i The Frugal Law Student | 2007 | October

Law School
Frugality
Personal Finance
Productivity
Nutrition

Ask the Readers: Tips To Save Money On Halloween

Written by Brett McKay

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Halloween is in just a few weeks, so this week I’m turning to my awesome readers for tips on how to save money on Halloween. How do you save money on Halloween? My sister Shannon  has already shown us how to make our own Pottery Barn Halloween countdown calendar, and now I want to know your frugal Halloween Tips. What are your favorite do-it-yourself costumes? How do you save money on candy? What about money saving tips for Halloween parties? How about saving money on Halloween decorations? Let us know! At the end of the week, I’ll collect all the tips and write them up in a post. Here’s your chance to contribute to creating content on The Frugal Law Student! I’m looking forward to reading your tips!

10 Personal Finance Blogs You NEED To Subscribe To

Written by Brett McKay

Knowledge is power, so part of my plan to take charge of my finances is to read up on personal finance. You could read some personal finance books; unfortunately most of them suck. That’s why I get most of my personal finance info and tips from personal finance blogs. There are hundreds of them, but only a few consistently provide amazingly useful content. Here are the 10 personal finance blogs you need to subscribe to by RSS feed or email.

1. The Simple Dollar. Trent cranks out tons of content every day. And it’s all good! To give you an idea of what kind of content to expect when you subscribe to The Simple Dollar check out Trent’s One Hour Finance Series. Subscribe to The Simple Dollar by RSS Feed or Email (visit the site to sign up).

2. Get Rich Slowly. There’s a reason Get Rich Slowly has over 30,000 subscribers (30,000!). J.D. takes the intimidating topic of personal finance and makes it approachable for any person. Which high-yield savings account is best? is a great example of what to expect when you subscribe to Get Rich Slowly. Subscribe by RSS Feed or Email (visit the site sign up).

3. The Digerati Life. I like the Digerati Life because 1) the author is a woman and we need more women personal finance bloggers and 2) the topics she chooses to write on are always engaging. Should You Quit School Because You’re Brilliant? is a great example of her writing. Subscribe to The Digerati Life by RSS Feed or Email (visit their site to sign up.)

4. Clever Dude. The Dude has been in my Google reader for quite some time now. Not only does The Dude write about money, he writes about how money affects relationships. As a fellow young married person, I can relate to a lot of what The Dude writes about. For example, Examine Your Motives:Having Kids was extremely relevant to my wife and I as we have discussed whether to bring Little Frugal Law Students into the world. Subscribe to Clever Dude by RSS Feed or by Email.

5. Wise Bread. Wise Bread is one of the few group personal finance blogs out there. As a result, they are able to produce tons of quality content on a consistent basis. Wise Bread runs the gamete on personal finance topics. Remove car dents quickly and cheaply and Socially Responsible Investing Goes Green are examples of what to expect from Wise Bread. Subscribe to them by RSS Feed.

6. Money Smart Life. I like Money Smart Life because of the writing style and the topics covered on the blog. Not only does the author focus on how to manage your money, he also focuses on emotional and psychological aspects of money management without sounding cheesy. For a great example, see Money Isn’t Everything. Subscribe to Money Smart Life by RSS Feed or by Email.

7. Money, Matter, and More Musings. What’s great about Money, Matter, and More Musings are its longer posts. While short tips posts are nice, it’s always a treat to go in depth into a topic with the author at Money, Matter, and More Musings. Looking At Life With A Stock Market Perspective was a recent fun read. Subscribe to Money, Matter, and More Musings by RSS Feed or Email (visit the site to sign up).

8. Boston Gal’s Open Wallet. Boston Gal is another great female personal finance blogger. Her posts are always informative and entertaining. She also keeps us abreast with the latest deals! See 401(k) Loans: At Your Own Risk for an example of Boston Gal’s most recent work. Subscribe to Boston Gal by RSS feed or by Email.

9. I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Besides founding and running PBWiki, Ramit Sethi also finds time to run an outstanding personal finance blog. Not only does Ramit focus on personal finance, he also writes about how young people can develop entrepreneurial skills that can help them earn more money. Check out Conscious Spending: How My Friends Spend $21,000/yr Going Out. Subscribe to I Will Teach You To Be Rich by RSS Feed or by Email.

10. Getting Finances Done. Getting Finances Done took the productivity idea behind Getting Things Done and applied them to finances. I like GFD for its articles on the technicalities in managing your finances. I’m always fiddling with how I keep track of my budget. GFD has done a great job in giving me some guidance. Check out Applying GTD Principles to Your Personal Finances Part I and Part II. Subscribe to Getting Finances Done by RSS Feed or by Email (visit the site to sign up).

