Tag Archives: $aving Money

Bargains? What Bargains?! Deconstructing the Shopping Day…

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Last Friday, otherwise known as Black Friday, was a bit ho-hum for me.  The news just announced that 3.8% more people hit the stores, but that sales were down by 1.8%.  I’m not surprised.  I thought the stuff on offer mostly sucked.  Before I left to see what was to be had, I searched the sales papers like everyone else.  I marked a few things down and then headed out not at the ungodly crack of dawn, but at a more reasonable mid-morning start.

This is the first Black Friday where I went looking for mostly deals on things for the home as well as a hopefully good Christmas present or two.  But truthfully, I haven’t shopped Black Friday purely for Christmas presents in a long, long time.  Why?  There just doesn’t seem to be much value in it for a budget glam girl.  I guess to me, it seems as though you either need to roll in cash to take advantage of the electronics on sale, or aim for a much more modest list of possible deals for the home and *maybe* you’ll find something nice for someone in the process.  I went in search of sheet sets at a good price, and I didn’t really find any that fit my bill.  Maybe I’m too picky.  I did come away with a wonderful red quilt at a steep discount, given that one of my quilts is in tatters at this point.  A couple of clothing items, dog doodads and beauty supplies later, and I was done.  Just like that.  There are a few reasons for my shopping malaise.

First, I make a list pretty early about what I am buying for other people.  I may not put “Betsydoodle Art Kit” down for little Susie, but I will put “art supplies” or some category like that and then I look for deals.  I try to figure out what I can make (like fudge!) to help pad the Christmas giving each year.  So, when I go to the mall or other stores, I’m looking for some very specific categories.  I will browse the rest of the store, but I get overwhelmed pretty easily.  Having a list for family members helps keep me from just grabbing a sweater here, a piece of jewelry there and calling it done.  I try to put some thought into my giving and I find it helps my budget.  This year, very few things in any of my categories were on sale.

Also again, just like decluttering helped with my closet, decluttering the home helped me know what I really needed.  Do I want one more fluffy and comforting throw?  YES.  Do I  need them?  No.  But I do need a quilt and after 7 years, I can give myself permission to buy one!  So my home categories were pretty slim.  I needed a coffee maker, a quilt and a sheet set as well as a good, safe space heater for downstairs.  I *wanted* a fire pit for the yard.  My sister asked to get me the coffee pot (getting stuff for me has been trickier since I decluttered and do a lot more with fewer things), I did find my quilt, but the sheet sets were disappointing.  I got the heater and it’s wonderful, and the fire pit was 50% off, so I’m picking that up today.  Getting things for other people is trickier.  If most other people’s homes are any indication, they don’t really need one more set of dishes or towels or fluffy throws.  They especially don’t need (in most situations, at least) any stupid coffee machines or other devices that lock them into buying *other* products just to use them.  So finding stuff for others in the home area was difficult.

I don’t think there were as many things on sale this time around as in years past.  This is all anecdotal, of course, but many of my friends were commenting that they, too, were unmoved by the sales papers.  Couple this with the fact that I find many things made today to be either unflattering, cheaply made or otherwise a piece of junk, and you have a recipe for Black Friday let down.  I find many of the clothes to be too bizarre, made out of poor fabrics and poorly sewn, though the prices have climbed higher and higher.  The trends are a bit bizarre for my tastes and the color schemes I find a bit garish.  Maybe I just need to get my eyes checked…

It could be too, though, that some stores are just saving it for later.  The aforementioned art kits I noticed are suddenly on sale this week at a screaming deal (some as low as $5).  So, maybe there is more to come!  Maybe I just have no idea how to find a bargain.

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Hurt Me, Hurt Me!

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Well, the first of the international student housing checks has rolled in and that has fulfilled the little $1000 emergency fund and allowed me to press onward to summer money savings.

To that end, I’m saving ’til it hurts.

And boy, does it hurt!

