Tag Archives: giving

Amanda’s Christmas Secret

69681668-3243-45d2-8de0-15cd197bc0dfI have a secret to share with you.

I went into this holiday season without a set budget for Christmas gifts.

So now that the big secret is out, let me explain.

I’m not proud of this tidbit.  Initially, I had a budget lined up (if little else), but that was before the recipient list widened considerably.

Due to many factors, there wound up being seventeen people on our Christmas list this year, and three December birthdays to plan for.  That is a whole lot of dough to spend, particularly if one is an “average” American.  Let’s just say we didn’t have several hundred dollars at our disposal.  (In that respect, I suppose our budget was, “As cheap as possible.”)

I briefly considered going the craft/homemade gift route, but realized I did not have the time necessary to create a thoughtful and creative gift.  Instead I opted to do one of four things for each recipient on our list.

We had family pictures taken and ordered prints. With a coupon coupled with an amazing online sale, this turned out to be a really great idea.  The recipients of this gift (grandparents, etc.) are always appreciative of a personal gift…especially where our kiddos are involved. Bonus:  we got family pictures for ourselves as well, which were long overdue.

We gave a donation.  Using points sites, we were able to give charitable donations in the gift recipient’s honor.  Bonus:  it made us feel like we were contributing to something greater than ourselves.

We gave an experience.  Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like taking someone out to eat at a favorite restaurant.  Bonus:  the restaurant is a favorite of all in attendance!

We gave gift cards and cookies, or traditional gifts.  Although these were among the more expensive gifts on our list, for these recipients, gift cards were preferred gifts, and the cookies added a personal touch, as well as something to “unwrap.” We were able to choose our denomination for the gift cards, which helped keep costs down.

Our kids (and Riley) are the primary recipients of the traditional gifts.  To keep things simple, I adhered to the, “Something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something you need” gift-giving philosophy, so each kiddo is getting just four small gifts from us.  Bonus:  We get to see their little faces light up when they see their gifts. (Although they are very easy to please.  Peanut, for example, would be thrilled with just the wrapping paper.)

Each recipient has either already received their gift, or knows of it, or (as in the case of our kids) can’t read yet, so this post should not spoil anyone’s surprises. But I do want to share one more thing.

We spent around $250 total.

While certainly far below the national average, that is still a lot of money to spend in the span of just a few weeks, and I blame going into it without a Christmas budget.  Note:  there are a couple of gifts under the tree for me from Riley and the kids, and those are not factored into the total…because I have no idea what was spent (though Riley and I are on the same page as far as family finances are concerned, so I doubt it is a huge sum!).

Bonus:  now we know just how important budgeting is.  And this has also served as a great reminder of the true meaning of the season…and reminded me how important simplifying the holidays is.

Where Does My Paycheck Go?

depositing checkA couple of months ago I read a post of the same title on The Single Dollar. I found it fascinating, so I decided to break my own paycheck down!

I waited until I had 2 months of post-debt-payoff data (yes, I’ve been 2 months debt-free!), as my budget has changed since then. My goals have changed: instead of throwing every spare dollar at my student loans, I’m now throwing every spare dollar at savings: for emergencies, retirement and a new car (though I still hope to go without).

A short note on how I made these calculations: they are an average of 4 bi-weekly paychecks. The amount I earn varies greatly each paycheck, so I thought it would be more useful to use these averages.

So where does my paycheck go?

14.2% goes to taxes (10.8 % federal, 3.4% state and local)
7.4% goes to FICA (6% social security, 1.4% Medicare)
4.5% goes to my 401(k)
2.4% goes to my share of health insurance premiums

All the above (28.5%) are taken out of my paycheck before the remainder is direct deposited into my checking account. So that leaves me with 71.5% of my earnings as take-home pay. This is where that goes (as percentages of my gross pay):

26% rent (painful)
13.3% emergency savings
8.2 % giving
5.7% new car savings account
5.4% transportation(gas, car insurance, car repair fund and public transit fares)
4.8% freedom fund (cell phone, discretionary categories)
4% utilities
4% groceries (ridiculous low, primarily due to other factors than my budgeting skills)

All told, I’m saving 23.5% of my gross pay (including 401(k), emergency and new car funds). I want to keep increasing that percentage.

