Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day 215: 8 Steps to Repairing a Household (Beauty) Budget. (Money-Saving Tips Appreciated!)


Back on Day 132, I shared something a bit personal and embarrassing: I'm unemployed.  In a nutshell, I didn't get any of the scholarships I applied for and my teaching contract with UCLA expired.  With the budget cuts at UCLA, funds are tight and there weren't enough teaching jobs in my department for everyone.  I applied for a few community college positions, but they weren't in the cards.  Apparently we're in the middle of a recession or something!  Thankfully, I have another UCLA teaching job lined up for April (and a possible very-cool-but-not-for-sure-and-I-don't-want-to-jinx-it-so-I-won't-tell-you opportunity in the works), but in the meantime I'm feeling like "the weakest link" in my marriage. (Michael, by the way, is a research "post-doc", which means he is basically "under-employed" or at least "under-paid".  Such is the glamorous life of academia!)

During our honeymoon Michael and I finally took the time to look at our projected income and expenses for the next year.  Our heads have been in the clouds.  We've both gotten into a dangerous habit of saying "Oh, I work so hard. I deserve this!" far too frequently.  

I've "deserved" new clothes every few weeks, twice-monthly mani-pedis, and nice(ish) bottles of wine when I go out to dinner with friends.  Michael, on the other hand, has "deserved" café coffees in the mornings, restaurant dinners on multiple weekdays (w/ microbrews, of course), and driving to work when he should ride the train.  We've both "deserved" to have our own beloved cars, and to live in a 1,100 square foot apartment in San Francisco.  Oh, and we just got married in a beautiful winery wedding with 130 guests, and went on a 2-week honeymoon in Hawaii.  Yeah... life has been pretty good, and we've "deserved it" since we're both hard-working people.   Except we can't afford all of these things.  We've been chipping away at our savings each month, and it's time to make some changes before we end up in debt.

That was the embarrassing part.  Here's the plan we came up with to get back on track:

Where's E.T. ???
(Probably out looking for a job, or Taking Over Wall Street!)
Step 1: I've applied for CA unemployment insurance.  (Boy did that ever make this situation feel official!)

Step 2: We're selling both of our cars, to be replaced by ONE sensible and less-expensive vehicle.  I write from home, or volunteer at the About-Face office a few miles away, so I'll be biking a lot.  (Good thing I totally adore my bike. Remember when I got it back on Day 84?)

Step 3: I applied for some of that "you're covered if you get hit by a car" health insurance, and we're purchasing generics of all prescription medications from Canada.  Yes, seriously.  Step 3 is saving us at least $300/month.  And I was approved for my health insurance a few minutes ago!

Step 4: Michael is forgoing his morning lattes at Caffe La Stazione, and his evening microbrews at Serpentine.

Step 5: I'm putting myself on a fashion-diet.  This means ZERO clothing purchases for the next 6 months.  Ditto on makeup and mani-pedis.  


Step 6:We're re-vamping our dining habits to be wholly based at home during the week.  (I thoroughly enjoyed making use of my former-anorexic-food-obsessing skills to come up with a list of 10 affordable and healthy dinners, along with an accompanying "inventory list" of groceries which we'll keep on hand.  Thank goodness for Trader Joe's!)  We'll still eat at restaurants occasionally, but as a special thing instead of an "I don't feel like cooking" thing.

Step 7: We've decided to entirely forgo alcohol on "school nights."  This was a major "Oh, I deserve this..." habit, and one that hurt our wallets, waistlines, and mental health.  (Why is it that 2 glasses of Pinot feel can so blissfully relaxing in the evening, but then wreak havoc on my nerves the next day?)  Good riddance!!

Step 8: Appreciate how blessed we are!  It's time for us to stop "getting what we want" in favor of "wanting what we've got!"  And we have a lot: wonderful family and friends; our health; each other; a fun apartment in a beautiful city; we're not actually in debt (yet); at least one of us has a solid job (thanks Michael!).  We are blessed, even without all those little luxuries we used to "deserve."


