Growing up!

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Candy Tax and other Childhood Grudges

Tax day has come and gone. Congrats to those of you with hefty returns you’re already excited to spend, or better yet, save. My shove into the world of taxation didn’t come during my sophomore year of college when I worked my first legit job. The first memory I have of taxation (pretty sure it was without representation) occurred Halloween night 1993.

Dressed in my finest green felt with an orange feather stuck in my cap, I made the rounds of Heritage Woods as the cutest Peter Pan you ever did see. My one year old sister held court in her stroller dressed as Tinker Bell. Between her huge blue eyes and my endearing wit, we were really bringing home a substantial candy haul.

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(Seriously, could you resist those baby blues? And no, this isn’t her Tinker Bell costume.)

When we got home I ran to the living room and dumped the contents of my cloth pumpkin bag onto the floor. Oh the candy. So much yummy candy. Unfortunately, our two big dogs came running and I had to defend my stash. My Dad called off the hounds and I eased up my defensive stance realizing, a moment too late, a bigger threat had entered my candy territory.

Higs and Murph

Summer sitting on murph(Attempts to steal my goods aside, they were my best friends. Besides my sister of course.)

Leaning down to pluck a fun size bag of Skittles from my pile, my Dad said the two worst words I had ever heard, “candy tax.” My mouth dropped open and I yelled, “put it back!” Those Skittles were my hard earned income. I shoved my body into a green-felt Peter Pan costume for those Skittles. I told jokes to the cranky lady down the street for those Skittles. THOSE WERE MY SKITTLES! My Dad looked at me and said, “We took you trick-or-treating, so we get some of your candy.”

Halloween (This was two years before the candy tax law of ’93. I really should have anticipated that one.)

Granted, I was four and much too young to truly understand taxation, but in my mind it stood for someone coming in and unjustly taking something I had worked hard to earn. Almost 20 years later when I received my first “real job” pay check and saw Federal, State and New York City taxes taken out I’m pretty sure I opened up to my mouth to yell, “put it back!”

holding my loot(I became increasing suspicious of everyone and guarded my loot carefully after Lollipop-Gate.)

Apart from my financial origin story, I learned about net profit by selling Krispy Kreme donuts at a yard sale*, candy tax is my earliest memory about finance and perhaps my biggest childhood grudge. My other grudges include the dogs getting to eat a whole cake on their birthday when I couldn’t. My sister finding the golden egg at Easter five years running. My eyebrows inexplicably turning from blond to black. And ruining my awesome Pocahontas sneakers because I dragged my feet trying to slow my bike down during a family outing.

Childhood grudges aside, I’m blessed to have two parents who were committed to making sure I had an understanding of finances early on in life. An understanding and respect of money is empowering and, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts parents can give their child.

Even when we were little, my sister and I weren’t handed much. Sure, birthdays and Christmas were elaborate affairs filled with glorious toys, but in between we learned how to earn what we wanted or helped pay for it ourselves.

If I pointed out a toy at the store and asked for it, my Mom or Dad would ask if I was willing to pay for half. If I met them at 50 percent, then I could have the stuffed animal (it was always a stuffed animal). Nine times out of ten I wasn’t interested in paying the $4.50 it usually cost for a cuddly creature. However, this tactic taught me to evaluate purchases and prevent impulse buys at an incredibly early age. It’s a tough skill to learn later in life, especially when you have bills to pay.

Now, that I have reached “later in life” I’m pleased to be a millennial with a basic grasp on finances. According to mainstream media, the millennial generation is in big financial trouble. We can’t land jobs, with or without college degrees. We’re collectively drowning in student loans. As of October 2012, the average student is graduating with $26,600 of debt. And to top it all off we’re apparently all self-indulgent whiners who want to rely on parental welfare, well, forever.

Stereotypes aside, I have come across a fair amount of my fellow millennials who have a crippling fear of money, largely because they don’t understand how finance works. Those friends of mine were my motivation for creating #BrokeMillennial. Hopefully, this blog not only continues to develop my own financial literacy, but helps other fledgling adults learn some basics about budgets, saving and investing.  Plus, I think some real-life grownups find my stories pretty entertaining too.

