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The evolution of my gift giving

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Good morning Loves.  As the weather gets colder and the malls put up their holiday decorations I’m starting to get into the gift giving spirit.  Are you?  There is something about twinkle lights and snow tunes (get it? HA HA) that makes me want to buy gifts for everyone I know.  Of course I can’t afford to do that but it doesn’t stop me from making mental lists of all the perfect gifts I would hypothetically buy for everyone in my life.

As I strolled through the mall last night looking for a gift for BF’s sister I thought about how my gift giving as evolved over the years.  My my has it changed.

Think about everyone on your list this year, is it the same as last year? 

My Christmas list changes drastically from year to year depending on my relationship status with my family, how my friends choose to celebrate and what events my co-workers plan.   This year I am going to buy gifts for my family (very different from last year), my friends decided not to exchange gifts and the lunch dates with my different circles of friends at the office is increasingly growing (I think now I’m up to 3).

How have your gift giving habits changed over the years?

My school girl crush.  Over the years I bought several gifts.  I’ve always liked giving gifts, even as a child I would like to wake up and try to cook breakfast for my parents.  Other than being invited to my classmates birthday parties the first real gift I ever bought was for my elementary school crush.  His name was Paul and I “loved” him from grade four to grade eight.  I bought him the Kid n Play cassette tape.  Since I couldn’t afford to buy two I bought one for him, opened it, dubbed it onto a blank cassette I could keep for myself and then wrapped up the original and gave it to him as a Christmas gift.

Then boys started buying me gifts.  That was a weird concept.  For some reason after graduation my childhood crush on Paul faded away and we actually became friends.  I guess it’s easy to be friends with the girl next door after she stops following you around everywhere you go.  My first boyfriend in high school bought me a gold necklace and the Boyz To Men CD for our first Christmas together.  Yes by the time I reached high school CDs were all the rage.  He was no longer my boyfriend by New Year’s Eve – it had nothing to do with the gift.

My first true love.  When I moved away to college I worked in retail sales and I wasn’t able to come home for Christmas.  It was absolutely devastating, but thankfully I had BF to help make the most of it.  School began in September and by December I had already been with BF for a couple of months.  It was our first holiday away from home but we weren’t alone because we had each other to spend it with.  We didn’t have a lot of money so there were no gifts, but after all it was more about the bonding experience of being together.

An old unmarried couple.  Now I’m 34 years old and BF and I have been together for 15 years.   Our holidays are about creating our own traditions: gifts, Christmas trees, egg nog and a lot of down time.  Our grown up lives are a lot more hectic than they were when we were students so the holidays are now more about having time off work to spend together and eat desserts.  We love our desserts!

Photo from Flickr

There’s no need to be broke in college

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Good morning Loves.  Today we have a very special guest joining us, Mel from Broke Girl Rich is here to help our college student and grad readers manage your money and get out of debt.  Mel believes in the value of a good education; 3 degrees and over $20k of debt later she lived to tell the story of her money life in college.  Please welcome her to Blonde & Balanced, she’ll be checking in so feel free to ask her any questions.  Enjoy!

Where did you go to school and what was your degree

I actually went to a lot of school. I attended a state school in NJ for my B.A. and double majored in theatre production and literature. Then I went to Liberty University and got a Masters of Divinity and a few years later I went to the University of Sheffield and got a M.A. in Theater and Performance Studies.

Were you broke in college? 

I had two very different college experiences. For my B.A. and the majority of my Masters of Divinity, my parents footed the bill for anything scholarships didn’t cover.  So I definitely didn’t feel broke then. I had a credit card from (my parents) for emergencies and a pretty good part time job that covered all of my spending needs.

When I went back to school a few years later for my M.A., I definitely felt broke. I footed that entire bill myself between my savings and loans. I knew I would have to pay back every penny I spent, so I was pretty money conscious the entire time.

I took out one traditional student loan from Sallie Mae for $3,000 and then a $20,000 – 0% interest loan from my grandmother.

