Thursday, July 31, 2008

First step in the right direction

I was amazed to discover that today happened to be a vendor fair at work, complete with a variety of free food samples. Talk about a great way to start off the food! I am still way too full from the mini-sandwiches, appetizers and desserts. I have a full-size coconut cupcake sitting on my desk that is just waiting to be eaten.

If there is one thing I know, it's take advantage of any opportunity for free food!

Challenge #1 Dining on a Dime

I can't speak for others, but for me food seems to break my budget. I seem to spend a large percentage of my paycheck on food, whether it's going out for lunch at work, going out for dinner with friends or picking something up on my way home. I seem to live to eat, rather than eating to live.

Looking at my bank statement from last month, I spent 17% of my paycheck on food, whether at the grocery store or out at a restaurant. This seems a little ridiculous, especially on items that have such short term satisfaction.

I need to challenge myself to cut down, and my goal is for food to be no more than 5% of my monthly income. For me, that is less than $100 per month for groceries and eating out. I am going to see if by the end of August, I can make this goal.

So what habits can I change?

1. Cut out unnecessary purchases. The easiest things for me to cut will be the $3 coffees and snacks throughout the day. If I bring a case of diet Coke to work, I won't buy multiple 75 cent cans every day. The harder piece will be saying no to coworkers who want to eat out for lunch several times each week, or planning ahead for the nights I work late. It's easy to spend a lot on food when there are three dining options in the building.

2. Plan more cost effective meals. When I do get around to cooking, I tend to try to make recipes that require a lot of ingredients I don't have on hand, which means I am going to the grocery store more than once each week. It's also how I end up with things like fish sauce and other random ingredients in my cupboards, but no sources of protein or staples. has a great section of their web site, Cooking on a Budget. The recipes still seem to be flavorful, but may save some money.

3. Eat leftovers. I'll be honest, I'm not a big leftover fan. I'll usually eat a meal for a second time, but you can't talk me into the third or fourth. One suggestion that I got (from my mom, who else), was to immediately freeze 1/2 of the leftovers right away, rather than planning to eat the same entree for a full week. Now I just need to talk myself into getting that lasagna out of the freezer at some point down the road.

4. Plan ahead for grocery trips. My plan is to plan out my menus ahead of time and stock up towards the beginning of the month so that I don't have to make multiple trips. I am also going to try to make sure that I go both with a list and not when I'm hungry. I know that's a big no-no. I'll also have to start checking coupons. Hopefully this will also help me waste less.

5. Eat local. I am going to try to hit up the farmer's market this month. I've been fairly good about it in the past and have found some fantastic deals there. Plus the fresh produce is delicious.

This is my plan. At the end of August I will have to add up all of my purchases and see if I came out ahead of July. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Little Financial Humor

One of the experts in the financial field, who we are all too familiar with is Suze Orman. I actually did read her book, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke. It's pretty good!

Suze has become a popular subject on Saturday Night Live lately, and the sketches about her are pretty funny. I found one of them online at, a web site that shows tv shows and movies for free online. Check out this Suze Orman parody.

Let's Calculate

For those of you that need/choose to budget, a skill I lack, check out You Can Deal With It .Com. They have a pretty useful budget calculator for coming up with a monthly budget to cover bills and all of your other expenses.


Still figuring it out...

If you asked me at age 15 where I would be at 25, I probably would have said something about having a good job, a husband and a family. I probably wouldn’t have described a white-picket fence, because my suburban neighborhood didn’t have too many of those. At ten years old, with a limited concept of life, I had no idea that at 25 I’d only just be starting off my adult life. I didn’t know anything about student loans, car payments, rent, or any of the other amazing features that are my current life.

As a recent graduate from a masters program, I have a job that I enjoy, a decent apartment…heck, I even have a pet. I’ve been living in St. Louis for just about a year, and am enjoying all that the city has to offer. Having spent the past few years in a small college town, the move meant a lot more to do, but also higher costs for pretty much everything. I certainly have my favorite splurges…eating out seems to have become more of a habit than a treat. I have an unhealthy obsession with Target, and never seem to get out of there without spending at least $50. I also love seeing live music, but concerts are not the most affordable entertainment. As I haven’t quite found that special someone yet, there is also a cost attached to dating and/or exploring the singles scene...except who has time for that?!

For those of you that read chick lit, Confessions of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella is one of my absolute favorite books, probably because in many ways I am Becky Bloomwood. Like Becky, I seem to be able to rationalize any purchase at the time. Unlike Becky, my financial misteps aren’t always so comical, and I haven’t gotten to my happy ending yet with the handsome billionaire boyfriend, but I’m working on it.

With the economy in such a volatile state, it’s a scary time to be a young person. The bills seem to pile up endlessly. I am currently sitting and waiting for my paycheck to go through at midnight tonight so I can pay all of my bills right away. And yet, I am never willing to give up my grande skim vanilla latte. At 9 am each morning, the $3.49 always seems worth it, regardless of whether or not my credit card can handle it. As a 25 year old, I enjoy having a social life and exploring my new city, and I want to be able to do so without feeling guilty about it. If there is one word I hate…its “Budget.” I just can’t do 'em.

So why am I blogging? I would never pretend that my experience as a young, broke person is all that different than everyone else’s. I would imagine that most of my peers also struggle to make their paycheck last, no matter what their salary is. I am also the first to admit that I’m not an expert….I don’t have any special tips or secrets as to how to save or make good financial decisions – ask my bank manager or credit card companies.

Really, I decided to start writing a blog to challenge myself. I want to learn to be creative about saving, while still having fun. Do I think that I will quickly go from being a shopaholic to a thrifty saver? No. That’s just not realistic. But rather than wallowing in self-pity when I reach the end of the money before the end of the month, I’d like to live with a little-less guilt and a few more dollars. Plus make a dent in some of those student loan and credit card payments.

Here begins my journey, we’ll see how it goes.
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