P.S. If you ever think you see me out shopping, yes, I am the woman wandering aimlessly around the store clutching a stuffed animal cute blazer, trying to decided whether or not it’s worth my money. Unless it’s 50 percent off, then it seems like an obvious yes.

P.P.S. Don’t let the tough love with finances or candy stealing fool you. My Dad is an amazing father.

IMG_2959*For my financial origin story please read Donuts and Dollars.

Please join me and my fellow personal finance bloggers as we celebrate Financial Literacy Awareness Month. Hosted by Shannon Ryan from The Heavy Purse, you can read why financial literacy matters to all of us. Just visit The Heavy Purse and click on the participating bloggers’ links.

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Follow the journey on Twitter @BrokeMillennial or subscribe for emails about new posts. Email feedback or topic requests to brokemillennials@gmail.com.

My Dirty, Little, Money-Saving Secret(s)

A few months ago I decided to treat myself to a shopping trip. Well, treat is the wrong word. I don’t really like shopping, but I had recently evaluated my wardrobe and found it quite lacking in professional clothing. A good friend of mine, lets call her H, with the same fondness for blazers agreed to come along. We armed ourselves with a list of sales, our student IDs (because J.Crew gives a student discounts) and some well-constructed walking shoes.

H had a job interview coming up and needed to find a professional outfit and a new pair of dress pants. We pulled a few options and she went to try them on. “Oh, I really like these,” I heard her say behind the well-worn dressing room curtain. She strutted out wearing a pair of black slacks and did a few twirls in front of the full-length mirror. Nodding her approval, stepped back behind the curtain, changed back into her boring jeans headed to the cashier, ego-boosting-pants in hand.

“Wait, I need to check the tags,” she said as we got ready to pay up.

“Why?” I inquired.

“Because, if they’re dry clean only I don’t want them,” she informed me.

H had a valid point. Even if she felt like a superstar in those pants, they would ultimately cost her more than she was willing to pay for a pair of pants. Luckily, they were machine washable, but the cute silky top she found got the axe. Dry cleaning a shirt in NYC costs about $4.50. If she dry cleaned it once a month it would cost her $54 a year, more than the original price of the shirt.

IMG_1716(I only wear the finest materials available.)

My friend’s reluctance to invest in a piece of dry clean only clothing got me thinking what other little actions we can take in our daily lives to cut costs. Shopping is an easy one for me. I’m blessed with a natural disdain for the whole process and frequently wear hand-me-downs.Not retro-chic thrift store clothes that make me a New York Fashionista, hand-me-downs.

My first year in New York I got lucky and my roommate’s co-worker frequently purged her closet full of exclusively high-end label clothes. Not only did I get free clothing, the leftovers could get taken to a variety of second-hand shops that buy clothing.

IMG_2074(Why yes, that whole outfit is a hand-me-down.  What a sharp eye you have! The blazer is indeed Banana Republic. No, I don’t care that it’s last season.)

Besides my pillaging of people’s discarded clothing, here are some of my top penny-pinching ideas:

  • Brown bag lunch
  • Buy food in bulk and cook large meals for the week
 (get a slow cooker)
  • Cut cable (invest in a Roku or another streaming media player)
  • Evaluate transportation costs – take public transit if it’s an option or carpool if it isn’t
  • Contain cost of utilities – Our electric bill just came in the mail today, we owe $32.87 TOTAL. #humblebrag
  • Get a roommate or consider living at home – see how much you could save staying at home with the “Get Rich Living with Your Parents” calculator.
  • Buy off brand (for certain products ie: cleaning products).
  • Shop the sales
  • 
Cut the gym – Unless you’re a hardcore gym rat stop getting suckered by those rates. Instead, run outside or do an exercise video on your TV via your streaming media player. Girl Meets Debt offers a great post about the horrors of gym memberships.
  • Don’t buy a coffee or tea.

I understand, some days you just want to go get a $5 grande caramel macchiato. But figure this, you can save $2 on an iced latte if you order an espresso shot on ice in a grande cup and then add your own milk.


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(I get it. My name is really tough.)

If you frequent Starbucks and the idea of spending between $10 – $20 a week on overpriced beverages isn’t enough to deter you then please sign up for a rewards card! They used to do free soy or flavor shots. Apparently they need the extra 50 cents these days. At least they’ll send you the occasional free drink coupon. Find out more details here.

