Tag Archives: frugal

What Won’t You Pay For?

I love reading magazines, from money to fashion/design to family/parenting, to the point that I could easily subscribe to a dozen.  However, in the interest of saving money and reducing temptations, I limit myself to 3 or less at a time.

Despite my love of magazines, I haven’t paid for a subscription in years, not since getting my first free subscription via expiring airlines miles.   After that, I realized that there are a few ways to get my fix for free.  This works for me because no magazine is a must-have for me.  I enjoy Real Simple and Self, but as long as I get any glossy lifestyle magazine, I’m pretty happy.

In addition to airline miles, which I can never seem to redeem for travel, I have also gotten free magazines via online surveys.  I don’t waste too much time on these but I’m part of a consumer panel and I actually enjoy giving feedback so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.  Over the years, I’ve gotten 15 – 20 free subscriptions from Lucky to Smartmoney to Martha Stewart Living.

Another way I’ve gotten free magazines is via purchases.  It’s not so common but Harry & David had a promotion — offering a free subscription with X amount purchase.   I had to email customer service but it was really easy and I think I got Sunset or Martha Stewart Living magazine. I also got a free issue of Dwell from an online furniture/decor store.

Right now I have 3 magazines coming in — 1 via surveys and 2 via Recyclebank participation.  I’m still not sure how Recyclebank works (or makes money) but I get points for reporting my recycling so I figure why not participate.

Anyway, this post wasn’t supposed to only be about ways to get free magazines. I was just wondering if other people had similar experiences.  One friend finds it hard to pay for designer jeans because she used to get it for nearly free via a work connection.  Another friend hates to pay for parking. Do you have something (or things) that you just can’t bring yourself to pay for?

Inspired by Your Money Or Your Life

I’m reading Chapter 6  of Your Money or Your Life entitled “American Dream on a Shoe String” and I have to say it’s been the most inspiring section for me, so far.  I’ve read a lot about similar topics but it’s nice to see it laid out in one chapter and focusing on the big picture rather than giving tips.  Tips are useful but the author’s point is that this type of information can get very outdated quickly, and you can find tons of good tips on frugality blogs.

I got a lot out of this chapter although for very different reasons.  One reinforce what I’ve known for a long time and the other was a new way of looking at things:

What I’ve known forever is Stop Trying To Impress People.  I’ve written before about keeping up with the Joneses, or the mythic rich couple next door, and it’s a losing battle.  As the writer notes, “If you stop trying to impress other people you will save thousands, perhaps millions, of dollar.”  It’s not just about money and conspicuous consumption.  That’s because the desire to impress can affect all areas of your life from big purchases to career choices.  Unless you dig deep, you may never do anything that really brings you true satisfaction.

The more eye-opening statement for me was Meet Your Needs Differently.  This means that instead of relying on retail therapy or exotic vacations, you find affordable substitutions to satisfy your needs.  For example, a big trip abroad may mean different things for different people.  Maybe you want to a break from routine or want some downtime. Maybe you really like to try new things.  Once you figure out your real need, you can find a frugal substitute that can satisfy that same need.  You can get that break just by staying home from work. You can get downtime by hiring people to clean house and and do your chores for one day.   If you crave something new, you can take a foreign language course online or try out an exotic cuisine.  That’s not to say you should never take that big trip but just make sure you can afford it!

Two of my favorite indulgences are spa days (massages, facials) and traveling.  Both things are not very do-able for me at this time.  However, if I analyze why I love these things, I can probably find frugal substitutes.   For example, if I go to yoga, I get time for my self and relaxation, which are two of reasons I love spa days.  I may have to get better about mimicking the pampering aspects of a spa.  Some things that I can do is take a long bath with lavendar oil,  do a steam/facial at home, buy flowers, drink water with lemonade and play calming music.  

As for traveling, my favorite parts are meeting new people and trying new cuisines, both of which is very do-able in multi-cultural Los Angeles.  I like the feeling of seeing new things and it may be time to explore new neighborhoods.

As I progress with the book, I feel myself more reluctant to spend.  At the same time, I have been rationalizing the purchase of pricier skin products because those are important to me.  My husband made two lunch dates and the old me would have been a bit upset at the increased dining out expenses in the same week (and I had made separate plans too!); however, socializing with friends is a priority for us and I won’t sweat it.

On the other hand, I have been spending way too much on eating out at work. I’m going to make an effort to make simple sandwiches.  One favorite that is easy to make is toasted wheat bagel with sliced tomatoes, arugula and tuna in oil, plus a little mayo (avocado optional).  I just have to watch out for food waste, which negates all my money-saving efforts!

