Friday, July 24, 2009

Break out the paint brushes and canvas...

Hmm, my decorating plan isn't looking too good at this point, so it may require creating my own artwork for the walls.

My goal at the beginning of the month was to keep as much of the rent money that I got from my roommate as possible so that I can use it for decorating the apartment. Looking at my account, there isn't a whole lot left at this point and there is still another week left.

Where did it go?

I am still working on my spending, but I have also done some things this month that were one-time payments, like the AAA coverage, and the first two months of my renter's insurance. Not bad choices, but ones that do cost money.

As I go into next month, I'm really trying to focus on what my budget is going to be, and what choices that I am going to have to make. I know that it is going to be hard, but it's what I have to do. No spur of the moment manicures or mid-afternoon snacks.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Own a Big Girl TV

Today I made my first major purchase in quite some time - a 32 inch LCD HDTV. My roommate bought the current tv in our apartment, and it will be moving out at the end of the week. My options were to buy a new one or to go back to using my 16 incher from college. I decided that I'd been made fun of enough for it in the past, it was time to upgrade.

I find purchasing technology especially stressful. I intentionally avoided Best Buy, because I feel like their salespeople complicate the process, trying to get you to buy all sorts of add ons. While I can appreciate their expertise, it's overwhelming. I just need a tv, to watch regular tv shows. No video games, nothing fancy. I don't even know what half the features mean.

I went to Walmart, where I new they had the tv I wanted. It had been sold out the past few times I checked with the store, so I was very excited to see three when I got there today. I knew that Target also had it, but it would be $40 more. I did purchase the two-year service plan from Walmart, just in case. Let's hope that I don't need it.

I haven't set it up yet, but I feel like my single girl apartment just got an upgrade. Now I just need to work on the rest of the decorating.

I also signed up for a AAA membership today. With all of the driving that I do, I was convinced by my boyfriend that it's a good option in the event that I need to be towed or something. Next step in the "becoming a big girl tour"...renter's insurance. A good friend had his apartment broken into a few weeks ago. They stole is laptop and tv, luckily nothing else. I've always been under the assumption that I don't have anything of value, but then when I think about if I had to replace everything I own...that would be awful. I'm planning to call the insurance company tomorrow. Being a grown up requires so many non-fun things.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finding Free Entertainment

With a relatively small "fun" budget, finding cheap entertainment can be hard. After rough spending months in May and June, I am determined to focus on cheap entertainment for the remainder of the summer, spending as little as possible, but still having fun.

This can be difficult, especially because I am in a long distance relationship, so dating requires travel for at least one person and when we are together, we tend to spend money like you would on vacation. My boyfriend and I made a pact that besides meals, dates have to be free until the end of the summer (although we might splurge for a matinee Harry Potter show this weekend).

I have found that there is actually a lot to do in Saint Louis for free, which can make for some fun nights and weekends. So far I have checked out:

1. AB Brewery Tour - You get to see the Clydesdales and tour the brewery, plus you get free beer samples.

2. St. Louis Arch - It costs money to go up to the top of the Arch (which I'm too scared to do), but the museum and park are free.

3. Free Concerts - Between Fair St. Louis, the All-Star Game and Live on the Levee, the month of July has been packed with free concerts downtown. I got to see Sheryl Crow for free last weekend, and it was an awesome time! All I paid for was a Metrolink ticket to get downtown.

4. Free Seats at The Muny - St. Louis has a municipal theater that puts on about 7 musicals throughout the summer. Each night, free seats are offered at the top of the theater. I went for the first time tonight and got to see Godspell for free. While you are pretty far back, the sound is still great.

5. St. Louis Zoo - St. Louis has one of the most amazing free zoos. The animal exhibits are excellent, especially the penguins, hippos, and big cats.

I am looking for additional free outings to try throughout the rest of the summer. I have a feeling I'll be headed to the museums next, which I have heard are excellent. The Missouri Botanical Gardens is free on Wednesdays and Saturdays if you go before noon, so I will also have to check that out. And there is always my excellent swimming pool at my apartment complex. I try to get good use out of that thing.

