Slowing Down Saves You Money

For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on one of my worst features–a tendency to think too far into the future about any given thing. Sure, this can be a good quality when reasonably applied–but I’ve let it go so far that I’m mentally mapping out what next fall’s Tuesday nights look like. No joke. Someone turn this time machine off! It can also lead to unnecessary worry and even anger when I get too ahead of myself and anticipate events that might never happen. I have yet to figure out how to control this part of my brain, but I am prayerfully working on it. And while doing so–it occurred to me that this is a great application for financial success as well. Not only practicing self-control, but finding a way to slow down your life and quiet the noisy areas can help you hang onto cash where you otherwise might spend it.

How many of you have ever said to yourself, “I’ve had a hard week, I’m getting a pedicure”? Or “I deserve this ice cream because it’s been a long day”? There are countless examples of ways we pay money to reward ourselves for simply going through the motions of life. That’s not to say you can’t have a treat every now and again, but the point is…maybe eliminating the cause will lessen the effect? In my experience, the less I stress, the less I spend.

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Decluttering your friend world can be a very healthy exercise for someone who wants to lessen stress. I have long been a participant in the “big group of friends” gang–as far back as middle school. It has only been in the last year or so that I’ve truly valued the beauty of having a small inner circle of people who you invest most of your time in and it is incredibly freeing. How does this relate to finances? Well, over time you are looking at less commitments–anything from birthday parties where you’re one of twenty-five people, to seeing a person’s show that has a door charge and ticket. My husband and I went to a birthday party earlier this year where, unbeknownst to us, something like fifty people were invited and I swear every. single. one. came. We were split up into a million different tables, barely spoke to the person for whom we came and dropped $80 on the chain restaurant meal. Lesson learned. Now when we show up for something, it’s because we really want to be there to support and engage, not because we feel obligated by our (or should I say “a”) social circle. Quieting your social life saves you money.

Family planning–and I don’t mean the child kind. Having to coordinate any sort of family function– from visits here to visits there to group vacations–has kept me up at night in stress. No more. I have taken a step back from this sort of facilitating because it never changes the outcome. I’ve either relinquished control where I felt it fruitless to try, passed off responsibility to my better half, or simply left something untouched, which I wouldn’t haven’t considered an option in the past. It takes some serious discipline for this planner/thinker, but I’m doing it and it’s given me a peace of mind. I believe that clearer thinking leads to better choices and this absolutely applies to financial ones as well.

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed my husband and I try to take a lot of small trips every other month or so. This has been an intentional, valuable part of our marriage in the pre-children era. As it’s coming to a close, we took one of our last getaways over Labor Day and even though it was fairly close to home; it cost us a lot. My next blog post might be, “A Free Day In Catalina: There’s No Such Thing”. September has been all about making up for that error in judgment. It feels painfully slow to get back to the comfortable place we were throughout most of this year.  Add to that the holiday season and a baby on the way… and you can convince yourself that the present is the new normal pretty fast. What I learned from this travel snafu was that we should have been more reflective on the need for a babymoon, considered the fact that August was already packed with travel obligations beyond our control and perhaps opted to hold off on that experience for a better time. Instead, we acted imprudently and here I am almost a month later dwelling on it. Not the way you want to end a vacation.

That’s where slowing down becomes such an important exercise. If I think too far ahead, I’ve created a tragedy in my mind where there isn’t one. I need to stop and reassess to realize that we are going to be just fine even if I feel stuck at the moment. We aren’t spending more than we have, our choices haven’t affected tithing, saving, retirement or any basic needs. We’ve just dipped below our comfort zone in terms of what we expect from ourselves. That’s not the worst thing that could happen. Plus I recently noticed that October has FIVE Fridays in it–which means FIVE paychecks! What a great opportunity to catch up.

