Design A Budget Which Works For You

Copyright: akkamulator

Not too long ago, I went shopping at a retail home goods store with a good friend. When we approached the checkstand, my friend experienced a bit of sticker shock, because she kept adding things to her cart and hadn’t kept track of how much she was spending. When I suggested that she might want to review what she had in her cart and perhaps pare down, she responded with, “Well, it will somehow work out. I still have some room on my credit card.” We kept chatting as the sales clerk rang up my friend’s items, and she continued with, “I never know how much I have in my checking account, and I don’t keep a budget, so I always hope and pray that I make it each month.” By this time I was cringing at what my friend was saying, and I also became very concerned for her financial health.

If you are like my friend and choose to throw caution to the wind by refusing to follow a structured budget, you have signed up for a rocky financial future. You may argue that you have the same fixed expenses each month, such as mortgage/rent, cell phone, and your car payment, and that you somehow always know approximately how much you spend on groceries and fuel for your car, but if I challenged you and asked you to itemize those expenses, I would bet that there is some overspending occurring. If you are also forgetting about discretionary expenses like a regular Starbuck’s habit, or even worse, you are neglecting retirement savings or contributions to an emergency fund, then you are skating on very thin ice indeed.

You might be thinking, “But I don’t know how to make a budget!” The whole idea of sitting down and creating a budget may sound daunting, but all it entails is writing down all of your income sources for each month, then creating a separate list of all of your monthly expenses. Once you have the basic framework of your regular expenses, you can add in your occasional expenses, such as personal care items (haircuts, etc.), auto insurance, upcoming vacations, etc. so that you are aware of the need to cover them. If you really dig deep, you will probably encounter hidden expenditures you weren’t completely aware of, such as streaming movie rentals, outdoor dining, or even online subscriptions which you might have forgotten about.

Once you have determined how much money is coming in each month, and how much money must be spent on fixed and variable expenses, you can see which expenses are unnecessary or frivolous, and you can also determine what other financial goals for which you can earmark part of your income. Examples of good financial goals are the following:

  • Paying off credit card debt (make sure that you add your monthly payments into your monthly budget!)
  • Vacation plans
  • Retirement planning
  • Adding to an emergency fund

Once your budget is completed, make sure to refer to it at least once a month, and as you reach certain financial goals (especially paying off credit card debt), you can make adjustments to your budget. Funds which were previously being funneled in one direction can be redirected to another goal, such as cushioning your retirement accounts or emergency fund. I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on eliminating any credit card debt, because nothing erodes financial security more than this type of debt. Think about it: if you are paying 19.9% APR on a credit card balance of $2,000, that means that the credit card company is making an extra $400 in a year (this is a very rough estimate, since you would be making payments each month on that original balance). The other problem is that most people will add to a credit card balance, which pushes you into deeper debt. With credit card debt, it’s like taking one step forward and two steps back, so if you have credit card debt, HELOC’s, or another high interest debt, your primary focus should always be on aggressively paying those balances down. Once you are free from credit card debt, I strongly recommend that you curtail usage of any credit cards and use cash or a debit card instead.

When you stick to your budget, you may be surprised by how much it will improve your financial picture. A budget establishes a framework which enables you to move towards financial goals you might never have thought you could ever reach. Another great thing about an effective budget is that it doesn’t have to be static, so as your goals change and you reach certain markers, you can make adjustments to further fortify your financial position.

Your Latte Habit Is Costing a Fortune


Every time I go into a Starbuck’s, I cringe at the inflated prices of their coffee drinks. Even a plain cup of coffee is pretty expensive, at $1.75 for a Tall (12 ounces), $1.95 for a Grande (16 ounces), and $2.25 for a Venti (20 ounces). Look at the prices of some of the other coffee drinks sold at Starbuck’s:

Item Price

Tall $3.05
Grande $3.80
Venti $4.20
Trenta $4.30

Tall $3.45
Grande $4.20
Venti $4.50
Trenta $4.70

Tall $3.90
Grande $4.65
Venti $4.85
Trenta $4.95

Starbuck’s Coffee is a treat for me, not a daily habit. I may have five Starbuck’s beverages a month at the most (my average is one or two Starbuck’s beverages each month), but I know many people who indulge in Starbuck’s beverages on a daily basis, and some of them get the fancy drinks every time. All of those multisyllabic coffee concoctions can really add up and burn a hole in one’s wallet over time. In addition, the mochas, the lattes, and certainly the frappucinos are loaded with calories. Here is the nutritional breakdown of my favorite Starbuck’s beverages, a Tall Caffè Mocha. I get it with nonfat milk but even then, the calories, carbs and sugars really add up:

Caffè Mocha (Espresso with bittersweet mocha sauce and steamed milk)

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (12 fl oz)
Calories 190 Calories from Fat 20
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 5mg 2%
Sodium 100mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 32g 11%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 27g
Protein 10g
Vitamin A 10% Vitamin C 0% Calcium 30% Iron 20%
Caffeine 95mg**
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
**Each caffeine value is an approximate value.

