• Posts Tagged ‘spending’

    Don’t Spend Your Savings!

    by  • March 13, 2013 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Maybe it’s a problem unique to me, but every time I used to find a way to trim my budget, I ended up just spending the savings.

    Spending My Savings

    Prime example – I used to spend roughly $3 per workday on coffee drinks, which multiplied by 20 workdays a month, meant that I coughed up $60 a month minimum on coffee.  I know, I was blowing through money fast…like getting a payday loan in 15 minutes fast…but it was my vice.  But my new employer provides free coffee at work.  Not just any coffee either, but coffee brewed with an individual brewing system so it was always frothy and fresh.  Yum.

    When I was checking my credit card bill on the first month after starting my new job, I realized how much I was saving effortlessly by just not going on the morning coffee shop run!  I was thrilled and I chalked it up to being an awesome job perk.

    But after getting really happy that I was saving $60 a month on coffee, I ended up justifying purchasing a $10 clearance blouse that I did not need.  That was followed by using premium oil during my next oil change for $15 extra.  And then I spent $3 more to park near my work building. Why not?  I was saving $60 a month incidentally anyways.

    Justifications

    See, I easily justified spending every dime of my accidental savings on stuff that did not improve my quality of life.  Looking at my monthly statement again, I realized I was justifying myself into spending enough to compensate for all of my coffee savings!  I was wasting my easy savings! Admittedly, my monthly budget was not impacted, but my ability to save was.

    I have since capped my automatic lifestyle inflation.  I think the solution for me is to try to ignore (and thus not celebrating) saving money.  I would rather not notice the savings until they are safely tucked into a savings account, where I can celebrate them by just glancing at my statement. Seeing my savings account increase has made the extra cash seem like tangible savings, not merely free-floating credit for me to spend.

    In all honestly, the coffee budget itself was probably ridiculous.  But justifying spending that money even when my coffee needs were satisfied was just insane.  Currently, I have my morning beverage costs in check.

    Do you have a trouble actually saving money saved?

    Cyber-Monday Pity Shopping

    by  • December 3, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Taylor

    I May Not Have Had Nine Marriages, But I Can Have Some New Clothes

    I have been exceedingly good when it comes to spending and saving in these last few months of 2012. Influx of money from doing more work than anticipated? Into the savings account it goes! Need a new dress for a variety of upcoming occasions because I’ve worn the same two dresses so many times that it’s starting to get awkward? Take advantage of a Cyber Monday discount deal at a rental site for designer dresses, because the last thing I need is a fancy dress taking up permanent residence in my closet. So frugal! So virtuous!

    So of course, while perusing the many, many online deals after the Thanksgiving holiday this year, virtuosity gave way to pity. I deserve something for myself! I cried. All of my sweaters are so old! Everyone else is out having after-work cocktails and fancy dinners while I sit at home and sew up the torn lining of my five-year-old winter coat like a modern-day Dickens character! Wah wah wah! And so on.

    So in the interest of getting my husband to stop telling me to “JUST BUY YOURSELF A NEW SWEATER ALREADY,” and to stop the pity-parade before it got excessive, I took out my credit card and made plans. After finishing up a whirlwind day of work catch-up, I went home, put on the new “Liz and Dick” Lifetime movie (because nothing will make you feel better about yourself more quickly than watching a terrible dramatization of Liz Taylor’s love life) and did some considerable online browsing. Stores were consulted, sales reviewed, and online product descriptions pored over in order to find the best items possible.

    At the end of the day, I considered my needs (comfortable, warm sweaters for the weekends up here, as I seem to have forgotten how incredibly cold it gets, and pretty soon my husband will start wearing his own sweaters and I will not be able to steal them anymore), and what I was comfortable spending (not $300 on a cashmere number from one online shop, pretty though it was). I ended up with a cozy looking cable knit from Nordstrom, and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt for it. Is that because when I arrived at our families’ for Thanksgiving I realized I had only packed black turtlenecks, because that is all I own, so it looked like I didn’t change my clothing for four days? In part – but also because I’ve been doing well, and also trying this new thing where I don’t berate myself endlessly for spending money I have to spend. It’s revolutionary!

    How do you handle personal splurges?

    images: AJ Alfieri-Crispin

    Planning for Holiday Spending

    by  • November 7, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Gifts

    These Are Essentially Piles of Money

    One of the most revolutionary things my young financial mind discovered upon entering the world of personal finance writing after college was the concept of early saving for holiday spending. I had always found myself unpleasantly stressed as the holidays arrived, particularly after I started spending Christmas with my husband’s family. They are a very generous, and numerous, group, and I felt compelled to have something for everyone (even if that was only a batch of cookies). But costs added up – travel, gifts, baking supplies, etc. – and I couldn’t get my mind around a way to offset the sudden spending.

    Until, that is, I read about a bloggers’ technique (sorry, can’t remember exactly who) for ending that exact stress. Rather than wait until November to think about cost, they put a small amount of money into a “holiday” account every month until said holidays, at which point, you have a small but healthy savings account to fund your spending.

    This, quite literally, blew my mind. I already had automatic savings withdrawals taken out of my paycheck each month for other savings accounts, and so I added a small sum – I think about $25 – each month to this fund. While it wasn’t quite enough to cover all holiday costs, it substantially offset an amount that would have otherwise stressed me out significantly. I also didn’t miss the $25 each month, especially as it was gone before I could notice it.