Update: I took a peek at the Madewell website.  I am so tempted…so many cute dresses, sweaters and tops on sale!  I don’t need anything but I do want a summery canvas bag, which of course is not on sale.  Help!

Old Happy Purchases

A lot of popular blogs and magazines  frequently feature things to buy. Spring is in the air! Time for new stuff in the latest colors! Everything you bought in previous seasons is out-dated!  I admit that I’ve been tempted so many times and if you are, too, you might need to do this little exercise, too.

Go through your house or closet and remind yourself of past purchases that still make you happy. You might be surprised that many things you thought of as “investment” pieces did not bring about as much happiness or return-on-investment as expected.  You might also get a small dose of happiness from old purchases and not feel the need to buy new things.  At least that’s what I was hoping when I wrote this post (inspired by my new spending mentality due to “Your Money or Your Life” Regular readers will be tired of my constant reference to this book by now).

So here goes my list of old purchases that still make me happy:

  1. Peacoat: A classic in blue that I got a good deal on
  2. Leather boots from Italy: Pretty and classic; needs a little shine!
  3. Party dress:  Looks like new because I only wore it once! I wish I had occasion to wear it again.
  4. Bathroom Cabinet: A small change that greatly updated our bathroom.
  5. Sweater Dress: Still pretty new. An excellent deal and so comfortable!
  6. Selected DVDs of classic TV shows: I can watch some shows over and over again.  Which reminds me of #7…
  7. Old books that I can re-read and that I never get bored of.
  8. Black fake leather purse: Maybe I’m too old for fake leather but I love it and don’t care. It’s sporty but still OK for work environments.
  9. Shiny black leather flats: I think I love it more because it’s from a designer brand.  The cobbler was doubtful about adding shoe taps on it until he turned it around and saw that it was made in Italy.
  10. Red Land’s End sweater: Work appropriate yet so comfortable. 
  11. Gray cardigan: I wear this all the time.  Hides the butt which makes it very practical, too.
  12. Dark jeans: It’s on the skinny jean side and I’m sure that trend is over but I do love it.

Just by doing this quick exercise, I realized that love for stuff can wear off pretty quickly.  For example, a pretty blouse from one of my favorite designers would have definitely made this list just two years ago.  It’s still in good shape but I don’t wear it as often anymore for some reason so I can’t say that I love it.

Ironically, in some cases, the more I’ve worn something, the more likely it will fall off the list because it doesn’t look shiny and new anymore.  Since I’m a complicated person (haha), I can also say that if an item does not get that much use, I love it less because it did not meet my expectations in some way.

Furnishings did not make the cut because my kids destroy furniture.  My favorite pillow is stashed in a closet out of reach and I’m tempted to sell or give it to someone who can really appreciate it.

Technology wasn’t included but I admit that I love the use I get out of various tech stuff.  I would give up many things before cutting internet access!

What old things are making you happy right now?  Please include clothing items, shoes, and purses so that I don’t feel shallow.

YMOYL: I Hate Charts

I’ve been sharing my general impressions of “Your Money Or Your Life” (YMOYL) on my journey as a book club of one.  Part of me feels like I should have started the online book club but I would not have been as thorough as minhus and a bout of flu would have killed any enthusiasm.  And as you can see from my distaste for doing the actual exercises, I can’t lead a club if I am doing the minimum to get through the book! 

As I mentioned earlier, I did finally come up with my real wage.  According to YMOYL, this is your hourly income AFTER you add in your commuting time and subtract all work-related expenses from childcare to work wardrobe to lunches.  I think my number is on the low side but I’m sticking to it for now and using that as a mental yardstick to rein in my purchases.  This is working so far and I highly recommend this step!

In Chapter 5, you’re also supposed to figure out your monthly income and expenses, then create an awesome chart so that you can have a visual reminder of your spending habits.  I haven’t take the step of tracking my real-world expenses.  However, I did an estimate which takes my gross income minus health insurance, taxes, and regular monthly expenses.  I looked at my previous year’s expenses for auto insurance, auto repairs and renter’s insurance and divided it by 12 to come up with a monthly amount.  End result: I have a $300 buffer each month.

It’s a bit of a relief to know that I even have a buffer.  At the same time, I’m not sure how/why we have a buffer considering that a few years ago, I estimated that we had about $100 left over after expenses.  Since then, expenses have generally gone up while wages have been stagnant.

