Damn Economy

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.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.49.08 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.51.15 AM

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.

We’re moving in less than a week. I am only panicking a little bit.

Well, panicking isn’t the right word. Obsessing probably is.

For the record, we’re in pretty good shape. I’ve sold everything we needed to sell. (Oh! Did I tell you I sold our dining set? Well…I did.) More than half of our stuff is boxed up. And the hubs has Thursday and Friday off of work this week to start moving things.

I’m sort of hoping once he transports everything that is packed, it will make the stuff that’s not yet packed seem more manageable.

Side note: Is it me, or is packing one of the hardest things in the world to focus on? I swear, I get three or four boxes in, and I am wiped out. My friend Erin explained it pretty well that you get mentally exhausted from having to make so many decisions. Which is probably why packing things like books and dishes is easy, but wading through the mess of our bedroom has taken me two weeks.

Side question: I feel like I’ve asked this before, but is there a thrift store service that will pick up stuff from your house? I seem to remember that Salvation Army used to do this. Is it still a thing? Because I have a pile of stuff to get rid of. (Unless anyone I know is planning on having a garage sale soon? In which case, I have some stuff to contribute.)

Anyway. Packing sucks. On to happier topics.

I bought the rug for our bedroom! I used a 50-percent-off-plus-free-shipping coupon code (WINT50, if anyone else is in the market for a RugsUSA.com rug) and my parents got it for us as an anniversary gift. Awesome, right?

Second side note: Joey and I have been married for almost two years. Wacky.

I’m excited to get the rug mostly because it takes me one step closer to accomplishing my grown-up apartment goals of having a put-together bedroom. Next up, new bedding, possibly new curtains, and an artwork project. (Stay tuned.)

Here’s a list of everything else I would like to acquire/update at some point in the new place (in order of urgency):

1. Free-standing closet/armoire. Our bedroom closet is teensy. Considering right now our clothes are spread out between two closets, we need a bit more storage.

2. A small dining table. I really like the IKEA Docksta tulip table, and I’ve seen it on Craigslist a few times, I just need to get back in the apartment an measure to make sure everything will fit. Really, though, is be fine with almost any small white table.

3. White kitchen pantry. We have a couple of these right now, but they’re a light wood color and they’re pretty banged up at this point. I’d like a white melamine version for the kitchen for a bit more storage.

4. Storage coffee table. This is the least urgent furniture need, though of course more storage is always helpful. I’d like either a Crate & Barrel Hunter Trunk (if I can find one on Craigslist…no way am I spending over $600 on a coffee table) or a white table with drawers.

5. White bedding. I will have a grown up bed if it kills me. Fortunately, Homegoods seems to have a few options at very reasonable prices.

6. White IKEA picture frames and lamps. Because it’s all in the details, right?

So, six-ish things. That’s not bad at all, right? It’s definitely easier setting up an apartment this time around, when I have a better idea what I like and how we live.

What’s next on your home shopping list? I know I can’t be the only one with one of these things…

1. Everything is rushed.

You would think that when you’re making a decision that will dramatically affect your life and finances for at least the next year of your life, it would be a decision you’d want to labor over for a bit.

WRONG.

When it comes to the New York City rental market, fortune favors the impulsivequick-thinking. Because odds are that if you even think you want that apartment, there are at least five other people who definitely want it. Like, yesterday.

2. There are too many and yet not enough options.

We all know I have problems with contentment. Which is why I have such a hard time being like, yes! This is the one. Because what if there’s a better/bigger/cheaper apartment out there? Or will be in a day or two? WHAT IF THIS IS A TERRIBLE MISTAKE?

You really can’t think like this. I know that, but it can be hard to remember sometimes. That’s when it’s helpful to remember that this is only a 1-year lease.

But even though there are always other fish in the seaapartments in Brooklyn, the aforementioned rushed atmosphere of the hunt can make you feel like maybe there just aren’t enough affordable good ones to go around.

3. Most brokers are the worst people you’ve ever met.

In the last week, I have encountered two “adults” whom I have wanted to punch in the face. We all know I have issues with people who don’t do their jobs, and when it comes to brokers, it drives me even crazier because they have zero motivation for not doing their jobs. You don’t get paid if I don’t get an apartment. Why are you so horrible?

That being said, there are some good brokers. It’s just hard to find the ones who straddle the line between lazy and pushy.

4. Everything is just so expensive.

I never dislike living in New York quite as much as when I’m looking for an apartment.

The other day, I typed what we’re looking to pay out here into a Des Moines Craigslist search, and guess what? I couldn’t even find an apartment over $900 a month. (My readers who live in New York will find that amusing. My Midwestern readers will probably to a spit-take and say, “You mean you can in New York?”)

The fact that I’m spending more on rent than a lot of people do on a mortgage is not lost on me. This I why I will never have a house in New York.

There are a bunch of other little reasons why I hate this process, but I think I’ve whined enough for now.

If you live in the NYC area and know of an apartment that’s opening up, give me a shout. I’ll be the one weeping as she scrolls through Street Easy listings.

I can’t believe I remembered to tell you guys about my coat but forgot to mention my actual big news.

Drumroll…

I PAID OFF MY CREDIT CARD DEBT.

(Like, a week ago. Woo!)

Those of you who have been around for a while know why a big deal this is to me. It has literally been my goal for a couple of years now. That’s crazy.

So anyway, it’s gone. I mean, I still have a car payment, but in my brain, that’s more like rent or a monthly subway pass. It’s going to be around for at least another year.

So anyway. Thanks to all the people who offered words of encouragement along the way. This was a big one, and I appreciated your virtual support more than you know.

Enough about me. What big goals have you guys accomplished lately?

Happy Monday, you gorgeous people.

Side note: I’m chalking it up as a success that I even know it’s Monday because last Friday as I was leaving the office, I turned to one of our editors and said, “See you tomorrow! …oh wait, I mean Monday.” And then I walked away and suddenly started to doubt what day it was. Would I see her tomorrow, and now she thought I was a total moron? I literally almost turned back three times to correct myself until it finally dawned on me that it was, in fact, Friday. I have no idea, you guys.

In other news and my mental lapse aside, things seem to be on the up-and-up for me. The LIRR is back to its normal schedule as of today. (I know, I never thought we’d see it either.) And the nagging pain in my left heel that has kept me from running the last couple of weeks finally seems to be subsiding. (Plus, I’ve been reminded of the butt-kicking abilities of the Stairmaster. Seriously, guys, there’s a reason why hardly anyone is ever on the thing. It’s hard.)

Plus, last night I booked my ticket to Vegas for a weekend with some of my oldest friends, meaning I will get to escape winter this February and hide in the desert.

Plus plus, in a freelance miracle, I received the check for the project I just finished less than a week after I turned it in (still waiting on the one that I’ve been owed for a couple of months…grumph), so I was able to pay off all but the last bit of my credit card debt. It’s kind of crazy to think it will all be paid off most likely before the Vegas trip. Yay!

So, en general, things are going well. We’re also starting to think about our move to Brooklyn this spring, which has me excited partly because it will mean the end of the LIRR and partly because it will mean a new apartment to decorate. (I am who I am, you guys.)

Plus, we will only be looking at dog-friendly apartments. So there’s that.

Some how this post turned into a State of Justine address, but I guess I just want you to know I’m doing all right.

How are you doing?