Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend Wake Up: Playlist of the Moment #12

This past week has been pretty crazy, and I'm already
on day three of being moved out of my Cincinnati apartment.
It's all snuck up on me (pretty darn quickly).
(Which makes me even more aware of how fast the week has gone by.)
The days are, almost quite literally, just blurring together.
And, suffice it to say, things haven't been very quiet in my mind.
Irregardless, here's some of the music that has been added to the rotation:

As usual, a lot of songs to choose from…some old...some new.
You may not like all of them, but maybe you'll like (at least) one.

Let me know what you think!
Is there a song/album/artist you think I should listen to?

Send your thoughts to:

Follow me on Instagram to see how the moving process goes, during and after.

Happy Saturday!
xxxx Alyssa Marie

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Weekly Inspiration: Varying States (of Damage and Repair)

"You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday.
You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity."
"He sings about the pain in loving someone that hurt him in the past, and when they wanted another chance, he wants assurance from them that he won't be hurt again. He's so hurt from before that he's trying to have control on his heart this time. In the end, he realizes that love is not about control or playing safe. It's about losing control and letting all your guards down to let someone into your heart. That that's the way of truly loving a person, so we have to take that chance and truly fall all the way. This song is beautiful. Takes time to learn the lesson though."
Illustration by Ed Fairburn

“A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”
―Oliver Wendell Holmes

“You are not breakable simply because you have broken; 
try to remember that you will never be any less than whole.
A broken person is still a whole person"
—Emma Bleker 

"Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive."
—Josephine Hart

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."
Ernest Hemingway 

Is there a quote you like, or an artist you think I should check out?
Send your thoughts to:

xxxx Alyssa Marie

Monday, October 20, 2014

Money Monday: 4 Tricks Supermarkets Use To Make You Spend More

Last week we talked about the tricks online retailers use to encourage spending.
This week, we're talking about some similar tactics used by grocery stores. 

Over the last few years, I've gotten much better at planning my grocery trips (i.e. using meal plans to create my grocery lists). There were plenty of times in the past when I would go stop at the grocery on a whim, and those were the times I would end up going slightly over budget. Though you may not have any issues with recalling your full grocery list from memory, there are several psychology tricks supermarkets enlist to trick you into spending more money than you plan.

1. Location, location, location.
This article isn't about real estate, but this phrase can also apply to the importance of product placement in the grocery store. Ever wondered why your store is constantly changing their layout? If you don't know where things are, you spend more time inside the store. The more time you spend inside the store, the more time you have to browse the shelves, and the higher the chances are you'll be tempted into making an impulse purchase. Ever wondered why there is a gap between longer aisles? Store designers want to encourage you to go down the aisles. Stores also tend to place (pricier) name-brand items at eye-level on shelves, moving the (less expensive) store brand items to lower levels. 

2. Sneaky circulars
Whether in print or online, many people rely on store ads to help plan their grocery list. The trick here? Despite being advertised, every item in the circular may not actually be on sale. Manufacturers may have paid to have their items featured, even without price reductions. Items that are sold at or below cost to tempt shoppers (a.k.a. "loss leaders") are typically featured on the front page of the store ad.
Source: Huffington Post
3. Color-coding (practically everything)
Companies use the psychology behind color-coding to influence your purchasing behavior. Our subconscious associations with colors influence how we understand prices, value and quality. Blue is often used to target budget-conscious consumers, who associate the color with trust and stability. Red creates a sense of urgency, which can trigger impulse buys. Purple is often associated with luxury or royalty, and promotes a sense of high quality.
4. Odd digit psychology, and the power of "9"
The method of not pricing items in round numbers (i.e. 69 or 99 cents) is also known as "odd pricing" (and the practice has been in use for over a century). For several years there's also been a theory that consumers pay the most attention to the first digit of a price. Basically, if an item is marked $1.99 instead of $2.00 the consumer will be more likely associate the price with $1 instead of $2.

Notice anything about the methods your local grocery store uses?
Does learning any of this change make you reevaluate your shopping habits?

Send your thoughts to:

Happy Monday!

xxxx Alyssa Marie

Friday, October 17, 2014

TGIF: Playlist of the Moment #11

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I was in Omaha recently…
as well as my quick announcement that, very soon, I will be leaving Cincinnati to move there.

