10 No Brainer Budgeting Tips

No-Brainer Budgeting Tips

10 No Brainer Budgeting Tips

Let me guess. You want to save money, but you don’t want to do math. Percentages and spreadsheets make you glaze over or break out in hives. The idea of a bunch of cash filled envelopes lying about just seems dumb. It’s okay. I’m here for you. I’ve got a few simple things you can keep in mind to help you save money without having to overthink it.

  1. Carry cash– In case you never figured out the name of my blog, I take out the equivalent of $20 a day from the ATM once a week on Fridays. Living here in Glasgow, that means I put £90 in my wallet each week, and that’s all the money I get to spend on incidentals like clothes, extra bits from the grocery story, drinks at the bar, etc. If you use your debit card for everything AND you hate doing math, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to lose track of how much money you spend. I find this amount to be just right for me. Some weeks I have money leftover, and other weeks, Thursdays are sad. That’s life.
  2. Stop buying crap– Become more intentional about what you buy. Before you make an impulsive purchase, ask yourself “Is this something I know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I don’t know who said that, but it’s worked for me. You don’t have to be a stingy miser, but if you live in the real world, you probably can’t just have whatever you want. 
  3. Sleep on it– Since we’re trying to stop buying crap, I find it useful to walk away for a day from something I’m interested in buying, especially if it costs a little bit more than I would normally pay. It may be that you can look around and find it cheaper somewhere else, or it may be that with a little bit of space, you realize you don’t actually need it. If you’re still in love with the item the next day and you have the cash in your wallet, go back and get it.
  4. Think about how you’re going to get there– We don’t have a car right now, so our options are pretty limited, but I think it’s always worth it to consider walking somewhere. It’s free, and it’s great exercise. Yeah it takes a bit longer, but if I’m by myself, I listen to news podcasts and get smarter, and if I’m with my husband or a friend, it’s the perfect opportunity to have some great conversation without having your face stuck in your phone.
  5. Embrace store brand– There are a few things, like peanut butter, that I just won’t compromise on, but for the most part, I’m quite happy to save a bit of money on fancy packaging and advertising and just buy the store brand. If you find you don’t like the quality on a certain product, just don’t buy it again. Most of the time, though, you can’t tell.
  6. Pack a lunch– When I find my wallet empty at the end of the week, it’s usually because I’ve been forgetting to bring my lunch with me to work. When you’re putting leftovers away from dinner, pack them in single-serving portions so you can just grab something from the fridge on your way out the door. I can barely navigate my toothbrush in the morning. Forget about making a sandwich. Make your life as easy as possible.
  7. Check for a Groupon– If you haven’t checked out any of these types of sites in a while, it’s definitely worth checking out. Rememer #2. Don’t go buying stuff just because there’s a groupon, but you may find something you already needed or wanted for half the price, at which point it would be dumb not to get it. It’s a great way to try a restaurant or experience that may have otherwise been inaccessible because of price.
  8. Buy things that last– When you’re shopping for things that are non-consumable, take into consideration how quickly something may need to be replaced. I’ve had the same black pencil skirt since I graduated from college. If something is going to be useful to you for a long time, make sure it’s going to last. Spending a little bit more one time equals spending less in the long run if you end up having to buy it again.
  9. Invite your friends over– Instead of going out to a restaurant or bar to socialize with your friends, invite them to your home. You don’t have to do anything extravagant. Ask friends to bring stuff to contribute to the night. It spreads the cost around, but you can bet everyone will still spend less than they would going out. You’ll be able to hear each other talk, and sometimes your friends will even do the dishes. 
  10. Put some money away– Now that you’re being more conscientious about your spending, you’ll have some money to save at the end of the month. If you don’t, you may need to reevaluate your life a little bit. Here’s what I do. First, make sure you have a separate savings account that you can easily transfer to online. When payday comes around, I look at my last balance before the deposit. Subtract from that balance the amount you pay in rent (so you know you at least always have an extra month’s worth on hand at any given moment), then put the rest into your savings account. I know we don’t like to do math, so just round to the nearest hundred (or ten if you have to). Don’t overthink it. Then sit back and watch your money add up. 

