Saturday, March 8, 2008

How I Started a Grocery "Price Book"

One of the methods that's often touted as being very frugal is to keep a price notebook with you at all times. This way you can always be sure that you are getting a good deal on foods and not, say, paying $5 for bread if you can get it down the street for $2.

I used to be really bad about my grocery shopping. I wasn't frugal at all. I would buy both breakfast and lunch on work days. I'd stop by the convenience store on my way home from work. And so on. I didn't really have a car (at least one that was legal), so it was hard to get to a grocery store. I never did price comparisons.

Well, when I went to Japan it was a different story. Grocery stores in Japan are a bit smaller than the ones in America and there's not as much selection. There especially wasn't a good selection of American foods. I'd find myself going into any new grocery store I found to see if they had any of my favorite foods available.

As I did this, I began to notice how different some of the prices could be. Obviously, you'd expect a high-end grocery store to be expensive (In Japan, they have grocery stores in the basement of most department stores). But often you'd find that little things link milk, bread, pasta, even fresh fruits and vegetables were drastically different prices at different stores.

So I started keeping track of where things were cheaper. Now, I'm not anal enough to keep a price book. One of my talents happens to be remembering numbers. So I keep everything in my head.

But that's how I started to keep track of prices. Once my husband and I decided to Save to Quit, I made even more of an effort to get things from the cheapest grocery store. Now, I tend to be a little anal about it. haha.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Make Choice, Make Destiny

Life is all about the choices we make. I often think about what type of person I might have become had I made a different choice. What if I had gone to a different college, or not gone to college at all? What if I had never lived abroad? What if I said no when Katsufumi said that he wanted to live in America?

These choices that I made have greatly affect the person that I am right now. Fortunately, I kinda like that person.

But the difficult thing is not knowing what life's going to be like when we make those choices. I could have hated living in Japan. I could have ended up with a career that I didn't like.

Nobody knows for sure what's going to happen when they make a choice. If we did, life wouldn't be any fun. But the important thing is that you do need to make decisions.

If the outcome is good, then great! You've done well.

If the outcome is bad, bummer. Make an adjustment and try again.

When you are the person making the choices in your life, then you are truly in control and you are more likely to get the things that you want out of life. Just keep trying and making different choices.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ridding Yourself of the Procrastination Bug

I'm a big time procrastinator. Always have been. Being smart kind of made that a little bit worse even. I could easily get away with doing my homework in the class before it was do. I could write a ten-page term paper the night before I had to hand it in.

Worse than that, I'd even procrastinate even when I was already cutting it close. There were many times in college when I didn't start that term paper until 3am! I remember my second year of college, in December, I looked at all the work that had built up during the semester and concluded that the only way I could possibly get everything done was if I didn't sleep until the winter break started (roughly two and a half weeks later). :-)

Even today I struggle. I've mentioned this before, so you may remember me saying it. There's always a lot of things that I'd rather be doing than the thing that I'm supposed to be doing...

Anyway, I do try to work on it. And here are some times that can help you rid yourself of the procrastination bug:

1. Always set goals, schedules, and deadlines. Make your to-do lists. It seems anal, but to-do lists are absolutely necessary if you want to succeed. They help you to remember all of the things that you are supposed to do. I know that if I don't write things down, I have a tendency to forget. More important is to set deadlines for when things should be done by. In some cases, it's OK if you don't get them done on time, but a deadline helps you to put pressure on yourself. I've used a Franklin Covey planner for years.

2. Give yourself rewards...later. So many people think "Oh. I'll get down to work...after I watch this one TV show/call my friend/check my email." The problem is that after never comes. There's always something else that you can do it after. So what I do is I reward myself after I complete the task. I'll say that I have to write two articles and then I can watch a TV show. Or whatever. And actually, it does feel better when it's a real reward coming after I've completed a certain task.

3. Never think things are "too easy". When you minimize the amount of effort a task is going to require, it's a lot easier to put it off. I know that I often have five or more "easy" tasks on my list that get put off for days, because I trick myself into believing that they're very easy. If it's so easy, why not get it done and over with.