The last few weeks have been a slight mess, on various levels. Sick. Stress. General bleh.
Furniture's out this weekend. By this time next week, I'll be out of my apartment in Cincinnati.
And I'll be going to my new place in Omaha in about 3 weeks.
And, oh. My. Goodness. How the time goes.
I won't lie, I'm a little nervous. And a little scared.
And a little more anxious with each day.
But something in my gut tells me...this is it.
Yes, I'm really ready for this.

Here's a playlist of songs I've had on heavy rotation this past week.
I've made the jump to YouTube playlists, instead of just posting a few individual videos…
which means this playlist is much bigger than the ones I've posted previously.
Lots of songs I like…some old...some new.
You may not like all of them, but maybe you'll like (at least) one.

Let me know what you think!
Is there a song/album/artist you think I should listen to?

Send your thoughts to:

Join me on this new adventure:
Follow me on Instagram to see how the moving process goes, during and after.

Happy Friday!
xxxx Alyssa Marie

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weekly Inspiration: Find Some!

Here are some of the things that have caught my attention lately.
Is there a piece of art, of any kind, that you think I should see?
Something you'd like me to include in a future post?
Send your thoughts and/or suggestions to:

xxxx Alyssa Marie

"There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." —Leonard Cohen
"I go through phases. Somedays I feel like the person I’m supposed to be, and then somedays, I turn into no one at all. There is both me and my silhouette. I hope that on the days you find me and all I am are darkened lines, you still are willing to be near me." —Mary Kate Teske
Artist Unknown
(I love this picture…if you know who made this, let me know so I can give them credit!)
"A long time ago, when you were a wee thing, you learned something, some way to cope, something that, if you did it, would help you survive. It wasn’t the healthiest thing, it wasn’t gonna get you free, but it was gonna keep you alive. You learned it, at five or six, and it worked, it *did* help you survive. You carried it with you all your life, used it whenever you needed it. It got you out—out of your ass-backwards town, away from an abuser, out of range of your mother’s un-love. Or whatever. It worked for you. You’re still here now partly because of this thing that you learned. The thing is, though, at some point you stopped needing it. At some point, you got far enough away, surrounded yourself with people who love you. You survived. And because you survived, you now had a shot at more than just staying alive. You had a shot now at getting free. But that thing that you learned when you were five was not then and is not now designed to help you be free. It is designed only to help you survive. And, in fact, it keeps you from being free. You need to figure out what this thing is and work your ass off to un-learn it. Because the things we learn to do to survive at all costs are not the things that will help us get FREE. Getting free is a whole different journey altogether." —Mia McKenzie
"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” —R. Buckminster Fuller
Drawing by Parfenova Lisa
“I mean, we’re all trying to find out who the hell we are, aren’t we?”
Robert Ludlum

"Will I be something?
Am I something?
And the answer comes:
You already are.
You always were.
And you still have time to be."

—Anis Mojgani
Painting by Juan Esteban Rodriguez
"I am learning everyday to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be,
to inspire me and not terrify me.” ―
Tracee Ellis Ross
Artwork by Dakota Bardy
"I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that."
—Brian Andreas, Story People
Artwork by Shin KwangHo

“Stars are not small or gentle.

They are writhing and dying and burning.
They are not here to be pretty.
I am trying to learn from them.”
—Caitlyn Siehl, Sky Poem 

Photo by Alison Juliah
“You meet a girl: shy, unassuming. If you tell her she’s beautiful, she’ll think you’re sweet, but she won’t believe you. She knows that beauty lies in your beholding… And sometimes that’s enough. 
But there’s a better way. You show her she is beautiful. You make mirrors of your eyes, prayers of your hands against her body. It is hard, very hard, but when she truly believes you… Suddenly the story she tells herself in her own head changes. She transforms. She isn’t seen as beautiful. She is beautiful, seen.” 
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of The Wind

Monday, October 13, 2014

Money Monday: 5 Tricks Online Retailers Use To Make You Overspend

More and more people utilize online shopping these days to find discounts, especially this time of year.
There's a good chance, however, that (even if you're a seasoned online shopper) you may
still be spending more than you need by the time you click that "checkout" button.
Considering the retail holiday that Columbus Day (today) has become, I thought I'd share a few
tricks retailers use (so you can sidestep those hidden fees and boost your upcoming holiday budget).

