Functional Girl: A column
by CJ LEGARE
Q. Dear Functional Girl: My husband and I are in our early 30s and suddenly very aware of our lack of financial stability. We’re practically living paycheck to paycheck and have nothing saved for retirement. I know we need to make changes, but it seems so overwhelming. Do you have any easy money-saving tips to get us started in the right direction? — Tandra N.
A.: Dear Tandra: I’m so glad you sent in this question! Taking control of your finances can feel like an insurmountable challenge, but with a little self-discipline and creativity you’ll be well on your way in no time. My husband is a finance geek so money matters are a part of our daily lives. Here are some tricks that we use to keep ourselves on track.
• Make a list of all of your monthly bills, such as your mortgage, car payment, insurance, cell phone, cable, etc. Then determine what is negotiable. You’d be surprised how many things are merely “wants” rather than “needs.” We don’t need cable, but most of us want it. We don’t need an expensive cell-phone plan, but most people are convinced that they do. If you’re serious about stabilizing your finances then be honest about your wants and needs. I guarantee that you’ll find areas where you can reduce your monthly expenses.
• Credit cards have become the Achilles Heel of many consumers and can seriously impair your financial health. Gather all of your cards together and write down the balance owed on each, as well as the interest rate. Select one card for emergencies, and cut up the rest. This won’t cancel your accounts, but it will prevent you from utilizing them. Call your credit-card companies and ask them to work with you. Many companies are willing to lower their interest rates and work out a payment plan if (a) you communicate with them honestly, and (b) they believe that you’re serious about paying back the debt. You may even be able to consolidate your debt onto one card with a good rate. Start with the card that has the highest rate and aggressively pay off this debt. Once this is done, hold on to two or three cards at most. Make sure they have rewards programs that benefit you when you utilize them. Remember, use your credit cards responsibly and pay them off in full every month.
• For one month list everything you purchase, whether it’s Starbucks in the morning, McDonald’s for lunch, a cute necklace from the mall or dinner with friends at your favorite spot. This will give you an accurate accounting of where your money is going. Many people believe that they don’t have the money to invest for retirement, only to find that they’re spending hundreds of dollars every month on things they simply don’t need. A couple hundred dollars a month can make a multi-million-dollar difference in retirement. My husband calls it “cheese-stick syndrome.” Ultimately those $3.99 cheese sticks at lunch are going to cost you significantly more in the long run. Ask yourself, is eating out multiple times a week worth a vacation home in Hawaii?
This is not to say that you should never enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant. I’m most definitely a student of the “work hard, play hard” school of thought. Set a budget for yourself that will allow you to reach your future goals and enjoy yourself in the meantime, then stick with it. This is where your self-discipline and will to succeed will truly make the difference.
• Find creative, easy ways to save. Clip your coupons! It may seem tedious, but there are weeks when my grocery bill is $50 less because I utilized coupons. Purchase generic equivalents of your favorite products. Nine times out of ten they’re just as good, and a fraction of the cost. Purchase items such as special-occasion cards, wrapping paper and small gifts from dollar stores, which will amaze you with their selection and product quality. Go to matinee movies instead of evening shows, or try to find theaters that have a discount day. When you eat out, order an appetizer instead of an entrée, or split an entrée with your sweetheart. There are a plethora of low-cost or no-cost activities in every city. Do a little research and you’ll fill your calendar with fun, economical events in no time. Shop at discount stores for clothing, jewelry and for sundry household items. Wal-Mart, Target, Ross, Marshalls and TJ Maxx, to name a few, are wonderfully affordable options, and they’ve come a long way in style and substance.
• Don’t underestimate the power of change! I never pay with change. If the bill is $2.12, I pay with $3 and save the change in a jar at home. This may seem silly, but it really adds up. I’ve been doing this for five years now and I’ve never saved less than $200, and the year my boyfriend and I did it together, we saved $543! I also pick up every piece of change I see on the ground. It may seem nonsensical but someone once said to me, “Why would the universe throw you a million bucks if you think you’re too good for a nickel?” Made sense to me and I’ve never walked away from a penny in a parking lot since.
Now, here’s the fun part: This is your play money! At the end of the year, take all that change and blow it on whatever you want: a new outfit, a weekend getaway, anything! You’ve earned it.
• Get yourself a good Financial Advisor (FA) to effectively guide your investments. Get referrals from friends and family, but always research the different investment firms. Your dad’s FA might not be the right fit for you, so make sure their corporate philosophies and principles are in line with your own. Many financial advisors will happily sit down with you and work out a plan of action based on your needs and goals free of charge. Our FA always says, “You work hard for your money. It’s my job to make sure your money works hard for you.”
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Live the life you have imagined.” In the end, it’s up to you to take control and do just that. Nothing is impossible as long as you’re willing to take responsibility, work hard and never lose faith in yourself.
Q. Dear Functional Girl: I love to paint my nails, but they always get messed up because I never have enough time to dry them completely. Got any tips to for drying my nails faster? — Ines T.
A. Dear Ines: I have about a million solutions for your dilemma…or maybe a handful. Let’s start with how you’re applying your polish. The number of coats and thickness of each coat will play a role in drying time. You always want to give each layer 1 to 3 minutes to set. Start with a thin layer of base coat. Next, apply a thin layer of your color. Follow with a second thin coat of your color. Finish with a slightly thicker layer of a good top coat.
Once you’re done with application there are a number of ways to speed the drying process. No-cost options include using a hair dryer on the low setting, or placing your nails under cold, running water.
For a greener option, fill a bowl with cold water and soak your nails for 5 to 10 minutes. When your nails are dry, water your plants!
One of my favorite dual-purpose kitchen items is cooking spray. A quick olive-oil aerosol burst will dry your polish and leave your cuticles soft and moisturized.
If you’re really in a time crunch and have a little money to spend, check out some of the quick-drying polishes on the market. You can find any number of shades manufactured by the economical brands carried in Wal-Mart or Target. Most will dry within 90 seconds of application, but beware as they tend to chip more quickly than regular polish.
There are also quick-drying top coats, nail-polish additives that cut down drying time and aerosol drying sprays. Remember, most of these will cost you more than a can of generic cooking spray, aren’t any more effective at decreasing drying time and won’t moisturize your cuticles. No one wants ratty cuticles.
Now, ladies, these are the tricks that work for me. If anyone has a fabulous tip on nail drying, or on any other topic for that matter, please send it in and share it with all the other functional girls out there! If your tip is selected, it will appear in a Functional Girl column with your name, location and photo.
Functional Girl CJ Legare lives in Kyle with her husband, Joshua, and is addicted to 2 percent organic milk. If you’ve got a question or comment for Functional Girl, email her here. She blogs at http://functionalgirl.com/