I confess that there are several budget savvy moves that I have a terrible time complying with, even though the savings to me would be quite nice. I am going to list my sins and the estimated savings to myself in hopes of shaming me into doing better!
- Not taking the bus. Do you know what it costs me to ride the bus? NOTHING. It’s free with my university ID. Even if it did cost me money, it would be $0.50 a pop. Or a $1 a day to get to and from work. What it costs me instead is time management and planning. Originally my excuse was the operating hours. It used to run just a little too late for me to catch it in the morning and it ended far too early for me to make it home at night. (Even though I could’ve walked home within 30 minutes). That excuse is no more. The bus has expanded operations and runs well into the night. I just have to plan to catch it and be ready at a reasonable time in the morning and then catch it again in the evening by walking a few blocks to one of its stops. **WHINE** I like the freedom of my car and there are days when the bus is not feasible because I have places to go after work that are too complicated to work out by bus. This is a college town, after all, not a big city — and the bus routes reflect that. But seriously, for most days I could catch the bus and pay no parking fees. Since I’m paying on average $6 a day to park in the garage, savings lost to me: $18-30/week depending on what is going on. Monthly: $72 – $120. What?!?! That could be another credit card payment! Or 9 months of that would give me between $600 – $1000 to go lay on a beach somewhere. What is wrong with me?! Bad baby!
- Eating out too much. I love to cook, I really do. But because I’m pulled in so many directions right now, and because I also love food, I find I’m eating out way too often. This could be a pick up bag of McNasty or it could be a bigger sit-down dinner. It feels like a reward after a hard day of hard. Student fallout, divorce fallout, health scare, house refinance, boy dropping a pair of testicles and suddenly deciding he’s King of the Jungle, cat throwing up bloody hairballs, wearing an uber-pink dress in my sister’s wedding, you name it, it’s happened this fall pretty much all at once — pass the Asian-Fusion cuisine, please! I’ve dealt with some of this by being a little kinder to myself. Sometimes our budgets have to stretch to accommodate picking up a pizza for supper that night. We can’t be all things all the time. Sometimes negative life events need to be treated with a helping of sushi. But it does need to stop now. Savings lost to me: I have no idea, as I haven’t bothered to keep track of it. BAD BABY! Bad baby on two fronts! One thing I did do to stem the flow of blood, though, was spend $30 on a giant coupon book full of discounts for things all over this town. My favorite places to eat are in there. That way if I do spend money on eating out, at least I’ll be doing it at half the financial damage.
- Emotional spending. This one doesn’t happen very often to me unless you count food. If you count food, I’m a very emotional spender. I tend to think of it more as “stuff,” though, like clothes and furniture and doodads. The worst thing in the world I can do is go to the mall if I’m feeling broody over the divorce, for example. Guess what? Even if it’s 99% off, it’s still wasted money if you don’t need it! Savings lost to me: Again, no idea…didn’t actually keep track of it. BAD BABY! Fortunately, when I do drop money, I rarely drop a lot of it. I have a feeling of revulsion once the amount gets too high for my stomach to bear. I’ve been incorporating two things that have helped significantly. First, I head to the bathtub instead of the mall if I’m feeling sad or worried. I run a bubble bath and pour a glass of wine. And then I lay in it feeling very glamorous. So I remove the temptation from myself, basically. The second thing I have been doing is budgeting in a clothing/gifts jar. (I use a jar method where I take out cash each week and put it into the jars accordingly — I work much better visually that way for some reason.) I also have a jar for “entertainment”, and I’m trying to get better at reserving that jar for the occasional sushi binge. When you know there is a bit built into your budget to spend on such things, it takes a bit of the allure out of random shopping and shopping becomes a planned event. For a few months I got so good at it that I was actually rolling the entertainment and the clothing/gift money into another envelope to then use for Christmas gifts, which were all paid for in cash this year and on budget. So woot, there. Of course this was pre-health scare, pre-final divorce, and pre-ball dropping. So back to the mall I went. Time to revisit my coping methods.