What I do is first calculate my bills for that pay period.  I calculate my expenses I know I have to incur after that (for example, birthday presents or car repair).  Then I look at what is left over and I transfer money to the point where it makes me feel uncomfortable into savings.  I know that many people preach pay yourself first, and I sort of do that, too.  I have retirement money direct deposited into my account rather than relying on myself to do it.  But as a single mama, my expenses often vary, so for savings, I do have to look at second rather than first.  So I look at the amount remaining and pinch out of it until I squeal.  And you know what?  It’s working.  I leave myself a pittance for coffee and lunch out, things I cannot seem to do without. But I have to make those dollahs stretch like a yoga beginner!

I realized that if I didn’t feel pinched, I probably wasn’t saving enough.  And so I took a good, hard look at just how much I was saving and whether I could afford to do more.

The obvious upshot of this is, duh, I save more money.

But the unintended upshot of this plan is that it makes my situation feel very real to me.  I effectively make myself live as though I’m broke (or rather, very close to broke) for the whole pay period after the first couple of days post-paycheck.

Now, I’m not broke.  Most of my disposable money went into my online savings account.  But it takes several days for that money to transfer back into my checking account.  So, effectively, I am without funds to just randomly blow on sushi.  It creates in me the mentality that I am broke, and so I act as though I am.  I don’t use the credit card and I make any pennies I do have really stretch.  It just puts me in a whole ‘nother frame of mind.  I pay more attention to where the money goes, because it’s a royal pain to get more of it.  I might have Burger King for lunch, but I’m ordering from the dollar menu instead of the already frugal Junior Whopper meal.

And because I have to actively log on and move money, I don’t do so unless I absolutely have to.  And sushi, apparently, is not a “have to.”  Sad that I have to play psychological warfare with myself.  But hey, whatever gets you to save that dollah, right??

Budget Glamorous Gardening Strategies

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One of the things I enjoy doing so much is playing around with flowers and vegetables in my wonderful little yard.  I actually own 1 1/2 city lots to go along with my delightful little home.  But I have champagne wishes and caviar dreams when it comes to landscaping –and a budget glamorous reality.  I’m also kind of a doofus when it comes to growing things.  I have no natural skill at it and I don’t know a ficus from a freakus.  Still, I enjoy it, and I try to find ways to do it that won’t break the bank.

My ultimate dream is to have edible landscaping, a decent little herb and vegetable patch, a butterfly and rose garden, and next to no mowing required.  Maybe even a few chicky-wickens in the backyard.  I’d like to have flowers I can pick and put in the house.  This all takes a while to establish, especially with a limited budget and even more limited skills.

The biggest cost, I find, is the cost of plants.  Ye Gods, but they can be expensive!  And because I have limited patience, I want everything Right. Now. so I can get it going and growing.  It’s so easy to walk into a plant section of a store and walk out having spent a hundred dollars or more on just a few gorgeous flowers or flowering shrubs.  I have even less success but just as much fun with gardening, though I love planning one, planting one and worrying over one.  Most of my plants don’t actually produce anything, though, for reasons why I have no idea.  So pretty much dollar for dollar my vegetable gardening is a waste.  I also have an urban deer problem that the city is trying desperately to control.  So many times I’ll plant things, beautiful, wonderful things, and the deer will graze them down to stalks, and I’m out that money too.  Plus it makes me mad at nature.  Grr.

As I think about my landscaping wish list for this Spring, I’m going to take advantage of some powerful lessons learned over the couple of years I’ve been a homeowner here.

I have lots of savings goals, as you are by now painfully aware of, so I don’t really have the budget to fence in the property or spend loads of money on plants.  So this coming planting season, I’m going to practice patience and wait out the home improvement stores until they decide they can’t water many of their plants and tuck them all away in the back on a rack that’s marked down to between $1 – $5.  I had no idea how common that practice was until this previous growing season.  Apparently big home improvement stores receive plants at certain times of the year whether they’re really ready for them or not.  Oftentimes they just won’t have room for the old plants, or the time to water them all and keep them going, so they’ll discount them deeply and move them to a sale rack.  I found lots of plants this past Spring in just this way and I spent a fraction of what I would have if I’d purchased now.  I positively felt like I was stealing!  The downside is, you have to wait and don’t have the immediate gratification of having something now while everyone else gardens away.  You also need to develop an eye for what you can save and what you can’t.  I look for green stems.  If the flowers just need deadheaded or the foliage is turning brown, but the stalk seems good, I can usually bring that back to life.   If I can do it,  you can do it.  My plants actually have rebloomed several times over the growing season and they’re still going now!

