Gratitude

How often do we wake up to a beautiful new day and instead of thanking God for waking up, we go straight to our phones? I know I have and continue to battle with this. Sometimes it feels like we are prisoners to our phones that we miss out on what really is important to us like our health, our families, our faith, our jobs, our homes, etc.  Let’s remember that there is someone out there praying to have what we take for granted.  

I think it is essential to be grateful every day but specially in trying times like now.  Find what works for you and get your grateful time on.  Some of us use a journal or simply verbalize it. Some of my deepest grateful sessions include tears and I really enjoy those moments. Grateful crying liberates my soul and I look forward to many more similar sessions.

Just for today, let’s stop complaining about what we don’t have, what we think we should have or what we think we deserve. Let’s stop complaining about the sudden changes at work, the lines at the grocery stores, not being able to go outside, etc.  There are people out there without jobs that do not know how they are going to feed their families tomorrow or how they are going to pay next month’s rent or mortgage. I know it’s hard not to have our normal lives and it’s more difficult for some of us than others but let’s take time to really focus on all the positive things in our lives.  God is always good and won’t give us more than we can handle, trust the process.

Gratitude Jar and Journal

Hello Ireland & Portugal: Why Do We Travel?

Whether it is to get away from routine, learn something new, get better weather, get out your comfort zone or simply just because, just go and see the world.

Why do we travel? Whether it is to get away from routine, learn something new, get better weather, get out your comfort zone or simply just because, just go and see the world. I personally travel to learn a little bit more about other cultures and their way of living; it gives me this sense that all of us somehow have and will always have something in common despite our differences. Traveling has given me a larger hope in people; there are good people everywhere you go and you have to trust that.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

This time I went to Ireland and Portugal; I know weird combination. At times it felt like we spent more time in the airport than in the actual cities we visited but it was ultimately worth it. I traveled with three of my friends/sorority sisters.

Belem Tower, Lisbon Portugal.

At first, I didn’t care much about Ireland as I thought it was just another European country with a metropolitan city with one too many McDonald’s, pubs and known for its Guinness beer and Irish Whiskey. To my pleasant surprise, Ireland was more than that, their people were some of the warmest people I’ve encountered.

Dublin was diverse, I kept hearing multiple languages spoken everywhere and it’s a very young city since Ireland has one of the youngest populations in the world. I also realized how open they are which can be observed by their openly gay prime minister who has an Indian background and is only 40 years old. Talk about progression here.

The food was okay; my favorite was the full Irish breakfast at Lily’s Cafe, the fish and chips at Leo Burdock’s and traditional homemade Gaelic beef casserole at O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen.

We got to go on a day trip to see the Cliffs of Moher and a quick stop for lunch in Galway. We enjoyed ourselves and for 45 euros I couldn’t complain. We visited the Jameson Distillery and although it doesn’t function as an actual distillery, it was worth learning a little of the history behind our favorite whiskey.

Although I don’t practice Catholicism, I was raised as one and I had a good time checking out Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Make sure you take your college ID for discounts–I consider myself one until all the loans are paid-off in full.

Overall, Ireland is a country I can come back to, hopefully when it’s warmer. I would skip the Temple bar area, as it’s too touristic and pricey. You should walk the strip but the bars didn’t impress me, you are better off buying a bottle and hanging out. Do explore the country side and see the beautiful green scenery.

Portugal

Lisbon was colorful, vibrant and full of street art everywhere you went. It’s known for its 7 hills (although later I read it’s actually 8 hills) is built on, don’t forget to pack your most comfy shoes to walk those beautiful cobbled streets.

At our first restaurant stop, we tried a Francesinha, a typical dish of Porto, it has two layers of bread, steak, sausage, ham, cheese, egg and tomato and beer sauce all over it. Let’s just say we regretted choosing that restaurant as our first Portuguese cuisine experience. As polite and well raised Latinas, we tried to eat as much as we could and told our server we were satisfied. Their pastelerias (pastries), however were amazing, pastel be nata did the job. They are known for their bacalao or bacalhau (salted cod fish) and other seafood too. A local told us they know 1000 ways to cook their bacalhau.

We did a private tour to Sintra, a town 30 minutes away from Lisbon. I believe our tour also included visiting Cascais but three of us passed out in the back seat–another excuse to go back. We got to see the Moors Castle, Pena Palace and the National Palace. The views were gorgeous. We also enjoyed Ginja and chocolate, a cherry alcoholic drink served in shot like glasses made out of chocolate. Porto wine was also a nice touch, paired up nice with our steak and eggs.

Sintra, Portugal
Sintra, Portugal

We got to see the Belém Tower, Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument and my first Caipirinha (Brazilian national cocktail). We also got to see the most western point of Europe at Cabo Da Roca and drove along the Portuguese Riviera by the coast of Cascais.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument
Chilly in January in Lisbon!

We stayed at Barrio Alto and partied a bit one night. Drinks were cheap, probably watered down but the vibes were good along with great Portuguese reggaeton (not sure if that’s the genre but it was great).

Group trips are awesome if you have the right people. Hotels and taxis were split by four of us which made our trip much more affordable. Make sure to use MyTaxi app when traveling in Ireland since it’s cheaper than Uber. Also ask the driver to send you their code for 10 euros off.

Traveling recharges the mind and soul and while we tend to go for our personal gratification, it is important to have an exchange, to leave a little behind also so others can learn about you and your culture. Hasta pronto.

