of seasonal closet changes to go through your clothes and shoes.  If you haven’t worn an item of clothing in 2 years, get rid of it.

–      TIM GUNN IN DA HIZZY–Invite friends over who know your style and/or friends whose style you like and ask them to help you create “new” outfits with your existing wardrobe.  Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone in style, colors, etc.

–       THREADS PARTY–Once you’ve collected a bunch of unwanted items that are in good shape,  host a “clothing swap” at your place.  Invite friends over with their unwanted clothes and swap your old stuff for their “new” stuff.

–       MEGA-MIX– Mix “new” clothes with your existing wardrobe and discover the snazzy outfits you never thought you had!

–       GO OLD SCHOOL–Check out vintage stores and mix vintage pieces with new stuff.  If you live in NYC, go to Beacon’s Closet for evening wear.  I bought 3 dresses there ranging in price from $19-45 and worn them to weddings, black tie events and cocktail parties and ALWAYS received compliments.  The dresses are unique–one was a Betsey Johnson dress!–so you always look original.

–      LET INSTYLE BE YOUR GUIDE– You don’t have to be a fashionista to check out a fashion magazine once in a while.  Seriously, it won’t kill you.  When you see something you like—an outfit, a pair of shoes, a high-waisted skirt—rip out that page and then take those pages with you when you go shopping as “ideas.”  Let those ideas be you guide.

–       KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE–Go shopping with NEEDS not WANTS in mind.  If you have a major presentation to give for work, and need a killer suit, let that be your mission.  Don’t be distracted by the shiny boots or cashmere sweater (unless it’s on sale and you have an additional 20% coupon on top of it!)

–      THE BUDDY SYSTEM– Bring a trusted friend with you when you shop for an important and costly item.  You don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on something that’s not “you” or that is too tight, ill-fitting or so last-year.  To wear an item once and let it sit in the closet for the rest of its life is a bad way to spend your money.  Also, it’s very sad and lonely for the outfit.

–       MONEY BABY–Before making a major purchases, tell yourself, “This dress/suit/bathing suit/pair of jeans has to make me feel like a million bucks.”  And then accept nothing less than that.

–       LOOK GOOD BY DOING GOOD–Sell what you don’t want on EBay, Craigslist or vintage stores.  If you can’t sell your pieces, donate them to charity.  Be sure you are donating to a charitable organization and be sure to get a receipt so you can write off your donation as a deduction on your income taxes.

–       Here are some great charities that will gladly accept clothing donations and offer a receipt:

Housingworks.org

Salvationarmy.org

Dressforsuccess.org

Goodwill.org

Vietnam Veterans of America (pickupplease.org)—Will pick up so good for donating furniture.

With your new-old yet original outfits, you’ll be ready to head to that amazing steak restaurant with your Groupon.

 

Every piece was from the Limited. Posing in the back of a pickup truck…

Also from The Limited. My favorite red “silk” shirt–buttoned up all the way…Obviously I was the life of the party back then.