Archive | April, 2012

The Hopefully Obtainable Goals

24 Apr

I was never a very goal-oriented person, which retrospectively irks me regularly.

Now in my twenties, I find that I have become somewhat goal-oriented but not really.

Early On

I guess I was smart but by the time I high middle school, I became pretty lazy. Didn’t want to take a test? I went home sick. Was I behind in homework? I guess I’ll stay home and make as much of it as I can up in a day. Am I going to college or am I getting a job? I guess I’ll go to college because all of my other friends are going so what else am I going to do?

I managed to spend six years in college, including three college transfers, to finally obtain a B.S. in something in the sciences.  Even when I graduated, I didn’t want to use my B.S. for its purpose. Haphazardly, I applied to doctoral programs and a program very similar to Teaching Fellows that would allow me to obtain my M.S. in education practically for free. I finished that (on time, surprisingly) and then left the field.

Funnily enough, nearly a year after that, I studied for (and passed) my state licensing exam—the original purpose of my B.S. Sadly, I don’t think I am done with my educational pursuits, as I sit here not knowing what to do in my life.

The Past Few Years

Growing up without any money has certainly made saving money easier. Maybe it’s growing up with a frugal parent or maybe it’s in the genes but I have a decent amount of self-control with money.

I would say this is one of the few places where I am goal-oriented.

Although I really want to do something else with my life, I do have the goal of owning a home. But it’s such a slow process when it comes to saving money. The other thing I want to do is open an IRA through Vanguard.

So what’s stopping me?

We had a lot of expenses after the wedding. We probably made back what we spent on the wedding, so I was happy to break even. But between random expenses popping up, problems with my eyes and a variety of other things, we could not get past a certain point. The past few months have been better. In fact, we saved a decent amount of money in the past few months. But…

…we are going to decide on our October vacation. I really wanted to go on a cruise but did not want to spend the money.

…we are going to spend 3K+tax on a new couch. (See a previous entry about the cost of being cheap.)

So really, the 4K or so that we have saved in a short period of time is out of the window.

And Now…

I will continue saving for that down payment. But hopefully the month of May or June allows for me to open my Vanguard IRA. (My original goal was March or April.) Regardless, I will get there and that’s what matters.

Budgeting for Budget Travel

16 Apr

I have ten days of vacation at my current place of employment.

We have already decided what we are doing one of the weeks—an extensive camping trip in a few regions of the state. It looks like we will be hitting up four different state parks over a period of nine nights.

Because of the holiday that occurs right when I start my vacation, I decided I needed to reserve those sites early. We wanted to be able to choose “good” sites—shaded, not directly next to bathrooms, more spaced out and away from people. So far:

-Two nights @ 34.00+9.00 reservation fee online=$43.00

-Three nights @ 63.00+9.00 reservation fee online=$72.00

The latter is more expensive because it is around the holiday.

$115.00 for five nights. We are borrowing a tent and now only have to book four more nights of our trip. Thus, we will be sleeping in the luxurious woods for nine nights at just over $200. The only way to really make this trip any cheaper would be to fill-up the campsite (you’re allowed to have up to six people per site) and then divide your cost six ways. Then you’d really be saving!

What will make my trip expensive?

If I cave and get that hot air balloon ride—at a cost of $235/person, that one hour for both of us will cost more than the rest of our trip combined!

Anyone going camping this year?

The Cost of Being Cheap

10 Apr

My husband and I have been painstakingly saving money for a couple of years for a down payment on some type of home. The only thing we could even remotely afford is a co-op in this area. Condos are too pricey for us. And, as you could easily ascertain, a house is way, way too pricey for us.

When we first moved in together, I had this idea that I would buy “nice” furniture because I thought that we would be able to move out with the future and already have the “nice” furniture for our eventual home. I would look at furniture online and my friends, looking over my shoulder, would make comments, wondering how we were able to buy “nice” furniture at that point in our lives. Now, you might have noticed that I have annoyingly been putting the word nice in quotes and that’s because I have come to realize something in hindsight: the furniture I thought was nice was, in fact, not.

Maybe some people have better luck than I do but anything that I have purchased in terms of furniture that was “cheap” or that I thought I was getting a good price on was actually quite a piece of shit. I know there are other people who have 349-year old couches that get passed down through their families and they are still in great condition or people who buy a cheap futon that decays at the rate of a diamond but this does not happen with me. Let us review my examples of what I have deemed my lessons regarding the cost of being cheap.

The Couch

We moved into our apartment without a couch and spent approximately one month sitting on the floor. We searched. We didn’t have a lot of money because my guy had only been earning a somewhat decent salary for a short period of time and I just started working my first full-time real job a month or two before that. Jennifer Convertibles? Nice but it would take too long to get to us. Raymour & Flanigan? Ouch—too expensive for us at the time. Random furniture store on a major avenue? Okay, I guess so. We happened upon a really gorgeous sectional that was a leather blend. For $1,000, I was happy with the price. Eventually we got the couch. For two years, I was enamored. The couch was super comfortable. I could nap on it at any time. As far as I was concerned, my couch was better than yours.