10 Ways to Save: Holidays are Approaching!

With only 10 weeks before Christmas and other holidays, I decided to prepare earlier this year rather than to just wait until the week of. Every year I realize I get overwhelmed with shopping and more often than I want to, I have to dig into my main savings account. This year I made a simple plan…

With only 10 weeks before Christmas and other holidays, I decided to prepare early this year rather than wait until the week of to purchase gifts. Every year I realize I get overwhelmed with shopping and more often than I want to, I have to dig into my main savings account.

This year I made a simple plan, I budgeted about 4 months in advance, you can still try to do this in 10 weeks. Here is how:

  1. Set a Definite Goal|Make a Plan|Set a Time-Frame: Let’s say you want to save $500 for Christmas gifts. Set the goal and stick to it but make a plan with a time-frame. For example since there are 10 weeks left until Christmas, that means saving $50 weekly. Work around your pay period and if you get paid every two weeks, double the amount to $100. Make sure as soon as you get the direct deposit, you are withdrawing the cash and putting it in an envelope dedicated for this only. You can use this same technique for larger savings. Let’s say I want to save $5,000 in one year. I get 26 paychecks, therefore I need $192.40 saved from each paycheck. $5,000 / 26=$192.40.
  2. Insurance: See if you can have your primary health insurance be your primary medical portion for car insurance to save on premiums. In NJ, a big portion of your car insurance is the medical part. I was told to contact my health insurance first to see if they cover car accidents and they did. I called back my car insurance and asked them to have my health insurance be my primary in case of a car accident. Disclaimer: I am no expert in this area, and thanks to God I have not been involved in any car accidents and hope I never do. I cannot tell you more details about the exact process if a claim went through, all I know is my health insurance is pretty amazing. Before making any decisions consult with an expert.
  3. Ask for Discounts: Call your homeowners insurance or car insurance for discounts in bundling or if there are other offers. I recently increased my homeowners insurance to their suggested coverage amount and by doing so they gave a discount which resulted in my premium going down while my coverage went up. Thank you NJM Insurance.
  4. Check if your Health Insurance Offers Rewards Programs:  I get $250 for just going to my doctors, getting an annual physical and getting a flu shot along with other online short activities. NJ Well is the program I am enrolled in.
  5. Cable: Call to see if there are current promotions running that can help lower your bill. Also, see if buying a modem can save you money in the long run since you pay a rental fee for using their modem (Comcast). You could also get rid of the extra cable box from a guest room you really don’t use.
  6. Meal Preparation instead of Eating Out:  This is my weakness but I have cut down a lot. Make sure to have a grocery list and a menu list for the week. Being prepared will really help you avoid eating out or buying takeout.  Here is a freebie for you. Meal Planner Menu & Grocery List.
  7. Side Jobs: I came across this article for 50 Ways to Make Money in 2018. Hope there’s something creative you may like in there.
  8. Subscriptions: Analyze your expenses, especially subscriptions and see what you need and what you don’t and cancel those immediately.
  9. Take Advantage of Free Trial Periods: to get free shipping or free audio books, from Amazon Prime, Pandora, Apple Music, etc. Just make sure you set multiple reminders to cancel them prior to the free trial period. If you are forgetful, just throw away this tip all together.
  10. Skip Extended Warranties: Now, I always say no whenever I’m asked to purchase extended warranties and I only rely on the free manufacturer’s warranty that may last 1 or 2 years. I’ve noticed that if something is going to go wrong with a product, it may be during the first year anyway. I have contacted companies for replacements for a portable heater and Nikon’s wireless adapter and they have sent me a new one by submitting a claim–again without any extended warranty. However, I have to tell you a story, the only time we bought an extended warranty was for a huge TV (the warranty was paid by someone else as a gift) and it just so happens that this year the TV was damaged by a thunderstorm and thanks to the extended warranty we were able to get a new one. I don’t know if this warranty jinxed it or saved it but this is just my opinion, you buy whatever gives you peace of mind I guess.

Hope this helps. As always, please share your tips with us and don’t forget to follow and subscribe!

“THE BEST TIME TO SAVE MONEY IS WHEN YOU HAVE SOME.”

Hello Cuba!

Cuba is more than puros (cigars), salsa and classic cars, Cuba is about its warm and happy people who are hungry for more…

5 days in Cuba-2018

I was a little worried about being able to go to Cuba with the new regulations imposed by the new administration but I was glad to find it as easy as traveling anywhere else with our privileged blue passport.

During this trip, in July 2018, I chose to travel a bit slower and not overwhelm myself with multiple cities in a short period of time. All I can pretty much share is my experience in Havana and a day trip to Viñales.

From what I experienced, Cuba is more than puros (cigars), salsa and classic cars, Cuba is about its warm and happy people who are hungry for more and are persistent in their pursuit to provide a better lifestyle for themselves and their families.

Before Going to Cuba: Visas & Research

Visa: In order to travel to Cuba, American citizens must get a visa and select 1 of the 12 traveling categories, I selected Support of the Cuban People. You can buy your visa at the airport for around 50 dollars but since I am a control freak I wanted to buy them in advance. I purchased them here for $85. They also charge a nice $25 for shipping but it was waived for us since we booked our flights with American Airlines.