- Not prioritizing retirement. Now, two things I actually do right are a) having a retirement plan in the first place and b) putting in before taxes the amount that my university will match into the account. That being said, my salary is bird feed, and even with the match, that won’t be enough to support my current lifestyle (which is budget glamorous as it is) in retirement. My sin here is not prioritizing retirement. Some of the reasons for this are unavoidable and some are stupid Gen-X reasons. For one thing, I have debt. As an MSN article demonstrates, this is pretty common for my age group (article linked at bottom). My personal preference is to clear the debt before I throw loads of money into retirement. I have divorce debt, I have student loan debt, and I have credit card debt. I have a mortgage I’d rather pay off first than slam any extra $$ into an IRA. The Gen-X excuse is an essential distrust of the retirement system all the way from Social Security availability to there actually being any money in a retirement account left to me once I go to retire. I sink into the paranoia that somehow, some way, the government will figure out how to take it all. None of these things are an excuse to not fund more towards retirement. I’m 34 years old. I have time, but those returns will start to steeply diminish if I don’t get on it sooner rather than later. Retirement calcs say I’ll need about $3000 to live on per month in retirement. With a mortgage payment and a student loan payment out of the way, I could probably pull that off reasonably well, assuming no serious medical stuff ensues. According to these same calculators, I am below my target by about half in contributions per month (bad baby). By me not coming up with that measly $50 in additional Roth investing, calcs also say I’m costing myself $14000 over the next 20 years. And that is at a very conservative 4% return. If the return percentage increases, so does the folly of my decision not to cough up the $50. And if I can pony up a cool $100 a month? I’m costing myself around $27000 in retirement money. Conservatively. Bad baby!
- Utterly failing at couponing. This is one skill I simply do not have, nor do I have any idea how much I’m losing in savings by not having it. I am trying to master the art of the pantry and stockpiling, but there is not yet a method to my madness. I am starting to sit down with the Sunday sale papers and try to plan my grocery route in better fashion. But it seems like a deep sea to navigate. One thing I do right, however, is that I try to buy most of my food from Aldi, only going to the “better” groceries when Aldi doesn’t carry what I need. Aldi is the poor folks’ version of Trader Joe’s. Same people and same products, just different packaging. I spend literally half of what I would at a different grocery store. They’re even cheaper than Wal-Mart. I’m going to have to stop being a bad baby and read up on how people make such great deals that they only need to go to the store once a month or so. Hunting and Gathering is not an art I possess.
- Not always packing coffee and lunch into work. I mentioned this when I blogged about my handy-dandy new thermos. I think it’s just that I don’t prioritize those things either the night before or in the morning. I feel scattered and I’m rushing around thinking about everything but my own needs and my financial situation. Last week, for example, the Bear made some mouthwatering salmon salad wraps — made with salmon from Chicken of the Sea’s foil pouches one can find near the soup aisle. What an awesome pantry addition, by the way! It’s cheap, it stores forever, it doesn’t have the problems that tuna poses. It was made with pickles and green onions and spinach leaves, wrapped it in a flat bread, and took it to work with chips and a piece of fruit and a thermos of coffee. WOW was it good! But I managed to only do that one day. Eating lunch at the university shops and not bringing my own coffee is costing me a minimum of $22.5 – $37 a week just in food and drink alone. In a month’s time I’m losing $90 – $148 a month in wasted eating out. It’s not like I even have to offset this figure by calculating what I have to buy at the store to prepare for this. I have all these things at home anyway, for days when I’m not on campus! BAD BABY!! That’s another flipping credit card payment! I’m going to have to start doing this the night before or something. Sheer willpower will be what it takes, I think.
- Not actually putting “saved” money into tangible savings. Of course, none of this matters if you don’t actually physically take the saved money and move it into something else. All too often, I don’t congratulate myself on the $6.75 I saved and throw it into the Get Rid of Evil Credit Card jar. If it’s sitting there in the account, my mind doesn’t remember that $47.50 is extra happy money for paying down debt. I just breathe a sigh of relief that my grocery bill has a little extra padding this month! Or worse, get all excited and buy something I don’t need because I think I have the money for it. Short term memory fail. :( I’m going to have to get better about shoving that money in a jar at the end of the day — or keeping track of it via sticky note that is paid out at the end of the week/month at the very least! Bad baby!
You mean to be telling me that I could be putting at the bare minimum $162 toward credit cards (extra, even!!) and a max of $268, virtually without breaking a sweat?! That plus the minimum payment means I could have that card paid off without digging for extra money in either a year and four months…or just at a year! Once the card is gone, that same amount of money gives me an extra $3384 to $4656 a year! You know, to do important stuff like FUND RETIREMENT and PAY DOWN OTHER DEBT!
Bad baby, bad baby, BAD BABY!!