The Importance of a Buffer

age of money
YNAB ages your dollars, basically it is rate of spending vs. rate of deposit. Read more here.

Are you living paycheck to paycheck? I’d say many people do in an American society of debt overload and over indulgence do. We just weren’t raised to be savers. We look at our grandparents and great grandparents who still cut the bruised parts of fruit out and finish eating the rest and shake our heads. We think, “I will buy you a whole basket of peaches if you’ll just NOT EAT THAT!” We throw out vacuums when the belt breaks, think buying a brand new car on loan is cheaper than fixing the one that’s paid for and go pick up a burger at the local fast food joint when we just don’t want to cook. But saving is important, and over indulgence has entire generations in financial ruin. That’s why it’s important to create a buffer.

A buffer is a category you create in your budget; it’s rule four for my favorite budgeting software, YNAB. It’s different than saving for rainy day expenses, those expenses that only come up annually, or on an as-needed basis, like doctor visits and vet bills (which you should be planning for them as well!) It’s the one to six month’s salary you save so you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck, and you add to it each and every paycheck. It can be a small amount, or it can be large, It’s totally possible and most people can raise a one month’s salary buffer within 6-9 months of budgeting.

The question is, why is it so important? There are many reasons why you want to have a buffer, number one being a little thing called Murphy’s Law, which the financial guru Dave Ramsey suggests always happens where money is concerned. Murphy’s Law is an old adage, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.  What if you get fired, hurt, sick, there’s a death in the family, you have to have hip replacement, your car catches fire, your house catches fire, you hit someone with your car, and so on and so on. There are so many reasons to have that extra money handy, just in case those paychecks stop rolling in.

How much do you want to save in your buffer? Start with one and keep adding to it, you can never have too much “just in case” money. When I started using YNAB, I usually had about $30 on payday, debt, no savings, no investments, nothing. Now, three years later, we are debt free (minus our mortgage), we have an ever-growing, fully funded buffer , a separate emergency fund of $1000 and still manage to save for our 52 week savings plan. We did remove all but about $200 of our investments from Lending Club and Betterment and just put it in to savings and CD ladders. We still have the $200 because they were notes that wouldn’t sell on Lending Club so they’ll just sit there til they pay out, (one of my issues with Lending Club).

Where do you want to keep your buffer? You can keep it right in your checking account, along with your rainy day funds and your every day expenses funds.You can also consider moving it to a savings account, simply to earn a higher interest rate off of it. Either way, you want to have it tangible if you need it. YNABers aren’t usually fans of lots of accounts, it can get messy and confusing, but I am also not a fan of putting all my eggs into one basket, especially in this day with identity theft and debit card thieves out there. Basically, it’s your money, put it where you want it.

BONUS THOUGHT: You know those people who say you shouldn’t save while you still have debt? Well, I think they are wrong, especially in this particular circumstance. You may have a problem come up way before you will be out of debt, and if you need to choose between adding an extra $10 to your credit card payment and adding an extra $10 to your buffer, until it’s funded with at least a month’s worth of wages, I would choose the buffer.

The True Cost of Eating Real Food

As you know, I’ve been eating more “real food” since I’ve started using Blue Apron. This weekend, my family and I visited the local farmers’ market for some fresh produce for the week and grabbed some nice rib-eyes for Mother’s Day at Earth Fare, our local whole foods store. Between both stores, we spent $81.00. We later picked all of our spring onions from the garden and decided to try this pickled green onion recipe and needed some mustard seed so we went to our local Winn Dixie. While we were there my men decided to take advantage of the low blood sugar attack I was having and load up on some snacks I normally only get in moderation and pick up a few extra things we needed like milk and bread. $160 later, I was floored! I started looking at the receipt at all the processed foods and how much they cost and was shocked. Yes, I said it! Processed foods cost more!

