Archives For Michelle

The Costs of Having a Pet

Michelle —  October 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Getting a new pet for your family can be expensive, and if you don’t fully plan adding this new family member, then you may be in for some surprises. Many pets can probably be had for cheaply, but if you’re thinking a dog, then make sure you fully think about this decision.

I currently have 2 dogs, one is a mutt (they say she might be a Pointer/Pit Bull mutt) and the other is a French Bulldog runt. The mutt is super healthy, but my French Bulldog – not even close. He is about 12 pounds and has already had numerous things wrong with him. And the vet has said that many more things will most like start happening as he gets older, so we do know that we need to start saving just in case something does happen.

We used to have a third dog. We sort of got her on a whim, but fell in love with her immediately. We didn’t really think about much her medication would cost and her had many medical problems. It cost around $100 per month for her medications. She ended up passing away 2 months later which was very sad.

1. Buying or “homing” the pet

There is of course the initial cost of obtaining the pet. I am 100% for pet adoption. There are so many animals out there (both puppies and adults) that need homes, and most pet shops support puppy mills. Adopting a pet may cost anywhere from free to something like $300. Usually this adoption costs includes all shots and possibly the pet being spayed or neutered.

2. Food

Food for your new pet can add up quickly also. I usually like to buy the higher quality bags of dog food. Saving a couple of bucks on dog food is most likely not worth it when it comes to your pet’s health. Dog food can range anywhere from $10 to $100 per month. We spend around $50 to $75 a month on dog food.

Food costs also depends on what type of animal and/or breed you have. Obviously my 12 pound dog eats no where near the amount of food as my 80 pound dog.

3. Medical

Medical for your pet can add up quickly. It will need all of its shots and you will want to keep them current on these shots. You might also want to get them spayed/neutered as well. The Humane Society near my house will spay/neuter your dog for around $40, whereas if you go to your local vet, it is usually around $200 to $300, but I have heard of higher cost of living places with it being around $800.

Also, if anything happens to your pet, will you be able to take them to the doctor? What if your dog gets a really bad rash, a tumor, breaks a leg, has a bad reaction to something or anything else? The cost can be as small as $75, and maybe up to a couple of thousand dollars.

4. Treats, Toys and a Bed

I really like to spoil my dogs, so I tend to spend a lot of treats and toys. Bones can be expensive, and my dog can eat a $20 4 foot long bone in a couple of hours. I don’t give her one of those often, but it does add up!

Beds can also be quite expensive as well. A crate (depending on the size) can be $100, and the bedding can be an extra $25 – $50 to go inside of it. I don’t keep my dogs in their crates ever, but it is said that dogs usually like a place with walls that makes them feel safe. My dogs willingly go in their crates and sleep in there (with the crate door open).

5. Groomers

Taking your pet to the groomers can also add up very quickly as well. My bigger dog cost around $50 each time, and my smaller dog i still expensive at $40. Usually I clean and wash them myself, but every now and then they do need to go.

Did you think about the costs before you added a pet to your family?

Tips When Buying a Home

Michelle —  February 25, 2013 — 10 Comments

Buying a new place, whether it be a condo, house, townhouse, and so on, can be a very long and difficult process.  When we bought our current house that we live in, it was extremely easy. Of course easy is relative, but it sure did seem easy.

We looked at a lot of houses, but we only put a contract down on one and it was accepted (after a couple of negotiations). Our move in date was set for just a couple of weeks after that and we moved in maybe less than one month from the day that we first toured the house. Even our loan officer said he’s never been through a home process as quick and as easy as process was.

However, I have heard others’ stories about how hard their home buying process was. Some have to wait months to sign the papers and move in. Some submit multiple offers just to be outbid by tons of other people.

There are so many things to think about when you buy a new home, and in today’s post I will be listing some of those.

Put 20% down

Putting 20% down has many positives for a home buyer. It will lower your payment in more than one way, mainly that you will take out a smaller home loan.

If you don’t put down at least 20%, then most mortgage companies will require that you pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). This can add an extra $50 to $150 to your monthly mortgage amount, and possibly even more. We made the mistake of not putting 20% down and now have to pay PMI. We definitely won’t be making this mistake with our next house.

Get pre-approved

Getting pre-approved is a big step.  Not knowing what you can “afford” and looking can be a big problem because you might fall in love with something but then no bank approve you for that amount. If you are pre-approved, then you can eliminate houses out of your search that are not possible due to your budget. It will save you a lot of time and the possibility that you will buy way outside of your budget.

Buy what you can truly afford

Now, just because you were pre-approved for a loan, it does not mean that you can truly afford that loan amount. Banks are notorious for approving individuals for MUCH more than they can afford. When we bought our current house, we were pre-approved for much more than could truly afford. Also, you are pre-approved normally on your gross income, not net income. Your gross income is of course much higher than your net and can make it seem like you can afford a house, when in reality you cannot.

