5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Budget

5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Budget

5 Ways to Spring Clean Your Budget

At the beginning of 2017 I finally hit the breaking point and was completely fed up with being in debt.  It’s frustrating spending money each month to dig myself out of a hole.  I decided to take back control of my finances and empower myself to live a debt-free life.  To kick-start my new budget and spending habits, I started with the below tactics to clean up my budget.  While these tactics work perfectly at the start of a new year, they are just as relevant to Spring clean your budget, or really to put into action whenever you can!

Update Insurance to Stay Competitive

The first way I recommend to spring clean your budget is to shop around for new insurance.  I had been with the same auto insurance company for about five years, and had separate renters insurance for the past three years.  I wondered if my rates were competitive, and with a little research and a few quotes from a few companies, I found a much cheaper option, with the same coverage limits and with a reputable company.  I’m now saving $30 per month on my combined insurance policies, and with my new insurance company, AAA, I also have roadside assistance and earn a ton of discounts from my membership!  It was definitely a great way to clean up my budget, and easily save money each month.

Revisit your Cell Phone Service Package

It’s good practice to check on your cell phone service package every year or so, and now is a perfect time to incorporate it into you Spring cleaning.  Cell phone service providers are notorious for taking advantage of you and charging a lot!  You can call a representative, or visit a store and have an associate help you, or in my case, I used the online tool that Sprint offers that shows you what other service packages could work for you and your needs.

Be careful not to jump ship on a service package that you may be grandfathered into!  I share a Family plan with my mom and we have a true Unlimited plan (including unlimited data) for a steal, that Sprint hasn’t offered in years!  We won’t be changing that plan anytime soon, because most providers don’t even offer true unlimited packages anymore.  I did find, however, that I was still paying a small amount for an old phone, and that my mom was paying for an old tablet that she no longer was using, so we cut our bill by $15 per month.

Evaluate Other Large “Fixed” Expenses

When I evaluated my all-up budget, I noted that my two largest expenses were travel (gas, parking, toll) and rent.  In my case, I have very affordable rent for the area, and luckily am protected by rent control.  Our rent has only one up $30/month in the three years we’ve lived in our adorable and highly competitive neighborhood.  For me, I don’t have any way to cut my rent.  However, this is a good place to cut from for some people.  Consider down-sizing, or moving to a more affordable neighborhood that’s not far from neighborhoods you enjoy spending time at.  You can bike or walk there on the weekends!  If you are in the process of hunting for a rental or a home to buy, prioritize budget over other items on your wish list for your home.  You will be happy each month to have this fixed expense be less.

Take Advantage of All Financial Opportunities

I have been driving to my work and parking there for 4 years, but for some reason, had never taken advantage of the commuter benefits my employer offers.  In the new year, I signed up for commuter benefits, to pay for my parking at work with pre-tax dollars.  This will save me close to 30% off parking expenses throughout the year, totaling over $600 in savings!

I also realized that I had been slacking, and failing to enter my company’s weekly commuter raffle drawing.  I have been carpooling every day, and each week, have the change to win a Starbucks giftcard.  While it may seem like a silly, small thing, taking advantage of every opportunity, every little thing helps!  For you, it could be spending on your credit card to earn points, rather than your debit card which doesn’t reward you.  Just make sure to stick to your budget and pay off your credit card each month!

How are you Spring cleaning your budget?  I’m curious to hear other ideas to get in tip-top financial shape.

 

 

How I Cut My Oakland to San Francisco Commute Costs from $415 to $130 per Month

How I Cut My Oakland to San Francisco Commute Costs from $415 to $130 per Month

Waze Carpool Review and Recommendation from a Waze Carpool Driver

Note: As of 3/21/17 Waze Carpool is currently in beta in the Bay Area, but I’m sure will be rolling out to more cities soon!  Here’s an article with the latest update: Waze’s new carpooling service is expanding to more California cities

Here’s some background before I jump into my Waze Carpool review: I have a little bit of a beast of a commute.  At least that’s what my coworkers who live in the city think.  In fact, I know many people commute much farther, from Walnut Creek or as far as Fairfield into “the city”.  Luckily, I love my job, and my office is located in one of the most picturesque parts of San Francisco, in the middle of a National Park!  I’m really very lucky, and over the past nearly four years commuting there, I’ve gotten very used to the time it takes to get there and mostly enjoy that part of the day.

