Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reflections on My 2009 New Year's Resolutions

I looked back on the resolutions I made at this time last year, and though I did accomplish some of the goals, I definitely want to push myself further in 2010. Here is the breakdown:

Personal
  • Take one non-family trip in honor of my 25th birthday.--YES! I went to NYC for my birthday and had a really nice time.
  • Study as much as it takes to get good grades (minimum of a 'B') in my Spring 09 semester classes.--YES!
  • Exercise on a regular basis (gym, exercise DVD's, etc). I don't need to lose weight, but I'd like to build more muscle, flexibility, and upper body strength. I'm sure there are 10 year olds stronger than me at the moment... --1/2 I really didn't put as much energy into this goal as I could have, my exercise schedule is still very sporadic.

Financial

  • Get Emergency Fund up to $3,000.--YES I accomplished this resolution but now realize I could have made that number higher.
  • Pay off $3,000 in credit card debt.--YES I accomplished this resolution but I still have a credit card balance on my VISA card but I really plan to throw as much extra money on that as possible to pay it down by the close of 2010.
  • Stick to my budget!--NO I really fell off on this resolution half-way through the year and simpley tracked my spending through Mint after the fact. I'll try budgeting in a more exact manner again in 2010.
  • Shopping moratorium for first 6 months of the year--NO In all honesty, my shopping moratorium was three months, but I might try another moratorium in 2010.

STRETCH GOALS: (1) Get car fund up to $1,000.--NO, I decided that I'd contribute to my travel fund instead. (2) Start contributing to a Roth IRA.--YES I did start a ROTH IRA and now contribute $200 per month into it.

Career

  • Get a mentor and communicate with this person on a regular basis.--NO
  • Get at least two freelance writing gigs.--1/2 I started blogging for the Washington Examiner (albeit sporadically...)
  • Write/submit one grant proposal for non-profit (because I'd like to turn this into a marketable skill anyway).--NO I did do a bit of research on grants, but I didn't manage to write a grant proposal. This goal got eclipsed by school work.

In all honesty my focus on my finances (and blogging) kind of ebbed away at some point mid-way through the year, and I feel like I'm just getting back on track. I definitely did do some unnecessary spending and didn't save or pay off nearly as much debt as I could have with more discipline. But I feel excited for the upcoming year and look forward to accomplishing alot of goals. I'm going to make a vision board over the holidays to visualize what I want to accomplish in 2010. I'll write my 2010 resolutions and post them tomorrow, so stay tuned!


Do you even make resolutions (I know some people don't), and if so, did you accomplish them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cool Holiday Gifts: Echo Gloves

I absolutely love my iPhone which I have had for several months now, but I'm sure all iPhone and iPod Touch users can relate to having cold hands now that the cold weather (and snow!) has descended upon the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic area. But with these gloves, you can have warm fingers and manipulate your iPhone! This could be a nice gift for friends and family members that are iPhone/iPod Touch users, or you could just buy them for yourself if you have some money leftover after buying your holiday gifts...

Monday, December 21, 2009

What's In My Medicine Cabinet?

This post was inspired by a recent post from Fabulously Broke in the City. So what’s in my medicine cabinet?


Are there “Greener” Options Out There?
I’m one of those girls that loves make-up and beauty products, but going forward, I plan to be much more discerning in the way I purchase products. I want to monitor my spending and buy “greener” products with less chemicals. I’ve heard of both Tarte and Josie Maran touted as “greener” make-up options but haven’t yet purchased products from either company. Perhaps when it’s time to replace make-up I have already at some point next year. I love fragrances also, but many of them have loads of chemicals as well, so I’ll start looking for less chemicalized options for those as well.

My Favorite Moisturizer
Shea butter is the best moisturizer I have found out there for dry skin. Other lotions with alcohol as an ingredient leave my skin drier than it was to begin with. Shea is pretty solid and not a creamy consistency in its natural form, so you have to rub it together with your hands before applying, but if you have dry/sensitive skin, it works wonders.