    These days, I employ a similar tactic; instead of a set amount each month, I tend to add lump sums of money when I can (after substantial overtime, for instance, or when I have a few freelance checks come in at once). This means that, while my husband mocks me for ordering holiday cards in October, I can take advantage of early bird sales because the cash is sitting there. I can also take money out of the fund to cover our plane tickets for holidays, and any other expenditures that come up. I don’t feel so cash poor the moment the stores pull out the holiday themed items (way too early, in my opinion), and most importantly, it alleviates stress during an already stressful time. Did the jam sandwich cookies I’d been planning to send to family turn into jam disaster piles? Not a problem, I can replace the supplies without stress. Find a good airline deal in July? Take advantage of it, because the money is there. It’s such a simple idea that I kick myself for not thinking of it earlier.

    How do you manage the stress of holiday spending?

    image: FutUndBeidl

    Ways to Spend Money in a Hurricane

    by  • November 5, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Hurricane

    At Least We're Not Out Here

    As I write this (ed. last week, of course), Hurricane Sandy is pounding down our door (read: causing some trees outside to sway slightly). Work has been cancelled; schools are shut down; public transportation is offline, and we’re holed up inside waiting to see if the hype was accurate. One would assume that in the face of an apocalyptic weather event where I am forced (yes, forced) to sleep in and stay inside all day without putting on real pants (leggings don’t count), staying within a budget would be simple. But there are a surprising number of ways to run through money in an event like today’s, and only some of them could be deemed “wasteful.”

    I’ll start with pre-hurricane spending, which is no small thing. After reviewing our fridge contents and discovering that we were down to three kinds of cheese and one apple – I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me – I suggested to my husband that we get a few groceries before we were potentially trapped inside because of wind and rain. Unfortunately, the entirety of our small, liberal-minded city had the same idea, and so after waiting in line at Whole Foods for twenty minutes, we emerged many dollars poorer, but in possession of a few non-perishables and other essentials (like beer).

    But how can you spend money now that you’re trapped inside? In the internet age, it’s easy, and when you know you might not have internet for much longer, it’s even easier. Bills were paid instantly, because the power might go out. And what better way to procrastinate a morning away than by doing some online shopping? A few stores have even offered discounts in light of the hurricane (presumably because they cannot be open and they still want you to spend money), and I’ve taken advantage. And then there are the even more frivolous purchases; having discovered a way to rent videos on Amazon and stream them through our TV, my husband and I have a date with an easily rented (for the right amount of money, of course) movie or two today. Sure, we could watch what we have, but we rarely go to the movies, and we never get an unexpected day off. It’s worth the money, in my opinion.

    image: Chalky Lives

    Cost-Effective Ways to Fight Mild/Moderate Depression

    by  • October 24, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    depression

    This feels about right.

    It’s no secret that I suffer from depression, sometimes major, sometimes moderate, sometimes mild. It was only a few years ago that I got actual medical help, and as it turns out, treatments can be quite expensive. In the past few years I’ve also read a lot of the medical literature on depression and have used myself as a guinea pig to gauge the effectiveness of some of the remedies. I’ll share with you some of the things that worked for me. Before I get into the list, I’ll add the caveat that these are most effective for mild or moderate depression; if you suffer from major depression, you’ll probably need some more powerful interventions.

    Generic antidepressants

    It’s no secret that generic equivalents to brand name medications can be just as effective and cost less. There’s a few ways you can save even more money: many pharmacies offer incentives of $25 to switch, shopping around may reveal one pharmacy that charges less than others, and you can use a mail-order pharmacy service. There is one catch with generics: sometimes they don’t work. This week it was found that generic buproprion (aka, Wellbutrin) made by Teva Pharmaceuticals was not equivalent to the brand-name drug. While this is definitely an exception and not the rule, it’s a risk one takes when saves a little money and switches to generic.

    Daylight therapy

    When I realized that my bouts of depression were worse in the winter than any other months, I realized that I may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Basically, my body and brain conspired against me and stopped making chemicals necessary for me to be a functioning human being. But I have learned that I can fight that with SCIENCE! I bought a daylight therapy lamp to use in the winter months. Make sure to follow the instructions as the light has to hit your eye in a specific manner for a good amount of time. I would do this in the morning and read the news on my laptop at the same time. But honestly, these days with a toddler around, it’s difficult to get up in the morning just to shine a light in my face. Which leads me to my next item…

    Sleep

    There’s a vicious cycle when it comes to sleep and depression. If I don’t get enough sleep, my mood worsens; because of my depression, I am often unable to get good sleep. Just like with kids, it helps to have a bedtime routine to follow so that I’m able to get my mind ready to sleep.  Like many things, it takes practice to get a good night of sleep, but a wealth of scientific data show that getting enough sleep is a Very Good Thing. A few weeks ago I was feeling AWESOME — I was sick and went to bed at 8 pm for four nights in a row. That was four nights of 10-hours of sleep! I got enough good sleep to get back on track sleeping well consistently and have been feeling better because of it.

    Exercise

    Now when I say exercise, I’m not always talking about putting on a leotard and hitting the gym for a good sweat session. Anything that raises heart rate and gets blood flowing for a good amount of time is ok. According to research, 30 minutes of moderate activity 3-5 days a week can do the trick…and it doesn’t all have to be done at the same time. Take three 10-minute walks a day. Play basketball in the morning and tennis at night. Have morning sex, a few quickies, evening sex, and, uh, however many sexytimes it takes to get to 30 minutes. You get the picture.

    Depression sucks and the answer to feeling better is often more than “hang out with friends” or “watch a funny movie.” There’s real changes going on with the central nervous system that are causing the malaise. It’s important to not be depressed to be able to fully participate in life. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.

    image: shattered.art66

    Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz

    by  • October 22, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Coffee

    Should I Be Spending Way More Money on This?