In my pursuit of financial goals, however, I realized that my commute costs are accounting for a large portion of my monthly expenses, and with some changes, I could be saving a lot of money each month.  Around the same time, Waze Carpool launched!  I’ve been using Waze Carpool in combination with Casual Carpool for about a month now, and have had a great experience that I’d like to share, in recommending this new ride-share option.

For those who aren’t familiar with Waze, it’s a navigation app (similar to your Apple or Google map), with the difference being that every user is contributing their data to crowd-source real-time traffic information.  Waze users contribute alerts, like Police on the Road, or Object in the Road.  In 2013, Google acquired Waze, mostly for this real-time traffic data.  Recently, Waze launched Waze Carpool, taking advantage of this community of drivers on the road!  Drivers can sign up for Waze Carpool, and enter their daily commute (range of timing, point A and point B), or the details of a one-off trip, and Waze will match you with a rider headed in the same direction within your scheduled window (riders sign up through a separate Waze Carpool Rider app).  Waze drivers set the exact pickup time, and choose to accept the rider or not.  Oh yeah, and the best part is, drivers GET PAID.  Rates vary by distance and time and day, but I generally get between $4.50-$6 one way per rider, from North Oakland to downtown San Francisco.  This covers the cost of bridge toll.  I personally (and often at the request of the Waze rider), pick up a third person at the Casual Carpool pickup spot, so that we can drive in the Carpool lane over the Bay Bridge, which then drives the toll cost down to $2.50, and the Waze Carpool fair covers my entire commute, both gas and toll!

To answer a few of your impending questions:

  • Do you feel comfortable picking up strangers?

    I personally have always felt comfortable picking up Waze Carpool riders. Riders are verified multiple ways, through Facebook, through their work email, or through Linkedin.  All Waze Carpoolers have profile pictures, the number or rides and miles they’ve taken with Waze Carpool, and a five star rating.  Everyone grants one another fun badges too (see below)!  If I ever received a request from a rider with a low rating (which I haven’t encountered yet), I would reject the request.  Everyone I have picked up has been gracious and friendly and easy-going.  It’s actually fun to meet some people in my neighborhood that I otherwise might not have met.  Here’s a snapshot of the second half of my Waze Carpool profile:

  • How has Waze Carpool affected your commute?

    In order to accommodate riders, I am a little more flexible with the time that I leave for work.  I leave within 15 minutes of my normal time that I would leave on my own, and drive between 0-10 minutes off my normal route to pickup my rider.  We then drive to pickup a casual carpooler, which isn’t normally out of the way, because the pickup locations are right before the freeway entrances.  I then dropoff the casual carpoolers at the designated Fremont/Folsom Street exit, and generally my Waze riders also work downtown, so it might take me 5-10 extra minutes to drop them off before I’m on my way to work.  Going from a single driver to a carpool, I generally save about 10-30 minutes (sometimes more on bad traffic days) going through “the maze”, or the tollbooth area approaching the bridge.  This means most days I get to work a few minutes earlier than I would if I simply drove myself!

  • How does Waze pay you? And what are the legal/tax ramifications?

    After each ride, Waze credits the agreed upon amount for the ride to your account.  I hooked up my bank account information, and on the 15th of every month, they deposit my balance from the previous month in my account, easy as that!  (Previously Waze would only pay you out each month if your balance was over $50, but they have changed that policy and now pay you out each and every month).  The great news about Waze Carpool is that legally it is a rideshare program, so the money exchange from each ride is the same as the cash Casual Carpoolers give you to cover the toll.  It’s like you’re offering your friend a ride to work.  Drivers are not making income off of the rideshare, they’re simply recouping some of the costs of the ride.  It’s really ideal!

  • How much has Waze Carpool saved you on your monthly commute expenses?

