Tag Archives: budgeting

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Remodeling Your Home

24 Aug

My husband and I are currently in contract for our first home. As exciting as it is, it is also incredibly nerve-wrecking to watch money being pulled out of your bank account,  schedule and attend meetings and fret over renovations that need to be made. We are hoping that this is a property we can fix-up and enjoy for at least the next few years.  We were also okay with moving into places that may need some work, which is the type of co-op we ended up choosing. I have a dream that this will end up as a money-maker, but I am realistic and also would just love to break even at the end of it all.

When purchasing a home that needs repairs, you definitely need to consider how much you want to spend before you put an offer down on the property. Here are some important questions to keep in mind to determine whether or not you want to even take on a remodel:

1. Is it worth it? 

  • Do I plan on staying in the property long-term or do I plan on flipping the property?
  • Is the house listed at a lower price than comps that have already been updated?
  • Will renovations have any impact on the resale value of the home? Or will I out-price myself?
  • How many things need to be renovated and at what cost? Are they expensive renovations or not?

2. Can I afford it?

  • Do I have the money on-hand after purchasing the home? Or do I plan on taking out an additional loan?
  • Do I need to put any of my purchases on credit?
  • Are these renovations going to be upscale, middle of the line or a homeowner’s special?
  • Are any of these renovations or updates that I can do myself or will I require contractors, permits, etc?

3. Can I Live With It?

  • Will I be able to live in my home while renovations take place? Or do I need to stay elsewhere?
  • Am I prepared to go without certain things on certain days?

As for us, we will be paying for our renovations out of our own pockets once all is said and done—we are not taking out any additional loans or putting anything on credit. For me, this is the only way to go.

How do you feel about the costs related to renovating your home? Are there any other considerations future homeowners should think about?

Thankful—Because We Didn’t Purchase Something

29 Jul

My husband and I have been looking for our “dream home” for a few months now. To be honest, I have been scouting homes for over a year but we have been seriously looking at homes for the past two months.

I put dream home in quotes because my dream home is not here. Nope. I cannot afford a house here so our “dream home” has really been limited to co-ops and, if we were lucky, a cheap condo. We were pre-approved and one of the first co-ops we saw—well, we loved it. It was a two-bedroom co-op that needed some work here or there but overall, it was nice. It had a terrace, which I was practically dying for and the only catch was that there was no washer/dryer unit on-site. It was at the top of our price range and we both really liked it. But after consulting with a plumber, we decided it was not worth it at all and we sadly let go of our “dream home.”

I would say that a few weeks after that, my perception completely changed. And I am glad we did not pursue that co-op!

Our current rent is probably right on average for what we would pay in our neighborhood. I started thinking to myself, “If I don’t plan on living here forever and these are not places that I absolutely love, why do I intend on paying more every month to live there?” Our rent is somewhere between 26-27% of our net income, which is actually a pretty good number considering a recent article I read talked about how much rent eats up the budget of those who live in my city.

So I thought up a new plan which is as follows:

  1. We began looking at one bedroom places instead of more expensive, two-bedroom places. We also stopped looking at expensive one-bedroom units. This not only saves us money on the down payment and mortgage but it also saves us money on the maintenance.
  2. I decided that our cut-off was now going to be $220,000 instead of the $350,000 we had started at and had been pre-approved for, since we can, in actuality, make those payments every month. I also decided to focus on places where the maintenance was on the lower-end of the scale, which for us is $600 or less.

I am incredibly interested in a place we looked at the other day. It’s listed for $199,000 and the maintenance is $473.55. I am hoping to get that price down by at least $10,000, though I’m not sure yet how negotiable the seller is since he is also willing to rent it out at the same price that I pay for rent now, which is $1,300/month. Doing a little big of math, I figured:

  • Purchasing the property for $190,000 would allow me to put down 25% or $47,500. The mortgage would be $670.09 at a rate of 3.875% (co-ops do not get rates as good as houses.) With the maintenance at $473.55, my total payment every month would be $1143.64, saving me more than $200 every month in rent. At least 50% of the maintenance every month is tax deductible, as well as the mortgage interest.
  • Purchasing the property for $190,000 would allow me to put down 30% or $57,000. The mortgage would be $625.42 at a rate of 3.875%. With the maintenance at $473.55, my total payment every month would be $1098.97, and everything else mentioned above also applies here obviously.

My thinking, for now, is that inevitably, I will get the money back that I used as a down payment when I sell the property in the future. In the meanwhile, I can pay for a mortgage and maintenance that is not only less than my rent but that will provide me with $2500-$3000 per year in tax deductions. In the meanwhile, I can save more money toward something else. Most housing did not experience any depreciation in my neighborhood so that is not of any concern to me.

So overall, this house hunting experience, which has left me largely frustrated, has also allowed me to reevaluate what I really want and what I am willing to settle for at this time. I think that going with a smarter decision, even if we don’t like it as much, will work out better for us in the end.

And really, I should thank the realtor from the first property—she was so obnoxious that she completely turned us off from the property all together!

The “Cheaper” Wedding – Part One

6 Jul

When my husband and I decided to get married, we had some differences in our thought processes.

Him: “Wedding! I want a wedding!”
Me: “No wedding! Courthouse!”

As you can see, our thinking varied quite a bit from the beginning.

Once we decided to actually have a wedding, we were pretty lazy about it. I am not the girl that is often stereotyped as planning her dream wedding her entire life. In fact, I found myself resenting most of the things I had to do in order to get through the process. I found myself harboring resentment whenever something had to do be done or if a problem arose. In the end, I really enjoyed our wedding and many of our friends told us it was the most fun they have ever had at a wedding.

Having a wedding, however, can be an overwhelmingly expensive ordeal. My husband and I paid for almost the entire wedding ourselves and living in an expensive city did not make things any easier. I lost count of how many times people told us “you’ll get it back” or “it’s only once” as an excuse to spend even more money. In the end, we found ourselves sticking to our budget and making our wedding work for us. According to Reuters, the average cost of a U.S. wedding was $27,021 and in New York the average skyrockets to $65,824. With numbers this overwhelming, one might wonder how they can have their “dream” wedding on a budget.

Budgeting – The First & Most Important Step

Many people advise against being “house poor” in the same way I would advise against being “wedding poor.” Could my husband and I have had a wedding for $65,824 without going into debt? Absolutely, if we wanted to wipe out our savings accounts. However, many people end up going into debt for weddings which is something I cannot fathom. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of starting a life together in massive amounts of debt or, if you’re already in debt, adding to that monstrosity.

The biggest thing people need to give up is the sense of entitlement that they deserve or are somehow owed a big wedding if they cannot afford it. My mom and all of her siblings either eloped or had courthouse weddings; my husband’s family loves to have big, catered affairs. We were obviously used to very different things and had to really assert ourselves in terms of what we wanted and ignoring other people.

At the beginning, I was a little unrealistic to the cost of our wedding once I came up with a theme. I had a budget but once we got into the actual planning a couple of months before our wedding, I realized I’d have to adjust my budget appropriately. Given that we were having a wedding where the average cost is $65,824, I realized that having a wedding around $13,000 wasn’t the end of the world for us. So how can you begin your initial budgeting?

LOCATION

The biggest thing you need to budget for first is your location. For this, you need to take several factors into account:

  • Are you having a ceremony and reception in the same place or at different locations?
  • Are you having food catered at the location or are you able to bring in your own catering?
  • Is there an additional cost for a rental on top of catering or is everything batched together?
  • Does the rental space come with anything, such as tables, chairs, etc?
  • Is it accessible to the people you are inviting?
  • And most importantly, can you afford this location?

My husband and I saved a lot of money and time by having our ceremony immediately before our reception. After searching for hours, I found an incredibly affordable place that I could rent out for four hours. The cost of the rental was approximately $1400 and we paid for one more additional hour in case we ran over our time, which we ended up using in its entirety anyway. One way we saved money was by simply asking them if we could have our ceremony directly outside of the building—and the answer was yes! I found that most people rented out a separate area for $500 extra and you had to pay for the entire thing even if it was being used for a short ceremony. Additionally, nothing else in the area rented for anywhere close to $1400—in fact, most rentals were $5,000 and above. Even though it was a little further away then I wanted it to be, people could still access our wedding by public transportation or taxi if they didn’t have their own vehicles.

We detest catering halls so finding this place which felt like you were outdoors was amazing and well-worth the research I put into it. The best part about it was that we were allowed to bring in our own catering company or could cater food any way we wanted to. This one thing saved us a ton of money and will be discussed in my next wedding post.

Why We’re Keeping Our Car

28 Jun

My husband and I have grown up in a major city our entire lives. Every one of our relatives, all older than us, has a car. Yet you will find that the younger generations, people around our age, do not seem to have a car. In fact, amongst our friends, we are one of the few to own a car. Most conversations will go something like this:

Disbelieving Friend: You have a car?
Us: Yes.
Disbelieving Friend: Why?
Us: Because we want one?
Disbelieving Friend: Do you have to drive around your neighborhood?
Us: No, we can walk. We also have trains and buses just like you because we all live in the same city.

Costs of Having Our Car

Owning a car is quite costly. My husband and I bought a car years ago, way before we were married, and split the cost. We bought a used car that was only two years old at the time and in pretty good condition. The best part was that it cost us no additional money because we each paid for the car with our own money and didn’t have to take out a loan.

Initial cost for a 2009 Chevy Impala in 2011? Approximately $8,400 including taxes.

Of course, the costs don’t end there. You have to factor in everything else such as:

  1. Gas and tolls
  2. Registration and inspections
  3. Regular maintenance (i.e. oil changes)
  4. Regular repairs (i.e. having your driver’s side mirror knocked off twice in less than a year)
  5. Additional desired expenses (i.e. car washes, buying a GPS, installing a new stereo)
  6. Insurance

Why Keep Your Car When You Have Insanely Good Public Transportation?

We don’t use our car everyday. In fact, most of its usage occurs on the weekends.

Funnily enough, I have always been terrified of driving. It has always been a very tense situation for me that produces a lot of anxiety. We have had the car for years but I only got my license four months ago. I have to say I love the feeling of freedom my car provides for me.  I love that I can drive a very short distance (though not within walking distance) for sales and do quite a bit of shopping that saves me a lot of money, even including the gas I spend.

Most of all, I love that at any time, we can drive to any place without worrying how we will get there. We love to hike, which involves quite a bit of driving out of the city to get there. How would we do this without a car? My husband needs to go to various camping activities that are outside of the city. How would he do this without his car?

Of course, all of my friends who do not have cars are the first ones willing to snap up a ride from us. One of my friends is getting married and one of the first things another friend asked me was if we were driving there and if so, could they get a ride? I don’t mind giving people rides to places; in fact, when I drive to work (only 1-2x/week) I drop people off at the train. But that expectation that you have a car, therefore you should, gets annoying.

Friend: Want to hang-out?
Me: Okay.
Friend: You want to come to my neighborhood?
Me: Why can’t you come to mine?
Friend: Ugh you’re so far. And you have a car! The trip will be so fast for you. The train takes forever!

My friends act like having a car is some sort of freebie—as if we don’t pay almost $200/month in gas and insurance plus all of the other fees, maintenance costs and repairs over the year—just because we already have a car paid in full. As bewildering as they find it to be for us to have a car in the first place, they sure love any chance to get a ride in our car.

Yes, I Will Probably Have a Car Forever

All of those years I was too scared to drive seem silly to me now. Sometimes I still get anxious, especially driving in a major city, but it no longer prevents me from driving.

I really love the outdoors and there is no foreseeable way of getting there without a car. We are embarking on a nine-night camping trip throughout the state in September, something we wouldn’t be able to do without a car. Considering how expensive it is to rent the smallest car in my area, the cost of a rental would be a couple of months worth of my usual car expenses.

Would I save a lot more money without a car? I would. But I already put all of my paychecks directly into savings, since my husband’s paychecks are enough to cover rent and bills with money leftover. We already live on a budget. We already sacrifice a lot of things. This is a thing we will not sacrifice.

To Buy or Not to Buy – Our First Home

11 Jun

I am currently in the midst of freaking out and incessantly thinking about the possibility of purchasing a home.

I thought I had most of the figures down until I found myself on this link: Is It Better to Buy or Rent? According to the numbers that I put in, it would be better for us to rent for the time being, which makes me sad in a way.

Purchasing our first home is an incredibly scary thing for us. We have been saving up money for a few years now and we finally have enough to put 20% down on certain properties. In our area, a major city, we cannot afford anything but co-ops and the occasional condo. I have a feeling that when I ask for a cashier’s check of nearly $70,000 to put down as a down payment, I might throw up. Really.

Part of me feels conflicted because I want a place of my own. Part of me feels conflicted because a co-op is not my dream home. My dream home has space, a backyard and a pool. My dream home is not what I could only describe as “having that apartment feel.” By space, I don’t mean a huge house—I just mean something we could grow into together.

My husband and I have been pretty set on purchasing a two-bedroom co-op. Right now we rent a one-bedroom apartment for $1300.00/month. We actually live in a pretty nice building but it has a lot of things I don’t like such as:

  • The only thing the kitchen has going for it is the space—it’s actually a big kitchen for most apartments I have seen in the area and has a lot of cabinet space. The kitchen has an ugly laminate floor that is not only coming up in certain areas but is put on in such an incredibly lazy way that the second half of the kitchen “tiles” do not line up with the first half. The backboard is crooked and not even against the wall. There are holes/spaces near the floor.
  • The bathroom is disgusting. Both the pipes in the sink and tub seem to ALWAYS be clogged. For whatever reason the ventilation is awful and we always have mold growing. The stuff is coming up off of the tub floor.
  • Last year we had an awful storm and water started to leak through the brick. The building had to be repointed and the super said after it was finished, he would come in and paint over where the water leaked through and left yellow stains. Never happened. We have a live-in super and considering he had to do this on every floor for multiple sections of the building I find it hard to “forget.”
  • Awkward things like a door to the living room, a super dark hallway, small foyer that ends up being a haphazard desk area
  • Roaches!

At the same time there are things I do like:

  • Rooms are a nice size
  • Daytime doorman
  • Building, overall, is nice and has laundry downstairs; close to train
  • Rent is okay for us

WHAT WE WANTED FOR OUR HOME

  • Wanted a two-bedroom or a one-bedroom large enough to perhaps alter into a second room
  • Wanted a private outdoor space such as a terrace
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Washer/dryer on-site

THE CONDO

There has only been one condo for sale that we could remotely afford. Crunching some numbers, paying the mortgage plus the maintenance would actually cost us either slightly less or slightly more than what we pay now. The taxes were relatively low and given the fact we could claim our mortgage interest, I think it would work out to our benefits.

PROS

  • Cheaper for us
  • Had a terrace
  • Had a W/D in the unit
  • Had a small storage space in the basement
  • Had a parking spot—extremely, extremely rare

CONS

  • My guy absolutely hated it
  • Definitely need a little work
  • Smaller than the place we’re in now

SUMMATION

I guess I have a little more vision but I saw some potential in there to really fix up some things and turn a profit on it. I liked the fact that we could rent it out in the future, unlike most co-ops, and I think we could actually turn a profit on the place either renting or selling. However, as much as I am willing to make an offer, my man is not and I’m not going to force him into something he doesn’t like even though I have really tried to sell it to him.

THE CO-OP

The very first co-op we saw is the one we keep coming back to. It’s approximately 280 square feet larger than the condo (880 square feet) and has two bedrooms.

PROS

  • Sick of living in big buildings and this is a very small co-operative unit that looks like a row of houses
  • Two bedrooms
  • Open feel
  • Terrace
  • Very low maintenance that is 50% tax deductible—the maintenance rate is unheard of in our area
  • Separate/private entrance
  • Private storage area in the basement
  • Doesn’t need a lot of work—mostly cosmetic stuff that we could live with for now

CONS

  • Kitchen is kind of small
  • Bedrooms are kind of small
  • Currently no W/D on site—we have to see if they’ll let us put one in the basement—additional expense
  • Eventually would like to add a dishwasher—another additional expense
  • Parking in that area is worse than where we are now and there might be three spots somewhere but they are wait list and I doubt we’re anywhere near the top
  • Would cost us more than our current rent
  • Cannot sublease in the future

SUMMATION

We are actually working on bidding for this place. We are going to bid quite a bit less than the asking. We’re still in the process of figuring out our loan stuff (trying to get a better rate) and obtaining a lawyer.

Although the money maintenance and mortgage would be more than our rent right now, our rent would eventually increase again. Additionally, the mortgage interest and half of the maintenance are tax deductible, so I think this will almost allow us to break even.

NOT FOR THE WEAK

Buying a house is emotionally draining. It really is. And as much as I try to stay logical about it, I still find it to be such an emotionally wrapped up decision. As much as I can make an argument for the condo, will we be happy in a place we don’t particularly like? I need my home to be a place I enjoy being in—not somewhere I want to run from.

Creating & Assessing a Budget

6 Jun

Toward the end of last year, I decided to make a budget for our tiny household.

You see, my husband and I were always decent with money. We have both worked since we have graduated from college and managed to somehow save money even when we weren’t paying attention to our finances. However, once we had to pay for our wedding in its entirety, I started to think we should draw-up a budget.

Budget

My budget, for the most part, is somewhat flexible and somewhat rigid. I am going to share my budget here with you and include the analysis I did via my six-month mark:

Regular Expenses – Regular expenses are those that are generally a fixed amount every month.

  • Rent: $1300.00
  • Phone Bill: $130.50 (+/- $1.00)
  • Auto Insurance: $91.42 (This has occasionally gone up or down but seems set for now.)
  • Internet: $39.95
  • Student Loan Deduction: $50.00
  • Netflix: $8.00
  • Gym: $10.00

Variable Expenses – These are expenses I have budgeted for every month but are in no way fixed.

  • Home Care: $50.00 – Current six-month analysis says my average spending in this category is between $20-$25/month, including some months in which the amount is zero.
  • Groceries: $300.00 – Only had one month where we went over budget; otherwise, a six-month analysis puts our average spending at approximately $222/month.
  • Dining Out: $250.00 – I am the first one to admit that eating out is a money pit and this is the only place I lack restraint. The thing is, I rarely spend my money on things I enjoy and this just happens to be something I love. This includes any fast food, coffee stops, etc. I have gone over budget three out of the six months and my average spending is approximately $238/month. Ouch.
  • Car Gas: $125.00 – I actually had this at $100/month but I changed my budget around because I realized I hadn’t budgeted enough for gasoline. This especially holds true if we are taking day trips and considering the constant increases in gas prices. Six-month analysis has us spending a little over $100.00/month but I know that will increase.
  • Haircuts: $20.00 – In actuality, my husband only gets his hair cut about once every two months and I almost never get my haircut because I grow it out and donate it. Thus our average spending has us at slightly under $5/month. I also do not do anything to my hair—no dyes, no treatments—and I’m lucky to have nice hair.
  • Electric+Gas: $125.00 – This is actually an overstatement for most months. Considering we use very little in terms of electricity when it is not summer, our current average is around $71.00. When we are running the air conditioner, however, it is incredibly easy to go over the $125.00 mark so that is why I budgeted for so much.
  • Misc: $200.00 – This is for anything we want to buy that is extraneous, such as a new video game, a park pass, etc. I cannot really analyze this area except to say it can be easy for us to stay under it; however, we have made some very large purchases that I put into here (such as a $3500.00 couch) which completely throw off the numbers.
  • Transit Card: $25.00 – I actually had this at around $50.00 for when I was trying to take a class but then I took over $25.00 and moved it to the gasoline. I actually haven’t purchased anything for mass transit in months because I no longer take the class and I am lucky enough to walk to work most days.
  • Clothes: $50.00 – We actually don’t shop very often so we have averaged out at around $30.91 per month for clothing purchases. This may change in the future though because my husband has recently ripped a ton of clothing.

Irregular Expenses – These are expenses I have listed in my budget but vary so much that I have them in a separate category. I do have a budget set-up for them and hope not to exceed it.

  • Car Maintenance: So far I have really only had to buy new brakes this year. Note: I am incredibly lucky in this category because my dad is a mechanic so I don’t pay for labor or oil changes.
  • Medical Costs: This year I have obtained incredible insurance which allows me office visits, generic prescriptions, etc at no cost. My husband has not-so-great insurance and pays $25 for PCP visits and $40 for specialty visits.
  • Medicine: Generics cost him $15 and he has two-ongoing prescriptions for things. I used to pay $15/month for my prescription but not anymore!
  • Gifts: This one gets pretty crazy depending on the month. December is a hot mess because of Christmas and we end up spending well-over $500 for gifts because there are so many people we have to buy gifts for so I’m not a fan of December. Certain months are also killers for us — May included three birthdays and Mother’s Day!

Overall, I think the budget has been all right. Considering that we made a large purchase this year (the couch), we have saved a good amount of money. I think if I could change one thing it would be the eating out portion of it but I love food too much. 🙂 Does anyone else have a budget? Do you think mine is crazy in some areas?

The “Nicer” Vacation

22 May

I have been posting about my big camping adventure that is set for September. However, I am also in the midst of planning our October vacation.

In 2010, we embarked on a seven-night cruise. I really enjoyed it but felt as though I was done with cruising for another five or ten years. This year, however, the thought crossed my mind—cruises can be ridiculously cheap if you allow them to be, especially if you’re lucky enough to live on the coastal United States where you can leave directly from a port without having to travel to it first. Then I found myself considering an all-inclusive vacation but found the cost of flights to be prohibitively expensive. Ultimately, I decided that in October I would like to stay somewhere warm and perhaps even obtain some type of color, preferably something tan not red. Let the planning for Florida begin!

I have only flown a few times in my life and three of the four times I have flown have been to Florida. While it’s unfortunate that I won’t be going anywhere new this year, I am just happy to be able to go somewhere.

How to Try to “Cheapen” the Trip – The Beginning

The first thing I did, once I decided upon Florida, was to consider the locations I planned to visit. I knew that I did not want to be on the Gulf since that is where we traveled last time and as beautiful as it is, a beach without waves makes this girl sad. I also decided that I wasn’t interested in Northern Florida, the Orlando area or the Southern most areas of Florida. From this, I compiled a list of beaches that seemed reasonable and began my research.

After looking around online, I noticed some beaches were definitely more expensive than others. I started my search by just going through general travel sites, such as Expedia, to get a general idea of what the rates might be. This alone allowed me to narrow down my search. Other things helped me narrow down my search and that you should also consider:

  • Is there anyone nearby I want to visit?
  • Are there other activities besides keeping my body on the beach all day?
  • Is there an airport nearby?
  • Is it easy to get around?
  • Do I have to rent a car? If so, how much will it cost?

I’ve Decided on a Location – Now What?

I decided to narrow my focus to a few different areas that I was looking into — Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and anything else nearby. I looked through Expedia some more to get a general sense of the costs of different hotels. I also decided to pay attention to the following because these things can be huge additional costs that people do not take into account:

  • Do I have to pay for parking? When I do, I find this to usually be somewhere between $12-$20/day.
  • Do I have to pay for daily resort fees? These can vary greatly and depend on how many people are going on your trip. In addition to resort fees, do I have to pay additionally for beach rentals?
  • What is the difference in price between an oceanfront, a room with an ocean view and a city view?
  • Does the place include any extras — free breakfast? Discounts on activities? Credits to the room?
  • Does the place charge automatic gratuities and service fees for everything?

Don’t Forget to Look on Other Sites

Sites like Expedia, Travelocity and their various incarnations are great and all but they can be quite limiting. One of the best places I have ever stayed in was no where on any of those sites—it was a gorgeous B&B that I found on TripAdvisor. I find using a website like TripAdvisor to find places to stay is generally my best bet. Not only will you find very in-depth reviews about lodging but you will also find reviews for everything else in the vicinity. You will always find complainers but I have found that most people review things quite honestly.

Using TripAdvisor is a good place to find smaller motels and inns that might be in the area but don’t charge exorbitant rates. They are usually smaller, family-owned joints that might be right off the beach, just a block or so away, that offer the basics. Remember: You can always choose to stay at multiple places, although sometimes you will find certain places at certain times require you to stay a minimum amount of days. When we went up North for a vacation, we spent one night in a very, very nice hotel and spent the other night at a much cheaper motel.

Are You Getting Ready to Book Your Trip?

If you have decided on where you are going to go, keep these other money saving tips in mind:

  • Always check for discounts that may apply to you, such as a AAA membership. You never know—you might end up with a better deal.
  • Look around at different sites—some may offer extras, deals or even slight price variations.
  • Check to see if bundling will save you money—what would be the price difference if you booked a hotel with the flight?
  • See what the difference would be for weekday versus weekend reservations. The prices can vary a lot especially in the summer. Avoid taking trips around holidays or when big events will be taking place, such as conventions, in the area you’re interested in visiting.

Any other tips you have in mind? Feel free to share. Happy planning!

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.

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?