Saving money, sort of like losing weight, isn’t really about tricks. It’s much more about changing your habits and your attitude. Say no to the pressure to consume. Don’t feel you need to deprive yourself, but don’t give in to every little whim to spend. If you’re feeling pressure to keep up with the Joneses, just remember that the Joneses aren’t actually as cool as you. Eventually, being awesome on $20 a day just becomes your life. 

To Surinder Singh or not to Surinder Singh…

How to get a UK Spouse Visa without a lawyer

. . . that is the question!

Renee is still stuck in the hospital so Geoff is here to keep you company again. I’m constantly researching the convoluted ways of moving to different countries. Call it a, “hobby” if you will! I figured that as I’m doing the hard work, I should impart some of my wisdom to you, the lucky readers. Immigration lawyers are expensive and generally not-needed. Some countries are relatively easy, others keep you wrapped up in red tape. Hopefully we’ll be able to save you some of your hard-earned money in the time-honored “Awesome On $20” way. Let’s look at UK immigration first of all.

Our first option is the official UK Government route for coming home with a non-EU spouse.

To qualify for a spouse visa the UK citizen needs to meet the following specifications:

Needs a confirmed job offer for a job in the UK, earning £18,600 or more per year, starting no more than 3 months after your application.

Needs to have been earning the foreign equivalent of £18,600 per year for either 6 months (if you have worked for the same employer for the last six months and are still employed with them at the time of application) or 12 months (averaged out over the last 12 months for multiple jobs).

If you have children that you are also bringing with you, the amount is increased by £3,800 for the first child and then an extra £2,400 per child.

Note: If you have £62,500 or more in savings (and have had that in your account for at least 6 months) then none of this applies to you. You are automatically awarded a visa. Congratulations.

The tricky part is actually getting a job without having a face to face interview. I did manage to get my first job in the US while I was still living in Taiwan, via Skype, but not sure how common this is. If you can afford to fly home for interviews, great, but if you are like the rest of us, this probably isn’t an option. Of course there’s a whole load of paperwork and “evidence” that you need to collect to show that you earn a certain amount. Click HERE to get detailed info straight from the horse’s arse mouth. This visa costs £885.

Renee in London
Tourist-mode back on our last visit

The second option is called the “Surinder Singh” route. So called after a famous court case. Basically, this is a back-door option that circumvents the UK Government’s visa restrictions. If the UK citizen goes to live and work in another EU country, their non-EU spouse can go with them and also work. Once you can prove that the UK citizen’s ‘centre of life’ has moved to the other EU country, you are free to apply for an EEA Family Permit. This permit is as good as a visa and allows you to live and work in the UK indefinitely! The guideline for time spent in the other EU country is 3 months minimum.

When applying for the EEA Family Permit, you’ll need:

Proof of address for the UK citizen in the other EU country (rental agreement or perhaps bank statements).

Proof of ‘integration’ (anything that shows the UK citizen became involved with the local community. Maybe a letter from a club or society).

Proof that the UK citizen was working (wage slips, contracts, tax returns etc).

The best thing about the Surinder Singh route is that there’s no cost for an EEA Family Permit! How’s that for being Awesome on $20?

Other European citizens can move to the UK straight away and work with no hassle! A Polish person could bring an Indian spouse into the UK easier than a Brit bringing in an American! Crazy!

Stay tuned for more free immigration advice. Next time we will look at getting your American Green Card!

Hopefully Renee will be back on her feet and making delicious treats for you fine folks in no time at all. Here’s to a quick recovery!

Even British horses are cool...
Even British horses are cool…
$20 a Day in the Closet: 10 Tips for Cheap Clothes

$20 a Day in the Closet

 

$20 a Day in the Closet: 10 Tips for Cheap Clothes

I am a long way from a fashion icon, but I’m not completely frumpy, either. It’s sometimes a struggle trying to be both cheap and cute, but I believe it can be done. Here are my tips for how to maintain a pretty great wardrobe without making your wallet cry.

