Thursday, March 10, 2011

Money Money

As I ponder re-entering the workforce, I have been thinking a great deal about money lately. Hubs and I have always been fairly conservative spenders. We have no debt, with the exception of a car loan. In the past, we have bought our cars in cash, but with the rates so low, it made sense in this case to hang on to our savings in case we find a house.

Our spending habits are really important because we've been living on a single income for almost three years now. Before that, when I had my business, we spent some of the money I made, but we were careful to keep our main expenses covered with Hubs' salary.

The cost of living is high here and it is financially challenging to live in Boston. For the first time in years, it looks like we might need my income, especially if we buy a house. Still, some of the things I am considering may not pay very well or at the very least may have some ramp up time, so this issue isn't going to go away.

Luckily, I am the queen of the budget squeeze. Whether your goal is to freelance or try something new or be at home with the kids (or in my case, all three), and because you asked (you asked, right?) here are my top five ways to live with less:

1. Start where it doesn't hurt that much. For me, these were little things. I no longer buy paper towels. I use washcloths instead and then toss them in with my whites. Granted I am only saving around $10 a month, but that $10 didn't hurt a bit. I switched to single ply toilet paper because it is half as expensive, better for the environment, and works just as well (really). I buy generic whenever I can. For the most part, I don't notice any of these things. I still buy organic, but on the small things, I cut corners hard.

2. Reign in the convenience spending, like ordering a pizza or having dinner out just because of a busy evening. This one is really important. We certainly enjoy a delivered pizza, but if we're going to spend the money, it should be on a planned expense when we're going to enjoy it. This one takes a little thinking through, you'll need to take a look at your budget and find out where these things happen for you. I try to have extras on hand to prevent these "emergencies," and I I have found that this area is one where I can save quite a bit.

3. Pick your luxuries, but don't keep adding to them. I use a pricey brand of foundation. Instead of buying all of my makeup from that company, I pick the things that I must have, and substitute with cheapie lip gloss from Target. You have to be tough with yourself on this one. There are going to be things you have to live without, but it doesn't mean you can't still have a few of your favorites.

4. Speaking of Target, stay away from temptation. If you're like me, you can't make it out of certain stores without a few extras, so I only go shopping when I need something. For the most part, I stick to my list. And when I find myself picking up an entire set of acrylic outdoor wine glasses in the middle of winter, I stop and ask "do I really need these right now?" If the answer is no, I put them back. If I decide that I need them in the summer, they'll still be there. Buying ahead to save money makes sense, but don't be tricked into buying things you don't need because of "a good deal."

5. When you really need a fix, shop your own house. Or at the very least, hit a consignment store. Sometimes, you just want a little some thing new. When this happens to me, I rearrange things in my house. I move accessories or artwork. I swap the pictures that I have on display. If that still isn't doing it, I will hit a consignment shop. I am convinced that almost everything that I have ever wanted has already been purchased and tossed out by someone else. This one isn't as hard for me, because I love vintage items. But even if you aren't, you might be surprised what you can find at these places. I've snapped up brand new high end jeans for $8. When I looked them up, it turned out that they could only be purchased in London and usually retailed for around $145 a pair.

6. Oops, did I say 5? As for a budget, have one. You can't keep a close eye on it, if you really don't know where the money is going. It doesn't have to be complicated, a simple software program connected to your bank account will do. I use Quicken and it takes about 5 minutes every few days. After gathering the data for a few month, run some reports and get cracking.

Once you get going, it isn't really that hard. Because I still spend money on the things we really value, it doesn't feel like we are making huge sacrifices. And I have found that this lifestyle has helped me identify what is really important to me.

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