When I take out savings and giving, I’m living on 62% of my take home pay. I think that’s an excellent place to start, as a single-person household earning median income.

I found this a very helpful calculation. I want to do this periodically to encourage myself not only to save and give more, but also to increase the percentage of my income that I’m saving and giving as my income increases.

Photo by David Goehring

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

It’s that time again to give some updates on some previous posts.

Ronnica’s Updates

Quitting Food Waste

I am getting better about wasting less food. I still throw out way more than I’d like: but I’m conscious when I do so. Just as before, my food waste is most often cause my inattentiveness. All the more reason to boost my diligence and mindfulness of when things will go bad.

Time to boost my creativity, too!

balcony container gardenRonnica’s Garden Plan

My garden is doing great. As I write this (May 10th), my cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are currently hiding from the winter weather under various containers I found around the house.

One thing I’ve done differently this year is doing a garden journal. I’m hoping this information will help me to revise future garden plans to incorporate what I’ve learned from previous seasons.

Reviving the Art of Biking

Well, I haven’t taken another bike ride since that post.

I suppose I’ve been prioritizing other things (including my own laziness). My garden has taken a lot of my energy on my days off, which I’m fine with. I’ve also gotten back into hiking.

I need to do a little maintenance on my bike to get it working for me, and I just haven’t done that yet.

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

I still love the idea of giving of my time and talents, but as of this writing (mid-May), I haven’t done much in the way of exploring options for doing just that.

As Ronnica mentioned above, I, too, have been prioritizing other things.  Quite a number of things have been happening on the family front lately–that’s my justification.  The hope is that when things settle down some I will have more time/energy/desire to serve others outside my family.  There are two worthwhile organizations that have personally served my family that would be logical places to start my volunteer search.


Count this as a work-in-progress.  One of the things I have discovered is that my friends with whom I would feel most comfortable bartering with are perfectly content to give me what I need without strings attached, which is both awesome and humbling.

It’s also forcing me outside my comfort zone.  If I want to hone my bartering skills, I will have to do so with people who are not as close to me, which is something that does not come naturally to me; as a result, it will have to be an item or service I really want!

Mechanical Turk

My earnings on Mechanical Turk are a lot more than this now!
My earnings on Mechanical Turk are a lot more than this now!

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of conversation this garnered on our Twitter account.  Nearly all of it was encouraging me to stick it out.  (You may recall I argued that, unless you have considerable time at your disposal, MT is not a way to rake in a lot of dough.)

I’m glad I did because once I established a good rating, more lucrative opportunities came my way, and many of the tasks were actually sort of fun and not too time-consuming.

There may be some who claim to make hundreds on this site, and while I will never have the time/energy/desire (see above) to make that a priority, I do see myself making enough to help pay for Christmas presents when the time comes.  A definite bonus!

Buy Little Month Wrap-up

It’s February! I’m not sure when the last time I was this conscious of the calendar month. But this month, I got to ease up on my self-imposed buying restrictions.

So what are the end result of my Buy Little Month? (If you missed it, here’s my halfway-point update.) Here’s my first Buy Little Month by the numbers:

$284.51: How much money I did not spend in my January budget by “buying little.”
$254.51: How much extra money I put directly towards my student loans.
93: the number of meals I improvised
$30: the small donation I made from the money I saved (more below)
$13.09: the money I spent this month (gas and bills excluded)
4: the number of items I bought: medicine, eggs, dry milk and an onion
2: the number of meals provided to me (thanks, Jess)
0: the number of well-rationed Diet Dr Peppers I ended up with at the end of the month

Empty Fridge
The contents of my fridge on January 31st. Not pictured is 2 1/2 bags of shredded mozzarella cheese, 8 bottles of various condiments and half an onion.