And then one day I noticed pieces of my couch coming off.

Since then, the entire couch has completely been peeling off. If you lay on the couch, you will end up with 695 pieces of the material on you. You know where someone walked because you will find trails of the couch from the living room to wherever they end up. And because of the way the couch is built, you cannot put something on it to cover it—the only thing we could really try to do was staple a sheet onto the back and it never stays in place. To further fuel my ire, the couch is built in such a way that a baby could fall through and be trapped. There is a Nintendo DS case stuck in the couch and we have no idea where it is—we have even cut a piece of the couch open only to not be able to find it. Why do I own the Bermuda Triangle of couches?

The Bed & Dresser

I guess I should know better than to depend on the prices of Ikea but really, they know how to suck you in—they appeal to small spaces, city living and your first time being out there on your own. When you can’t afford much, you end up at Ikea, finding yourself walking into their model rooms, picturing the furniture in your own home. This bed was actually purchased way before we moved into the apartment but it traveled with us; the matching dresser was a later addition.

So imagine my “shock” when one day, a day where I am actually cleaning no less, I am leaning on the end of the bed and BOOM, I fall straight down with the end of the bed. I take a look at the bed—we had been sleeping for who knows how long with my side of the bed barely being held together. Great. I am all set on purchasing a new bed when, after looking around and getting annoyed, we decide that my dad can, for the time being, reinforce the bed and shove additional screws in there.

The dresser? I don’t know what the bottom drawer has against me but this thing is always misaligned, doesn’t like to close and randomly drops down. My husband has better luck than I do so his dresser, also a matching dresser but slightly bigger, has no problem with him. Again, it’s all me.

Back to Bad Living Room Choices

We purchased an entertainment center. It’s a decent size. I think my favorite parts about it is that we could never get the top on quite right, pieces came off as we screwed parts of it in and that the entire top shelf dips down in the center. I love having a shelf I can barely use because I am terrified that it will break and fall onto my flat screen television.

I also eventually purchased a coffee table and matching end tables. I think the thing I like best about the coffee table is how it wobbles from the slightest touch. I honestly don’t want to even bother attempting to fix it because I kind of want to see when it just all falls down.

I Will Not Leave Out the Kitchen

I have to say I think I learned my lesson in terms of purchasing Ikea products for the kitchen as well. Salad bowl I barely used? The entire bottom fell off. Wok? Fell apart. Other frying pans? Gone. Why do you hate me Ikea?

Result?

We are currently looking for a new couch. We almost purchased one last week but then took a step back. I wasn’t quite ready to put the $3,000+ on a new sectional. We plan on only buying real leather because I hate microfiber and do not want any fabric since my husband has some intense allergies. There is also enough cat hair around and don’t need another surface to which cat hair has an extreme affinity to. I am trying to buy  a nice couch that we can take with us, such that I want the sectional to have each of its own individual pieces so we can change the orientation if need be.

I will wait on the other furniture…

My Love-Hate Relationship: Online Deals

6 Apr

I started using Groupon & LivingSocial around the time they pretty much launched themselves.

Now, I love a good deal. Since I live in a large city, there are multiple deals every single day. Tempting? Yes. But I have found that with a little self-control, making use of these sites can be quite advantageous.

The Good

(1) Since there are multiple deals throughout the city, and there are a lot, I have pretty much decided to have these deals e-mailed to one of my junk e-mail accounts. Do I end up with a lot of e-mails? Yes. But I would rather do that than be annoyed that I missed something I actually wanted, as opposed to one of the five hundred spa treatments offered through the website.

(2) Once I actually find a deal I want, I make sure that I go through it in my mind a bit. Do I really want this? Can I afford this right now? Will I actually use it? If the answers are yes, I will generally buy it. For example, I rarely ever go to the movies—usually I only go once a year. At ten or more dollars per ticket, it’s just not worth it to me. But if I know there is a movie coming out I want to see and one of these sites comes out with a deal, I will probably purchase it. For $12, I just purchased a Groupon for a movie theater near me that includes two tickets and bottomless popcorn. I also keep an eye out for places I enjoy eating at or want to try since I really do love eating out—it’s like a hobby to me. For $15, I purchased a deal for $35 of food from a healthy food place that we really enjoy. These will be used for a “date night.”

(3) Of course I realized thisafter my last purchase, but my credit card, which offers pretty decent cash back rewards, has 15% cash back on purchases for Groupon if you go through their website. All you need to do is log into your credit card website, for example, and click through the links on their site. Once you do that, you’ll get the cash back—you won’t get the 15% just buying it without going through the credit card’s site.

(4) Sometimes you will end up with free stuff—I got a credit of $10 once because someone apparently used a referral link to LivingSocial that I had put out there. If all of your friends want to go in on a deal, many times they have it set-up so that if you refer three friends you get your deal for free. If it’s something big, you might be able to all go in on a deal, such as a vacation, and then split it up so that four people are paying the price for three people—making the savings even greater.

(5) I find that the sites have pretty good return policies. My sister bought something she could not use once and they refunded her money relatively quickly.

The Bad

(1) Having your credit card linked to your account makes it all too easy to make a fast purchase. If I am waffling on a deal, within a few seconds and a couple of clicks, I might have purchased it. Whoops.

(2) Constantly being bombarded with deals makes me want more things in the moment. For example, I had been talking about going zip lining and literally the next day I had an offer for zip lining in my mail box. I was so excited I wanted to purchase it right away. I gave myself a little time and instead I decided that it wasn’t the time to do it. Also, I stated that I am always on the lookout for restaurant deals. I find that often times it is the case that there will be nothing I want for months and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of restaurants I want to purchase deals for in a row. Sometimes I really, really have to resist the temptation.

What I Try to Do

I decided, after purchasing two deals within the same day after not purchasing any deals for awhile, that I will just make it part of my budget. One of the descriptors in my budget is a “miscellaneous” category. If I don’t have the money for it, then I am not going to buy it. Of course, if it’s for some big purchase that I have decided I am going to make, such as a purchase for a trip, I will have a little more leeway.

How do you feel about these sites? Are they forces of good or evil?

Cheap Vacation Mode – Camping Style

2 Apr

I have two weeks for vacation at my current place of employment. My husband has three because he has been at his job for a little longer than I have been at mine. I decided that one of the two weeks we spend together must be on the cheaper-side, so we have elected to go camping. This especially holds true because we are unfortunately buying a new couch and we will probably spend a bit of money on it. And by a bit of money, I mean way too much for my frugal tastes. (Let’s just say I have learned my lesson in terms of buying cheap furniture.)

Ah yes, the great outdoors. This can actually be quite expensive but we plan on making it a bit cheaper for us. I think the most expensive thing for us will be the gas. How will I make it cheaper? Good question.

(1) I already bought the state pass that will allow me to access nearly every state park. I was already planning on purchasing this for our hiking excursions but now that we have it we won’t need to pay the entrance fee to any of the parks we visit. Since I have a list of parks that we want to go to, this will probably pay for itself. Since I plan on visiting the state parks more than eight times over the course of a year, I will end up saving money.

(2) I will use Gas Buddy, a phone app, to find the cheapest gas around. Since we will be driving quite a bit to get to our destinations, this will hopefully be quite helpful.

(3) I will buy food that is on sale. Since most of the time we will be cooking for ourselves in the park, we will bring staples that will easily last such as canned goods that will serve as part of the meal or as a side to the meal. There are a number of large supermarkets throughout the area that we could stop at and try to purchase whatever we can that’s on sale. We will also be saving money by not making constant trips to the general store, which would end up being more expensive, or going out to eat wherever is closest.

(4) We will be exclusively staying at campsites. We will not be renting cabins or anything else. Campsites are only $15/night at most of the places I have looked at; however, since part of the time we are going is around a holiday, it is $4 more/night. That’s fine with me. For two people, we have a place to sleep for under $20/night.

(5) We will be using rentals where we can. I looked at possibly purchasing an inflatable kayak for adventures but then I received a sharp slap in the face when I saw how expensive they were. Given how infrequently we partake in water activities, there is no reason to purchase anything—rentals are usually pretty cheap anyway. There is no reason to make a big purchase if you are going to infrequently use it.

(6) It might not seem like it saves you  money but I recommend buying things in baby steps. Instead of rushing out to buy everything at once, take your time, read reviews and find the best deals. If I know, for example, that I need a new sleeping bag and I have quite a bit of time to find one, I will wait until there is a good sale before I purchase one. Last minute or impulse purchases often result in one spending much more money than they actually need to spend. You may be able to find things at outlet malls as well.

(7) I plan on researching the surrounding area for information on other cheap activities. If you wade your way through websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, you can find recommendations for various activities as well as food options. You will also find out if people found things to be overpriced and if you’re lucky, you can find out what the good deals are in the area. Additionally, you can follow a company’s Facebook page if you’re interested in something they offer, like guided tours, and see if they have any type of deals for you. You can even go as far as to sign-up for Groupon or LivingSocial deals for that area—that way, when the time comes, you might be able to do something awesome on the cheap.

(8) And this is the most important part of my cheap vacation—ask around! We do not currently own a tent but my parents have one so we will be borrowing their tent. We also do not own a cooler so we will be borrowing that too. Try to borrow things whenever you can if you’re not in a place to buy your own.

Of course, when September rolls around, I will let you know how much we spent in its totality. We do plan on doing a couple of things that are ridiculously expensive but that is why the rest of the trip needs to be cheap.