Monday, October 31, 2011

Motivational Mondays - Do What You Can

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. 

I mentioned last week that as of Friday, I was starting fresh with living within my means. I've been using my checkbook ledger, and seeing that number every time I open my wallet, I have been making smarter choices. That doesn't mean I have become anti-social to avoid spending money and here's how I've done it:

Friday night we planned a pot-luck ladies night. I spent $13 to make a trail mix dessert called Monster Mash Mix.
It's popcorn, candy corn and Reeses Pieces all covered in melted white chocolate. Buying the ingredients leaves enough for 2 batches.
 
This is only some of the food others brought: cheese, crackers, dip, pigs in a blanket, bacon wrapped dates, wine and homemade pizza rolls. Everyone left full and we had lots of laughs. While at the party, we planned our Saturday night Halloween adventure (turns out babysitting was only going until 9:30pm so I got the best of both worlds! The giveaway winner will be announced soon!).

We found cat costumes for $10. One of our friends has a cat so she decided to be our cat lady. Inexpensive and fun. We decided that going downtown was going to be a nightmare on Halloween between cabs, cover charges, and long lines. There are a lot of bars closer to us that we haven't explored that would be less chaotic on this particular night. We planned our own pub crawl that was much cheaper. When Saturday rolled around, however, we were surprised with a snow storm and we kept our partying limited to one bar close by. Fortunately that made the night even less expensive. One round of drinks was $20, $10 for the costume and $10 for a very short cab ride and a midnight snack. Keeping it to $40 is a huge improvement and we all had a great time.

On Sunday morning after a night out, it is tradition that we do brunch. We laugh about the night before and it's always a highlight of the weekend. However, it can get to be at least $20. After a typical night of spending $100, that's just not going to cut it. This Sunday however, M and I did something a little different. We went to the grocery store and got ingredients to make brunch. We already had eggs and cheese so all we needed was a little bacon, some peppers and M bought mushrooms. We each spent less than $5 and made delicious egg frittatas. 
 Take a muffin pan, add one egg and whatever mix-ins you want. Everyone can make a few so get creative!
Before...
 Bake for 25 min at 375 and.....
After!
Yum! It was really easy and equally delicious. To make life easier on a Sunday morning after a night out, you can plan ahead and get the ingredients Saturday so you don't have to leave your house with a hangover. Not that anyone drinks that much ;) With all of our mix-ins, we have enough to make another meal out of it, maybe breakfast for dinner one night this week.

I was invited to go to a haunted house last night downtown. Again, it would probably require a cab to get there and back and was roughly $30 to get in. Instead, I streamed scary movies on my Netflix and was probably equally spooked.

Ultimately, by weekend's end I'm not completely out of spending money. Even when I find cheaper versions, I know I have to cut back on how often I go out. But it's nice to know that you can still be a baller on a budget with a few small changes. M is happy that she saved a lot this weekend and I'm happy I don't have to go on a no-spending spree for two weeks, like my usual bind.

My motivation for today is proving that it is possible to stick within your means without missing out. Just because sometimes you cook at home instead of dine out or you avoid the big party scene for a cheaper option, it doesn't mean you're going to have less fun. Make do with what you have and really enjoy it. You'll be happier and less stressed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesday - Occupy Wall Street

I'm currently reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach but it's a longer book and it's far from finished. You'll be able to read more about it next Wednesday. However, rather than ignoring this section this week, I want to talk about something else I've recently read.

I want to express that you may have a different opinion than me and that is perfectly fine. I'm happy to hear what you have to say as long as it maintains a respectful conversation. I have always supported the agree to disagree idea. 

Originally I tried to avoid all talk of Occupy Wall Street. It's hard for me to find accurate, fair sources and I find arguing articles and fighting over the rich to be annoying and an endless battle. So I've stayed out of it. Living in New York, I could hop down to Wall Street and participate but I don't plan on it. I don't think it's a productive use of time to get your point across but I definitely don't claim to be an expert in the slightest.

Anyway, someone posted this article from Rolling Stones about Occupy Wall Street so I figured I'd give it a read just to maybe get some information. Turns out I found it really interesting since I've been able to identify with the issue even more as of recently.

I babysit for a very wealthy family. They have a huge, gorgeous apartment that sits nicely across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park. Their 4 & 5 year olds wear brand name clothing even while running around playing baseball. Paying me $18 an hour is chump change for them. They asked me to attend a Bar Mitzvah with them last Saturday evening to help keep an eye on the kids. I was told to dress up but that was the only detail I had.

When I arrived, here's how the night went down:
Jets play here too

 
The family's car (I know little about cars but it was Escalade-esque) and personal driver showed up shortly after the children finally agreed to put on their outfits (mini dress pants, shirts and blazers, and loafers). We piled in the car and headed out of Manhattan to the Meadowlands, where the Giants stadium is located. The family throwing the Bar Mitzvah rented out the.entire.stadium. There were over the top hor derves, a huge variety of food for the main course for both children and adults, unlimited desserts, nearly every form of entertainment a 13-year-old boy would want including running around on the field, an open bar for adults and they ended the night with a video montage of this boy's life on the jumbo-tron. It was chilly outside while we watched the 20-min video outside so every kid was given a personalized sweatshirt and every adult received a personalized blanket to keep warm. I'm convinced the event cost $1 million. The family's car was waiting outside and brought us home.


Half of the night I thought to myself "wow, how cool is this?!" I love football so running around on the field and taking in a famous stadium was an awesome opportunity. However, the other half of the night I was bothered by the thought that these people will never know what it's like to think $18/hour is a big sum of money and to rely on it to barely squeak by each month in their tiny apartment with ramen noodles. $1 million (or however much this expensive party cost) for one evening of their lives drove me nuts. I was jealous and I wished the playing field could be a little bit more even since I'm on such an extreme opposite end and there are people much worse off than me.

The article mentions an on-air argument on CNN where Will Cain claims that the big reason for the protesters on Wall Street is because the poor are jealous of the rich. Matt Taibbi, the article's author strongly disagreed with this point and I take his side.

Personally, I know exactly what it feels like to be jealous of the rich. I won't deny that for one second. From being a nanny for a family who was very well off to attending this Bar Mitzvah, it can be an awful feeling to see how great people have it when it's hard to pay the bills. However, I would never protest on Wall Street because I'm jealous. If I'm jealous, I'll watch the Real Housewives of New York and bitch about them to my roommate while secretly being entertained. Would I appreciate some of their wealth? Absolutely. Am I going to beg for it undeservedly? Hell no.

The article details exactly what the big issues are that the 99% are protesting and they are so much more logical than jealousy. If you want to read one article about Occupy Wall Street, I suggest this one.

On a related note, right before I sat down to write this post I got a call from M, who had a new idea for inexpensive Halloween costumes. She suggested we wear t-shirts that read "Stop protesting me" and we can sport name tags that say "Hi, my name is 1%". Regardless of our actual stance on the matter, I think this costume is pretty funny because we are "dressing up" like the rich 1% because we don't have money to go buy regular costumes.

Anyway, I definitely found the article informative and I hope you got something out of it. Next week I will return with an actual novel to discuss but I do like the idea of talking about an article on weeks that I've been slower to finish a book. Yup, apparently I'm one of those people who enjoyed homework book reviews or papers we had to write based on articles we were assigned and now do them voluntarily. If it's not your thing, at least it's only one day a week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What would you do? Giveaway!

Give me some advice, would you? 

1) If you get asked to babysit on the Saturday night of Halloween weekend, what would you say? We don't have costumes yet but the girls are definitely going out that night. However I've been out of town for 2 weeks and haven't been babysitting nearly enough.  

2) I have 5,100 credit card points. 5,000 gets me a $50 gift card to Target, Starbucks, Gap etc but 6,000 knocks $50 off my cc balance.What would you do?


Most logical, creative, useful answer for both questions gets a prize (and I promise it's not just my love). I'm part of a scarf swap (more about that later!) and I bought two because I couldn't decide. What's better than a new, pretty scarf to kick off fall?! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Motivational Mondays - Going Old School

"It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the 
consequences of dodging our responsibilities."
- Sir Josiah Stamp

I've mentioned a few times that I try to maintain an Excel spreadsheet that tracks my spending. I go in spurts of updating it regularly and then I will ignore it for a while, typically if I get busy or too much has accumulated and it's hard to keep track (much like this blog). When I can only access the file on my computer, it's not always convenient to update it.

Now that I've returned from back-to-back business trips and I can get back on track (I know, excuses excuses), I have a plan to help me keep track of my spending on the go. This way I can't become delusional with how much is in my bank account and overspend. This seems to be happening all too frequently and it has placed me in yet again a financial bind.

This week is a bad example because I'm on a no spending challenge for a while but once I get on more stable ground (Friday), I will start using a checkbook ledger to help me keep track of my spending money. I can keep it in my wallet and fill it in while I wait for the subway or in line for lunch.

I've used sites like Mint.com and I even have their mobile app but it's hard for me to realize at any moment how much I'm actually allowed to spend and how much of my bank account is already allocated to bills. Much like people trying to lose weight write down every single calorie they consume, I will start doing that with spending. I'm not sure of a better way to keep track then to just do it manually so I'm hoping it helps. Without accountability I have no hope at improving and I really need to dig myself out of a rather large hole.

“Thinking well is wise; planning well, wiser; doing well wisest and best of all.Persian Proverb

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesday - The Glass Castle

I was able to do a lot of reading while I traveled back to Minneapolis last week for a work conference. I'm a sucker for memoirs and fortunately I found a great book to keep me entertained.
Here's what Amazon had to say:
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn't stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an "excitement addict." Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town -- and the family -- Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents' betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
 Now, when I say this book is "great", I absolutely do not think that it's a good thing to read about the childhood of these poor children...just to be clear.

It was well written and baffling. I get lost in memoirs and forget they're real stories sometimes but whenever I find a book that truly baffles me or shows me a perspective I never would have been able to conjure up myself, I appreciate it.

As I got towards the end of the book, I realized that the author still lives in New York and that I could run into her on the streets one day and not even realize it. What a crazy idea! That made the book even more real for me, despite the out of this world stories that her childhood presented. It's not everyday that a family like that can make it out alive in tact but it's pretty impressive how far Jeanette Walls has come since those days.

I can't decide between a 4.5/5. The ending was pretty bland but the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesday - The Art of Racing in the Rain

Last week I didn't have WIRW for 2 reasons. Firstly, MG was visiting that weekend so I was a bit distracted. Secondly I'm a slow reader and M has been busy. She's very important. She has many leather-bound books and her (our) apartment smells of rich mahogany.

Without further adieu, here's the deal on The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein thanks to GoodReads.com:
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoƫ at his side.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life...as only a dog could tell it.
If you're a dog person, which I definitely am, you will appreciate this book. A lot. It has the fascinating perspective of a dog and now I frequently wonder if my dog picks up on stuff like this too. Maybe we don't give dogs enough credit, or maybe they really are just as simple as they seem.

I really don't know much about race cars nor do I care for them. I was a bit weary to read about that story line since it didn't appeal to me but it held the story together well and I actually found it interesting.

I laughed and cried and it made me miss my dog even more. Good thing I get to go see her tonight!
This was the one and only time I will ever dress her up!

Next up: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Remember Me?

Already noted, it is lame when bloggers are not consistent...I know. On that note...

Sorry I've bailed recently. Work has been cray cray (if you haven't seen the show Happy Endings you probably should). I could easily EASILY work overtime but it is not in the budget so I just have to work faster, meaning no lunch break for this here blog of mine :( Additionally I took a computer break this weekend after the work madness to visit my family in Chappaqua. Well worth it. Additionally #2, I've been babysitting most nights I'm free. And now I leave tomorrow for back to back work trips for 2 weeks. Whew!

Lucky for you, I'm going to start making scheduled posts so you will still get your Motivational Mondays and your What I'm Reading Wednesdays and a few regularly scheduled, though random, posts in between. I can tell you're excited.

These scheduled posts may not be starting today so bare with me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep calm and carry on

I typically sleep with the fan from my AC on to block out the noise that is New York. It really is the city that never sleeps. Last night, however, the fan was not cutting it. At 3am a car alarm started to go off and it didn't STFU until 4:30! Not cool. Now, part of me was concerned that someone actually did break into a car but the other part was just annoyed that someone obliviously pressed the button on their keys on accident.