Possible reasons for this mysterious buffer are:

  • Grossly under-estimated expenses: In other words, I really should track expenses.
  • Lower taxes due to child credits? 
  • Lower bills for cable, DSL and phones: I re-negotiate expenses all the time but this year, I was able to really trim these bills by reducing cable channels and getting $40-50/month discount off my DSL/phone.  Most years, the rep offers a $5 – $10 discount if I threaten to cancel.  As I learned this year, the offer can vary greatly depending on timing and the customer service representative you talk to!

I may have to suck it up and chart expenses and/or go over old credit card statements to get more accurate numbers.  Part of me thinks that this buffer is real. I included as many variable expenses as possible from gifts to auto insurance.  I also estimated on the higher side for stuff like household goods and toiletries.    However, nothing beats a real estimate based on actual tracking of expenses!

Your Money Or Your Life: Stuck on Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of “Your Money or Your Life” focuses on fulfillment.  The questions asked are:

  1. What did you want to be when you grow up?
  2. What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t done yet?
  3. What have you done in your life that you’re really proud of?
  4. If you knew you were going to die in a year, how would you spend that year?
  5. What brings your the most fulfillment – and how is that related to money?
  6. If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do with your time?

I am stuck. I have no answers or rather my answers change depending on my day and mood.  I think one of the big problems is that my proudest accomplishments are related to my current line of work, yet I’m not sure that I want to be in this job or field for the rest of my life.

With this in mind, here’s my attempt at answering those questions:

  1. I wanted to be a dancer at some point but I can’t dance well.
  2. Don’t know.
  3. All related to my work, or just that fact that I had kids.
  4.  Travel, or live in a foreign land for a year.
  5. I love living in foreign places and getting to know a city or place. I love learning new things and challenging my mind.  I also find it very fulfilling when I help other people even if it’s simply giving advice or support in an online forum.
  6. I would live in a beautiful natural environment, work in a garden, exercise, eat well, spend time with my family, and read / write blogs.  I would do something to make a difference…not sure what.

I have no idea how these answers can shape my life.  Maybe it’s because I skipped some exercises in earlier chapters?  Help…

Although this wasn’t addressed, I do want a somewhat comfortable life.  Everyone’s definition of comfort is different.  For me, that means money in the bank to take care of emergencies, fly and visit family members, take care of my family’s health from braces to major medical care, get cleaning help sometimes, and to buy some pretty clothes every so often.

I also don’t want to be too dependent on the kindness of others.  At least among my friends and family, I’ve often noticed that the poorest members get tons of hand-outs from small favors to plane tickets.   I’m sure others are glad to help but I would worry that my livelihood is dependent upon someone else having to work the grind so to speak.  (If I am ever in that situation, I would make sure to return the favor in other ways via my time but so many people just seem to get used to receiving and not giving help, in my opinion).

So the bigger question is what is enough?

Rethinking My Spending Mentality

I was re-reading old shopping-related posts and had to smile at the wistful tone of some; There’s a clear yearning to shop and my belief that buying a much-wanted item will bring me a small degree of happiness.  For now, I can truly say that the book “Your Money Or Your Life” has already made me re-think that belief.  I don’t know if it’s a lifelong change or a momentary one.

I think it’s hard to not equate purchases with happiness. Some purchases do still bring me happiness, especially if I got a great deal on something I still love years later.  Unfortunately, love usually fades after a few months.  Most often, those things get old and retire to the back of a closet until they hit the Salvation army pile.  Or I get used to that new thing and it’s just another old thing in the house.  Most times, it’s the newness that makes us happy and that’s why we crave more and more.

And speaking of “Your Money or Your Life”, I’ve decided on a “magic number” for my actual income earned once you factor in commuting time and work-related expenses.  I’m keeping this magic number a secret for privacy reasons.  Two things to note:

  1. My “magic number” may be far off from my real wage because I just took some numbers from the book at face value, such as their estimates for gas and clothing
  2.  Assigning a real number to my work hours helps me to stay focus.  It’s easier now for me to spend mindfully now that I can ask myself, “Is this item or service worth X hours of my time?”

I have found that knowing this number, real or not, has confirmed my belief that hiring cleaning and gardening help is well worth it.  Our gym memberships may be on the high side though.

I also wished that I had read this book before having children.  While I had made “plans” to hire more help once kids came along, I never actually crunched numbers to see if it was do-able.  I just thought we use our emergency fund money for this new luxury.  Not the best plan, not a plan at all really.

Back to reading..

Your Money Or Your Life: Join The Virtual Book Club

Although I’ve already started writing and posting my initial thoughts, I’m joining this online book club so others can discuss and dissect together.  Please take a look and invited anyone who might be interested.