Frequency of Purchases
With the exception of tinted moisturizer, mascara, eye liner and blush, I only purchase make-up about once a year. I try to stretch tinted moisturizer to last beyond six months. I make exceptions when I have to dress up for a special event and may purchase eye shadow to complement my outfit, but since I’ve built up a little collection of options, I haven’t done that recently. I try to have at least one make-up free day a week to let my skin breathe. When I feel like I’ve had a product too long, especially a products like eye shadow, eye liner or mascara, I toss it. I plan to use all of the random items I have accumulated (samples, purchases I probably shouldn’t have made in the first place) and only replace the items below:

Make – up/Beauty Products (Daily)
MAC Studio Tinted Moisturizer
Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick Bronzer
Aveda stick blush
Body spray perfume (usually from my local drug Store or Bath and Body Works)

Make – up/Beauty Products (Occasionally)
Almay liquid liner
Bare Escentals Mineral Foundation
Maybelline Mascara
MAC Concealer (I’ve never actually purchased this, I’ve been using a sample from MAC)
Eye Shadows (brown, beige, blue, purple, green)
Brow Pencil
Marc Jacobs Original Perfume

Toiletries
Aveeno face wash
Aveeno facial moisturizer with 15 SPF
Tooth paste/Tooth Brush
Shea butter (used mainly in colder months)
Lotion with Shea Butter (used mainly in warmer weather. Pure Shea Butter can be a sticky mess in the summer)
Hot Six Oil (used to moisterize and remove make-up)
Giovanni’s Invigorating Shampoo, Tea Tree Triple Treat
Aveda Dry Remedy Conditioner
Carol’s Daughter Hair Elixir
Carol’s Daughter Hair Butter
Coconut Oil/Olive Oil (I use both for cooking and moisturizing my hair)


It seems like a lot now that I’ve written it down…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I don't love money, I just love the freedom it gives me

I had a really random conversation with a fellow Metro train rider last night after leaving a blogger happy hour that My Pretty Pennies described today . I came to the conclusion during this conversation that I don't love money, I just love the freedom that it gives me. My fellow Metro rider, whose name I didn't catch during our brief convo saw me reading a book about money and the law of attraction I found at my local library. Now before some of you roll your eyes about my reading choice, while I am a bit skeptical about some of the things in the book, I believe that the major theme; thinking positively to reach your goals or "attract" them to yourself is very valid.

Now back to the conversation, here is a paraphrase of the conversation:

Fellow Metro rider: "So do you believe in this stuff *pointing
to my book*, that you can attract money?"

Me: In a way, yes, I believe that having positive, affirmative thoughts are important in reaching goals including attracting money. But it also takes concerted effort, it's not magic."

Fellow Metro rider: "Do you want to attract money?"

Me: "I really want to attract what money offers, which is freedom. I'm not money-hungry, or obsessed with it. I want the freedom to pursue my dreams that being financially comfortable offers. It would also allow me to give back to others in some way.

Fellow Metro rider: "So money can bring happiness?

Me:
"I believe money can make the physical aspects of living easier and sometimes more fun. But happiness to me comes from personal fulfillment and is more so determined by emotions than material stuff."

Fellow Metro rider: You would never know that some people have money.

*Followed by a brief tangent about Warren Buffett and how unassuming he is despite his wealth.*

Me: "Well this is my stop. Nice talking to you! *Hand-shake*

Fellow Metro rider: "You too!"
I can say a lot of (good and bad) things about taking public transportation in DC, but I always meet interesting people. I once had a random conversation about the poet Rumi with a fellow rider who saw me reading the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I have the feeling that if I had rode a while longer with fellow rider, he would have launched into some sales pitch about a product he was selling or something; people that start random conversations with me about wealth and money usually do, but I could be wrong, I'll never know...

Have you had any interesting (or random) conversations about money lately?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good customer service means a lot to me

I've worked several customer service jobs in me teen and young adult years, so good customer service means a lot to me. After working a string of retail jobs and seeing alternately how extremely kind and appallingly rude people can be, it makes me think twice about how I spend my money on services. Take for instance this past weekend. I set an appointment at a hair salon in my neighborhood that I had never patronized before. It was walking distance from my apartment so I was able to arrive exactly on time. When I got into the shop, no one greeted me and I sat for 10 minutes before I was acknowledged and was told that it would be another few minutes before someone would start on my hair. I continued to sit and thumbed though a magazine in the seating area. I sat for another 20 minutes and after someone else came AFTER me and was taken right away, I decided to just leave. I didn't need my hair done that badly to be mistreated and then pay my hard-earned money. So maybe the woman that came in after me was a regular and the stylist that was doing her hair was different from the person who I assumed was doing mine, but I still felt like the customer service was shoddy. I've been in shops where I've waited no more than 10 minutes before someone started my hair and they were very apologetic for keeping me waiting. I think I'll be going backto the Aveda Institute for my next hair appointment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Slightly Belated December Goals