Our real estate agent also gave us a little tip: if you are pre-approved for much more than you ever plan on buying a house for, then ask the loan officer to send you a pre-approval letter stating that you are pre-approved for a smaller amount. This way when you put a contract on a house, the seller and/or their real estate agent do not see some crazy number that someone believes you can afford. This way there will be less negotiations as the seller won’t be trying to get you to your top dollar.

Think about the long-term

How long do you plan on living in your home? A lot of people will say that their first home will just be a starter home, but what if that ends up not being the case and you live there for quite some time? You might want to look into the school district there just in case you do decide to have children, make sure the house is something that you would like for quite some time, and so on.

What tips do you have for a potential homebuyer?

Lately I have been talking about how we want to buy a new house a lot. I think about it everyday and I find myself looking at houses everyday also. I’ve pretty much looked at all of the houses within a 60 mile radius of where I want to be.

I have seen a lot of houses that I like, but none that are perfect. I have literally browsed through thousands of houses. Right now I feel like I’m at the point that if I find a house that I absolutely love, I don’t know if I can wait until the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 to buy it. I mean, how could I wait? I haven’t found the perfect one yet so I definitely do not want to let the perfect house escape from me.

There are many things that we need to do before we buy, but we especially want to make sure that our credit scores are as perfect as they can be. Right now we are in the mid 700s and it would be higher if we wouldn’t have taken out a couple of 0% loans (we took them out just because they were 0%, we just let the cash sit in our bank because we believe that’s a better gain).

So, since we are focused on increasing our credit score and we plan on buying once the perfect house comes along, we need to really buckle down and make our credit score as good as it can be so that we can be ready to officially start the home buying process. Every little thing helps and even a couple of points higher would make us very happy.

How to quickly increase your credit score:

1. Check and fix any errors in your credit report.

When was the last time that you checked your credit report? You should do this at least once a year and make sure that there are no errors and that all of the information listed is correct. A small error might be drastically affecting your credit score, so check now! I recently ordered both of our credit reports from the 3 major agencies (all for free of course) and found that everything is correct now.

Everything being correct on our credit reports is a big deal because a couple of years ago I found out that someone had bought a house under my name when I was only 13! I had just found out about it because it was buried in my credit report and I had never looked hard enough. Definitely a big mistake.

2. Watch your utilization rate.

Pay down those high balances that you have. The balances that you have on your credit cards account for approximately 30% of your credit score. You want your balance to be below 30% of your total available credit. So if you are allowed to put up to $1,000 on your credit card, do not charge more than $300. It is also said to try and keep this amount below 20% in order to have an even better credit score.

This is something that we are really working on. I recently paid off a ton of credit card balances. We never carry a balance over and we always pay it off completely, but even with that, if you do not keep your utilization rate below 30%, it can still hurt your score even if you are paying your FULL balance off every month.

3. Keep all accounts open.

Recently my fiancé, “W,” was fooled into opened up a store credit card in order to save $25 off of his purchase.

Yes, I said $25 and that was all it took to entice him to sign up.  Trust me, he will never do that again! I thought about closing it immediately but I do know that closing it will only hurt his credit score and our ability to get a great interest rate on a mortgage. So, for now, we just plan on keeping it open and using it occasionally just so that it will help our credit score.

Closing a brand new credit card so quickly will most likely not have a positive effect on our credit score.

Are you trying to increase your credit score? What tips do you have?

Pros and Cons of Self Employment

Michelle —  February 11, 2013 — 9 Comments

A question I hear a lot is whether or not I plan on ever becoming self-employed. This is something that I think about often as well. I made over $6,000 in extra income in the month of January of 2013, so it’s hard not to think about self employment.

Plus, I’m starting to run out of time. Working a full-time job as an analyst in the financial services industry and also doing all of my side hustles including keeping up with my blog, takes up a lot of my time.

I’m still not entirely positive that self employment is for me. There are many positives and negatives of being self employed, and there are also many positives and negatives of working for someone else. Today, we will talk about the positives and negatives of self employment.

I think whether you will be comfortable being self employed is different with each individual person. Someone who needs someone constantly there telling them what to do might not be a good fit for self employment. Also, a person who is bursting at the seams with creativity or has the passion to be self employed, is probably not meant to work for someone else.

Positives of being self-employed:

1. You’re working for yourself.

This is the number one positive for me. You can do what you want and it can all be based on your own schedule. Everything can be done your way. I’m going to guess that if you are going the self-employed route, then you at least somewhat enjoy what you’re doing as well. I really, really enjoy all of my side hustles, and they truly make me happy. It’s like I’m not even working since I do enjoy it so much.

