Spending Time, Spending Money

Is there such a condition as “financially bipolar”?  Because if so, I am willing to self-diagnose right now.  Considering the many people in tough times right now, I will say that I am lucky to have a job and a paycheck to be a little reckless with. But every few weeks after a spending splurge (spring clothes! major dental work! baby shower gifts! cocktails… oh, the cocktails!), I end up looking at the old budget with squinty eyes trying to figure out exactly where all the money went. Then I’m cheap, cheap, cheap until something else- birthday present! great new books! – comes along.

I signed up for Mint.com and linked all of my accounts so I could try to figure it out and so far I love the system- free, easy to update, and with fun pie charts and graphs and email notifications.

 But the bigger picture seems a little cloudy. Last month my largest expense category was “ATM Withdrawal.” Bigger than rent, bigger than utilities, bigger than my student loan payment. And I cannot for the life of me trace where I have been putting all that cash. My best guess? Happy hour, and bus fare, and taxis, and oh, look at that shiny dollar store item that I must have and a new bottle of nail polish and sure, I should buy a Powerball ticket because you can’t win if you don’t play.

Cash is obviously burning flaming holes in my pockets that I don’t need if I am going to have a sizeable down-payment together any time soon for a house of my own (oh, and a car- my, things add up don’t they?). So, I’m trying to be better about forcing myself to put purchases on my debit card, so that I can see where it is going and hopping the bus (cheap! convenient!) when a cab would have happened (running late as usual!). I’ve dropped a few subscriptions that weren’t worth the dribs and drabs of $25 here and there. And even though it came with a pricey initial investment, joining a CSA should bring down my costs for food and groceries from April to November since I will have giant boxes of delicious local produce to eat all week and will have it paid off by June.  

So, what I need now are other ideas for where to cut back. I’m not talking HUGE cutbacks – I have my income, and man, am I grateful. Just those things that saved you a few bucks here and there that you never thought about until you stopped them. (And no, I don’t buy the $5 lattes anymore … and if I do I have giftcards from the holidays).  Any suggestions? Especially you adult homeowner types- how did you scrape together that downpayment?

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9 Comments

Filed under At Home, Building a Better Me, Daily Life

9 responses to “Spending Time, Spending Money

  1. we nickled and dimed our downpayment. Every time you pass a starbucks and you would have bought that latte? toss five bucks in your savings.

    Each time you would have bought a $25 shirt? toss it into the savings.

    Stay in one night a week and put that $30 happy hour tab in the savings.

    When you have a bit of money left over at the end of the week?

    You got the idea.

    Plus? There are mad mad perks for first time homebuyers. You hardly need the downpayment.

    We did an 80/20 loan. Best. Thing. Ever.

    But, you still need closing costs.

  2. Most of the lawyers I know did one of two things to get their down payments:

    1. Saved a few years worth of bonuses for it
    2. After finishing paying off law-school loans, putting aside all that money into a house fund

    I try to plan really well so I never have to take a cab. I don’t think I’ve taken one since January, and it was to get to a job. I plan extra time so I can walk places instead of taking the bus, and then only take the bus home if it’s unsafe to walk or I’m carrying a lot (grocery shopping).

    Every Sunday morning I go to the book store and read the magazines I don’t have subscriptions to anymore. I don’t buy books, but go to the library once or twice a week (when working, I’d go once a week).

    I don’t drink, so the cocktails thing doesn’t apply to me, but if you invite people over you’ll save money by drinking at home rather than out.

    Nothing is bought unless I TRULY need it, and I can visualize exactly how I am going to use it. I also don’t buy anything except food without thinking about it for a week first.

    What if you wrote out what you would NEED to spend money on for the day (the night before), and simply took no extra with you? If all you need is bus fare and $8 for lunch and just left the house with $12 or whatever, then it’d be a hardcore way to keep yourself from spending money.