    I had the opportunity to enjoy an “Employee Appreciation Day” at work recently, which of course resulted in conversations having nothing to do with money that I promptly interpreted into financial lessons for us all. On this particular sunny afternoon, a few co-workers were discussing their addiction to iced coffee. Where I live, iced coffee, particularly that produced by a popular chain that rhymes with “Munkin Monuts,” is a big deal. We work in a busy area, on a campus full of professionals, so there’s no lack of opportunities to visit any number of establishments and load up for the day on delicious icy caffeine.

    These co-workers, however, were discussing the frequency with which they buy iced coffee. I listened carefully, and the average seemed to be about two, but occasionally more, trips a day. Because I am a miserly curmudgeon, I was horrified. I’m no Dave Ramsey with his Latte Factor, but let’s do the math: 2 iced coffees a day, at $3 each (I’m being conservative, as it can be more depending on where you prefer to buy your coffee) for 50 weeks a year, figuring five-day work weeks, means they’re spending about $1500 a year on iced coffee. Don’t get me wrong – I greatly enjoy iced coffee. Once in awhile, I’ll start my Saturday or Sunday by picking up that popular chain’s delicious caramel swirl iced coffee, and happily begin my morning by drinking what is essentially melted coffee ice cream; or I’ll pick up something stronger and cold-brewed, and sip it delightedly. I love coffee. When we moved, my “new apartment” treat for myself was replacing my old and (despite my best efforts) filthy Mr. Coffee machine with a shiny new french press. Part of my excitement over finally having a kitchen was based on the fact that I will finally be able to brew my own cold-brew iced coffee (when the weather goes above 65 degrees, which won’t be for eons, but whatever). I understand a love of coffee. I understand a love of ritual. But I do not understand the constant purchasing of store-created (and store-cost) iced coffee.

    My reasons aren’t only financial, although of course that plays into it. For $14 a month, I get fresh ground French Roast coffee from a local coffee spot I’m very fond of. I’m not so much of a coffee drinker (or snob) that I go through it very quickly, so it lasts me about two months (AND I get a free coffee drink out of the purchase, which I always look forward too, as it’s a way to have a latte without feeling like I’m paying for it). That breaks down to about forty cents a day. I also have a small but cherished ten minutes built into my morning routine, before my husband wakes up, during which all I do is sit on my couch, savor my coffee, and watch Matt Lauer tell me how many more children the Duggars plan to have. It’s glorious.

    It’s also the reason I cannot totally comprehend the need to buy so much coffee (and iced coffee at that, which is universally more expensive) every day. No time to drink it at home? I’ve been there, and that’s why they invented those great heat-sealing tumblers. Love the way Starbucks crafts their lattes? Great, but then do not continuously show up to work in the latest J.Crew outfits bemoaning your lack of savings and expect me to sympathize. Perhaps I’m too tight-fisted for my own good; but I’ve trained myself so thoroughly that things you end up buying, despite being able to make them yourself, are a special treat, that the frequent purchase of coffee unsettles me.

    Am I crazy? Do you buy coffee on a daily basis?

    image: anthony_p_c

    How Much is That Long-Distance Relationship Going to Cost You?

    by  • October 18, 2012 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    The following is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a long time reader who has recently started to blog over at Reach Financial Independence. Born and raised in Paris, France, Pauline blogs about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence.

    airplane over ocean

    Bye bye, love.

    So here you are, at the airport, crying. He (or she, but in this case, “she” is me, so “he” is a “he”) hugs you goodbye, and you promise that the long-distance relationship will not affect you as a couple. You are stronger than this, after all — nothing can take you apart.

    Spoiler alert: long-distance relationships (LDRs) suck. Once you get your emotionally sobbing self back home and start frantically counting the days until you see each other again, you should also start counting your money. Yep, it is not only going to be hard, it is going to cost you, too.

    The obvious costs of maintaining a long-distance relationship

    Phone

    Whether He moved across the country to go to college or He was that tanned and muscular bartender you met on your last exotic holiday, your phone bill is going to go through the roof. You can look into unlimited phone plans: Some include calls overseas, but most of the time the list of countries is limited. Home phones offer the same kind of service, with unlimited calls to a bigger number of countries, but mainly to other home phones, so that is assuming He has one.

    If you both have a computer and a decent internet connection, which is not a given in many countries, even some where you would assume it is, like Italy for example, you can get a Skype account and call each other for free for hours.

    And download WhatsApp on your smartphone to chat as you please with your loved one.

    Transport

    If you are staying together, it means that you have plans to see each other again. Good. Hopefully, you knew He was leaving a couple of months ago, so you have already stacked on tickets back and forth for the both of you. Not at the same time, obviously. You have thought about everything and synced your calendars to make sure you don’t forget whose turn it is to come over (and to dress nice for the occasion, but we will come to that later).

    Now is the time to get a frequent flyer account, to apply for a credit card that earns you miles as rewards, to ask your family for airline coupons as birthday and Christmas gifts (unless He is not a welcome addition to the family). The sooner you book your tickets, the better, wherever the destination. Six to eight weeks in advance is usually the best time. Didn’t think about it until after He left? Check out last minute offers, and check them both ways, it may be cheaper for one of you to go than the other one.

    As you will be spending a lot of time commuting back and forth, re-organize your life around your traveling schedule. Make good use of the time spent in transit to catch up on your reading, study, or write. As an added bonus, you will have plenty to talk about when you get there.

    Costs you may not have thought about

    Grooming

    You will be in a state of permanent anguish. What is going on over there? Who is He with? There is no way you can reunite wearing your favorite sweat pants or less than perfect hair and body. So yes, while normal couples get into a comfy routine, put on 5 pounds of “love handles” and don’t worry too much about always looking their best, you will be spending your time apart in salons and the gym, eager to see again that ”wow” in His eyes like when He first saw you.