There really are plenty of free fun things to do!

It's About Time

So I did something this month that I should have done about a year ago, maybe two. I signed up to begin contributing to my retirement plan.

At 26 years old, it is hard to think about retirement. I have only been employed full-time for two years - retirement is likely about 40 years away, if it even happens. However, I am aware that it is important to start saving as early as you can. I think what took me so long was that the process seemed kind of scary, especially with how the market has been the past year. So many of my friends and family lost so much in 2008 that I rationalized it was better to have the cash on hand to spend (although I probably wasted it away on diet Cokes and mid afternoon snacks).

When I took the leap and went to the retirement orientation that was offered, I was shocked when the representative explained that with people living into their 90s, most people will spend as many or maybe even more years in retirement than they will working. You figure, if you start working around 22 and plan to work until you're 60, that's 38 years. If you retire at 60, that's 38 If you live to be 90, that is 30 years in retirement with expenses to be covered (potentially some spent in a really expensive nursing home). That blows my mind.

My employer has an excellent match that I could have been benefiting from about a year ago. I will definitely take it now.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Making the Money Last

One of my challenges each month is to make my paycheck last through the end of the month. It is easy to spend a lot in the first week or so, and then spend the last few scraping or using credit cards to cover the shortfall.

I wrote earlier about my "End of the Month List" that includes items that I'd like to buy if I can make the money last until that last week. I am still keeping it and right now it includes:

  • Wellies (you know...the cute rubber rain boots)
  • A new wall mirror
  • Apples to Apples (the board game)
  • New laptop case
  • New running shoes/workout shorts
  • Scrapbooking supplies (esp. the Cricut)
  • Couch (my first ever!)

I suppose it also should include all of the items that I will replace in my apartment if I can. I have now made an official list that will include:

  • Shower Curtain (kind of a must)
  • Coffee Table
  • End tables
  • TV Stand
  • TV (wishful thinking)
  • Table Lamp
  • Wall Clock
  • Mirrors
  • Kitchen Cart
  • Wall Art/Decor
  • Throw Pillows
  • Doormats
  • Organizers

While it's easy to go out and just buy everything, I need to be more realistic as to my budget. And pace myself...that always seems to be the problem. Three more weeks to go!


What a Bargain!

So I made the call to the cable company, fully intending to downgrade to basic cable. The first woman that I talked to took my information, and told me that if I added a telephone line, I would actually have a great bundle, and all three services would be cheaper.

No, not what I want. I am looking to pay less than I am right now. I just want basic cable.

She transferred me to their "retention department" and the next gentleman that I spoke asked "Do you not watch the channels or are you looking to pay less." When I said I wanted to pay less, he told me that for their current promotion I could maintain my extended basic cable (so all of the good channels), and pay just $77/month, apparently only $7 more than what I'd be paying for internet and basic cable.

I guess I got a good deal out of it - I'll be saving about $30/month and I can still watch Food Network. I guess it always pays to ask.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Public Library

One of my favorite things about summer is the time that I have to read. I love to read, but don't seem to have a whole lot of time to read for fun during the school year. During the summer, I try to spend as much time as I can getting new books from the public library.

I love the public library. No matter where I am living, even if it is only for a short time, I have to have a library card. I live literally a block away from a Barnes and Noble, but have only been there once in two years, and that was to buy a gift. I would much rather go to the library.

Part of it is definitely the cost. Books aren't cheap, and if you like to read, it's easy to spend a lot. If there are books that I really love, like the Harry Potter series, it's worth the money. But for something that I am just going to read once by the pool in probably a day or two - not worth it.