So that's our plan.  I'll seriously mourn my car, but the part that's causing me the most anxiety is Step 5.  A few years ago I gave up new clothes for a year to save money, but this time it feels different, thanks to my no-mirrors pledge.  Living without mirrors has lessened the frightful reign of vanity over my life, but I've clung to my mani-pedis (and occasional new outfit) for that sense of still being "me".  I've thought, I'm still fashionable!  I'm still put-together!  I still deserve to indulge in some beauty routines! (There we go again with that word, deserve)  But now it's obviously time to push myself a bit further.  It's time to find the "fashionable me" in my resourcefulness and creativity, rather than in new stuff.  THIS - along with the pride of financial solvency - is what I deserve.  But it's still a little scary.  (Though not as scary as going into debt.)

Any bits of practical money-saving advice?  (Words of encouragement and budgeting / unemployment success stories are also much appreciated!)


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26 comments:

  1. If you have any thrift/ consignment stores nearby you could sell some of your old clothes that you don't wear anymore and use that money to buy new clothes or get a mani/pedi every now-and-then. That way you are keeping your closet clean and organized and you can still treat yourself.

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  2. Fashion diet suggestion. Take a look at this blog. I check both of you out every morning. http://www.newdressaday.com/

    and I think you are both in the same city.

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  3. On the cooking front, I recommend on a Sat/Sun. making a huge pot of soup/stew or chowder. Even a roast. I live with just my boyfriend, and we tend to eat off of it for a couple of days, and then freeze the rest. Then we have homemade frozen dinners for nights when we don't want to cook. With winter coming on, this is even better. My favorite to make is the uber-healthy chicken with sweet potato gnocchi. It also has spinach and roasted red peppers in it. Yum. My friends call me for it when they get sick.

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  4. With the dining out limitation, pick one night a week to do a pot luck with friends. Not a lot out of any one person's pocket, and then you still get the hanging out. Or you could try a rotating dinner with your friends. Pair it up with a rented movie or card/board games = a great affordable night with friends. Mine have been doing this for about 3 yrs, and 1 meal for 4 ppl = the cost of dinner out for 2. It takes a little more time, but my best friend comes over a little early and helps me cook. Also crockpots are very handy for an easy dinner when you get home.

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  5. This is just for general money info, but for a lot of folks in the Midwest, I don't know about California, a lot of people are getting into Dave Ramsey's book, the Total Money Makeover. It tells you how to budget, what things to sell, savings, emergency funds, all of that fun stuff :) It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it might make things a little easier for you in terms of knowing exactly how much money your really have.

    Otherwise, I definitely second the ideas of crockpot dinners and selling/donating your clothes you don't want/need. You can get extra money in your pocket or a donation counts on your taxes comes April.

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  6. It really is about "one day at a time." We recently did a similar thing, as we're both in PhD programs now, and only have one part-time income. You'll be surprised how quickly you are proud of yourself for saving money, instead of justifying spending it.

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  7. Frugal living is my happy place! When we got married and combined our incomes, we had about $15k in school debt and no consumer debt. We paid off the student loans, saved for a few years living rather frugally, and bought a house with 30% down. We paid off an $85k mortgage in 7 years on one income and are very happy to have no car/house/credit card debt to our name.

    I think the secret to financial freedom is perspective. There's a picture circulating on Facebook these days - One side of the picture has a beautifully decorated Christmas scene with lots of wrapped gifts and the other side has a starving, half naked boy lying in the dirt. The caption says "Define Necessity". I'd like to say that it's that kind of thinking that has helped us along the way. There are so many things that we have convinced ourselves that we need that we *really* don't. Eating out, new clothes (when used would work just fine), fancy foods, expensive birthday/Christmas gifts... They're all wants.

    I applaud your decision to change your spending style so drastically. Just make sure you're both on board and supporting each other instead of watching for the other to trip up. It makes a world of difference in a marriage.

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  8. Oh, after reading daholland's comment, we absolutely love Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. It's great advice for anyone looking to change their spending habits. It's a lifetime commitment to responsible spending but it gets so much easier the further into it you get.

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  9. This life plan sounds like what me and mine had to do for our baby....and now that he's here, we're keeping the same plan. It's hard, but the hardest part was giving up my pride and getting govt help.....but its apart of being an adult and trying what's best, instead of what's fun. Hope it works out for you!!!! :) we'll be rooting for you!!!

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  10. This is such perfect timing! I'm a 20-something working at a college and have definitely let my "it's ok, I deserve this" spending get out of hand, and I just finished working out a budget to implement on the first of the month. I've also just checked out Dave Ramsey's book, which came highly recommended. It is so encouraging to have others who I know are on the same page with being mindful of spending, excited to journey alongside you! :)

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  11. My husband and I are in a similar situation. One thing we decided to do was take $10 out of our weekly budget. We each get $5 and this is our money to do with what we want. That way I can save up for a mani/pedi or a cute pair of shoes I really want without having to take it out of the budget, or splurge on a coffee house coffee when I really want one. We felt this would help us keep on budget and still feel like we could each treat ourselves to little indulgences.

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  12. I am impressed and inspired. Of course #8 is my favorite. You're ability to IDENTIFY the changes you need/want to make in your life is inspiring. And I think that's what's hardest for most people. We know we want to change the way we look at things (body/budget/goals) but we don't know exactly how to identify and articulate it. I think this is so important, because if you don't it's like driving without a map (I'm not saying it's important HOW you get there, you just might want to know where there IS).

    Also, re: #5. Last year, www.newdressaday.com covered just that issue. (She allowed herself a $1 a day to take thrift store purchases and alter them to hot outfits forgoing traditional shopping for a year). I'm not saying you should go to that extreme (it's a fashion diet not a fast right?) but I love her idea of creating an inspiration board of the fashion items she yearns for. When she decides to alter one of her thrift store finds she has the inspiration she needs to turn them into something current and fabulous right in front of her.

    And re: #6, my fledgling blog (The Lazy Kitchen-www.lazykitchen.tumblr.com) is nowhere near as sophisticated and thoughtful as yours but maybe you'll find some good at home meals to make. Also, the show on food network called $10 dinners has amazing ideas!

    Lastly, re: #7 It probably is a good idea to give up alcohol on weeknights but you'd be surprised at the quality of wine that's coming in boxes now. For $20-25 you can get the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine, it's not yucky franzia anymore. AND it makes having wine around to cook with easy and cheap.

    Good luck!

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  13. I do the weekly mad money thing. I take $10 out of my paycheck, use it whenever I need a little splurge. Right now, I am saving up for Christmas gifts. Also, my better half and I have decided to not exchange gifts, and put the money towards redoing part of our kitchen. Ditto on the boxed wine front. I don't spend over a $7 on a bottle of wine. When I am looking for great thrift store finds, you might try going with a friend, and making a doy of going to a "richer area." I often find a better selection of designer duds for pennies of their original price.

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  14. This may sound crazy, but going without cable might be a suggestion. Netflix membership is generally cheaper. Most networks offer free full episode viewing as well.

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  15. Used bookstores are great, the ones around here, let you exchange old books for store credit towards other new/used books. Great for me, because I don't have to worry about pesky late fees.

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  16. daveramsey.com
    The Total Money Makeover
    Good luck!
    ~RustiAnn

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  17. My boyfriend and I were in a long distance relationship last year and because of the travelling back and forth, we both incurred some debt. Now that we're in the same city, we've been working hard at undoing some of the financial damage. We use a lot of coupons for groceries and for fun dinners or extra-curricular activities we take advantage of sites like Living Social and Group On. We use my car as much as possible because it's the most gas effient of the two, and we walk to do errands whenever possible. I shop A LOT less for clothes and I now do my own mani/pedi's. Little by little, we've learned to cut a lot of financial corners and also bulk up our savings. Like others have mentioned, it's much more rewarding and satisfying to overcome money challenges than it is to frivolously spend hard earned cash.

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  18. I love using Mint.com to track my finances because it organizes everything for me automatically! As a grad student living on a low income (going to be a chaplain at an eating disorder clinic as of next fall!), it really made all the difference in the world for me to be able to see where my money is going and to set up (and follow) a budget. I also have a lot of friends on the scrimp who adore learnvest.com I haven't used it but I figured it's worth passing along! From one starving student to another, wishing you luck!

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  19. I love Dave Ramsey's stuff...definitely recommend at LEAST his TMM book...but more than that, if you can take his Financial Peace class, it's even better! Thanks to that class (and a lot of hard work!) my hubby and I are finally debt free! We also reference www.moneysavingmom.com a lot for deals, freebies, advice, encouragement, etc. SUCH a great site! Also, my hubby and I blog quite a bit about finances, budgeting, etc. I even wrote a blog about free/cheap date ideas: http://faithfulsojourners.blogspot.com/2010/08/free-lovin.html
    hope that helps! Financial freedom is SO worth the sacrifices you'll make right now. You can do it!!! :) :) :)

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