Research: You can find the 12 categories on this site including a link to restricted places by the US Government. I did not have a problem with many of the restrictions since I planned to stay at airbnbs, also known as casas particulares. I personally think that’s the best way to do it. While researching I found some great articles/blogs that explain more in detail the new restrictions imposed at the end of 2017: What to Know Before you Go to Cuba and What’s the Result of New Cuba Restrictions.

Also, I read a lot about Cuba from my favorite travel blogger How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, she has an entire section about it, you can check it here.

I had absolutely no problem getting into Cuba or coming back into the US, no questions were asked. I’ve heard some people have an itinerary ready in case they are questioned while they are there. No one asked me anything. I always have an itinerary regardless. The only time I was asked the reason for me going there was by the monitor when I was checking in my flight at the airport.

Besides staying at casas particulares, I also ate at paladares (privately owned restaurants), did some tours in Havana and Viñales, visited museums, and got lost in the middle of the night in Central Havana. Some of my readings said to keep receipts in case you get audited by the US government. I have yet to hear anyone getting audited for going to Cuba. I was not worried about that, I got pictures and a vague itinerary and if that’s not enough well “lo bailado nadie me lo quita” (what I have enjoyed nobody can take it away).

In Cuba

Money: Take cash, cards don’t work there, at least American cards. Well that is what every blog and person I know told me so I did not even try to use a card while there but who knows maybe things are changing; I would not risk it. I changed my dollars at my local personal bank to euros because the exchange rate is better when you go there and you have to change it to CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). CUCs are one of the two currencies they use. This is the money you will use there. The other currency is the CUP (Cuban Peso) which is about 1 CUC= 25 CUP approximately. Just so you have an idea if it’s worth it to change your dollars to euros, here it’s an example with the rates given to me:

  • $1000 / 1.2466=802 euros. 802 euros x 1.3874=913 CUC

If I would have taken just dollars, I would have received this:

  • $1000 *.87=870 CUC

If you are scratching your head, based on the above I had about 43 more CUCs just by taking euros instead of dollars. Is it worth it? that’s on you. Take into account that exchange rates fluctuate often. I also heard from a friend, who visits Cuba often, that you can get a better rate (.90 or a bit more instead of .87) at La Moneda Cubana. I changed my money at a CADECA, casa de cambio, (money exchange house) in Obispo Street. You can also change some at the airport but their rates are a bit lower.

Just to give you an idea, I spent about 600 dollars in 5 days including souvenirs, tours, airbnbs, food, museums, etc. That does not include my flight and some of the costs were split with my boyfriend.

Where to Stay: Casas particulares (Airbnb) are definitely the place to stay, you get to mingle with local Cubans and get an idea of how they really live. This was my first international Airbnb experience sharing someone’s house and I loved it. They give you tons of tips and Cuban’s hospitality was excellent. I spent 35 CUC on average per night. You will not get luxury but a clean room with air conditioner was all we needed.

What to See: Havana has many zones but the ones most people visit or talk about are Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado.

There is a lot to do in Old Havana (Habana Vieja), we were lucky to stay right next to Plaza Vieja, a charming old square. Some restaurants and souvenir shops are here but I would suggest to go the Almacenes for that. Obispo Street is one of their main and busiest streets for tourists that leads you all the way to Parque Central where the Capitolio, Paseo del Prado, Jose Marti’s statue, Museo de las Bella Artes and the Hot Corner are located among many main hotels, and more.

Watching the sunset at the Malecon (seawall) is a must, take some change or small bills as you will have many people approach you trying to sell you fruit, gum or simply start serenading you with some salsa, don’t just dance with them, a tip goes a long way. Not everyone there is going to solicit from you either, some people just like to know where you are from and want to have a conversation. If you can head over to The Christ of Havana Statue on La Cabaña Hill for some nice panoramic views of the city, it’s worth it.

We did the Habana Bus Tour for 10 CUC per person; it’s a hop on, hop off bus. We also did a two-hour classic tour for 70 CUC. It was actually a little over 3 hours. I am not sure if that was a good price for those tours or not but we enjoyed it.

We got lost in Central Havana our first night there, it was full of old alleyways with houses crumbling down and with people just walking or hanging outside. We kept being told that it was very safe regardless of how dark it may get in the streets at night and they were right. We also walked down the Malecon and let me tell you, on a Saturday night, that is where all the locals go. They gather in small or large groups while playing music on their phones or speakers and just hang there in the dark. You may also find some kids just twerking there lol, don’t ask, or couples engaging in some exuberant PDA– hey it’s their place not mine. It was a site to see, I wish I would have taken a picture but the simplicity of enjoying just their own company was refreshing.

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Somewhere in Havana Central

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Somewhere in Havana Central

Our last night, we rented a private studio in the Vedado area which is their more residential neighborhood. Here we had some wonderful massages for 25 CUC for one hour and an amazing facial for 12 CUC. We checked out their “mall” a galeria de tiendas that consisted of a handful of clothing stores, a large electronic store and a food market. You can also catch a little train for 1 CUC that takes you via the Malecon area from Hotel Melia Cohiba all the way to the Almacenes San Jose (huge flea market).

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Classic Car Tour

We were able to go to their local beach, Santa Maria del Mar or Playas del Este, it was about 20 to 25 minutes away from Parque Central. We took a bus for 5 CUC round trip per person. The last one runs at 6pm. There were three stops for the beaches. We got off at the last stop recommended to us for a more private area. It was a Tuesday so it was not busy at all. At first, I was going to go to Varadero but I am glad we did not thanks to my fave blogger’s suggestion. I was just as pleased with this beach. Soft white sand with clean and pristine water was all I needed; I had a great time there.