1. Flash-Sale False Urgency
"Score 70% off…for 12 hours only!" "Limited time, act NOW!"
I'm willing to bet that you've seen offers like these at some point in your life, especially online. The manufactured frenzies created by websites like Groupon and LivingSocial encourage the impulse of overspending…especially on things you don't really need. According to a blog post by Norman Silber (posted earlier this year on Huffington Post), Groupon has sold over $7.25 billion dollars worth of vouchers….but the value of unused vouchers may be as high as $725 million. That's right, MILLION.
Silber also notes issues with merchant failure rates…as well as the concept that vouchers
are simply loans (from consumers to merchants) in disguise.
If you've got a few minutes, his whole post is definitely worth reading.
You can also find more statistics on Groupon's redemption rates on Quora, if you're interested.

So…how do you avoid it? Don't buy a deal unless you've reserved a time to use it!
Mark it on your calendar, or set a reminder in your phone if you need to!

There are also other sites that offer a few more options for deals, with less emphasis on an immediate need to purchase. ScoutMob offers online shopping from independent artisans but (in select cities) you can also use their mobile app to find local discounts, events, freebies at restaurants and tickets to shows.

2. Filling Up Your Cart to Meet Shipping Minimums
It can be pretty tempting to stock up on more than you need to get this extra discount. Many e-tailers offer free shipping…but typically require a minimum purchase amount (that must also be reached before any applicable taxes are considered). Though there is usually an indication of retailer policies on their main pages, but don't hesitate to read the fine print of their terms.

To get around this, visit to find online retailers that offer free shipping
without any minimum purchase amounts. If the retailer offers the option, you may also be able
to pick up your order in a store near you (sometimes even on the same day).

3. The Temptation of a Discounted List Price
Seeing a majorly discounted list price can be pretty enticing…but wait before you buy!
In order to stay competitive, few online retailers actually sell products at list price (unless the price is set in stone by the manufacturer). You may think you're getting a great deal, but that 30 % off television might be 40% off elsewhere. Do a little research online to find the true value of your purchase!
Using a site like price grabber, learn what the item is selling for at other retailers.

4. Failing to Notice Delayed Shipping Dates
Never assume that the item you see will be immediately ready to ship, especially around the holidays. A lot of large sites use third-party retailers whose inventory may be limited, which could cause delays. Always double-check your shipping options, so you can get your items on time (and don't end up paying twice by having to get a replacement). On Amazon and similar sites, look for the "Sold By" icon on the product page to indicate the third-party retailer. Amazon, for example, doesn't offer its Prime free two-day option (free with yearly subscription) for all its third-party retailers' products. Check with customer service to confirm inventory, or see if another store may have the item. Some stores allow web shoppers to search inventory at local brick-and-mortar stores if items are sold out online.

5. Paying a Penalty to Make a Return
Even when e-tailers advertise free returns, there may be an additional restocking charge, which can add up to 25% of an item's cost. (This happens a lot with electronics that have been opened.) Before you make your purchase, check the return policy to find out how long you have to send it back, and if any fees apply. Zappos, for example, offers a generous window for free returns - a whole year!
If it's something you're interested in reading more about, earlier this year ComScore (digital data analytics) did a study about the demands e-tailers are now facing from consumers.

Are there any e-tailers or discount/coupon sites you frequent?
What was your best/worst experience with a retailer?

Send your thoughts to:

Happy Monday!

xxxx Alyssa Marie

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Treat Yo Self Tuesday: The Best Way to Treat Yourself

"Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or
John Oliver Killens, or if you fall in love with the music of Coltrane, the music of
Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin - find some beautiful art and admire it, and
realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less."
— Maya Angelou
Painting by Naomi Okubo
The best way to treat yourself is to learn to love and be patient with yourself.
Remember, my dears: Rome wasn't built in a day.

What inspires you? What are you passionate about?
Send your thoughts to:

xxxx Alyssa Marie

Monday, October 6, 2014

Money Monday: IRAs v. 401(k)

In last week's Money Monday post, we covered the basic definitions of Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans. This week I thought it would be good to further examine the concepts of IRAs and 401(k) plans, to help promote an awareness of how each option might benefit you (and, in some cases, which option might provide a greater benefit than the other).
As we discussed previously, both 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts consist of contributions from pre-tax dollars. Basically, you are not required to pay taxes on the money contributed to the account (or any interest/capital gains) until you begin receiving distributions. The contributions to these accounts also decrease your taxable income…meaning Uncle Sam gets less of your money in the meantime.
No matter how young or old you may be, taking steps to prepare for retirement is a smart thing to do. When evaluating options for retirement investments, these two types of plans stand out most.

