Toshl: Be a Budget Maven

We are now into the second month of 2014 and I’ve been thinking more about the things I choose to spend my money on. January is a time when we all tend to tighten the belt when it comes to our wallets. However, once we pass that point, and we’ve paid off our holiday bills, does it return to normal? Do we go back to buying our daily Starbucks coffees, purchasing the latest version of Apple’s iPhone, watching movies every weekend at the theatre?

I’m pretty good for the most part. I own my home, so I make sure to pay my mortgage and all my bills in full every month, but I also like to indulge by eating out with friends, going to concerts, and traveling. I certainly don’t think that’s a terrible thing. As the saying goes, you only live once. You’re also only young once. Why hoard all my money away for retirement? It’s still important to have some fun while I can enjoy it.

I’m responsible with my money though. If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. But, I guess, I’m also lucky that I can pretty much do whatever I want. I don’t have a husband or kids that rely on me. As long as I am able to provide for myself, I’m in good hands.

Even so, I still think that my spending requires a bit of an overhaul. For several years now, I’ve kept track of my monthly expenses by listing it out on paper or on my phone in my Colornote app. And, while it’s great to write it down, I don’t necessarily know what specifically my money is spent on in terms of percentages. I’m aware that I’m spending and of the total, but, at the same time, I’m not aware of the details.

Recently, I came across the fantastic Toshl app and started using their website (changes made on your phone or on the computer should sync up). Although the free program is a little more limited than the pro version (you can only create one budget and enter one income every month), it still really allows you to drill down on your expenses and see where your money is going.

From what I can tell so far, you can add as many expense lines as you need to per month and each cost can be tagged – either general or really refined (i.e. meals vs. gum) – and those tags can then be grouped, so you can see a breakdown of how much you spent on the essentials, such as housing, utilities and groceries, as well as the amount used on extraneous purchases like clothes, music, or lottery tickets.

The breakdown of my January 2014 expenses. Tagged into categories and shown based on percentage of the month's total spending. Grabbed from my Toshl account.

The breakdown of my January 2014 expenses. Tagged into categories and shown based on percentage of the month’s total spending. Screenshot grabbed from my Toshl account.

I won’t tell you how much of my monthly income was used in January, but I can tell you I was shocked to see how little of it I actually managed to save for a rainy day.

So, how am I going to change that? I don’t necessarily believe that I have to cut out all the fun things I fill my time with by becoming a complete hermit. Yet, I can probably find a smarter way to fit those things in without breaking the bank.

Rather than hitting up every concert that comes to town, pick just a few where I’m dying to see that artist live. Pack my lunch or snacks to work most days and eat out less. Learn to cook some new recipes at home rather than dining at a restaurant. Set aside a chunk of change annually for travel and split up the amount however I see fit. Invite friends over for a meal, movie or games and just talk. If I want to go out, look for vouchers on sites like Groupon or LivingSocial that can provide me with discounts on lunch, dinner, entertainment, travel, etc.

I’ve read about the debt that many people find themselves in nowadays. Banks let customers take out small loans with big interest rates that they know most of their clients can’t actually pay back and many people are paying just the minimum on their credit card bills, but it doesn’t have to be that way for many of you.

Whichever way you choose to monitor or curb your spending, it is something I would highly recommend to everyone. All it takes are a few small steps at a time.

I want to be able to experience what I can at this moment and save for my future. This new year and new perspective of my personal finances will hopefully lead to that.

Photostream: Toronto Adventures

I took a bit of a break from blogging over the last week as I was on holiday in Toronto. Yet, the whole time I kept contemplating what my next post would be about. After some thought, I have decided to go with a photostream of my adventures during my vacation.

Photography has been an interest of mine for years. However, like many people who love the medium, I am no professional. Though I have considered purchasing a fancy DSLR camera, it is a bit out of my reach at the moment, so I’ve stuck with my Nikon and Ricoh point-and-shoot cameras instead.

What I find interesting nowadays is despite carrying around a real camera almost everywhere I go, I tend to grab my smart phone first when I want to capture a moment or an image. Cell phone cameras have come a long way over the years, and with the addition of all the apps that are available, even those who have little experience with photography can create share-worthy photos. A good eye for composition still helps, but the ability to crop and apply filters gives everyone the ability to become an artist in their own right.

While there are many apps out there that are probably as good as Instagram, I did stick with that particular app for my entire trip. My apologies for not noting which filter I applied for each photo as I didn’t keep track myself (I will be sure to do so next time). On the plus side, you can likely gauge some of them based off of the frames that you see. Some of the images have also been brightened or blurred for greater effect. All of the images were shot using my HTC Incredible S Android phone.

I hope you enjoy the ride and perhaps consider your own trip to Toronto, the NYC of Canada!

If you like my pictures, follow me on Instagram at: crystalcarwin.

(Click individual photos for enlarged images and to leave comments)