My First Fan Letter

I received my first letter from a fan! Oh what a feeling! And by “fan” I mean friend and by “letter” I mean text. So, my first text from a friend! Wait…I mean, friends text me. Obviously. I’m cool. Anyway, here it is:

Dear Sara,

I love your blog and am a devoted fan. I was wondering if you’d consider an entry that included some of your best tips for those for whom time is tight. Many of your tips include watching, monitoring, calling and waiting. What is your advice on living on a budget when time is money? 

Your Avid Reader,

“Cora” (I made that name up to protect the identity of the innocent)

This had me thinking all week. Sure, I’ve been busy. Fourteen hour days on set can be grueling and leave you with little time for much else. But so busy that it prevented me from being frugal? Psh! No such thing! I tried to put myself in the shoes of my friend, who is an attorney. From what I understand, people in that world often pay for little luxuries because it’s more convenient than taking the time to do the thing (read: nicer apartment that’s closer to work, Starbucks every morning, house cleaning, eating out most days). But here are the things I know to be true about my friend: she pays low rent in a shared apartment, she’s hosted clothing swaps and garage sales, works for a firm that often pays for dinner or happy hour, uses money savers like living social and is actively chipping away at her law school loans. She seems to be doing so much right. Without a specific, “I have this situation, how could I handle it frugally?”, it is harder for me to advise beyond my own experiences. But here are some general things I came up with for someone who has no time to stalk the prey before the kill.

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Who here has heard of Hukkster, raise your hand? Hukkster is a website that does for you what I do for me. Huh? It allows you to bookmark items in your web browser that you want to keep your eye on and notifies you when the thing goes on sale! Right there you have saved yourself seven (or more) clicks a week of an item you would be checking back on. You don’t have to give it another thought. Not only that, but you will be one of the first to know it’s on sale and can grab it, because most people don’t have a fancy gadget monitoring this sort of thing for them.

groceries

Don’t use a brown bag, they cost $.10 a pop in LA

It is very hard to meal plan when you are working long hours, let alone find the time to scour the aisles of the grocery store for the right items. I know all of that goes out the window when I’m working on set and my husband has to fend for himself. I would imagine the “I can afford it” justification pops up when meal time rolls around in lawyer land. Don’t let these moments of weakness dictate your behavior. Look at them as the exception to the rule, not the standard. You should not be swiping that card for food or drink without knowing you were going to do so in advance. If I’m going to eat out, I almost always know it on Monday of that week. Of course this is not an absolute, but it is the goal. In general, I plan out my entire grocery expedition with the knowledge of when and what our meals are going to be. Just because you have the cash, doesn’t mean you spend it.

I’m going to say a bold word and I want to give you fair warning, because it is not appropriate for the weak or sensitive. You should stop reading if you’re uncomfortable. 3,2,1… Coupons. I know, I know, you hear that and it’s hard not to have a negative reaction. “Coupons? Aren’t those for old ladies? Or cheapskates? Or hoarders? I would never have the time to find the ones I Untitledneeded and it’s not even worth it for a $.50 savings.” If any of these preconceptions crossed your mind in the millisecond I gave you to consider, you would be wrong. As a recent convert, I can understand this way of thinking…that is, until I learned about digital coupons. All you do is download the app for the grocery store of your choosing. My favorite of the moment is Vons because they have so many items on sale everyday. I love TJ’s as much as the next girl, but let me tell you, I’ve been happier since the switch. Sign up for a rewards card if you don’t already have one and make an account, indicating the location you frequent. Go through each product category and add the coupons to your rewards card that you think you’ll need for the trip. Then when you’re checking out in the store, all you do is swipe the card and the discounts come off along with the rewards savings. If you’re really savvy (obsessive), you can actually tally these things up as you make your list and estimate the cost of your trip before you even enter the store. I guarantee that you can add these coupons to your card in the time it takes you to walk from your car and up the elevator to your corner office. No clipping, no hunting for newspaper inserts, no stack of coupons to hand the grocer. Try it this week and see if it works for you. I have consistently stayed within my grocery budget since adopting this habit, which was not the case before. It’s a time and money saver, but requires the discipline of someone willing to cook at home.

And now for a list of quick fixes you can start today to help get motivated:

  • Automate everything. Most do this already and it’s a huge stress saver (you also save on the cost of stamps!).
  • Sign up for credit cards that have a cash back incentive and then use them all the time–paying them off in FULL every month. You will earn money from doing something you’re doing with debit anyway. If you are recovering from recent credit card debt, then this suggestion is not for you.

cup

  • Make coffee at home and bring it into work. I know this one sucks. Who doesn’t love their fancy coffee in their name brand cardboard cup? That’s what the reusable ones are for! Trick yourself into having the experience of a fancy $4 coffee with the $.20 grounds from home. It will probably give you back ten minutes a day. Fake it ’til you make it.
  • Finally, get a Mint account. It is a budgeting device that keeps tabs on all of your accounts in one place so that you can better understand how you spend your money. I could not do my grocery budgeting without it.

An important component of a quality frugal lifestyle is and always will be planning ahead. No busy job will make that fact untrue. You cannot do most things in the spur of the moment and get the same satisfying financial results as the person who thought about it in advance. So that is a quality you need to develop if you don’t already have it. Consider it a muscle you are building and each of these steps as exercises. Just like weight loss, there is no magic button or special diet that will do the work for you.

To continue with the metaphor; consider me your personal trainer. And that this is a gym. And each drop of sweat represents a dollar saved… Juuuust kidding you guys! I swear I’m cool. What I’m trying to say is, I invite others like “Cora” to write me privately with their questions and I’ll do my best to help out. You can email me through the About the Author section. Thanks for reading!

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7 thoughts on “My First Fan Letter

  1. Okay, Sara. I’m in! I’ve *done* a few coupons. But, I’m going to pay more attention after reading this. Thanks! I’m a fan, too. Call me Fan2! Sally

  2. Great advice on the cash back credit cards! I have 2 of them, we use one for in-store purchases, and 1 for web-based purchases and bill payments for utilities. We pay both off every month. The debit card is only used when we want cash. Last year, I got over $800 in cash rewards! Cha-ching!

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