Let’s look at how much someone would spend in a year by getting a Grande Caffè Mocha every day, including weekends (after all, when you need your coffee, you don’t take breaks on the weekends, right?). At $4.15 per Mocha, you would end up spending $1,514! That same $1,514 could be invested in a vacation fund, put into an IRA, or be used to pay bills. Do you really think it is worth spending that amount of money on coffee drinks each year? I certainly don’t. What I do is I load up a Starbuck’s card with some money, say $50, and use it when I visit Starbuck’s. I find that I re-load my card maybe one or two times in a year, and I confine my consumption to special events, travel, and the occasional weekend coffee run. I am comfortable with the idea of spending $100 to $150 on Starbuck’s coffee in an entire year, and couldn’t imagine being hooked on those beverages and having to pay ten times that amount!

I challenge all of you who have a daily Starbuck’s habit to spend one month in which you brew coffee at home. Then what I want you to do is to set aside the money you would have spent at Starbuck’s ($126 in the example above). You will dip into the money you set aside to buy ground coffee and whatever ingredients you add to your coffee (like chocolate, sweeteners, milk). At the end of the month, see how you feel. If you truly love Starbuck’s Coffee (or Coffee Bean, or Peet’s) THAT much, then by all means, resume your habit. But if you can’t stand the idea of spending a small fortune on caffeinated delights, you might want to continue with your home brews.

The Costs Of Competing

Overall Team U Pic 2

A number of competitors have asked me recently how much they should expect to spend on competing, which prompted me to write this post. Competitive bodybuilding can get pretty expensive, so you should be prepared to invest some coin in your prep and contests. When I calculated the total amount which was spent by my sponsors and me on all associated costs (coaching, suits, tanning, entry fees, flight, hotel, rental car, supplements, food, shoes, makeup, etc.) which got me to the seven national qualifiers and fourteen pro qualifiers I competed in during the amateur portion of my contest history (2009 through 2013), I was shocked. The total came to over $100,000! Thank goodness my sponsors paid for the majority of those expenses, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to hit the national stage the way I did. Obviously the drive to compete took over me, and demanded a tremendous amount of financial and personal sacrifice which I was willing to make.

Over the years I have spoken with other competitors who have had the same drive to compete who have done stupid and risky things in order to keep competing. Though I took financial risks during my Pro Card chase, I didn’t have children or a spouse to worry about, so my behavior didn’t put anyone else at risk. I admit I had foolishly pushed myself to the limit in the past, knowing that as a consequence I would not be able to afford more basic living expenses, but I got wiser as I continued to compete. I have heard of others who have done similar things, with some competitors risking all they owned for the chance to continue competing. Let me be very clear: Pro status will never help you to cushion a nest egg, so if you are risking financial security for the sake of competing, you had better take a good, long look at the reasons why your obsession with competing is pushing the need for basic survival into the corner. It’s time for a reality check.

Be sensible about the money you spend on competing and set a competition budget which doesn’t put undue strain on your finances. Before I went Pro, I established a separate “show fund” in which I set aside money for competitions, so I was always aware of what I could and could not afford. Once a budget is set, it is important to limit oneself to the number of competitions which will keep one within budget. This can be challenging, especially when one is on a mad quest to chase a national qualification or Pro status.

I always advise competitors who frequently compete to search for potential sponsors. I have had competitors ask me how to obtain sponsorship and who also lament the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to land sponsorship from a supplement company. My response to this is that sponsors can come in all forms! Here are some suggestions for potential sponsors:

Friends and family
Business associates
Smaller supplement companies

The trick to asking for sponsorship is to graciously ask for assistance in paying for an event. Remember that even a small amount will help. I have competed at events which have been sponsored by a number of entities, with the tan covered by one, entry fee covered by another, flight by yet another, etc.

If your budget is really tight, stick to nearby contests so you don’t have to pay outrageous travel expenses. If you are nationally qualified, you will be somewhat stuck since there are only seven national level events each year, and they place in very specific geographic areas. You might have to limit the number of Pro qualifying events you enter if your budget is very limited. However, I know the feeling of having to hit all the national events in a year in order to maximize one’s chances at a Pro Card. Even when I was sure I would not be able to afford doing a bunch of national events back to back, I somehow managed to to it because I wanted that Pro Card SO badly. I will be quite blunt and tell you that if you are a nationally qualified master’s competitor, you are probably better off confining your stage time to Pro qualifiers which have master’s divisions. That means that there are three chances at a Pro Card each year for you: NPC Team Universe, Master’s Nationals, and IFBB North American.

Other ways you can keep costs down while still hunting for that Pro Card are to stay with friends or family when you travel to Pro-qualifiers, or share a hotel room with one or more competitors. I strongly advise you to avoid sharing a room with people who are in your height or weight class, though, because it can be torture if you face off against each other onstage, and one of you does well while the other doesn’t. It could get uncomfortable or even ugly.

Even if you don’t have far to travel (those of you who live in the tri-state area are in a good spot geographically for several national events), you still need to pay for coaching, competition suits, spray tanning, supplements, food, shoes, makeup and stage accessories. The stream of contest related expenses is exhaustive, so you need to be prepared. There are ways to cut costs down, but whatever you do, don’t scrimp on quality. You still need to bring a polished and well-conditioned package to the stage.