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Playas del Este

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Playas del Este

We also went to Viñales on a day trip, from 7:30am to 7:pm. The cost was 67 CUC per person which included pick up from a major hotel, lunch, a free drink (if you want to call it that, some green liquid), a tobacco tour, a cave tour and a quick stop at a mirador for some panoramic views. You can purchase the tours at major hotels or you can rent a private taxi which may be about 120 CUC or more, if you split it with more people then you are better off.

If you have time, stay in Havana 2 to 3 nights and get out the city and explore places like Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Santiago, etc. I just scratched the surface but I will be back.

Food: Food was okay but it was not great and this opinion can be biased since I am used to the taste and seasoning of Caribbean American food and this may have messed up my taste palate. Keep in mind they don’t enjoy the luxury of having supermarkets with 1 million products and seasonings as we do in the States. Some of the typical dishes I enjoyed were rice and black beans (moros y cristianos), puerco asado (roasted pig) yuca, tostones and veggies. Also, their lime soda nacional is bomb.

For breakfast, we mainly ate at our hosts’ house for a small fee of 5 CUC per person which included eggs, fruit, coffee, smoothies and bread with some type of spreading.

Food was relatively cheap at restaurants depending on where you go. I loved Don Julio’s Cafeteria-Pizzaria in Plaza Vieja. We had ropa vieja (shredded or pulled stewed beef), a pizza pie and two mojitos for 14 CUC total plus live music. Besides the lady who screamed at me because I did not want to buy a rose at that moment, I think that was my favorite place to eat. Castropol had excellent views of the Malecon and decent seafood. The paella was better than the one I ate in Valencia Spain but I also only tried one paella while in Valencia so don’t pay my paella reviews too much attention.

WiFi: What they say is true, WiFi is not really at hand’s reach but you can have it if you really want it. You need to buy a WiFi card, I got mine from Etecsa their main WiFi and phone company for 1 CUC for 1 hour or 5 CUC for 5 hours. They also sell it at other places for a slight premium. You can get WiFi at different parks or near certain buildings by the Malecon. It’s very easy to spot them since you will see a lot of Cubans all on their cellphones. I was lucky one of my casa particulares hosts had a WiFi router, which later on I was told it was illegal by another Cuban; if that’s true, well you got to love the ingenuity. There and at Floridita Restaurant were the only places I used WiFi for a total of a few hours during my entire stay. Being able to unplug almost completely was beyond relaxing, I guess one does not realize how dependent we can be to our phones until the internet vanishes.

What I learned: I was told repeatedly the average monthly salary for a Cuban is between 20 to 25 CUC, while a doctor may make 40 CUC a month.

They want more. They don’t understand how they have some of the best doctors in the world and they still get paid 40 CUC a month. I mean damn, I don’t understand either.

Cubans are highly educated, all my casa particulares’ hosts were former attorneys. One of the drivers was also a former attorney and the other a recent graduate of economy. They all turned to the tourism industry, Cuba’s highest paid industry. While all the people we spoke with seemed to express their desire for more for their country as far as income and a better quality of life, I did not get the same sentiment from my hosts. I actually asked the wife of one of my host if her husband was out working another job when I did not see him at home and her response was “no, this is more than enough.” This same sentiment was shared with us by some friendly guys at the Hot Corner, it seems like there are people doing pretty well for themselves with private businesses but this is not reflective of the pueblo (all the people). Our friendly masseuse said the same; she told me she knew the deal and some will be better off than others and that is how they will prosper. It was amazing to engage in conversation with them and how willing they were to speak with you just by us asking them how was Cuba.

Cuba also gave us a reality check of the privilege we often take for granted. For a Cuban just to get a passport can cost him 100 CUC, that can mean a 4 month salary for some. That’s not counting the visas, a visa interview can cost you a little over 150 CUC just to be denied and told to come back and try next year.

One other thing I noticed was the long lines at the Spanish Embassy, a fairly new legislation now allows Cubans to apply for Spanish citizenship if they can prove their grandparents lost or gave up Spanish citizenship as a result of exile. Having a Spanish passport would allow some the ability to travel more freely.

During Obama’s administration, they said there was an invasion of Americans, they did not know what to do, their prices skyrocketed but with the new administration that stopped quickly. They don’t see American tourists too often now.

One of our drivers mentioned Facebook and how his view of Cuba has shifted. He was only 22 and said when he was a kid he thought Cuba was the best country ever. Now that he can see more via social media and how others around the world live and enjoy life, he said that regardless of how hard he may work, he knows there is more to life that he cannot attain. I tried telling him it’s not always greener on the other side but who was I to really say that. Yes, I lived in poverty in Peru until 13 but I was given the chance to have a better life with more opportunities that others may not enjoy.

Cuba was refreshing, it was warm (well hot af in July) but you know what I mean, it was eye opening. It is not your typical all inclusive island vacation. There was obvious poverty, crumbling buildings left and right, dirty alleyways and a smell you get used to while wandering some streets. There were complaints from many, even the ones who made more money by working in the tourism industry. Not everything about Havana was colorful, in every sense of the word, but it was welcoming and beautiful at the same time, and I think you should all go experience it for yourselves. Take your dollars and enjoy.

