money, reading, shopping

Spending with Calypso

In his latest book Calypso, David Sedaris has a quote that stuck with me.

Disclaimer: David Sedaris is probably my favorite author. Top three if not number one. So much of Calypso made me laugh, and think, and compare to my own life. He is humorous, but he is also very thoughtful and reflective.

The quote that got me isn’t really funny, and it has probably been said by countless other people, but I had never heard it and it struck a chord with me.

“I’m not just a vehicle for my wallet!”

He says this in a short piece about how people, especially retail clerks, airline workers, hotel staff, etc, ask the same generic questions to everyone all day long, and don’t really listen to the answer.

Of course this is necessary – you want to seem friendly to your customers but you do it all day every day and can’t push yourself to get to know someone, nor do you have time to have more than a limited interaction. But Sedaris talks about the random questions he asks to start a conversation, and how they usually fall flat with these people.

He is quite quirky.

This quote made me think about buying things in person. You can still be upsold online, with ads like “Based on your viewing history, you might like:” or “People who bought what you just bought also bought:”. But it’s impersonal online anyway. In a store, especially drugstores, clerks try to sell you whatever little trinket they have next to the cash register, or ask you to donate to the charity of the week. (Not knocking charities, but I like to donate directly to them and don’t like being guilted about being stingy with my dollar at the drugstore.) Bigger stores ask you to sign up for their membership card or buy a warranty. Whether you do or not is your business, but the Sedaris quote made me think of all that differently. Honestly, I’m still thinking about it… I know spending your money is a way to “vote” so to speak, and that idea really tangles with this quote in my mind. I like it.

(All that being said, this was shortly after a piece where Sedaris describes buying countless ill-fitting, ugly, overpriced clothes just because he likes going shopping and buying things, so I guess we can take the quote with a grain of salt! I just like pulling it out to think over on its own.)

money, shopping

Boxy Girls

I saw a commercial on TV while visiting a friend, and it stuck with me. And disgusted me a bit.

Or a lot.

Have you heard of Boxy Girls? (It’s an awful name I know, but clicking that link is SFW.)

These are dolls that come with 4 boxes of accessories for you to “unbox” with them.

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I know unboxing is a huge YouTube thing, and I’ve seen kids watch videos of other kids (or adults, yikes!) unboxing toys and getting excited about adding a bunch of plastic to their collections.

I don’t mean to be all down on people’s hobbies, but the whole concept of unboxing seems so heavily focused on consumerism and having more More MORE! And it’s disgusting. Why do you have to buy so much? What satisfaction do you get from recording these unboxings? What satisfaction do people get from watching these unboxings? I’ve tried, and have to stop when we hit the 2 minute mark and all I’ve seen is the box from all possible angles. JUST OPEN IT!

I understand being excited to open something. Hell, I got excited to open my monthly Subscribe & Save boxes, and they were just things like dish soap or cleaning products. But I never felt the compulsion to record these and make it like some great reveal meant to inspire envy in others. Now there is a toy you can buy (and unbox! since it’s “As Seen on TV”) and then unbox her boxes! Wait – would you record your unboxing of the doll, then record HER recording HER unboxing of the accessories? So meta.

If you want to watch unboxings on YouTube, why don’t you give Dylan Marron some views and exercise your brain?

food, money, shopping

Giving Up Starbucks

I gave up Starbucks for Lent. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice, because I hadn’t visited very often since my son switched schools. His old school was right down the street from a Starbucks, so I’d drop him off, place a mobile order, then run in to get my massive iced coffee and go. It was easy, and only a few bucks… right? Except this iced coffee was like $3 a visit, and while I didn’t do it every day, I did it at least once a week. Spending $12 a month on iced coffee when I already made my morning coffee at home… why?!

After giving Starbucks up for Lent, I went back once. Then all the news stories started coming out, and while I know the stuff that happens in Starbucks stores isn’t necessarily endorsed or encouraged by Starbucks as a company, and they seem to be reacting well to the concerns… I just wasn’t sure I wanted to support them anymore.

Let’s be honest: Starbucks is not good.

If you like plain coffee, you probably prefer to brew your own. I’ve never had good plain hot coffee from Starbucks – it always tastes too strong, or too weak, or is gritty. I like their iced coffee with cream, which has never tasted bad to me (except the time the barista added sugar I didn’t ask for – yuck!).

If you like milkshakes disguised as coffee, you probably like Starbucks. I used to live off Frappucinos as a teenager. It’s how I got hooked on coffee, so thank you for my addiction, Starbucks. But as I started to love coffee, I started to hate Starbucks. We’d place a group order on Fridays at work and the sugar brighten up the slow day. But when you want coffee, it just won’t do. Too sweet, not enough coffee taste.

