The Low Price of Sacrifice

What kind of sacrifices do you have to make in your daily life in order to keep a quality frugal lifestyle? And at what cost? Is it socially embarrassing at times? Do you decline invitations to eat out because you don’t want to waste the money, even if you have it? Maybe you intentionally skip the movie theater to wait for it to be “free” on Netflix. Or one of my personal favorites–refusing to pay for parking when you go out. I will drive around however long it takes until I find that street spot. Or take the subway if it’s easier.”Valet? No way!” I just made that up! Spread it. And I might add, LA makes it very easy to valet–we have them everywhere. Including The Container Store, people. It’s no joke. The pressure is on. Everyone has techniques they use to save money and at times, it can be a huge sacrifice. Sharing one car is that for us.

The future of family vacations

The future of our family vacations

Let me tell you folks, it isn’t easy. I’ve mentioned a few times that we’ve had a recent switch up with my husband’s job which requires him to commute to an office now. It has created a huge change in our car sharing dynamic. He will take it to work however many days a week he can unless I have some particular thing planned. Some of the time I’ll drop him off or pick him up because it’s very close, but the rest of the time he’ll take the bus. It’s a bit more of a trek for him to get to the office once off the bus than his last job, but it’s still doable. That creates a great amount of guilt in me on the days I use the car, so I try to limit it if I can. But the flip side of that is being stuck at home all day and only doing things within walking distance unless I want to PT it. That’s slang for “public transportation”. Spread it.

Besides the occasional “poor you” looks we get from people when we say we share a car (it was a choice!!) or having to coordinate with friends, (“Oh sorry, I don’t have the car today…can you come to me or are you free next Thursday and I can come to you?”) can be a pain. And it makes me feel bad because I certainly don’t want my friends making sacrifices because we chose this lifestyle. Most people are understanding–or just don’t care at all. I have to remind myself that this is the financially responsible choice that we made together. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does for us, even if it’s hard. Sometimes I see a friend’s picture on social media and I actually think to myself, “she could leave right now and go to Target if she wanted”. That’s when you know you’ve gone a little stir crazy.

This is what we look like when we do business with a financial advisor

This is what we look like when we do business with a financial advisor

In light of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to add up our estimated annual savings for those of you who have more than one car and may be persuaded to downsize. The good outweighs the bad most of the time. Because I’m incredibly math savvy, I have simply doubled the expenses associated with one car to predict what it would be for two. I’m sure there are instances where this is inaccurate. For example, I don’t know how much gas I would use if I had the car all to myself every day of the week. But this will give you at least a general idea of potential savings.

  • Car insurance for one car and two drivers is $130 with State Farm. This includes renter’s insurance. Car insurance for two would be $260.
  • Gas per month is $220 on average for us. Gas for two cars would be $440. We are lucky that my husband’s job is only three miles away, so even the days he drives haven’t really made a difference to what we were spending when he worked from home.
  • Maintenance is about $60 every three months. So let’s call that $20 a month for funsies. $40 if we had two cars. We get our oil changed every 3,000 miles and have yet to have any major work done because our car is still fairly new. This would obviously be different for anyone who drives something much older and needs new brakes, tires or a battery–none of which have popped up for us yet. Either way, everyone has to get an oil change and so we are still saving half the amount. And when the time comes to replace parts, that will be half as much as well.
  • Parking. In the city life, we have this wonderful thing called “street cleaning” that apparently keeps our neighborhood looking nice… When we had two cars, one was able to park in the driveway, but the other had to be on the street. There was one week where despite our driveway spot, both my husband and I got tickets for parking during street sweeping. Don’t ask me how we did it, but $152 later, we only need the driveway spot for one car. I don’t know how to calculate the savings of the possibility of a ticket decreasing, but just know that I’m getting rich slowly off of it.
  • AAA membership is $73 annually. I believe this would not change as you and your spouse can be on the same plan regardless of whether or not it’s for the same car. I actually added my husband to my membership before we were married because he didn’t have one and the cost hasn’t gone up or down since.

Our annual savings for one car is $4440, or $370 a month. These are all the payments we make that come to mind, which are surprisingly few. And that is without factoring in bigger maintenance or accidents. Some people spend this amount in car payments alone. Is that you? Do you need to make a change? What other areas do you sacrifice in order to save some major cash? Can you see the value in it despite the difficulties? Am I talking too fast? It doesn’t have to be savings in the thousands to be worth it. Try making your own list today and see if you’re pleasantly surprised.



Summer Saving Tips


Don’t let the summer heat burn through your cash!

