The year-end is right around the corner, leaving us a bit more than a month to finish on top. As part of our Better Self series, we explore the little things that can, over the long-run, make a big difference in your life.
Revise your finances
In this Holiday time of gifts and expenditures, it is important to keep your spending in line with tools like Mint or Personal Capital and cut the inessentials. Even if the Holidays are coming up, there is no excuse for busting your budget.
Before choosing how much to spend, you need to identify your income and calculate your savings rate. Most of us are getting year-end bonuses and raises next month and it is too easy to give up to lifestyle inflation. Instead of increasing your spending and getting used to this new level of income, invest all of your bonuses and promotions and keep living just as you were last month. We invest all our bonuses automatically in our RRSP (401k) so, one, we do not feel the urge to spend it, and two, it lowers our taxes. We also increase our automatic contributions for the next year to match our new yearly rate after our promotions.
If you keep a steady savings rate and your income increases, you end up spending more but if you increase your savings to keep the same budget, then you increased your yearly savings drastically. In the example above, you end up saving 36% more over the year by increasing your savings rate according to your raises. If you do the math, your savings rate would need to rise from 20% up to 27% for you to keep the same lifestyle.
With the income side figured out, you can then choose how much to budget for your year. Looking through your spending for the past 11 months helps determine if you over-spent or if you still have room in your budget for the Holidays.
Review your utilities and any recurring payment that you are paying. You can probably find services you are paying for, but are not even using. Compare providers and negotiate your bills. A simple phone call can save you hundreds per year.
This time of the year might pressure you into buying more stuff but there is a ton of ways to spend Christmas without spending. A great low-cost gift idea we’ve found in the Huffington Post is the Tell-Me notebook.
Buy a notebook and fill it with questions depending on who you are giving the notebook to.
The questions I asked my grandparents were like: “Tell me about your first house.” “Tell me about something you are proud of.” “What do you remember most about your mother?” “Tell me about three memorable friends.” – Liz Evans
It will get you to think about the person you are giving the gift to and then will start amazing conversations with them.
To complete your financial review, take a look at your investments and assess if you need to rebalance or change your asset allocation altogether. By using free tools like the Personal Capital Fee Analyzer Tool you can quickly evaluate if you are paying too much management fees on your portfolio. They also have great tools to evaluate your asset allocation and estimate if you are on track to reach your goals.
Before the end of the year, we make sure our investments still meet our time frame, risk tolerance, needs, and preferences. This is pretty easy for us since we are only invested in Exchange Traded Funds and follow a strict asset allocation to reach our goal of early retirement in the next decade.
Enjoy the last month of the year, day-by-day, and focus on the main things you had planned to do back at the start of the year. Any New Year’s resolutions you never got to? Any goals you have almost reached but have not quite completed? Start each day with your mental to-do list (or you can write it down and hang it up at your desk or fridge) and aim to achieve your objectives.
We use our calendar app and Google Keep to note anything and everything. Not only do we list when bills are due or when our next appointments are but we also include things we would like to accomplish.
When it comes to motivation, calendars can also keep you on track. We recently started using the Goals option in Google Calendar to stay focused on health and self-improvement. For example, by setting up a goal like “run three times a week” the app will automatically find you a time to do that. You can even match it with Google Fit and it will log it into our Calendar once the tracker app marks it as complete.
Nobody is perfect but we can make an effort. There are only 5 weeks until the end of the year and we can surely find some ways to improve our diet until then.
If you eat out often, go out for lunch with colleagues, try saying no and bringing in your lunch just once per week. This will add up to 5 lunches or enough savings for a nice Christmas gift for a loved one.
If you are already home cooking most of your meals, try cooking at least one extremely frugal meal per week for the next 5 weeks. Here are 5 super simple recipes we love which you can cook at home for less than a dollar per portion (4-6 portions per recipe).
Easy chicken and vegetables
Simply bake a whole chicken or chicken piece in a casserole with chopped carrots, onions, and potatoes. Set the oven to 350°F, sprinkle some seasonings of choice and leave everything in the oven for an hour and you are good to go. Make sure the chicken is fully cooked through before serving.
- 1 Whole Chicken
- 3 Carrots, chopped
- 1 Onion, chopped
- 3 Medium Potatoes, chopped
- Seasoning of choice for skin
Another great recipe is our famous rice and beans burritos. Who needs Chipotle when you can cook those in 20 minutes for less than a dollar per portion?
- 2 Cups dry instant brown or white rice
- 1 Can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 Can corn, drained
- 1 Onion, diced
- 1-2 Cups cooked, shredded chicken
- 1/4 Cup shredded cheddar
- 6-Pack of Tortillas
- Salt to taste
For this one, you can even use leftover chicken and shred pieces for your burritos or skip the meat and do a vegetarian version. Start by cooking rice by added 4 cups of water for 2 cups of rice. Bring to a boil then let it simmer for about 15 minutes. While this is cooking, add a diced onion to a pan and let those cook on medium until brown then add a can of black beans, corn, and your shredded chicken. Once all of this is nice and cooked, join all ingredients to a tortilla and roll up. For optimal results, grill your burrito before serving if you have a Panini press at home.
