A blog about spending wisely in your twenties, with advice on everything from cooking to saving money on gas; how to teach yourself to save money instead of spending it, traveling without breaking the bank, and much more.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

April Income/Expense Report

Here it is, my monthly cashflow report. This month was something of a success - I knew going in that my income was going to be significantly lower. I also knew going in that I wanted to throw a barbeque, do my lemon tree project, and pay for a night out to dinner for Boyfriend & I - I managed to do all of those things and sock more into savings than any other month this year. Not buying groceries (save for some stuff for the bbq, some of which is in the freezer for next time) helped, and so did very careful tracking of my expenses. Here's a side-by-side income/expense category comparison between March & April.

The bills category includes my rent, and almost all of our utilities were lower this month, except electricity which went up a few bucks. I spent far more on leisure than usual - throwing the bbq, Boyfriend's band played a few shows (I donated to one venue and drank a beer at two others), and going to a wide release movie (even with a student-priced ticket I was reminded of why I almost never see just-released movies.) Gas prices having been shooting up insanely, so my auto expenses were higher. My ebay seller fees for March came due in April, so I wound up spending a bit more there as well. But for the most part, spending was down in every category and $192.50 of that went into savings. Looking back on April, I definitely could have put at least $50 more away, but I'm still pretty pleased with how I did.

My goal for May is to keep excess spending to a minimum. Aside from Boyfriend's birthday (we're taking a short jaunt to San Diego), I want to spend a little as possible on leisure activities. My grocery shopping shouldn't hurt too badly (I'm 2/3 done and I've only spent about $31.) I want to put at least $200 into savings in May as well. Most of my income will come from my wages, I expect much less from other sources this month. Well, aside from the government, and most of that rebate check is going to be socked away like I never got it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The No Groceries Experiment Wrap Up

At the beginning of April, I decided that I didn't want to be working until 2 am two to three nights a week this month. (I have to work pretty late if I want to make $1400 a month, other wise I make about $1100-1200.) When I reviewed my March spending, I realized that I'd spent upwards of $200 on groceries. Yikes! I feed myself and my boyfriend when he comes over, and I try to keep the household items in stock (we share buying duty on eggs, cheese, sour cream, other baking needs - the stuff we all use), but spending $200 in one month was just to much for me. So I decided that I wouldn't grocery shop in April. I cooked all of my at-home meals from food I'd already bought. I ate very well, and I've STILL got stuff left over.

As the month went on, I began to gain a solid picture of just how often I need to cook up a batch of soup (about 5 times a month), or how often I need to make a batch of cookies that will keep my sweet tooth from spending money on candy bars (about once a week). I drank coffee, tea, lemonade, and beer. I don't drink soda outside of work anyway, but if you're a soda addict perhaps you could switch to at least a cheaper, if still sugary, alternative.

Along the way I've gotten a better idea of what ingredients I need to actually buy. Too often I'd just head into the store with a vague idea of what I might be out of and I'd shop without a real plan. By the middle of April, I was able to put together a fairly comprehensive list of what I need to buy to eat happily. I'm sure there are still items missing, but for now- it works. I took the time that I might normally have gone to the store to shop and, using my list, I've begun to put together a pricebook, noting what items sells for the cheapest (per unit) and where, an activity that should save me at least $100 over the course of a year, if not more.

Once I've finished the shopping necessary to re-stock my supplies, I'll write a detailed post of how the pricebook project works out. And in May I'll be posting basic recipe templates that you can adapt for whatever ingredients you have on hand, as well as a guide to figuring out what YOU need to shop for to eat well, and how to save money doing it.

This Week's Festival of Frugality

...is up at Sound Money Matters. I'll be posting my favorite articles from this edition tomorrow.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance #150

Lazy Man and Money hosts this week, here are my three favorites (of 115 articles!)

The Digerati Life presents 20 Ways To Earn More and Spend Less: Steps To Becoming A Frugal Capitalist.

Think You Way to Wealth exposes some of the Lies We Tell Ourselves While Spending Money.

No Credit Needed says The $100-A-Day-Rule Prevents Impulse Buying.

You're NOT Homeless!

Are you carrying your worldly possessions around in plastic bags, sleeping in parks and begging for money? Probably not, but a lot of twentysomethings seem obsessed with the romance of feeling like they're one missed paycheck from poverty.

Nearly everyone I talk to about saving money insists that they just "can't!" Apparently, quite a few of my peers believe they are so destitute that every cent of every paycheck must go to their bills and basic survival costs. But if you're eating out more than once a week (I try to only eat out once a month!) or if you're not finding ways to save on your groceries, or if you're throwing money out into the ether that ought to be going toward your bills...well you're not living to paycheck to paycheck because you're poor. You're living paycheck to paycheck because you have no control over your money. Even if you're trying to control your spending in little ways, unless you're looking at the big picture, you've probably sprung a leak somewhere in your finances and you can't plug it because you don't know where it is.

Here's the thing about being in our twenties, we've got time on our side. I make $1400 a month in wages (and that's if I'm working myself like a dog), but I'm putting at least some of that away. I may not have loads of cool stuff or a fancy car, but in a few years when I want to buy a house I'm going to be better off than a 35 year old making six figures a year, who has saved nothing because he's 'poor.'

Very few of us are actually poor. We could easily start socking away $20 or less a month. When it comes to saving, just putting yourself in the habit of putting something away is more important than how much you put away. Many of us are unhealthily attached to the martyrdom of "I'm so BROKE!" We see it almost as a badge of honor and we actually want to cling to that. It's our best excuse to not do better for ourselves.

Feeling like a financial martyr means that you don't have to really work at saving money, because broke is what you do. In fact, it's what you are. But who wants to be a charity case? I truly believe that unless you are honestly destitute, you can find $10-$20 a month to put in a savings account. Many will argue that there's no point to putting such a small amount away, and many others will have a hard time leaving the money alone, but as with any other behavior that requires self discipline to implement, starting small is the easiest way to start.