We're almost mid-way through the month so my monthly goals are a bit late, but better late than never:

  1. Complete my Christmas shopping and stay under budget. I haven't even started my shopping yet, but that doesn't faze me because I know for the most part what gifts I plan to purchase.
  2. Read at least one book about positive thinking and one book about investing. Since my fall semester has just ended, I don't have to feel guilty for reading for pleasure for a few weeks. I already have a Norman Vincent Peale book I'd like to read and I'll go to my local library to check out a book on investing. Some suggestions on good introductory books on investing would be appreciated!
  3. Take at least one dance or yoga class. I found my ancient tap shoes from high school and replaced my ballet shoes. I haven't taken either a ballet or tap class for about seven years which is far too long. But almost a decade of childhood dance training should come back to me right? I've also been meaning to try a yoga class.
  4. Set savings, debt repayment, investing goals for 2010. I want to refocus on my finances in 2010 and setting some reasonable but challenging goals for myself on the front is a step in the right direction. Like most people, a new year signifies a fresh start for me and I'm looking forward to it.

So how did I do on my November goals?

  1. Blog more regularly - FAIL. I've still got to work on this one. But I've got several ideas for the remainder of the year for this blog and my other one.
  2. Exercise 3 times per week - 1/2 PASS. I exercised somewhat but not 3 times per week as I planned. With my fall classes being over now, I hope to get back on track with exercising.
  3. Cook at least one new dish and one baked good - PASS. I made an Apple Crisp and Chicken Fried rice. The fried rice wasn't vegetarian like I originally intended, but I'm okay with that.
  4. Contribute to holiday gift fund - PASS. I haven't actually started shopping yet, but I set aside the planned amount of $200 to purchase my gifts.
  5. Learn some Photoshop basics - FAIL. I looked up some tutorials online, but didn't actually play around with Photoshop as I intended.
  6. Limit extraneous spending - PASS. I didn't partake in the November sales during Black Friday/Cyber Monday. But I did buy some household items though. I could do much better, but it's a start in the right direction.
  7. Finalize my Spring semester schedule - PASS. I registered for classes and there were approved. I'm pretty sure I won't change my schedule again.

Winterizing my apartment to save money

There are many aspects of the cold weather that I like... drinking copious amounts of hot tea, watching snow fall before it gets dirty from foot/car traffic, winter accessories... I could go on. But one thing I don't like about the cold weather months is how my energy significantly spikes as the temperature falls. To avoid getting sticker shock every month when I look at the energy usage on my Pepco (the name of the energy company here in DC) bill I do the following:

  • Seal my windows with plastic to prevent cold air from coming through the cracks. I absolutely love my apartment, but my windows are a bit drafty, so this is an easy way to prevent the heat from escaping.
  • Lay a towel down by the crack at my front door to prevent the cold air from sneaking in. After all, I'm not paying to heat the hallway! Maybe eventually I'll find a more stylish option to block the door draft, but for now a towel or old pillowcase work just fine.
  • Keep the heat temperature relatively low (no higher than 65 degrees) and just use a space heater to get the room a comfortable temperature. I also only need to heat one room at a time.
  • All year-round I try to only turn lights on in the room I'm in at that given time. I love light, but it's kind of silly and a waste of money (and energy) to have every light in my apartment blazing when I'm home.
I do use budget billing for my Pepco bill because I like knowing how much my payment will be each month, but if my usage spikes significantly, my monthly payment can be raised, so I really try to monitor my usage year-round. These small steps make me more comfortable indoors and help me to manage my energy bill.

Do you have small tricks you implement to winterize your home?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are today's students grasping math?

The leading story in education news today were the math results of a national test given to 4th and 8th grade students. The scores of many urban school districts are still dismally low, but my city (Washington, D.C.) saw slight gains. Though D.C. had slight gains, the scores for public school students were still below the national average and the national average are still dismal in my opinion. The test measures achievement on a scale of 0 to 500, with 249 considered "proficient" in fourth grade and 214 "basic." The national average was 239.