One of our favorites is pasta. It is super cheap and quick to make. For day 3, we have a Fettuccine Alfredo which can also be served with chicken if you want to add meat to the dish.
- 12 Ounces fettuccine
- 1 Head broccoli, cut into florets, stalk peeled and sliced
- 1 1/2 Cups skim milk
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon flour
- 3/4 Cup grated Parmesan
- Salt to taste
Cook the pasta and meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the broccoli for 3 minutes then drain. Heat the milk and butter in a large saucepan over low heat and slowly whisk in the flour. Let this simmer until slightly thickened, whisking constantly for about a minute. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and salt then add the pasta and broccoli.
If you own a slow cooker, there are a ton of recipes that can be done for under a dollar per portion. We like to slow cook this vegetarian chili and serve with tortilla chips. Even without meat, you will get a lot of proteins from beans. This is a super easy recipe, simply poor every ingredient in a slow cooker and cook for 3 or 4 hours.
- 3/4 cup diced onion
- 3/4 cup diced green bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cans tomato puree
- 1 small can of corn
- 1 can kidney beans with liquid
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finger-licking shrimp pizza
Instead of ordering pizza, we bake our own with simple ingredients. You don’t even need to know how to bake the doe, use pita bread as your base.
- 6 pita bread
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 1 medium-sized cooked and peeled shrimp
- 1 can sliced black olives, drained
- 2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1 pepper, thinly sliced
- 4 ounces shredded or sliced mozzarella cheese
- 1 pinch dried basil or sliced fresh basil
- 1 pinch dried oregano
Put every ingredient on the pitas and place them on a large baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 450 °F and place the pizzas in the preheated oven 8 minutes. Serve whole, or cut into slices. You can always add vegetables to taste or add different cheeses.
See the people you love
Whoever you spend time with shapes who you are and they might be depleting your energy or energizing you. We are, in a way, the product of our entourage so choose wisely and foster those relationships that you care about most.
We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends. – Daniel Gilbert
As we get older, life often gets in the way. In school, we used to see our friends every day but this quickly extended to once a week once we all started working and now it is slowly turning into every other week or month! The good news is that spending time with your friends can be very cheap and bring you great joy. Get together, get around a board game or host a potluck. Food and drinks have been bringing people closer for centuries, long before the hipster pubs and high-end eateries.
Take this time of the year to spend more time with the people around you and truly enjoy their company. It is too easy to be busy and put off the Saturday night meetup but try to make time for it.
You can even get twice the rewards by inviting your friends to reach common goals. Stay fit and go to the gym with a friend, learn new recipes and cook with a co-worker, or get two things ticked off your to-do list by walking your dog with your neighbor.
Rethink your stuff
Who said you need to wait until Spring Cleaning to declutter? December is the month of giving and the last month of the year, December also has 22 weekdays. Pick one item every day of the week and give it away to a local charity. Give away that shirt you haven`t worn in the past 4 months to a thrift store so others can enjoy it. Give away the toys your kids stopped playing with to kindergartens, hospitals, and other charities. Finally, give away all those canned goods sitting in your pantry to a food bank.
Want to take it a step further? Donate something every day until Christmas. That gives you 25 days to donate 25 things in your house you do not need anymore.
Need to go the whole mile? Donate something for every single day from tomorrow to the end of the year. This will give you 35 days to donate 35 things to people in need.
Make sure to allow yourself a break. Meditate, listen to a podcast, read a book, or just enjoy your morning coffee. Sometimes, we just need to disconnect and relax. Our bodies need to recharge sometimes and our fast-paced lifestyles sometimes can become overwhelming. Taking some alone time can do wonders, try it at least once before the end of the year.
Get to know your coworkers, get out that cubicle and network. Knowing the people around you will make work more fun, more efficient, and who knows, you might even make a new friend.
Even if you are just sitting on a bus or waiting for a train, take the time to say hi and meet new people. We are both introverts but it is very rewarding to make a new friend. The first step to meeting new friends is simply to talk to new people.
Just in case
If it is not done already, write up a will, your list of accounts, and review your insurances. Yes, this can be super boring but it is critical.
A simple hand-written will is considered valid in Canada in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. In the U.S., the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming accept hand-written wills as well. There are states with exceptions but all the ones listed above accept hand-written wills without witnesses as long as they are written entirely in the handwriting of the testator. This means you can write your own will for free without the help of a lawyer. We used a template like these to get the text right and simply wrote it all down on paper instead of paying for their package.
To help your spouse or close ones, make a list of all our accounts and keep all your documents in one safe place. We wrote down all our bank accounts, investment accounts, and other accounts along with the username and password to access all of them. This might get tricky when you change your passwords constantly but that is just another reason to make it part of your annual review.
Finally, take the time to review your life, critical illness, disability insurance, etc., you have in place. Make sure the coverage still is adequate to meet your family’s needs and review your premiums to make sure you are not paying too much. There is a lot of quote comparison sites out there, most of them will give you a quote in a few minutes.
Now, once you accomplished all of this, January is right around the corner and it’s time for a New Year’s Resolution! How will you be a better person next year?