    Crazy splurges on outings and dressing up

    You will see each other less and will probably want to mark the occasion. While in a LDR, you won’t settle for a night of movies on the couch. You will want to eat somewhere special ($$ka-ching$$), maybe have a drink before ($$ka-ching$$), drive around to see His new city ($ka-ching$), and lots of other very expensive activities that cohabiting couples haven’t enjoyed in a while. Of course, you will buy a new dress for the occasion, and maybe some heels too? ($$ka-chiiiiing$$)

    Nights out with friends

    While He was the only one you had eyes for, you probably stopped seeing many friends. Now that He is away, it is time to call the girls and organize a fun night, both to reconnect and forget how lonely you are without Him. Plus tax, plus tips.

    Health costs

    Costs to your health are harder to estimate, but come on, do you really think you can stay up until 4am, which is when He wakes up and wants to talk for an hour? Can anyone go on like that for weeks, ingesting quantities of caffeine the next morning and walking around like a madly in love zombie?

    The lack of sleep can affect your mood, your relations with other people (especially your coworkers), and can cost you a job promotion or worse…your job.

    Maybe it will be time to reassess your LDR and, if it is really worth it, take the plunge and join Him over there?

    Have you ever been in a LDR? Has it worked out for you? For your budget?

    image: The-Lane-Team

    Putting a Stop To Spending

    by  • May 8, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Clothing

    I Do Not Have to Own All the Clothes

    While I generally think of myself as someone incapable of mindless spending, over the past few months I realize that I’ve been putting more money towards a variety of purchases than I would have liked. This has something to do with my current occupation – as I’ve written before, my current (and relatively new) job requires that I dress much more nicely than I’ve previously needed to, and as a result I’ve found myself spending money on clothing, if not quite willy-nilly, then close to it. Yes, there were the justifiable expenses – five identical black turtlenecks from Ann Taylor for winter work attire (I lack creativity, get cold easily, and spill food on myself with such frequency that these have already paid for themselves several times over); black boots from L.L. Bean that are real leather, great for the office, and even better for going out in my freezing cold New England city when I’m meeting friends for dinner or drinks; a few very much on-sale dresses that I can wear for the upcoming onslaught of weddings. But then there were the little things that I could “justify” if I tried, and which, added up, made me uncomfortable with where my spending was going. I may be trying to buy only things that I love and that will serve me well in many capacities for a long time, but that doesn’t mean I have to own all of those things at once.

    What finally made me reassess my spending was a Lilly Pulitzer dress I’d had my eye on for a while. This purchase was partly inspired by my lifelong quest to transform myself into someone who at least has the wardrobe, if not the life, of an old-money WASP, and partly by my desire for a cute beach cover-up for the summer. For those of you familiar with Lilly Pulitzer, I can assure you that it was on the low, low end of that clothing line’s cost spectrum. But after I bought it, I thought to myself, “Did I really need this now? Was this something I should have considered a bit more before making the purchase?” I worried that I had purchased it when I did out of a momentary desire to own a Lilly Pulitzer dress, as well as the lure of free-shipping. These motivators, while understandable, should not be my reasoning for making a big purchase.

    Spawned by my discomfort, I considered my closet. I feel that over the past few years I’ve made good choices – I’ve bought things that I like, that I really wear, and that will look good for some time. I try not to make frivolous or impulsive purchases. But the fact that I’d bought a few more unnecessary items than my closet needed – and that I’d done so somewhat thoughtlessly – prompted a decision. I won’t be buying any clothes for a few months. I could be less of a coward about this, and say, “I WILL SPEND NO MONEY ON CLOTHES FOR FIVE MONTHS,” but I worry that a rule like that will just breed a self-resentment that will end up in a cranky moment in J.Crew, feeling sorry for myself and pulling out my credit card for something unspeakably useless and expensive. So instead, I’ll be doing my best to be much more thoughtful. When I try to justify that purchase of a dress for a friend’s wedding, I’ll remember that I already have more than enough from which to choose. When I covet that pretty new J.Crew bracelet (sometimes I think J.Crew should pay me for all of the times I mention them on this website), I’ll remember that I have plenty of pretty bracelets that I don’t wear enough as it is. It isn’t about denying myself – it’s about considering what I have.

    Have you ever put yourself on a spending hiatus?

    image: _e.t.

    How We Spent Money on Our Wedding, Or Not

    by  • May 1, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Wedding Cake

    There Is No Price Too High for Delicious Cake

    Image: Cat

    When I was younger, I never dreamed about my perfect wedding. Rather, I spent my adolescence imagining the day I could become a reclusive editor in New York City, living in my fabulous apartment with my multitude of cats, free from the limiting requirements of “marriage” and “other people.” So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself engaged rather young (for people of my generation/education level/geographic area), and confronted with the reality that no, we could not just go to city hall, because my husband has lots of family that would like to see us get married and eat cake.

    I’m not big on having feelings in public, or spending money, or having people look at me unless I’m doing something very funny or charming, so the whole idea of a wedding was slightly abhorrent to me from the get-go. My own issues aside, my then-fiance and I knew that we wanted to keep a strict budget (graduate school stipend and non-profit salary for the win). Luckily, he is from an area of the country that is infinitely cheaper than our current city, which made the planning process a whole lot simpler. Once we had a public park reserved and the save-the-dates in the mail/email, we got into the nitty-gritty details, and that’s when I found out just how ridiculous the whole process can be. Take, for instance, this scene from a local rental company we visited:

    Abby: Hello! We are getting married, and will need some chairs for the ceremony. What are the cheapest chairs you have?
    Rental Store Employee (RSE): These are our white wooden chairs.
    Abby: Yes, but are these the cheapest chairs you have?
    RSE: These are our white plastic chairs.
    Abby’s Internal Monologue: DID I STUTTER?
    Abby: Yes, but WHAT ARE YOUR CHEAPEST, UGLIEST, CHEAPEST CHAIRS?
    RSE: Well, these are our cheapest chairs. They’re brown.
    Abby: We’ll take them!

