Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Holiday Bonus

Since it is about that time of year that people receive their annual Holiday bonuses, I thought I would delve a little further into the wonderful world of bonuses!

There are several types of employee bonuses out there, one of which is the Holiday bonus. These bonuses are described in detail in this article and I have included a brief synopsis from this article below.

Common bonuses include:

-Profit Sharing

“A company sets aside a predetermined amount, usually between 2.5 and 7.5 percent of payroll but sometimes as high as 15 percent, as a bonus on top of base salary. Such bonuses depend on company profits, either the entire company's profitability or from a given line of business.”

-Gain Sharing

“This type of bonus program is most common in manufacturing plants and is designed to reward productivity and improved product quality. Gain sharing programs pay out bonuses for statistical improvements in production and quality on a quarterly or sometimes monthly basis, providing a sense of excitement for participants.”

-Spot Bonus Awards

"Spot bonus awards are typically $50 and up and can be made by your immediate supervisor and any higher-level person or peer in your company. You can get these for just being extra helpful."

-Non cash bonus

This is a bonus in the form of a “recognition”, such as “employee of the month”, being recognized at a large company event, a trophy like award, a special parking spot, or an extra day off of work.

-Sign on bonus

"Given to new employees who have just joined the company, this award serves two purposes: to establish goodwill and to buy out any compensation "left on the table" from a previous employer."

-Task bonus

"Task bonuses are given to a team of employees for achieving a milestone or for completing an important project."

-Referral bonus

"Many employers offer referral bonuses to employees for recommending friends and acquaintances in hot job markets, as a alternative to hiring recruiters."

-Retention bonus

"Retention bonuses are given to employees in unusual circumstances, such as a merger or acquisition, or when an important project needs to be completed."

-Holiday bonus

"Holiday bonuses range from small gifts (for example, cash or the ubiquitous holiday turkey) to one month's salary."

-Sales Commission

"Sales commissions are awarded to salespeople for selling. Usually these awards are paid out as a percentage of sales volume."

Bonuses are not only beneficial to the employee, but the employer as well. Profit sharing helps employees see how what they do effects the company as a whole, and help the employee to be more invested in the company’s performance. Gain sharing helps employees that work in production companies be united and more committed to making or exceeding production goals. Spot bonuses and non cash bonuses help employees feel more appreciated in their jobs, creating well being and making employees more likely to go above and beyond their call of duty. Sign on bonuses make employees feel obligated to succeed in their job right off the bat, in an attempt to “earn” money they have already received. Referral and retention bonuses lead to less employee turnover, due to the hiring of more dependable people (employees are less likely to “put their name” with someone who they already know is untrustworthy).

Bonuses are also beneficial to the employer when they are used as part of an employee raise. For example if the employer gives the employee a 1% bonus and a 4% raise instead of a 5% raise, next year’s raise and bonus are based on a smaller salary.

Option A: 4% raise w/ 1% bonus
Salary: $40,000
Bonus: $40,000 x 1% = $400
4% raise: $40,000 x 104% = $41,600

In year one, the employee will receive $42,000.

Option B: 5% raise, no bonus
Salary: $40,000
5% raise: $40,000 x 105% = $42,000

In year one, employee will receive $42,000.

But after a couple years, the difference grows to makes quite a difference. Ahhh the power of compounding!

Continuing the example above, with an employee that makes $40,000 a year, and receives a raise via Option A or Option B, this chart shows his salary difference over 15 years.

Wow! And the difference is even larger if the base pay started off higher, or the raise amount increased!

Since I don’t receive an official cash Holiday bonus, I thought writing this post would make me bitter, but it actually has been a help. Maybe my boss is incorporating my bonus into my raise, and the power of compounding is benefiting me in the long run. And my company does have a nice holiday dinner for us that could be considered a bonus. Also, once a year I am sent to Europe for work purposes, and that can definitely be considered a bonus.

If you do get a bonus, put it to good use! No Credit Needed blog has a good article on how to use your bonus. And if you don’t receive a cash Holiday bonus, don’t be bitter… you might be getting a bonus in some other way that you didn’t recognize as a bonus!

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is it bad to ask for toilet paper for Christmas?

For starters, I am usually AWESOME at making my Christmas Wish List. I know, I know, this is not a talent many possess… but I am lucky enough to be blessed in this area. Every year, in early December, my Mom, my Dad, my Boyfriend, etc. ask me for my Christmas Wish List. Ideas flow like beer at a keg party, and my list is perfected in a matter of hours.

