Friday, August 20, 2010

Fit Budgeting & Savings Tips for a Fit Life

Why an article about budgeting and saving tips in a blog about living an active and healthy lifestyle? As a mother, a small business owner and fitness advocate, I think healthy living and being active encompasses both striving for physical fitness, and emotional fitness.

I believe personal finance is wrapped-up in emotion. We make countless money spending and saving choices each day. The consequences of those choices (wise or folly) affects our emotional well-being, in turn impacting our physical well-being. When it comes to household finances, the "elephant in the room" for many families, or the cause of bickering and even all out warfare in others, can be a source of stress and even anguish which is no good. Whether your a saver, spender or somewhere in between, I think it's always good to be open and honest about finances with your partner and to evaluate and reevaluate your household finances at the minimum once a year. Working out household finance issues, having a good understanding and control of our finances as well as being able to prioritize spending helps to create less emotional stress- opening up new ways of living and empowering us to happier, active living. Since we're in yet another recession (some of us are pretty familiar with recessions at this point, remember when the bubble burst in 2000), I thought it was apropos to discuss fit budgeting and savings tips for a fit life. Specifically, how to budget and save, and still do what you want- get fit, stay fit and enjoy it (hopefully). I mean we could all use a financial tone-up every now and then.  Moreover, for lots of moms, when money is tight, our own well fare becomes secondary to that of our families. We make sure all the necessities are taken care of as best we can, but tend to let our own health and fitness fall by the wayside. I want to help you make fitness a priority in good and bad times, because when mama is fit, healthy and happy that's good for the whole family! You not only improve your quality and outlook on life, but most likely your new healthy habits (both physical and fiscal) will trickle down to your family.

First, a little bit about my budgeting history. I can attest to the fact that being frugal is not in my nature, but I have learned over the years to be a saver. I consider myself a work in progress/ reformed spender. I look back at my younger years (when I was out in the world for the first time on my own- working, paying rent and utilities, and partying) as a time of financial unfocused, recklessness. I realize how much money I wasted and did not save. All the many money saving opportunities I passed-up (matching 401ks and the such) still makes me cringe today. I had a good support system in place (parents who provided sound advice), but I just wasn't ready to hear it. I wanted to live my life and live it my way. I was and still am a hardheaded, independent woman- “I can do it myself,” as my daughter says (she comes by it honestly). Luckily, I met a frugal guy in my mid-twenties who (eventually) helped me reign in my evil spending ways. You could say his thriftiness wore off on me as I began to realize the benefits of not “living on the edge.” As fate would have it, that thrifty guy eventually became my husband. I not only learned to save, but I gained a sense of security, and downright delight in saving. I learned to prioritize and give-up certain amenities (not eating out all the time and cable TV), which in turn allowed me to take advantage of the things that really made me happy (reading, eating healthier, exercise and spend time with my family). I just wished I adhered to all the advice in my younger years. The only caveat, better late to saving, than never!

Second, I can recall vividly the financial terror that succeeded the joy I felt after I learned that I was pregnant- the thought of all the additional expenses such as diapers, food, clothing, preparing the baby room, toys, schooling, camps, and so on. Yikes. How could we take care of this precious living creature, look after ourselves and most importantly continue to save money. At this point in my existence, I was in the worst shape of my life and being pregnant did not improve the situation. After we brought my daughter home from the hospital, all I could think about was taking care of her (24/7) for which I enjoyed every minute of (mostly). I was fortunate to be able to stay home and be the full time caregiver to our daughter. However, my needs, besides sneaking in a snooze every now and then, were put on the back burner. Putting my needs aside eventually caught up to me as my good humor began to fade, and loneliness and low self esteem began to set in. That is when I realized I needed to do more than go for jog/walks with the stroller. I needed to get even more physically active, and to interact with other moms. But I was hesitant, as I did not want to spend the money on a gym membership or exercise class. After a heart-to-heart conversation with my husband, we decided it's money well spent when it comes to something that pertains to obtaining and maintaining good health. We tweaked our budget in little ways that helped us pay for an exercise program and remain on the same savings track. I found an exercise program that fit my needs both physically, emotionally and fiscally. It turns out the program was good for my daughter too, as she got to interact with other moms and kids. I fell in love with exercise. I loved the way it made me feel, look (eventually), and I adored the many wonderful moms I met. I felt good again. So it is I came to my current career as a fitness instructor/business owner. I hope by my sharing budgeting and savings advice, you too find this same joy in doing the things you want and need- maybe it's getting a nice jogging stroller, buying some fitness equipment, joining a gym or taking a fitness class. Hopefully whatever it is that will increase your quality of life!

Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of budgeting and some ways to save. Let's start with basic budgeting. Maybe you already live by a budget, maybe you don't. If you do, it's always good to reevaluate. If you don't, now's the time to start.

First, let's address why a budget is important. A budget is important because it allows you to see where your money is going and to control spending. You get to plan how you want to spend your money and save. Lastly, a budget allows you to plan for emergencies and the unexpected.

Where to begin?  Rather than having me continue to babble on, I have found a couple resources that I feel give some good advice on where to begin in creating a budget.

Sites that discuss the basics of creating a household/family budget and give good advice are, as follows:

I also highly recommend keeping track of your finances on the computer, if you can. It makes life so much easier and you can save and review past budgets, track income vs. expenses, track portfolio performance, very quickly and easily.  There are a ton of budgeting software programs out there now-a-days. Some you pay for and some for free. I happen to use Quicken Home & Business. It's a program my father introduced me to way back when. So, I am entrenched in the program at this point and it works for my family. But it is by no means the be all, end all of home finance computer applications.

Home Finance Software Programs:
  • Quicken
  • Moneydance
  • Acemoney
  • Bank Tree Personal
  • RichOrPoor
  • iCash
  • Budget Express
Free online ways to manage money:
Sites that list personal finance software with reviews: 
Please note that I am not endorsing these software or online programs. Most of them I have not ever even futzed around with. Use this as a resource only and do your homework. As far as I can tell, though, the programs listed seem legit and have decent reviews. However, use at your own risk. If you know of other programs please feel free sharing in the comments section.

Now onto money saving tips. First, I must confess that I do not use coupons wherever I go. I have tried to be that person, but just can't get my act together enough to do that. However, I do try to be smart about where I shop and for what. What I have listed here (for the most part) are fast, easy ways you can increase your spending power. There are so many things people do to save money, these are just a few of the things my family does. Again, these may work for you or they may not (I hope you find at least some helpful, though!). Please feel free sharing your money saving tips in the comments section. I love learning new ways to save!