It’s that time of year…for beaches, sun and barbeque. Relaxation is the word of the season! Certainly the last thing on your mind is your saving goal for the end of year. But what better time to reevaluate your financial situation than the midway point of said year? Today I logged into our savings account to see what we’ve accomplished in the last few months, and honestly, it was a bit discouraging. Because we had to borrow from ourselves and then spend a few paychecks on reimbursement, it feels like very little has changed since the start of the year. But no worries–moving forward, not looking back, right? All you can do is learn from the experience. I guess the first question I should ask is, do you have a savings goal for the year? If not, there’s no time like the present!

After setting a goal, a good place to start is figuring out how much you need to put away every month in order to attain it. Calculate how many months there are before the end of the year, then subtract the difference between what is in your account from what the goal is and divide it by the number of months. Wha? In other words: say your goal is to have $100,000 in your savings by December 31st and you currently have $90,000. I would divide the difference, $10,000, by six (months). That would mean we have to save $1,666 every month from now until then. While this is systematic and helpful to see the bigger picture, I almost never save this way. I just do it to make myself aware of what should be happening, no matter how daunting the result. A little healthy pressure. I usually transfer money in clumps when a large amount comes in for some reason or another. Then nothing for one month. Then a little the next, and so on. I’m not sure this is the best strategy, but it has worked out for us so far (as in…last year). Here are some better tips for saving in the summer months when you’re often feeling lazy and in a savings slump.

1. Sell, sell, sell. Summer is THE season for yard sales. Try getting together with some neighbors or friends and combine your goods. You’ll attract more people this way. And be sure to advertise a lot! Even if you only bring in $100, that’s cash that you’ve moved from your closet to your bank.

2. Try an abbreviated version of the 52-week savings challenge, but just for the summer months. This is where in the first week of the year you deposit $1 into your savings, week two, $2, week seventeen, $17 dollars and so on. By the end of the year you will have saved $1,378.00. A reader once mentioned he was trying that out at the start of the year, and I’m anxious to hear how it’s going! I may even attempt it in 2015. But you really could hop in at any point in the year and just adhere to the same rules. For example, we are in week twenty-five right now. So if I started today with $25, by September 1st I’d have saved $330. That’s no small potatoes, people!

3. Save gift money if you’re a summer baby. I know it’s hard. I know those are your freedom fries! (That’s what that phrase refers to right?!) Your chance to get that skirt you’ve been eyeing or splurge on an Apple TV. But just think of the disappointment you’ll feel come December if you don’t make your goal. You won’t even be wearing that skirt by then! And Apple TV craps out on you. A lot. This works for other times of the year as well. Every Christmas that we’ve been married, my husband and I have received gift money from relatives and hung onto it. No regrets. I can’t even think what we would have bought with it had we splurged on something. Birthdays and holidays are kind of the perfect occasion to save cash because you are probably already getting something you want as a gift from someone else.

4. Abstain from purchases. Seems like the most obvious way to save. This summer, every time you want to buy something, add the cost to a list and keep a running total. Don’t buy it. At the end of the month or week (if you’re weak), put that amount in your savings.

5. Use your talent for side work. I have no special skills whatsoever and even I do this. Speak German or are really good at math? Offer tutoring on Craigslist at a special summer rate! I have a friend who has her cosmetology license even though that isn’t her primary vocation. One year, she was doing well with money, so she offered heavily discounted hair styling to all her friends. She drove to your house for the cut or dye and only asked that you pay what you can. She put it on Facebook, tagging everyone she thought would be interested and ended up developing a lot of loyal customers for a side job that wasn’t even really for the money. That’s kind of the key. You can’t be relying on this income to support yourself. It needs to be extra that you really will put away for a rainy day.

6. If you plan to go out of town, make it a diet vacation. You don’t have to go all out every summer. You can take a weekend trip, rent a place with a kitchen and cook most of your meals. Skip the lattes. Find free activities. There are always frugal options when traveling. It’s just hard to take them when faced with so much expensive and fun temptation. Take the leftovers and throw them at your goal.

7. Cash in your rewards from credit cards. This is tough. Credit card companies are so good at convincing you to use the rewards for a gift card worth $10 more than what you pay. What a great deal! Who wouldn’t want to use it that way? It’s free money on top of free money! But how about…just for the summer… using that cash to add to your savings. It’s not so bad when you limit it to a season, huh? Again, it may only be $50. But if you actually try most of these tricks, you’re looking at upwards of $1,000 come Labor Day weekend.