I know how to include the three basic types of presents. First, the large items, the probably-won’t-get-it-but-might-as-well-add-it items. (With the added benefit of making the presents in the next group look more reasonable.) Second, the really-really-want-it-good-chance-I’ll-get-it items. And lastly, the gift cards, which double as a list of stores the gift giver should shop at if they are uninspired.

It’s a science.

To my horror, when the time to make my lists came, I sat staring at a blank paper. You see, this year I have become obsessed with everything financial. I am budgeting my brains out. I no longer go to Target for fun. I have drastically cut back on wasteful spending. I am on an anti-clutter kick (a much needed anti-clutter kick).

Wouldn’t you think this would mean I have a wish list a mile long?? Wouldn’t you think that I would run to the stores I have been avoiding and scribble down my list furiously??? It turns out that not only are my actions changing, but my mindset as well. I think I am starting to actually become a frugal person. I guess this is the silver lining to losing my “Christmas Wish List” expertise!

The first thing I could think of for my Christmas List was a “useful” basket. A basket filled with garbage bags, ziplock bags, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, contact solution, paper towels, dish detergent, laundry detergent…. And even toilet paper. Yes, I’ve said it out loud. I want toilet paper for Christmas. How nice would it be to not have to shop for these things for a couple months?!?!

When I thought of getting clothes for Christmas, it just made me think of the bin of clothes cluttering up my back room that I have been meaning to donate to Goodwill.

Maybe I should ask for some DVDs, I thought to myself. But what about the new Blue Ray and HD DVD technology coming out? Won’t it be a waste to buy DVDs if I’ll just have to replace them in a few years?

I used to change the “theme” of my bedroom every year. When I thought of choosing a new theme and perhaps getting a new comforter, I thought about how my current comforter is in great shape. The one I have is JUST FINE. And so is my current mp3 player, TV(s), DVD player, etc, etc, etc, etc!!!

Oh the horror this brought me. I was stumped.

It took me awhile but I finally came up with a decent Christmas Wish List. I admitted to my mother that I wanted toilet paper for Christmas. She gets me, so she is going to do some bulk shopping and get me my “useful” basket. She is amused by my new frugal tendencies.

I also thought a couple other things that weren’t too embarrassing to put on my Christmas list, but were useful as well. I would love to have the new Photoshop software. I could really use some new running shoes. A craft table would help me be more organized. I could use some more baking supplies. Art supplies would definitely not go to waste. I would love love love a couple personal training sessions at my gym, and these would take up no space in my apartment! For my gift cards I picked places that would be useful for day to day things, like Target, Grocery Stores, and Gas Stations.

My Christmas Wish List has definitely changed since last year, but in the end, it is a list I can be proud of... the new, frugal me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Storage Bin of Wonder

Last night I opened up my “storage bin of wonder.” This is the magic bin where I put all of the things that I pick up on clearance throughout the year. Whenever I see something that is too good of a deal to pass up, or when I see something that would make a PERFECT gift for someone, I buy it and store it away until Christmas time.

Some of my favorite things I find are candles, chap sticks or lip glosses, gift wrapping supplies, and jewelry. These things can be found on clearance randomly throughout the year. I also like to buy clearance items when the seasons change or right after holidays. After Christmas/Winter, you can get AMAZING deals on cute hats, scarves and mittens, which make excellent Christmas presents the following year. When summer is winding down, you can find excellent deals on outdoor candles and decorations, picnic wear, and gardening supplies. Since my mom’s birthday is in June, and she is an avid gardener, I stock up on these supplies when they are on sale. After each holiday, I like to pick up cute holiday hand towels. Putting together a package of “all seasons” gift towels can make a great present. Include an Easter, summer, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas towel. This can easily be done for under $10 dollars and is a very thoughtful and original gift (in my mind anyways).

Some other ideas are:

-Christmas mugs, for making a “coffee lovers” or “tea lovers” basket
-Red “Christmas” candles can be used on Valentines Day.
-Christmas themed plates for giving plates of Christmas cookies the next year

I try to shy away from buying:

-Clothes. Styles change, people’s size change, some people are very particular about their wardrobe. Too risky.