IMG_0142 (RE: above comment – I’m allowed to mock. I worked there too.)

Hand-me-downs and adding your own milk aside, there are some great deals out there. Sign up for Groupon, Living Social or deals in your area (ie: New York Deals). Finally, in true millennial fashion, I advise you download Scoutmob or any other region specific deals app.

IMG_1717(A free app that saves you money! Can’t beat it.)

Follow the journey on Twitter @BrokeMillennial or subscribe for emails about new posts. Email feedback or topic requests to brokemillennials@gmail.com.

The One Where Someone Else’s Dad Teaches Me About Money*

This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #404. Check out all the other great articles included here!

Per special request a series of posts will deal with practical budgeting. I’m not claiming my way is the right way, or the best way, for you to deal with your money. I’m simply offering the #BrokeMillennial budgeting/saving system.

On Monday I sat in the airport waiting for my flight back to New York when my phone buzzed with a text message from my Dad reading, “I will put $20 in your account when we get home. Take a cab home or save it.”

Since my departure from the nest my Dad will spring these delightful financial presents upon me in an effort to get me to treat myself. After much deliberation, and even calling my boyfriend for his advice on the situation, I saved the $20 bucks and used my monthly metrocard I’d already paid for to take the bus home. Besides, I need a haircut this week so thanks Dad!

Treat Yo Self meme(This is me…well…never. Just kidding, I am still planning on the aforementioned haircut.)

Financial planners, fellow personal finance bloggers and possibly your parents all push the importance of saving money. Many of us have heard that we need to save at least 10 percent of every paycheck and have three months worth of living expenses stashed in an emergency fund. It’s a financial philosophy so deeply rooted in our society it has pervaded into mainstream media. The first time I heard about saving ten percent was from none other than Jack Geller, Monica’s dad on the show “Friends.”

Monica: Um, yeah, so uh, uhh, listen, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you this before but umm, I,     I’m no longer at my job, I, I had to leave it.

    Mrs. Geller: Why?

    Monica: Because they made me.

    Mrs. Geller: You were fired? What’re you gonna do?
    
    Mr. Geller: Judy, Judy, relax, this is our little harmonica we’re talking about. We taught     her well. Ten percent of your paycheck, where does it go?

    MONICA and Ross: In the bank.

    Mr. Geller: There you go. So she dips into her savings, that’s what it’s there for. She’s     gonna be fine..Aren’t you sweetie?

jack geller collage(Because one picture of Jack Geller just wasn’t enough.)

Needless to say, Monica hadn’t saved ten percent of her paycheck and had a rough time financially, for a few episodes. Life’s hard when living in a rent-controlled apartment in a trendy neighborhood with a bedroom bigger than most Manhattan apartments. Okay, rant over.

Monica's bedroom(There is a nightstand on each side of her bed! Who in Manhattan has enough space for a king bed that isn’t touching all four walls of the bedroom?!)

While it’s great to wax-poetic about the need to save, it’s hard for many millennials to grasp the idea of squirreling away funds when most of us are already scrimping. Unfortunately, I’m not going to empathize, I’m in camp Jack Geller. The time to save is when you’re making money, any money.

The notion of putting ten percent aside may seem daunting when you’re barely making enough to pay for rent and food. So don’t focus on saving ten percent, instead focus on saving ten dollars from each paycheck (unless $10 is 10% of your paycheck…then perhaps save less).

Sure, if you save ten dollars each paycheck you won’t amass that ideal emergency savings fund, but you will be in the habit of saving. It’s the habit that is most important. Reason being, when you get a higher paying job putting money aside will be an instinct and you can start to actually put aside ten percent of each paycheck. There are even ways to do this automatically (more on those in future posts)!

Being a saver is a mindset. Some people are raised or wired that way while others constantly battle the impulse to splurge. But if you don’t want to end up like Monica then live within your means, start saving and don’t be this guy (watch until minute 3:09).

the routine(Do yourself a favor and watch the routine.)

*Previously the title read: The Importance of Scrimping when Saving. People apparently don’t find that as catchy.

Stayed tuned for future posts about how this millennial deals with budgets and savings. During the interim, follow the journey on Twitter @BrokeMillennial or subscribe for emails about new posts. Feel free to email feedback or topic requests to brokemillennials@gmail.com.