Slowing down also means taking things as they come. Trusting that the season you are in has purpose. Not over anticipating, but not forgetting responsibilities all together. It can be a tough balancing act, but as I start to integrate this pattern of thought into my life–I find things to be simpler and more enjoyable. Even financially stable people have their tough months and that’s exactly why this blog exists–to lessen the impact of those moments. Hey! Maybe I’m developing some sort of resolution here. And maybe that’s a good goal for all of us for 2015. Try to see if you can have fewer months than you did in 2014 where you are stressed about money. I recall April being particularly bad and now I’d say September is too. That’s two so far. If it stays that way, then my goal for next year will be one month or less of stress. Sounds like a fun challenge. What are some ways you slow down in regards to finances?

Summer Savings Goals: How Did You Do?

Anyone who follows me on social media can tell that I am slightly excited about fall being upon us. To be exact, two weeks from today. Waking up to rain yesterday in Los Angeles was an especially nice surprise when all I can think about is how much we lack in season change! So, I figured now was the right time to follow up on my Summer Savings post. How did you do, readers? Did you bulk up that savings account or spend too much? Are you feeling proud of all you accomplished or a little guilty for money wasted? No matter which side of the goal you are on, you have something to gain. If you didn’t save a dime all summer; worry not, you still have another four months of the year to make up for that. If you overspent on vacationing or shopping, you now know what that feels like and will (hopefully) show some restraint next time around. And what better timing for that practice to begin than right before the holiday shopping frenzy? I went a little crazy last year, as we bought our first full size tree and hosted a Christmas party, so I’m looking forward to challenging myself to be more restrictive this season. 

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As far as my summer went, there were financial highs and lows, the most recent expense being our “babymoon” to Catalina on Labor Day weekend. We had Airbnb guests which helped soften the blow, but the trip was still quite pricey despite the extra cash. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still thinking about the ways we spent that could have been avoided had we chose another destination. For example, lodging there is steep because it’s an island and they know you are stuck with limited options. Same with food. And you have to buy bottled water in restaurants because of the drought. Then there is a ferry ride to get there and back (no frequent flier miles to cover the cost!), parking at the harbor for the weekend, eating out and any activities that we wanted to do besides lay out at the beach. I’m glad we did it because neither of us had been before and it was a wonderful new experience to end the summer. I snorkeled for the first time and we rented a golf cart and drove it around the island. We rarely indulge when we vacation; limiting ourselves to very simple and cost-effective activities/entertainment. We usually choose one fancy restaurant per trip and plan in advance so we get the best deals on rooms or travel expenses. At least that’s what my husband reminded me whenever I’d start to speak up. I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts before the baby takes over our travel planning and we naturally become more limited.

On the flip side, we’ve bumped up our saving habits in the last few months and that has felt really great. We set up a weekly automatic transfer from checking to savings that follows every paycheck, so it doesn’t even really feel like we’re missing the cash. It’s just enough money to make a solid impact, but low enough to where it doesn’t hurt. The total amount that will be in the account by December won’t meet our end of the year savings goal, so we’ll still have some work to do outside of the weekly transfers. But the point is, you should be thinking about these things year round and planning ahead for them. That’s why a quarterly (or “seasonal”) check-in is such a helpful discipline.

Another helpful change is I have officially gone on “honorable withdrawal” from my union until further notice as I am about to enter my third trimester of pregnancy. This will save us $185 in quarterly dues, or $740 a year depending on how long I stay away from union work. And as fate would have it, that’s just $32 over what our rent increase is. What do you know? There is our cutback to make up for the extra cost! 

I’ve stayed on track with my Roth IRA investments and even got my younger sister to commit to signing up for one. I’ve been contributing the appropriate amount for if I were on a twelve month plan–$458 a month. But that means my account won’t reach the annual limit ($5500) until April. My goal was to max out the account by the end of the year, which means I’ll have to make a big push in December or a series of smaller ones throughout the fall. That will set me up nicely for January through December contributions in future years rather than the April to April rush, like 2013. 

So as you can see, I’ve been keeping busy with my goals and had a few set backs in terms of vacation, an unexpected raise in rent and very little work on my part to contribute to the costs. I hope you find some motivation in this and and can get creative and disciplined in your savings goals before December. If you’re already on track, please share! Best of luck on gearing up for the end of the year– it will be here before you know it! 