What’s the biggest money mistake you ever made in college? 

The biggest mistake I made was putting the end of my Masters of Divinity on my credit card. My credit card! For Pete’s sake, the interest rates were RIDICULOUS. I should’ve applied for a traditional student loan for my last semester. I would’ve saved thousands of dollars in interest.

What’s the biggest money mistake you think college students make? 

I think the biggest money mistake is picking WHICH college to attend. Really looking into tuition and related costs should be just as much a part of your search as how good the program is and what campus life is like. Making that one big decision in the right way will save you tens of thousands of dollars.

How did you spend most of your money in college?

I spent most of my money eating out. I feel like I lived in the local diner. Honestly, it could’ve been a lot worse though. I went to school in the Pine Barrens in NJ, so there wasn’t a lot immediately around.  I spent a fair amount on gas just doing stuff like going bowling or going to the movies.

How should college students budget so they’re not broke?

I think students just need to start any budget and their finances will improve like crazy! I never used one in college and never had any clue where my money was going. It’s so much easier to make informed decisions if you just know all the facts.

Maybe all those diner trips are worth it and you’d rather cut back on gas to the movies from time to time? Or maybe once you see how much all those diner trips cost, you cut back once a week and save that money to start your emergency fund instead.

Photo from Flickr

Friday Faves: It’s snowing!

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Happy Friday Loves.  It finally started snowing up here.  Yes I woke up to snow on the ground, is that acceptable for November?  And yes, that’s really the view from my living room window.  I don’t like the cold, actually in general I don’t like any of the elements: rain, wind or snow.  This year the cold weather is taking an extra hard toll on my emotional and mental wellbeing.  I’m not adapting well to the change in cold weather and now I have to get used to snow.  Is it too early to get out my winter jacket?

Enjoy these good reads from our friends:

Savers 4 Life – How we Cut Cable and Save Money Every Month

Some delightful life – What Would You Do If You Couldn’t Fail?

Budget Blonde – How An Emergency Fund Saved My Family

Fit Triangle Mom – Energize Your Exercise

Festively Prepped – WOW Your Dinner Guests with These Easy Thanksgiving Desserts

Red Debted Stepchild – Financial Implications of Workaholism

 

How to Pay off Your Mortgage Sooner

Being completely debt free, mortgage and all, is an amazing yet audacious goal. And finding strategies to pay off your mortgage sooner is how you’re going to get there.

If you’re ready to buckle down and put in the work, you’ll be able to reap the awesome results off having your mortgage paid off early.

Here are three strategies to take you there!

Refinance to a Lower Rate

If you got your mortgage more than five years ago then you might be better off refinancing. While mortgage rates aren’t the lowest they have been, they are still pretty darn incredible compared to what were offered just ten years ago.

Do some research and find out what kind of interest rate you’d qualify for based on your current credit score. If it looks like you can get a lower rate – go for it. Just make sure you choose a mortgage that suits your needs.

Refinancing your mortgage to a lower rate can literally save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your loan. Not to mention if you keep paying the same amount you did with the higher rate all that extra cash will go straight to principal!

Pay Extra Toward the Principle Every Month

Another no-brainer tactic that works is paying extra toward your principle each and every month.

When you pay extra your principal will be reduced which means you’ll also be paying less in interest! Pay as much extra as you possibly can to get that mortgage paid off sooner.

Make a Payment Every Two Weeks

When you pay your mortgage bi-weekly instead of monthly one extra payment ends of being made each year.

This is the perfect solution for someone who doesn’t have a bunch of extra money to throw at the principal but still wants to make a difference.  That extra payment also means you can pay your mortgage off an average of eight years sooner.

The best thing is you won’t even notice the difference between paying monthly or bi-weekly!

Conclusion

If you really want to pay your mortgage off early there are ways to get there. Even if you can’t afford to double your house payment, you can make smart movies like refinancing to a lower rate and paying your mortgage bi-weekly.

Those tasks won’t take a lot of effort on your part but could shave many years off the life of your mortgage.