Thursday, September 29, 2011

School has taken over my life

Well, so much for trying to keep a posting schedule.  I am completely inundated by the emails, work, classes, and activities of school and trying to keep a sane eating, exercise, and sleep schedule.  So let me give you some quick hits on how my money has been doing in this first month (!!!).

  • I haven't been thinking about it. Mint's been sending me irritating "where have you gone, we have sweet features" emails since I haven't logged in in so long.  I could have been the victim of identity theft or had all my investment or savings accounts drained and had no idea.  PS - Mint your features have been sucking last I checked.
  • On the plus side this means I've been too busy to worry about $$$ in any way.
  • It's nice to get that final bonus pay check a few weeks after you've stopped working.
  • My SO is saving my ass on the cooking, shopping, cleaning front.  Officially the only reason we've been near normal on our food expenses.
  • Socializing with new friends and classmates has been a lot cheaper than I was expecting.  House parties and potlucks have been incorporated as semi regular features of the get togethers though they are never explicitly termed such.
  • I have paid for parking.  It was outrageous.  But needed.
  • I have bought food on campus.  It was much less outrageous and not needed, but a well deserved breather in the need to cook.
  • Eating healthy, home-cooked food, exercising, and sleeping sane amounts are the only things keeping my life together.  Money is a side benefit of our cooking now, the prime ones are health and normalcy.
  • MBAs are price sensitive, their sensitivity is just calibrated a factor of ~5 higher than mine.
  • I'll be updating my guesses on a two-year budget.... someday.  Right now I don't think I'm doing bad, but with no data (see #1) it's hard to say.
  • When there is free food on campus (often) people tend to go for the junk over the healthy, but more expensive fruit and veggie options. I am totally guilty of this, but hope to be better (for health reasons) now that I'm aware.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Absentee blogger....

Have you guys noticed the cobwebs accumulating here and the crickets chirping instead of me responding to your comments?  Yeah, it's been craziness since starting school and the blog has taken a big backseat to meet and greet, classes, and, well, sleeping.  I'm meeting a whole host of amazing people and it's finally sinking in that I'm going to school with people who will change the world, for better or for worse.  It's fascinating, exhilarating and utterly exhausting.  So in giving my first weeks of my MBA program their due I've been a little neglectful over here.  Hopefully as I settle into a routine I'll find a pocket of time that's good for blogging.  In the meantime you'll see some pre-written or  quickly jotted thoughts.  Thanks for your visits, comments and patience and we'll be back to business as usual soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My latest money-saving technique is... being nice

My bike was recently stolen.  However, I didn't have time to mope or shop for a replacement because as soon as I'd mentioned it happened one of the maintenance guys in our community offered to give me one for free.  He'd recently cleared out some old bikes for the bike racks that hadn't moved in ages and I could take my pick of bike and accessories to replace the one I'd lost.

I don't think this is an offer he would have made to anyone who had lost a bike.  He had to go out of his way to let me into the storage area and waited after his usual shift for me to return his keys.  But he's really nice to me and I think it's because I always make sure to say hi and thank you.  That sounds silly, but there are many people who ignore him completely unless they need to complain, sometimes obnoxiously, or ask him to do something.  I think he treats me nicely because that's how I treat him.  Honestly, I'm nice to him out of habit, it's how I'd treat anyone because everyone deserves to be addressed politely and treated with respect, but this time it saved me big bucks.

I've found that the relationships created by simply being nice to people can be incredibly valuable.  From friends and family to neighbors or even telemarketers, politeness might be old fashioned but it works wonders.  We've shared tools, meals, and services with our friends and neighbors where others might not and I seem to have better luck with customer service reps over the phone than most people do. A few months back, by coincidence, both my SO's brother Tom and I had to call our banks to get fees refunded.  It was just before 4 on a Friday leading into a holiday weekend and Tom was ticked off about the fee letting the rep have it.  He was justified in his anger, the fee was big and a mistake, but he didn't get his fee refunded that day; he was told the would look into it and to follow up in two weeks.  When I called my bank I chit chatted with the lady on the line, said please and thank you and had my fee refunded and waived in 15 minutes.  The lady also upgraded my account at no charge.  Tom and I had different banks but I can't help but think attitude played a part.

Have you seen financial rewards through kindness or being nice to people?  Do you think old fashioned manners are disappearing?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Being tough saves you money

I am on a mini-crusade to toughen up a bit before summer ends.  This may include some extra strength training, running or other conditioning, but more importantly it's a mental exercise.  I want to become habitually stronger in my will power.  Our expenses and stress will tend to rise as I'm starting school this fall for a variety of reasons.  I'll be busy with school, my SO's projects at work continue to ramp up, and historically we tend to spend more as we go through the winter to combat the dreary and the cold.  I want to fight that trend this year, giving me some buffer and tenacity for next year which will probably be even busier.  To do so I need to be tougher than I am.

When you’re tough the stuff that everyone else complains about becomes a non-issue.  Being more stoic and equipped with a just do it attitude you can accomplish more with the same money.  It is focused around identifying the practical goal of the activity and removing the extra costs or work that don’t add value to the goal.

For example, if you need to get to a doctor’s appointment transportation is the goal and walking or biking to accomplish it saves transit money, gas or bus fare.  You forgo the luxury of sitting idle during your trip.  If you’re tough you'll continue to walk or bike even when it's hot, cold, raining, snowing, or humid out.  And when it’s hot or cold out you won’t immediately jump to cranking the thermostat up or down; you’ll stick it out or make a moderate adjustment.

Dinner may not have turned out the greatest, but the goal is to feed yourself and the food is still nutritious fuel even if it’s a bit burnt or seasoned weird or mushy so you eat it anyway and learn from your mistakes instead of ordering delivery.  After all the food is here and already made.  When you do order pizza you go pick it up yourself, you’re not too busy, harried, or tired to do it, instead of paying the delivery fee.  If delivery is free, take it, of course.

There are also non-monetary benefits to developing a thicker skin and determined mindset.  You can also accomplish more than you otherwise would.  When you can tell yourself, "no, I will sit down and write a blog post for tomorrow instead of watching Hulu or the like" you are using your time more productively.  (This, of course, is never something I struggle with...)  Similarly, your house will be cleaner, your car neater, and life will flow more smoothly.  You will not spend 20 minutes procrastinating over taking out the trash instead of mindlessly reading the internet.  It will get done and then you can move on.  Clutter and unwashed dishes adds significantly to my baseline stress level so over the past couple months I have consciously worked to become better at washing all dishes immediately after the meal is done.  Including breakfast.  It's quicker with the layout of our kitchen, I feel accomplished and I'm less stressed later.

You'll also look better when you're tougher.  When I visited my business school of choice I noticed that the current students were decidedly heavier than the prospective ones.  I'm betting that I'll actually be in better shape a year from now if I keep up my bike/walk to campus and for errands and keep disciplined enough to maintain cooking from scratch every night.  But beyond cutting a nice figure, the extra weight can cost a bundle.

Sure this isn't a magical transformation that happens over night, but there is a distinct sliding scale of "can-do" in life and inching up that scale has incremental benefits that can make the attitude self-reinforcing. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Practical gifts to save money

Gift giving to promote frugality may not be the sexiest wish list and may be met with some puzzled stares, but for my birthday I'd love to get something totally practical that helped me achieve my financial goals.  (NB: I am so not normal in this regard, your gift recipients may vary).  I hate gifts for the sake of meeting a social obligation and impractical gifts in general.  Cut flowers, gift certificates to stores I never go to like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, knickknacks or a T-shirt from your latest vacation are all things I would rather do without.  I'd rather get no gift at all and save everyone the trouble than get something I don't need.

I really want practical gifts.  Even better would be gifts that save me money.  These would truly be gifts that kept on giving.  So what would be on my ultimate money saving gift wish list?
  • Really good tupperware to make brown bagging easier and less messy
  • Bike gear like lights and a rack to help me commute and run errands without my car
  • A good, energy efficient slow or pressure cooker, compact please to fit my small home
  • A kill-a-watt electricity meter might never be cost effective if we bought it ourselves, but I'd love to get it as a gift
  • New camping gear to promote frugal vacations 
  • An oil spritzer to reduce mess and cut down on our use of olive oil
  • Money is always a good stand by 
  • Socks - I hate shopping and wear through socks like crazy.  Please solve my problem for me. 
  • Consumables like wine, beer, excellent cheese and other substances I can enjoy and avoid eating out, but stop taking up room quickly
Would you want to find any of these items under your Christmas tree?  What items would you like to get that would help you slash your budget? Do you know anyone who would welcome gifts that supported frugality?