So, in the battle of 401(k) v. IRA…which is better?
To get the answer that best fits you, we need to make sure you understand what both options are.

It should be relatively easy to determine the personal value of signing onto a employer's 401(k) policy. If the company partially contributes (or matches employee contributions), this could be a very beneficial (and lucrative) option.

Pros/benefits of utilizing a employer-sponsored 401(k) for your retirement plan:
-- Emergency withdrawals: In the event of an emergency or
financial crisis, you can borrow from your 401(k)
-- Matching: Employers are allowed to match up to 6% of your salary
(this is basically free money from your employer!)
-- Deferred taxes: No tax on interest or capital gains until time of distribution
-- High contribution limits: As of 2011, account owners are allowed to contribute up to $17,000 per year into their 401(k) if they are age 49 or younger, up to $22,500 if they are age 50 or older.
-- Income tax deduction during year of contribution: The same year you contribute to your 401(k) account, account holders can deduct the amount placed into their 401(k) from their net income.

Cons/flaws of 401(k) plans:
-- Waiting periods: Often there is a waiting period before employees can initiate a 401(k) plan with an employer, varying anywhere from six months up to one year.
-- Limited flexibility: Plans offered by a large percentage of employers can be noticeably short on options. Make sure you have a good understanding of where the funds are being invested.
-- IRA deductibles excluded: Plan holders that contribute to their 401(k) can reduce (and even, in some cases, eliminate) the income tax deductions allotted for an IRA
-- Taxable income upon withdrawal: When you start withdrawing money, it is taxed as additional income. There are also penalties for early withdrawals, with taxation up to 20% plus a 10% penalty if you withdrawal before age 59 1/2.
-- Required withdrawals at age 70 1/2: Plan holders must be receiving distributions by age 70 1/2. And if you're still working, you may be subjected to a higher tax rate than if you were retired.

Traditional IRA

An IRA is a method of saving money for retirement that is not an employee-sponsored 401(k) plan. Many who are self-employed or those who work for small businesses may choose this form of retirement planning. IRAs also have their own pros and cons to weigh.

Pros/benefits of a Traditional IRA:

-- Tax-deferred: Funds go into a tax-deferred retirement plan account and can be set up at any time.

-- Easy, cheap to start: Plan holders basically set up their own IRAs, often with little or no help from any kind of financial planner. This saves not only time but cost.

-- More investing options: While IRA holders may not have employers who match their contribution, they frequently have more investment options (including stocks, bonds, mutual funds and CDs).

-- More flexible allocation: While tracking the performance of an IRA, holders who find an element of the account that is not performing as expected can change the allocation. This flexibility makes the IRA a top choice among serious investors.

-- Roth IRA option: The Roth is a popular choice for converting a traditional IRA. The difference between the two is that contributions to a Roth are made with post-tax dollars. Roth IRAs grow tax-free and offer tax-free income withdrawals at age 59 1/2. The catch is that you have to pay taxes on the amount you convert, as if it were ordinary income.

-- Tax deductions: Contributions to a traditional IRA can be claimed as a tax deduction, depending on the policyholder’s income tax bracket.

Cons/flaws of IRAs:

-- Limited contribution maximum: The holder may only deposit up to $5,000 if age 49 or younger; or $6,000 if age 50 or older.

-- Low contribution rate: IRAs have a low contribution rate. If you're starting an IRA retirement plan later in life, the contribution rate may not be enough.

-- Penalties for early withdrawal: Much like a 401(k) plan, there are penalties for early withdrawal.

-- Required withdrawals at age 70 1/2: Policyholders are also required to begin withdrawing money by 70 1/2 years of age.

In general, you should remember these two things when starting a personal retirement plan:
  • A 401(k) plan’s employer-matched contributions and higher contribution allowances can help your tax-deferred retirement savings grow more quickly.
  • An IRA’s variety of investment offerings can better provide the flexibility to diversify your portfolio.