1. Don’t buy a ton of crap

This almost too obvious, but if you want to save money, you just can’t have a ton of crap. Sorry, it just doesn’t work. When I go to the mall, it’s more like visiting a museum. I look, sometimes I even try on, but I rarely ever buy. 100 years ago, average people were lucky to have like five outfits, so just learn to live with less.

2. Don’t throw anything out

Just the other day, I got several compliments on a top and a skirt I’ve had for probably 10 years. If your clothes still fit you and aren’t torn, stained, or otherwise inappropriate, you can probably hold onto them and figure out ways to give them new life. Most people aren’t going to care or even notice that you’ve been wearing the same dress forever.

3. Buy classic pieces

 Pencil skirts in black and tan, black pants, white and black button down shirts, and comfortable but awesomely hot black heels will never ever go out of style. You don’t even have to spend a bunch of money if you’re patient enough to find good stuff at discount stores like Ross or TJ Maxx. Take good care of them, and you’ll be able to make a million outfits for years.

4. Go shopping with a plan

Before you step into the shop, think about what you actually need. Don’t just randomly shop impulsively. It’s the same effect as going to the grocery store hungry. You end up spending money on things you don’t actually need and will probably never wear. 

5. Try on in store then shop online

If you’re buying from a major chain like Old Navy, they’ll probably send you a bajillion emails with all kinds of great coupon codes. It’s kind of annoying until you need something. There’s a pretty good chance you can get 20% off or more if you can be patient.

6. Don’t buy stuff just because it’s on sale

If you spend $20 on a $50 piece that you never actually wear, you didn’t save $30, you actually wasted $20. A sale, in and of itself, is not a good enough reason to buy something. I mean, if you need something and can get it on sale, that’s obviously good, but I think you get the point.

7. Always try stuff on

If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance you’re too lazy to actually take stuff back to the store if it doesn’t fit right, so make sure it’s going to work before you get it home. 

8. Don’t buy stuff unless it makes you feel awesome

Similar to #6, if you buy the cheap version of something you need, but you don’t love it, you’re probably not going to wear it. Money wasted. It’s worth it to spend a little more on something that makes you feel excited about getting dressed in the morning.

9. Have fun with accessories

I’m a scarf and hat girl, personally, but you can pick up a few fun accessories to add a pop of color to your wardrobe and stay on trend. You’re gonna have a lot of classic pieces and old stuff, so play around with the little cheap things.

10. Don’t feel guilty

You deserve to look good, even if you can barely afford a fashion magazine, let alone all the stuff inside. If you want to save your pennies and splurge on something that makes you feel like a movie star, don’t beat yourself up about it.  We all know that material things aren’t what really matters, but you don’t need to feel guilty about buying something beautiful every now and then.

You deserve to feel awesome. With a little patience and creativity, you can collect a wardrobe of reliable pieces, throw in a few trendy accessories, and look and feel totally rad. Everything is possible.

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

DIY Camera Bag

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

You guys, I will never ever ever be crafty. It seems I will also never stop liking pretty things that I can’t afford like expensive trendy camera bags. At around $160 bucks at the low end, I won’t be a person who owns an Epiphanie bag any time soon. Those are meant for rich kids. 

But I still don’t want to walk around with the bag my camera came in. There’s nothing cute about that. It seems the only logical choice is to make my own camera bag. So I did. Sort of.

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

I bought the actual bag. I chose a cute but cheap backpack from Amazon. We walk a lot, so I wanted something that was ultra functional. Then I bought some foam padding and some stick on velcro from the craft store. Finally, I picked up a yard of fun fabric at the fabric store and got to work.

If you’re good at crafting, you’ll probably carefully measure out your foam pieces and your fabric. You’ll do all that crafter geometry that I have no patience for. Basically, I used my existing camera bag as a template to cut out top and bottom pieces four sides, and an extra piece for the inside to separate the camera body from the extra lens from the foam. I had to trim them down a bit from my first pass, but basically, I eyeballed it.

Next, I used my horrible gift wrapping skills to cut out pieces of fabric to cover each foam triangle. I used a simple whip stitch to sew each piece on to the foam. I stuck some velcro on the covered foam to help the pieces stay in shape.