    And even those were far, far more money than I wanted to spend on plastic chairs that people would be using for all of ten minutes. To the point that my husband and I had a legitimate argument where I told him that we only needed ten or so chairs for the older folks who would need a place to sit, and he made the (correct) point that if we were asking people to travel to this inconvenient rural location for our wedding, at the very least we could provide them with a place to sit, and could I please stop being so miserably cheap about these things?

    At this point, almost a year out, there are things I wish I’d done differently. We kept to our budget, and had a really nice little wedding, if I do say so myself. But my stingy tendencies did, I think, get in the way of enjoying certain things. For instance, I was very strict about not purchasing anything for other events. And do you know what? I regret not splurging a bit on a nice new dress for my bridal shower, or that fancy clutch for my wedding. These are purchases that wouldn’t have broken me, and would have added some frivolity to an event that I otherwise imbued with a sense of obligation and financial stress. You might notice a pattern emerging in my behavior – I tend to be strict to the point of purposeless unhappiness in certain financial areas. While our wedding was lovely, I could have loosened the reigns on my spending, and it would have been fine.

    Have you had to juggle the budgetary delight that is planning a wedding?

    The Adverse Effects of Sunlight

    by  • April 5, 2012 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Sunshine

    Sunshine = Spending Spree

    Image: Rachel Kramer

    We’ve had a spate of gorgeous weather here in the Northeast, and normally bundled and home-bound citizens have been venturing out in the sunshine. I’ve noticed that with nicer weather comes a trend: spending money. I’m less content to sit inside and drink tea or a beer with my husband; I’d rather be on a roof-deck with friends sipping sangria, which comes at a higher cost.

    I’d scheduled a haircut months back, and found myself walking to the salon in the stunning weather. The salon is located on a busy shopping street, and there were huge quantities of people out and about, wearing skirts without tights and shorts and dresses for the first time in ages. After getting my haircut (a not-inexpensive endeavor itself), I thought, “Why head back home just now?” My husband would be in a meeting for a while, and I had nowhere to be.

    It was lovely to take a long-awaited walk in some nice weather (my city generally has two months of summer, and many, many months of wintery misery), but SHOCKINGLY (note the sarcasm) I stumbled on a myriad of ways to spend my money. I resisted the allure of the many stores with pretty window displays of sundresses and shoes; I managed not to stop for ice cream at the multitude of shops advertising new and exciting variations on chocolate. But when I saw the open door to a nail salon, I channelled my inner Tom Haverford and thought, “Treat yo’self.”

    Twenty-two dollars and one appropriately summery nail shade later, I emerged.

    Would I have spent that money had it not been blindingly nice outside? If I hadn’t felt like walking the avenue and seeing what caught my eye? Probably not. I would have hurried home to greener (or at least warmer) pastures, and thought about painting my nails myself before deciding that my time was better spent watching re-runs of “30 Rock.” Is it worth beating myself up over the unforeseen expense? Not while I’m on this vitamin D high it isn’t.

    The Necessary Evil – Dry Cleaning Expenses

    by  • March 29, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Dry Cleaning

    Such an innocent-looking money suck.

    Image: Rob

    This weekend, I surveyed the damage done. How much would it cost, I wondered? Surely more than I wanted to pay. Did I have to do it? Yes, I did – any attempts to solve the problem on my own would only result in a more costly expense. So I steeled myself, and readied my wallet for the inevitable blow.

    Am I referencing a horrible home expense? A disaster of epic proportions that needed to be paid for? No – my apprehension relates entirely to an ongoing expense that I can’t get rid of, no matter how hard I try – dry cleaning.

    Before I started my current job, I worked in professions where “business casual” wasn’t so much the required attire as just “casual.” I could throw on some nice jeans and a blouse, and be considered well-dressed for the job. Now, however, it’s suits, pencil skirts, and blouses, all day, every day. While I’ve enjoyed building a wardrobe an adult can be proud of, I’ve been floored by the expense of upkeep. Even with careful maintenance – ironing skirts and pants that can be worn a few times without cleaning, machine-washing those items that clearly aren’t necessary to dry-clean – there comes a point where I just have to take things to be cleaned, and then I get to drop my jaw at the $16 cost of cleaning a dress, or the miserable discrepancy between laundering my button-downs as opposed to my husband’s (it’s $4 more to clean a woman’s shirt, apparently).

    My husband has also joined in on the horror. He has interviews and conferences to attend, and as a result, has a far higher dry cleaning bill than he ever did as a hapless undergrad. He makes a similar effort – hanging up pants, ironing where he can – but at a certain point, it’s unavoidable. I know some people who apply a Darwinian method to their clothing – throw it all in one washing machine and dryer, and whatever comes out alive deserves to be worn. While it’s tempting, I just can’t bring myself to throw a $300 three-piece suit into the washing machine. What if it shrinks? (And it surely will). I also have to admit that my sad ironing attempts pale in comparison to the dry cleaner’s – I can’t seem to get that sharp crease in the pant that they can.

    This is also an area where we won’t tally up our yearly costs. I like to try to cut expenses where I can, and sometimes looking at a huge number can be a useful wake-up call (I spent how much on eating out? Etc.). But with dry cleaning, I know it would just depress me.

    Is there an expense in your life that’s unavoidable but depressing?

    The Cost of Higher Standards

    by  • March 19, 2012 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    Churros y Chocolate

    In my belly.