I have already read about 10 books this summer, and have a bunch on hold. I stopped in tonight to pick up one book, and decided to browse the cookbook section, one of my favorites. One of the great things about the public library is that they have pretty much every cookbook. Since I don't spend a whole lot of time cooking, I typically just look up recipes online when I get the urge to make something from scratch. But I do love to browse through cookbooks, and decided tonight would be a good night to look through some recipes. I really love Rachael Ray's cookbooks, and checked out four. I also checked out one book that is all soup recipes. One of my goals is to cook two or three soups, and then freeze them in single serving containers. I figure that this is a good plan for the school year, when I am eating a lot of late or hurried dinners. Plus I can take them to work for lunch - much better than a lean cuisine, and definitely cheaper.

I think what I like most about the library is that you can try things out for free without the commitment of cost. Last summer I checked out a bunch of knitting books (one of my favorite hobbies), but I didn't end up knitting anything at all. Had I bought a knitting book, I would have felt really bad if I didn't actually use it. A few summers ago, I put my Netflix subscription on hold, and just checked out movies from the library. They didn't have the best selection, but I watched a whole bunch of movies that I probably wouldn't have otherwise - for free. If I don't cook a single recipe over the next few weeks, no big deal.

The only thing I have to be careful about is returning the books on time and picking up my hold requests. I have been known to rack up $30 in fees - oops.

I'm surprised that more people don't use the public library, especially with the economy the way that it is. Reading is a great free hobby (unless you can actually afford a Kindle).


Bonus time...

I love free stuff!

I recently renewed the lease to my apartment and just received a packet from my landlord. Apparently I received a bonus for signing a one-year renewal and can now choose from:

  • Carpet cleaning
  • Vent cleaning
  • Replacement of mini blinds in one room
  • New HVAC vent covers
  • New digital thermostat
  • 1 room painted
  • New brushed nickel kitchen cabinet knobs
  • Window cleaning
  • New kitchen faucets
  • New bathroom faucets
  • Maintenance services for 1/2 hour

What will I choose? I'm leaning towards the carpet cleaning since I have a pet, but some of the other items are also tempting.

Changes, and The Will to Not Shop

Wow, it has been a long time since I have posted anything. And in that time, I think that I've become even more broke...

The last few months I have been overspending quite a bit and I need to reign it in. However, the summer months always seem to be full of adventures, vacations, and other fun that leaves my pocket quite empty. In addition, I will once again be the single occupant of my apartment, meaning that living expenses will be double starting next month - leaving me with less cash for my fun budget.

In order to deal with this change, I have already switched all of my utilities to budget billing. For both my gas and electricity, I will pay a flat rate each month, so that those high air conditioning and heating months don't break the bank. Those surprise bills can be rough!

I am also debating turning off my cable, or downgrading to basic. As much as I love Food Network and Bravo shows, I figure that I can watch most online. I rarely have time to watch tv anyway, so it shouldn't be too big of a change.

Sadly, all I want to do right now is shop. With my roommate taking her things to her new condo, I would like to replace the items that will be leaving - especially the nice 32-inch HD tv. I don't really want to go back to watching my little 16-inch. I won't be losing any major furniture pieces (although I would love to upgrade from a futon to a couch or loveseat), but there are the smaller things - a shower curtain, wall clock, lamps, rugs, throw pillows, wall art, etc. that tie the place together. I've got the itch to redecorate, but how do I keep it on budget?

That is going to be the challenge. I have decided to see how much that I can save during the month of July. Whatever I have leftover from my current paycheck at the end of the month can go towards decorating.

My account balance is already looking low following an unexpected Fourth vacay, so I'm going to have to be really good over the next few weeks. Only free entertainment, very limited eating out, no Starbucks (tear).

I'm hoping to have some exciting new purchases to spice up my place in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Living on Food Stamps

CNN Correspondent Sean Callebs spent the month of February living on a food budget of $176 (roughly $6.28/day), the highest amount that an individual could receive in government assistance if he had no income. He blogged about his experiences trying to make the budget last throughout the month.