You also get to watch your company grow and see where it goes. Everything that you do affects the company, which can be a great feeling. You’re doing something exciting with your life and every move you make has an impact on your overall company.

2. Scheduling freedom.

Depending on what exactly you do for self employment, you can have scheduling freedom. You’re not a morning person? Well, then work at night.  Yes, yes, I do know that if the majority of your customers are awake only in the morning, then you will probably just be forced into being a morning person though.

If you can do the majority of your work on a computer, then travel while you work! You can do whatever you would like. Make your self employment position work around YOUR family and YOUR life, and not the other way around. Have fun with what you do.

3. Lower or no costs of commuting.

If you are able to work from home, then your commuting costs have significantly decreased most likely as well. You are also saving all of that extra time by not having to drive to and from work everyday. No more stress from having to sit in traffic for you!

Negatives of being self-employed:

1. You might get overworked.

When you’re working for yourself, it’s harder to have a good work-life balance. You are almost always bringing work home (especially if your work is at home), and it might be hard to take yourself away from your business. It almost becomes an addiction because you want to see your business go places.

2. You don’t know when you’ll get paid next.

This might not mean much if you’re already commission at your job, but if you make a salary, you might miss that regular and stable paycheck. You will most likely have to actively look for new clients and the amount of money you make may vary from month to month.

3. No benefits.

At your current job, you may get health insurance, a fitness center, discounts on various products and so on. However, if you work for yourself, then you most likely won’t qualify for these items. Luckily, my fiancé would be able to add me on to his plans, but not everyone is this lucky.

Do you want to be self-employed? Why or why not?

We are thinking about buying our next house in 2014. We bought our current house almost 4 years ago, and while it sounds bad, we are ready to move into our forever home. We have been thinking about how the economy has probably tanked the value of our house, and how we would like to see our house with at least somewhat of a gain, or as little of a loss as possible.

There are many things that you can do to increase the value of your home. Looks do mean something, and it can mean that your house will sell for a little higher, and possibly a little quicker. No one wants to pay for a house longer than they need to and incur additional charges.

Ways you can increase the value of your home:

1. Remodeling the bathroom(s)

When we were first looking at houses, we always looked at the bathroom. If the bathroom was severely outdated, then we always thought twice about the house. Both of our bathrooms are pretty well updated, but there are other things that we can do to them to increase the value.

We need to replace the mirror in the bathroom, preferably something with a frame and a bigger mirror. Then we also want to change the lighting as well. I’m guessing that this will cost around $500 if we do this ourselves. I have read that changing things like this will recoup most of the value when you do sell your house. Other things we could do is get rid of the sliding bathroom door and change it into a better glass and something that is more modern.

2. Adding more curb appeal

Right now, everything in our yard is pretty much dead. Last summer there was a heat wave and we were told not to use our water or water lawns because it hardly rained and we had many above 100 degree days. This means that EVERYTHING outside died and is brown.

We need to replant grass seed, plant some flowers, and make everything more green. Who wants to buy a house with spotty grass? We also want to make a nice garden in the backyard as well. We have many ideas and a lot of things that we need to start this year, if we want to put our house on the market next year.

3. Having a nice basement

We currently have a nice basement. It is finished, has a big laundry room, a big storage closet, a bedroom, and a living area. It’s the same size as the upstairs of our house and is a nice addition. We looked at many houses, and the ones without basements we pretty much through out of the picture. We wanted the extra space badly.

If you don’t have a finished basement, then the cost may be substantial if you cannot do it yourself. My friend was able to pay someone she knew $10,000 for her basement to be completely remodeled. It was well worth it for her though. She has a home built in the early 1900′s, and basements back then are not the same as unfinished basements today. Everything had to be gutted. They built a bar, bathroom with a hot tub, and a play area. It is very, very nice and definitely increased the value of their home greatly.

4. Paint

A little paint can go a long way. Painting the walls inside your house, trim, baseboards, and the exterior of your home is always a good idea. Fresh paint nearly always makes a house look a lot better, and is a relatively cheap fix compared to other things you could do to your house.

Have you tried any of these ways to increase the value of your home?

4 Ways to Save Money in College

Michelle —  January 24, 2013 — 2 Comments

College can be very expensive. Whether you are going to a local community college, local public university, private university, graduate school, getting your doctorates and every other possible thing you can do in order to further your education, it all adds up. I know first hand, I finished my Finance MBA with nearly $40,000 in debt (altogether, two undergraduate degrees and one masters degree).

Even though I did graduate with a decent amount of debt, I could have had a lot more. I worked full-time throughout college and had no help from parents, as my dad (and the sole provider of our family) passed away when I was 18. I moved out right after high school and had to find a place to live, and ended up moving into a house that I rented.

