January Money Diet Winners Announced

Snow day in Colorado

Snow day!

Dear friends,

We’re in the midst of a beautiful snowstorm here in Colorado, and my son is happy because schools are closed today. I spent a most enjoyable day yesterday re-reading all of the wonderful comments you left on each post throughout the January Money Diet last month.

This year’s community of dieters was truly our best ever! So many of you participated wholeheartedly, and generously wrote about your honest struggles and challenges. You encouraged others and shared your own ideas and money-saving strategies. Your participation made this endeavor better and richer for everyone. Thank you.

I wasn’t expecting the difficulty of choosing the winners of this year’s prizes, but so many of you completed the challenges and stayed true to the money diet throughout January that we had lots of qualifying candidates. I eventually narrowed the field to a small group of nine people who were especially involved this year, and from those nine I did a random drawing for the prizes. You will receive an e-mail from me today with details.

The winners are:

Lynn Louise – $25 cash, $25 Amazon gift card, cookbooks and household samples

Virginia – A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik

KimberlyHow to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery by Barbara Friedberg

Libby 101 Things To Do With Beans by Eliza Cross

KathyThe Quinoa Quookbook by Eliza Cross

BIG, big thanks and hugs to each one of you who participated in the 2016 January Money Diet. You are now entitled to display one of these badges showing that you completed the challenge:

2016 January Money Diet Graduate     January-Money-Diet-2016-Graduate-sm

(Right-click the badge and choose “save image.”)

Throughout January, I prayed for each person participating in this challenge. Many of you entrusted us with your personal stories of struggles and difficulties. I think most of us can relate to having financial worries or having to dig out from unwanted bills, and it was good to put our heads together and strategize.

I was also deeply touched by your response to Challenge #1 to give 31 gifts, and amazed at all of the many acts of kindness you performed and things you gave away.

My hope and prayer for each one of us in the months and years ahead is that we can do EXTRAORDINARY things with money. May we take the necessary steps to simplify and live within our means, so that we never have to be slaves to debt or experience financial fear.

Thank you for sharing this journey, and I look forward to having many more conversations with you in the days ahead.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

January Money Diet Day 30 and 100 Little Things

Day 30 of the 2016 January Money Diet

As this no-spending month winds down, I want to thank each one of you who participated in this journey. Thank you for showing up, and sharing your creative ideas and thoughts, and trying new things. It’s been so good to be with you during the January Money Diet.

As I consider the Big Picture and think about how each one of us might accomplish extraordinary things with money, I believe the best approach incorporates a lot of little steps practiced faithfully over time.

We may have to do 100 little things each month to save money and some will produce bigger results than others, but together they form the basis for a better financial foundation. This month we explored many strategies:

  • Whittling down monthly expenses
  • Saving energy and water to reduce utility bills
  • Eliminating wastefulness
  • Cooking good food at home
  • Fixing and maintaining the things we have
  • Giving generously to others
  • Growing our own food in a garden
  • Setting up an emergency savings account
  • Using things we already have at home
  • Paying off debt
  • Figuring our net worth
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Making things with our own hands
  • Nurturing our health
  • Creating peaceful, uncluttered spaces at home
  • Earning extra money
  • Finishing projects
  • Saving for the future
  • Being mindful about every dollar spent

Many of us will continue to stay on a modified version of the money diet in the coming days. As needs arise, we will inevitably shop again. Perhaps we might ask ourselves these questions before handing over our hard-earned money:

Do I love it?

This is now my mantra for every single clothing purchase. Do I love this? Do I feel great when I wear it? Is it well made? Will I want to wear it for years to come? Do I need it? I no longer buy something just because it’s a good deal. I have to love it. Consequently, my wardrobe has shrunk quite a bit. I don’t shop that often, and when I do, I don’t often find clothing that I truly adore. But interestingly, my smaller cache of clothes is evolving into a better selection of nice pieces that I truly love to wear.

Can I plan for the purchase?

If your old hot water heater suddenly breaks, you’ll have to raid your emergency savings account and make a fast buying decision based on what’s in stock locally.

On the other hand, if you know your water heater needs to be replaced and you have the luxury of a little time, you can research the best quality models on Consumer Reports (at the library, of course). You can figure out the exact size you need for your family, and choose whether you want a tank or an on-demand heater. You can comparison shop, and watch for sales. Best of all, you can save up the money for the water heater, and replace it before your old one breaks and causes damage and stress.

Can I wait?