Anyways, back to my “storage bin of wonder.” Since I have been trying SO hard to not spend wastefully, my magical bin is not as full as I would like. The highlights were two 5 x 7 picture frames on sale for $1.59 each, and a beautiful angora scarf with matching gloves on sale for $2.99 and $1.99 respectively. I also picked up numerous gift bags, a couple sticks of soft lips cherry chap stick, and some cute ice cream dishes.

The frames will go to my parents, with some carefully chosen pictures from the past year. Luckily, I picked a girl cousin for my cousin gift exchange, so the scarf set will go to her.

Not only does buying clearance items throughout the year save money on gift buying (by getting the best deal possible), it also helps to spread out the spending, so you are not hit so hard in December.

This year I will have to remember that sometimes spending a little more than expected here and there, when I run across a good deal, pays off in the end. Hopefully next year my “storage bin of wonder” will be a little more impressive.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Goal #2 Update: Spend only $20 a week on food!

Goal #2: Spend only $20 a week on food (including dining out!) between now and Christmas….

Week #1: Monday 11/26/07 – Sunday 12/2/07

I expected week number one to be easy, because I have lotsa lotsa Thanksgiving leftovers. I also went on a soup cooking binge the last couple weeks, so I have frozen Chili, frozen sausage cabbage veggie soup, and frozen ground turkey veggie tomato soup.

I know technically I spent money on these things when I initially bought them. But I don't have record of how much I spent on them, and only eating things that I buy with my $20 dollar budget kind of defeats the purpose of this experiment... to save money! So my only rule is to only spend $20 each week. Previously bought food, free food, donated food... all acceptable.

First, I took a little time to think of what the challenges I would have, and also think of what I had going for me to make this easier.


It will be hard to pack dinner on the two weekdays that I go straight from my full-time job to my part-time job…. And hard to drive by taco bell without stopping. :)

It will be hard during Thursday night happy hour… no ordering food!

Diet coke…my one true love. Stopping daily at the gas station for a $1.49 44 ounce soda could cost me nearly $11 of my $20 weekly budget! Time to find the best deal/sale on soda!

I suggest you address your challenges ahead of time, so that you have time to make a plan!


I have tons of Thanksgiving Leftovers.

I just baked a dozen Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins at my Mother's house over Thanksgiving weekend! These are perfect for breakfasts on the go.

I might get a dinner or two from my parents. My Mom likes to come visit me (she lives 40 miles away) and my Dad likes to invite me to his house for Sunday night dinners.

Food Log:

Sorry if its TMI to write down everything I eat, but here is my daily food log, including how much money I spent each day. If the food doesn't have a cost by it, then it is something I had in my pantry, fridge or freezer.

11/26/07 Monday
Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins
Baby carrots
Chili & Stuffing
Turkey w/ cranberry sauce
Diet Coke $1.32

Total: $1.32
Remaining: $18.68

11/27/07 Tuesday
Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins
Stuffing & Green Beans & Turkey
Baby carrots
Black bean burger topped w/ Parmesan cheese & salsa

Total: $0
Remaining: $18.68

11/28/07 Wednesday
Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins
Turkey Alfredo soup & Stuffing
Bowl of cereal
Diet Coke: $1.32

Total: $1.32
Remaining: $17.36

11/29/07 Thursday
Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins
Diet Coke: $1.32
Stuffing & Green Beans
Burger w/ fries $6.50 (I watched the big (disappointing) Packer game at the bar)

Total: $7.82
Remaining: $9.54

11/30/07 Friday
Oatmeal-Apple-Diet Muffins
Stuffing & Turkey
Restaurant Chicken Fettuccini Portabella FREE (Mom took me out to dinner)

Total: $0
Remaining: $9.54

12/1/07 Saturday
Diet Coke $1.32
Turkey (last of my thanksgiving leftovers!)
Sausage Pizza $6.91 (It was a horrible winter storm, and all I wanted was to cozy up with a movie and pizza... I was weak!)

Total: $8.23
Remaining: $1.31

12/2/07 Sunday
Eggs w/ black beans & salsa
Diet Coke $1.32
Leftover Pizza

Total: $1.32
Remaining: -$0.01

Grand Total Spent: $20.01


Even with all of the leftovers I had, I still VERY EASILY spent $20 dollars. Those little things really do add up! The two biggest purchases (burger & pizza) happened on "special" days. There was a huge Packer game, that I do not get at home with my cable package. I knew I would most likely watch the game at the bar, and therefore eat dinner there. So I tried to pick something cheap, and not order an appetizer. And then Saturday there was a huge snow/ice storm, and I was craving pizza. The stress of the weather made me weak, and I went down to the gas station and bought a frozen pizza (Sometimes convenience trumps price). But I have to realize that "special" days are likely to happen every week, and learn how to get through different circumstances without overspending.

