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 22, 2008

My Monthly Trade-Off: Extreme Frugality in One Area, Overspending in Another

Every month, after most of my bills are paid, the groceries are bought and the last thing that I must pay for before the month ends is a tank of gas, I start reviewing my income and spending. It seems that every month I manage to scrimp and save in one area while I spend more in another. In April, I spent very little on food, but a ton on leisure and entertainment. In May so far, I've spent very little on leisure, more on food than usual, and quite a bit on travel (a weekend in San Diego for Fiance's birthday.)

I already save about 10% of my wages, and by month's end I've usually got some extra income that I can also throw into savings - I'm doing very well in that regard. If I exercised some serious self-discipline, I could easily be saving another two to three hundred a month. Most of my friends consider my ability to hang on to my money something of a feat, but I still look at my ledgers at the end of the month and think "Damn! I really shouldn't have spent $X on Y!"

At the end of the day where I spend and where I save in any given month comes down to a value judgement. In May it was "Do I want beers out at the bar & a bunch of new books or do I want to spend a nice weekend with my boyfriend in San Diego?" I chose San Diego, which turned out to be a great idea. In June, I'll be paying for my share of Fiance & I's plane tickets to North Carolina. I'm a displaced Southerner who hasn't been home in four years, so obviously my $266 round trip ticket is well worth drastically curbing my spending in another area.

As the trip to Carolina, the wedding, and eventually married life come closer, I'm sure I'll need to start exercising the willpower to be mega-frugal in more than one category at a time. So here's my game plan:

(1) Leave my debit and credit cards at home. I already leave my credit card at home most of the time, but unless I need to buy gas I really don't need to bring my debit card to work with me. Sometimes the Starbucks across the parking lot calls my name a little too loudly, especially on my morning shifts.

(2) Make sure I'm setting aside time to pre-cook meals and snacks. For the most part I'm pretty good about this, but this summer I'll be in one pretty intense 4 hours four days a week class, an online class, working full time, and planning a wedding. I won't be able to just throw something together when I feel like it. Also, I'm likely to be pretty stressed out. When I'm stressed I either stop eating altogether, or I overeat. If I've got healthy food readily available, I'll be less likely to cave and make a beeline for Chick-fil-a.

(3) Write notes to myself. For example "If you spend $30, you have to cross out one wedding guest!" or "You need this for RENT!" I'm so disciplined most of the time that I generally have $5-$25 to burn if I feel like it. I can sometimes be flippant about spending a little here and there. Most of the time I fight the urge off, but sometimes I fail. Hopefully having visual reminders in my purse, checkbook, and taped to my debit/credit cards will help.

(4) Keep Fiance in the Loop. The fact that he & I are fairly minimalist frugal mostly-vegetarians bodes well for our marriage. The more in the loop I keep him, the more he can help out by saying, "Ummm, honey are you sure you need ANOTHER wedding planning book?"

(5) Stay home more often. Just walking out of the door and starting up the car is spending money. If I stay home I can cook, keep my room organized, post to BurnFive, do surveys, tons of productive stuff- most of which will save or bring in money, as opposed to spending it.

Hopefully in June I'll be able to keep all unnecessary spending to a minimum, instead of just some of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

For the Locals: Two Free Tickets to the Pacific Symphony!

Not "click here to WIN two tickets," just straight up free tickets. Go on over to the Orange County's Pacific Symphony website, fill out the form, and you're good to go.

Turn your free tickets into a cheap but classy date (or girl's night or guy's night) by cooking a fancy meal at home and then going out for dessert.

I have no idea how long this giveaway will last.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Google Reader Starred Items Round-Up!

I adore Google Reader. Here are some of the highlights from my starred personal finance item over the last month or so.

Want Some Extra Income? Try Odd Jobs! from The Digerati Life. A wonderful article on bringing in more income without losing your mind.