I’m only going to buy perennials with a splash of annuals thrown in.  I don’t have the budget to spend money on flowers that last a season and never grow back.  I’m trying to build a giant garden that incorporates all sorts of plants for both shady and sunny land and just gets bigger and lusher each year.  Annuals don’t do that for me.  They’re more of a space filler for empty sections of garden.  The problem for me is that annuals are often the brightest colored plants in the store.  I want them.  😦  But, I’m only going to get the cheap/reduced plants that have a chance of establishing themselves and coming back every year.  Then I’ll wait and get the cheap annuals for a few color splashes.  As my garden gets bigger and healthier (as does my budget), then I’ll buy more splashy annuals.  Otherwise, they don’t get me nearer to my goals.

Over the years I’ve had two flower box beds put in at the front of the house running basically the length of the house.  It cost me some lumber, some stain and bags and bags of dirt from Lowe’s, but it was worth it.  Overall, I’d say the project cost me about $75 per flower bed, given that the labor was free.  But it has made the curbside appeal of my house shoot up tremendously.  Everything looks so wonderful when it’s in bloom, and most things come back bigger and healthier year after year.  It makes me very happy to pull up and see the things in my flowerboxes and I hope that ten years hence, it’ll be huge and lush and awesomeness.  So I’m going to figure out simple home improvement projects that I can barter with someone to do that will enhance the property and enable me to garden more thoughtfully.  This past summer I also bought some cheap landscaping timber, stained them, drilled holes through them and shoved rebar into them — instant flower beds in the bottom part of the yard.  Very cute, very sturdy.  Load it up with some good dirt, and you’re ready to plant whatever cheap, discounted flowers come your way!

Don’t forget about swapping plants with other people who are dividing things like irises, daylillies or other sorts of plants.  No idea how to be a better veggie grower, though.  That one still eludes me, as does the solution to my deer problem.

What are your glamorous gardening tips?

All or Nothing? A Compromise

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I find myself getting locked into unholy combat with the dilemma over saving money or saving time.  As I read many of my favorite PF blogs, they seem to struggle with the same issue from time to time.  I tend to drive myself nuts with it, and it is because of my all or nothing outlook toward saving in some category or other.  This ultimately stresses me out, doesn’t work or save money.  Sometimes, as I just discovered, a compromise is just as good.  At least for people like me.

I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my budget, but even a glamorous little shoestring budget like mine has SOME places it can be, nay MUST be, cut back.

Case in point:  parking fees.   Parking costs vary for me, but they average around $135 a month.  Just to park in the garage for work five times a week.  I’ve often come down very hard on myself for not riding the bus to and from work.  Not only would it save gas, but with my I.D. it’s FREE to me.  That’s right, f-r-e-e-e-e-e.  So every week that I chose not to take the bus, I’d get busy being mean to myself over it.  I’m not that bad with a budget; but I’m not nearly as frugal as some people on the internet seem to be.  I don’t wear all black clothing and then dye it when it starts to fade just so I have a few extra bucks.  I don’t brown bag constantly or eat rice and beans constantly.  So sometimes I feel like I have no right to bitch about saving money or needing it.  After all, I’m not doing EVERYTHING I possibly could to save a dime.

The trouble is, will power is a finite resource.  You do not have an endless supply of it to draw down on whenever you want.  This is why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions don’t even make it to the end of the month.  If you pick one thing, you’re drawing down on that supply.  Pick three more things, and you won’t find you have the energy for everything.  You have less to work with, so less determination can be spared to get the job done.  I’m a single mama, I work full time and I have a house to run and a teenage boy to understand and guide.  Oh, and savings goals.  Nothing ever gets done 100% perfectly all the time.  Most times it’s a compromise:  80% work efficiency, housework has dropped to 40% lol, teenager took 115% this week…etc.  And so my compromise might be an extra cup of coffee at work or a sandwich out for lunch.  I just can’t do it all.

