Archive | March, 2012

The Unfortunate & Inevitable Laundry Day

26 Mar

There comes a time when one must conquer the laundry. For me, that time can be somewhere between 3-5 AM on a nice, crisp Monday morning. There are a few reasons for this.

When I Do Laundry & Why: The Cost of Defeat

I live in a very large cooperative building with approximately 100 units. I say approximately because I am not really sure and I am too lazy to figure it out. Just take my word that it is somewhere around there. I like to think my building is nice but sometimes it rears its ugly head in the form of the “laundry room.” Ah yes, the laundry room. For all of the people in my lovely building, we have a whopping four washers and four dryers. When we first moved here, there were only a handful of times I could not get a machine. But as time went on, I found it increasingly difficult to beat out everyone else. But at a decent price ($1.75/wash or dry) and the convenience (short ride down to the basement), I will not be making my way to any other location to do laundry.

I thought I found an awesome time—Saturday morning, approximately 6:25 AM, right after I got home from work. I remember thinking how nice and quiet it was, how nice it was to have the place to myself and even decided it would be my new laundry day. But then, the following week someone got on the elevator with me around 6:30 AM and she had a laundry bag in her hand. We looked each other over.

“How many machines do you need?” She asked, sizing me up.

“I only need two.” (I like to usually limit myself to two because of the passive-aggressive note downstairs about it.)

“Me too. But we’re getting down there late.”

“Late? What does she mean? There was no one down here last week. It is freaking 6:30 on a Saturday morning.”

We walk in and three of the four washers are taken. At this point, I submit to defeat and she asks me if I am sure. Yes, I am sure. I drag my bag back up to the elevator, the sad sack that I am, and give up on doing laundry for the day. Now that I have been paying attention I have come to figure out it is my next door neighbor, getting there slightly before I can since I am coming home from work.

So my friends, this is why I do laundry when I do. Also, because I work nights, I find myself going to bed like a normal person on Sundays only to be completely wrecked on Monday nights. I find that if I get up earlier on Monday morning, super early like 3-4 AM and take a nap at some point during the day, it helps me start to get back on track.

How I am a Cheapskate on Laundry Day

I will be honest—I never did laundry as a child. I had a stay-at-home mom and bless her heart, she did not like other people touching her washing machine. So I really had no idea how annoying it would be to insist that every single pair of my socks be white in color and the same cut. But because we were on the poor side, I did not partake in one obnoxious habit—throwing everything in the laundry as soon as I finished wearing it one time. This was simply because I did not have enough clothing.

I find that I am very cheap when it comes to the amount of money I spend on laundry. I read about other people doing their laundry and I start to think there is something wrong with me. Really.

(1) When we moved into our apartment over three years ago, at some point early on we bought 5 bottles of XTRA detergent for $10. One bottle got crushed and leaked so I had to throw it out. But aside from that, I still have four bottles remaining. One bottle is on its way out but the other three have tons of detergent left. I only put 1/4 of a cup into the washing machine because that is what the washing machine tells me to do. And I do what I am told because I do not want to be that jerk who broke one of the only four washing machines.

I do not even know if this detergent is even that great. I feel clueless. I am just not that domestic. Opinions? Ideas? Should I partake in the Tide black market? (Yes, it’s true. I recently read an article that said Tide detergent is a HUGE black market item nowadays.)

(2) I only do white laundry every six weeks or so. Maybe every two months. We have tons of white socks that last us a long time and except for undershirts, we don’t really have anything else in white. Thus, once it’s time, all of these items don’t even take up an entire machine.

(3) I am a not a clean freak so I can easily wear things over and over again. As long as the clothes do not smell, have stains or look ratty and overly worn, I will keep wearing them. Except…

(4) …underwear. This is how I know it is time to do laundry. I will never use underwear more than once before it finds its way into the hamper. If I am almost out of underwear or wearing the last pair I have, I know it is time.

(5) I try to skimp on the dryers. If I use three washers, I use two dryers. If I am washing a ton of clothes, I usually have to hang-up some of the jeans to finish drying but otherwise, everything else is dry.

And in the End…

Yes, I did write this while I was doing laundry. Yes, I am wondering about other peoples’ habits and if I am a freak for only doing laundry every 4-6 weeks. And yes, I am lazy. But I would rather pile up the clothes, wheel my push cart to the elevator, ride on down, put everything in the washers, come back up, wait thirty-eight minutes, go back down to move everything into to the dryers, come back up, go back down after forty-five minutes to take everything out and fold it and finally come back up than do the dishes.

Outdoor Excursions – Forcing Myself Outside on the Cheap

17 Mar

My husband and I really enjoy hiking. I love torturing myself and whining about it most of the time. I enjoy the challenge and feel accomplished when we complete a trail that is at least moderately difficult. The only problem we have is that since we are city-dwellers, we have to drive at least two hours to hike anywhere with any kind of elevation. I really would like to hike more and make it a regular thing so I have tried to put some things into place that will push me into hiking more often.

(1) I purchased a parking pass that allows for entry into any of the parks listed on their site, which includes most of the state parks. Given that the pass cost $65 and that entry into any of these parks costs $8/day, I will have to go at least eight times to almost break even.  I can start using this pass April 1st so hopefully I can make it somewhere within that first week.

(2) I let friends know that we plan on going hiking. Sometimes it’s easier to get yourself to go somewhere if you have other people involved. Now the frugal part of me would love if they gave us some gas money or offered to pick up some snacks but the logical part of my brain reminds me that I am inviting them as guests.