Finally, I found an old make up bag I received as a gift but never had a use for. I popped all the cords, lens covers, and other bits and bobs inside. 

Now my camera is well protected in a bag I’m not embarrassed to carry around. There are pockets for my phone and other necessities and plenty of space still left for whatever else I need to haul around.

DIY Camera Bag | How to be Awesome on $20 a Day

And in case you’re wondering, I spent less than $40 for all of this, half of which was the backpack itself. Sometimes we want things we can’t have. If you get creative, there’s a chance you can get what you want. Well, almost. Can’t buy it? Just make it yourself.

5 Free Super Awesome Podcasts

5 Free Super Awesome Podcasts

5 Free Super Awesome Podcasts

I’ve been an NPR junkie for years. Since the end of my college days, actually. I’d listen every time I was in my car. Once I finally broke down and bought an iPod in 2008, I discovered podcasts, and I could finally listen to every single episode of my favorite NPR shows any time I wanted. And they all fit in my pocket and were completely free. If you love listening to smart or cool people talk, you’re probably already into podcasts, and if you’re not, you’ve got to get into it. They’re the ideal way to stay entertained and informed while working in your cubicle, while you’re on a road trip, or while working around your house. And did I mention, they’re absolutely free? Yeah, that’s super awesome. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Joy the Baker

If you’re a food blogger, or even if you’re just a human with a sense of humor, you need to subscribe to the Joy the Baker Podcast. It’s the only non-NPR production to make my cut. It’s co-hosted by Joy Wilson of Joy the Baker, and Tracy Benjamin of Shutterbean. It’s basically two best friends getting together to talk about “totally important unimportant things,” like food, blogging, boyfriends, cats, hot dogs, Google auto-fill, and cutting yourself out of your underwear. It’s real life, and it’s hilarious. 

2. Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture Happy Hour is an NPR Podcast, but not an NPR show. You can’t hear it on the radio, but you definitely shouldn’t miss it. It’s four witty and wonderful NPR writers and sometimes hosts chatting about their opinions on all things pop culture including books, TV, movies, video games, comics, podcasts, and theater. If the PCHH crew says a movie is good, I’ll usually go see it. I’ve also been caught bursting out into raucous laughter while listening to this at work, and with segments like “Regrettable Television Pop Quiz,” how could you not? I’ve also been moved to tears from time to time by the discussions on this show. I won’t miss it.

3. The Splendid Table

The Splendid Table is hosted by the fabulous Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and this lady knows everything ever about food. This is usually a weekend show, so it’s not always easy to catch on the radio, but if you subscribe to the Podcast, it’s there waiting for you. There’s a mixture of interviews with chefs, in-depth food news, and call-ins from listeners. The highlight of every year is the live Thanksgiving call-in show where people can call in with their Thanksgiving emergencies. Lynn has a fix for everything. If you’re a foodie, you must listen to The Splendid Table.

4. The TED Radio Hour

The TED Radio Hour combines excerpts from TED talks and interviews with speakers to focus in-depth on a given topic each week. I absolutely love listening to smart people share ideas about how to make the world a better place. I am constantly amazed when I listen to this podcast. It gives me so much to think about without having to sit in front of my computer watching a 20 minute YouTube video. Nerds rule!

5. This American Life

Saving the best for last, This American Life will blow your mind. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always poignant, this show is a hipster nerd’s dream come true. With contributors like David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and Mike Birbiglia, the content on this show is always diverse, and deeply human. The host, Ira Glass, is basically as cool as a human can be, in my opinion. I never miss an episode of This American Life, and I’m never disappointed.

If you have an iPhone, you can subscribe and listen with the built in app in your phone. If you have an Android phone, I recommend Podkicker, which is free. If you have none of these, you can subscribe to all of these, and many more podcasts through iTunes on your computer. And in case I haven’t already said it a hundred times, they’re completely free. It’s just too awesome!

Did your favorite podcasts make the list? What do I absolutely have to check out right this minute?

Go grow your brain, have a laugh, and make your day a million times better. 

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