His experiences were pretty interesting, and I learned a lot from his blog. I had no idea that over 31 million people in the United States rely on government assistance to feed themselves and their families. I have said before that food expenses are my greatest vice. The amount that I spend on coffee and soda alone probably totals over $176 each month. In fact, we are only one week into the month and I've already spent over that amount. I think that I would struggle not only to budget that money throughout the month, but also to avoid the really expensive items like eating out and lattes.

In his blog, Callebs commented on the social aspect of eating out and how he missed it during his month of eating on food stamps. I think that would be one of the hardest parts. So often, I don't intend to go out to eat, but then a friend calls and I easily give in.

My goal for this week is to pack a lunch every day and to bring my coffee from home. Although it may not be quite the budget that Callebs had, for me it's a good start.

Here's to trying to spend more wisely.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring is Here!

Today is a beautiful day! I love when I can open the windows again.

Although it's open year round, this nice weather prompted my first trip back to the farmer's market. I felt a little guilty that I didn't make more of an effort to go throughout the winter when I was reminded of how great the prices are. For the amount that I spent on dinner last night at Pei Wei, I got 1 lb of green beans, 1 lb of Brussels sprouts, 4 kiwi, 3 pounds of grapes, 1 lb of potatoes, a basket of tomatoes, and 1 bag of onions. Crazy!

Another exciting thing about refunds! My taxes are complete thanks to Turbo Tax online, and I should be receiving my refund in the next few weeks. Some will be used towards paying bills, but some will also go towards fun. In these economic times, we have to find the fun where we can! 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tis a Gift to Be Simple

I'm approaching a birthday, and received my first gift last week. My mom likes to send me my presents well in advance of my birthday, and she has no problem with the fact that I open them immediately. 

My mom has this knack for keeping birthdays and other celebrations simple but meaningful. She manages to choose cute things, without going over the top. We were never the kids to receive oodles of presents, but we always appreciated the ones that we got. I really appreciate that quality about her, as I see friends' birthdays being overrun with designer bags, jewelry, and other items that just don't seem all that important.

I received two books, one of which I am reading right now. It is called To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us by Sasha Cagen. It is a really cool concept, and it reminds me of one of my favorite web sites that also gives us a peak into other people's lives, Post Secret. Com.

I also got a Ralph Lauren Romance Body Wash - something I was a little surprised by, until I found out that it was marked "free." Apparently I am the only one who had not heard that the major department stores were required to give away millions of dollars in cosmetics. My mom, who is not usually one for free stuff, happened to be in Macy's at the time, and scored a free gift. I think the story behind it makes it a much cooler gift. 

I did receive some birthday money, and decided to treat myself to a watch that I'd been eyeing for some time. Although it was more than I would typically spend on a watch, I felt like it was still a fairly practical gift. I'd like to be able to keep time on my wrist, versus checking the time on my cell phone while in meetings. I think it is a good gift to myself, and one that I was able to check off my list of things that I want (when I actually have the money to pay for them). Next on the list: Electronic Monopoly (yes I'm a board game dork).

My actual birthday is still a week away. I'm not one who really likes to celebrate birthdays. I try to keep them simple and/or avoid them all together. No need for a big fuss. 

On a side note...I have done really well packing my meals lately. Over the past two weeks I have consistently eaten what I brought for lunch (either frozen dinners or leftovers). I've also done fairly well eating breakfast at home, although I have been buying plenty of coffees lately. Dinners have been hit or miss, but I'm definitely working to cut back on the money spent on food.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

I went to the grocery store today for the first time in two weeks. When I returned home and began to unpack my groceries, I realized once again that I am incredibly wasteful when it comes to food. Among the items that I bought, several were replacing food items that had gone bad in the fridge before I had the chance to eat them. It was very sad to pour an entire carton of bad milk down the sink this morning when all I really wanted was a bowl of cereal.

I also purchased several items that I already had in the cupboard - I now have two bottles of balsamic vinegar, which I certainly don't go through very fast, and about 8 boxes of instant pudding...a girl can only eat so much pudding.