What personal finance blogs do you all subscribe to? Drop a line in the comment box.

27 Ways To Save Money On Food

Written by Brett McKay


One of the easiest ways to reduce your budget is reducing your food costs. Last week, I asked my awesome readers what they do to save money on food. The response I got was amazing! Frugal Law Student readers came up with 27 creative and frugal ways to save money on food. I’ve compiled all their ideas in to this post. I’ve put the name of the reader who contributed the idea next to the tip they provided. If they have a blog, I’ve included a link to it. (Make sure to check their blogs out!) Thank you to all my readers who contributed! Stay tuned for next week’s “Ask the Reader” question of the week!

1. I keep a spreadsheet of all my expenses, listed by day and category, so that’s a huge motivator to curb my eating out. A bag of groceries or a single meal at the same price? When I do go out for meals, I choose the “value menu” items at most fast-food places, the lunch special, or just a larger appetizer at sit-down restaurants. [Emily]

2. One of the best ideas for students is to get involved with campus organizations. I get a free dinner at least once a week from my various organizations’ meetings. (Free food is one of main points we use when trying to recruit members for the Student Alumni Association.) [Emily]
3. Buying in bulk when items are on sale is also helpful, though it takes some strategy. Sometimes I hold off on buying a $2-$3 jar of spaghetti sauce because I know that eventually (in a week or two), some brand will be 2-for-1 at about $1.94. [Emily]

4. Some of my staples are pasta (buy one, get one free boxes of $0.69 spaghetti), tortilla chips ($1 big bags) and hot sauce (under $2 huge bottle has lasted me over four months…and I use it a lottt), tortillas ($0.98 for 36 small ones), cereal (whichever brand is around $2/box that week), frozen veggies ($1/bag), and 3lb. bags of apples ($2 on sale). Of course I add more than this, but these are the “classic” items I always have on hand. [Emily]

5. And of course, I do save those ketchup packets (it would take me a year to use a bottle; I don’t use it often), Taco Bell sauce packets, sugar/Spelenda packets, etc…just a few here and there are great for items that I don’t use frequently enough to justify buying a larger quantity. [Emily]

6. I have found that making a menu for a week or two before going grocery shopping keeps me from spending too much. It means that I am only buying what I need instead of just replacing something that I may not use till next month! [Shawna]

7. Get a wok and a rice cooker. Put away all other cookware. Buy a large bag of your favorite rice and make it every day. Shop for veggies, fresh and in season. Be realistic about serving size and you’ll find it’s pretty cheap to eat healthfully. Add meat but not too much. Americans eat too much protein anyway. Make sure to take your vitamins. We exist happily as a family of 3 on $60-$75 a week with one good splurge, like crab or lobster. [Jasi]

8. People often think Ramen noodles are just for broke people but I happen to love them. I also just take the noodles sometimes and throw them into a stir fry which is awesome.
For a treat, I will make chicken ramen noodles as a side dish and throw in a few frozen shrimp from Sam’s club. It makes it a little more sophisticated. [chitown]

9. Getting extra napkins from fast food places is also a good idea so you don’t have to waste paper towels or buy napkins. I also use cloth hand towels when I am eating which I can just wash. Better for the environment too. [chitown]

10. For those of us trying to go with a healthy lifestyle (hey, save $ on health care costs at least), a big saver is a CSA membership. Frequently, farms near cities will make a once a week dropoff to people who pre-pay, and this gives you fresh, local, frequently organic fruit and veggies at a bargain price (provided, of course, that it’s a decent growing season). Moreover, the one I joined (Jug Bay in MD, which serves the DC region) gives you money off for “sweat equity” if you volunteer to help out at the farm. [Tawnya]

11. Don’t drink soft drinks or bottled water! You CAN exist on tap water. You don’t need to buy those crazy filters either. We drink lots of water and then we have a 6-pack of beer on the weekend (2 per night for one person, or 1.5 beers for two people). Also, if you go out to eat – don’t drink any alcohol or soft drinks in the restaurant – drink water. You can usually buy a whole bottle of wine for the cost of a glass at a restaurant. [K-Lo]

12. Find a farmer’s market or weekend produce stand and ask the sellers if you can have their leftover produce, whatever won’t keep until the next time they sell. I get literally tons of food every year this way. We eat it fresh and can a lot of it for later use (salsas, jams, pickled asparagus, etc.) I share it with friends and neighbors and others via freecycle. It takes a lot of work, as I have to sort out and compost the rotting/ stuff, but generally most of it is quite edible. The produce sellers are relieved they don’t have to haul it away and throw it out. [Marcia]