I was also worried about my Diet Coke addiction. Although I did not go out and buy Diet Coke on sale somewhere, I did severely limit my consumption. Next week I am going to do the opposite, find a good sale and buy lots of Diet Coke for as cheap as possible.

Now that I am out of Thanksgiving leftovers, and my freezer stock has a dent in it, I am very excited to see how Week #2 goes. I will need a completely different strategy....and I think it involves a very well planned grocery list.

Stay tuned for some "Pantry Shopping" Recipes that I have thought of while browsing through my pantry.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving 'til Christmas; The Time of EXCESS

Every year it seems as though the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is full of EXCESS. Excess shopping, excess spending, excess eating, excess work, excess travelling... excess! excess! excess! (Say that three times fast!) My goal between now and Christmas is to do my damnedest to counteract that excess, by keeping in check the things that I can control.

While shopping for presents, it is very easy to fall prey to the endless sales, bargains, and advertisements and buy for yourself. My goal #1 is to not purchase anything for myself (besides food and necessities) between now and Christmas.

Since I will be spending a more than usual over the next month for Christmas presents for friends and family, I would like to counteract that by spending less than normal on my food budget. My Goal #2 is to spend only $20 a week on food (including dining out!) between now and Christmas.

My Goals #2 & #3 will need to balance with each other, making them my most difficult goals. My Goal #3 is to diet and eat healthy between now and Christmas. I think of it as an early start to my New Year's Resolutions.

So somehow I will need to eat cheap AND healthy. Ah... the eternal struggle.

Since I can't really control if I have excess work and excess travel to do (my family is scattered among numerous cities), my last goal relates to spending. My Goal #4 is a little more vague, but I would like to plan and budget for the Christmas presents I am buying, and still be completely satisfied that I have given personalized, worthwhile presents for my loved ones. I've already got some good ideas for this one.

Make some goals for yourself that help counteract the craziness that is the holiday season. Or feel free to join me in my goals! Although it may seem at first that making goals is just adding more things to do over the next month, when you already have a million things on your list, I believe that making a couple goals for yourself will help you to be more grounded, more in control, and less stressed during this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Soup Recipe- Pumpkin White Bean Soup

Here is a recipe for a very tasty soup, perfect for Thanksgiving. It is festive, different, delicious, filling, cheap AND easy to make. Did I mention that it is healthy as well? If you're looking to stretch your budget and try something new for Thanksgiving this year, give this recipe a try!



1 sprays olive oil cooking spray, or enough to coat pot
1 medium onion(s), coarsely chopped
15 oz canned pumpkin
3 1/2 cup fat-free chicken broth
15 1/2 oz canned white beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 tsp ground oregano
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste
6 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese


Coat a large soup pot with cooking spray and set over medium-low heat. Add onion, cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

Stir in pumpkin, broth, beans and oregano; simmer 8 minutes.

In a blender, process soup in batches until smooth. (Note: Make sure not to overfill blender in order to avoid splattering.) Return soup to pot and reheat; season with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top each with 1 tablespoon of grated cheese. Yields about 1 cup per serving.

This recipe was highlighted as one of the seasonal recipes on

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Budget: How Bare Boned Can it Get?

Just for fun I decided to find out what my budget could look out if I cut out EVERYTHING possible. No cable, no dining out, $100 for entertainment for the month, etc. Bare minimum only!

For comparison, here is my current budget:

*Although I pointed this out in my first budgeting post, I want to note again that this budget is my take home pay, aka after my 401K contribution.

Here is what I could make it, if I super SUPER sacrificed:

This makes a whopping 19% difference in my spare funds! Impressive! I thought I was on a tight budget already. This table shows the amount difference in each category, in dollars rather than percent.


Rent, Car, Loans, Cell Phone, and Insurance are fixed. I have decreased the amount available for Entertainment, Groceries, Gas, and Electric. And I have completely removed cable, my gym membership, and tanning.

I would have to make some drastic changes to live on this budget, but if push came to shove, it would be do-able.