  3. the fancy coffee was the first thing to go and it added up fast …then i stopped parking illegally wow! and extra couple of hundred bucks a month!
    xoxo

  4. OK, this may be a little extreme but I suggest that you stop ALL spending for a month or so. This is what we did when Torsten quit his job (except we’re still doing it). We had some exceptions, obviously: groceries, dog food, health and personal care products, plus all our usual bills. But ANYTHING that wasn’t completely necessary was not purchased. Period.

    And then, I made a list. Every time I thought of something that I wanted to buy, and would have bought if we still had two incomes, I wrote it down instead. And at the end of the first month I had quite the list going. Dinners out, cute clothes, a bathrobe, a trash can, a new mixing bowl, a magazine subscription, some DVD rentals, and so forth.

    The benefits to this are twofold: first, you save a bunch of money for a month, and second, you figure out what it bothers you to give up and what actually isn’t so bad. It’s a really good way to figure out where your money is going, and what is worth it for you and what is not.

    Try it! Really, it’s not so bad. We’re in Month 4 of this now, and we had to make an exception to buy new clothes since all of mine were too big and some of Torsten’s were worn out, and I will definitely say that some of the novelty has worn off, but a month? Was easy, and actually downright interesting.

  5. ris

    Bargain shop for all your groceries. I now buy Crispy Hexagons and Trader Joe’s O’s instead of brand-name cereal and it adds up fast!

  6. I like Jess’s idea. But my approach is figuring out what things you don’t mind scrimping on – they are different for everyone.

    We pretty much never go out to eat anymore, but we like to go out for drinks – a lot. So we try really hard to only go to places during happy hours or other daily/weekly specials that make it a whole lot cheaper.

    Groceries, for me, were a huge place to save money. Roast a whole chicken, eat dinner, then make chicken stock with the carcass and you will have enough meat for one or two more meals (for two people). Make soup or chicken salad or whatever.

    Brown bag your lunch. Obvi.

    This one hurts, but I don’t really buy books anymore. At least during this tight time. I use the library a lot. And if a book is really special, then I will buy it. I also ask friends and families for books or giftcards for my birthday and christmas.

    Try only to buy clothes you really need for the next year. Make do. This one sucks too.

    Get rid of cable and watch TV online or with Netflix.

    Ok, that’s it for now!

  7. I like your idea of “financially bipolar”. It’s like when you go to the therapist and find that there’s a name for the crazy thing you’ve been doing all along.

    I used to carry a little notebook with me where I wrote down what I spent cash on. I’m not OCD enough for that, but I found out it was mostly wine and fast food.

    Sometimes its better to not know.

  8. Read Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace” and follow the baby steps, beginning with the cash flow plan (not a ‘budget,’ but realistic spending plan) or check it out on daveramsey.com and click on “tools.” Eliminating debt first and then saving for the down payment is my plan. If we didn’t have any debt, we could live on very little each month (food, rent/utilities, some transportation, health care). Interest on debt makes me angry!

  9. KristenD

    I like mint.com and what I’ve found to be helpful is setting a budget on there (a realistic budget that includes an amount to put into savings) and actually sticking to it- which I know is hard. Other ideas:
    1. don’t wear makeup whenever you can- saves you money and gives your skin a break

    2. unless you’re accident prone you can reduce your cell phone bill by removing the “replacement plan” cost (sometimes around $7-$10 per month) because before the end of the year you’ve already paid for a new phone through that and it’ll end up being cheaper at the end of your plan to just buy a new one anyway

    3. (I know you won’t like this one but it truly is helpful) Clean and organize your entire living space (yes, that includes drawers, closets, under the bed, and all your piles) and throw out everything that is broken or unusable, donate anything you do not wear (if you haven’t worn it in the past 6 months and it (honestly) does not fit toss it in the to go bag), and organize everything so that you are fully aware of what you have. This way, you know for sure whether or not you happen to have 34 packages of post-it notes laying around the house instead of buying the incredibly cute star shaped ones for an unnecessary $5 or whatever else would fit into the scenario for you here. You also get to realize just how many groceries, clothes, and anything “extra” that you actually need to pick up when out at the store rather than things you just “think” you “need.”

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