Damn Economy

{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.

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?