You don’t travel for others to abide by your standards, you abide by their standards when you are traveling.

Money Saving Tips while Shopping

As women, we like to look good and enjoy the feeling of getting glammed up and putting a new outfit on to impress our damn selves, not anyone else. Today, I’m sharing 13 tips I practice to shop a little smarter and I hope they can help you a bit!

Look Fabulous Without Breaking Bank.

I personally think people should not spend a large amount of their money to look good at all. Save your money for things you need and will eventually help you like getting out of debt, a down payment, an emergency fund, a trip or 10, etc.

Nonetheless, as women, we still like to look good and enjoy the feeling of getting glammed up and putting a new outfit on to impress our damn selves, not anyone else. Today, I’m sharing 13 tips I practice to shop a little smarter and I hope they can help you a bit!

  1. Clearance is for you. If you can’t give up clothes and shoes shopping, like me, buy items that will beat flash trends in the clearance section. No shame in my game. There are items that you will use over and over again and you will need as your staple pieces i.e. a nice blazer, a light jacket, interchangeable blouses, work dresses, etc. I’m not talking about items like bell bottoms, velvet dresses, fanny packs (ugh who let them come back). Those trends last too short and not worth the hype. Shop for quality staple pieces and you will have a greater and longer use for them.
  2. Shop at the end of season. Know your clearance seasons at your favorite stores. I love this local retail store called Boscovs in South Jersey and I have learned that if I want to buy winter boots or winter clothes I probably have to go late April or May to find up to 90% off markdowns. I got my favorite over the knee high heel boots for $10! I still shop name brands, I just don’t ever pay retail price for them.
  3. Go thrifting. I only do this a few times a year but I found a few great pieces. I still can’t get used to the smell lol and I get a bit overwhelmed. Plus, I often find great deals on sales events that even the thrift store can’t beat.
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  4. Only Buy if you Love it. Don’t buy any item unless you love it. Literally ask yourself “can I live without this?” If you really can’t decide, then just put it down and forget about it or put it on hold and if you really want it, you will go back and get it. This really helps impulse shopping.
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  5. Ask for a Discount. If there’s a minor defect that you know you can fix yourself, ask for a discount always. Just remember most likely it will be a final sale, make sure to love it.
  6. Budget ahead for Shopping. If you try to deprive yourself from shopping, and you are someone like me, it won’t work for too long. Giving yourself a strict budget is more realistic and it will force you to get into the habit of browsing more for what you really want or need. At one point, I gave myself a $10 dollar budget for a week (I know, “she is nuts!”) but I would end up browsing a lot and ended up with pieces I really loved, even if it was as small as a quality nail polish, the little things can make you happy too.
  7. Forget the labels. Name brands don’t always mean better quality. I often get asked what brand are my purses because they look expensive or just because they are different and stylish to which I proudly tell them they are no pricey bag or no name brand bag. I’ll let you spend hundreds while I walk around with a $40 dollar bag that will likely last me as long as yours. If your bags are worth more than your savings, you have a problem sis, sorry not sorry; knowing there is a problem is a step.
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  8. Clothes swap. Now, this is not a tip for shopping but to get creative while getting new clothes; well new clothes to you. Just ask your friends to come over and bring the clothes that they no longer wear and you bring yours. Free to you and free to them. I get excited when I have a new piece of clothing and I honestly don’t care if it has a tag or not–it’s just a new piece to my ever changing recyclable collection.
  9. Sell everything you no longer love or have a use for. That size two dress you wore 5 years ago and keep for inspiration, that velour sweatsuit that should be burned but you still keep for memories, and everything else that is just taking valuable space in your closet needs to go.  All the clothes you swear you will one day fit into or will come back into style, they won’t, sorry. But why not make a few bucks for them. I’ve used a few sites like OfferUp and Mercari but none compare to Poshmark. I’ve been selling my gently used wardrobe on Poshmark for almost a year now and I absolutely love it. It’s simple, they get a small fee of 2.99 or a percentage if below a price and the buyer pays for shipping. All you do is mail the item out after someone buys it and Poshmark emails you the shipping label. Recently, I’ve been trying to shop only when I sell something so I’m not spending additional money from my budget. Check out my Poshmark closet and use my code susu_hj to sign up and get a $5 credit!
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  10. Save your receipts. Have you ever bought something and never wore it? Yes, we all do it, buyer’s remorse happens too often. Save those receipts and don’t take the tags off the clothes until you wear them. I keep all my receipts and after a month or more I just try to return anything I have not worn unless it was bought for a special occasion or as Christmas gifts (I do my shopping early). Even if it’s past due the return date, get the store credit and buy something that you will actually use.
  11. Online Shopping. Read reviews extensively when shopping online and wait for coupons to not pay for shipping. If I have to pay for shipping, I usually don’t buy it. Most online stores usually run specials during July 4, Memorial Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and any other holiday you can think of.  Same as with shopping in a brick and mortar store, check out the clearance section and shop during the end of a season for garments to be used the following year. My two favorite online stores are Shein and Lulu’s. For Shein, you really have to check the reviews like a detective to make sure you get the right size. Also, you must be patient with Shein’s shipping, although they have gotten better recently and I love the no shipping regardless of price.
  12. Buy versatile clothing. Items you can wear out and in the office (assuming you have an office job). I can’t express enough the importance of this. We have all spent too much money on going out dresses and only worn them once, it’s just wasteful. I have legit wore a club dress as a top and put on a sweater or blazer on top to the office. Look for dresses that can be dressed up and down to be worn at dinners, functions, work, family events, etc.  Shop purposely.
  13. Have a Shopping Spree with others’ money. Is your birthday coming up? Make a list with links to the items and send them to whoever buys you gifts during your birthday or a special holiday. This is usually when I splurge with others’ money and since it’s a thought out process (kinda), we all win. I get exactly what I want like name brand make up, outfits, purses, etc. and they don’t have to worry about what I want or what I may or may not like. I hate getting cash as I end up spending it on items like gas or lunch, I mean we all need gas but who WANTS gas for their birthday. I can finance my own needs, buy me my weaknesses, thank you.Some of my favorite physical stores are Boscovs, Macy’s Burlington, Ross, H&M, TJMaxx and boutiques. Most of these stores also sell online but I just have to shop and browse in person; maybe it’s just their websites I dislike.

