Monday, April 13, 2009

The Frugality vs. Living Balance

As a few of you know, this fall will find me heading back to school. Which means that Bill and I will go from living on a paltry non-profit salary and a meager grad student fellowship to a meager grad fellowship and an even-more-meager grad student fellowship. In a very expensive city.

So, I am thinking hard about what cuts I can make, especially now that I still have a steady income (knock on wood) that covers my basic needs with room for a (very) little extra. I consider myself a fairly thrifty person. I am an awesome budget shopper, at least when it comes to clothes (seriously, I dare you to find someone better), but I've become that way mainly to compensate for my recreational shopping habit. So yes, I rarely spend more than $15 on shoes, but I spend that $15 a lot more than I should.

I am a value-conscious grocery shopper, but I admit that I will spend a few extra dollars on some cheeses that perhaps don't belong in the refrigerator of someone with my means. In general, I feel proud of my financial acumen-- after all, I don't have credit card debt, I've never defaulted on my student loans, and I contribute to my 401k (although so far that hasn't paid off).

However, I like to eat out, have a few drinks, go shopping, travel, go to events, take yoga classes, etc. I took a financially ill-advised but unforgettable trip to Peru last year (that I paid off a few months later). I don't really want to give up those experiences, but I do think it's time I figure out a way to manage my spending and cut it back.

I'm not sure how I want to manage that-- I think a more strict budget is in order. I'm toying with the idea of moving to a cash-based existence-- maybe ditch the credit/debit cards-- and give myself a weekly cash allowance? I love my credit card rewards but I think might be a good idea to get out of the habit of charging all of my groceries (even if I pay the bill in full). I have to say, the idea of rejecting dinner or drinks with a friend because it doesn't fit into my budget seems like a strange and horrible concept, but I think it's the only way I can get through the next two years.

Infrequent readers, how do you budget?


Peach Pit said...

First: congrats on going back to school(!!!) This is super exciting.

It seems you and I have similar shopping habits, re: bargain clothes and unnecessary cheeses. Grad school has forced me to get creatively thrifty, and here are a few of my favorite tricks:

1) Re: going out: I have to admit, I've stopped going out (to the bar) as often as I did when I first got here. MA doesn't have drink specials (they are evidently against the law?), which has a lot to do with this trend. Also, my trying to get in shape has a lot to do with this trend. But, re: restaurants, I've discovered the joy of tapas! Also, my pals and I will cook together now, rather than strictly going out. I like this option because 1) it is far less expensive than going out; 2) it's also healthier; 3) I've gotten a lot of good recipes in this way.

2) Re: shopping! I still do [frequently] splurge on accessories and $15 shoes - but only after I've paid my other bills for the month. That, or just estimated other bills for the month. Also, I tend to splurge when I get coupons/certificates from BR, Gap, and so on - couple these with sales/other discounts, and you're golden.

Also, I tend to plan my grocery trips around what's on sale and what's in season - has a list of cheapest produce by month, which comes in handy. Also: beans and rice. Lots of beans and rice.

Hope this is helpful...because damn, it is long.

ruth said...

I am totally with you on the seasonal produce-- it's so convenient that generally what is cheapest is also what is in season!

I do really need to get back in the habit of socializing at home. For whatever reason, moving to LA really killed that. Like everything else, traffic is probably to blame. But you are SO right, it is really much more financially prudent than going out and has the added bonus of forcing me to keep my apartment cleaner. Something I should really be doing instead of wandering TJ Maxx on Sunday afternoons...

Peach Pit said...

O, man: wandering TJ Maxx on Sunday afternoons is so fun...