8. When you finish paying off a debt or bill, take that same amount you were losing monthly and start contributing it to your savings. It will feel like a seamless transition, which is the least painful way of doing it.

9. Airbnb. Rent your place out for a few days to make some extra cash. Summer is the season for people passing through town! See if you can go camping or stay with a friend or family member and save the money you make. Or use it as your travel funds instead of pulling from your regular money.

10. Save “loose change”. Went out to dinner and spent $27.01? Round up and remember to save $2.99 for that day. Your electric bill is $19? Pretend you paid with a $20 and save $1. If you do this all day, every day of the summer, that will add up to a lot of bucks. And it may even be incentive to stop spending as much money.

Your savings goal may be very modest compared to the example I gave above. Maybe for the entire year it is only $1,000 because you are also trying to pay down a large debt. That’s okay! Next year it can increase to $2,000 if your situation improves. Just remember to give yourself some sort of cushion for emergencies before you tackle the debt so that you don’t go into more debt when an unexpected situation presents itself. And have fun. Summer is a time take a break from the hustle of the rest of the year. Enjoy yourself while being responsible at the same time. No need to lose sight of the prize just because the sun is a little brighter.

The Frugal Weekender


If you’re anything like me, you are itching for a summer vacation right about now! It’s not even technically the season for another nine days, but Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start date, so it’s okay to pretend. It’s hard to justify staying inside all day when the sun is out shining and there’s so much California to explore! Apologies to the non-locals, this post is going to be all about Cali. One of my favorite things, if not my most favorite thing about living here is the accessibility to so much within a day’s drive. We can travel to the smallest of towns from the biggest of cities within an hour. Hike the most gorgeous mountains, sail the ocean or lazy river it in the forest. You pick your style, California will provide. Personally, I prefer the more wooded areas, so that’s what you’ll be hearing about today. I’ll always be more river than I am beach and more mountain than I am desert. Unfortunately, So Cal tends to be more popular for the opposite of my preferences, so I have to travel further to get what I want. Enter my love of Northern California. If I were to paint my dream home it would fall somewhere, anywhere, along the Russian River in Sonoma County. Surprisingly, I didn’t spend much time in that neck of the woods, growing up only about an hour South of it. Sometimes I look at pictures of this area just to torture myself and think, “people actually get to live here”. I’m sure there are a number of people who think that about good old Hollywood too, so I try to remember that the grass is always, ya know. Then again nothing in Los Feliz is as green as that picture above. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up here. Because seriously, this area SCREAMS television production. There must be a writer’s room for my husband somewhere between that raft and one of those trees. I’ll look into it. As much as this is turning into a diary entry, the point of my post was not so much to talk about my dream life as it was to say…there are affordable escapes to glimpses of one’s dream, no matter what terrain you like. A lot of beautiful adventures in this amazing state are waiting for your visit. Here are a few budget friendly ideas for an easy summer getaway.

One of the most frugal ways to travel within your own state is to keep it short. My husband and I have found we almost always overestimate how long we need to be somewhere. If you take a three-day weekend, you’re missing less (or zero) work and spending less money. There are a lot of those paid holidays in this great nation; the next one being July 4th and you better believe we’re taking advantage. So I guess I’ll start there. Where we plan to go.



If you were wondering what perfection looks like, search no further. This coastal village is without a doubt my favorite place on God’s greenish earth. My parents honeymooned here almost forty years ago. Our family vacationed here bi-annually for most of my adolescence. I haven’t been back since I was eighteen and I plan to change that this summer.  This isn’t really a town where you go on tours or line up activities. It was always a relaxing vacation in a rental house with home cooked meals where we roamed the shops and explored the headlands. Air BnB has multiple cabins for rent from $100/night. I recommend staying walking distance from the town itself if you can. Nearby (free) attractions include Little River, a huge redwood forest (including the tallest tree in the world), a very Northern California beach (cold and rocky) and North Coast Brewery if you’re a fan of the craft beer company. This town also might be responsible for my obsession with the TV series Murder She Wrote, as it was filmed here for the first few seasons. Or it might just be because that J.B. Fletcher is too dang good.



