Tag Archives: money

Frugal Substitutes: Less Tongue In Cheek Version

A few months ago, I created a fun chart about possible frugal substitutes.  The idea was that you can replace pricey wants like vacations and massages with cheaper options that fulfill the same need.  Looking back, the intent was good but I’ve totally ignored my own advice for the past few weeks!

I went on a short trip.  I bought a new computer. I got a massage. I went shopping. I bought some clothes and a new purse.  AND I keep browsing online shopping sites.  In short, I have been choosing expensive wants instead of examining the reason behind my sudden desire to buy, buy, buy.  The only possible exception is eating out but my husband and I did some of that, too.  It just hasn’t been a budget buster because we still eat home most days or tend to choose inexpensive places when we do go out.

I cannot justify my choices but I really needed a vacation!

 

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My Fake Budget

About  a year ago, after reading Your Money or Your Life, I created my first budget.  I dutifully added up our income and averaged regular expenses.  Certain things like rent, utilities, gas, and insurance were easy to figure out.  I had to estimate other expenses like clothing, dining out, cleaning help, gifts, etc.  When all was said and done, our expenses tend to exceed our income on a regular basis.

In addition to irregular freelance income and unexpected expenses, another (major) problem was caused by estimated expenses that were basically numbers I grabbed out of the air.  Even after one year, I haven’t been diligent enough to figure out our average costs for many fun categories.  This is hard to do because we pay cash and we are not very aware of our budget.  In other words, if we budget $100, we may spend $100 jointly and still exceed that amount due to separate activities.

If we look on track to exceed our Dining Out budget by mid-month, I may send a half-hearted email to my husband and note to myself that we must watch our budget or cut elsewhere this month.  Only we seem to not do this or we get a bill that must be paid or another excuse…  The reason I am calling this my/our fake budget is that I simply INCREASE our dining out budgeted amount to match our actual spending instead of making any hard attempts to rein this in.

I know this isn’t good because some months we’re on track or under budget and I’m very happy. Then we exceed our budget the next month and I freak out.

Budgeting is hard!

Frugal Substitutes: The Master Chart

The idea of finding frugal substitutes for expensive wants turned from a comment, courtesy of reader and commenter Debbie M, to a full-fledged post at grumpy rumblings.

Here’s the excerpt from that comment, and I’m called out to name my list of frugal substitutes, an idea inspired by the book “Your Money or Your Life.”

Debbie M says:

“And then there’s also strategizing about what makes you happy. If you want to feel pampered, do you need to visit a tropical island? Or would you be just as happy with an in-town spa or fancy hotel, a massage, a facial, or, in my case, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies and a good book?”

…And maybe oilandgarlic can share a list of Frugal Substitutes! We can always use more of those!”

And I said:

“I’ve been meaning to respond with my frugal substitutes but I could probably do a whole post. The gist of it is that I try to figure out WHY I want the big indulgence. Am I stressed? Do I want to try something new? In the past, I would assume that the best way to satisfy my want is a spa day or travel. Now I realize that I can satisfy that need for pampering in multiple and often cheaper ways. I could do a at-home facial. I could buy flowers and put a slice of lemon in my water. I can put on relaxing music. I could convince my husband to give me a massage.”

So without further ado, here’s my handy dandy chart (sort of tongue-in-cheek), and please feel free to share your own frugal substitutes:

substitutes

Fees, Fees, Fees

My girl friends/family and I generally don’t talk about finances.  It’s not really about privacy; it’s just that we have so many other things to talk about! However, I wish that we did share financial insights once in a while, so I’m sharing it on this public space.

I touched on this topic before but there’s a new law going into effect that makes it easier to see fund fees in your 401k plans.   With non-401k mutual funds, you can compare fees but many people ignore the impact of fees on their returns.  Once a year or so, I use the free “Instant X-Ray” tool on Morningstar to analyze my funds and compare fees / returns with similar portfolios.

The bottom line is that the fees associated with mutual funds can decimate your savings.  Choosing no-load and index funds make a big difference in retirement.

This is my public service announcement for the week!

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?

Living The Rich Life

I thought it was time for me to address the cost of moving to our new rental house.  We’ve had time to adjust and suck up the high costs associated with moving from movers to new appliances to starting up gas, trash, utilities and water.  We’ve benefitted from this move in countless ways that I feel it’s well worth the extra cost, to the tune of doubling our previous rent.  That’s right, doubling, while our income has stayed steady.   Fortunately, a welcome flood of freelance income has taken the sting out of the increase but I know that at some point we have to re-evaluate our budget.

I’ve been playing with numbers for months and the most obvious hit is to our savings, which should become zero if we don’t want to spend more than we earn.  However, I’m not cutting out the 401k contribution because it does reduce our tax bill and we do need to continue saving for retirement. 

To be honest, our move into a nicer neighborhood has me feeling like the family in the TV Show “The Riches” starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as crooks who assume the identity of an upper-middle-class suburban family.  The funnier thing is that this new neighborhood is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. It just has better schools and nicer parks than our old area.  Both areas were / are safe and quiet.  Both areas probably had the same median income and were / are middle-class, although this one seems to be a tad more solidly middle-class.

