[Frugal Fridays] The #1 Personal Finance Rule

Happy Friday everyone!

Today, I want to talk about the most important rule in personal finance.

There are tons of “rules” and methods when it comes to personal finance. In fact, many people continue to disagree on how to treat different aspects of personal finance – student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage payments, etc. But the one universal rule that every personal finance writer/blogger/enthusiast agrees on is perfectly stated in five little words:

Spend less than you earn.

Common sense, right? It sounds so simple. Yet we, as a nation, are in an incredible amount of debt! In 2010, the total amount of consumer debt in the US was nearly $2.4 trillion (source)!! Why is that?

My theory is that we, as consumers, confuse the idea of available credit with the reality of how much money we actually have. So we spend and spend and spend until we realize that we actually have to pay for all of these things! And if you bought that Prada bag with your credit card, you’re going to be paying even more than the original price!! So, how does one get out of debt and out of this cycle? Follow this rule!

On one Friday of every month, I will be posting several tips on how you can implement this rule into your life.  Now, there are two parts to this rule – 1) spend less and 2) earn more. Not only will I discuss ways to decrease your spending, I will also suggest ways that you can increase your income! This monthly series will be known as Frugal Fridays (I’m hoping to eventually put up a Frugal Friday post once a week, but I’ll start with once a month for now)! Let me know if you guys have any questions or suggestions on topics that I should cover for this series!


Why I’m Doing This (Part One)

New York, New York

When I was a senior in high school, I went to New York with my high school’s jazz choir to perform at Carnegie Hall. Talk about an experience of a lifetime – I went on top of the Empire State building on my 18th birthday, celebrated with some good ol’ New York cheesecake, saw Avenue Q on Broadway, and strolled around Time Square. Not to mention I was with some of my greatest friends at the time. There was one moment when I was walking around in the freezing cold (I HATE the cold, mind you) and I looked around and told myself, “I need to live here”.


Paying off my loans early will free up some income for my future travel expenses/rent/other living costs in New York. I used to want to move there immediately after graduating, but I decided against it. I don’t want to be broke in New York City! I want to be able to really experience what it’s like to live out there – not struggle with my bills and my student loans!

Moving back home for a little bit is also helping me with this goal. Some people have asked me, “isn’t moving back home slowing down your plans of moving to New York?” I guess in a way it is. But again, it’ll help me in the long run – the money I’m saving on rent will help with my loans, and once those are gone, I can save all of that extra money in my New York fund (yes, I have a savings account just for NY 🙂 ) Plus, moving back home with my family will give me some extra time with them before I move away.

I don’t see myself living in New York forever. But while I’m relatively young, I want to experience what life is like in the city that never sleeps. As motivation, my desktop backgrounds at work and on my personal laptop are of Central Park. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing out there – working in the FiDi, going to grad school, etc. But I do know that San Francisco is a little too slow for me 🙂 So I’m hoping that the fast-paced environment of the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (sorry, I had to!) will give me a nice challenge.


June 2012 Update

Current situation:


I get paid twice a month (on the 15th and end of month). I’ll start throwing $550 at these loans after June 15th.

However, I might end up throwing a little bit more towards them this month. Our lease here in San Francisco ends on June 17th and our landlord is letting us pro-rate the price of rent for June instead of just charging us for one full month.

$2,350 a month / 30 days in June ≅ $78.33 per day
$78.33 * 17 days ≅ $1,332 pro-rated rent due for June

Since I usually pay $825 out of the $2,350/month for rent, I calculated that I personally owe $467 for June. I’m saving $358 this month on rent!

But wait! There’s more!

I also (potentially) have $825 coming in from the security deposit we put down last year – granted we don’t leave the apartment in a mess! Including the $358 savings from rent, I will hopefully have a $1,183 windfall for June! The balance on my non-direct loan is just under that amount – I could completely wipe out my non-direct loan and put a small dent in one of my direct loans! That would make this repayment schedule move along even faster! Student loan debt free by 2013 instead of 2015? Hellooooo New York!

However, the selfish (or is it reasonable?) part of me is telling me to use that money for the new furniture I need for my new house. What do you guys think – get rid of the non-direct loan or use the money for a new bed? (I do have a bed at the apartment that I could use for the mean time if I decide to wait for one). OR put more money into my savings account for my car that I want to buy in December??

