Something strange happened to me yesterday.
A lull in my normally busy (and by “busy” I mean enough work to make it look like I’m doing a full day’s amount of work when really I spend at least a quarter of my day looking at pictures of cute puppies and watching Kitten Fail on a loop) has lead to an increase in both blog reading and online shopping/browsing (although apparently not writing my own blog posts; sorry, blog). I was $3.25 away from free shipping on Amazon, bound and determined to find that perfect item that I could justify as necessary and would push my cart over the $25 mark, when I looked at the items in my cart and realized… Nothing in there was absolutely necessary and pertinent to my immediate happiness, let alone worthy of my hard-earned paycheck money.
WHAT IS HAPPENEING TO ME?
Even more disturbing is this: a couple times a year there are those glorious months when us bi-weekly pay cycle drones are awarded 3 paychecks a month. While we aren’t getting any extra money, it feels like we are, because all of our bills for the month are paid with those first 2 paychecks and the third seems like Mad Money (as my mother would call it). My Mad Money paycheck has always gone toward a new Coach bag, because there is always a new season around the corner, and when else would I have the extra money without putting it on my AMEX, and they keep sending me these coupons for 20% off at the outlet, and how can you resist fine leather goods at nearly 70% off retail?!?!
… That is my irrational Princess brain. This is my rational Paycheck-to-Paycheck brain:
“You should pay off your credit card; how did you let it get this high again? That microwave from freshman year is on its last legs; how are you going to cook anything if that baby croaks? Oh, and have you seen your savings account lately? Really, what is $2.25 going to do for you in an emergency?”
Damn you, Paycheck brain. When did you karate-chop Princess brain in the throat and render her unconscious and unable to weigh in?
To satiate Paycheck brain, I have been really, really trying to do things to save money so maybe I won’t feel as guilty when the Leather Alexandra in Apple finally makes her way to the outlet (and seriously? Finding that link? Like a dagger in Princess’s heart…)
Saving money! Here are the things I do that you should do too!
Boyfriend and I have been working diligently to reduce our monthly cost of living, and the first place we thought of to do that was to do everything in our power to get our monthly bills lowered. Boyfriend talked the cable people down over $40 a month when he threatened to cancel our service (this is a fantastic tactic, people, but make sure you talk to someone in the cancellation department, or they will think you are bluffing). He also shopped around for better insurance rates, while I went through the harrowing process of refinancing our mortgage (rates are the lowest they have been in, like, 100 years! If you can refi, DO IT). If you’re like me, you have nothing better to do at work than shop for a better deal.
Make More Money!
Easier said than done, I know. But there are ways even the laziest of us can make more money.
Asking for it at work is always a viable option, but if you have little-to-no backbone like me, that is an issue.
Getting a second job is, again, not for everyone, but you would be surprised at what people will pay you to do when they have enough money to sit on their asses and pay lesser beings (i.e. you) to do for them. Like being outside? Find someone who will pay you to weed their garden in the middle of August. Able to stand whining and light physical abuse? Offer to babysit your neighbor’s kids (I guarantee they will be privy to the idea of a grown adult watching their newborn instead of the middle schooler down the block, and really? Little Cynthia gets a pretty robust allowance, and you shouldn’t feel poorly about taking business away from a twelve year old because she doesn’t know what it’s like to roll pennies so she can have toilet paper for the next five days. Come talk to me when you’re 22 and your parents have cut you off financially, Cynthia).
I was personally able to hang on to the contact information from a former client from my personal assisting days. Now, once every other week, I go to her house, open her mail, sort and pay her bills, and bring them to the post office. She pays me $60 for the visit, and sometimes I am only there for 30 minutes. Now, that is math that I can support!
Shop [for necessities] Smarter!
Blogs like Money Saving Mom (and pretty much every link on that blog) have ingrained in my (well, Paycheck’s) brain that paying retail is for chumps. In order to avoid paying regular prices on groceries and necessities, one must base one’s need on what is on sale during any given week. In the early stages, this involves going without shaving cream when you run out, or making a recipe without a bell pepper, because dammit, you are not paying $2 for one frikking pepper for one frikking recipe. Perfecting the art of meal planning was also a big step for Boyfriend and I. Along with your grocery-store-of-choice’s circular, there are plenty of meal-planning websites and great blogs about cooking cheaply and healthily that you can keep in your arsenal (Cheap Healthy Good is one of my favorites, and they link to plenty of other sites as well).
Meal planning used to be a complex theory, and dinner time used to go something like this:
Me: I’m hungry.
Boyfriend: What do you want to do about that?
Me: Eat something.
Boyfriend: Like what?
Me: I don’t know, can’t you just make me something?
Boyfriend: Well, we have peanut butter, Italian dressing and fruit snacks in the kitchen. Any ideas?
Me: Eff it, let’s just go get Thai food.
Thirty (yummy) dollars and 24 hours later, and we are back right where we started, with nothing edible in the house except condiments and chewy sugar, and then suddenly it’s nine o’clock, and the Thai Thai lady is eying us wearily as we pick up our #15 and #23, respectively, for the third night in a row.
It does get easier, and boy, does it feel good when everything on your receipt is listed with a coupon next to it, and you can actually afford your Thai addiction with the savings (but you won’t because that’s not the point, the point is to fund your Coach addiction. Try to keep up).
Get Free Stuff!
Coupons are like free money (at least that’s what Paycheck tries to tell me, but really the only way to get money is to make it, which is covered in Step #2). Free stuff is actually like free stuff. I love getting mail almost as much as I love shopping. And getting free products in the mail is like going shopping for free! (Almost. See how I have trained my brain to get excited over things that are not exciting? See Step #5) Shop 4 Freebies and Money Saving Mom have daily lists of free product offers, and Wal-Mart has a whole section on their website containing free crap. I received this Dove shampoo and conditioner sample from Costco, and I’m not even a member.
Sometimes these little envelopes of joy even come with some hefty coupons. And if you ever feel discouraged by the 4-to-6 week wait time, just sign up for more free crap! Do it regularly, and you will get more crap regularly! Easy math. Or something.
Entering contests is also a fun (sometimes entertaining, sometimes profitable) pastime. Some of the author blogs I read have giveaways very frequently (Chick Lit Is Not Dead always has books they are giving away), and the proof is in the free crap! I recently won a set of Mozaik Serving Bowls just for writing a comment about how I attempt to cook things.
Put Exclamation Points After Everything!
That is to say, make saving money more exciting than it actually is. Try to convince yourself that shopping, even grocery shopping with coupons, is still shopping. Make meal planning a game. Get excited to go out to the mailbox and check for your freebies.
One day, little frugalistas, you will be excited about the money you have saved.
And then you can splurge on a new Coach purse.
Because old habits die hard.