Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

These last few weeks I've been examining our budget and trying to reduce the amount of money we spend. My credit card is almost paid off, which means that next month I can start making bigger payments on my student loans and putting more money into savings. This is very exciting news, especially since I've been carrying a balance on my card for over four years and the minimum balance I've been paying on my loans meant I wouldn't be debt-free until the age of 50. My current goal is to pay off my loans by the age of 40, but I have to admit I haven't done the math to see if that's even possible. I'm afraid to consult a calculator.

As far as reducing our spending goes, we've made a few tweaks which have been paying off. Here are the top three money-saving practices we've instituted:


1. Taking part in the GAAD challenge.
This is really my challenge, not Nathan's. Basically, I have not bought any new clothing since January 1, 2011 and I don't intend to shop again until the calendar turns to 2012. (With the exception of pants for work and running capris, both of which were planned prior to the challenge.) Now, it's not like I was spending huge quantities of money on clothing before. I live in East Texas, where the Target clearance rack is about as fancy as I get. The GAAD challenge has had a different effect on my finances. Because I'm not on the lookout for new clothes or good deals, I'm thinking about shopping less. I no longer wander through stores, just in case something is on sale. Which means I'm also not buying three or four other things I didn't know I needed until I saw them on the shelf at Target. Emails about clearance sales from my favorite online shops are deleted without being opened. The pressure (which I put on myself) to always scoop up a decent deal is gone. It's a whole area of my life I no longer have to think about, except for when I get dressed in the morning. And best of all, I still have things in my closet that I've never even worn, and I still find myself weeding out items to donate to Goodwill! Which just goes to show that I own way more than I need. A striking realization, and one which I'm trying to apply to other areas of my life.


2. Using the car less... and less... and less.
We live in a small town and I can get pretty much anywhere I need to go by foot, bike or scooter. Lately Nathan has been taking my scooter to work since his job is farther away, and I've been riding my bike the one mile to campus. The scooter uses a fraction of the gas our car requires, plus it's more fun to drive. And since gas prices are currently through the roof, this is an excellent new habit to have.

I'm also taking advantage of bike commuting while the weather is nice. Once it hits 110 degrees in June, July and August, I know I'll be stealing back my scooter. 


3. Eating to live while still living well.
I love food. I love to go out to dinner and I love to experiment with new recipes and fancy ingredients. Alas, these habits are expensive! Another good thing about living in East Texas (depending on how you look at it) is that we are very limited when it comes to eating out. Because of the dearth of vegetarian/vegan options, we eat about 85% of our meals at home. Lately, I've been getting back to the basics with ingredients and dishes. We just joined a new CSA so we'll be getting the majority of our produce from there (and we paid up front for the season, so at this point it seems free!) And most important, I'm making a serious effort to stop wasting food. I'm terrible about forgetting to use up the last of the arugula, or the squash that is shoved in the back of the crisper, or the leftovers from last Saturday hiding behind a carton of OJ. My new method is to put all perishables and leftovers on the top shelf of the fridge so they're the first thing I see when I open the door. Every time I throw food away, I'm throwing money away - not to mention all the people in the world who are starving.

I know these aren't ground breaking revelations, but for a couple who already lives pretty cheaply these tweaks are definitely making a difference. Do you have any tricks to save money? Any simple methods to make life less expensive and more awesome? Feel free to share - I'd love some new ideas!

22 comments:

  1. Chrissy, this is great! Boyfriend and I are doing the same thing, and using the same strategies. Our biggest Achilles heel is eating out and going to movies; as a compromise, we take out a set amount each month in cash for "fun money"--getting drinks, going to movies, eating out, etc.--and when it's gone, so is our going out. It's effective and really helps to pace ourselves.

    As for new clothes, I'm no longer buying 'em either. And let me tell you, it's a RELIEF. Honestly, wanting fewer things makes it so much easier to focus on all the other good stuff. Plus, I feel like a total badass walking out of my local Savers with a ton of stuff that cost less than one new item.

    I'm trying harder to bike, but in Austin, it is HILLY and honestly I'm a wuss. I do take the bus whenever possible, which it almost always is.

    Good luck and keep it up!

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  2. These are some awesome tips Chrissy! I know that I have a hard time saving and really struggle with giving up anything - eating out, online shopping, etc. I set budgets every month and blow through them every month. Maybe one day I'll learn to actually work within them!

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  3. Things we've done in the past is switching to a cheaper Internet provider (we went from cable to DSL which is supposed to be slower, but I don't notice a difference) and instead of cable we have Netflix Instant and Hulu.com. We also go to the dollar movie theater on campus occasionally and if there's a "real" movie we want to see, we stick to matinees and sneak in our own beer!

    Biking in a city is tougher, especially when the weather is unpredictable (hello, Texas!). I am really lucky to live so close to my job. Saving money is tough, especially when the message from every store/company/etc is to spend, spend, spend. I'd really like to get into couponing but I don't know where to start and I'm intimidated.