    Hope this was insightful in some way. I believe in balance and while I am a semi-strict budgeter, I have a love for clothes that I know I won’t give up, at least for now. It’s just a matter of finding ways to shop a little smarter. Please share some of your favorite online stores below and any shopping tips!

Make Credit Cards Work for You.

Credit cards can be your friend but also one of your biggest enemies…

First things first, credit cards can be your friend but also one of your biggest enemies. While I have been able to make credit cards work for me by using their rewards and even booking trips for free, I cannot recommend this to everyone. I practice huge self control and I have never carried over a balance since I got my first credit card when I was 18 years old. I’m proud to say my credit score is at is highest right now at 821!

Let’s face it, in the words of Ye, we have a problem of spending before we get it, and thanks to these plastic little cards we can just swipe and maintain this illusion of grandeur. But credit cards are essential, as they will probably be the first source to help you build credit. I got my first card from Sears and then from a whole bunch of retail stores. I currently only use two to three cards out of at least 10. I always wonder why companies don’t just close my account for inactivity but somehow that has not happened to me yet (with the exception of Walmart and Target).  Today, I want to share a few do’s and don’ts to make credit cards work for you.

Do’s

  1. Set up automatic payment as soon as you open any card to pay the balance in full every month. If you cannot do this in fear that you may overdraft your bank account, then maybe you have no business in getting cards in the first place. Retail credit card rates can start anywhere from 14% to 29% so unless you are paying everything in full or paying big chunks monthly, you are pretty much getting robbed; don’t let them fool you!
  2. Take advantage of their rewards especially the ones that give you miles or cash back. Now, this is a new concept for me but so far it has worked. I got a Chase Sapphire Preferred card during one of their promotions and after I spent $4,000 in a three month period, they gave me around 40,000 miles plus additional miles when I added an authorized user. I did this knowing I was going to have some large expenses during those months and I ended up cashing out and flying to Madrid, Spain, round trip, for free; I saved over $700!
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    But, this card had an annual fee and I don’t do those. I am too frugal to pay to have a card, so I called Chase prior to reaching the year and I switched my card for one without an annual fee called Freedom Unlimited. I really miss my Chase Preferred card because of the no foreign transaction fees and the best customer service I have had with any card company hands down. So, I am considering getting it again in the near future. I did the same thing with my Delta Skymiles card but I had to spend less, 2,000 in three months. I haven’t cashed out yet but I have over 52,000 miles right now and I hope it is as good as my Chase card.
    Disclaimer: Don’t just spend extra money to obtain the rewards. I am very anal.  I prepared myself to accomplish the above. I wrote down every expense I was going to incur in those upcoming months, I changed my phone bill, car insurance and cable’s payment card to add these cards to make sure I met their spending requirement for the reward points. Unfortunately, I could not pay my mortgage with a credit card but I got creative by paying a full six months of car insurance up front and we know Jersey’s car insurance is absurd compared to other states.
  3. Make your payments on time. Even if you can’t set your payments on automatic payment, make sure you are not late or you will get late fees and who wants those? If you are late and it’s your first time, call the card company and see if they can waive the late fee.
  4. Check your Credit score. Most credit card companies now offer you to see your credit score for free just for having an account with them. Make sure you are not paying for something you can get for free. If your cards do not offer this benefit, check out credit karma, I have friends and relatives who love it. While we are on this topic, don’t forget to get your credit reports, for free, at Annual Credit Report. You can get one report every 12 months from each credit reporting company: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.

“YOU MUST GAIN CONTROL OVER YOUR MONEY OR THE LACK OF IT WILL FOREVER CONTROL YOU.”~ DAVE RAMSEY

Dont’ s

  1. Do not just open a card to get a 10% discount on a retail store. It takes a lot to keep up with cards’ bills and if you are not organized or do not pay the full balance each month, this could really affect you negatively over a tiny initial discount.
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  2. Do not just use cards to get additional discounts. If you already failed at the suggestion above, it’s okay, I’ve been there too. But remember that shopping only to get an additional discount does not benefit you. The interest will probably be more than the discount itself in the long run. It’s like buying things that are on sale just because of the sale and ultimately not needing them or just buying out of impulse thinking you are somehow saving.
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  3. Do not carry your cards with you. I know, what is she talking about? They are for emergencies; well, ask yourself when is the last time you had such an emergency that you were so thankful you had a credit card on you. Yeah, it doesn’t happen often but what happens often is temptation. I love clothes and whenever I know it’s outside of my monthly budget, I tell myself “it can go on my card and I will account for it next month,” well for people who cannot pay in full monthly, this is detrimental and you end up accumulating large debts by shopping little by little. So, out of sight,out of mind; if it’s not on you, you cannot use it as often as you would.
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Again, credit cards can work for you if you are disciplined and consistent. And even if you are not as obsessive as I am when it comes to paying balances, you can always practice better habits to improve what was taught or not taught to you.