Just a few hours South of Mendocino in Sonoma County, you will find this quaint stop along the Russian River. It has a lovely town square surrounded by shops, antiques, restaurants and wine tasting galore. Further outside the downtown area you will find many a Sonoma winery (Napa’s younger sister, though I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be called that) and the most breathtaking views. My husband and I ventured out this way last year and found one of the most unique landscapes: miles of vineyards with redwood trees as the backdrop. I’ve never seen that combination before and I could have stared at it for hours. We drove out of town a bit to find Dry Creek General Store, a stop well worth the detour. It’s a restaurant, a bar, a market, BBQ grounds… I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess that’s why they call it a General Store. And it’s directly across from Dry Creek Winery, so you could double up on your visit. This was my favorite part of Healdsburg; open air and surrounded by nature. If you want to continue exploring, you’ll find smaller sandy coves along the Russian River and scenic routes and bridges in and out of town. In case you’re wondering, no this did not make the list because I love the Scream franchise and it just so happened to film here. Are you noticing a theme? You can take the girl out of Hollywood… I would also recommend staying overnight in the nearby Occidental for some plush scenery and a quieter night. Prices are higher in this neck of the woods, so you have to be very selective and plan ahead in your hunt. Remember, Air BnB is your friend and you can’t go wrong picking a neighboring town.

Monte Rio


You MUST look into a family vacation in this tiny, amazing location. My husband and I discovered it last year when we had our quarter life crisis and thought we may buy the movie theater there. Which, by the way, is built in a WW1 quonset hut, has the largest connected piece of The Running Fence along the ceiling and is steps from the Russian River. It has since been purchased by twenty-five individuals who are doing everything one would hope with such a historic and unique place. The drive into town is filled with campsites, kayak rentals, hotels and redwoods. You even pass a few wineries. This would be the perfect opportunity for communal camping if that’s your thing. And definitely the cheapest option! There is so much river activity along the route that you’d be a fool to not at least dip your feet in (which I certainly did last summer). My hope is to one day vacation there with a bunch of other families and spend the week exploring the river. You will not regret checking out this special destination, even if it’s just for a day.


Nevada City

While I’ve never been, this is on my list. I was originally looking into it as a winter destination last year because it snows there and that’s special to us Southern Cali folk. But it appears to be just as active and exciting in the summer months as well! This is in the heart of Gold Country, a wonderfully underrated part of California. You can pan for gold, visit museums from that era of American history and browse all the bookstores in “Booktown USA”, as the locals call it. I’ve been reading about a lot of nicer restaurants popping up around these parts as well. There are plenty of outdoor activities nearby and you will find many small towns nearby that have a similarly historic feel (Sutter Creek being one). The layout is very Old West and saloon-y, which is about as good a job as I can do describing the architecture.

I tried to avoid the major vacation destinations people think of when they come to California: Yosemite, San Diego, Carmel/Monterey, etc. in favor of introducing you to some smaller and equally fantastic little towns that have a lot to offer. In any of these places you can find affordable accommodations and corners to eat and explore. If this summer isn’t the year for the big European trip, try exploring what you have within driving distance. And remember, bringing friends not only makes it more fun, it cuts down on the cost of gas and lodging!


When Moving Isn’t An Option: Reinvent


Making my home feel like a place of rest and comfort is a huge priority. I can’t wake up in the morning and feel stressed when I walk into the main area. It has to be neat and look a certain way. I don’t mean the pillows have to be straight, but rather I’m speaking of the feel of the room. Lately that hasn’t been the case in our home and I’ve set out to slowly change that in thoughtful and frugal ways.

For the last few months, my husband and I thought we may be relocating to another part of LA about twenty minutes from where we currently live. It’s quieter, cleaner, safer and has beautiful suburbs. We wanted to upgrade to renting a house and give my husband the kind of office space he desires. I had been on the fence about it, though it did seem like the right choice in a lot of ways. However, I didn’t want to increase our rent, which seemed next to impossible if we wanted a third bedroom. Then we got the news that my husband’s job was switching from working at home to commuting to an office. That is was completely unexpected, but somewhat of a relief in many ways! Working from home has its advantages, but it lacks a collaborative environment and it’s easy to go stir crazy when locked up in your apartment five days a week. The kicker is: the job would be three miles from our current place. It would make no sense to then move further away and lengthen his new commute. Not to mention we have one vehicle and so he’d undoubtedly have to take public transportation some days. We know the route from his previous job and it’s very easy on the bus.

So, we decided to stay put for now. This is obviously the most cost-effective decision not only in the long-run (skipping the increase in rent), but also avoiding any costs associated with moving and redecorating for a new space. In light of that, I decided to start making a few changes around our apartment. I am working on one room at a time and started with the living area. We sold our couch and end tables (yay! for those who were following the struggle) and bought a new one that matches our Restoration Hardware chair in the back room. Craigslist came through after all! I knew he was my loyal friend. The new one was also a CL find too good to pass up, which is why we bought it before selling the first one. Heavily marked down because it came with dog scratches galore, we bought it anyway and then used this amazing substance to restore it. I can’t tell there were ever any blemishes. And the ones you can see simply add to the rustic look of the leather. We also knocked a couple hundred more off the price just by asking. I had been tracking this person’s postings and noticed he had reduced the price by three hundred dollars from one day to the next. This told me he was getting desperate to sell. A little healthy consumer stalking never hurt anyone!