    Image: Oscar

    In college, I had the good fortune to spend a semester in London. Because I was on a boatload of financial aid, and determined not to run up any credit card debt, I spent my summer budgeting and saving and preparing to spend as little money as possible living and traveling abroad. Four months and many bean dinners and hostels later, I emerged slightly more cultured and no more in-debt than I had been before my travels.

    Back then, I was more than willing to do (and endure) whatever it took to see as much as I could on the money I had. Reviews for that Paris hostel say that it has bedbugs? Whatever, it’s cheap! Dublin hostel only has availability in a room of 20? Sure, I’ll be there with a friend, it’ll be fine. Yes, I’ll leave at 5 am to take the cheaper train to France, and sleep in the Dublin airport to cut down on one short night of hostel expenses. I was young, and excited, and happy to endure slight inconveniences for travel.

    Years later, I’ve noticed that my standards have changed. Thanks to some careful planning, and $800 in vouchers for sitting in an airport a few months ago (thanks, US Airways!), my husband and I will soon be off to Spain for a vacation. Where once I would be heading to hostel websites, I instead found myself looking up hotels and apartments with high ratings and nice amenities. I’m older, and I’m a little bit more spoiled, and I now value a certain degree of comfort and privacy over the frugality of the international hostel options. I do not want to be in a room with 20 strangers. I do not want to wake up any earlier than I have to. I want to take the train, and not the overcrowded bus, to the cities we’ll be visiting. I want to sit down at restaurants, and order what I like, and not skimp on ordering drinks to save a dollar.

    My husband and I share similarly frugal ideals, although there are moments when we disagree on what is and is not worth it (I want to take a cab from the airport; he insists on public transportation). Luckily, we both agree on the unmitigated importance of stuffing our faces with as much jamon as we can find, and consuming all of the wine we come across. He’s had his fair share of frugal traveling, and we’re both at a place where we’re willing to spend a little more to get a little more. It’s a nice feeling, to know that my financial world won’t collapse if I’m not counting every penny that’s going towards sangria and churros.

    Have you noticed that your standards have changed as you get older? Or are there still areas where you’re willing to rough it?

    On Sudden Saving

    by  • March 1, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Trevi Fountain

    This, or retirement?

    In the Spring of 2010, my husband and I found ourselves on the receiving end of a bit of excellent luck. As a graduate student, he was eligible to apply for a position in one of the undergraduate dorms of the university he attends. This role would entail some advising and programming responsibilities for the students, in exchange for a rent-free apartment and meal plan. When he was offered the position, I did a happy dance, and immediately proceeded to order a label-maker I’d had my eye on for ages and until then had deemed a frivolous purchase (I am a woman of simple, and sometimes embarrassing, tastes).

    When the high of the news had worn off (dinner out when we feel like it! turning the heat up instead of putting on another sweater!), we realized we’d need to consider where all of that money – previously earmarked for rent – would now be going. As a non-profit employee and a graduate student, we were suddenly presented with savings opportunities we had rarely previously considered. There were a few obvious choices – if we ever wanted to buy a house, we could suddenly spend our twenties saving for a down-payment. We could greatly increase our retirement contributions. We could pay down student loans with terrible interest rates.

    But besides the obvious choices, we took this as an opportunity to put aside money forthose things we’d always wanted to do, but never thought possible. We gave ourselves a few months of “free-saving” – time to put money towards things that might not be as practical as the obvious choices, like a house or an IRA. My mother has always wanted to go to Italy, and she would never do it on her own. So, for her 60th birthday, I presented her with a trip abroad, courtesy of several months earmarking cash in a little fund called “Italy Trip.” My husband’s sisters are in college, and face the daunting reality of student loans when they graduate. He’s put some cash aside to help ease that load.

    Could we have taken those few months and started stashing cash responsibly? Of course. But by the time I have enough disposable income to take my mother to Italy on a whim, it might be too late. Careers and age intervene, and so I seized the opportunity. Could my husband wait until his sisters are ten years into loan repayment to start sending cash their way on birthdays and holidays? Yes, but how nice will it be for them to see a little bit of that burden lifted as they leave that graduation stage in a few years? There’s a lot to be said for responsible saving, but I can’t say I feel too much guilt over those early months of less-than-austere planning.

    Have you ever been presented with a windfall, and put it toward less-than-practical plans?

    image: Chris Wee

    How We’ve Been Doing Financially

    by  • October 10, 2011 • Tagged: , , , , ,  • Comments

    In the past two years, we haven’t been good with keeping this blog updated. As we’ve said before, finances weren’t a primary concern for us; we treat it more like a chore. Sure money is important, but for us it remains a tool that we use in order to achieve our other goals. However, like all chores, unless we keep up with it or we’ll end up with a mess. Here are some highlights as to what we’ve been up to financially:

    • Employment: We’re still at the same jobs, and consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have them in this economy. A few friends of ours have been unemployed for quite some time now and I can only imagine the stress that they’re under while they try and make ends meet.
    • Salaries: We’ve made a pittance by sticking ads on this blog. Her’s salary has remained stagnant in the last few years, and she’s still not feeling good about it. Mine, however, has continued to increase. In fact, I have increased my salary by 100% since entering the workforce. The extra cash has made it easier to get by.
    • Retirement savings: We have both increased our employer retirement plan contributions. Her is now saving 10% of her paycheck, of which the first 6% is matched 40%. For those bad at math, the match bumps up the total contribution to 12.4% per year. I’ve increased my contribution to 7% with a 3% match, for a total contribution of 10%. After the new year I’ll probably increase mine to 10%.
    • Savings: Did you know babies are expensive? In addition to buying all sorts of baby stuff, we’ve also taken a few vacations in the last 2 years. Some of them have been “paid” for by my work, some were to lands down under. We’re on track right now to replenish our savings to 3 months of our take home salary. We thought that would be an easier target because our expenses always seem variable. We assume that we could live off of that amount of money for at least 6 months.
    • Spending: In our not making finances a priority, I’m sure that we’ve spent a little more money than we’ve wanted to. Surprise surprise, daycare is our #1 expense, at 30% of our take home pay. At a distant 2nd is rent, which is 15% of our take home pay.
    • Debt: Student loans remain. We’re still not carrying balances on our credit cards – we  pay off the credit cards every month. Still making love, not debt. Oh yeah.
    I would say that we’re been doing ok with our finances. How has the last year or two been for you?