13. Make a list and don’t buy anything that isn’t on it. [FinanceandFat]

14. Go to the websites of your local grocery stores and check out the ads, I typically do this on Sunday and make my big shopping trip on Monday. Find the store that has the best deals on the items like and plan your meals for the week heavily using the items on sale. [FinanceandFat]

15. If food that can be stored a long time without going bad is on sale stock up! [FinanceandFat]

16. Don’t go shopping too often. The longer you can go before hitting the store, the less you’ll spend. [Emily]

17. Eat vegetarian meals fairly frequently (we started with once a week and have worked our way up). [Emily]

18. Take the time to do prep work instead of buying convenience. It saves a ton of money, especially if you have one spouse who’s home more than the other. Dried beans instead of canned, whole vegetables instead of frozen stir-fry mixes, etc. [Emily]

19. Try to have a cart full of ingredients, instead of a cart full of ready to eat food. Then, I take the time to bake muffins, bread, make granola, etc. instead of buying the packaged versions. It adds up really quickly, especially considering I can buy 25 lbs of flour on sale for less than $5 and 25 lbs of sugar for $8. [Emily]

20. Go veggie, without necessarily going soy (many meat imitation soy products are very expensive for what you get). Use canned beans and vegetables and buy non-perishables in bulk. (Curried chickpeas and rice? Still the best, cheapest, most nutritious meal I know. [strange bird]

21. Also, ethnic markets. Cheapest and most variety. [strange bird]22. If you eat meat, get the “value pack” of 5-10 lbs and split it into smaller portions. I usually wait until the meat has a “reduced for quick sale” sticker, then freeze it the moment I get it home. [Bety B]
23. When you cook, make two extra portions and freeze them. If you have something that’s easy to fix when you don’t feel like cooking, you’re less likely to order pizza. [Bety B]

24. If you have an off-brand grocery store (like Aldi) near you, give it a try. The food is very inexpensive, and most of it is the same quality as the name-brand stuff. [Bety B]

25. I’ve spent the last few months putting together a “price book” in excel, nothing fancy just a basic list. What I found is that it doesn’t save money as much as make me aware of what food costs. Just noticed that the price of the milk took a huge jump, as well as other things were more expensive than what I though (fruit in particular). As well I realized that I tend to buy the same things every week. [rob in madrid]

26. You’ve got to become comfortable with cooking, or at least preparing, meals. Buying the staples of a meal is the absolute best way in my opinion to save money on food. Choose things that can be used in a variety of ways: Rice (steamed rice plain, with stir fry, chicken, fried), meats (frozen lean chicken breast can be used in a lot of different ways and keeps for a while), vegetables (frozen and canned keep more than fresh and can be used in a lot of ways as well), and last but certainly not least pasta. It’s filling, versatile (hot with pasta sauce, cold in salads), lasts for a while, and whole wheat pasta is pretty cheap. [Jake]

27. I don’t often find that things go unused or that I don’t like things– of course, I chose a coop that grows a lot of things I like, most of them have lists on their websites– I even got a watermelon last week, which was pretty cool. Of course, sometimes I get things that I need to google uses for (like epazote, which it turns out is amazing with beans– who knew?), and some weeks I don’t cook a few days in a row and then have to cook to feed my freezer. Luckily , this usually means that during the winter, when veggies aren’t delivered and I’m feeling lethargic, there are healthy meals in the freezer and I don’t have to get takeout. [Jake]

Hack Your Pocket Moleskine Into A Wallet

Written by Brett McKay

If you’re like me, you love your Moleskine, but hate having to lug around one more thing in your pants pockets. With a cell phone and wallet already occupying valuable pocket real estate, the addition of the Moleskine can make your bottom half start to feel bulky. I thought about getting one of David Allen’s NoteTaker Wallets, in order to combine my wallet with the note taking functionality of the Moleskine, but they’re $90! As a law student who’s taking on student debt, I can not bring myself to drop $90 for a wallet.

So, here’s the next best thing. Hack your Pocket Moleskine into a fully functioning wallet. The Moleskine already has a folder in the back that serves as a great place to keep paper money and receipts. What it’s lacking is a convenient place to store your credit cards. This hack fixes that. By combining your wallet with the Moleskine, you’ll have one less things to carry.

What We’re Going For

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Pretty cool, huh? Let’s get started on your Moleskine wallet.