So what does this have to do with personal finance? If students can't do basic math, what hope do they have of being able to manage their own finances in the future? From managing money from part-time work, to choosing the right college, to avoiding the pitfalls of credit card debt; youth today face financial-related issues every day. Maybe making math more relatable by using real life personal financial examples will help today's students grasp math concepts that will help them succeed in the future and take tests effectively. Teachers in my opinion have one the most important yet difficult jobs today and I commend all of them, especially math teachers for educating youth. I only hope that the gains my city has seen on this one measure of academic performance is the first of many... Just food for thought for your Wednesday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tips for Selling Clothing at Clothing Exchange Stores

Reselling clothing has become even more popular in the down economy. It may also be a feasible option for raising money to do your holiday shopping without raiding your savings. Stores that that I've mentioned before on this blog like the Buffalo Exchange, which has locations in several cities are popular with both women and men that want clothing but aren’t concerned with buying items brand new. Clothing exchange stores typically give you cash for a percentage of what the item will be priced on the rack. In my experience at both the Philadelphia Buffalo Exchange location and the Brooklyn, New York location of Beacon’s Closet, I was given about 40% of the cash value of the items I sold. Purchasing used items can also mean saving money (if you spend wisely). I’ve personally found some very high quality clothing items in clothing exchange stores.

Here are a few tips I suggest for reselling clothing:


Launder and iron pieces before taking them in to resell. Presentation is key when trying to resell clothing. If you skirt is balled up and wrinkled, it probably won’t matter to the clothing seller that it's of good quality and the seller will be more likely to reject your item.

Only try to sell clothing from the current weather season. The stock is usually put right on the racks as it comes in in stores, so if you have a lovely sundress that you want to part with for some cash, December is not the ideal time of year to try and sell it.

Don’t bother trying to sell clothing or accessories that are poorly constructed or outdated. Don’t try to sell something you couldn’t imagine another person wanting.

Have realistic expectations. Things like stock levels, popular styles and other considerations can determine whether your items will be wanted from a clothing exchange store. Don’t take it personally if your items aren’t picked. If you still think your items are in good condition, donate them to charity. In the clothing exchange stores I’ve been to, you can leave items that you don’t want to keep to be picked up by organizations like charities that need clothing donations.


Selling or purchasing clothes and accessories from clothing exchanges and thrift stores can save you a bit of cash and is a “greener” way to get your shopping fix. It takes more usually patience and you may have to dig to find really nice items you love among others you don’t care for. Quality of clothing can also run the gamut, from really good, to poor. So check out stores like the Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet or Plato’s Closet in your area and bring in your items to sell if you have some items you would like to give a new home.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Dream Christmas List








































I feel truly blessed, there is absolutely nothing I need for Christmas. I have food, clothing, shelter, a loving family and great friendships in my life. But here are a few of the more unrealistic items (I'd never ask for in real life) on my dream wish list.

Is there anything on your dream list Christmas list (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa...) you'd ask for if money weren't a contraint?



Images: Chanel.com, Modcloth, Amazon.com, Greatdogssite.com

Monday, November 30, 2009

Did you partake in Black Friday/Cyber Monday Shopping?

I decided to take a pass on shopping this year and didn't shop the sales online or in the stores. Though I did quite a bit of online and in-person 'window-shopping' throughout the weekend. Looking at display windows of stores is one of my favorite seasonal past times. I'm still making my lists of Christmas gifts and will probably start doing my shopping in earnest this coming weekend. I can't believe Thanksgiving has come and gone already!

So did you do any shopping over the weekend? Were there really great deals to find out there or is this Black Friday shopping thing just media hype?

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Shopping for Me, Even In my Dreams...

For whatever reason, I don't normally remember my dreams these days, or I remember only fragments. So imagine my suprise that I remember vividly dreaming last night that I went on a shopping excursion to the Buffalo Exchange in my hometown and wouldn't even allow myself to shop in my dream! I wandered around the entire store and didn't buy a thing. I even took some clothes in to trade but ended up just getting the cash value for my items instead. This is strange for me because I love this store! It's no Beacon’s Closet , but it's convenient to visit on my trips home. I guess my resolve to cut out the unnecessary spending has leaked over into my subconscious also. Weird.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

When you don’t keep your eyes on the prize:

  • You fall behind on your savings goals (or don't have goals at all).
  • Your credit card debt creeps back up and negates all of the money you paid down in the past.
  • You buy your lunch instead of saving money (and possibly calories!).
  • You loosen spending habits, stop budgeting and wonder where it all went?
  • Miss out on side hustle opportunities to bring in extra income.

So what is my prize? Meeting personal financial goals!