Additionally, borrowing against an IRA is not permitted, but a 401(k) plan does allow for this. A 401(k) can even help to provide “emergency assistance” to help policyholders withdrawal as quickly and easily as possible when there are immediate needs for a household (i.e. car or home repairs), or in case of a financial crisis.
If your employer offers a 401(k), sign up for it. You can also open a traditional IRA on the side to maximize your retirement savings. Whenever possible, contribute as much as you can to the 401(k) first (which hopefully your employer will match) and then to the IRA. If you don’t have access to a 401(k), a traditional IRA is an excellent choice for retirement savings, offering tax-deferred growth.
If you have any concerns about your finances, by all means, see a consultant or advisor.
I can only provide so much information here, and it is all mean to inform (not determine).

Any experiences with 401(k) or IRA plans?
Send your thoughts to:

Happy Monday!
xxxx Alyssa Marie

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Introducing: Treat Yo Self Tuesday

I really enjoy Parks & Rec (it's definitely one of my favorite shows).
And, while I don't agree with much of anything
Tom Haverford (played by Aziz Ansari) does/says,
there is one lesson that I have learned from this character:

As Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle (played by Retta) would put it…
 Or, more simply put:
Do nice things for yourself.

You don't have to do these things all the time, and they doesn't always mean buying yourself some crazy fancy new things. Sure, things are nice But the goal here isn't to put yourself into debt while you "treat yo self." Seriously, there's nothing wrong with making your treat a simple Starbucks splurge. 
While Tom and Donna take one day out of the year to splurge on every possible whim, you don't even need to spend money a ton of money. If you're able to, eat lunch outside one day to get out of the office. Talk a walk. Go for a run. Get ahead on work or chores, to give yourself extra downtime later. Read. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Cook yourself a meal. If you don't like cooking, try a new restaurant. Take a class. Go on a trip. Grab a drink with friends. Take a long shower/bath. Meditate.
This could really entail just about anything.
Think of it as the same way as someone into fitness thinks of a cheat meal.
This is something that is an occasional treat, that helps motivate you
and keep you on track the rest of the time.
It can be a big mood boost, and help you stay positive the rest of the day.
Every now and then, everyone needs it.

Whether it's doing something small for yourself daily or weekly, that costs little/no
money, or planning something to do in the future that may take a little more effort…
At least once in a while, do something nice for yourself.

Today I took time for yoga, meditation and light reading.
What will you do (or have you done) for yourself today?

As always, send your thoughts to:

Remember...treat yo self!
xxxx Alyssa Marie

Monday, September 29, 2014

Money Monday: The More You Know

As I've fallen into the grown-up "financial trap" (the world of paying bills and taxes), I've been fortunate to have a little guidance along the way. I will admit, though, that I didn't start learning about more significant aspects until after I turned 23. And, trust me, this is good stuff to know. 

"Money Monday" will be a regular addition to the site going forward, in the spirit of encouraging awareness on the topic. From sharing money-saving tips to spotlighting the not-so-basic terms, I'll offer the things I've learned along the way. In light of this being the first edition, there are a few definitions of various terms below.

I'm always open to ideas and suggestions, so feel free to email your thoughts to:

Happy Monday!
xxxx Alyssa Marie
  • Traditional IRAs:  A Traditional IRA (short for "Traditional Individual Retirement Account") enables you to put away money for retirement, without getting taxed on it until it's withdrawn. Traditional IRAs help you to grow your money much faster (since none of your dividends, interest payments, or capital gains will be taxed). 
  • ROTH IRAs:  The biggest difference between "Traditional" and "Roth" is that the contributions to a Roth IRA are tax deductible. A qualified withdrawal (stipulations include being age 59 ½ and having had the account for at least five years), including earnings, from a Roth won’t get taxed because it already has been. Roth is a tax-exempt plan, versus a tax-deferred savings plan (Traditional IRAs).
  • 401(K) A 401(K) is an employee-sponsored retirement plan. Basically, money comes out from your paycheck (before taxes) and is invested in mutual funds, stocks, and bonds. Most companies usually offer a 401(K) plan and many also offer to match whatever the employee puts in it (i.e. if 5% of your yearly income goes into your 401(K), your employer will contribute a matching amount). You are not required to pay taxes on the money in your 401(K) until you make a withdrawal from it (which usually isn't usually allowed until you're 59 years old). It's worth contributing more to your plan so you can pay less in taxes.  Contributions you make to your 401(K) plan are completely vested (which means that you own everything you put into it). The contribution from your employer most likely holds a stipulation that the vesting percentage increases every year you work for them (until you own all of it). It's a good idea  to start saving money for retirement sooner than later….so, if you have the option to pick between companies, the quality/offering of a 401(K) plan should be an important factor.