(3) We are planning to make one of our weeks of vacation an outdoors trip around the state. During this week, we plan on hitting up as many state parks as we possibly can within reason. I’ll actually be writing about this later when I talk about planning a cheap vacation.

For me, this is a type of cheap fun. At $4/person, my husband and I can enjoy one of the beautiful state parks for the entire day. The only downfalls and added expenses, which can be quite large, are gas and tolls. Since we are quite a distance from any real hiking areas, it really drives the cost of an outdoor excursion up quite a bit. We actually try to take routes that involve less tolls and they are usually only a difference of about five or ten minutes in driving time. We have some pretty expensive tolls in our area so the additional five or ten minutes usually makes sense. In terms of gas, there’s not really much we can do about that. The only thing we try to do is make our way into the adjacent state, since that is part of our route, and purchase gas there; it’s always cheaper by $0.20-0.30/gallon.

Does anyone else go hiking? What do you guys do for fun to enjoy great outdoors? You know, unless you’re a shut-in.

The Inevitable: A Budget

15 Mar

It seems obvious that if the first step was to become aware of our financial situation that our second step would be to make smarter choices when it came to spending our money.  We did. The cable was cut. We stopped eating out so much. And since I wasn’t working at my previous job, I couldn’t hit up the bars immediately after work on Fridays.

For some reason it didn’t actually occur to me that I should formulate some type of budget until recently.

Just for some clarification, it’s pretty easy for me to say “I” in this situation because handling the finances is pretty much my job in the relationship. I keep the budget. I pay the bills. I am constantly tracking our money. I always keep my guy up to date about everything and always ask for his input but ultimately, if anything is going to get done, it’s my responsibility. Truth be told, I’ll do anything to get out of washing dishes, the worst chore of all time. Fact.

This year I started developing and trying to stick to an actual budget. Most Dave Ramsey fanatics subscribe to the cash envelope system. I live in the big city and that’s not going to work for me—I walk by a million stores a day and most of the smaller ones only deal in cash. Trust me, I will find some junk to buy in the dollar store or talk myself into a candy bar.

After looking around for a bit and reading some reviews, I decided to try out Pear Budget.

Pear Budget offers a subscription service online for $5/month but let’s face the facts—I’ve been known to be a bit miserly. I prefer the term frugal. Frugally, I downloaded their free excel file. As soon as I downloaded it, I was in love. It’s really easy to use and they explain how to set-up the spreadsheet on the first page. As long as you know what categories and values you are putting into the spreadsheet, it will not take you very long to set it up. Once it’s set-up, the only difficult part is remembering to actually enter the amount of money you spent that day. If you spend money daily like me, that part gets a little tricky. For the most part I remember to add what I spent but sometimes I forget and cannot remember if I already put it in the spreadsheet or not.

During the first two months, I found myself tweaking the budget here and there but overall the numbers have been pretty static. Making a budget has really opened my eyes to what we spend. For example, since we own a car but don’t drive very often, I was surprised that we were spending as much as we were on gas. And I love my food but it still surprises me how much we spend on it.

How does everyone else budget? Do you use software or do you just wing it?

First Step: Financial Awareness

12 Mar

The first two years my husband and I lived together, we didn’t have a budget. We each had our own accounts and took turns paying the bills. If I paid rent one month, he would pay it the following month. If I was paying rent that month, he was paying all of the other bills. We each paid our own credit card bills from our own accounts. I was responsible for paying the bills from each of our accounts. We lived moderately but spent money regularly. Friday night? Time to go out with the co-workers. Want a new video game console? Pick-up that PS3 because you can.

We didn’t make a lot of money but we were comfortable. We each worked full-time. We paid our bills, paid for cable television, bought our new (used) car in total, paid for our vacations—we didn’t have to really make an effort to save for these things. We were still able to save some money, didn’t really have any debt and essentially, we were fine.

So when I left my job, we had a cushion. We had some savings. We had two months of pay coming my way. I wasn’t panicked.

But then two months came and went. I didn’t have a job yet and a sense of dread started to come over me. How were we going to pay the bills? How were we going to live in an expensive city with our income completely cut in half? I applied frantically to everything and anything—even jobs that were only $10/hour and part-time. I didn’t care anymore. I felt a sense of desperation that I could barely contain. I just wanted a job.

It was at that point that a sense of monetary awareness sprouted within me.

We immediately slashed all of our spending. We didn’t need the cable television so we turned in our cable box. We didn’t need to order take out all of the time so we didn’t. We didn’t need to buy snacks so we bought our essentials. We didn’t really go anywhere or do anything for a few months—we only did it if it was free. We were able to cover our bills with only my husband’s income. We didn’t save any money and we probably lost a little bit but we were okay.

This was when I realized how much money we had been wasting. We were never big spenders but we were regular spenders. If we wanted something, we bought it. Obviously I’m not talking about extravagant things but everyday things that add up without a second thought: meals from the Chinese store, a cup of coffee from my favorite place, drinks after work, a new video game—anything.

Thankfully, one morning when I couldn’t sleep, I received an e-mail from Monster about jobs that applied to me. By six in the morning I had applied for a job that I eventually got. At first it was just busy work that didn’t pay much but eventually it became more. This became my first experience in the field that I am in now. I started to kick myself about how much money we had wasted the first two years we lived together. Then I realized there was no reason to kick myself; I was in the process of learning the lesson I was supposed to learn about money.

And that was only the beginning…