When you do keep your eyes on the prize:

  • You surpass your savings goals.
  • You see progress on paying down credit card debt that once seemed insurmountable.
  • You pack your lunch on a regular basis and only eat out for an occasional treat.
  • You reign in spending, budget and know exactly where your money goes.
  • You maximize side hustle opportunities in your spare time to increase income AND add valuable experience to your resume.

It’s not always easy, but clearly, keeping your eyes on the prize is the better option. Stay motivated!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Netflix Model for Haute Couture


I found this article recently in the New York Times:


"For many women, a $1,000 dress is something they admire in the pages of a glossy magazine or see draped on the frame of a celebrity — not an item hanging in their closet.

But a nascent Web site called Rent the Runway is hoping to make high-end fashions much more accessible and almost as easy as renting a movie from Netflix.

The mail-order service, which finishes the testing phase on Monday, allows women to rent dresses from notable fashion designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Hervé Léger and Proenza Schouler for roughly one-tenth of what they would cost to buy in a retail store...

Julia Harris, a 27-year-old graduate student living in New York, turned to Rent the Runway when she needed something chic for a fall wedding. For $50, she got a fuchsia Catherine Malandrino number with an elaborately ruffled bust that would have cost $495 to buy."

While this business is a creative idea, I firmly believe that anyone can look stylish at a low or high price point. I feel that this business could potentially encourage women to spend beyond their means just to 'keep up with the Jones.' The clothing I've spent the least amount of money on are usually the items I receive the most complements on. I can’t personally fathom renting clothing I can’t reasonably afford to purchase. The idea of wearing a lovely piece of clothing once and then having to return it seems disappointing to me. I’d rather buy something I love and can afford to wear over and over again. It’s kind of disheartening that for some people, fashion is so-throw-away these days. Whatever happened to purchasing items that will last and can be passed down or donated to someone else?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

About Me Part II

I haven't been tagged for a meme recently, but I thought I'd share a few random facts about me anyway:
  1. My family cat is an emotional eater. When he's been left in the house alone a lot, he gobbles up his food and makes himself sick. His food portions have to be closely monitored.
  2. I have to say the word nosey in my head before saying it out loud because I grew up pronouncing the word "newsy." I'm not sure if that's a family quirk or actually a real word.
  3. I get mistaken for Ethiopian occasionally and have had people come up to me and start speaking to me in what I assume is Amharic several times over the past few years.
  4. I get called 'little lady' occasionally by strangers. I don't take offense because I am literally a 'little lady.' I'm small and short in stature.
  5. I didn't know what a credit score was until my freshman year of college when my roommate (now one of my BFF's) explained it to me. I learned what an IRA was from another friend during my sophomore year. My good friends are always passing along valuable information to me!
  6. I read the wedding announcement feature articles in the style section of the New York Times on Sundays. They are usually well written and I'm a sucker for 'happy endings.'
  7. If I see a piece of clothing that's in what I would consider a reasonable price range, I'll buy it in a heart beat, but cringe at the idea of spending lots of money on restaurants and take-out.
  8. I will never like Go-go music no matter how long I live in DC, though I have respect for it.

Anyone who is reading this can consider themselves tagged!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Goals

I didn't manage to set goals for the month of October, but that will be remedied this month. I didn't make any goals last month, mainly because I wasn't strongly feeling the 'intention' I knew it would take to achieve them, but I'm feeling more motivated this month, so here they go:
  1. Blog more regularly. I love blogging and I need to put myself back on a somewhat regular blogging schedule as I did when I first started this blog. Thoughtful posts take time, energy and inspiration. My plan is to outline what I'll write about each week for this blog and my other blog. I'll then post three times a week. Writing about style has become a passion over the last several months, but writing about my spending and meeting my financial goals helps to keep me accountable. Writing posts on both blogs should allow me to indulge in both interests if I actually plan out my time better.
  2. Exercise 3 times per week. I need to get back on track with exercising on a regular basis. So, a mixture of doing DVD's at home, taking classes and going to the gym will help me meet that goal.
  3. Cook at least one new dish and one new baked good. I'm so tired of all of the regular dishes I cook, so I'd like to branch out and try a new dish and baked good this month. I've been playing with the idea of becoming a vegetarian in 2010, so I will try to stick to vegetarian or vegan dishes. I'll try another recipe from this book and perhaps look for a good soup recipe.
  4. Contribute to holiday gift fund. As I mentioned in this post, I plan to contribute to my giftfund with my November paychecks.
  5. Learn some Photoshop basics. I plan to spend some time each week playing with Photoshop and looking for online tutorials on the Internet. I saw a few books on Photoshop at the library, so I'll also pick one up on my next visit. Ideally, I'd just take a class but taking on a class right now does not fit into my schedule or my budget. I'm trying to get into the habit of taking photos more because I usually forget about taking photos and then kick myself later for not having photographs of special (and not so special) occasions with family and friends. I also share outfit pictures on fashion communities like wardrobe remix and weardrobe. Since I'm sure everyone is not interested in what I'm wearing on a given day, shoot me an email or comment, and I'll send you a link to my pages on these websites.
  6. Limit Extraneous Spending. I want to spend less this month but not feel like I'm depriving myself at the same time (that's possible right?). I will allow myself to buy food, household items, holiday gifts, and pay for transportation costs around the city and to my hometown (I have to make two trips home this month). Socializing will have to revolve around things that cost little to no money this month. I tend to visit people more instead of going out during this time of the year anyway so this shouldn't be too difficult.
  7. Finalize my Spring 2010 class schedule with my advisor. I've picked my classes, and I'm pretty sure they will get approved by my advisor, but I'll double-check to be on the safe side.

I have the feeling November is going to be a good month!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Closet organization without spending money


It's time to organize my closet. A more organized closet will make for better wardrobe remixing. I explained the meaning of wardrobe remixing in this post. I need to weed out clothing and accessories I really don't use and organize what I have for ease of use. Lately, I have found myself digging for a particular clothing item to finish off an outfit only to give up in frustration and wear something else totally different because I can't find said clothing item. If I'm really honest with myself, I know I don't NEED and more clothing or accessories. I just need to better utilize what I have. I'm going to use items I already have lying around my apartment to group, separate and organize my closet. So here are a few ideas I plan to implement:
  • Decorate old boxes with wrapping paper to organize out of season clothes. I can't bring myself to spend money on storage boxes, so I'll use boxes I already have stored away to house out-of-season clothes. To make the boxes look better, I'll wrap them in wrapping paper I save for gifts and use index cards to label them. I've done this before with shoe boxes to house bills and records and it's an easy, cheap way to make them look uniform. Labeling them also ensures that I can easily know what's in the boxes without opening them.
  • Magazine holders to store small handbags and clutches. My smaller handbags and clutches tend to get thrown in the top of my closet and it takes time to look for them when I actually need them. Organizing them so I can actually SEE them when I open my closet is a much more functional way to operate.
  • Baskets to store make-up. It's about time for me to go through my make-up and weed out items that are too old to use. After I do this, I will place make-up in small baskets I have lying around. I will also throw away ratty make-up brushes and store the ones I use up-right in cups.
  • Glasses, tea pots and cups to store jewelry. I have cups, tea sets and china that can be used to store some smaller pieces of jewelry like earrings and smaller necklaces.
  • Hangers to store tights and stockings. I've acculumated a large amount of colored and printed tights over the last few seasons since my go-to clothing items are skirts and dresses. Storing tights on hangers ensures that I can actually find the tights I want to wear to coordinate my outfits. I can't find the exact post, but got this idea from this fab style blogger.
I also joined a clothing swap Meet-up group in my area and hope that items I no longer wear but are still in good condition can be swapped with someone else and given a new home.

Do you have any other inexpensive ways to organize your closet?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Holiday Shopping Count Down

I have no idea what I'll be buying for Christmas gifts this year, but I know the holiday season is approaching fast, so I need to start setting aside money for my expenses. I'd like to purchase all of my gifts from artisans on Etsy, local small businesses and my favorite weekend haunt because I feel that I give enough of my money to big-box retailers for the rest of the year. My budget for gift purchases is $200 which I will take out of my paychecks for the month of November. I don't normally start buying gifts until late November/early December anyway. I will put half of my saved amount on a Visa giftcard for any online purchases I make and use cash for the other half. Now that I have a spending plan, I'll start looking around for inspiration for gifts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Swapping books and other goods with my neighbors

There are many reasons why I love my neighborhood here in DC. One of them is the informal book swapping that I do among my neighbors. On weekends that we have nice weather, I find that my neighbors leave boxes of books they no longer want on their doorsteps for anyone to take. Recently I discovered some pretty good books this way such as Fast Food Nation, a few romance novels, and some national bestsellers by authors I've never heard of but that look very promising. I love to read, but I've forced myself to go the library when I want a book to read or occasionally when a book isn't available at the library, I buy books used on Amazon.com. So free books are even better, than inexpensive used books or library books because they cost no money and I don't have to remember to return them before they are due or risk fees.