    This is where things get good, and relevant for the Money Saving section of this site!  I went from paying $8 a day in parking fees, about $3.50 in gas, and $6 for toll, which totals $415 in commute costs per month!  I now pay $8 a day in parking fees, about $3.50 in gas, and $2.50 for toll, plus I earn between $12 and $10 per day when I have a Waze Carpooler each way, but I’m using $7.50 as the example because I don’t have a rider both ways every day (some days I work late, or hang out with friends after work).  That totals just $130 in net commute costs per month, saving me $285 per month!  This has made a huge impact on my monthly budget, and I couldn’t be happier!  Of course, commute savings will depend on your current commute expenses.  Beyond the money saving impact Waze Carpool has made on my life, I’ve also been able to meet a lot of really nice, cool people, a lot of whom are my neighbors.

I highly recommend you try out Waze Carpool (click here to download the app), both as a driver if that’s your routine now, or as a rider if you currently use other transportation options but they aren’t completely meeting your needs.  Think of it like an Uber Pool or Lyft Line to a from work, but instead of a professional driver, it’s someone in your neighborhood.  Waze has also been quick to make updates and add features to Waze Carpool.  They are putting a lot of resources and energy into this product, as seen in their responsiveness on their Facebook Group, and also in how much the product has changed just in the month’s time I’ve been using it.

A couple of things to think about for drivers:

  • You’ll want to keep your car extra clean!  Some days you’ll have a full car, so I try to keep items in my car to a minimum and put the things I need (except for my purse) in the trunk.  A couple of times I’ve had people with a suitcase, so be prepared for that too.  On top of that, you’re welcoming people into your car and sharing your space for a while, so you’ll want to keep your car, particularly the inside in good, cleanly condition, it’s just polite!
  • You’ll also need to be prompt and responsive.  It’s ideal to pick up your riders right on time, and Waze is generally very accurate with the time they recommend you leave, but if you are running a few minutes late or early, you should message your rider and give them a heads up.

I hope this Waze Carpool review has been informative!  Please leave a comment below and share your experiences if you’ve tried Waze Carpool!  Feel free to ask questions, I’m happy to answer them.

6 Steps to Maximize Savings Shopping Online

6 Steps to Maximize Savings Shopping Online

I know if you’re like me, then you hate to ever have to pay full price for anything! With these six steps, you really will maximize savings shopping online, including on full price items .  I do love to shop, and I do purchase quality goods, but have found a few unique ways to save money every time, no matter if the site is having a sale or not.

Here are the steps I go through to ensure I save as much money as possible, on every e-commerce purchase (some of the methods can be used in brick and mortar retailers as well)

This post includes affiliate links, which means that if you click on one and make a purchase, I may receive a small portion of your sale.  However, all services and products I’ve recommended are ones I use and stand behind, and believe will work for you too, so enjoy!

  1. Find the best price with retailer discounts

    The first step to maximize savings shopping online is to identify the best price on the web for your item. That is, once you know what you’re looking to purchase.  A good place to start is Google’s Shopping tool.  It will give you a good sense of where your product is sold across the web, and general prices and availability.  Click on the item from a few of the top hits and look at the listings on the actual sites.  This will verify that the price is accurate, and you’ll see if the site has any up-front promotions going on, like a discount for first-time customers, or a site-wide sale.  Compare and keep in mind.

    If you’re purchasing on Amazon.com, make sure you have the Honey browser extension enabled, and it will tell you if there’s a different Amazon seller selling the same product for less (including calculated shipping)

  2. Earn cash back

    Determine your best routes for cashback on this potential purchase. I have a few browser extensions enabled for cash back: Honey, CouponCabin and Ebates are my favorites.  In order to maximize your savings shopping online, determine which program will give you the highest percentage cash back for your purchase, and click-through with them to earn it!