Are You and Ant or a Grasshopper? from Jason White at Wise Bread. I'm definitely a grasshopper turned ant.

What To Do With Your Economic Stimulus Payment (Or Any Found Money) from Consumerism Commentary. A shakedown of useful ways to spend windfalls.

Healthy, Frugal Eating by Philip Brewer at Wise Bread. "Every so often, I get hit in the face with two facts. First, Americans (even poor Americans) are unbelievably rich. Second, Americans (as a group) utterly lack a cultural tradition that teaches us how to eat a healthy, frugal diet."

10 Ways to Save Real Money from The Consumerist. The premier finance and consumer advocacy blog doles out some great advice on keeping your cash.

The Frugal Lifestyle: Are We Missing Out On Life? from Consumerism Commentary. Personally I'm a big fan of missing out on some things if it means I can go to Paris or not panic when my car breaks down.

Missing Money: Troll the Web for Abandoned and Unclaimed Property Owed to You from Consumerism Commentary again. After reading this article, I discovered that an old apartment management company owed me and my former roommates $475. Now if I can just gather the three other girls, we can cash the check and split the money.

Books For Every Level of Financial Acumen at SavingAdvice.com. A great list of books on personal finance. Many of these can be found at Goodwill, on Bookmooch, or online for cheap. Don't go broke building a personal finance library!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance #153

This week's carnival is up at Money & Values. Tons of great articles, as usual. Go check it out!

The Battle of the Air Conditioner, or 5 Ways to Beat the Heat

If you live in Southern California, the most painful bill to pay in the summer is the electricity bill- the dry heat out here is awful. The other day one of my roommates and I had the on/off battle of the air conditioner. She kept turning it on, I kept turning it off. To be fair, her room is on the second floor, covered in windows and has a ceiling fan way too high to actually circulate air around the room, it's pretty much a solar oven up there. But we live on a lake, so once you get the windows open and a fan that actually moves the air around, not so awful. What we really need are fans that will fit in the windows, especially in her room.

What struck me the most about our air conditioner battle (and I use the term battle loosely, we weren't really fighting), was that when we finally crossed paths I pointed out that running the AC would add up - our energy bill could easily be $100+ higher than the $120-$150 we've been cruising at for the past three months (for a four bedroom house with three adults and a kid in Southern California, mind you). Her response was "It's so hot, I don't care how much it costs!" She wasn't being a baby or anything, it was terribly hot yesterday- but because the rest of us are content to put on a tank top, open the windows and turn on a fan, we'd have been pretty bitter about that extra $100 on the power bill. I handed her the biggest fan in the house and sent her back upstairs with instructions to open her windows and crank the fans.

To be sure, there was a time in my life (about three apartments ago) when the cost of running an air conditioner didn't matter to me. Utility bills are one of the easiest ways to bleed money: running the AC at full blast because it's hot, using the dryer instead of hang drying clothing, running the dishwasher instead of just washing dishes by hand - it is very easy to disconnect from the actual cost of running an appliance if it makes our life easier.

I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'd rather keep the money in my pocket and take ten minutes to hang dry my clothes or three seconds to turn on a fan or open a window than pay an extra $100 a month in bills. To that end, here are a few tips to on keeping cool:

(1) Open your windows! When air can circulate through the house, it stays cooler. Use fans to help it along.
(2) Drink water! The more hydrated you are, the less hot you'll feel.
(3) Fill a spray bottle with water and keep it in the fridge. Every now and then, spritz yourself. This might actually be better than air conditioning.
(4) Fill up some water guns and go outside. Try not to run up your water bill too much, but having a water fight will cool you off considerably. The water bill will almost always be less than the power bill, even if you set up a Crocodile Mile for an afternoon.
(5) Wear less. Tank tops and shorts are your friends. Even if you're alabaster white like me, who cares? The fashion police probably won't beat down my door for wearing cut offs and a tank top around my home when it's 90+ degress outside. And who cares if they do?