My Savings Tips:
  • Eat home cooked, prepared meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at least 5 days a week. I know we're all very busy people, but this can be done. With a little planning and effort, good, quick, healthy meals can be had even by “non-cooks” (such as myself). Plan your menu and shopping list ahead of time to  maintain nutritional integrity and keep grocery costs down. Taking the time to plan will save you not only money but sanity as well.  I love for healthy, fast recipes. Also, a family favorite in my household is Jacques Pepin's, Fast Food My Way series- not always the healthiest (there are always ways to make it healthier), but good food that can be prepared in 30 minutes. Another idea is to eat at least one to two vegetarian meals a week – which not only cuts down on food costs (meat is expensive), but is healthier and better for the environment.
  • Tips for saving money on specific food groups (taken from IDEA Fitness Journal article Eating Well on a Budget by Jennie McCary, MS, ED, LD).  
Fruits & Vegetables:  Buy seasonally and freeze extras. Buy frozen or canned for a better deal out of     season. Buy whole and cut up fruit at home. Convenience costs: $1.39 for 16 ounce bag of lettuce = $0.70 per serving vs. $0.99 for a head of lettuce = $0.25 per serving (ISUE 2010). Affordable nutrition: seasonal, banana, apple, potato, cabbage.
Grains: Buy in bulk. Look for bargains on day-old bread. Note that hot cereals cost less per serving than ready-to-eat cold cereals. Convenience costs: $0.08 per cup of microwave bag popcorn vs. $0.03 per cup for stove top popcorn from kernels. Affordable nutrition: whole-wheat bread, brown and white rice, oatmeal, noodles, popcorn kernels.
Dairy: Buy yogurt in large tubs and portion out to single servings. Compare cheese prices per ounce. Block and shredded cheeses are cheaper than sliced. Use reconstituted skim milk powder when cooking. Switch to skim milk. A change from whole to skim milk can save a family of four $8-$11 per week and slash 5,040 calories and 518 grams of fat from the diet (ISEU 2010). Convenience costs: $0.60 for a 6 ounce container  of fruit yogurt = $0.10 per ounce vs. $1.66 for a 32-ounce container of yogurt =$0.05 per ounce. Affordable nutrition: skim milk, larger containers of yogurt and milk.
Lean Protein: Choose beans more often. Cut whole chickens into pieces instead of purchasing separate pieces. Stretch meat by reducing portions and mixing with grains and beans. Note that extra-lean ground beef is healthier and yields more meat when cooked. Convenience costs: $0.12 for 1/4 cup canned beans vs. $0.04 for 1/4 cup dried, cooked beans. Affordable nutrition (least to most expensive): dried beans, peanut butter, canned beans, eggs, walnuts, ground beef.
  • If you work, try making your coffee or tea at home and bringing it to work in a insulated, reusable container. Also, try taking your lunch to work at least 3 days a week using an insulated, reusable container. You could make a little extra dinner to have for lunch the next day, or make a healthy salad or sandwich to bring to work. There are even a plethora of healthy, interesting frozen microwaveable lunch options out there. If you live by a Trader Joe's, check out their frozen section for good Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese frozen lunch options- very yummy!
  • Take advantage of rewards programs at the stores you frequent and use online reward programs. If you make online purchases through sites like you receive cash back. Note: If you check out, let them know Shannon Stoughton referred you! Thanks.
  • It's worth checking out and joining group buying sites such as Groupon CertifikidLiving Social, and Deals for Deeds. These sites offer unbelievable discounts (usually half off or more) from businesses in your local area. Great for savings on entertainment and restaurants. I got a deal recently for which I paid $20 for $40 worth of sushi at a fantastic sushi restaurant in my area.
  • Use credit cards that reward you, especially the cash back ones. The card I use gives 1% for all purchases and 5% in certain categories per quarter.
  • Try to cut back on household amenities such as Cable/Satellite/FIOS television. If your feeling a bit nerdy and up for a fun family project- try making your own UHF antenna that actually works! I can attest to this, because we use it in our home. PBS kids programming is fabulous and commercial free- can't beat that! Also, take advantage of Netflix watch instantly which only costs $10 a month and it's commercial free content! You don't have to be tied to the computer either. You can watch on your TV with a Roku box, DVR, or even some HDTV's have a means you can stream content off the internet. Other resources for free TV/movies online are the networks themselves. They all post shows online now. You can also try and Take the time away from TV to read a book/magazine, play board games with your kids or take a family walk around the neighborhood. You'll be amazed by how much calmer and slimmer you may become. It's been proven that spending long periods of time in front of the TV increases over eating (usually of unhealthy snacks). Bottom line: Too much TV is bad for the waistline, while cutting back is good for your bottom line!
  • Buy store brands, rather than name brands. And when you see a sale for something you use or eat often- stock up! Furthermore, there are a lot of online coupon sites for which you can add coupons electronically to your grocery store card. This is especially good for name brand products. For instance, I use and if there is a coupon I like, I can have it added to my Safeway card- no more carrying around, organizing, and searching for coupons!
  • Buy paper products and cleaning products from places like Target, Walmart , Kmart, Costco, Sams or the like. Such products tend to be way cheaper at these places rather than the supermarket.
Well, that's about all. I hope you find this helpful. Be active. Be healthy. Be happy!

Note: I have not been paid to endorse anything. This is just honest advice from my own experiences.

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