PLUS the price. People are paying $5 for a medium cup of overly sugared coffee that contains their calories for the day. And that’s a BASIC drink from the menu. If you want to add flavors and shots, then you’ve added another 2 bucks. A large drink is like $7… That could be a fast food MEAL! An entire meal for the price of a cup of coffee.

Not to mention that you visit every week, so you’re spending over $20 a month on coffee. And by “you” I don’t just mean you, I am included. I would happily spend this for “coffee”, and then at the grocery store I would balk over buying a $7 BAG OF COFFEE that can make two weeks worth of POTS of coffee…

Let’s do the math: I make a pot of coffee every day, and a bag lasts me close to two weeks. Let’s say 12 pots of coffee, just to be safe with our numbers. 8 cups of coffee per pot, which fuels my mornings from 9 to noon. 8 cups per pot times 12 pots is 96 cups of coffee. For a bag of coffee grounds that costs $7, which, if you remember, is about the price of one large Starbucks coffee. 96 versus one – what should win?

96 medium cups of Starbucks coffee would be about $480. That’s my kid’s school tuition each month. And I know it would be damn hard to drink 96 cups of Starbucks coffee in a month – you’d blow up from sugar or calories or something, but still.

I honestly couldn’t drink 96 cups of Starbucks in a year, and the star rewards really help – free coffee after 125 stars, which aren’t too hard to obtain. That’s how they hook you – the thrill of the chase, the contest! I have a gold Starbucks card. Not a credit card – a card I transfer money to, to spend money at Starbucks. But it’s gold, Jerry! It has my name on it. I am important. It shows everyone that I spend a shit ton of money at Starbucks.

But that’s stopping. I mean, I have money left on my card, so I’ll have to drain it, or give it to someone. And use my last free coffee reward – I always go all out on my free drink with extra espresso shots, flavors galore, the biggest bucket you can give me! (And then don’t eat for the rest of the day…) But after that, I’m letting go of this Starbucks gold. I don’t need to spend the money when I can make my own delicious coffee at home. If I want to go out for coffee, there are local coffee shops I really love and should patronize instead.

food, money, shopping

Coupons

I missed the whole “extreme couponing” movement, and I’m not into it now. I used to collect paper coupons, but usually forgot them when I went to the store – even though I clipped them to the fridge RIGHT NEXT TO THE GROCERY LIST. Go figure. I think I saw them so often that they just blended in with the fridge magnets.

A friend told me about Kroger’s digital coupons, so I started stalking those and adding them to my card. I base my grocery list around coupons, to an extent. I don’t have much brand loyalty – I usually buy store brand because it’s just as delicious as a “real” brand, but a lot cheaper. But if I see a coupon, I’ll make a note of the brand name on my list, as well as how much the coupon is worth. At the store I can see if the coupon is really worth it, or if the item is still more expensive than another brand.

I like using any type of coupon because it makes me try different brands, and sometimes different foods. I usually have the staples I buy – I still remember my weekly grocery haul when I lived in my studio apartment: eggs, apples, a block of cheese, milk, and bread. Once a month I’d buy a bag of salmon fillets, vat of peanut butter and some coffee. My breakfasts were eggs, my lunches were peanut butter sandwiches and apples, and my dinners were salmon. I’m still in that mindset, because my kid eats the same things every day. But I’m trying to cook more, eat healthier, and go paleo, so I’m buying different things. Using coupons makes me feel like I’m being “practical” when I try different stuff.

Kroger also has free items on Friday – you add the coupon to your card on Friday, and can use it for about a week, so you don’t have to go to the store ON Friday. A few weeks ago, I got a free bag of chips. A free bag of chips! It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s worth $3 or $4, and can be doled out into my kid’s lunch for a good two weeks or so (unless I eat them all in one sitting).

When I go shopping for the big monthly haul, I usually spend about $140. That provides most meals for the month, but I’ll stop back in two weeks later for more produce and some things I might need for upcoming meals. My groceries have been about $300 a month, but I’m trying to get better about that – or at least better about WHAT I’m buying. The coupons really help, though they are rarely for produce. Meat coupons have helped a lot, as well as random things I’ll get for my kid to take for school lunches. Coupon savings usually add up to $25 or $30 per big haul visit!