Gotta think this one over. Let me know what you guys think. Until next time…


Let’s Get Down to Business

Here is a graphic of my current budget from my last post:


Now, in order for me to be able to throw about $500 at my student loan debt, I need to shift some things around. I crunched a bunch of numbers, and this is what the new budget looks like:

LvtL budget

New budget allocations:

Necessary Expenses – 29% (from 40%)
Currently, I’m living in a 3 bedroom flat with 2 roommates in San Francisco. I’m paying about $900/month ($825 rent, plus electricity, water, utilities) for a master bedroom with my own bathroom. As I mentioned in my previous post, I will be moving in with my mom, auntie, and brother in about a month and instead will be splitting the mortgage. My own contribution will be $600 flat (this will include electricity, phone, water) – savings of $300/month.

However, my monthly Clipper Card (SF/Bay Area travel costs) will be increasing from $62/month to about $150/month. Still, I’m saving more than $200 in this category.

I’ve also moved my monthly loan payments from this category to the next category.

Student Loan (SL) Snowball – 19%
[For those who don’t know what a snowball in personal finance is (or an avalanche, for that matter), I’ll be a doing a post on it sometime in the near future. Keep a look out!]

I’ve decided to throw about $500/month at my loans. At this rate, I’d have my loans paid off by December 2015 – exactly 5 years from my graduation date.

Savings – 37% (from 30%)
I know, why did I increase my savings from 30% to 37%?

Well for starters, I’m starting to save for my own car and I want to buy this car by December of this year. So the savings for that aspect went up from $50/month to about $300/month.

Also, I’ll be starting to study for the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam in about a month or two. Registering for the exam and reviewing for it is not cheap ($100 initial registration, $743.20 total for all four parts of the test, and $3,245 for the review). I’ll be taking out an interest-free loan (the best kind!) for the review, but I need to start saving up for this whole process. Increased career savings from $0/month to $200/month.

Spending – 7% (from 20%)
I currently take out $100 cash every Monday and that is the only cash I’m allowed to use for lunches, nights out, groceries, and gas (when I get rides from people). I’m decreasing my weekly spending from $100/week to $40/week. *gasp* I know, I might cry, too! Initially I was going to go down to $20/week, but I think that just might be impossible. Well, we’ll see how this one goes! This means bringing lunches every day to work, less happy hours (drinks are expensive!), no more hookah (it had to be done), and no more careless spending (bye bye expensive makeup).

Tithing – 8% (from 10%)
I knew for sure that I was not going to eliminate tithing from my budget. Although I spend a lot of time doing ministry work (I’m very involved in my parish’s Young Adult Ministry), I still think that I can donate money to my home parish. I decreased my monthly contribution from 10% to 8% – not a big change.

So there’s the plan. June begins this Friday (already? goodness…) and so will this new budget. Can’t wait to get this ball rollin’!

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Let’s not forget what the troops have done for us.


Budgeting 101

Everyone’s budget is different.

But if you don’t know where to start, many personal finance experts suggest you start off with a 50/30/20 budget – 50% of your post-tax income goes to necessary expenses (mortgage, rent, loans, etc.), 30% goes to your wants (nights out, movies, etc.), and 20% goes to savings (long-term, short-term) (see illustration below):


I used this budget model when I first started working, and whenever someone asks me what is the best way to budget, this is the model I point them to.

However, as I mentioned before, everyone’s budget is different. Once you get a hang of managing your budget, you begin to realize that these rules might not work for you and your goals. This model worked for me for a while, but my financial goals started changing, and the budget just didn’t fit me any more.

After about a year of using the 50-30-20 budget model, I adjusted my budget to a 40-30-20-10 model – 40% necessary expenses, 30% savings, 20% spending, and 10% tithing (see below):


I just want to highlight a few of the changes:

Decreased monthly necessary expenses from 50% to 40%in about a month, I’ll be moving back in with my mom, brother, and auntie, saving a significant amount on rent. I’ve also just finished paying off my credit cards, so my necessary expenses have decreased on their own.

Increased monthly savings from 20% to 30%I have a lot to save for – my retirement, my future car, my future career plans, and my future life in New York. 20% just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Decreased monthly “wants” spending from 30% to 20%When I began taking my lunch to work, I realized I saved a lot of money this way! Ever since then, I’ve been finding ways to cut my ‘wants’ budget and I’ll be sharing these insights with you all in the future.

Added a 10% tithing allocation – Tithing is something that I as a Catholic firmly hold myself to. I’ll be doing a full post on this later.

So there it is – if you want to get a hold of your finances you must, must, must create a budget!!!  Believe me, I tried managing my finances without a budget, and it only led to disaster (a.k.a. credit card debt)! I’ve provided you with two guidelines, so take one and adjust it according to your own personal finance goals.

In my next post, I’ll show you how I plan to further edit this budget in order for me to be able to throw about $500-600/month toward my student loans.