Damn Economy

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It’s raining in New York City today.

Correction: It has been raining in NYC for the last 36 hours, and it’s supposed to continue at least through to tomorrow. Nothing like a soggy group of city-dwellers to get your morning started right.

But you know what? I’m actually not that bummed out about it. And I actually have this lil’ blog to thank for it.

The other day, someone commented on this old post of mine. Y’all remember that one?

I mean, of course I didn’t 100 percent stick to all the goals I outlined in that post. In fact, I even told you I wouldn’t at the end of it. But about a month ago I really let my mood slip.

I lost perspective. I got complacent. I stopped focusing on what’s important.

The person who commented on the post isn’t someone I’ve ever met before, and she had no way of knowing that I wrote that post a long time ago and hadn’t thought about it for a while. But I want to thank her, and I want to thank this rainy day, because they both brought me back into focus.

I also skipped writing out my goals for October — which, for a goal-oriented gal like myself, is like sailing into the ocean without a rudder. Let’s kick things off by correcting that for November, shall we?

November 2014 Goals:
1. Bake three things from scratch.
I mentioned before that I want to bake more this fall, but I’m getting more specific. I actually have baked a couple of things recently (pumpkin scones and salted caramel coconut blondes), but both of them were from either a mix or a premade-homemade mix. Next time, it’s all on me.

2. Rearrange the art in my home.
I’ve made a few small changes to the apartment in the last couple of months, which means that some of the art I had previously hung needs to be adjusted. I also feel like this will be a good way to refresh everything without spending any money.

3. Bring my lunch at least four out of every five workdays.
I’m not going to lie, I slipped on this big time the last couple of weeks. We’ve been busy, groceries haven’t been bought, and as a result, I’ve spent more money on food than I should have. But we’re getting back in a groove (I cooked on Monday this week and Joey cooked last night, meaning lots of tasty leftovers to choose from), and that’s also helping me refocus on our financial goals.

Three goals seems reasonable, right? We’re also going to be in California next month for about nine days, which I could NOT be more excited about. Stay tuned for a tip-packed vacation post!

What are your goals for next month?

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I’m not going to start this post with something cliche like, “Can you believe it’s already September?” I promise.

Summer didn’t fly by for me…maybe because in New York we’re all still waiting with bated breath for the blistering summer we’re used to. Instead, the weather has been deliciously mild, I’ve only sweat through my clothes a handful of times, and now it feels like we’re gently sliding into autumn without much fanfare.

I’m okay with this. I prefer a long fall anyway.

Speaking of the last month of summer, I have a couple party-themed posts coming your way, including the details of my parents’ anniversary party this past weekend. So sit tight. Fun is on the way.

Until then, I thought today would be an appropriate day to think about what I want to accomplish this fall. The bonus round of this game of my goals being, of course, sticking to my broader simplification goals. Here we go!

1. Bring my lunch every day this month.
I can’t count today because I bought lunch (I hadn’t made the goal yet, you guys.) But it’s my goal that by October 1st, I’ll only have one “lunch” charge in my Mint account.

2. Update our desk…without spending any money.
No, this is not a heavy-handed hint for you all to donate a new desk to me. I want to create a desk out of two file cabinets (including the one I already have) and a butcher block top. My plan is to sell my existing Parsons Desk (here on CL, if anyone local is interested!) for enough to find another file cabinet and buy the butcher block at IKEA. Wish me luck.

3. Perform my seasonal closet purge.
I’ve been really good about shopping, so this will be a much lighter lift than it usually is. In general, I just need to take out my cold-weather clothes and put away summer stuff. If I wasn’t completely dubious about our cement walls’ ability to hold anything heavier than a picture frame, I would sell my IKEA wardrobe and reconstruct something like this in my closet corner. Though we did get that rod in the front closet to stay up, so maybe Joey can work some wizardry.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but those three things seem like a good start.

What are your fall goals? 

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I’m not particularly proud of this, but I have to admit, the hardest part about my newly reorganized money priorities has been not shopping.

Fall is my favorite season, and, as I’ve said before, a lot of this has to do with how much I love fall clothes.

Now, I’m not cracking (I swear), but for whatever reason, I decided it would be helpful for me to just put down everything I wish I could buy. Sort of like when you can’t sleep until you write out a list of everything you need to do. (I’m not the only one who does that, right?)

So, anyway. Consider this my sartorial catharsis.

Here are the 6 things I would buy if I was fall shopping but that I won’t buy because I’m being responsible. (Sigh.)

6 Things for Fall

1. Wool coats. 
Specifically these two from J.Crew. I’m dying for a camel-colored funnel neck coat and a ladylike mint wool number. Dying.

2. Wool dresses with sleeves. Why am I so obsessed with wool? Maybe it’s leftover post-traumatic stress from last winter, but whatever the reason, I can’t get enough. And I LOVE dresses with sleeves. These three from Boden are in particularly striking shades.

3. Distressed jeans. But not just any distressed jeans. Subtly distressed. So they can still be dressed up for the office or a night out with a pretty silk blouse and heels.

4. Blazers. I have been coveting a white/cream blazer for, I don’t know, three years, but never pulled the trigger for some reason. And lately I’ve become mildly obsessed with blush tweed jackets. I mean, how polished would I look ALL THE TIME?

5. Wear-all-the-time fall shoes. I really want to find a fall equivalent of the brown wedge sandals I wore all summer long, and a pair of low-heeled ankle strap black shoes and a suede stacked heel seem like the perfect solutions to me.

6. A bulky gold statement necklace. Again, the wearability of this piece is what appeals to me — it’s perfect for dressing up literally everything from a white button-down to a cotton T-shirt to, let’s say, a simple wool dress with sleeves.

It might sound weird, but I actually do feel better getting this all out there in the open. At least it’s out of my brain, ya know?

Join me in my dreaming — what are you shopping for this fall?

{I want it all.}

{I want it all.}

As per my money simplification goals, I’ve been trying to not only be stricter about what I spend money on, but also more aware of the areas where I tend to overspend.

My Mint account has been really useful for identifying the areas of life where this happens. The biggest offender to my budget? Lack of planning.

How many times have I had to buy a $1.50 bottle of water for the gym because I forgot my refillable one at home? How many times have I had to buy a $12 lunch because I forgot to pack something the night before? How many times have I impulsed shopped to kill time, only to realize later that I only bought what I did because it was on sale or something?

The answer to all three of those questions is “way too many times.”

Joey and I have decided to be really strict about spending for the rest of the year, only really spending money on a pre-planned trip to California in November. The first thing I cut out of my spending plans? Shopping — especially of the impulse variety.

This is especially hard for me as fall (my FAVORITE season) approaches, and with it an onslaught of fall clothing (also my favorite). In order to keep myself in check, I made a list of the things I am allowed to buy for the remainder of 2014:

1. Two pairs of jeans — a lighter denim and a blue denim. I bought these yesterday — one pair was only $18! (Prior to this purchase, I had two pairs of jeans, and one had a broken zipper I still need to get fixed.)
2. A gray t-shirt. This was also bought yesterday (for $8!). I can’t tell you how many times I find an outfit on Pinterest and all I need to recreate it is a gray T-shirt. For whatever reason, I’ve never had one.
3. Underwear. TMI? Whatever. I needed two new bras (bought these for the price of one with a coupon) and regular underwear (yet to buy).
4. A black, semi-casual, sleeveless fit-and-flare dress that I can wear to work and basically anywhere else. It’s really only in the last year that I’ve acquired a few LBDs (a dressy strapless version, a dressy sleeveless version, and a long-sleeved cotton version), and this is the one staple I am still missing.
5. Nice pajamas. One of my coworkers told me I don’t actually need these, but I’ve decided I’ll feel better about myself if I’m not going to sleep in ratty gym clothes every night. I’m weird, but suffice to say this is important to me. And I’m planning to buy them at H&M or Gap anyway, so it’s not a huge expense.

That’s it. You might notice a lack of sweaters, boots, jackets, scarves, and all other fall paraphernalia that brings me joy. (I will allow that I will also probably buy a couple pairs of black tights, though.) It’s honestly a sacrifice for me, but the results (debts paid off and a more substantial savings account) will be worth it.

The biggest thing I’ve found to be helpful in sticking to this list is actually writing the list down and keeping it as a reminder. That way, even if I’m presented with the opportunity to shop, it’s much easier for me to resist because an item isn’t on my list. The more I prepare, the easier it is to keep focused on my goals.

Besides, it’s just one fall season, and if I’m totally honest, I already have an abundance of fall clothing that is still in style and perfectly fine. This should not be so hard!

Do you make shopping lists each season? What’s on your must-buy list this fall?

Gosh there has been a lot of my face on the blog lately. That’s awkward. And annoying. If you hate my face. (Though, if that’s the case, masochist much? You should really stop coming to this site. For your health.)

Instead of my face, let’s talk about my money, shallllll we?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’m taking the idea of simplification to all aspects of my life. For Joey and me, that includes our budget and finances. While we wiped out our credit card debt about a year ago, some of it has managed to creep back in the last few months. Never ones to say die, this is at the top of our to-do list when it comes to simplifying our lives.

For me personally, that journey started with taking an honest look at my own spending and saving patterns. Then I could determine what needed to change. Two things were a huge help in beginning this process:

1. Mint.com
I’m going to talk about my experience with a specific money tracking website, but really, there are a bunch of these out there that can help.

While a quick once-over of my debit card statement could probably give you a good idea of where my money was going, I decided to join Mint.com to get a more accurate breakdown. Using Mint, I was able to get an immediately clear picture of what percentage of my income was going to various categories, like rent, shopping, food, etc.

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That’s a peek at my July so far. Besides getting an up-to-date analysis, I can also compare previous months to see how I’m doing at cutting down on spending. For reference, here was June:

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The two things Mint immediately showed me I was spending way too much money on were clothes and food. I mean, come on, Justine. Get a grip. 

Instantly, I had two specific goals:

- Stop shopping for a month. I mean, seriously. I have all the clothes I need and then some. (I also had a few ideas for making this more fun — more on that later.)

- Bring my lunch every single day. Joey is a really great cook, and we’ve gotten much better about cooking most of our dinners at home. Plus, I love leftovers. There is really no reason why I can’t make this work — and still be enjoyable.

The other thing I love about Mint is that it gives you a schedule of credit card payments once you tell it how much you want to contribute to your debt each month. Mint determines how much you should allot to each account based on how much interest they’re charging you. For example, I created a budget (aptly titled “Pay Off the Dang Debt”) that will end in October, and Mint tells me the percentage I should pay to each card based on its APR. I literally just have to check the budget and schedule the payment each month, easy-peasy.

2. Automatic Savings Account Contributions

I used to be really good about regularly contributing to my savings account. But then life got in the way, blah blah blah excuses.

The point is, my savings account has been pretty pathetic as of late, and that’s not good. Now, every pay day, I pay myself first with an automatic transfer through my bank from my checking (where my direct deposit goes) to my savings. This “forced” savings takes out any opportunity for me to back out or change my mind. Plus, it’s kind of fun watching that little number grow every couple of weeks.

I’m also planning to put any freelance checks I collect straight into savings once the debt is paid off. It’s extra money for us anyway since our budget is designed off of our 9-to-5 income, so there’s no reason not to squirrel it away.

It’s amazing how much of a difference these two little changes are making to the health of my finances (not to mention my peace of mind).

What are your best budgeting tips? 

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about money.

Not to say I’m obsessed with it or the idea of always getting more. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about budgeting.

It’s part of my list-making nature. I make lists of things I need to buy. I make lists of things I would like to buy. I calculate in my head where each percentage of my paycheck needs to go. (Rent, car payment, food, fitness, clothes, etc.)(And in that order.)

Like most women in their mid-to-late-20s, I’ve been trying to focus more on the quality of what I buy over the quantity.

In the old countrydays, I would schlep over to Forever 21 or H&M and load up on about six things for under $90 and consider myself a budgeting genius. (Spoiler alert: I was not.)

But after watching the clothes that I spent my hard-earned money (and it always worked out to be a fair amount of money no matter how low each individual price tag happened to be) fall apart or quickly go out of style within in a matter of months, I had to start checking myself.

Which isn’t to say I’m investing in Prada bags and Chanel blazers just yet. (Or ever.) But I am getting closer to really defining my “personal style,” or whatever so I stop making impulse buys and really consider how a piece will fit into my life before clicking “submit order.”

One step of this was deciding to only wear seven colors, which makes it a lot easier to turn down anything overly trendy. But a lot of it comes down to plain, old-fashioned will power.

Because I will always be able to find a new dress that I want. (Seriously. ALWAYS.) For that reason, I’m trying to remind myself when I see something I like that I have seen many things I like in the past. And I will see many things I like in the future. Things will never stop popping up.

To help quiet my overactive brain, though, I thought it might be helpful to make yet another list. This one a list of things I plan to buy in 2014. Wouldn’t it be kind of amazing if I could stick to it? At the very least, it ought to give me pause before any sudden PayPal purchases.

I’m not going to count restaurants, coffee, or drugstore runs in this list, or any of the aforementioned monthly bills. We’re just talking tangible positions I would ideally own for a while. Okay, really we’re talking about clothes and stuff for the apartment.

LET’S GO!

1. Bridesmaid dress for Becca’s wedding. I’m pretty sure I have it picked out, I just need to order. Should run me about $125.
2. Three dresses for Paris and the four (4) other weddings I have in 2014 besides Becca’s. I’m leaving this open to any three, though there are a few from ModCloth I have my eye on.
3. New coffee table. I reaaaaally want this one from West Elm, but I’m hoping to find something on Craigslist that is less exp-ah-nsive.
4. Vintage map for the living room. I want a giant one for the wall by the computer.
5. New curtains/curtain fabric for the bedroom.
6. Two to three new pillow cases for the living room throw pillows.
7. Four to five white matted picture frames from IKEA.
8. One to two new pairs of running shoes for when my new ones wear out.
9. More workout clothes, specifically two more tops and at least three new sports bras. (TMI?)
10. Poster for the bedroom. (I have a postcard I want to get blown up to poster size…still trying to work out the logistics of that if anyone has done this before.)
11. New indoor mat for the front door.
12. Shoe rack for Joey.
13. Two to five storage bins for the linen closet.

Ok, I think that’s it. Thirteen bullet points, about thirty items. I’m going to keep myself accountable by promising right now to tell you anything I buy outside of the list. (Hopefully it’s not anything too embarrassing…)

I feel good about this, though. Let the great spending project of 2014 begin.