Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Be a Unicorn

Being normal is easy. Too easy. It is a path that is very alluring in every way. Want this? Well, buy it, finance it, or put it on a credit card and it’s yours. It will never stop; you will always want more. You will want what he has or what she has or what they have. It is a nightmare that will be on replay your entire life. I don’t’ want to live like that. However, a lot of my peers do and they don’t even realize it. I am not in any way perfect with my budget, and believe me, I have expensive wants, but I do feel that I have a sense of control over it. What first made me realize this was reading Dave’s slogan, “Debt is normal. Be weird.” It is SO TRUE. Everywhere you look, people are in debt. And the problem with that? They don’t see a problem!! Because? It’s normal!! Face palm. If that’s the norm, normal sucks.

Sure, there are people who have been and always will be financially responsible. I have a large amount of student loan debt to pay off. Some don’t. But working through my pay-off plan, I have stumbled across many other things I would have never stopped to take the time to research: 401k, stock options, Roth IRA, etc. I hope to be debt free and in retirement saving mode by the time I am 29, almost 30. Talk about a goal I never thought I’d never thought I’d have at 29! Are there people out there my age who are debt-free and already have a significant amount in the bank and in their retirement? You bet. But I’m also willing to bet it is not a huge percentage of folks. I want to join that small percent. I want to pass up the beautiful Michael Kors purse and matching wallet so that I can put that money towards financial freedom. And knowing that my TJ Maxx purse is a symbol of that, makes me feel not so ashamed toting it around town.

Debt snowballing is not really normal. There are people who know nothing about it and there are people who wholeheartedly disagree with it. But that’s okay. I know I am going against the grain here, and when I stop to think about where my motivation comes from to keep this going, it is precisely that; I’m not normal. I am doing something very few people are doing and I think that is cool. I am standing out in a crowd. I am a unicorn. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Help Me I’m Poor (How I stay social in a world of Helens)

It is frowned down upon to take trips, go out on the town, and go out to eat while in debt; and for good reason. However, being a single female in my 20s, this area around being social is something I am not willing to completely put the brakes on. This is how I reasonably stay social with many different groups of friends while still paying off chunks of debt each month.

You all know how to save money and watch your spending; if you are anything like me, you’ve scrolled through news feed article after news feed article on how to save x dollars when doing x activity. The knowledge is there. But most of the time, the behavior is not. We all (or at least I) view the penny pinching method as a cheap play penny-pinchers use to save a dime; and for some reason, that theory has a negative connotation tied to it. BUT IT IS INDEED EFFECTIVE. Penny pinching doesn’t have to be viewed as sitting in a cardboard box, reading free magazines that you find next to newspaper stands because you don’t have cable and no longer own a cell phone. There is a happy medium that you should strive to find. To quote some Dave here, “Winning at money is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.”

Social Parties (Birthday, Wedding, Baby Shower, etc.):
-         Cards: Buy a pack of cute, blank cards at your local craft store. Most come in packs of 12 for $1. That is 12 different occasions you can have a cute card and write what you want in it for less than 10 cents a card versus spending $4 on a store bought one every single time. I have already plowed through 2 packs of these this year saving myself almost $100.
-          Packaging/Wrapping: Again, craft stores and/or the dollar tree. Buy ribbon/twine/wrapping/tissue paper by the bulk and save yourself money and time. There is no reason to spend $3 on a paper bag, $2 on tissue paper and another $3 on a ribbon to watch it be thrown away once opened – every. single. time. That adds $8 to the gift you already spent money on! You can find really cute things at Hobby Lobby or Michaels (and both have coupons online); if you aren’t crafty, just take a gander at Pinterest if you need some basic ideas.
-          Pot Lucks: You don’t need to bring your cream of the crop buffalo chicken dip that costs $20-$25 to make each time, or the chicken and dumplings that also cost $20 as well as 4 hours of your time. And you don’t need to be the one who brings the huge meat platter which costs more than I care to know (keep in mind here I am a single female, and the Helen’s of the world are all married J- two incomes versus my one). Look online or to Pinterest for cheap (but delicious) recipes. Don’t show up somewhere empty handed or with a pan of brownies sporting a huge, bright orange 2.99 sticker on top of it when your other friends/co-workers spent time and money on their contribution. You can make a dish that tastes great, and looks presentable without breaking the bank.     