    Accused of Being a Spendthrift

    by  • February 10, 2009 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    This past weekend Trent at the The Simple Dollar, one of my favorite blogs, wrote a provocative narrative of how a media interviewer viewed him as a cheapskate and he wouldn’t think of him as a fun person to hang out with because of his frugality. After assuring his audience that he wasn’t a cheapskate, he states that the issue is all about first-impressions, most importantly the immediate assumption that making frugal choices is a negative, or the belief that not spending money and buying products will bring you sadness and ugliness and social failure and career failure.

    I’d like to explore the other side of his experience. If you’ve been a regular reader of our blog, you’re familiar with the flippant attitude we have towards our financial situation and money in general. We’re not hardcore frugality enthusiasts, we don’t write about saving money, and we don’t write about how awesome we are because we save for our purchases. For having this stance, we have been vilified, mocked, admonished, and ostracized. Spending money, wanting things, or even having things will not bring doom, destruction, blight, and locusts.

    For us, frugality is a tool that we use in order to help us get what we want in life. While we recognize the necessity of money management skills, we’re more of the type to enjoy nice restaurants, go to an art opening, or buy a goofy little trinket for ourselves or each other just to see even a fleeting smile. Frugality is simply a means to an end, not a lifestyle that we feel the need to fully embrace. What bothers me is the almost religious belief that frugality, above anything else, is the key to happiness and success. To spend money is a part of life, not an evil act that must be repented.

    What bothers me the most is the incredible amount of self-righteousness found on personal finance blogs. I often see statements on the order of, “Well I saved for the things that I bought, and everyone else just caused the financial meltdown so I’m so much better than you nyahh nyahh,” and it makes me GAG. It is that pretentious frugality that is not fun to be around. No one wants to be around perpetual Debbie Downers and have to restrict their fun.

    To me, it seems that frugalists don’t take kindly to hedonism on any level. It is of my observation that a large portion of money-savers are “fun-haters” who frown upon spending cash in order to get any type of happiness. In fact, oftentimes I read statements from frugalists that invalidate others’ feelings of happiness only because of the existence of their debt. Just as some of my most fun times have been when I haven’t spent money, I have a whole bunch of other memories that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t spend any money. Our having debt doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to feel happy, whether it is money-fueled or not.

    Much is said on personal finance blogs on “needs” versus “wants”. To many, it seems that self-flagellation in the form of seemingly indefinitely delayed gratification is the only true key to happiness. To have too many wants is a Very Bad Thing. I disagree – having wants is what life is all about. Let’s face it, all one really NEEDS is a home to live in, some food to eat, some clothes to wear, and a pot to piss in. But for the majority of the frugalists, there is a belief that having too many wants will lead to ruin.

    I don’t disagree that spending money frivolously is a bad thing when done too much. And yes, having too much debt is a bad thing. The tenets of personal finance are true for everyone. But when debts are paid, retirement is funded, and savings are growing, then who cares what disposable income is spent on? Or should income NEVER be disposable?

    Trent gave the example of how a person who is driving a run-down vehicle can be a millionaire. Conversely, why can’t a person who drives a BMW be financially responsible? What if that person saved up for his car? Just because he owns a luxury vehicle he is automatically thought to kick puppies? That guy could possibly be in better financial shape than most.

    So before you assume that the Starbucks-drinking, Banana Republic-wearing, Mercedes-driving person is up to his eyeballs in debt, he may think that you’re a total bore. First impressions work both ways.

    From the MoneyMix Blog Archives – Spending

    by  • December 29, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    This is our first post highlighting articles from our writings at the MoneyMix blog. There will definitely be more to come.

    Where Are We? After the honeymoon we realized that we had to get our lives back in order, and for some reason that required us to drive around and run a million errands. Unfortunately, our old GPS broke, so we looked to buy a new one.

    Building Our Home Office Over time, the office in our apartment became a dump for anything and everything. We decided to clean up the clutter so that we could be more productive.

    Going Out to Eat: How Much Should We Spend?

    by  • September 22, 2008 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    Hannah blogs about money and marriage at Monogamoney.com. Topics include saving, budgeting, investing, travel, and The Dark Knight.

    Jon and I recently let a relative stay in our apartment for a week, while we were away on vacation. As a thank-you gift, she gave us a $150 gift certificate to a nice restaurant. And this presents us with a problem.

    Jon and I have very different styles when we eat out. He’d rather go out less often, and spend more each time. He thinks that when we go to a nice restaurant, we shouldn’t scrimp. We should each get an appetizer if we want one, we should get a bottle of wine, we should get dessert, because there’s no point doing it if you don’t have the full experience. I’d rather spend less, and go more often. I get more enjoyment going twice and getting only an entree each time, as opposed to going once and getting the works.

    A few months ago, this perpetual disagreement led to the biggest fight we’ve had since we got married. We had a $400 gift certificate to a nice restaurant, which we received for our wedding. So we decided to invite two of our friends out for dinner. I wanted to strategize beforehand, so we could make sure we kept our tab under $400, hopefully even having enough to pay for the tip. Jon felt like I was spoiling the fun. He won; the bill came to $700. (In defense of my husband, he eats out like this only once or twice a year. And it was his birthday.)