Pro Tip for apartment dwellers: whenever purchasing an expensive piece of furniture, I think about it going with other pieces we own. Even if they are not currently in the same room; when you move, they may need to be. It will save you redecorating money in the long run!

With both pieces we’ve sold so far we received less money than we were hoping. It helps that it partially pays us back for what we spent on the new stuff, which is better than nothing. Ideally, one could redecorate an entire room this way, which was my goal when we started out. The only debt you want when doing this sort of thing is debt to yourself– in other words, I still hope to pay ourselves back for these cash purchases by selling stuff we own. If I don’t meet that goal, I still have the comfort of knowing I got the best possible deal, saving literally thousands of dollars on a quality used piece of furniture.

There are also a lot of small and inexpensive ways to make your home more inviting and relaxing without a complete overhaul. For example, any time I buy flowers and put them in a vase, I am instantly happier when I walk in the room and see them. Or I recently bought a tablecloth for the first time and it’s amazing what a lovely touch that can make to the patio! I’ve found the same to be true with smaller decorative pieces and appliances. What kind of frugal and creative upgrades do you have in your home to make it a more comfortable living space?

When Craigslist Won’t Cut It

I’ve been having a rough time with my old friend, Craig lately. Usually he’s quite generous with me. But this past month he has been holding back! We have been trying to sell a couch, a coffee table and two end tables for a few weeks now with zero luck. Not even so much as a bite! Ordinarily I get some curious buyers within a few days of my initial post and then we discuss price and land on a deal. I think something must be wrong with my computer and the posts aren’t loading. That’s the ONLY explanation. I told my husband before we started this venture that I have sold every single thing I have set out to on CL with the exception of…our last couch. But to be fair, it was dirty and old. This one is new and clean and very nice. We ended up giving the last one to our old church because they sometimes store furniture and hand it off to homeless people when they get a new apartment and need some furnishing. That seemed like a great use for it.

This time around, we were determined to sell the couch to make up for the cost of the new one. Especially since we’ve only had this one for a year and a half, it seemed particularly wasteful to not earn a little money on it. You may be wondering why one would sell a couch so quickly after purchasing! Good question. It is too big for our living room. It is a sectional and takes up most of the space in the room.

We posted the CL ad on social media and got a ton of responses from people we knew, who we promised to cut a deal. Almost all of them were committed at one point or another and then backed out later. (Or stopped replying to messages–yes, that happened three separate times!) Then we had a “yard sale” that consisted of this furniture and a very few number of other odds and ends. Not one thing sold. So we went to five antique stores to try to sell the coffee table and end tables. No one bought.

The real question to ask oneself is for how long do you persist in trying to make money? I can store the smaller items for quite some time without burden, but the couch? It’s currently taking up half of our balcony and the cushions the better part of our spare room–which will soon to be occupied by a guest (as in tomorrow). How long is it worth this? A little pressure was added yesterday when someone from our former church saw the social media post and asked if we’d be willing to donate it to the church instead of sell it. I asked if she meant donate it to a person in need like the last time; but she said it would be for use in the actual church, behind the stage. My husband and I don’t know what to make of this–are we being called to be generous and give our couch away instead of sell? And is that really the best purpose for it if we are going to donate? And does it matter that we no longer attend that church (i.e. should we be giving it to our home church instead). We need to make the decision by today, which is hard because I have some resistance. But I don’t know if that’s my frugal heart calling out or something else. The flip side is, I don’t know if I can handle one more flaky friend saying “something came up” and they can’t buy it after all. Or they haven’t thought through how to get it. Huh? That’s literally the first thing I think of when buying something big. How will I get it home? Rent a U-haul. Done. That’s what we did for our new couch and it’s really not a big deal.

A lesson I hope to share through this is that maaaaybe you shouldn’t buy a replacement before you’ve sold the first thing? I mean, I don’t know, just an idea. But the problem with trying to get the best deal on things is often times you have to strike when the iron is hot or lose out to someone else. So, we’ve made our own grave. What would you do in my situation? Give up and donate or continue trying to make back the money you spent? Don’t forget we are not just losing what we spent on the new couch, but on the first one as well. What are you non-Craigslist ways of getting rid of unwanted stuff?