I think what really makes me feel “rich” is that the house itself is bigger and newly renovated.  After many years in our old house, things get worn (naturally) and are not replaced.  I’m sure that if we stay long enough, this house would also look more worn-down; however, it still has better basic fixtures overall than our previous rental.  The old place had linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom, plus the cheapest windows you could possibly buy.  The new place wins out just by having tiles and nicer, new windows.  I guess I’m not too hard to please in the area of decor!

Truthfully, I don’t know how long we can manage on this higher rent.  We may have to downgrade in a few years, hopefully not too soon, and find a townhouse or apartment.  For now, we’re enjoying this new place. 

I also have a feeling that I will really appreciate every day here… I’ve read that  most people get used to their status/situation so happiness from things, including houses, diminishes over time.  However, I think I might be able to appreciate this place and all its advantages for a long time.  Here’s why and I hope you have the patience to read my washer/dryer story.  For many years, my husband and I did not have a washer or dryer.  We usually waited as long as possible before we hauled 4 – 6 loads of dirty clothes and linens, spending hours in a dingy, ugly laundromat on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, we killed time with books or web browsing but we generally didn’t trek too far and the other restaurants near the laudromat were equally dingy and depressing.  At any rate, it certainly felt like we had to base our schedule that day around laundry, not the same as doing laundry at home.  And while I have said how much I hate doing laundry, I should clarify it’s more than I feel the division of laundry should be equal and not all on one party.   In spite of my dislike for this chore, I’ve always appreciated having our own washer or dryer.  What I’m trying to say is that while I might get used to this house, years of living in a tiny space and enduring a long commute will likely make me appreciate this new living environment much longer and even forever!

Why I Stopped Reading Personal Finance Blogs

About 4-5 years ago, I discovered the world of personal finance blogs, or PF blogs.  I loved how they put a personal spin on the rather impersonal world of finance.  I stopped reading traditional finance websites and spent hours reading blogs like The Simple Dollar, Boston Gal’s Open Wallet, Get Rich Slowly, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Fabulously Broke, and Blogging Away Debt.  Many of these sites had not yet “monetized” and were more personal than they are now (some may be gone, I’m not sure..).   I read and participated in some money “carnivals” which are basically a compilation of finance-related posts. You have to submit to the host blogger and get selected for inclusion.  Reading and commenting on these blogs were a daily part of my weekday life.  Then about 2 years ago, I decided to stop reading most PF blogs.  I still read Money Saving Mom and a handful of 20-something PF bloggers but not on a daily basis.

Why? Was I such a financial guru that I had no need for the words, wisdom or support of pf-bloggers? Yes and no.  I was getting more than enough information from traditional money websites and magazines.  I had set up my saving accounts and investments (index, no-load, watch those fees) and could consider myself an intermediate investor.  However, I could certainly still learn new things.  For example, to this day, I still have little knowledge of ETFs, bonds or college savings accounts.

OR Did I make so much money that I no longer needed to look for ways to save and earn more?  Definitely not!  As I mentioned, I still read Money Saving Mom and occasionally other money-saving blogs.  However, the frequency and participation is nearly zero.

OR Did I lose interest in the topic, period?  That’s not quite true either.  While I don’t like reading about pf blogs daily, I am still very interested in reading/learning about money, more so than most people I know.

So why did I stop reading?  Here’s the longish answer.  I once read about a study that reported wealthier people are often more selfish and less empathetic than those with lesser means.  While I am certainly not wealthy, I realized that reading all those finance blogs made me think of money ALL THE TIME.  With money on my mind, I worried more about finances.  Was I saving enough? Did I get the absolute best deal on those batteries and toilet paper? Even worse, I felt somewhat superior to those who were/are less concerned with money.  Since I thought about finance daily, I could not understand why many of my friends, co-workers and family members made “wrong” choices in regards to spending and saving.   Looking back, not all their choices were wrong, per se.  They were simply making choices based more on emotions than financial security.  In short, I lost my compassion and empathy.

It wasn’t actually easy to stop reading.  First, I reduced my list of favorites to a handful of blogs.  I also stopped trying to discover new pf-blogs.  However, I still read finance carnivals during the work week, and this habit kept me in the same money-focused mindset.  I realized that I had to go cold turkey.   I deleted all pf-blogs from my favorites list and did not read any for weeks.  It was relatively easy to stop reading but the hardest part was not finding out about sales and drugstore deals.   Luckily the arrival of kids cut my free time and I am now happy if I get a good-enough deal on household staples and groceries.

As they say, eventually your new routine becomes your new habit.  While I still occasionally visit a few finance blogs, I no longer read any of my old favorites on a regular basis.  A few weeks ago, I stopped by “The Simple Dollar” and “Get Rich Slowly”.  I skimmed a few posts and quickly moved on.  I don’t have a new focus, or rather my new interests are all over the map.  I like reading blogs by intelligent women on career/work and family.  I read some design/lifestyle and cooking blogs.  I get my money “fix” from finance websites or magazines.  If I do come across a pf-blog, I may look up a specific topic but I no longer browse numerous personal finance stories.

Nowadays, I’m mostly satisfied with my financial knowledge and choices.  I’m happier when I don’t think about money so often, even if I probably still think about it more than the average person!

Do you read personal finance blogs? If so, how often?