I'd show you a clip but apparently one doesn't exist so imagine in your head the How I Met Your Mother episode where Lilly and Robin wait in line over night at the wedding dress shop for a huge sale and a car alarm is going off all night and they are miserable, which ultimately leads to Marshall not running the marathon and Ted's in jail. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Then I got a phone call at 6:30 from a friend to "catch up". This is somewhat normal since we used to chat in the mornings while we both commuted. I think she may have forgotten that I no longer commute and enjoy every last minute of sleep I can get...especially when car alarms were going off earlier.

I was late to work since both subways I take were fairly full and no one could shuffle around to make room for a few more people.

My cold was gone and now it seems to have returned, or maybe it's just a sore throat. Regardless, frustrating.

That's all my complaining for the day...so far. Complaining typically starts when I'm tired so I may or may not cave and go to Starbucks today. It might be worth it for everyone that comes across my path today.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Motivational Mondays - The spending diet

"Yes we are living in a material world and I am a material girl." --Madonna

It's so easy to spend money. Even ordering take-out or meeting a friend for a drink can be at least $15 if you're not careful. I've been saying I want to get my hair done for months now. Even MG commented this weekend that "your hair is much darker on top than on the bottom"...he means well. I have been wanting a pair of black boots for 2 winter seasons. I want to get MG tickets to when the Packers play the Giants for his birthday. I want MG to fly out for New Years so we can watch the ball drop in Time Square. I want a new purse. I want to see Ides of March...hello George and Ryan in one movie...yum! The list could go on and on and on.

However, I've splurged way too much lately and it has gone out of my means...I'm a broken record, I know. I make a little extra babysitting and all discipline goes out the window. This week my goal is both out of necessity and to form a long-term habit: I want to go on a spending diet.

Anna at And Then She Saved did both a spending fast and a spending diet. I am not ready to do a complete fast but I like her approach and want to ease into it. Basically Anna makes a list of the month's necessities and allots money for them. Everything else is cut out. Then at the end of the month, she makes a big heaping dent in her debt with all the money she has left over. She got herself completely out of debt in 15 months and I'm sure her savings has skyrocketed since then.

I am not very good at planning a whole month in advance so I will do this strategy by paycheck (bi-weekly). At the end of each week, I will put 75% towards debt/savings and 25% towards a reward for me (see, told you I'm not ready for a total fast. My entire New York social life would come to an instant halt so a diet will have to work).

My strategy to make this work is to be resourceful and use what I have or what's on sale. I typically have apples and peanut butter for breakfast every day but if I run out and have cereal on hand instead, I'll eat that. If I have random ingredients in the cabinets, I will research recipes or figure out what to make instead of buying whatever I want. Additionally, I will work on developing more will power. When M wants to order Thai food and asks if I want any, I have to say "no" and cook what I have or get something much cheaper at the grocery store. This is not easy to do but it's just really not worth it. I will allow myself one take-out meal per paycheck so I will learn to use it wisely yet not deprive myself of some of my favorite New York eats.
"Be thankful for what you have and you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." - Oprah
There will always be something new I want, even if I purchase everything on my wishlist. I need to tame my want list and be thankful for what I have: a roof over my head, a few meals a day, PLENTY of clothes, great friends and family and a phone/computer to keep in touch with them all, lots of books and entertainment. The list could go on for a while.

I'm mostly taking the approach of the "no spend challenge" until I really need something. The moment I get it in my head that I can spend a little, I will start to spend a lot. A spending diet won't be easy so please send all of your extra willpower my way. I have to hold myself accountable for my spending because both my debt and my savings account can't keep taking hits like this.

So far so good, I just turned down a Starbucks trip with my co-worker to drink the free work coffee instead.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What a weekend

Last minute plane ticket from Wisconsin to New York: $400
Introducing him to friends over drinks: $70
Walk through central park: $0
Lunch with M, one of our favorite people: $30
A night out with my New York friends: $130ish?
Pizza while lazily watching football: $9
A great weekend where X returned to being MG: Priceless :)

My finances are a total disaster but I'll sort it all out later. I couldn't be happier...minus the fact that he just left to go back home.