I have a weakness for the light fixtures made by Rejuvenation. The designs are classic, the craftmanship is first-rate, and the products are priced accordingly. For a few years I’ve been lusting after an Art Deco semi-flush light with reproduction slipper shades for my office. I created a custom search on eBay, and several times a month I receive e-mail notices about Rejuvenation light fixtures that are listed for a fraction of their original price. My exact fixture hasn’t been offered at the right price yet, but the hunt is part of the fun. In the mean time, I have a simple overhead light in my office that illuminates the room just fine.

By being willing to wait, I used this method ten years ago to purchase the exact energy-efficient ceiling fan I wanted for our kitchen at a deep discount; you can see the old and new fixture here.

Will this purchase lower our overhead?

Certain purchases might quickly pay for themselves in future savings — a rechargeable lawnmower that you use instead of paying a lawn service, or canning supplies to preserve food from your garden, or quality scissors that you use for kids’ haircuts.

Other things might be worth investing in for long-term savings: rechargeable batteries, an antenna that brings in free television, solar lights, perennial food plants like berries and asparagus, fruit trees, window film, insulation, and energy-efficient or hand-powered appliances. These are decisions we will have to weigh carefully and research thoroughly.

Can I innovate instead of spending money?

Figuring out a solution for little or no money is not only fiscally rewarding, but personally satisfying. I love the Budget Living section of Apartment Therapy, where readers show their amazing hacks to transform spaces for little or no money.  Make it and Mend It has tons of DIY ideas, and LifeHack has numerous articles for saving money and repurposing.

Let’s continue what we started

I am so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together this month. You have been the most engaged, generous group of money dieters yet, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you.

Some efforts produced big results and others are small, but financial stability comes as a result of many efforts and thoughtful decisions, practiced faithfully over time. If we continue what we started together in this first month of 2016, I promise that these steps will add up and produce real, lasting change in our finances.

How about you?

What specific results did you achieve as a result of your participation in the January Money Diet? I invite you to share your experiences in the Comments section of this page.

If you have excess cash left over as a result of saving all month, I challenge you to go stash it immediately in an inconvenient savings account, pay off debt, or invest the money before it drifts into the slush fund.

Prizes Ahead!

I have some special giveaways for several January Money Diet participants. One lucky dieter will win a $25 Amazon gift card, $25 cash, signed copies of two of my cookbooks, natural beauty and household samples, and more.

You could also win one of three books. I’ll be giving away a copy of A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik to one of you who gave away 31 things during Challenge #1, a copy How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery by Barbara Friedberg to one of you who figured your net worth in Challenge #2, and a copy of  my book The Quinoa Quookbook to one of you who weighed in and left a comment on Day 11.

You’ll hear from me next this Monday, February 1, when I announce the prize winners from among those who have participated in this 31-day challenge with heart and soul and achieved good results.

If you haven’t completed the 5 Challenges, you still have until tomorrow evening (1/31/16) at midnight MST to finish up. Be sure to leave a comment on each page if you completed the challenges:

Challenge #1 – Give 31 things away.

Challenge #2 – Figure your net worth.

Challenge #3 Do something to earn an extra $25 or more this month.

Challenge #4 – Reduce monthly expenses.

Challenge #5 – Open an inconvenient savings account.

Although our month-long experiment is coming to an end, I look forward to continuing this journey with you in the year ahead. I’ll be sharing ideas and posting about my money-saving strategies in the coming months, and I encourage you to do the same.

If you have any ideas about how to improve next year’s January Money Diet, I’d love to hear from you at elizagcross (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy the weekend, stay strong, and you’ll hear from me again on Monday.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Day 29 of the January Money Diet – Baby Steps

Take baby steps during the January Money Diet

We have just a few days remaining in the January Money Diet. You’ve been such a wonderful, caring, generous group of dieters, and I have SO enjoyed getting to know you.

As this spending break winds down, I encourage you to drop by your library and check out a good money book to read and reinforce the financial concepts we’ve been exploring this month.

These are some of my favorite books, all of which have inspired me develop better money habits.

“Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez was recommended by one of last year’s JMD participants, and it quickly became my favorite financial book. Through a series of essays and questions, the authors challenge us to delve deep into our spending habits and consider what we might be sacrificing by our lifestyle choices. Their message of money mindfulness resonated with me so much.

“The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko opened my eyes to the fact that most people who enjoy financial freedom generally don’t waste money trying to impress other people. They drive reliable cars, for example, and make careful spending decisions about major purchases. They build real wealth, and tend not to fritter their money away.