Finding That Perfect Suit Is Like Finding The Perfect Wedding Gown…


Ever since I began competing in bodybuilding contests in 2009, I have had a fixation on suits. My fixation became a bit extreme during the time I was chasing after an IFBB Pro Card, and resulted in the purchase of a total of NINETEEN suits from 2009 through 2014!

Here is the breakdown of all the suits I bought each year:

Luli Fama off-the-rack suit – Bought through Victoria’s Secret Catalog. Wore for my first contest.
Royal blue Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at Tournament of Champions.
White and silver Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at Border States.
Black Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at NPC Nationals.
Lilac Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at Excalibur.

Slate blue hologram print Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at Emerald Cup.
Purple leopard print Fresh Peaches custom suit – Never wore this one.
Zebra print Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at Team Universe.
Tiger print Fresh Peaches custom suit – Never wore this one.
Deep blue shatterglass effect Fresh Peaches custom suit – Wore this at USA, Jr. USA, IFBB North American, NPC Nationals.

Blue Maison Lyle custom suit – Never wore this one.
Peacock custom suit made by me – Wore this at Team Universe, Master’s Nationals, IFBB North American, NPC Nationals.

Peach Tamee Marie cusstom suit – Never wore this one.
Red CJ’s Elite custom suit – Wore this at NPC Pittsburgh, Team Universe, Master’s Nationals.
Green CJ’s Elite custom suit – Wore this at IFBB North American. (I also wore this at both Pro contests I did in 2014).

Light blue CJ’s Elite custom suit – Wore this at NPC Metropolitan.
Tangerine CJ’s Elite custom suit – Wore this at Team Universe, Sac Pro.
Iris blue Jagware competition suit – Wore this at Irongames Pro.

Gold Ravish Sands custom suit – Wore this at Dennis James Classic Pro, Nor Cal Pro.
Bikini Front
I no longer have a fixation on buying the “perfect” suit and have sold most of my suits. However, there are a few suits I will never get rid of, for various reasons:
Zebra print Fresh Peaches custom suit – This suit turned out to be great for photo shoots.
Tiger print Fresh Peaches custom suit – This suit also turned out to be great for photo shoots.

This was from IFBB North American in Cleveland, Ohio in 2012.  I hadn't seen this image until now!  That was an amazing contest for me, in which I took a First Place Finish in Open Bikini C, beating out 27 other young ladies.  I was 45 there!

This was from IFBB North American in Cleveland, Ohio in 2012. I hadn’t seen this image until now! That was an amazing contest for me, in which I took a First Place Finish in Open Bikini C, beating out 27 other young ladies. I was 45 there!

Peacock custom suit made by me – I have this suit in a shadowbox because I am very proud of the fact that I made this myself and took three first place national finishes in this suit.
Green CJ’s Elite custom suit – This is now my backup suit for IFBB Pro events.
Tangerine CJ’s Elite custom suit – I won my IFBB Pro Card in this suit and will never get rid of it due to its sentimental value. In addition, this is my main suit for IFBB Pro events.

I completely understand now the quest for a perfect suit can turn into an obsession! Over the years I managed to buy suits in green, various shades of blue, white, black, lilac, blue-purple, animal prints, peacock, peach, tangerine, red, and gold! Sometimes colors which look amazing on some competitors might not look as good on you, or maybe the color is perfect, but the cut isn’t quite right. I enjoyed trying out different colors and suitmakers, but I don’t think it was sensible at all for me to buy so many suits! Clearly I was a bit fickle about competition suits, hence the constant switching from one suit to another.

The entire process of selecting a suit is quite similar to the process of hunting for the perfect wedding gown. Yet even when I was searching for a wedding gown, I didn’t invest nearly as much time in that search, partially because I abhor shopping, but also because I was on a very limited budget when I shopped for a wedding gown. It was 1998 and I was in medical school, living off medical school loans, and paying for the entire wedding. What is amazing to me is that I have paid more for some competition suits than I paid for my wedding dress!

Believe it or not, I am still pondering the idea of having just “one more suit” made, but I keep pushing the idea aside because I know that would be frivolous. I know several competitors who struggle with the same suit frenzy that I have dealt with over the past eight years. Instead of spending major coin buying a bunch of different suits, you might want to consider just buying a couple of suits, one main suit and a backup suit. Your impulse may be to choose a favorite color to wear onstage, but make sure that the color/shade you choose looks good with your complexion and hair color! I have made that mistake a couple of times and ended up looking less than my best as a result. If you are indecisive, the massive selection of fabrics and connectors can be dizzying, so take your time when trying to decide on all the details. My absolute favorite suit designer is CJ’s Elite, not only because her suits always fit like a dream, but also because she has an extensive fabric and connector selection and is an amazing woman.

For those of you who want to try to save some money, a good option is to purchase used suits from a fellow competitor. I have two bikini division suits and a figure division suit for sale on my contest prep site: