Category Archives: Frugality

How I’m Living Paycheck to Paycheck (Sort Of)

If you’ve checked out my portfolio or my goals, you may be a bit confused by this title. Clearly I’m not living in credit card debt, struggling to make payments each month, and I would be able to continue paying my bills for a year if I lost my job tomorrow (without having to raid retirement accounts).

So how am I even sort of living paycheck to paycheck? Because I’ve earmarked roughly 40% of my take home pay for savings, and every month, the day after pay day, that money disappears from my checking account and is automatically transferred into various savings vehicles. Beyond that, I sheepishly admit that I took on a car payment this year after my old car was totaled, and vowed to myself that I would significantly over-pay each month to get rid of the loan as quickly as possible. So I’ve also earmarked about 13% of my take home pay for the car payment, and I refuse to shrink that payment unless there’s a dire emergency. Rent and bills run around 20% of my take home pay, leaving about 27% for food, clothing, fuel costs, entertainment, gifts, charity, cat food, and any additional savings I can manage. The result is that I sometimes feel like I’m living paycheck to paycheck.

With 73% of my take home pay set aside for rent, bills, car payments, and savings, I’m forced to really think about every day-to-day purchase I make. If I spend more than 27% on these discretionary expenses, I either have to borrow money from my emergency fund, or make a smaller car payment that month, neither of which would make me very happy.

It really hit home for me last month. As many women can likely commiserate, it’s frigging hard to find a pair of jeans that fits really well. I’d been going for years with a closet full of ill-fitting jeans that rarely got updated because I hate shopping for jeans so very much. Finally my fiance convinced me that we were going to spend as much time as we needed going to a few stores and trying on every pair of jeans that might look good, and we were going to completely re-fill my closet with jeans that actually fit. I was cranky and complainy for most of the day, but finally when we went to JC Penney we hit the mother lode. I found a whopping six pairs of jeans that looked great on me, so I bought all of them and donated every single pair of jeans that was previously in my closet to Goodwill. I knew that with my aggressive savings and car payment, buying six pairs of jeans would require sacrifice for the rest of the month, and I still might not quite make it in under budget. As the month dragged on, I wasn’t very good at saying “no” when my theatre friends wanted to go out for drinks after weekend performances, and those discretionary purchases kept adding up. By the end of the month, I realized I failed. I was $50 over budget. I had to borrow $50 from my emergency fund to pay my credit card bill.

Let that sink in for a second. I had to borrow $50 from my emergency fund to pay my credit card bill. That’s something someone living paycheck to paycheck says, not a financially savvy saver with her sights set on financial independence. By automatically transferring a large portion of my paycheck into savings, and not allowing myself to ever fall short on my rent, bills and car over-payment plan, I’ve created an artificial paycheck to paycheck mentality for myself. Though I didn’t intend this when I set up my automatic savings, the end result is that because I never see the money, I sometimes forget that I’m saving at all. So when I use up my entire discretionary budget, it feels like I haven’t saved anything. It feels like I spent more than I earned.

This is the magic of automated savings. You don’t see the money, so you forget you have it. You learn to live on less, and when you push the limits of that budget, you motivate yourself to save even more money. If you haven’t automated your savings yet, do it now!

The Joy of Slow Cooking

My fiance and I both love to cook, but we’re a bit hindered by our teeny tiny kitchen. The desk I’m currently sitting at to write this has about as much “counter” space as we have in the kitchen. When we buy a house, the kitchen will be one of the most important considerations. But for now, we’re happy to live in our extremely low rent house, even if that means we have to sacrifice the kitchen. In addition to a complete lack of counter space, we’re also running low on storage space to keep our appliances while they’re not in use. So it was with much consideration that we decided to add to our fleet of appliances with a slow cooker.

A slow cooker is the best friend of someone who has little kitchen space, little time to cook, and is on a budget. Though many slow cooker recipe books will instruct you to do copious amounts of prep work, you can usually get the same great flavors, or close to them, with absolutely no prep work, meaning you have fewer dishes, and spend less time cooking. Take for instance the delicious corned beef brisket I made last week: the only utensils I used besides the slow cooker were a cutting board, a knife, and a measuring cup (which was only used to transfer tap water into the slow cooker). I prepared the ingredients in about 10 minutes prior to leaving for work. Cut an onion into 4 pieces, halve a few potatoes, chop up celery and carrots into large pieces, put them all into the slow cooker with the corned beef, pour water in, and set to cook for 8 hours while I’m off at work. It was the easiest meal I’ve ever made, and absolutely delicious. .