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  4. I mostly just try to be really conscious with my spending. Thinking before buying. Do I really need this? Do I already own something that serves the same purpose? Do I have room for this in my home? Will I want to move with is I ever move? Etc. That line of thinking has helped a lot with my love for retail therapy. :)

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  5. This is an awesome post! We live very frugally and R and I have managed to come out of grad school without a single cent of debt. We have furnished our entire apartment nearly for free and I think we've bought exactly 1 new item (a bookshelf) as furniture (oh and our treadmill!). As you said, most of our money goes to food, but that's ok with me. We definitely shop food sales carefully and stock up on non-perishables when they hit a good price. Major purchases we save up for ahead of time - putting aside money each month until we can afford it or we ask family to contribute to the cost as a present for birthdays or holidays. And as you do - we don't have cable. We use Hulu and Netflix (except we only use streaming, our friend let's us use her account). I do not miss TV at all! It's less about "doing without" and more about "doing a lot with what we've been fortunate to have." With my new job, if we continue to live as we do, we'll be able to save a down payment for a house or apartment fairly quickly, which is saying a lot in LA!

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  6. I do want to add (to my novel!) that part of being able to get through grad school without debt is that we attended a public university and were fully funded. That, I know, is incredibly fortunate. Our families were also generous and we were able to stretch monetary gifts for holidays and birthdays to cover nearly all other expenses. I recognize we are very much in the minority, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be debt free after all my schooling. I do consider student debt as "good debt" that if I had to do it over again and was not in the same position, I would not hesitate to take on.

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  7. Being on GAAD has really changed my shopping habits. A trip to Target now takes a fraction of the time it once did. I also don't use online browsing (and accidental buying) as a means of procrastination, distraction, or reward the way that I used to all the time. Biking to campus, sadly, has not been practical this term because of our schedules and the need to drop off/pick Bailey up from doggy daycare.

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  8. I would like to use my bike more, but I honestly do not feel safe riding it in Nac. This could be viewed as an excuse, but I feel much safer running against the traffic than riding with it.

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  9. I love all the changes you've made to your blog; it looks amazing!

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  10. Food is one thing that I don't mind spending a lot on - as long as we eat most of our meals at home. A good diet is so important and has a major effect on every aspect of our lives!

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  11. This is the main reason why I will not go to grad school unless I get at least partial funding. Especially since the degree I have my eye on - an MFA - isn't really a "working" degree. That's what library science was for!

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  12. Yay for GAAD! Can you believe it's already a quarter of the way over?

    And yes - biking can be tough when you have other responsibilities. But I'm sure Bailey appreciates it!

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  13. I don't blame you for not feeling safe on a bike in Nac. Biking in Nacogdoches sucks. I take the back roads and only ride a mile most days. You live further away from campus than I do, and North Street is no joke.

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  14. Thanks for noticing! It was time for a major overhaul.

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  15. let's see...

    - i don't have cable tv (& i don't even miss it!)
    - i only buy clothes when i get a good coupon, like the 30% off at kohl's one i just received)
    - i pack my lunch at work by making something like a big crock pot of soup on sunday so i'm never desperate on the job & have to go out for lunch
    - i use the heck out of what i have (my boyfriend teases me for how much toothpaste i can get out of one tube before moving on to a new one)
    - i turn lights off when i leave any room & keep my house pretty cool (64 degrees) in the winter

    i like your idea of trying to use up everything in the fridge! i feel guilty throwing away fruits & vegetables that went bad. i'm going to try to improve in that area as well.

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  16. First, your kitchen is too cute! I just love the green and orange.
    Second, congratulations on getting close to the end of credit card debt! That's terrific, and I just know you'll kick those last few dollars in the behind. Keep up the good work.
    Third, I don't have a car yet, and it's been a terrific way to save money. People think I'm kinda nuts, living in Texas without a car, but it's really not necessary. I bike and take the bus. I also think that I do less "fun" shopping because it's more work to get to the stores! Eventually I will get a car but not until I feel it serves an more important purpose than convenience.

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  17. p.s. i feel i owe you an apology for borrowing from your idea & not crediting you on my blog post! please check it out again: http://merediiith.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/one-step-at-a-time/. i wanted you to have credit where it is deserved! :]

    thanks!

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  18. Good tips! I am working on a similar project myself. Summers are pretty financially dry around here, so I'm saving up for that. I am currently on temporary shopping hiatus, but I think I might try to last out the entire summer without buying any new clothes/shoes. I'm pretty sure I can make do without. Also giving up (at least for now): manicures, haircuts, sodas. I've been biking a lot more lately, too, and have definitely noticed a the change in terms of how often I have to buy gas!

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  19. I'm trying to get better about the lights in my house. And I need to start using coupons! I know I could save so much with minimal effort.

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  20. It is definitely hard to be car-less in Texas, but not impossible. When Nathan did his thesis research he spent a summer in Kentucky... with our car. I had a bike and a large backpack and got along just fine. It can be done!

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  21. I just remembered I have to buy plane tickets to go to a wedding in May. One step forward, two steps back. ;)

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