Pay on time and pay in full is my only motto for credit cards. And, if you are in a mess and don’t know what to do to get out of debt, don’t let it put you down and please ask someone you trust, who is financially sound, to assist. Speaking about finances can be such a taboo at times but know that it is okay to seek advice. You won’t believe how many people are in the same place and stay there by not creating a plan.

Please share your tips, in the comment section below, about how you make credit cards work for you.

Don’t forget to subscribe, I’ll be discussing how to pay and attack student loans with the snowball effect soon! 

“TOO MANY PEOPLE SPEND THE MONEY THEY HAVEN’T EARNED TO BUY THINGS THEY DON’T WANT TO IMPRESS PEOPLE THEY DON’T LIKE.” ~WILL ROGERS.

Hello Lima, Peru.

And 18 years later, I was blessed to go back to my beautiful country and see one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu, don’t forget to check my post on it!

My family lives in Lima, so as any Latina, you must visit all tios and tias if you are in town. I decided to spend three nights there and although most of my time was spent with family in Lima, I got to do a few cool things; many were free which is my budget of choice 🙂  

Barranco District:

I visited Barranco, one of their most colorful districts. It was filled with art murals and their houses are painted in bright colors. We got to see some cool live local artists and made a quick wish as we walked by el Puente de los Suspiros for good luck.  

Tip: Although, I did not have the time to eat here, my cousin, a local of course, highly recommends to get anticuchos (beef heart kabobs) from Anticucheria Tio Mario. Don’t knock it until you try it. Remember to taste anything at least once unless you are allergic lol

Barranco-Lima
Colorful Barranco!

Miraflores District:

This district is of one their more upscale areas in Lima. I felt like I was in some parts of the United States. People running with their strollers during the middle of the day, tall buildings and very calm areas. I went to see their shopping center called Larcomar which oversees the Pacific Ocean, that was dope. I also walked to their Parque del Amor (Love Park), which is known for their mosaic art, countless love quotes imprinted on these mosaic walls and a huge kissing couple statue. The ocean views are breathtaking and nothing beats a free park visit.

Tip: Anticucheria Grimanesa was amazing! The meat tasted fresh and the portions were large.

Miraflores
Parque del Amor

Other Things to Do: Plaza Mayor and Parque de las Reservas.

Plaza Mayor: When you go to Plaza Mayor, check out the Government Palace and go right before 12pm and you can witness their cambio de armas (changing of guards ceremony); it’s worth watching. While in Plaza Mayor, we also checked out the Catedral Basilica de Lima. I enjoyed its architecture, its ancient paintings and my favorite part was the narrow crypts with very well preserved remains. The remains of Pizarro are there also, if you care for it.

We ate at Cordano near the Plaza, the lomo saltado (beef stir fry with onions, tomatoes and fries) was to die for but I would skip on their ceviche. Their prices were also on the high but I expected it since it’s located in the center of a touristic area.

Tip: If you want a great ceviche, please try El Rincon Tumbesino in Lima.

 

 

Parque de las Reservas: This park has several fountains surrounded by gardens. In the evenings, they have lights and water shows, water plays and water tunnels. It cost about 4 soles per person. It was pretty cool, I’ve never seen one before but I don’t think I would check it out again.  

I hope you enjoyed my quick tips on what to do in Lima and. Lima is definitely a must, not just because I am Peruvian but because it has so much character, history and an amazing cuisine.

 

Make Your Money Count.

I am a semi-strict budgeter who does not like to live in deprivation. Just like many women, I like to look good, I love new home decor and I enjoy traveling. I believe in balance and I am still able to indulge but I do it with great moderation. So, today, we will talk about the first 2 steps to financial wisdom.

It’s not about how much you make but how much you spend.

The fear of being financially ignorant was ingrained in me since I can remember. I grew up in a very poor household in Lima-Peru, a beautiful developing country.  Disposable income in our home was non-existent, going out to eat meant going to a Chinese buffet once a year and shopping meant checking out the Salvation Army. Don’t get me wrong, I never missed a meal or any necessities and for that I am grateful to both of my parents.

Living through foreclosures and bankruptcies at a young age pushed me to be more curious about personal finances. I majored in Finance in college and have attended numerous financial management seminars, but Life has really been my biggest teacher, even above a higher education institution.  I’d like to think of myself as a wise financial person who is making the best with a modest income. I am a semi-strict budgeter who does not like to live in deprivation. Just like many women, I like to look good, I love new home decor and I enjoy traveling. I believe in balance and I am still able to indulge but I do it with great moderation. So, today, we will talk about the first 2 steps to financial wisdom.