“How to Get Rich Without Winning the Lottery,” written by my friend and personal finance guru Barbara Friedberg, demystifies saving and investing.  Barbara has a knack for explaining money matters in a simple, straightforward way, and I appreciate her solid advice about building and managing wealth. (A reminder: Barbara generously donated a copy of her to one dieter who completes Challenge #2 this month. If you figured your net worth, leave a comment on the page and you’ll be automatically entered.)

Finally, one of the most practical financial books I’ve read is “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. Dave is the founder of Financial Peace University, and I remember the first time I heard that phrase I took a deep breath and felt calmer. Financial peace…what a wonderful concept. Reading his no-nonsense advice was like having a trusted advisor take me by the shoulders and tell me exactly what I needed to do.

As you’ve probably gathered by reading this blog, I like things that are simple. That’s probably why Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps appealed to me so much. Dave recommends 7 steps to achieve financial peace, pursued in a very methodical order. With apologies to Mr. Ramsey, I have also taken the liberty of adding a few extra suggested steps to the list:

Dave Ramsey (and Eliza’s) Baby Steps

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.5: Start an emergency fund and build the balance to $100.

Eliza’s Baby Step 0.75: Start a separate Freedom Account to accumulate money for large annual bills. Save 1/12th of the total amount needed each month.

Dave’s Baby Step 1: Fund an emergency account with $1,000.

Eliza’s Baby Step 1.5: Start a separate savings account for a vacation fund. This is important!

Dave’s Baby Step 2: Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball method.

Dave’s Baby Step 3: Build 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings.

Dave’s Baby Step 4: Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

Dave’s Baby Step 5: Save for college funding for your children.

Dave’s Baby Step 6: Pay off your house early.

Dave’s Baby Step 7: Build wealth and give.

How About You?

Do you agree with these steps? If so, which step are you currently working on? Because I bought a used car and took out a small loan last year, I’m simultaneously working on steps 2, 4 and 5.

Do you have any of your own steps or tips for achieving financial stability to add to the list? Do you have any other good money books to recommend for solid financial advice?

Happy Friday, and stay strong!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

January Money Diet Day 28 – Make Something with Your Own Hands

Make homemade chocolate truffles | Happy Simple Living blog

One of the (many) reasons I love my sister Catherine is because she is an intrepid DIYer. She will fearlessly experiment with creative endeavors that would intimidate many. She has hand-sewn her own Battenberg lace, for example. She makes those mind-bogglingly complex Ukrainian Pysanky Easter eggs. She raises chickens and bottles her own Limoncello and grows artichokes.

She inspires me to get my hands dirty and try new things. If you’re game in these final days of the January Money Diet, let’s try making something from scratch. We’ll save money, learn something new, and feel the satisfaction that comes from creating something with our own hands.

Here are some ideas:

Kitchen Staples

Biscuit Mix

Graham crackers

Tortillas

Spaghetti sauce

Ricotta cheese

Bread

Bagels

Granola

Greek yogurt

Pita bread

Gourmet Treats

Dim Sum

Latte

Gingersnaps

Barbeque

Hummus

Pizza

Chocolate truffles

Limoncello

Home Goods

Laundry detergent

Dryer sheets

“Unpaper” towels

Soap

Apron

Dog treats

Cat Litter

How About You?

What do you love to hand-craft? If you make something at home in the coming days, be sure to let us know what you create in the Comments section of this page.

By the way, if you’re on Pinterest you can check out my “Foods From Scratch” and “Made By Hand” boards for more easy ideas. Better yet, follow my sister Catherine, who posts amazing recipes, craft ideas and DIY home projects.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:  David Leggett

January Money Diet Day 27 – Less is the New More

Interior by Dana Hugo of j&o Studio

Interior by Dana Hugo of j&o Studio

Some of you may know that I’m a self employed writer. One of my favorite gigs is writing articles for home design magazines like Mountain Living and Western Art & Architecture. I love studying the beautiful rooms created by talented designers, like the lovely dining room above by Dana Hugo of j&o Studio.

With few exceptions, most of the spaces that featured in home design magazines are open and uncluttered. The very wealthy could afford to fill their homes full of stuff (and some do), but those with good taste seem to opt for rooms that lean more toward simplicity and serenity.

Most of the top designers I talk to invest in clean-lined, classic furniture of good quality and scale, appropriate for the size of the room. They accessorize sparingly. With just a few well-chosen pieces, spaces look elegant and streamlined.

