Getting Back on Track

In February, I started trying to improve my financial situation. Until about October of this year every month I got a little better. I found new ways to save, I did new things to keep me on track, my savings grew. My original plan was to save up enough to be able to afford my rent when (if) my boyfriend went away to law school. I saved enough, and got good enough at cutting costs, that I didn’t have to touch that savings when he moved away. I haven’t given myself enough credit for that.

I started slipping though. I created unrealistic goals to try and save even more, and failed, and felt defeated. I stopped tracking every expense. I haven’t come up with a new trick or motivational tool in over a month. I slowed down posting on the blog, when part of the point of the blog was to keep me on track.

It’s okay. I have to forgive myself, move on, and keep getting better. I realized I’d stopped reading new posts new places all the time and had started just reading my favorite blogs. I got really excited the other day when I spent about an hour going to different sites and reading about tips & tricks, and also pitfalls.

I also have a deadline now. I am leaving my job to go to grad school. I am going to look for a part time job, but until I get one I have to use my savings. I am incredibly excited about grad school, and I will do whatever it takes to be ready. So I am making Dec.15th to Jan. 15th a no-spend period.

It’s hard. I want to buy new bags and clothes and organizational things and pens and everything for school. I am going to try & make do with what I have, and maybe pretty up some old things. I want to go out to eat everywhere I love in the city, but I’ll be back after I’ve found a part time job, and going out to eat will be a perfect way to visit my friends. I want to keep buying gifts, but the plan is to stick to a budget and be done by Dec. 15th (that’s mainly psychological.) I will be reducing my rent by about $800 a month-all that money is for savings.

I am allowed to spend on gas, and buying dinner for people helping me move. I can buy groceries, and food for my cat. I think I will need to spend money on some toiletries. I will need to spend money on laundry, probably a bit more than usual. I am trying to decide if I am allowed to go out to eat at all, and if so, what the budget for that should be. But the plan is, no fun spending.

Which doesn’t mean no fun! I’ll be living with two of my favorite people, and we can stay home and watch movies and cook meals. I think instead of the cooking taking turns thing Ill just plan an old-fashioned pot luck. My boyfriend will be home. There will be Hanukkah and Christmas to celebrate. I just have to remind myself that that is enough. It is wonderful, and I am fortunate. Plus I don’t need to buy new things because I will be getting presents!

Now, I need you guys to help me stick to this. And in the future, I think I will give myself planned vacations from saving (instead on unplanned, like this one.) Not going crazy spending, which I haven’t done in years. Just no need to blog about it (although I can), no need to rack expenses, no need to follow a set budget. That way, just like a real vacation, I can come back rejuvenated.

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November 26, 2008 at 3:32 pm 3 comments

Tis a Gift to be Simple

OK, so it’s the time of year when everyone is starting to do holiday gift posts, and with the economic situation even non-money saving places seem to be talking about gifts on the cheap, as are the people I know.

I could skip this post and assume the topic is covered, but I clearly know better than everyone else. No, but more help is always better, and there is something I want to emphasize.

Think about the receiver.

Really. Think about the person you are giving the gift to. I’ve seen tons of advice on how to save, but what’s the point on spending anything at all if it is something the person won’t appreciate? While going homemade is a great way to save, not everyone likes homemade items, or at least not the ones you were thinking of giving. Some people don’t want another cute tchotke, because it doesn’t go with the decor, the person is fighting clutter, or maybe it’s just not that person’s style. We’ll assume that it’s fantastic, because of course everything you make is fantastic and desirable, so don’t stress about that part.

Someone on a diet, cutting carbs, or just trying to be healthy during a holiday season focused on eating does not need baked goods. Someone with limited space doesn’t need a picture frame. A person with no time doesn’t need your seven bean soup mix in a jar-there’s still no time to cook it. That doesn’t mean you can’t go homemade. Try making a food that will help with the diet or healthy eating plan, a cute storage box for the friend with no space, and give the friend with no time an offer of cooking services, babysitting, whatever.

gifts
Gifts are not one size fits all, and the warmth of giving someone a homemade gift is diluted when you are giving everyone the same thing. The point of gift giving is to show a thought for someone, and do something nice for that person because you care. Or, in some cases, because social customs dictate it.

Last year at the office secret Santa, I heard a rant, in song form, about Starbucks gift cards. They seem to be a default coworker gift. Someone else at the gathering had in fact given one, and the receiver was delighted. There’s nothing wrong with a gift card-if you know someone loves a certain place and generally can’t afford to go there, or goes somewhere every day, it can show as much thought as anything else.

However, I am assuming must of us are people with limited funds but strong shopping skills. If you don’t have the time for handmade, or the skill, or you think it is not right for the person, shop around. It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how much thought. And if you happened to get those $200 boots for $20, well, good on you, and it’s up to you if you want to tell the receiver. Don’t be afraid to give used items if they are in good shape and would be useful to the person, but hesitate if you don’t know if the person generally buys things used. And if you can’t think of anything to get someone, why are you getting that person a gift?

