For months now I have been reading many many personal finance blogs, and I have learned so much. It seems as though there is a real swing towards frugality, saving, and reducing debt. I have been so inspired that I now have a plan of my own, and over the next few weeks will unfold it here.
Two popular discussion items in personal finance blogs are
1) Increasing income and
2) Reducing expenses
My personal plan is to start with item #2 and work my way into item #1.
How have I been reducing my expenses?
I have always been a shopper and my weaknesses are handbags and shoes. I have made several purges of my stash but it never seems to make a difference, I always have quite a selection of purses, shoes and boots to choose from. I have three or four pairs of sandals. I mean, c'mon, sandals?!
I began to observe that I would head to Winner's or other similar store at least a couple of times a month, usually when I was feeling stressed or especially after dropping my son off with his dad. I have also struggled with a pretty bad addiction to ebay, and I can spend hours scouring the listings for that obscure perfect item that would lift my spirits so temporarily. The last time I purchased a handbag on ebay was in the spring, after learning that I was to receive a rather generous income tax refund. Hey, I deserved it, right? I watched the bag for the duration of the listing, and when it ended, I told myself that I would buy it if it was re-listed. It was, and I did, and it felt good, but by the time the bag had arrived at my house the buzz was gone, and here was another blasted handbag! I felt silly enough this time around that I hung it on a hook, tag still on, and couldn't bring myself to use it for at least a couple of weeks. I couldn't even tell anyone that I had bought it. I was not proud. But I finally learned something, and I haven't purchased a handbag (or a pair of shoes) on ebay since.
However I am still as obsessed as ever but I now observe myself whenever I start staring at other people's bags and boots, and I don't beat myself up for it. In fact, a couple of times recently I have allowed myself to wander through the bag section at Winner's but found that I was picky enough about the selection that I didn't just walk out with anything because it was a great deal. I actually walked out with nothing, both times!
After purging two van loads of STUFF from my basement this summer, I finally realized how easy it is to accumulate when you have the space for it. One of the reasons why I'm looking forward to our big move to the little apartment is because it will keep me inspired to keep STUFF out of our space. This will save me a lot of money and make me use and appreciate what I already have.
I followed a common recommendation to track my spending for a few months. I did this for the first few months of 2008. I kept a spreadsheet in Excel, and a notebook and pen in my pocket. The best part about this exercise is that it made me really think about what I was doing with my money each day, and where it was really going. I learned that I spend about $15.00 a week on my coffee and muffin combo in the school cafeteria, and that I had replaced my handbag and shoe addiction with runs to the grocery store. It's so easy to spend a lot at the grocery store, especially when they sell so much more than groceries! I was going to the grocery store at least three times a week, and it was getting to be a little much. It took a few months but now I go once a week at the most, and only because there are some fresh things that we cannot live without, such as bananas, carrots, and fresh rice milk. I try to run in and out quickly and not dawdle in the candy or toy aisles.
My next food-related goal is to start cooking more in bulk and freezing the results, which is going to be a challenge in the new place because the fridge and freezer is way smaller than what we have now. I may look around on kijiji for a used deep freezer. This will be good, in fact in the past few weeks I have spent about half of what I normally spend on groceries because I have been forcing myself to use up what I already have. I already had a ton of rice and pasta in the cupboards, and three or four frozen baggies of pasta sauce in the freezer, which kept really well. The one time I went to the grocery store I picked up one of those cheap, pre-cooked chickens, which I somehow stretched out for several lunches and dinners, by stripping off the meat and boiling the bones to make a yummy soup (note of guilt: I was a vegetarian for several years, so it still freaks me out when I do this).
I have still not managed to kick my morning coffee and muffin habit at the cafeteria, but I have budgeted myself $20.00 a week to do whatever I want with. I can spend it all before Friday or I can save it for the weekend and go out for breakfast. It's my choice, and it's getting easier to make it.