All I hear are people saying, “I try to eat healthy, but I just can’t afford it”.Well, I did some math, and quality and quantity are both higher with “real” food. I use to clip coupons to death, stock up on foods I didn’t really love because it was on sale. I still clip coupons, but I really only use coupons on meat, staples, and rare produce coupons. Now I find that I spend less at the store and I waste less food. I think it’s because before my brain didn’t recognize a box of something as food so at lot of it went to waste, but my brain definitely recognizes cucumbers and oranges and blocks of cheese and wants to eat them.

Here are some examples of how we wasted precious dollars buying junk at the store the other day and what we should have bought instead:

  • My son bought two packs of beef jerky, they were $7 each for about 6-8 pieces of jerky. You could get venison back-strap or top round and make your own with a much larger yield for that price. A round steak is about $6.00 per pound. You could get 1.5 lbs of meat, plus your marinade ingredients if you didn’t have them at home for the same price.
  • Next big thing we just HAD to have is ice cream which was close to $7 a quart. My husband’s favorite is banana split, so we will use this as an example. 1 bunch of bananas is around $1.31, give or take depending on how many pounds you get. Strawberries this week were 2 pints for $4 and I got a pineapple for $2.99 at the farmer’s market. Take 2 bananas, 1/4 the pineapple and 1/2 the pint of strawberries, freeze them. Put them in your Vitamix or your banana ice cream maker with a little frozen yogurt or some milk,$3.50 for 1 gallon this week, less than $3 if you drink almond or coconut milk. You can do it separate so you have 3 flavors, or all together like I do to get that nice swirly flavor effect. You’ve made homemade, healthier ice cream and you don’t even have to worry about the extra calories of the chocolate sauce you know you’re going to dump on there. If you freeze the entire bunch, berries and pineapple, you’ve doubled the amount of ice cream (about 2 qts.) for $3.80 more, if you don’t freeze them, you still have fruit left over for smoothies, pineapple whips or fresh toppings on your cereal.
  • My husband is addicted to Diet Coke. It cost him $7.99 for a 20 pack! If he drank water or tea we’d have saved tons! I only drink water with a squirt of lemon, lime, or oranges, whatever is in the fridge, it’s free almost everywhere, oh and I don’t buy bottled water at home, I just have a filtering pitcher.  When I want something fizzy I drink kombucha tea (my favorite is lemon ginger). You can make this yourself; but, eww it’s just not for me. One bottle is $3 for 2 servings, still a little high for my taste, but sometimes you just need some fizz and it’s worth it to not have to grow that THING in my kitchen; just google it, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
  • Chips! Chips are $5 a bag now – shame! Some of the best tasting chips you can make at home. Take you some flour tortillas, $2.79, cut them up into strips, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and cracked black pepper and bake at 450 for about 10 minutes. So crispy! So tasty! Great with salsa, or hummus or even on top of soup. I also like to get red potatoes $2.99 and slice them very, very thin. Spritz them with olive oil spray, salt and pepper them and cook them the same way. These are very good. Lastly, cheese! Put down some parchment paper, put down finely shredded cheddar or Monterrey jack ($3.39 pre-shredded)in a little circle and cook in the oven til they are bubbly brown. When they cool, they will crisp like chips.

If I would have taken my own advice and looked at real food v. processed, I would have seen that I could have saved us $52 on JUNK in these four categories and a whole lot of calories and chemicals. It looks like it is really IS better to buy/eat real food after all.

 

Going Green Challenge

I saved close to $700 dollars!

My “Going Green” challenge was amazing. By going green I don’t mean using those cloth bags at the grocery store, but paying with cash only. I challenged myself to pay with cash only for my next paycheck. For two weeks, a small but reasonable goal, I paid for food, groceries, entertainment, clothing, dry cleaning, and extra treats with cash. All bills were taken directly from my checking account and any other pre-budgeted sinking funds left in the bank. The results were amazing. I saved close to $700 dollars! I watched the stack of greens dwindle down and it seemed to hurt more each time I broke a twenty. Before it was all said and done, I just couldn’t bring myself to spend those last $40 greens. I became more frugal, using coupons, taking time planning my spending, and having no impulse buys. It was a huge success, I was no longer living “paycheck to paycheck” but actually had a disciplined plan in place; I had decided from now on to “go green”.