So it’s easy, a huge time saver, and doesn’t create a lot of dishes. But I also said a slow cooker was great for people on a budget. That’s because slow cookers allow you to turn the cheap cuts of meat into tender deliciousness. If you’re like me, you’d love to have a steak for dinner every night. But since I’ve got my sights set on financial freedom, it would be foolish of me to spend so much money on meat. If you pan sear or broil a steak, you’re cooking it so quickly that the fat doesn’t have sufficient time to melt into the meat, and the meat may remain tough. That’s why you need high quality cuts of beef if you’re going to cook them quickly. But when you leave it in a slow cooker for 8 hours, the fat has plenty of time to melt, and the cooking environment is moist, so even a tough piece of meat will come out tender and juicy. You can often purchase a 4 pound piece of chuck, shoulder, or brisket for well under $20, and make upwards of 8 meals out of it.

If you have not yet tried out a slow cooker, I highly recommend it. In fact, I’ve only found one down side to it: as someone who enjoys cooking, I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment or pride serving food that came out of the slow cooker as I do when I slaved for hours in the kitchen.

I Have a Personal Negotiator

I’m terrible at negotiating. Awful. I lack whatever gene gives people the ability to haggle. Fortunately, my fiance has the gene and employs it quite frequently. He has the magical ability to make sales reps give him whatever he wants. When one of the TV channels we like to watch disappeared one day, he called up DirecTV and got the channel back, and lowered our cable bill while he was at it. When he got rear-ended on the freeway, he managed to double the initial settlement offer he received from Geico. He manages the company phone plan with AT&T for his work, and has negotiated lower costs and often gets employees discounted device upgrades.
While I still leave all the negotiating to him, I have picked up several tidbits that could help others improve their negotiating skills.

Know What to Ask for
Do your research first. If you ask for too much, you might wind up with nothing, if you ask for too little, you’re selling yourself short. When he was negotiating with Geico for his medical/pain and suffering settlement, my fiance did a lot of research to find out how much was a reasonable amount to ask for. He visited a lot of forums online and asked his chiropractor for advice. By hearing how much other people were able to get for similar injuries and based on the recommendations of a licensed professional, he was armed with the knowledge he needed to enter negotiations. He knew he’d have to go through a few rounds of negotiations, so his first counter-offer was a little higher than the max he thought he’d be able to get. After a few rounds of negotiating he wound up with double Geico’s initial offer, and right in the ballpark of some of the higher settlements people reported online.

Be Prepared to Walk Away
My fiance’s first rule when it comes to negotiating is to always be prepared to walk away if you don’t get the offer you want. If you’ve done your research and know how much money you should be paying for something, why would you let a salesperson talk you into paying more? Salespeople want to sell you at the highest price possible, but they’d rather make a sale at a lower price point than wind up empty-handed. Make it clear to the salesperson that you have no attachment to the particular item, their brand, etc. and that you have no problem leaving the store without having purchased anything. That will get their attention.

Ask to Talk to a Manager
Very often, you might be negotiating with someone who doesn’t have the authority to give you the deal you want. Salespeople are generally given a certain amount of wiggle room for negotiations, but they’re not the ones who are going to be able to sign off on a big discount. And when it comes to things like dealing with claims adjusters for insurance companies or the call center for cable, phone or internet companies, you’re likely talking to a low-level salesperson who has very little flexibility. Their managers will always have more authority to give a bigger discount, so don’t waste your time talking to someone who isn’t able to give you what you want.

And finally, here’s a piece of advice from little ol’ me:

Bring Proof
If you looked up the car you want to buy on Kelley Blue Book, saw what other people paid for an item on a message board, or received advice from a licensed professional on how big your settlement should be, print it out and bring it with you, or if you’re negotiating over the phone, insist on emailing the documentation to them. Even if you’re as terrible at negotiating as I am, you can always point to the proof and say “this is how much you charged this other person last week. I want the same price.”

Get Fit on a Budget

Going to the gym can have many great benefits, but chances are you’d be just as successful with your fitness goals at home, and for a lot less money. Your gym has plenty of exercise equipment, and might even offer group classes, but is all that really necessary? Next time you go to the gym, take a look at the people working out with personal trainers. How much time do they spend using the fancy exercise equipment? Practically none. They spend the majority of their sessions using free weights, resistance bands, exercise balls, and step boxes. All things you can buy at your local sporting goods store, amazon.com, eBay, or Craigs List. And then there are the classes. Part of your membership fee goes toward providing these classes, so if you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re paying for services you’re not using. And if you are taking classes, ask yourself what about the class motivates you. Is it the particular instructor? The group setting? The fact that it’s a recurring, scheduled routine? With just a little extra motivation, you can get all these things at home for a small cost, or even for free.


Free Forms of Exercise
There are a number of exercises you can do at home for absolutely no money. For cardio you can go for a run or a bike ride, put on a CD and dance around your house, or run up and down your stairs. To build muscle, do push ups, sit ups, planks, and squats. If you don’t own any weights, pick up a heavy book, a sturdy table lamp, anything at all!

Bring the Instructor Home
There are a ton of exercise videos out there, so it’s just a matter of finding a few that you like. If you have a Netflix account, you can get exercise videos through them. P90X and Insanity are very popular right now, so chances are you know someone who owns the DVDs and would be happy to burn a copy for you (that’s how my fiance and I got P90X for free). You won’t like every workout video or every instructor, so try out several until you find a few you enjoy doing. Another thing to note is that many videos will suggest that you buy a few pieces of exercise equipment. You may want to go out and get a couple dumbbells, but you usually don’t need everything they suggest. For instance, P90X suggests you buy this silly little push up stand that lets you get about an inch lower on your push ups, but it’s completely unnecessary in my opinion.

Find a Group
We all know that working out by yourself can be difficult. When the workout gets too hard, you’re tempted to quit because nobody’s there to push you to keep going. Find someone else who is committed to an exercise routine so you can’t skip a workout just because you don’t feel like it. If you’ve agreed that you’re working out every day from 7-8pm, there’s no backing out. If you like to run or bike, a lot of sporting goods stores organize weekly runs/bikes, which is a great way to meet new people who share your passion for exercise and will push you to improve. If you live near a park, pay attention to see if there are groups playing sports there. If you see a group, approach them and ask if you could join their game on a regular basis.

Keep Yourself Accountable
There are a number of online communities where you can find support and encouragement from others with the same goals as you, as well as set goals and track your progress. I belong to myfitnesspal.com, which provides a number of tools for people trying to lose weight. I can set my daily calorie target and log calories eaten and calories burned through exercise. It has a vast database of foods, so you can just search for a food and it will fill in all the nutritional information. Similarly with exercise (but only for cardio as far as I can tell), you can enter what type of exercise you did, at what speed/intensity, and for how long, and it will estimate how many calories you burned. In addition to all that, there is a huge community where you can connect with others. On the message boards, you’ll find people asking and answering questions, sharing inspirational stories, organizing weekly check ins, and creating groups for people with similar goals. If you don’t have an exercise buddy or support network in the “real world,” an online community is a great option.

When a Deal is Not a Deal

If you’re like me, you love getting great deals and using coupons for all your purchases. But all too often, people end up spending more money by using coupons and taking advantage of deals. After all, if offering discounts and coupons didn’t make stores money, they wouldn’t do it! So how do you know if a deal is saving you money or costing you money? There really is just one golden rule that encompasses all the different “deals” I’ll talk about: if you weren’t already planning on purchasing the item, buying it with a coupon or discount is costing you money.



Pretty simple, isn’t it? The reason stores offer you deals is to get you in the door. They know that a lot of people only come in because they heard about the deal, and they know that many of those people will end up buying more items than just the one on sale. Keeping the golden rule in mind, here are a few other “deals” that should raise red flags:

Buy one, get one half off - were you already planning on buying even one of the item? If not, then why on earth would getting a second one for half off be a deal? And if you were planning on buying one, do you actually need a second one? If you only need one of an item, and there is a buy one, get one half off sale, DO NOT buy a second one!

$1 off when you buy 3 - I see this one at grocery stores a lot. I always have to chuckle a little bit when the item is priced at something like $5, so you would need to spend an extra $10 to get $1 off. Another rendition of this one is 10 for $10. These are like the buy one, get one half off deal on steroids. From my experience, it seems that these deals are usually offered on items that people often do buy several of at a time. They’re also typically for items with a very low price point. The combination of these two factors means that it’s incredibly easy to convince people to buy enough to get the deal. But the problem with these deals is that all too often they’re on perishable items, so if you buy more than you need, you’ll end up throwing some of them away when they go bad. If you can’t use 10 avocados before they go bad, forgo the deal and only buy what you can use (unless of course you only want, say 7 avocados for $1.50 each, in which case getting the extra 3 would save you $0.50; always do the math). These can be good deals on non-perishable items though, and you’ll sometimes see them for canned soup or veggies. If they won’t go bad and you know you’ll use them, go for it.

Get a 20% off coupon to use on your next purchase - this is the classic tactic to try and make you a regular visitor of the store. You usually don’t see these advertised (though I have a few times), rather they are typically given to you at checkout after you’ve just purchased something. The problem with these deals is that they often have an expiration date set in the very near future. If you just bought, say a pair of shoes, are you really going to need to buy another pair of shoes in the next month? While I’ve never tried this myself, you could always go back the next day, return the items you purchased, wait until they’re re-stocked, and then re-purchase them using your 20% off coupon. Now THAT’S the way to take advantage of a deal!

Gift Giving Tips

With the holidays fast approaching, people are about to amp up spending. We give gifts for a few reasons. First, it feels great to give gifts to the people we love. We see the smiles on their faces when they open their presents and we know that we put those smiles there. But giving gifts has also become expected in our culture. Often we don’t buy gifts for the joy of giving something to a loved one, we buy them because we feel obligated to, because we’re afraid that not giving a gift will reflect poorly on us. And boy are there a lot of occasions where gift-giving has become obligatory. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and graduations to name a few. But what do you do when you’re practicing a frugal lifestyle, or worse, trying to get out of debt? It’s my personal belief that if you’re in debt, you shouldn’t be giving anything more than a card, but I know very few people would heed that advice, so let’s try for some more practical advice.

After the jump, some occasion-specific tactics for gifting on a budget.

Christmas
If your family or a group of friends usually exchanges gifts for Christmas, suggest doing Secret Santa. In a large group, you can save tons of money just buying a gift for one person instead of buying gifts for everyone. You can take it a step further by putting a cap on how much the gift can cost.

Birthdays
If you have a talent for baking, a tin of cookies is always an acceptable gift. In fact, it’s an acceptable gift for nearly any occasion on this list. If you don’t have a talent for baking, you probably know someone who does who would be happy to whip up a tin of cookies for the cost of the ingredients plus a few bucks.

Weddings
You probably can’t swing a tin of cookies as a wedding gift, but you can certainly offer your talents as a wedding gift. If you’re a baker, you could offer to make a cake (even if you can’t do a wedding cake, a lot of people have a second cake, or a “groom’s cake” nowadays). If you’re a great photographer, you could offer to take the engagement photos. If you have a knack for design, you could create the centerpieces. My fiance and I are thinking of asking one of our friends to choreograph our first dance for us since we want to do something special.

If you’re already spending money on travel to get to the wedding, you can politely tell the bride and groom that you don’t have it in your budget to also get them a gift. Most brides and grooms should be understanding of this. But don’t forget to get them a card!

Anniversaries
You and your partner should be on the same page when it comes to finances, and anniversary gifts are no exception. If you’re working to get out of debt or just saving every extra penny for the future, agree to a spending limit on anniversary gifts. Anniversaries are supposed to be about reflecting on the time you’ve spent with your partner and basking in each other’s love anyway, so as long as you can find a way to show your partner that you love him/her, that’s all that really matters. You could get a picture of the two of you framed, have a picnic somewhere romantic, visit the place you first met each other, something inexpensive that has special meaning to you. This is probably the occasion where people have the greatest desire to splurge, so if you really want to spend the money to do something extra special, treat it as you would any other big purchase – budget for it well in advance.

Here’s a rule of thumb inspired by a couple of my friends: if you’re still paying off the engagement ring by the time you get to your first anniversary, you may not buy her another piece of jewelry.

Graduations
Depending on what the person is graduating from, there are plenty of inexpensive, but thoughtful, options. If it’s a high school graduate, they’ll be excited to get anything. Give them a $20 gift certificate to Applebee’s and they’ll probably be happy. For a college grad, you can get them something useful, like a book on how to ace an interview, or a simple cook book. In general, I don’t think most graduates see their graduation as a day to collect gifts, they’re just happy to be done with school and ready to move onto the next chapter of their lives. They’ll be happy to get nice gifts, but they won’t be upset if you get them something small, or even just a card.

If this just isn’t your style and you like going big on gifts, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as you’re not in debt. But you absolutely must work your gifts into your budget. Make a separate savings account specifically for gift giving and put a little bit of money into it each month. You could sacrifice some of your wants for a few months to save up the extra money, but don’t sacrifice contributions to your emergency fund, retirement accounts, children’s college fund, or down payment fund. Those things are all more important than a gift.

The Importance of Reevaluating

I still have my fair share of unfrugal habits. For instance, I watch (and pay for) TV, I drive 20 miles to and from work every day, and I sometimes go out for food because it’s more convenient than cooking. But these are conscious decisions I’ve made. For the past year or so, I’ve prided myself in my mastery of conscious spending. That is, until I realized yesterday that I missed something.

It all started on Tuesday when our weekly bundle of grocery store coupons came in the mail. My grocery store was running their “5 for $25″ special on meat, where you can get any 5 specially marked meats and pay $25, with each additional item being $5 as well. My fiance and I are huge meat lovers, so whenever they run this special, I go to the store as soon as the deal starts so I can have the best selection and of course choose the most expensive pieces of meat to get the best deal. (I scored a couple packages that were marked at over $9!)

The booklet had many other deals in it, including a coupon for a free bottle of Vo5 shampoo and conditioner. I was running low on shampoo and conditioner, and even though I don’t typically use Vo5, I wasn’t going to let a free bottle of shampoo and conditioner go unclaimed.

I’ve been using Pantene for at least 8 years. If you asked me why, I’d tell you it’s because I like how it makes my hair look and feel. But the truth is, I haven’t even tried most brands of shampoo and conditioner. When it comes right down to it, I buy Pantene out of habit, not because I’ve tried several brands and liked Pantene the best.

When I got to the hair care aisle, I went straight to the Vo5 and picked up a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of conditioner, paying no attention to price – it’s free after all, why should I care about price? As the check out woman scanned my items and I watched all the discounts ring up, I was feeling pretty good about myself… until the Vo5 rang up. $1.09 each was the original price. My initial reaction was a surprising one – “it figures they’d give you a coupon for the cheap stuff.” I caught myself. Here was an area that I hadn’t even considered before. I still had expensive taste in shampoo and conditioner.

I always buy the big bottles of Pantene, which are 25.4 oz and cost $6.99. The Vo5 bottles were 15 oz and cost only $1.09. That comes out to a difference of $0.20 per ounce. I haven’t tried the Vo5 products yet, and perhaps I’ll hate them and never buy them again. But what I will do is look for other options and break my habit of buying expensive hair products just because I’ve gotten used to them.

Moral of the story: once you think you’ve gotten control of your spending, don’t become complacent. There may be certain items you overlooked, certain things you think are important to you just because you’ve been using them for so long. You don’t have to give up all your unfrugal habits, but always look at the price of every single purchase you make, you may be surprised to discover how much money you could be saving.

How Did We Wind Up Here?

After reading the stories of many other personal finance bloggers, I’ve come to a conclusion: it doesn’t matter how much money your family had while you were growing up; we all start our adult lives as financially illiterate idiots.

We all make mistakes when we first start out on our own. If you’re lucky, you learn quickly how damaging those mistakes can be. If not, you may wake up at 50 with no retirement savings and $40k in credit card debt. My moment of clarity came by accident. I had recently moved in with my fiance, which meant my rent was cut in half and I spent most of my time (and meals) at home instead of going out with friends. I previously hadn’t paid any attention to my finances and thought it was exciting when I had an extra couple hundred bucks left over after paying all my bills, so it was quite the shock when I saw that I had $1000 left over from my first paycheck post move-in. I was excited, but I thought it must just be a fluke. Until next month when the same thing happened. That was the moment I realized I had total control over my finances.

But how did I wind up so oblivious in the first place? Mine is the story of an upper-middle class upbringing. My parents built a comfortable life for our family by being very frugal… just not when it came to raising kids. They practically never bought new furniture, appliances, clothing, or cars, and our vacations were usually driving to visit relatives for a few days. But when I wanted to take dance classes, they signed me up. When I wanted to take voice lessons, they signed me up. When I wanted to go to summer camp, they signed me up. I never heard “no.” It helped that most of the things I asked for were things they considered worthwhile, but I was certainly given a sizable amount of “going out” money too. So I learned that if I wanted something, I could have it.

My parents did teach me that it was important to never buy something you can’t afford, and that you must pay your credit card bill in full every month, but they never taught me (or more likely I was rolling my eyes back when they tried to teach me) that it’s important to live well below your means. So when I started earning my own money, I thought that as long as I could pay all my bills every month, I was doing great. And the fact that I was paying my bills while managing to put a whopping 5% of my salary into a 401k was amazing! (Sadly, I think that compared to many Americans, that is amazing.)

Realizing that you’re in complete control of your finances is a life changing event. When I met my fiance, I wasn’t sure if I wanted children. “I’m too selfish to have children” I thought. But when I saw that I could save $1000/month with no real effort, I realized it wasn’t that I was too selfish to have children, I was too irresponsible! Suddenly my future became much clearer. A house and a family were possible. Putting 15% of my salary into my 401k was possible. Being a stay-at-home mom was possible. Early retirement was possible. Over the past 18 months, I’ve slowly increased my savings from that initial $1000/month. I’ve set goals for myself that two years ago would have seemed impossible. I found my way out of the financial mess that so many of my peers are still in.

So how can we raise our children to avoid these mistakes, or at least to learn from them quickly? Does it matter how much money we have, or just how we treat it? Should we give them an explicit education, or teach by example? Should we, like my parents, strive to provide everything we can for our children, or should we withhold somewhat from them so they learn that you can’t always get everything you want?

Considering Relocating

My fiance and I have been living in a dream world for the past week. I don’t remember which of us first brought it up or why, but we got the idea into our heads of moving to a new location. Our two nominees are Portland and the Denver area. We’ve spent all week on www.zillow.com looking at gorgeous houses sitting on quarter acre plots of land that cost half of what a one bedroom condo would cost us here in the Bay Area. We’ve been wondering why anyone would be willing to pay the steep price to live here. Is the Bay Area really so much better than Portland or Denver that the houses should cost three times as much?

With all big decisions in life, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. There’s more to this decision than just housing costs, but I can’t deny that that’s a huge factor.


Housing

We started aggressively saving for a down payment on a house this year, so even though it will be some time before we can afford to buy one, it’s on our minds quite frequently. At current prices, a small house in a decent, safe neighborhood that’s not too terribly far from our work would be about $500K. That means we’d need to save up $100K. At our current savings rate, that would take about 8 years. And in 8 years, who knows what the houses around here will cost! But in Portland or Denver, we could get a bigger house, on a much bigger plot of land, for around $250K. We’ll be in a position to buy a $250K house in 4 years at our current savings rate. And we’d have a much smaller mortgage to pay off. When it comes to housing, the Bay Area is the clear loser.

Family

This is the tough one. My fiance’s entire family lives in the Bay Area, I have two brothers in the area and my parents are about to retire to the Bay Area, so we’d be moving away from our whole family. This is why we’ve been thinking about Portland and Denver – at least they’re relatively short and cheap flights away, so we could visit a lot. But it’s still a big deterrent to moving.
On the other hand, we’d like to start a family of our own, and I want very badly to be a stay-at-home mom. There is simply no way we can do that in the Bay Area. Paying for a $500K house and saving for retirement, children’s college, etc. means that we’ll need two incomes. Slashing that housing cost in half means that I could at the very least cut back to part time when we have kids, and possibly stop working entirely.
As I said, this is a tough call. Moving would mean leaving our family, but it would also mean we could start our own family without worrying as much about money.

Job Opportunities

I have a great job here, and my fiance has a decent one. Neither of us have a great deal of career ambition though – we’re not looking to climb the ladder to the top, we just want to make enough money to support ourselves and save for the future without taking on an inordinate amount of stress. To be cliche, we work to live, we don’t live to work. We’ve both gotten pretty comfortable in our jobs, so looking for new ones – and wondering if we’ll find any – is a little scary.
There is the possibility that I would be able to keep my current job and work remotely, but it’s not an option for my fiance. But if I could swing it, it means I would be able to continue working for a year or so until he gets set in a new job. His new job may pay slightly less than he’s earning now, but the difference in pay is nothing compared to the difference in housing prices.

Culture

We have an incredible amount of cultural diversity in the Bay Area. Whatever we want to do/eat/see, we can. I can’t imagine that Portland and Denver are devoid of culture, but it will definitely require a lengthy visit to each location to determine for sure. It is also a requirement that anywhere we move would have good community theatre, as I love performing.

Religion

As a non-practicing Jew, it’s not crucial that I live in a community with a large Jewish population, but it is crucial that I don’t live in a community with a lot of evangelical Christians. There’s a pretty good mix of religions in the Bay Area, so I don’t feel suffocated by any one religious group, and I’m mostly able to avoid contact with any hyper-religious people. From what I can tell, Portland would be a similar situation, but there are several suburbs near Denver that may be too religious for me.

Politics

I’m a die-hard liberal. My fiance is much more moderate than I am, and tends to dislike all politicians regardless of party affiliation. I can deal with a healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans, but if my neighbors are all pro-lifers who still believe that Obama is Muslim, we’ve got an issue.
So there you have it, those are a lot of variables to weigh. As my down payment fund continues to grow, these considerations will creep to the forefront of my mind and become a frequent topic of conversation between me and my fiance. From a financial standpoint, moving to a cheaper location seems to be a no-brainer. It’s all the other factors that make the decision a lot harder.

Friends and Finances – The Frugalist

Did you have an awesome time? Did you drink awesome shooters, listen to awesome music, and then just sit around and soak up each others’ awesomeness?” Why yes, yes we did. Well, not drink awesome shooters and listen to awesome music necessarily, but we definitely soaked up each others’ awesomeness. That’s a quote from Mean Girls, but applicable here in a way completely unrelated to its context in the movie. It’s how I feel when I hang out with my frugal friends. 

How can you not bask in your awesomeness when you spend a girls’ night in playing board games and gabbing instead of going to an overpriced club? Or when you turn an otherwise pricey activity like going to the movies into a frugal night at the drive-in? When two or more Frugalists get together, it’s hard to ignore the fact that you’re just plain awesome.

I’m preaching to the choir here, I know. But just because we’re all awesome, there’s no reason we should become complacent – it’s always possible to be even more awesome. With your friend the Spender, you feel the urge to help guide her toward frugality, but with your friend the Frugalist, you’re on the same wavelength when it comes to money, so you may not feel the need to talk about it. It’s not a discussion of whether you should go out to a fancy restaurant or stay in and cook dinner – you both know where you’re going to end up eating dinner. So how can we be better?


Though we all strive to be as financially responsible as possible, we all have certain areas where we’re not doing everything we could. We also all have strong points though, and as we learn where our friends’ (and our own) weaknesses and strengths are, we can help learn from our friends’ strengths and use our own strengths to advise our friends.

Take my friend Sarah. She has strengths where I have weaknesses and I have strengths where she has weaknesses. One of my weaknesses is that I eat too fast, which means I eat too much, and that’s bad for both my health and my wallet. Sarah is the slowest eater I know. By simply eating so slowly, she recognizes when she’s full before she’s finished her whole plate. I have never seen Sarah not stretch one plate of food into two meals. When we eat together, I try to match her pace, and I always end up eating less and having leftovers. Thanks, Sarah! (But now to figure out how to remind myself to do this even when Sarah’s not around…)

One of my strengths is my housing situation, and it’s one of Sarah’s weaknesses. Granted, my extremely low rent ($500/month in the Bay Area) is due to my fiance’s frugality,* but even before I met my fiance I always made sure my rent was under $1000/month. Whether that meant sharing a house with 4 other people or finding an off-the-beaten-path apartment complex, I have always looked for the best deal possible on rent. Sarah’s rent is somewhere around $1600/month for her one bedroom apartment. It’s the one area where she is decidedly unfrugal (though that is a very typical rent for where we live). Her lease will be up soon, so we’re talking about how she can improve her housing situation. Some suggestions are to move to a neighborhood that is farther away from the ridiculously expensive city where she works, but closer to a freeway so her commute time would remain about the same, or to downsize from a one bedroom to a studio.

When you really start to get to know your friends and become close enough that you can talk about financial matters, use each other’s strengths as examples to shoot for and use your own strengths to advise your friends in areas where they may not be as frugal. And if you’re both just so perfect that there’s no way to increase your awesomeness, challenge each other to improve your health, get better results at work, or help your community. When two awesome people get together, good things can happen.

*My fiance has rented the same 3 bedroom house for about 15 years (he’s a bit older, in case you were wondering), and the house is in total disrepair due to the owner’s refusal to spend any money fixing the driveway, getting new carpets, re-shingling the roof, etc. The owner knows she would have a hard time renting the house out to anyone in its current condition, so my fiance took advantage of the situation and negotiated a lower rent, which we split down the middle.