Kroger also gives you codes on your receipt to get fuel discounts – don’t forget to do this! The points add up and I’ve gotten $.50 off per gallon before! The surveys are pretty boring but it takes five minutes and you can do it every 7 days, so it really adds up.

money, shopping

Watch Your Spending

And by “Your”, I mean “MINE”.

The other day I got an email that my credit card bill was due soon. I didn’t think much of it because I have autopay set up for every bill I can – my memory has gotten bad lately, and I hate forgetting a bill and having to pay a penalty. That never used to happen to me, but it happened twice in the span of a few months, so autopay seemed safest.

For some reason, my credit card bill stuck in my head. I don’t check that account much so I figured I should, just to make sure my identity hadn’t been stolen.

When I logged in, it sure looked like my identity had been stolen! The total was way more than I thought it would be. I knew I hadn’t spent that much money! I started going through the charges and adding them up by hand.

They were all mine.

It was a huge wake up call. I’ve always been proud of not being a shopaholic, and not needing much money beyond basic bills every month. And yes, some bills were on this credit card, but not the big ones. Not the house payment or my kid’s preschool tuition. Which means my expenses every month were basically doubled.

I like reading numbers on financial blogs to get an idea of where the person is compared to me. But sharing my own numbers… oh god, that’s embarrassing! But ok… basically I was putting $1000-$1600 on my credit card every month. My house payment and my kid’s school is about $1100 every month.

My heart stopped just typing that out.

If you asked me how much I spent every month, outside of bills, I would have guessed about $600. So checking my statements over the past year was really humiliating.

I don’t think it’s just the act of using a credit card vs cash – seeing the money leave your hand, etc. I’ve used cards ever since I got a debit card to fill the gas tank of my parents’ car when I borrowed it as a teenager. I’ve managed my spending on cards before. Which kind of explains why this was such a shock to me.

I know things are different now. I have a kid. I have a house. I need more things than I did as a single woman living in an apartment. My husband was a shopaholic, and sometimes I got swept along and bought things on a whim. I think I’ve helped him change, and honestly – I don’t go shopping much on my own. So without him around, I probably won’t shop much, which means less impulse buying. Unless it’s food… yum.

Along with the Year of Living Minimally, I’m going to start really watching my finances. I’m used to having savings, and knowing I have enough money to cushion me, to let me splurge a little bit if I wanted. But that doesn’t matter now. I need my nest egg to make sure my son will always be cared for. I don’t want to put us in a bad situation we can’t climb out of, financially. I am going to write down what my bills will be each month. I am going to give myself a small cushion for things that come up – all of my immediate family’s birthdays are in May, my son’s is in June, July is prime vacation month, etc etc. I know things will come up and I will have to roll with the punches. But I am going to restrict myself and watch my spending and try to cut it in half – at least.

I am tired of feeling like I’m just throwing money away, so here I go!

home life, money, natural living, shopping, year of living minimally

The Year of Living Minimally

The A to Z Challenge brought me into contact with a lot of amazing people and interesting blogs. One of my favorites is Martha Reynolds Writes. I love reading about people changing their lives, and I loved interacting with her about different ideas relating to going green and minimalizing your life.

I was inspired by her project “The Year of Living Minimally” – so much that I’m doing it, too.

I’ve described my history in a nutshell, and have been documenting my actions of the past several months. I have been getting rid of a lot of unnecessary belongings. I have been trying to save money however I can. I have been trying to be more green with my purchases and my actions. I am changing my home life and my view of consumerism.

This project won’t go for just a year, especially considering it’s already started and I plan to live this way for the rest of my life. I just want to hold myself accountable and actually document the changes I’ve made. I only wish I had pictures of how cluttered my house used to be… But this is still a great starting point.

I’ll check in every Monday summarizing what happened the week before!

money, shopping

Wedding Flowers

My thoughts on weddings could fill a very opinionated, very unreadable book. So I’ll keep them to myself, at least until I can form them into cohesive “Green Wedding” posts.

For now, I wanted to share my wedding flowers. I love daffodils and my mom loves crocheting, so she found and tweaked a pattern and made me these gorgeous blooms so I can have my favorite flower year-round. I’m lucky that she’s so talented, because knitted and crocheted bouquets on etsy don’t look as good and cost way more.

I carried them as my wedding bouquet because I wanted daffodils, but the day before my spring wedding trip, we had an un-Memphis-like snowstorm. Adding in an 8 hour drive (made longer by the road conditions), I didn’t think fresh daffodils, if I could find any under the snow, would survive the trip.

This bouquet was perfect, and it looked pretty and quirky in the wedding photos. And it still looks pretty darn good sitting next to my couch!