Dining out:
-          Food: Order an appetizer as a meal. If you are purchasing a meal, do not also order an appetizer. Try and split with a friend if possible.
-          Drinks: Skip the soft drinks and opt for water. Do not buy the $12 cocktail. Do not buy the $11 cocktail. Ask for specials. No specials, but by God you want a drink? Order a cheap beer. Don’t like beer? Ask for a well liquor or wine. Again, do not buy the $12 cocktail.
-          The Check: Believe me on this one, I have been a part-time server for 8 years. When out with others, say yes to individually split checks. There will ALWAYS be that one person in your group every now and again who will say “put it all on one check and we can all split it”. NO. Is it easier on the server? Yep. Is it easier on your budget? Nope. What happens every time is, the person who ordered an appetizer and a water pays the same amount as the girl who ordered the entrĂ©e and $12 cocktail. You don’t want to make a scene and ask that you contribute $8 less than everyone else do you? Yeah, she didn’t think so.
*Always remember to tip your server at least 20%, there is no tip or trick to this one.

Grocery Shopping:
-          Coupons: you don’t need to look like you are auditioning for extreme couponing, but if there is a coupon that arrives with the junk mail in your mailbox for $1 off of the sunscreen you know you’ll need for your beach trip coming up, cut that puppy out and use it! No shame.
-          Location: Yes, Publix looks pretty and the people are oh so sweet, but 7 times out of 10, they are way more expensive than Wal-Mark or Kroger. Take a journey on down the street and save you some money, you won’t be plastered on PeopleofWalMart.com by just walking in the door, I promise.
-         Plan Ahead: If you have a road trip coming up, buy your snacks, drinks, and alcohol beforehand so that you do not pay the mark-up at gas stations or tourist traps.

Trip/Vacations:
-          Where: Obviously you will not be the only one who determines where your group goes, but you do have a say and can try to sway your group to agree with you. Just like in Bridesmaids, there will be the friend who suggests Vegas every time; try to not. If you want to gamble, suggest a closer gambling place – such as Tunica or Biloxi or wherever is close to you.
-          Who: As many people as you can fit. I am very fortunate to have friends who, for the most part, have the same mentality as myself when it comes to trips. We travel to places we can drive to and stay in places where one person may be on the couch and the single ladies roll 2 or 3 deep in one room (bed count/size depending) so that it can be cost-efficient.
-          What to do: Just about anything but shop. Hanging out at the beach is a free activity. Hiking in the mountains is a free activity. We spend a lot of our time in the beach house or mountain cabin that we paid for so when we do get out and about in the town it is usually for only a day.

Other Social Tips:
-          Feel like seeing a movie? Try and host a RedBox night instead.
-          All of your friends have manicures and pedicures? Paint your nails yourself.
-          Want a clean car? Wash it yourself, don’t take it to get detailed.
-          Want to read the same books everyone is reading? Get a free library card.
-          Want new clothes? You don’t have to shop at Nordstrom or Saks, check out a department store or TJ Maxx.

Once you get used to being aware of your spending, you will be less and less tempted to buy the $15 candle because it smells nice, the $45 shirt that you just have to have, the $30 hat because it is on sale, the $27 bracelet because you can’t have too many, the $150 purse because everyone else has it, and the $100 work out pants because you just can’t work-out in anything else. At first I felt a tad out of my comfort zone; I felt cheap and judged (mainly by my own self). But now that I have spent a lot of time in this spending behavior, it has very much so become the norm, and my old spending behavior feels out of my comfort zone. It is not something I am super focused on, it is not something I talk about all of the time, it does not hold me back, nor does it brand me; I am simply aware and in control. I promise you, it gets easier and easier to walk on by the things you do not need and did not plan to purchase.

The majority of these examples have to do with little things, but for me, the little things can really add up. Notice the title of this blog is not “How to stay social” it is “How I stay social.” Big difference. What I do may not work for you in the slightest, or maybe it does, but either way, it does indeed start and end with your behavior. There is a reason these “how-to” articles work for some and fail miserably for others; it all comes down to what you can realistically stick to. If you know without a doubt you absolutely positootly cannot live without Starbucks, no matter the price, then for heaven’s sake, don’t read an article about saving $800 a year by cutting out Starbucks. OF COURSE you are going to fail. Aim realistically. And by the way, please don’t be spending $800 a year at Starbucks – that really is a problem J