The Materials

Instructions

1. Print off the credit card holder template that I’ve provided. Cut them out.

2. Fold the tabs on the cutout. I usually fold the tabs around a credit card to make sure I get precise and snug fold.

3. Apply glue on the side of the tab facing out, like this.

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4. Place the first holder at the top of your Moleskine. I placed my credit card holders next the folder on the back cover. You can put your’s where ever you want.

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5. Layer the subsequent holders in a stagnated fashion until you get to the bottom, so it will look like this.

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6. Let dry. You’re done!

Here’s what it looks like closed:

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It’s a little full, but has worked out for me pretty well for me. Now, I never forget to have my Moleskine with me. If anybody else has suggestions, please feel free add them to the comments.

Ask the Readers: Tips To Save Money On Food

Written by Brett McKay

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When creating a budget, one of the easiest ways to reduce spending is to reduce your food expenses. Right now, my wife and I are spending $325 on groceries a month, and about $50 a month on eating out. Our biggest tool to keep spending down is using a list. I’ve written about other things you can do to get more out of your grocery dollar, but I’m interested in what you do to save money on food. How do you save money on food? I’m looking for anything. Do you save ketchup packets? Eat ramen? Let us know! Drop a comment with your best money saving tips on food. At the end of the week, I’ll collect all the tips and write them up in a post. Here’s your chance to contribute to creating content on The Frugal Law Student! I’m looking forward to reading your tips!

Reader Question: How To Pick An Index Fund With A Low Initial Investment

Written by Brett McKay

Recently, I received an email from a reader of The Frugal Law Student asking a common yet important question for young people just getting started in investing:

I just finished my Masters, and talked my parents into contributing to some sort of mutual fund or index fund, etc. instead of giving me a ridiculous piece of jewelry that I’d never wear (how I wish they’d help me pay down the debt instead! alas!) Do you have any suggestions as to how I should go about picking one that has a low minimum buy-in? I know the very basics but nothing about where to get started.

Great question! This is something that I have struggled with as well.

I think index funds are great, especially for people just getting started with investing. I’ve written about them before, so I won’t bore you here with the benefits of index funds.

What holds many young investors back from investing in index funds are the high initial investment required to start the investment. For example, Trent at The Simple Dollar, is a big believer in Vanguard Index funds, and with good reason. They have solid customer service and a great track record to boot. However, in order to buy most Vanguard funds, the minimum investment is $3,000!

After doing some research, it looks like most index funds require a large amount of up front investment. The range was between $2,5000 -$3,000. If you don’t have this kind of cash on hand, your best option is to save for it. This is what Trent does. He’ll set aside money each month into a savings account. As soon as he has the minimum initial investment, he’ll buy the fund. After you buy the fund, the minimum monthly investment is usually pretty reasonable.

If you don’t want wait to around until you have the money to invest, you can always try actively managed mutual funds. There are hundreds of mutual funds and many have initial investments as low as $250. The drawback on actively managed funds is expense costs are higher than index funds. Also, unlike index funds which generally keep up with the overall market, actively managed funds can tank and not come anywhere near the market average.

How to Screen Mutual Funds

Morningstar is a reliable independent investment research firm, so we’ll use them.

  • Open up Moringstar’s Fund Selector. You’ll now see an app with a bunch of different drop down menus. Since we’re focusing on low cost investments, we’ll filter the funds accordingly.
  • Under “Fund Type”, we’ll select balanced. Since this is a first time investor, we’ll keep things simple.
  • Moving on to Cost and Purchase, we’ll set the minimum initial investment for less than or equal to $500. We also need to choose whether to have a load or no load fund. A load fund means that there’s a sale charge when you buy shares in the fund, no load means there’s no charge. We’ll select no load to keep costs down. We’ll select the lowest expense ratio at .5%.
  • Finally, we’ll pick the risk. This is the famous Morningstar Rating you hear investors talk about. We’ll set it for 4 and 5 stars.
  • I didn’t mess with any of the return filters. I wanted to see the results for the 1 yr, 3yr, 5yr, and 10yr returns.
  • Hit show results.

Fascinating. Many of the suggested funds are held by American Funds, the company that I do investing with. They all look to be solid investments. You can click on each one to get a detailed description of the fund. Most just require $250 to start an investment.

Once you select the fund you want to invest in, you can go to that fund’s website and open up an account with them. American Funds is super easy to start an account with. Additionally, they have a great online account management service that makes buying, selling, or starting automatic investment plans easy.

What do you all think? Did I miss anything? Don’t agree with me? Have any better ideas? Drop a comment in the comment box and add to the conversation!