  3. Utilize a promo/coupon code

    If you didn’t already find a coupon offer when you landed on the retailer’s page, then search for one out there on the web! The easiest way to maximize your savings is to head to the checkout page and let your Honey browser extension try all of the promo codes they have on file, and automatically apply the highest savings value promo to your cart.  If Honey cannot locate a promo, or you want to double check that it’s the best one out there, some of the sites I use to source promo codes are RetailMeNot.com, Coupons.com or CouponCabin.com

  4. Use the best form of payment

    To save a few additional percentages points off your purchase, purchase a discounted gift card for the retailer- download the Raise app, or use RetailMeNot.com where people sell their giftcards. Depending on the retailer, popularity and availability you can get anywhere from 1-20% off your giftcard.  Raise will even host sales where they give you an additional 3% off your giftcard purchase, increasing your savings!

    Prior to pulling the trigger you should weigh your options with purchasing on a giftcard- for example if you may potentially want to return the item, or are unsure if it will work for you, then consider whether or not you would be ok with getting the return back on the giftcard and would have another use for it.  If not, then maybe stick with your credit card for the payment, although you would have the option of selling the giftcard back on Raise!

  5. Earn credit card points

    My favorite credit card in my wallet is my Citi Thank You Preferred card. The points program is really great!  I earn 3x on Travel including Gas, 2x on Dining Out and Entertainment and 1x on other purchases.  My favorite part is that my points are directly redeemable through Amazon!  I simply enabled the Thank You points with my Amazon account, and they now appear as a payment option.  It’s the easiest, most rewarding way for me to redeem credit card points, and I’ve found that the value of the points is highest through this redemption method.  I highly recommend this card, or similar ones through Citi.

  6. Price adjustment to continue saving after purchase

    Some retailers (such as Nordstrom) will refund you if the price drops on a purchased item within 2 weeks. Beyond retailer direct programs such as these, I rely heavily on my Citi Price Rewind program that’s part of my Thank You Premier Citi card.  This is an amazing program to help maximize savings shopping online, and another huge reason why I highly recommend this card!  If a lower price than what you paid (on your Thank You Premier Citi card) can be found within 60 days of purchase, Citi will issue a credit for the amount to your account, up to $500 per item, or $2,500 total/year.  I use this all the time, and the customer service is helpful and easy.  They have a search engine that will automatically track your purchased items and locate a lower price for you.

To show you an example of how these methods can work for you, I’ve spelled out an example purchase journey:

I find some super cute boots that I love and NEED to have prior to Christmas, from Clarks!  They’re not on sale, but I can’t wait for them to be discounted, I need them to wear to some holiday parties!  I shopped around through Google Shopping and confirmed that Clarks indeed had the lowest price out there: $150.  When I visit the site, I notice that Clarks is offering free shipping on orders $100 or more.  I utilize my Honey browser extension and they’re offering me 4% cash back for my purchase, and they locate a 15% off coupon code and apply it for me.  I end up paying $127.50 before taxes, with free shipping.  I look to see if there are any Clarks giftcards for sale with Raise, but then think better of it, realizing that after the holidays these boots will likely go on sale and I can use my Citi Price Rewind to get the difference back, and it will likely outweigh the giftcard discount of 3%.  Sure enough, in January they become discounted 30% off and I submit a claim.  Citi refunds me $38.24 ($150 minus the 15% off discount I originally got, multiplied by the 30% discount) to my account.  I also earn 89 Thank You rewards points with Citi, which are redeemable for about $0.71 on Amazon.

In summary:

  • I paid $127.50 originally – Citi refund of $38.24 = $89.26 for the boots
  • I received 4% cashback from Honey x original purchase price of $127.50 = $5.10 and about .5% cashback in Citi points for $0.71
  • Net spend on $150 boots = $83.45 That’s OVER 44% off, and let’s remember, I purchased boots that were still FULL PRICE!  This really speaks to the power of these steps and how they can maximize your savings shopping online.  Please share in the comments, have you used these tactics to save shopping online?
3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries

3 Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries

Get excited, because who doesn’t want to learn how to save money on groceries?!

I’m not one to clip coupons or spend a lot of time on couponing, but I’ve narrowed down my smart shopping methods to three easy ways to consistently save, including one way to get paid cash back for your grocery purchases.  Read on and make sure to finish through to the end for my bonus tip on how to save money on health foods: those tricky, fancy, organic brands that never seem to go on sale at your local supermarket!