I've even found small pieces of furniture in perfect condition on weekend walks around my neighborhood. I've brought items home such as: a barely used small bookshelf, a wooden chair and a nice large basket. I've even seen larger furniture items like bed frames that I simply didn't need, but were in great condition. I always clean and disinfect everything I bring in the house, but I have absolutely no problem with taking people's stuff they no longer want off their hands! The stuff I've seen people throw away is usually not junk and I'm sure they know when they leave it on the sidewalk that someone will take it before the trash people come to take the unwanted items away. It's also environmentally friendly to encourage reuse of books and furniture items.

On Sunday morning, I decided to leave my own box of books I know I'll never read again (mostly mysteries and romance novels), and they were all taken by the end of the day. It's my small way of returning the favor and encouraging my neighbors to keep the goodwill of book and furniture swapping going.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Exercises in lowering beauty costs

I decided to get my hair done at my local Aveda Institute instead of my usual hair salon to save some money. I have really been limiting hair salon visits to just going when I need a trim, but I would like to get my hair done a bit more frequently. So I am exploring lower cost options other than just doing it myself. This was my first experience in getting my hair done by a student in training rather than at a salon, and here is a brief summary of my experience:

  • I had a very short wait before my student/stylist introduced herself to me, served me tea and had a brief conversation about how I'd like my hair done. Her instructor also came over and introduced herself and basically explained that she was there to provide instruction to the student/stylist if necessary.
  • The student/stylist was very friendly but did not know how to do what I thought was pretty simple style request and needed ALOT of assistance from her instructor and even a fellow student. This may not be true for every student, but was my experience during my visit.
  • It took twice as long to get my hair done than it usually takes at my usual salon; but how was I to know I would get a newer, less experienced student? My wait at my usual salon is usually because my stylist is working with multiple clients, but this student literally took HOURS to do my hair with no other clients.
  • I did like the fact that the student explained each product she used on my hair and what products she had used on her own hair without prompting because I've had to specifically ask this in the past at other salons that I've been to.
  • The cost was $23 (plus tip) versus the $50+ per visit I usually pay to get my hair done.
The considerable cost difference makes it tempting to visit Aveda again, but I'm not completely abandoning my regular stylist anytime soon. I'll just continue to go when I need a trim only. I also don't know if I would feel comfortable getting chemical treatments like hair color done by a student. But I would like to try some of the Institute's spa services (manicure, massages, facials) at a future visit. Beauty shouldn't be a budget buster, but I think everyone feels better when they feel they look their best. Allowing a cosmetology student at a reputable school to do your hair is a lower cost option to try out as long as you're willing to be patient (and friendly) to the student doing your hair.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Has the art of letter writing died?

A recent coversation prompted me to remember writing letters during my childhood. During elementary school when one of my childhood friends moved away, the primary way we kept in touch for several years was through letter writing. I remember the excitement I'd feel when my parents would take me to this children's store called Zany Brainy (anybody else from the Philly area remember that store?), where I'd pick out stationary and stickers to decorate my letters before writing and mailing them. I'm sure those letters are still somewhere in my mother's house, maybe I'll look for them next time I'm home for a trip down memory lane. I even had international pen pals for brief period after a trip I took to Italy and Africa right before I started high school.

I'm sure children and adolescents no longer write letters, as social media, instant messaging and emailing are the accepted forms of communication for younger generations now, and though I love keeping in touch with friends and relatives through Facebook, Twitter, email, texting and staying in touch with professional acquaintences through Linked In; I miss simpler times, when I'd pull out my nicest stationary and compose my thoughts into a letter.

Though letter writing has more cost involved (stationary, pens, postage), it's a more personal way of communicating, and you know that a person took the time, to write you AND locate a Post Office or Mail Box to send you the letter. For this reason, though it's sporadic some years, I still try to remember to send my close friends birthday cards and have even sent Christmas cards, when most people I know have stopped doing this.