  • Budget: Live life on your terms: I am including a free document here Budget Doc, so you can see how I budget my expenses. I am a fan of Google Sheets but there are tons of apps and some just prefer good old paper; whatever works for you.
    • First, write down how much money (after taxes) you are bringing in monthly from all incomes.
    • Then, make a list of all your monthly expenses. Start with your fixed expenses aka non-negotiables (i.e. savings, rent/mortgage, student loans, cellphone, car insurance, car payment, credit cards, etc).
    • Then continue with a list of your variable expenses aka determined by use (i.e. utility bills, groceries, copays, gas, etc).
    • Finally, finish up your list and include all your other expenses (i.e. restaurants, makeup, clothing & shoes, hair salon, nail salon, gym membership, cable, games, movies, books, etc.). Add all your expenses and subtract it from your monthly income (Total Monthly Income-Total Monthly Expenses). If you have a positive number, we have disposable income and more opportunities. If we have a negative number, it’s time to figure out a plan and really decide what is essential from the other expenses list, this is where we can cut down unnecessary expenses so we can either save more or pay down debt faster.

Tips: Budget for at least three months, it will become a habit. Review it biweekly or monthly and make readjustments. Consistency is key. Be realistic and really understand what expenses are essential. I personally cannot give up my gym membership and workout at home instead because paying a monthly fee actually motivates me to go. I gave up buying coffee, not coffee itself, but my K-Cups cost 30 cents now compared to $2 (I was never a Starbucks girl). Giving up buying lunches was hard, I love take out and Wawa! (an amazing convenience chain store). It took time and preparation but now I tell myself I am not eating my money away. I was spending at least 200 monthly, just in lunches, and now I have cut that in half or more just by buying groceries.   

  • Pay yourself first, before you spend it on someone else: You may be asking why I consider savings to be a fixed expense as mentioned before. Well, I am a huge believer of paying yourself first while building an emergency fund; this should be a habit that will essentially create a foundation that can be passed down. I have read different articles saying you have to save from 5% to 15% of your take home income.
    • I say, if all you can save is $20 per paycheck, do that, but be consistent and realistic. Look at the list above and be honest with yourself; if you are spending over $100 a month in recreational expenses and saving $20, chances are  that if an emergency arises, you will most likely swipe the plastic (credit cards) and then you will accumulate high interests, pay only the minimum payment, and put yourself in more debt.
    • So, pay yourself first as soon as the direct deposit hits and preferably put it in a separate savings account. I personally set up an automatic transfer from my checking to savings on every payday. I have my savings in the same bank as my checking but I practice a lot of self control. If you are afraid you will just access the savings when you are tempted to do some shopping therapy, then try to get a separate online savings account. This will prevent you from having immediate access to cash and hopefully the urge will disappear.
    • Using a separate checking account for my bills has really helped me see where I am spending the most outside of my necessities. This helps me buckle down when I need to save extra to travel or buy an expensive item.                             

~DO NOT SAVE WHAT IS LEFT AFTER SPENDING, BUT SPEND WHAT IS LEFT AFTER SAVING~ WARREN BUFFETT.

Why Life is Loading?

Let’s face it, nowadays we are living our lives through a lense, a picture, a video, a snap, a blog, vlog, podcast, website or livestream, so much that it feels like our entire lives are being uploaded and they load as others check in on it.

Why Life is Loading? simply because I needed a space to get my thoughts out, a place where I could share stories, tips, advice, venting sessions and everything in between about this fast changing world.  And let’s face it, nowadays we are living our lives through a lense, a picture, a video, a snap, a blog, vlog, podcast, website or livestream, so much that it feels like our entire lives are being uploaded and they load as others check in on it. Cheesy huh? It made sense in my head.

Hola, I am Susan, some call me Susu, a nickname given to me as a joke by a sorority sister some years back. You heard it right, I am a in a sorority, a sisterhood, an hermanidad (Er-Ma-Knee-Dad) or however you want to refer to it. But, let’s get it right, it is not the type of sorority you see in the movies nowadays (no Stomp the Yard or Neighbors over here), that’s the beauty of being a member of a Latina based/founded sorority; there’s beauty in culture.

Talking about culture, I’ve lived in the United States since I arrived when I was 13 years old, I have now been here for 18 years (go ahead, do the math lol) residing in the lovely New Jersey. During my transition here, I have seen so much change through my little eyes that it is time to share.   

Being an immigrant, a 1.5 generation (we’ll talk about this later), someone who followed all the rules from immigrant parents (went to college & got two degrees, got a stable career, bought a house), travels but still is frugal as hell, and lives in this social media world, all while trying to still figure out life in her 30s without kids, has put a lot into perspective.  A lot of “I wish someone told me that,” “Is this really the American Dream?” “What else am I missing?” “What is next?” All these questions led me to create an outlet (fancy word for blog) where others could come and hopefully relate, opine, share and learn something. But learn what, you may be wondering, well this outlet will have topics on:

  • Personal Finance: You’d be surprised how many people with or without degrees can’t manage their personal finances and struggle with debt and poor credit scores. This stops us from achieving greatness! Not that a house is greatness but the less options or ways you have to bargain, the less resources available to you. Let’s even the battlefield y’all.
  • Lifestyle|Hobbies|Tips: Travel, Beauty, Reading, Photography, Health and más (more) because life can’t just be about your 9-5 or business ventures. We must balance life without breaking bank.
  • Empowerment and Reflections: Relationships discussion, figuring out ourselves/loving and being our best selves, strengths & struggles of young people of color in America today…because in today’s world, we are fucked by the “image you have in your mind of what you are supposed to be and often fail to be your best self by comparing to the person next to you.”

   ~YOUR JOURNEY IS YOUR JOURNEY~