Also, don’t give your non-Christian friends ornaments unless you know that person has a tree for some reason. Really, don’t do it.

November 25, 2008 at 4:17 pm 4 comments

Saving on a Wedding, Pt. 2

This is post two of a three-post guest series by Ali of Tattered, Tagged, Treasured on how she saved a ton without cutting anything they valued on her wedding:
***
The Site
Luckily, relatively simple, homespun elements fit in very well with our style. Let’s start with the site because we lucked into finding it, and we had it before we even asked our band to play. Eric’s father knew someone at work who had been to a wedding way out on Long Island and he thought it sounded like it was right up our alley. We checked out the website and made an appointment and that was pretty much that.

Our site was $1,200 and we have free reign for the whole day, but it came with nothing except the use of the space. For a bride who needs to save some money, an all-in-one wedding is only a good deal if you have a large wedding or don’t want to hassle with the nitty-gritty details of your wedding. Our invite list was well under 100 and our wedding is non-religious, so we saved a lot of money by having the ceremony and reception in the same place. And that place was an old, slightly ramshackle mansion with a lovely grand ballroom and lots of character. The public grounds include a wraparound porch, a bridal suite, a dining room, a commercial kitchen, two sitting/receiving areas, three bathrooms and one large open room in addition to the ballroom and yard.

home_photo

Since our quote was so reasonable, we didn’t even try to haggle, but many places allow you to. Because we didn’t haggle and there was instant like between the caretakers and us, we were allowed to store anything we’d like the whole week before. This was a big time saver on the actual day. [Ed. Note: we actually were allowed in the day before since they didn’t have an event that day, so almost all the set-up was done then.]

If you can keep a straight head about it, I highly recommend looking for spaces with a more customizable experience. This means every step of the way you can make everything meet your own price point. If you live in a major city, looking for a slightly more out-of-the-way place can also help cut costs.

November 24, 2008 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Saving on a Wedding, Pt. 1

This is post one of a three-post guest series by Ali of Tattered, Tagged, Treasured on how she saved a ton without cutting anything they valued on her wedding:
***
Okay, my husband, Eric, and I are very into music and that meant we were getting the band of our dreams for our wedding. The only problem? They cost 30% of our whole wedding budget. We didn’t care. That was the single most important thing for us to have at our wedding.

That meant a heck of a lot of skimping everywhere else. And it’s a wedding, so that meant skimping without looking like total crap.

So, some big expenses we had to cut back at my wedding were:
–the invitations
–the site
–the food
–the decorations

The Invitations
Invitations are incredibly costly. I get it. They’re doing some very amazing things very professionally. It’s just not something I was willing to afford. So I made my own.

IMG_4169edited

Our theme was a sort of neo-Victorian masquerade, so handmade Valentine-style cards actually fit in very well. There’s no reason you couldn’t do something yourself, even if you want a more perfect look than this. The paper is mulberry and I got enough of it (on eBay) to do my invitations, my response cards, my place cards and my dance cards. Unless you live somewhere with a lot of inexpensive paper stores or you know how to make the kind of paper you want, eBay is going to be your best bet. The stencil is from Michael’s. I wanted a brass stencil because of the metallic paint I was using. I threaded ribbon through two punched holes on the side and tied them in a bow to attach the eggshell-colored paper I used on the inside. Same basic deal for the response cards.

I chose quarter size to save on stamp costs. My envelopes came from envelopemall.com, a total lifesaver. For my thank you notes and guestbook pages, I actually chose origami paper. The origami guestbook concept is actually something I saw on Martha Stewart’s site and really liked. After all is said and done, it cost me less than $100 for envelopes, stamps, invitations, response cards, thank you notes, dance cards, place cards and guestbook supplies.

November 23, 2008 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

A Glass Half-Full. Of beer.

I feel like all I post lately is how poorly I’m doing at sticking to a budget and my goals. This has also made me more reluctant to post.

Lately I have spent a bunch of money eating out and traveling. I feel bad about it. It’s not that I haven’t been having a good time so much as that I would prefer to do these things in a plan, budgeted manner. So, I will keep working on that.

In the mean time, I was frustrated because I had no food in the house. But of course, this is almost always a lie. Yesterday I made beer bread, and the best part was that I made it entirely with things already in the house. And because they were all ingredients I just had around for other things, it felt like it was basically free. I also tend to forget that I like cooking and baking. It’s really nice, especially when I share with other people. That’s why I want to do this cooking rotation thing, although I have figured out the blog is not actually the best [place to figure it out. Because of the number of variables, I just need to ask people. But if you’d be interested in cooking & sharing food, let me know and we can talk and work out the details.

I made this delicious beer bread.  You wish you had some.

I made this delicious beer bread. You wish you had some.