    The next day, after a little yelling and maybe a tiny bit of door slamming, we decided that before we go out for a nice meal, we’ll label it a “Hannah” night or a “Jon” night. If it’s my night, I get to control our spending, and Jon can’t complain. If it’s a Jon night, he’ll order whatever he wants and I can’t complain.

    What do you think? Have you had any similar fights with your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse? How did you resolve them?

    In Which We Flush $2,000 Down The Toilet

    by  • September 15, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Hannah blogs about money and marriage at Monogamoney.com. Topics include saving, budgeting, investing, travel, and The Dark Knight.

    I was inpsired by Make Love Not Debt to start my own personal finance blog, Monogamoney. So I was honored when Him & Her asked me to guest post during their wedding and honeymoon. Since my blog focuses as much on personal finance failures, as on our rare successes, I decided that in my first guest post, I should discuss the worst money mistake that I have ever made.

    Shopping for a mattress when you’ve been sleeping poorly is like riding your bike to a car dealership. Shopping for a mattress when you’ve recently gotten a raise … is just plain dangerous.

    And that is how my husband and I ended up with a $4,000 mattress. More precisely, we ended up with a $2,000 mattress, for which we paid $4,000.

    It started on the day I accepted a new job with a nice salary increase. We’d both been sleeping badly, and both of us had back pain. “Let’s go bed shopping now,” my husband said. “Maybe we can be sleeping on a new bed tonight.” It was 7 p.m. By 7:25 p.m., we had a new $3,000 bed. With taxes and delivery fees, the cost came to almost $3,500.

    The next day, I bragged about our purchase to one of my friends, who was shocked that we’d paid so much. I paid her little heed; you spend a third of your life in bed, right? Then Jon told his friend Dave about it. Dave always gets the best of everything. Dave is willing to pay for quality. And even Dave thought $3,000 was too much to pay for a bed. That’s when I got that sinking feeling–the one that says, “I just made a huge mistake I can’t undo.”

    But wait—it gets worse.

    I didn’t like the bed. I felt terrible that I’d made such a hasty purchase, and was sure that I had made the wrong decision. Luckily, Sleepy’s allows you to exchange your new bed, one time, as long as it’s within three weeks of the original purchase. So I went back. I lay on several different beds. I brought friends and solicited their opinions. I took my time to decide. Finally, I decided on one that cost $2,000.

    Here’s the problem. Sleepy’s allows you to exchange your bed for one of equal or greater value. They won’t give you a refund if you decide on a cheaper bed. So we had to exchange our $3,000 mattress for a new, $2,000 mattress–and $1,000 worth of Tempur-Pedic pillows. Including the delivery fees and the exchange fee, our total bill came to over $4,000. We hereby apologize to all our recently-married friends who received pillows as wedding presents.

    So what lessons did I learn?

    1. Whenever you get a raise, put a moratorium on spending. Don’t allow yourself to make any purchases, at least until you get your first paycheck. Then you’ll realize how much of your raise went to the U.S. government, and you won’t feel nearly as euphoric about it. We spent the first four months of my new job paying off our credit card bill.

    2. Implement a mandatory waiting period for any purchases over a certain amount of money. The Ultimate Cheapskate, the guy who inspired us to budget [LINK: http://monogamoney.wordpress.com/about/], makes this suggestion as well.

    3. Do your research. In the end, this terrible purchase was our own fault, but I could write a whole separate blog entry on the half-truths we heard from the Sleepy’s salesman. The bottom line: The Internet is a fabulous research tool. Use it before you make a purchase, not after.

    4. Finally, as the Ultimate Cheapskate says, “Pinch the dollars and the pennies will pinch themselves.” Jon and I have been known to go to three different grocery stores in order to save 89 cents on cheese. If we had skipped all that, and simply not bought the bed, we still would have come out ahead.

    Have you ever made a money mistake as bad as this one? Okay, probably not. Have you ever made a money mistake HALF as bad as this one? No? One-quarter, maybe? Surely, some of you have made mistakes one-quarter as bad as this …

    Holy Wedding Spending

    by  • September 9, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Our wedding is coming up soon. You know what that means?

    VENDOR PAYMENTS. WOO.

    If there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that we’re actually going to have money left in our bank accounts. No debt for us, no sir!

    It’s open bar, people. Drink up and get our money’s worth.

    Happy 2nd Birthday, Make Love, Not Debt (With Roundup Included!)

    by  • January 3, 2008 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    candle2.jpg
    photo: LensENVY

    On January 1, Make Love, Not Debt had its 2nd blogoversary! I really can’t believe that this project took off the way that it did. I couldn’t have done it without all of you, the readers and pfblogosphere!

    Here are some posts that are pretty interesting:

    2 Million is finding out the difficulties of managing cash flow as a newlywed. Her and I have had our finances intertwined for almost 3 years and we’re still figuring it out.

    Lazy Man has posted his alternative monthly income status report. He raked in an incredible $2,200+, mostly from his blog income!

    Money and Values asks if you go the long way to avoid tolls. We dont – in Chicago tolls aren’t too expensive and we hardly drive. Plus, with the addition of open road tolling we just bite the bullet and go the toll routes.

    eFipo tells how he splurges on the big nights, with a good story from his New Year’s celebrations. We tend to do a lot of small things since we’ve found many cheap forms of entertainment.

    Five Cent Nickel answers a reader question on Roth IRA limits being reached after marriage. This is of particular interest since Her and I will be tying the knot this year, and pay raises may put us close to the income limit.

    We’re in Debt muses: when can you have too much credit? Interesting that they ask, since we’re still wondering what to do with all of our credit cards with no balances.