The further into the month I got, the more I thought about those who have to “buy little” because of financial circumstances or lack of resources in their area.

While I think this month has been really good for me, it began to feel more and more like something I was just playing at. After all, I had the luxury of spending $100 on groceries as soon as the month was done, and could have quit at any time.

With this in mind, I decided that I couldn’t just do this for me. I figured that the least I could do is provide the same amount of food for others that I was able to provide myself from the abundance of my shelves and freezer. I gave $30 to the Food Bank of the Rockies, who can leverage that to provide 120 meals.

I’m almost embarrassed to even mention it, since it’s so small and not as much as I obviously could give. But it’s a start. I refuse to not do something just because it’s “small.”

When I do my next “Buy Little” month, I think I will plan to donate half of the food budget I save to the Food Bank. That brings up my next point…

Will I do it again?

Absolutely. It was a good budget and diet corrective, which I hope spills over to other months. Still, I know that I’ll need the corrective again. I hope to make this a bi-annual event, doing my next Buy Little Month in July.

Interesting Financial Interactives

calculatorI have always been the person who enjoys taking those silly little quizzes–“Does He Like You?”, “What Kind of Mother are You?”, and the like.  Interacting on the internet AND getting answers to my questions?  What a concept!

So, when I stumbled upon these interesting interactives, I knew I’d be sharing them with you.  Each one involves money in some way, and most impart valuable insight or tips for how to be better stewards of the gift of wealth.  Plus, since math is not my forte, I like being able to just plug in numbers and get answers, as opposed to using an actual calculator–or, heaven forbid, a pencil and paper!

Income Upshot

Marketplace.org is one of my regular websites, and this interactive has been really informative.  The premise is more entertainment that anything else:  type in your zip code and your annual income to see how you compare to others in your zip code.  It was enlightening to learn where we fall on the spectrum, as well as discovering such random tidbits as what kind of car those in our income bracket purchase (23% choose small cars like ours).

The Secret Life of a Food Stamp

It is way too easy for me to want to scream, “Let me fix your finances for you!” to someone who indicates they are struggling financially.  While I maintain that there is always something that can be cut from your budget, all too often I forget that, for some, the only things left that can be cut are necessities like food and shelter.  This interactive (also at marketplace.org) has you try to make do with budgets based on geography, family size, and national averages.  It’s a lot tougher than you think, and is a sobering reminder to consider all the facts before passing judgement.

College Cost Calculator

Nothing like considering the staggering costs of sending our kids to college in a couple of decades to knock me off my high horse!  We started saving for our kids’ education from the get-go…but calculators like this not only help to figure out a rough idea of what we should prepare to spend, but also serve as an important reminder that saving for big stuff is essential.

Retirement Calculator

This retirement calculator is another great reminder of the importance of saving.  Retirement may seem like a long way off, but it’s never too soon to save!

Tithing Calculator

Regardless of your views on tithing to a religious institution or giving in general, I think most of us can agree that it is important to use our gifts to be a blessing to others.  This handy little calculator lets you not only see what tithing (or giving 10% of your income) would look like, but also what percentage of your income you are currently giving.

What handy (or amusing) financial interactives have you come across?

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving cornucopiaThanksgiving is a great holiday in that it encourages us to think beyond ourselves, if only we take the opportunity.

Being thankful is a reminder that no matter how much health, wealth and family we have, it didn’t originate with us.

I think that is something that is particularly hard for us Americans. We’ve been raised on the “pull yourselves up with your own bootstraps” folklore so it’s hard to remember that even when we earn, we do so with the skills and materials that we have been given.

So I hope that you take some time this holiday to be thankful. I don’t mean merely counting and naming your blessings (though that’s good), but remember the One who has given those blessings.

And find ways in your every day life that you can share with others what you have, however little or much that may be.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Ron Cogswell