"Secret skimping is out, like false bosoms." - Marjorie Hillis, Orchids on Your Budget, 1937.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cutting Costs - When There's Nothing Left

I've been really hard on myself lately about my PF progress. I spent the last year as a spendthrift, after all. Even though I'm back to my more frugal ways, after reading and taking to heart a lot of what Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme has to say, I'm even more determined to squirrel away more of my income. So I took to my budget, red pen in-hand, desperately trying to find an opportunity to cut back on something.

Our largest expense is rent. The number ($850/person) is a true horror to behold, especially since not 2 years ago I used to spend only $500/month when I had more roommates. Meanwhile, my income is holding steady at $45k gross, which yields a little over $33k net (after federal and state taxes and a meager 3% 401k contribution), so I'm not getting any richer with this setup. We live in a 2-bedroom apartment now, when all we really need is less than or equal to 1 bedroom, so I perused craigslist with visions of a relatively inexpensive studio apartment in or near the city. I couldn't find anything at a reasonable price point that didn't require 2 additional roommates, or a 30 minute trip by car. Turns out our insanely expensive unit is actually quite a steal in this part of town. Until I can live the dream in a Tiny Tumbleweed house, looks like I'll have to make do with this place.

So I moved onward, looking for some other fixed cost to cut, but besides the Netflix subscription we just signed up for (it's winter in MA - I'm sure I'll get my money's worth), I couldn't find anything. Here's a list of things we already do without:
  1. Car (and therefore, no car insurance, gas, etc.);
  2. Cable television;
  3. Cable internet (we use dryloop DSL);
  4. Landline phone;
  5. Gym membership; and
  6. Haircuts, apparently - similarly, I do all my own bodily upkeep, including my nails.
The fees I do pay monthly are (i) an unlimited train/bus pass, which is less than $60/month and (ii) my cell phone, which is $45. No, there's no extraneous monthly fee to cut (except Netflix, but we just signed up, and already we've watched probably over 20 DVDs). Looks like I just have to track every penny to lessen my OTHER spending. I'm not shopping anymore, but I do spend $2 or $5 here and there for a coffee or a sandwich sometimes, and it really, really adds up. Groceries are also very expensive (duh), and we do shop sales, clip coupons, and eat a lot of lentils and tuna fish.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I really do just need more of an influx of cash. Anyone else out there in a similar situation or want to share some "necessities" you do without?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We've Only Just Begun...Wedding Planning.

I've had so many conversations with my mother this month about wedding stuff. I'm pretty sure it's all we talk about now. Not 5 minutes ago, I was on the phone with Mom, and she was yammering on about photographers, and I just couldn't listen for one more single little second. I had to interrupt and tell her I'd call her back tomorrow before my head exploded.

Yes, I'm totally into the idea of getting married. Yes, I want my friends and family there on my wedding day, but NO, I AM TOTALLY NOT INTO PLANNING THIS BIATCH!

We've reserved the venue, the rabbi, and possibly the dress. Now there's the cake to consider, photos, lodging for out-of-town guests, DIY decorations, hair, makeup, food, music, and now we're even taking an eraser to the guest list. I could never, ever be an event planner. I can feel my brain hemorrhaging as I type this.

I'm not sure what is so hard about this for me. I think part of it is the money (isn't it always?). This is going to cost a helluva lot of money no matter which way you slice it. We're doing a "small" wedding, but it's still going to cost more money than I have right now.

Second, I never pictured a big wedding for myself. I'm just not the type to moon over wedding dresses and floral arrangements, and I don't feel like faking it.

Third, a co-worker of mine spent over $70K on her wedding this year. $70K, and apparently it just happened! As if a $70K wedding is something you just fall into! Anyway, I'm definitely not a $70K wedding kind of girl, I'm not even a $20K or $10K wedding kind of girl, no matter what the national average is, and I don't want to accidentally spend anywhere near that! In fact, my original idea was to have my wedding in my aunt's backyard with a local BBQ joint catering, but it was nixed when we realized the chairs would sink into the lawn.

Anyway, I know I've committed to the type of wedding with photographers and caterers, but I'd be lying if I said I was looking forward to planning it.

To be continued...?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

If I could do it all over again, life, college, career edition

I graduated from a small liberal arts college in the summer of 2006 with a degree in Art History and English, and vague ideas about some kind of artsy-fartsy employment. My work experience up to that point, while broad – I had been a babysitter, cashier, sales associate, temp, dental assistant, admin assistant, gopher, intern, and server – was lacking in depth. So was my college education, turns out.