4. Know what to tackle first. How to prioritize your tasks is a discussion better left for another time ( I procrastinating?), but the truth is that you need to know how to do it. Some times, the big hard thing needs to be done first. Other times, the ten stupid little things should be done first. You need to decide this for yourself, based on your own deadlines and priorities.

When you are conscious of these things, hopefully you'll begin to procrastinate less. Unfortunately, it does require diligent work to keep up. I find that I often go through phases where I'm super-productive, and phases when I'm lazy girl.

What are your anti-procrastination techniques?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Learn to Set Goals

Do you have a goal that you're working towards? One of the most important aspects of successfully saving to quit is having a concrete goal that you are working towards. That involves learning to set goals.

What? Do you really need to learn to set goals? Isn't a goal just a dream that you have for the future?

Well, yes and no. You may dream of winning the lottery, but that's not a very realistic goal. Quitting your job to work on your own business, however, can be realistic.

Successful and unsuccessful people are largely separated by the ability to set goals and follow through to see them accomplished. It's actually that simple.

Learning to set goals is not really's sticking to them and acting on them that usually falls by the wayside.

But here's what you should do:

  1. Write down your goal and make it specific. Include an end date. For example, you might want to say "In one years time, I will have an article published in a magazine."
  2. Break your goal down into smaller steps. In the above example, some of the smaller steps might be brainstorming ideas, querying the magazines, and actually writing the article. Make sure that you are also very specific in the steps you are writing too. You may want to say something like "I will send three query letters every week."
  3. Schedule time to work on these smaller steps. I know that it's sometimes difficult to make that time, especially when you're working a 9-5 job, but it's probably the most important thing. Without taking action, your dreams will just sit there. If you spend just a little bit of time working on them, however, you'll get closer and closer to actually accomplishing them.
  4. Enlist help. You may need some help in achieving your goals. Don't be afraid to ask for it. Ask some friends to look over your query letters. Network with people who can help you out.
  5. Revise as necessary. You may find that things come up and you may have to push your date back. Maybe you don't yet have all the skills needed to achieve your goal. Maybe you find that another goal is starting to take priority. This is all OK.

When you learn to set goals, you are setting yourself up for success. Setting goals (and following through on them) is sure to help you achieve your dreams.

If you want to learn more about how my husband and I achieved our dream of saving enough money to quit our jobs and start a business, check out Save to Quit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Saving Boring?

With my recent "Should I spend the money on a new computer?" stress, I've been thinking a lot more about saving money vs. spending money on things that you want/need.

When we were saving to quit our jobs, it was very easy to save money. We had a big goal that we were working towards and the end was in site.

But now that that goal has been completed, and we're pretty much doing what we want to be doing, I'm finding that it's a lot harder to save.

Our next savings goal is for a house (or possibly a new car if our current one dies). But of course, it takes a lot more money to save up for a house than it does to save up a year's salary. At least, when you're looking at real estate in Hawaii and assuming that you want to pick the house that you'll live in for your whole life.

It's like suddenly, $30 here and there doesn't seem like that much money. I mean, it's just a drop in the bucket.

Of course I believe it's important to save, but where do you draw the line between the good feeling of building your savings and the bad feeling that comes with completely going without.

There are always little things that you may want to buy. When you are being extremely frugal, building your savings towards a goal, you start to forgo those little things. But sometimes you just really want it.

Frankly, sometimes saving IS boring.

Now, I'm not talking about going shopping for Chanel or Louis Vuitton...things that I feel are completely unnecessary. But things like a new dress to wear to my husbands annual work retreat (for me not him). Or a gym membership.

My family frequently gives money for birthday or Christmas gifts. That money has often just gone "into our savings", which in a sense feels like it's going towards paying the bills. Which kind of sucks because I know that when people are giving me money, they're giving it so that I can "get something nice for [myself]." My mom expressed a lot of frustration over this when I was talking to her about the computer.

It's good to save your money, especially when you're working on a goal. But sometimes I just want to spend.

How do you deal with this?