Further, I don’t *want* to do it all.  I get tired or demoralized sometimes and I need a pick-me-up.  Or it’s just too much effort.  This is not a big city, so the bus routes are on fixed times.  They don’t go everywhere I need, and it costs me an extra hour minimum to take the bus to and from my house, just in waiting on it, routes taken, etc.  If I have an extra errand to run, switching buses to get it done sometimes means I’d wait quite a while to get back home.  So, I just took the car and bitched about the cost to park in the garage.  Then, I had a minor brainwave.  If the parking garage offered student passes, maybe they offered us working stiffs a pass as well.  Turns out, they sure do!

So, $45 a month later, I’m the proud owner of a new parking pass.  Am I saving $135 a month?  No.  But I am saving $90 a month.  And my time is not constricted by the available bus services.  Sure, I still want that extra $45.  But that is apparently the value of my driving time per month.  There is also the added sweetness of just waving a card in front of a scanner instead of digging for change and misplacing garage tickets, which I like quite a bit.

I can settle for that.  Now I just have to remember to move that same amount of money straight to savings instead of spending it on something stupid!

Very Un-glamorously Barely Resisting Temptation!

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I do a good job of basically saving money over the past few weeks, brag about myself in a post and then what happens?  My school’s student center installs a small sushi bar!

AAAHHHH!

What am I to do?  I went to the student center to eat lunch and grade things online.  I see this little outpost with people actually making the sushi in front of my eyeballs.  The smells and shapes were intoxicating.  I’m not sure how I picked out sushi smells from the domineering Burger King and Chic-fil-A smells, but I did.  (And no, it wasn’t because the fish was spoiled!)

I probably circled the little work station half a dozen times before they started eyeballing me warily.  As well they should have.  Then I scurried off and tried to forget about it.  Which obviously was so successful, since I’m now blogging about it…

Glamorously Resisting Temptation!

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As I’ve gotten my financial priorities lined up, I’ve noticed…ye gods, but it’s hard to find a hobby that doesn’t involve spending money, and boy is it hard to resist the urge to go into a shop!  I like looking at pretty things, whether that’s dresses or furniture, home decor (lord, especially home decor!) candles, art, seeds, you name it, I like looking at it.  The problem is, the more I look, the more I want to buy something, and even if it’s dirt cheap, it’s not a bargain if I don’t need it.  Further, I’ve also got a terrible hankering for eating out, whether that’s a couple of beers and some chicken wings at the local pub, a quick pizza when I’m tired at night, or a few pieces of sushi.  If i’m not careful, I nickle and dime the hell out of myself on food out.  There are few things I like better than places to eat.

I need other activities that don’t involve spending or at the least don’t involve spending too much money.  I’d also like to not be bored, so there is only so much of curling up with a laptop and some netflix movies that I can stand.  Community events sometimes help.  I recently went to a Chocolate Lover’s Day downtown, and for a mere $5 each, my friend and I walked around the downtown area to the various shops listed on the choco-map sampling all the chocolatey goodies.  We ate well over $5 worth of chocolate, much of it homemade nomnoms.  The chocolate cheesecake in the yarn and sewing shop was particularly delicious.  I’m hoping to figure out how to get into more events like that.

The gym should factor into my daily life more, but it just doesn’t.  This is appalling, as I’m paying for the membership every month straight out of my paycheck.  It’s cheap, because I’m faculty, but still, it’s money wasted.  There always seems to be something in the way of going, when in reality it’s just because I don’t prioritize taking care of myself.  I also don’t look at the gym as fun.  I see it as sweaty work.  Maybe if I followed a session with a round in the pool and hot tub I would think differently.  I’m already paying for it.  It’s stupid not to get my money’s worth.  And then I’d be too tired to think about nickle and diming myself for food out.

The bike, once I get into a higher gear than first, seems like it could be some nice and cheap amusement.  With gas at $4 a gallon, the bike gets 70 miles to that gallon.  My only fear is that I’ll try to stop in places along the way for a pit stop…involving beer and chicken wings.  My solution to this is to try to orchestrate some fishing expeditions for the warmer days.  I can put my collapsible pole and tackle in the saddlebags and zoom off for the afternoon.  A fishing license even with a trout stamp is pretty cheap.  And I have a couple of buddies ready to show me some great spots for fishing.  Hopefully a day of being lazy in the sun with a pole will get me past the urge to pop myself into the corner shop and just see what’s in there.