I currently give myself a very lenient Entertainment budget. I enjoy concerts, going out to bars, and travelling. If I needed to, I could find inexpensive alternatives to keep myself entertained. I could go to the bars, but not drink (as my mother is always encouraging me to do!), I could take advantage of the free/cheap local events in my area, and I could put off any major travelling for a year or so.

I am currently pretty frugal with my Groceries budget. I treat it as a game to see how little I can spend on groceries, but still eat well. I rarely dine out, or order in, and really enjoy finding new, inexpensive recipes to cook at home. My latest obsession is making new soups! Yet, I am completely sure that if I gave myself a $20 a week budget for food I could do it. Off the top of my head, I could decrease the amount of meat I consume by having one or two “meatless” days each week, eat oatmeal for breakfast (cheap AND healthy), stop drinking soda, and do some of my grocery shopping at ethnic markets. I’ve also been having some crazy thoughts about using ramen noodles in some sassy recipes… there will probably be an entire post on that.

Saving $20 on both gas (as in automobile gas) and my electric bill is something I’d have to experiment with to see if it was possible. Currently, I pay little attention to either. Limiting my travel (per my entertainment cuts) would naturally save gas. I could also plan my errands to be more efficient, not drive home for lunch hours as much, and use public transportation when possible. I think I could make a $20 difference in my gas bill with just a small effort. And for my electric bill, I could be more cautious about leaving lights and fans on, and unplug chargers when not in use. Lastly, not using my air conditioner as frequently in the summer months would make a large difference.

And now the three bills I could cut out completely; my cable package, my gym membership, and my tanning membership. Tear! It would be sad to see these things go, they are the luxuries that I most enjoy.

Many bloggers have talked about doing without their cable package, and most of them find themselves to be happier, more productive people! Could I possibly be one of these people? Or would I become a social outcast, not knowing the latest plot line of Desperate Housewives? If I just couldn’t cut out TV cold turkey, there are many shows that you can catch for free on the Internet. has a good number of their shows online including Desperate Housewives, Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and many more. USA Network also has shows online, Monk for one. I currently get together with one of my old college roommates on Thursdays for some catch up time and to watch Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy. If she didn’t mind we could always watch it at her place, and take turns bringing the cuisine! In other words, I think I would survive… and maybe even prosper.

My gym membership is a luxury that I decided was worth the money, because I was worried about staying in shape post college…post walking a mile to class, post walking everywhere I needed to go, post living within walking distance to an amazing campus gym, post having the schedule that gave me time to visit that gym regularly. I have enough trouble keeping my will power and motivation up, and I wanted a workout facility available to me 24 hours a day, so that will power and motivation would be my only worries. Yet, I could stay in shape without a gym, if I put my mind to it. I could start the “Couch to 5K” program, which I have always wanted to complete. Walking/Running is all this requires, and this can be done outdoors. My apartment has a small, barely adequate gym in the basement. If the weather is crappy I could use their treadmill. My Dad and Step mom lives less than a mile from where I work, and they recently renovated part of their basement into a workout room. I could go there during lunches, before work, or after work, and get a full work out. I own several workout DVDs that I could use in my very own apartment. After listing all of these options, it actually seems to me that I have plenty of resources available that make the gym membership negligible.


Creating a “Bare Boned Budget” is a great exercise to motivate yourself to “trim the fat” off of your current budget.

1. First, get out your current budget (or make one if you haven’t done that yet!). Next, figure out which things you could remove completely, thinking as if you didn’t really have to do it.

2. Then of the remaining, figure out how much you could cut back on each one, again, as if you didn’t really have to do it.

3. Create a pie chart of each budget and look at them side by side. Make a table that calculates the dollar amount difference that you would save in each category.

4. Then write a sentence or two about each change. Would you miss it? What would you have to do to make the goals? What are your alternatives? What would your plan be for the excess money?

5. Take action!

I also noticed that doing one thing often affected two different areas of the budget. For example, travelling less helped me cut back my entertainment budget AND my gas budget. Working out on the weekends would be a cheap alternative to my usually expensive entertainment options, AND help keep me in shape without my gym membership. Saving gas by not going home for lunch would give me time to visit my Dad and Step mom's house for a lunch hour workout, an alternative to my gym membership.

I know that writing this made me think “WOW, I could actually do this!” Give it a try and see if you have a similar experience.