 

The $59 Problem

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This past Monday I came home from a weekend away to find a notice under my door that our rent was being raised by $59 a month. As someone who has never experienced this before, my gut reaction was to fight it. A good instinct, but probably not an appropriate course of action in this situation–or a fight that I would win. Landlord’s have a right to raise rent, especially when it’s in smaller increments and law-abiding. And I have been in this place over three years and it’s never happened. I know the landlord could charge a couple hundred more than he does because the neighborhood has boomed in trendiness since I first moved in (note: I keep saying “I” because I moved in here a little over a year before my husband joined me).

How does a frugal person react to such an unexpected atrocity? Who would accept a deal that states “nothing is going to change, but we are charging you more”? Certainly not a savvy financial planner! Should we reconsider moving for the umpteenth time? Do we try to rent our spare bedroom out? No and double no. Sadly, in our case, the answer is, we just pay the extra amount and reevaluate in the new year. As I’ve chronicled on the blog, we have toyed with the idea of moving a lot–looked at many places and even put an application in for one. We know from the market that if we leave this neighborhood, we will upgrade to a house and it is unavoidable that it will cost more than what we pay now if we want to stay close to my husband’s work. So staying put is still the cheaper option, despite the increase. No upgrades, no third bedroom…just the same old place for $708 more a year. No fun.

But what about someone who really can’t take the hit? I decided this was a great opportunity to brainstorm ways one can save on an unexpected rent increase by cutting down in other areas. After all, I’m sure a lot of us use $59 a month for far less important things than cost of living.

Get rid of cable. This is a no brainer. Most finance blogs would call you out for having it to begin with. I researched it for our apartment and it would cost us about $70 a month more than we currently pay with just internet alone. I imagine that’s a ballpark rate for most of us, so right there you have your rent increase covered and then some. Besides, it is now easier than ever to replace the need with other affordable services.

Drive one less tank of gas a month. Yes, a tank of gas actually costs around $59 these days. Sigh. This one could be difficult for commuters, but I’m sure there are some of you who could cut corners in this area. I know living in a walkable neighborhood makes it easier for me to pull this off. And riding a bike is like, so in right now guys.

Get coffee a dozen less times than you usually do a month. I know it hurts. I know you love your iced double blah de blah blah. One finance blog I read says not to sweat the small stuff like coffee and only concern yourself with skimping on bigger ticket items. I disagree! But you ask two different financial experts and you’ll get two different answers. (By the way, I’m not an expert. I just couldn’t think of a better word to go there.) I believe we should all probably spend less on coffee. It does add up and it makes me cringe every time I check out our Mint account and see how much we wasted in a given month.

Just say no to dessert, appetizers or a drink when/if you eat out. You don’t have to cut out restaurant dining completely to be a frugal person. Just know when to indulge and when not to. A quality frugal life does not mean you miss out on all of life’s fun, it just means you are responsible about it.

Sell one $60 thing a month on eBay or Craigslist for as long as you can pull it off. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely have a good time with this one. Finding new and creative ways to sell books that I have multiples of or will never touch again. Old clothes. My husband’s blu-rays–I mean, my unused furniture items that are just taking up room in the closet.

Cancel your gym membership. This kind of/a little bit falls into the category of cable for me. Is it really worth it? Everyone’s neighborhood and living situation is different–and health is far more important than getting to watch reruns of Bewitched on TV Land–BUT–is there another way to be healthy that is free? Jogging? Home exercise equipment? Upgrades like that to your home or apartment could make the rent increase feel worth it!

Do you know what I spend $59 a month on in any given month? Coffee. Home decor from stores like West Elm or Pottery Barn. An Amazon order that combines books or gadgets for the house. Dinner out at a new place we want to try–easy. I could cut any and all of these if I needed to. We are frugal, but we also enjoy a quality life with self-imposed regulations appropriate to our tax bracket. We save the way we need to and spend the way we want. But a nice kick in the pants from your landlord is a good reminder to stay cautious and motivated in what ways you can be saving everyday to make your total load a little lighter.