I worked 40 hours a week and took 21 to 24 credit hours a semester. I was super tired, but it was all worth it in the end when I graduated with TWO degrees in only 2.5 years. I then went on (after a 6 month break) to get my Finance MBA. It took one year to get and is the majority of my debt, as the graduate schools around here do not give any scholarships if you decide to work at the same time (yup, not a single one, I called them all).

My undergraduate school was around $30,000 a year I believe. I received around $20,000 in scholarships every year which was definitely a blessing. Without the scholarships I would not have been able to attend. It would have been more but I decided not to live in the dorms, as it was around an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a year to live on campus.

Here are some ways for you to save money while in college:

1. Don’t take out more in student loans than you need.

When you get that letter in the mail that states how much you are approved for in student loans, do you usually take the full amount or just take enough to cover what you actually need for school? Most people just take the full amount and pocket the rest. This is a mistake! You might think you need that TV or those new clothes, but you don’t. Try to reserve your student loans just for your actual schooling costs.

I did fail at this one time. I took out more than I needed. I wasn’t thinking and used it on stupid extra spending. I still regret it and I have nothing to show for it!

2. Apply for scholarships.

Most schools offer scholarships. Make sure you apply to these. Apply for both scholarships directly at your school and also private scholarships as well. Scholarships can add up, and even an extra $100 is something that you did not have before.

Like i said above, I received a little less than $20,000 a year from scholarships. None of it was private scholarships though. All of it was directly from my university. I bet I could have applied for private scholarships and received some of those as well.

3. Look for a job that will pay a part of your tuition.

There are many jobs out there that ask that you only work full-time, and then they will pay for your tuition (or at least a part of it). This is something that I did not do while in college, but I still regret it. If a job is willing to pay $2,000 per year for 4 years and all you have to do is do your normal job, then take it!

4. Buy textbooks cheaply.

Textbook prices can add up very quickly. If you go to your university’s book store, I can almost guarantee that the prices are much higher than what you would see online. So rule number 1, try not to buy at your school’s book store. Look online first and compare prices.

Rule #2? Try and buy used textbooks. Most of these are probably in decent condition. I’ve always had good luck with this and the cost is almost always much, much cheaper than buying a brand new textbook.

How did you save money in college?

Asking for a raise can definitely be difficult. You don’t know whether your manager/employer will say yes, no, wonder why you’re asking and so on. You don’t want to feel embarrassed either. The best thing to do is prepare yourself! You should do your research, know your accomplishments, practice, respect your employer and also be realistic.

Everyone knows that the economy isn’t the greatest. Some companies are laying employees off while other companies are thriving in this economy. There are also many other factors that should be kept in mind when you are asking for your raise.

Below are tips on how to get the raise you want and deserve:

1. Research.

What are people who are in similar positions as you earning per year? Try to look at similar industries and companies. Look at their responsibilities and everything that you can possibly find out.

Also, think about what you make altogether already. If you compare yourself to someone else in a similar position, but don’t take into account the different benefits that each position offers, you are not being honest with yourself and your employer. Fully total everything together: salary, bonuses, commission, life insurance, health insurance, perks such as freebies, and so on. It is said that they “extras” in you job can be worth around 20% to 30% of your actual position pay altogether.

2. Make a list of your accomplishments.

This is a big step! Going into a salary negotiation meeting and not knowing what you have done for the company recently or in the past year is a mistake. Try making a list and adding to it whenever there is a worthy addition. Review what you have done and possibly make copies of this for the people who you are negotiating with.

3. Practice.

Practice makes perfect. Practice what you are going to say. Think about any questions that they might ask you and practice saying why you are worth the raise. Sounding confident is key when asking for a raise. If you don’t sound or seem confident, then why should they have confidence in you?

4. Try not to threaten your employer.

What a lot of people do is throw things in their employer’s face. They might tell their employer that they can do better elsewhere or that they’ve already started applying for other positions at other companies. This is most likely not the best decision for you.

Some employers will take this as that you will continue to threaten them into the future. Also, that you will take the next best thing, and that you are not in it for the long-term. So before you throw something threatening at your employer, really think about it and what you want to do.

5. Be realistic.

Asking for a 100% raise when you are already topped out in your position and everyone else in your position is making way less than you is probably not realistic. Asking for something too high that you might not deserve might result in you not looking the smartest, and it might make you look like you’re trying to take advantage of the company.

Also, if you’re company is not currently doing the greatest financially, think of other ways that you can get a “raise.” Maybe you want a couple more vacation days and that’s all that will make you happy. Truly think of what exact you want out of your salary negotiation.

Be realistic with your worth and know what skills you bring to the company.

What tips do you have for getting the raise you want?