Simplicity Equals Profitability

If you’ve ever browsed home listings on real estate websites, you may have noticed that the homes that are uncluttered look larger and more appealing. Cluttered spaces, on the other hand, can seem small and cramped.

Professional stagers are sometimes hired to declutter and spruce up spaces of homes for sale. The result? Realtors say that buyers most often offer a 1 to 5 percent increase on the value of a staged home.

The good news is that we can emulate this look in our own homes. We can buy less. We can edit our belongings. We can store things, and resist the urge to fill every surface of our homes with stuff. Uncluttered rooms are also easier to clean, which will give us more time to enjoy our homes.

As we wean ourselves off the January Money Diet, we will be confronted with shopping temptations. We will need to be strong! So let’s visualize our homes as beautiful, simple and spare when we are tempted to buy throw rugs or gyro snack bowls or Brookstone TV remote pillows.

Practicing the Art of Less

Less can equal more in other parts of our lives, too. Could we let go of some of these things in 2016, and enjoy radically happier lives?

  • Over-committing
  • Taking on more debt
  • Eating unhealthy food
  • Multi-tasking
  • Mindless spending
  • Negative thinking
  • Toxic relationships
  • Complaining
  • Spending too much time connected to digital devices
  • Judging
  • Worrying

How about you?

What would you like to let go of in 2016? We’d love to hear what you want LESS of in the Comments section of this page.

Here’s to MORE of what matters this year. You deserve it.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Day 26 of the January Money Diet – Give Your Finances a Tune-Up

Grow your finances | Happy Simple Living blog

This final week of the January Money Diet is the perfect time to review some important details related to our finances. These are some suggestions:

Lock Everything Down

Literally and figuratively, do all you can to protect yourself from theft and fraud. Do you have super-duper tough, unique passwords for each and every one of your financial accounts? A password program can help you choose and store complex passwords; I use the free version of LastPass.

In the physical realm, if you keep important documents in a file cabinet, is it locked? Do you have copies of your important papers and financial account numbers scanned and securely stored?

Review Your Credit Report

Check your credit report and make sure there are no errors. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. You can order one at annualcreditreport.com.

Set Up an Automatic Savings Plan

If you do nothing else this year, try to set an automatic savings plan. This is the easiest, most painless way to grow wealth and I promise you’ll be glad you did it. If you can start now and gradually increase the amount as your income increases, you’ll be amazed at how much you can save.

If you missed yesterday’s post, it makes a case for setting up an “inconvenient” savings account; you can read it here.

Rebalance the Investment Mix in Your Retirement Accounts

Most financial experts suggest checking your targets at the beginning of every year, and rebalancing your investments when your balances veer more than five percentage points from the targets.

Consider Hiring a Financial Advisor

Do you feel confident in your own abilities to manage your money, or could you benefit from professional advice? I recommend working with a fee-only advisor who doesn’t get compensated for investing your money. You can find one through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

If you have an advisor, do you feel confident that this person is carefully monitoring your investments and has your best interests at heart? If not, it’s time to have a conversation about your goals and expectations. Or perhaps it’s time to make a change and find just the right person to help you achieve your objectives.

Make Sure You’re Adequately Insured

When our roof was damaged in a hail storm, I discovered my policy covered the actual value of the roof, not the replacement value. The result was that I had to pay nearly $4000 out of pocket toward the roof.

Review your policies with your insurance agent and make sure that you understand exactly what is covered and what isn’t. You don’t want to pay for coverage you don’t need, but you also don’t want to be under-insured.

Another lesson I learned the hard way:  if you have a 16-year-old driver hitting the roads this year, purchase an auto insurance policy with the lowest deductible amount you can get. Higher deductibles make sense for more mature drivers with a history of safety. Trust me on this.

Review Your End-of-Life Plans

Have you created a will? If not, put this on your 2016 ‘To Do’ list.

If so, review your will and make sure it still reflects your wishes. Have you designated the right people to be executor of your will and to hold power of attorney, in case you become incapacitated? Also, review the beneficiaries of your retirement plans and life insurance policies to make sure this information is up-to-date.

How About You?

Are there things on this list you can tackle this week? If you have other financial tasks to add to this list, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the Comments section of this page.

The January Money Diet will officially end on Sunday, and I can’t believe how quickly the month has passed. Are you ready to end the diet, or do you plan to continue following some of the ideas we’ve tried this month?

Hugs and happy Tuesday,

The signature for Eliza Cross