I imagined working as a graphic designer or editorial assistant, but to do anything vaguely skilled, I would need to know the programs that were integral to their processes, yet I knew none, or I would need writing samples – would my John Donne final paper work? By this point, my student loans were coming due and I had rent to pay. You know the thing they always say about how getting a job, ANY job, is all about who you know? It’s true. I fell into this job through my cousin’s friend. And I took it because it was the first one I was offered. The plan was to work here a year, all the while “figuring it all out” from the safety of a cash-padded bank account, then make my escape.

At the time of posting, I have been working as a legal assistant for 3 years, 6 weeks, and 1 day. What happened to figuring it all out? Life, mostly. Life happens everyday, and it happens quickly. I don’t love my job, and honestly, I rather hate it (gasp!). Not only do I get zero fulfillment out of it, but when you WILL yourself to stay at a hateful job with hateful people, it invites a steady creep of negativity into other areas of life. Before you know it, you’ve developed all kinds of unhealthy habits to compensate… and you thought drinking, smoking, spending, and eating were fun in moderation? Meanwhile, you become an intensely miserable bastard – you’re depressed, you’re fat, you’re jaded, and you have a certain sense of learned helplessness that’s pathetic. And where did all the time go?

If I could do it all over again, I’d go to a big state school that taught applied skills (architecture, graphic design, etc.). I’d have worked out a career track in high school. I’d have figured out what I was passionate about and pursued it with reckless abandon, instead of wasting time worrying about what people thought of me, or what everyone expected me to do. I would’ve remembered that my body is an integral part of mySELF, and while physical activity may seem like a hold-over from the Stone Age, it’s vital and beneficial. I’d remember my self-worth.

I know I’m still relatively young and have some time to recoup my career (and personal) losses, but the market has ensured that I’ll stay in my current position for a while longer, despite the fact that I’m actively seeking other employment (cross your fingers for me). For this holiday season, all I want is a little chance for a do-over. Sure, a bonus would be nice, but I won’t hold my breath. Just a new job, a new start, please.

And to everyone reading, stay happy, stay healthy, and stay hungry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2010 Goals

Whether I like it (I do!) or not, 2010 promises to be a year full of change. First and foremost, I'm getting married. Second, well, there doesn't really need to be a second, because HELLO, I'm getting MARRIED, and with the marriage comes filing taxes jointly, the loaded decision re: changing my name (I still haven't decided), and the sudden, incessant pressure from parents to reproduce.

With that in mind, I have a few money-related things I'd like to accomplish next year that I didn't manage to do this year:

  1. Fully fund my Roth IRA;

  2. Focus hard on saving as much as possible to push E-fund up to at least $10k again;

  3. Stop all purchases from home-shopping sites - I've improved since August, but still feel the itch;

  4. Use the promise of reimbursement from my insurance company to join Weight Watchers;

  5. Limit miscellaneous spending - spend only with real purpose; and

  6. Keep wedding costs down with creative, inexpensive solutions.

Other than than the things listed or implied above, I'd really just like to figure out what it is that I'd like to do, and have the courage to pursue it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 2009 Net Worth

Emergency Fund: $1,103.51
Checking: $29.26
ING Funds (total): $242.75
Roth IRA: $6,880.79 (out of the $7,100 I've invested so far)
401k: $4,192.86 (from the $3,686.40 invested so far)
Sharebuilder: $37.56 (out of $50 initial investment)
Total Positive: $12,486.73

Rent: $PAID
Phone: $45.00
Subway Pass: $PAID
Credit cards: $1,179.26
Student Loan I: $8,530.66 (from over $19k)
Student Loan II: $0
Total Negative: $9,754.92

Total Net Worth: +$2,731.81

Not a great month. I did way too much spending. I know the holidays aren't exactly a great time to cut back, but it's already going to take me about a month and a half of not saving a dime to pay off my credit card balances. I made a huge three-figure purchase that I'm not sure whether I regret. It was jewelry, of course. For me. It's the most I've ever spent on jewelry. It's the most anyone should ever spend on jewelry (excluding wedding and engagement rings).

Meanwhile, I doubt there will be bonuses this year, but that's no shocker. January is a 3-paycheck-month, and not too long after, I should get a decent tax return. Maybe grandma will send me $100 for the holidays. That would be nice. It would be a great idea for me to get a seasonal part-time job to save a little extra, but I wouldn't know where to start. Plus, I really should save by reigning myself in. Lifestyle inflation really is an insidiously creeping force.

And on a totally unrelated note, if you have not seen this yet, do yourself a favor and watch it: