January in Review

I know I’ve been kind of silent the past few days, but the day job has been slowly sucking the life out of me. Luckily, being so busy means that I don’t have time to be too impulsive with my purchases! Still, money was spent in the past two days on coffee and tipping a bartender (the drinks were free!).

Weekly Allowance: $60.00
Weekly Allowance Remaining: $46.84

Now, today is the last day of January, which means my first month of this challenge is done!

Total in Money Jar: $62.08

In my last post, I mentioned how I had to tap into my money jar and spend a good chunk of it on my fiance’s birthday dinner. Hopefully I’ll be back over the $100 mark by the end of this week so I can continue saving up for those rainy-day, surprising things that just happen to come up once in a while. (Stupid birthdays! Whose idea was this!? 😀 ) But, for the first month, I think I’ve done quite well; however, there are some things I really want to work on for February.

  • I want to explore couponing a bit more. This is tricky because my fiance is responsible for our grocery shopping trips, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help him, right?
  • I want to share with you guys the details of how I do things for free in Boston. (I’ve done this once or twice already, but I really ought to expand on this!) This is an expensive city and yet we have ways of getting free things: parking, drinks, food, etc.
  • I should talk more about my and my fiance’s goals a bit more. We’re not very knowledgeable in things like buying a home, getting a loan, etc. yet we’re going to have to learn in the upcoming months how to do so! As we learn, I hope that you’ll learn.
  • I want to start selling unwanted things so I can have more money in my jar while reducing the clutter in our apartment.

A couple of things that are going to be coming up in February that can affect me financially:

  • A few parties (Super Bowl, etc.) will be happening early in the month.
  • There’s a high chance I will be traveling to China for business in mid-February.
  • My father’s birthday is coming up and odds are I will have to pay for dinner and a gift.

That’s about it! Thanks for sticking around, and I hope you continue throughout February!

One month down, eleven to go…

J

Advertisements

Tipping on a budget.

For one summer in high school, I worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts / Baskin Robbins (affectionately referred to as “Dunkin’ Robbins” by anyone who has ever worked at such a place). It may not be as long as some folks have worked in food, but I still learned something that summer: tips are amazing, and those who don’t give them are assholes. I also learned that if your Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t have a bakery in it, you’re probably getting day-old (at least!) donuts and bagels. Oh! And, never ever have them spread the cream cheese on your bagel for you – do it yourself. Trust me.

Uh… anyway… back to tipping!

A friend and I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts on my way home from our knitting meetup last night because I was really hungry and cold. One latte order later, and I was rang up: $3 and change. I’d ordered the latte becauase it was on sale for 99 cents if you order one after 2pm. I corrected her, she apologized, and I got it for 99 cents… plus 7 cents tax. Being on a budget, I wanted all of my coins – all 94 cents of it – in my own pocket. I need it! I only have so much! But, realizing it’s after 10pm on a federal holiday and this woman is working alone in a Dunkin Donuts made me stop and think.

Summer of 2003, there was a huge freaking black-out in the northeastern United States, including my hometown. I was working at “Dunkin’ Robbins” that day and the witch-like wife of my boss was supervising us. The power went out, yet she still forced us to work. There was a carnival across the street at the time, and once the power ran out and the generators ran out of gas, everyone from the carnival bombarded us with demands of iced coffee and ice cream. (Mind you, this was way before Dunkin’ Donuts got fancy. It was simple: coffee, bagels, donuts, breakfast sandwiches. On my last day of work, actually, they were installing our first latte machine. I sure got out just in time!)

A line of pissed off, heat exhausted families with equally pissed off, heat-exhausted kids took over our dark store. Our witch of a supervisor was yelling at us, “DON’T YOU DARE OPEN A REFRIGERATOR OR FREEZER OR THE ICE CREAM WILL MELT! TURN EVERYONE AROUND WHO NEEDS ICE CREAM! JUST SERVE COFFEE!” The biggest problem, however, wasn’t that the ice for the iced coffee was melting, or that the coffee itself was disappearing with every purchase – it was that our registers ran on electricity and couldn’t be opened with the power being out. We had to use our tips to make change for people. After we ran out of coffee, we sent everyone away and put a “Sorry, we’re closed” sign on our door. Instead of sending us home (since my shift was over in an hour and a half anyway) she made us clean on our hands and knees in the dark – the floor, the counters, the sinks, the bathroom, the back room – everything.

And, at the end of all of this, I didn’t get a single tip.

So, last night I gave the girl a 17% tip – 19 cents. In hindsight, I should’ve given more. But, at least I did it. I could’ve been pissy about her not giving me my discount until I had to ask her. I could’ve been upset that it took her 3 minutes to make a tiny espresso beverage. I could’ve been like all the unnecessarily angry people who get their triple-grande-soy-caramel-macchiato and barely give a smile, surely not a tip.

Regardless of your budget, tip your server after your meal, your barista when you get your espresso, your bartender when you get your whiskey, and your cashier when they spread your cream cheese on your bagel for you. If not, be prepared for your next bagel to have expired cream cheese spread all over it… not that I’ve ever done such a thing…

Weekly Allowance: $60.00
Weekly Allowance Remaining: $50.34

J

Money-spending in Boston on my day off.

The good news is that I got lots of wedding stuff done (or at least started) yesterday on my day off! The bad news is that many things on my list didn’t happen or weren’t finished. Let’s review, shall we?

  • Drop my car off for maintenance. So, this one happened! I dropped it off, it was done pretty damn quickly, and my car is back in my possession. It cost $150-ish to do everything (oil, new belt, new bulb) which, as mentioned, does not come out of my budget. However, this morning, the issue they said would be solved by the new belt isn’t fixed after all. Ugh. (Side-note: I totally knew it wasn’t the belt at all, but they insisted. Luckily I have it in writing that if this doesn’t fix the problem, they’re going to give me some money back and fix the actual issue.) On my way back home from the body shop, I wanted a coffee because it was freezing and I had a mile walk after my subway ride. I spent $2.88 on a jumbo coffee at 7-11, obviously to be taken out of my allowance.
  • Shop for wedding stuff. This happened, but wasn’t totally successful. I was able to find some things on my list (elastic string for the garter I’m knitting, puff paint for my shoes) but not others (chalkboard paint, chalk markers). I was able to finish my DIY stuff on my shoes (it’s a secret!) and started knitting my garter. I also begun my DIY chalkboard (after walking to Goodwill and finding an awesome ugly framed print for me to use as my base), but without chalkboard paint, I obviously didn’t finish. Our wedding is going to have lots of Legos in it (seriously) so I spent about an hour soaking and cleaning the Legos we bought off of craigslist. I was definitely productive!
  • Possibly get my hair cut. This did not happen. Boo.
  • Do something fitnessy. This didn’t happen, either. For what it’s worth, I did walk at least 3.5 miles during my trek between Goodwill, the auto body shop, 7-11, etc.
  • Go to trivia with coworkers. I did this and didn’t spend a dime! One of the guys owed me a beer, and I shared appetizers that were offered to me. Done and done.

One thing I forgot to mention in my list is that I had a dentist appointment, too. That didn’t go very well, as I was told that my mother’s genes are continuing to show themselves in me… in the form of periodontal disease! Not fun! My mother has been seeing periodontists since I was a baby (she was in her early 30s at the time) and it got so bad that she had to get 6 teeth (I think!) removed and dental implants put in when she was in her mid-40s. My oral hygienist, upon seeing what she said were “puffy gums” asked about my mom’s periodontal disease history and said, “Wow. I’ve never heard of someone going through all of that at such a young age!” (To compare: my father, who is going to be 70, has one little spot on his gum that is “at risk”. I have at least 3 teeth whose gums are “at risk” and I’m only 28. My mother, who is 58, had six teeth removed and still has disease. Apparently I have the gums of a 100-year-old or something, I guess.)

So, now I have to spend money on an electric toothbrush, special mouthwash, and a prescription they wrote for me for some kind of special toothpaste. This, obviously, will not come out of my allowance because it’s a medical necessity. Ugh ugh ugh. Lesson of the day, kids: floss your damn teeth.

Despite all of the rollercoaster of good and bad going on, my money-spending was totally in control. I honestly didn’t need that cup of coffee, but I really wanted it. I guess it’s the most impulsive buy I’ve done all month, and compared to my usual impulses, this was nothing. A normal convenience store impulse buy would be getting the coffee… and a string cheese… and sunglasses… and some kind of snack for my fiance. I think I did well, right?

Weekly Allowance: $60.00
Weekly Allowance Remaining: $57.12

J

My first “moneyjar” shopping trip.

I finally did it: I spent cash from my weekly allowance.

After I scheduled Friday morning’s post on Thursday evening, I went to the supermarket and bought items with which to make quiche for my dinner guests Friday night. Honestly, as ridiculous as this may sound, it was a huge struggle and an even bigger wake-up call.

The things I had to buy were:

  • 1/2 dozen eggs
  • cream
  • milk
  • onion
  • Gruyere cheese
  • pie crust (or butter and flour to make it myself)
  • balsamic vinegar

The milk, onion, eggs, and cream were easy to buy because they’re inexpensive as is, and come in small sizes (I only need 1/2 cup of cream for the recipe, so the tiny carton of cream I bought was only $1.39). The difficult stuff was the cheese, pie crust, and vinegar.

Pretty much every time I do a random trip to the supermarket on my way home from work, I stop in the fancy cheese section. You know… not where they keep Kraft or “Helluva Good” brands! Pshaw! I don’t need that crap, right? I must have some raw, organic, local cheese! Plus, my quiche recipe calls for Gruyere! Well, I stopped in my fancy cheese section and grabbed some Gruyere (imported from France, nonetheless!), tossing it in my cart. As I walked away I realized, “Crap. I didn’t look at the price!” When I did, I saw… staring back at me… $7.99… for barely a quarter pound chunk!

I truly still wanted that cheese, but I knew I couldn’t and shouldn’t spend so much. Are my guests really going to know the difference between this and the stuff from the regular refrigerator section of the supermarket? Doubtful. So, I walked over to the other side of the store, where the word “artisanal” doesn’t exist, and bought the store brand’s “all natural” mild white cheddar which was on sale for 2-for-$5 (though I only bought one). I wasn’t happy about it. I wanted that imported French stuff. Damn.

Speaking of imported stuff, as I had turned away from the fancy cheese, I saw a display of bottles of balsamic vinegar. Perfect! How convenient this store is! I grabbed the bottle and walked to my cart, glancing at the price tag: $19.99! For a tiny bottle! “But it’s from Italy,” my internal voice screamed at me. “You need this.”

Luckily I put it down and walked to the aisle that had the oil and vinegar in it – you know… Heinz, etc. But, what surprised me was this: one lonely bottle of imported Italian balsamic vinegar, all by itself, on sale for less than $3. The bottle is at least twice as big as the $20 one I’d found before, so I quickly snatched it up. I was so noticeably excited about this that it scared me.

Then, the pie crust. While in the inexpensive cheese section, I saw the pie crusts and had a decision: spend $3 on pre-made pie crust, or spend $2 on butter and at least another $2 on flour. I would have future use of the leftover butter and flour if I went with the second option, but I don’t use butter or flour very often, so would I truly need them? I ended up going with the pre-made crusts, also because it’d be much easier for me after work on Friday to make the quiche if one thing was already done for me. (I’m notoriously bad at making pie crust anyway, so I’m glad to have Pillsbury do this!)

I know some folks upon reading this are probably thinking, “Oh, woe is me! You silly little yuppie with ‘only child syndrome’ who was probably raised in an upper-middle-class household! You have to budget when grocery shopping? Suck it up and join the masses!” The point of this whole thing is to change my previous, impulsive, financially damaging ways. The point is for me to grow the hell up. I’m fully aware that people live paycheck to paycheck and always have to buy generics to get by. And, no, I never have had to do that. But now I am. Yes, it’s by choice, but that doesn’t make it less difficult.

Anyway… damage done at the supermarket for my caramelized onion and Gruyere cheddar quiche: $17.90

After I went home and put the groceries away, I went to trivia at a bar with some coworkers. I had an amazing time! Seriously! We came in third place and, thanks to me being the only one suggesting team names, we won the “Best Team Name”! (We were Kim Jung Rodman. Get it? Good. 🙂 )

I was nervous because we went to one of my favorite burger joints in the Boston area. Luckily a friend/coworker of mine wanted to split a burger with me so in the end, my half burger and beer cost just over $5. Fun times + good food + good company + not a lot spent = an amazing night.

On Saturday evening, after my shift at the museum, my fiance and I are going to Costco to get some necessities like meat (now that my meat CSA is done with), canned goods, toilet paper, cereal, etc. that we’re low on and usually buy in bulk. Luckily, my guy buys the groceries when we go on our big trips, so this shouldn’t affect me at all. We’ll also be staying in to watch the Patriots game instead of going out (note: I am not a Patriots fan, but he is!) so that’ll save us some dough. Maybe we’ll buy a ready-to-bake pizza from Costsco for our gameday food! As long as I’m not paying… 😉

Weekly Allowance: $60.00
Weekly Allowance Remaining: $36.65

J

How we do our favorite activity for free.

With Winter Storm “Hercules” dissipating, the temperatures are dropping… just in time for me to start my volunteer job at the Museum of Science in Boston. Bundling up is a necessity, of course, but I couldn’t be happier about this job! (Okay, maybe if it were paid… but still! Yay!) So, as you read this pre-written, scheduled post, I’m working my first day as a volunteer! [insert girly squeal here]

MOSMy fiance and I love museums, especially those of science, nature or natural history.  Sure, we’ve gone to an art museum or two in the past, but our heart lies in science, as we’re both huge, proud nerds. Throughout the first five years of our relationship, we used our college discount and went to the Museum of Science (MoS) so, so many times. We happily became annual members after we moved back to Boston, which cost about $80-ish per year. For this, we get admission for each of us for the entire year, discounted parking, plus a few guest passes and IMAX/Planetarium passes. In two trips, it payed for itself. But, it’s not free.

Yes, we will always be members, despite the cost to do so. When we have kids, it’ll increase our membership fees, but we don’t care – it supports the community and shows our love for the place. That’s what’s important. But, right now with my little allowance, I had a huge incentive to become a volunteer at the museum (aside from the fact that it’s an awesome gig, and I get to have fun): free parking.

Parking costs us at least $8 per visit, depending on the length of time we spend there. Now that I’m a volunteer, we get all of the perks of our current membership plus free parking and discounts at the museum shop (although I’ve never bought anything there before, nor do I think I will do so during this “money jar” challenge).

So, here are my money-saving tips on how to do your favorite things for free (or on the cheap):

  1. Become a member, frequent user, etc. If you go to an amusement park many times per year, get an annual pass. If you go to your local museum frequently, become a member. Not only are you showing how much you love the place, you will save yourself some money (and usually get some additional perks and discounts on other things).
  2. Take it another step and become a volunteer. At the MoS, I will be getting lots of perks for doing something I already love at one of my favorite places in the entire world. Sure, I may not get paid money to do it, but it’s fun and has so many little bonuses, and is saving me money on our usual visits by giving me free parking. Look into volunteering at your local museum, aquarium, or wherever else you want. If you love going there, you’ll love working there… and you could get nice little bonuses, too.

So, tomorrow I will post how my week ended (since I’ll probably have to spend money on lunch at the museum while I’m out there). But for now…

Weekly Allowance: $34.00

Weekly Allowance Remaining: $34.00

J