If I am going to spend money on events, I’d rather it end up having some lasting effect.  I’m headed to the Kentucky Derby soon — my annual pilgrimage to the state of my birth.  Every Derby we try to do different activities.  Sometimes we’ll go to concerts.  Last year we went to the Kentucky Horse Park and saw some of the retired great horses, like Cigar.  This year we’re doing something called “Sips and Strokes.”  We’ll be walked through creating a painting appropriately called “Derby Girl” while we sip on wine.  It’s for complete beginners and I’m very excited about it.  It’s $40, but unless it becomes “Slips and Slurs” it’ll give me something to put on the wall back home.

One of the things I’m still kicking around is a monthly potluck.  My sister has weekly dinners with her girlfriends, but I’m just not that coordinated.  I could manage to do it once a month, though.  I’ll have to see about getting this done.  That would be lovely fun.  Oooh, and there would be food too!

What are your suggestions for cheap amusements?  Besides heckling passersby from my porch with a beer?

Budget Glamorous Shopping Challenge: Jeans

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I love shopping as much as the next girl.  I like the hunt of finding the perfect thing rather than the accumulation of stuff itself, but that hasn’t stopped me from cluttering up my home on occasion.  I’ve done a great job of decluttering the house so far, including my closet, my makeup bag, my utility room and my bookshelves.  (The rest of the house, strangely, seems right on target!  Hmm…)  Because I have certain debt and emergency fund goals, not to mention an upcoming chance to go back to India two years from now, I am trying very hard not to spend more money on things than I absolutely have to.  It helps me to envision things like a fat emergency fund or a paid off home or a plane ticket when I’m tempted to spend.  Still, there are times when spending must happen, and now is one of those times.

I need another pair of jeans.  I blew the butt out of one pair and so they’ve been given over to property chores status, such as when I paint things.  My other choices are wearing out rapidly.  I need a pair that I can scoot around town (and on the bike) in, which means there are certain construction requirements.  I stopped in my favorite boutique the other day to try on their delicious brands of jeans, and they fit like a dream — but they’re about $200.  I like a pair of well-fitting jeans and I was tempted to just part with the money and be done with it.  But then I visualized my fat emergency fund (obviously still in my dreams, since it’s not a “remembered” emergency fund, lol) and decided that, sigh, it just wasn’t worth it.  On the other hand, I don’t want to buy a pair of cheap jeans that don’t really fit well and I won’t wear.

Then I remembered something my seamstress had mentioned when I dropped off a Juicy Couture swimsuit to her for slight alteration.  I found the swimsuit at huge discount brand new and it’s perfect except for one small problem.  I nearly put it back on the shelf until I remembered her.  I like to say I visit her atelier, because that seems so much more glamorous, and indeed she could make me a custom dress for the low, low starting price of $450.  When I’m less budget and more glamorous, I’ll probably take her up on it.  In the meantime, she nips, sews, hems and otherwise makes magic on clothing finds I bring in but cannot quite wear.  She’s a bargain unto herself and her work is flawless.  She’ll probably be her own post soon enough.  Anyhoo, she noticed the brand and mentioned that she’d found many upscale pairs of designer jeans for under $10 ...at the Goodwill store in town.

I hesitated.  I do not have the kind of luck that other women do in finding awesome clothes at used stores.  I go in and find things many times my size in very poor condition.  Other women seem to walk out with designer suits and mink coats.  I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it has to be something!  So, this seems like as good a challenge as any to sharpen up this skill.  Truthfully, I don’t need much.  Because of careful closet editing, I’ve gotten rid of the things I do not wear or have not worn so that it is easy to see what I have left to work with.  And I actually have enough nice things to work with and have been able to create a bunch of surprisingly well put together outfits so far.  The jeans, however, are a staple and they have to be replaced, especially since with the bike, I have to have a certain leg style (very straight, no flare) in order to ride safely.

The only problem I foresee is getting overwhelmed, which happens to me on any shopping trip but especially seems to happen to me with consignment shopping.  I hit Goodwill and there’s eleventy-million pants to choose from and eventually it all starts to blend together.  Any tips on how to make my best effort at this?  Do I case the place first and then rehaunt it periodically?  That seems most logical.  How often do I haunt a place?  What am I even looking for?  Halp!