For now, a beer bread recipe. This is incredibly easy to make and is good with soup, goat cheese, or just straight up. It’s also really cheap, depending on what kind of beer you use. My favorite kind is the kind that is leftover when people came over. 😉

    Beer Bread

1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter
3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 12 oz bottle dark beer (Guinness)

In a stand mixer-with bread dough attachment- mix the flour, sugar and beer until well mixed. Or, knead it together. if you use a mixer, be sure to scrape down sides and bottom to make sure there are no flour pockets.

Scoop it out into a greased loaf pan.

Bake 350F/180C for 30 minutes

Melt half the butter.

At 30 minutes of baking, split the top of the loaf and pour half of butter on top. Bake additional 15 minutes or more. For me, it usually takes another half hour or so to be done.

Remove bread from oven.

Pour the rest of the butter on top of the loaf.

Set aside to cool 10 minutes. Serve hot or cold

November 13, 2008 at 9:58 pm 1 comment

Food swap

So, I was thinking of trying to do a food swap, since clothing swaps and book swaps have been so great, and food is the main area I spend money besides rent these days.

pantryWe had discussed planning an event where people did some large batch cooking, had people sign up for what they would want, and everyone take home freezable food. In addition, everyone could bring any non-perishables they had around and weren’t going to eat and see if anyone else wanted them. This would have to be a NYC-based event. You’d be welcome to participate if you aren’t in NYC, but you’d have to come here. If you are interested, please comment. I was thinking maybe we could do sign-ups this month and then exchange food in the beginning of December if enough people are interested. And feel free to invite other people to join.

In the meantime, I’ve had a food swap idea I like better. Some friends of mine in college had a summer cooking collective that I got to take part in one summer. Everyone would put in a set amount of money, and then that money was used to buy groceries. People would cook in pairs four or five nights a week and everyone would get to eat the food. It was great. That would be hard to do now, since only a couple of my friends live close by and schedules are pretty variable. I was thinking it could be translated, though. Everyone would host a dinner once (or once per rotation) and we could have group dinners somewhere around once a week. Part of why I spend a lot on food is because I love eating out with friends. If I could do this instead, I think I’d save money, have fun, and maybe learn some new recipes. Does it sound good or workable to anyone else? We could keep the cooking in pairs thing-it made cooking a bit more fun and easy, and it meant you didn’t have to have experience cooking to participate.

So, please comment with answers to the following questions:
1. Would you be interested in a food swap as described above (large batch cooking & non perishables)?
If so:
1a. What days between now and Dec. 15th would be best for you?
1b. Do you have any food restrictions?

2. Would you be interested in taking part in a cooking rotation?
If so:
2a. What food restrictions do you have? I don’t eat meat, and since I am planning this, I call no meat.
2b. What days of the week and times work best for you? Once I get a decent number of responses I will work on setting dates that work for everyone, but for now let’s just look at days of the week.
2c. Would you want to cook with a partner?
2d. Would you prefer to cook at your own house, or someone else’s?
2d i. Would you prefer to always gather at the same house, maybe in a central location ro with a big table or something, or rotate?
2e. Does $5 a person per meal seem good to you? Can you afford that/do you think you could cook with that budget? This may depend in part on how many people are interested.

November 6, 2008 at 5:26 pm 1 comment

October & November Goals

So October was slow month, blog-wise.  I only made 7 posts.  However, that’s because it was an awesome month, life-wise.  As I mentioned, two of my favorite people got married, I went to visit my boyfriend for his birthday, and I went to Hawaii.

All of this sounds like it should be really expensive, but it wasn’t.  Well, the wedding was really expensive by my standards but I think as far as weddings go, it was cheap.  For Hawaii the expensive part was the plane tickets, which  my mom paid for.  While we were there we kept it cheap by staying with family, buying groceries and eating at home & bringing snacks with us, and trying hard not to go crazy on souvenirs.

I also managed to spend $0 on my costume and still, I think, do a pretty good job, so that was a plus, and I did a freelance job and got paid which helped balance out all my crazy spending. I also set up my first C.D., at ING. I have a road trip fund that has been sitting around in cash. It is only $150, but it is better earning interest than not and I know the trip won’t happen in the next 12 months.

Here’s how I did on my goals:
1. Implement my new weekly budget system and stick to it. Poorly. To be honest, I entirely lost track of my budget. I started using mint.com, which I like, but I can’t keep track of my cash or weekly totals the way I am used to. I think I should stick with using my spreadsheet from now on. As I mentioned, I got kind of bored with entering things but if I do it every day it didn’t too bad, and I really do a better job when I write everything down. Because I was so lax, I am not even sure how I did. I just know I spent way too much money and didn’t allocate enough.

2. Use images in my blog. Of my 7 blog posts, 3 have images. However, it’s a better percentage than before. Should I keep working on this one? Do you guys like reading better when I use pretty pictures?

3. Make things new. I was very excited about this and started working on my dresser the first day. I got a bunch done, and then, well, that was it. This month should be a LOT calmer for me, so I am going to keep working on this.

I think, since October was so out of the ordinary, I am going to try again with the same goals for November. I hope that isn’t cheating 😉

How did you do?

November 3, 2008 at 9:41 pm 3 comments

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