Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cutting back and saving up

So, money. The topic is so exciting that I needed a whole two weeks to prepare myself. That, or I couldn't bring myself to face my current spending habits.

Once upon a time, I was a college student living at home. I worked the whole time and didn't spend too excessively, but every once in a while I could afford to do something crazy. Like study abroad two years in a row, or buy a plane ticket to China on a whim. I always had my savings to fall back on and always envisioned that I would have enough money in the future to make up for it, so why not?! Plus, I didn't see myself as really wanting want "other" people wanted. I imagined myself working internationally, floating from place to place, never really needing my own home or a job that I could stay in for years.

Cholula, Mexico

Then I got a bit older and realized that I wanted those things. I also remembered that I was a social worker and that social workers earn a pretty modest income. OOPS. I eventually settled into a job that I enjoy and I've had my own apartment now for about five months, after living with roommates for a while. The switch from having ridiculously low living expenses to paying for everything by myself has been hard, but I've learned some things along the way that are helping me.

Having my money go to where it needs to be - If my money is all in one place, it's too difficult for me to keep track of how much I have for bills and savings and how much I have for other expenses. So I decided to split it up! Each pay period, I have half of what's needed for my fixed bills and expenses (rent, car insurance, utilities, etc.) put into a checking account that I use just to pay those bills. When one of them becomes due, I know that I have enough in that account to pay it. I also have a specific amount that's deposited into my savings account each pay period and I don't let myself touch it. Then! I have a second checking account where I put the remainder of my money. I use this money for groceries, gas, entertainment, and anything else that I would need to buy. I check in every few days to see how much I have left until I get paid again and it helps me rationalize my purchases. If I have money left over at the end, I can choose to put it into savings or keep it around for a bigger purchase later on.

Re-examining monthly expenses - Before I got my own place, I looked at all my fixed expenses and tried to see how I could cut back. I joined a cheaper and closer gym, I took the AAA Defensive Driving course to reduce my car insurance, and I took advantage of a discount for my phone bill through my employer. I also keep a lot of my appliances and lights off and unplugged when I'm not using them to cut back on utility costs. I don't have cable, but pay $7.99/mo for Netflix.

Packing my lunches - This has been huge for me. I used to pick up lunch a lot during the work week (I'm in and out of the office most days) or I would walk to a nearby restaurant to get food. While I admittedly don't buy the cheapest groceries, it still saves me money in the end and allows me to eat healthier. I don't know why, but I still always dread packing my lunch. I try to make it easier by packing dinner leftovers after eating the night before or making sure I prepare something else before I go to bed at night. If I leave it for the morning, I will inevitably decide that some form of primping or hygiene takes precedence. Lately, I have been bringing a big salad, greek yogurt, and some kind of granola bar. Really simple, but good.

I'm in love with Chobani's new Cinnamon Apple flavor

Changing habits and expectations - I have been working hard at cooking more and not going out to eat so much. There have been a few occasions when my boyfriend and I have been tempted to just go get dinner somewhere when we were tired and hungry, but I made myself cook dinner because 1) I already had the food and 2) it's cheaper. Of course, it's okay to splurge every now and then as a social activity or just for your own sanity, but I've found that changing my expectation about this kind of thing has helped me. If I don't see it as an option that I can always fall back on, then ... it's not an option to fall back on! We have also been staying in more and thinking of cheap activities to do when going out. Think: free nights at the art gallery or ice skating downtown.

Re-connecting with free or low-cost resources - On a Friday night a few weeks ago, I had the sudden urge to go out and buy a book that I have been meaning to read. So I did. Two days later, I was done with the book and $20 poorer. While supporting a bookstore is not to be frowned upon, going to the library is a much smarter move if you're trying to save money. If I would have waited a day or two, I could have easily found the same book at a nearby branch. I realized this in hindsight and decided to dust off my library card and make use of it once again. The good part is that I've been reading a lot more lately (hours of entertainment!) and they also have an amazing movie collection?! My boyfriend and I have been enjoying all kinds of cinematic treasures since this realization.

Sister Act 2 = Dangerous Minds + Whoopi

Waiting and planning for the big stuff - When I moved into my apartment, I didn't have a lot of my own furniture. I charged a lot of bigger purchases until I decided I wasn't going to buy anything else for a while. So I went months without a coffee table, a TV, and some other stuff, until a lot of the debt was paid off. And really, it wasn't a big deal. Little by little, I found stuff on sale and bought the things that I wanted. I've also been itching to go on a trip lately, so my boyfriend and I decided to plan for Toronto. We had been putting off booking a hotel, when lo and behold, one morning I get an email from Living Social for a half-off deal for a nice downtown Toronto hotel. Done and done. I can be really inpatient and impulsive at times, but I've been trying to re-train myself to realize that the world will not end if I don't have a coffee table to put my bowl of oatmeal on. Turns out, you appreciate it way more when you finally get it.

Things to work on - I fully admit to spending way too much on groceries still. Sometimes I go to Wegmans for a few things and wind up leaving with two bags of groceries. I don't know how this happens! I just love food and shopping for it (as long as it's not a Saturday/Sunday afternoon, when the rest of the world is shopping.) I think I went there 3 times this week for various things. I need to cut back! I need a game plan. I need to meal plan? I'll work on it. I also want to get more creative with things to do around Buffalo that aren't so expensive for those nights where you just want to get out of the house. Sometimes I end up at a bar or venue and spend way too much on drinks. I'm realizing that this needs to be the exception and not the rule. Maybe I should just have people over to my place more often. Game night? Soup night? I'll beat you at Donkey Kong Country night?

So, that's all for now! Thoughts? Hopes? Dreams?  Have a good week :-)

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