Scared to Have Cash?

Banks have given a false sense of security that if this happens, your money will be refunded to you

Many people are scared to follow  advice and start carrying cash. They are scared to have $1000 liquid cash in their home, thinking someone will break in and take it or rob them of it. People, no one knows you are carrying cash except you. Also, if someone is to break in your home, you should want them to only take cash. People are foolish to think it is better to have credit cards or check books taken. Banks have given a false sense of security that if this happens, your money will be refunded to you. This may be true, but in the meantime, you have bounced checks, overdraft fees, ruined credit. An affidavit of forgery must be filled out before any of this is restored and this may take years to fix your credit (if it ever does). Plus you run the risk of further identity thefts. If cash is taken, it can still be refunded to you. A simple police report and a call to your home insurance provider can take care of this. Then that’s it, no other fees or feelings of fright because a stranger, a theif knows your name. Save yourselves the trouble, buy a safe, bolt it to the floor in your home out of the way and lock your things up. Reinforce your home security by installing a “Texas deadbolt” (which goes deep within the door frame, that way if someone is going to kick your door they have to kick in the whole frame) Install an audible alarm (don’t bother signing up for monthly alarm service, in six minutes you’ll be cleaned out and the police won’t get there any sooner and the damage will be done). Lock all sliding glass doors and reinforce them with a bar to keep them from sliding open. Keep all ladders unavailable to upstairs windows and keep your hedges cut down low. Purchase flood lights set on motion, an inexpensive camera system at your front door would be nice. You can get one at Lowe’s or Home Depot for as little as $100 dollars. A case is more likely to be solved with id of a thief. Probability of the thief being known to the police is high and many times they are recognized by the Investigator, and often times, even by you.

Save Money: Don’t Be a Victim

DO NOT LEAVE CASH OR CREDIT CARDS IN YOUR GLOVE BOX.

Just this month alone, the county I work for has had 107 vehicle break-ins. Here are a few tips on how to avoid being a victim.
1. LOCK YOUR CAR -many times simply locking your car will deter a criminal
2. PARK UNDER A LIGHT OR IN A GARAGE -thieves don’t want to be where people can see them committing the crime, parking in a well lit area may help the criminal move on to someone else.
3. ALARM SYSTEMS -a simple alarm system installed can help, that little blinking light is like a force field.
4. DO NOT LEAVE PERSONAL BELONGINGS IN YOUR CAR – many people are victims to their own comfort level. When a thief sees a purse in the floorboard or a wallet in the door, you are assuring you will be a victim. THIS INCLUDES LOCKING IT IN THE TRUNK. If a thief gets in your car, they will surely go through the trunk as well.
5. DO NOT LEAVE CASH OR CREDIT CARDS IN YOUR GLOVE BOX. If a thief gets in, they will check this and the center console for just these type of things. THEY WILL TAKE YOUR GUNS TOO. Many people keep a pistol in their vehicle, if you don’t take it inside with you, it will be gone too. FACE PLATES ON RADIOS ARE PRIME. If you have a removable face plate, take it with you.
These will not assure you will not be a victim, but it will assure that you will surely be able to get your life back together without further crimes happening to you, such as identity theft or credit card fraud.

Spend What You Make

Here is a money tip, spend only what you make. If you only spend the money you have and no extra, you will not have a debt crisis. For many “keeping up with the Jones'” is a real problem. By the time you accrue all the toys that they have, you can’t pay your light bill. Remember, living like no one else now so you can live like no one else later is the best route you can go. If you can wait until you can afford to pay for a Lexus with cash, you are much better off than if you must sell your first born for it. If you are in a debt crisis, you may consider selling that Lexus and driving a used Kia you paid cash for. An extra $400 dollars a month (moderate average on car payment) for five years will buy you a $24,000 cash car, put that into a 12% mutual fund for five years, you are looking at 34,000 and some change. I think you could afford that Lexus then. By the time you have $34,000 dollars cash, that Kia may look pretty good!