When it came time to clean out the fridge, there were at least three containers growing mold. I have a bad habit of making a four-serving meal, eating it one night, and then never looking at it again. I hate leftovers. I usually have the best of intentions, but I just cannot eat something over and over again.

Part of the problem is that I am rarely at home, and when I am, I typically don't have time to prepare meals. This means that on the sporadic occasions that I grocery shop or cook, I often buy things that will never be eaten, or will be forgotten and shoved in the back of a cupboard. It also doesn't help that I go through kicks where I plan to cook a lot and purchase a bunch of odd ingredients that never get used.

The other reality is that I am lazy. I don't put time into packing lunches/dinners to take with me to work, which means I then eat out all the time. So not only am I spending money on wasted groceries, I'm spending additional money on fast food and other convenient items. None of which are usually very healthy. Which leads to me getting fat and my bank account getting very skinny.

I am going to push myself to be less wasteful of food. I think it will help if I really push myself to plan ahead for my meals. The reality is that I am not going to have time to cook during the week, so if I do plan to eat home-cooked meals, I am going to have to prepare everything on the weekend. I am also going to need to pay closer attention to my food budget - both grocery, and eating out. If I limit both, it will force me to be more conscious of what I am eating. 

I just hate seeing money go down the drain on perishable items. Time to start eating more and/or buying less.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rewarded for Running

My employer just might reward me for my running...that is, if I can stick to it.

We have a program where I work that will reimburse 50% of our membership at the sponsored fitness center, if we average at least two workouts per week over a six-month period. Good deal, right?

One of my challenges in the past has been finding the time to work out, since I don't always work typical nine-to-five hours. My goal now will be to take advantage of this program, since my training schedule for the half-marathon will require me to run 4 days a week. If it means earning back some of my money too, that will be a sweet reward at the end.

I get started Monday.


Flying the Expensive Skies

During the holidays, I had the opportunity to see and chat with friends, many of whom live pretty far away from me. The conversation always comes up that we should plan trips to visit each other, "if only it wasn't so expensive to fly."

Sometime last year, I was watching an episode of The Today Show, and they featured a story on the top web sites that can change your life. One of the sites featured was, a site I have come to know and love. is a travel site that searches for flights on most airlines and finds you the cheapest fares for your destination. I have found that it is much easier to use than some of the other travel sites, and I have been able to find fairly affordable flights the last few times I have been booking air travel.

While flights certainly aren't cheap right now, it does help to know that there are sites that will help you navigate your travel. also has sections for hotel and rental car searches, although I've only ever used it for air travel.

I have a few upcoming trips that I'm hoping to take, none of which will be cheap, but hopefully if I can be creative, they will stay affordbale. I would hate to be the girl on vacation who can't enjoy herself because she is constantly worrying about how much she is spending.



Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! It's resolution the spirit of starting off the year on the right foot, we resolve to make some changes in our lives.

I have never been great about sticking to my resolutions, so this year I'm trying to set smart goals for myself that I can actually achieve. (Maybe putting them in print will assist in reminding me to focus on them.) I'm sticking with two, here they are:

Resolution One: Train for a Half Marathon
This might seem totally crazy, since I am trying to focus on more achievable goals, but I've done my research and this one is possible. With a ten-week set training program (and a few extra weeks to prep), I should be able to get in shape in time for a half marathon in April. I think this is actually more realistic then setting a broad goal like "exercise more" or "lose weight" because there is a set timeline I'm working with. It may require some new running shoes, which counteracts my next goal, but really, it's a safety thing!

Resolution Two: Save an Emergency Fund
While I hope to spend less in general, the one thing that I'm really lacking right now is an emergency fund. Should I run into a financial emergency such as car issues or a big medical expense, I am currently unprepared to cover those needs. With the current economy, that is just not okay. Most financial experts seem to say that an emergency fund should be equal to three to six months of a person's salary. It will take me some time to accumulate that amount, but it's time to get started. This will also require a change in spending habits. Food expenses are going to be the first thing to be cut.

It's time to get started....wish me luck!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...