This post includes affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a portion of your sale.  However, these are all my true habits and opinions on how to save on your grocery shopping, so enjoy!

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1.  Save money on groceries by utilizing your retailer’s mode of couponing

Whether it’s weekly circulars, or Whole Foods’ coupon booklet, or my go-to, the Safeway app.  I highly recommend shopping at Safeway for groceries, for a few reasons: they have a wide selection of products, a large organic produce section, and depending on your store, a health food aisle and bulk food bins.  By joining the Just For U program, Safeway offers personalized deals and discounts for products that you have historically purchased!  Every time I’m going shopping at Safeway, I’ll log into the Safeway app and “add” the coupons for any and all products that I may be purchasing in that trip or future trips within the expiration window.  The discounts are automatically applied to my loyalty card and applied at checkout.

2. Download and use the Ibotta app

This is my second favorite way to save money on groceries, because they actually pay you cash back for purchases you were already going to make!  Bonus is that it’s a great way to save at a variety of grocery stores!  Ibotta provides cash back for your purchases and allows you to cash out via Paypal or Venmo when you reach a $20 minimum.  While many of the offers are for specific brands, Ibotta also provides offers for staples such as bread or shredded cheese from any brand.  I highly encourage you to join Ibotta and start getting cash back for the items you also purchase.  Click here to join.  Ibotta has also expanded since launch, and now offers discounts and cash back at a wider variety of stores such as Best Buy, Groupon and EBay.

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3. Engage with your favorite food brands

Identify your favorite and go-to food brands, and save money on these products by engaging with them directly.  If you find yourself buying Tillamook cheese and ice cream regularly, or love Luna bars, follow those brands on Facebook, look up their websites and subscribe to their email lists.  Chances are, at one point or another, they’ll send you a manufacturer’s coupon.  Just think, these discounts will be on top of your savings directly through your retailer coupon, and the cash back from Ibotta!  This is the main method I use to get manufacturer’s coupons for the branded products I buy, but you can spend some time on Coupons.com or other sites, finding manufacturer’s coupons.

The savings you can generate from utilizing these three methods in conjunction will make a huge impact on your monthly grocery budget.  I often save up to 25% with my Safeway app, get a few dollars back with Ibotta, and save a few dollars through manufacturer’s coupons.  Depending on my basket size, this equates to saving 30-35% off my shopping bill.  Saving money on groceries is one of my favorite money saving methods, as it’s a consistent expenditure I can cut back on.

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Bonus Tip

Often the hardest thing to save money on is health food.  Some of my favorite products Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter (which admittedly is not the healthiest of health foods!) never goes on sale at Safeway.  One regular sized jar can go for $14 or $15!  The only way I now buy my Almond Butter, and other similarly expensive health food products is through my Thrive Market subscription.  It’s amazing!  Now I pay only $11.25 for a jar of Justin’s, haha.  I simply order a box of pantry items every couple of months, and with a $50 order, shipping is free.  Click here to check it out .  Memberships are $59.95/year, but according to my account, I’ve already saved $429 in the last year, with $600 projected savings for the calendar year.  I’ll post a separate review explaining more of the pros and cons, but I’m a huge fan and recommend the service absolutely!

Please share your experiences with any of these methods, and some other ways that you save money at the grocery store!  Happy shopping!

Hello and welcome to Seeking Balance in the City!

Hello and welcome to Seeking Balance in the City!

Hello and welcome!  I’m so excited to be launching this little corner of the internet, what I’ve named Seeking Balance in the City!  My inspiration comes from living and working in cities, Oakland and San Francisco, and spending the past four years adjusting to the challenges and expenses of city living.  City life is amazing and fun and vibrant and full of opportunities!  I’ve discovered many ways to help save money, find DIY solutions to pricey products, cover costs of transportation, to help enjoy the good things in life: good food, a fun-filled lifestyle, and quality products.  My tips and ideas can help anyone, not just city-dwellers, to find balance in life and better every day.  I hope you find my content helpful, and I look forward to meeting you all.  You can reach me below!

Lesley