So, before you shoot off that thank you email or 'just checking in' Facebook message to a friend, write them a brief note instead and pretend you don't live in a world where social media and technology aren't such dominant forces in the way we communicate with each other.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Make packing lunch more fun




The one money-saving habit I've been able to consistently stick to since I started working a full time job after college three years ago was packing my lunch. I fall off the wagon occasionally when I have my spurts where I don't feel like cooking, but most days, unless I'm meeting someone for lunch, I pack my own. In an effort to make my lunches more interesting, I've decided to try packing bento-style lunches. A bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. But many Americans make bento-style meals and from the abundance of bento cookbooks for children I've found online, parents make bentos for their children to take for school lunch. I recently bought this bento container from Amazon and will start planning my meals before shopping (which I almost never do). Perhaps even creating a nicer presentation of my homecooked food will make it taste better? Well, I don't know about that, but the money savings makes up for the effort.

Images from here and here

Monday, September 14, 2009

Travel on my mind

I transferred $300 of my last pay check into my Travel Fund. I'm going to put as much money as I can into that fund in the upcoming months so I can pay for:
  • a 2010 birthday trip I've already discussed on this blog. I am 95% sure that I want to go to Spain for this trip;
  • a cruise with my family;
  • a weekend trip at some point in 2010 to New York City;
  • any other travel opportunities that pop up from now until the end of 2010.

I still need to fulfill my summer goal of getting a passport. I can't procrastinate much longer on this because both major trips I want to take in 2010 are international trips. It's a sad but true fact that I was much more well-traveled as a child and teen than I am now, and I plan to remedy that next year. Travel is a fun, but expensive hobby that takes time to plan, but is worth it to me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Random (Mostly) Personal Financial Thoughts

  • I am kind of bummed that I missed my middle school's (yes, middle school) informal reunion/happy hour last Friday. But I couldn't rationalize spending the money to travel to my hometown when I know I'll be home for Labor Day. It looked like it was a lot of fun from pics posted on Facebook though...
  • With the exception of a few tops and colorful tights, I'm done fall clothing shopping. I'm getting a lot of inspiration on how to wear stuff I already have from cruising my favorite style blogs on the Internet.
  • I'm going to start saving $50 more per month in my emergency fund, just because I would feel comfortable with having more saved than I currently do. I believe I was aiming kind of low with my annual goal.
  • I'm going to try my hand at teaching myself to sew before I spend money on lessons. I cringe everytime I have to take a piece of clothing the Cleaners to get tailored, the cost adds up. I'm currently investigating sewing machine options, any suggestions would be appreciated!
  • I've been ruminating on purchasing tickets for a concert this fall, I think I'm going to just go ahead and do it, because I believe the artist I want to see is worth it.

Textbooks don't have to cost a lot

Well, my little summer vacation is over and it's back to graduate school for me. I don't really mind the school work (much), but I always dread buying textbooks because they are so expensive! I got a bit of sticker shock when I checked the price of the textbook for my class that starts this week. The book was $232.00 brand new in my school's bookstore! I simply could not see myself spending that much money on a book I would probably use very little after I complete the class in December.

I checked Amazon and Half.com; the usual places where I purchase used textbooks, but I was still hesitant to spend $60 which was the cheapest price I could find for this particular book. I decided that I would check out this book rental website called http://www.chegg.com/ I heard about from classmates and also read about in the newspaper this summer. You can also sell used books to Chegg and receive payment for them. Chegg plants a tree for every book donated. So not only are you saving money, you're 'being green' at the same time.

I found the book I was looking for on the site am renting it for the semester for $19.99! That sure beats buying it brand new for as much as I sometimes spend on food in a month! This site was around when I was in college, but I'd never heard of it back then (I could have saved SO much money...). If you are currently a student or know students and haven't heard of the site like me, check it out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If you can't 'remix' it, don't buy it

'Remix' is a term that fashion/style bloggers use to show they are wearing a piece of clothing in a different way than it's original intent. This could mean wearing a skirt as a shirt or simply wearing a piece of clothing with different tops or accessories than you do normally. I have as many fashion/style blogs in my Google Reader as I do personal finance blogs; I love fashion/style and personal finance equally. But going out and spending money on new clothing all the time does not fit my budget contraints, and I know I'm not the only one! My new clothing purchase rule is that: If I can't 'remix' an item at least four ways, I won't be purchasing it. This can also be a budget-friendly way of shopping, because it forces you to really think about your purchases and how they fit into your wardrobe. Shopping in thrift stores or clothing exchanges (like Buffalo Exchange if they are in your area) for big ticket clothing items can make your clothing budget stretch even further.

I've found several instances over the course of the summer just when I've thought I don't have anything to wear, I've been to inspired to wear something I already own in a new way by looking at how other people on the web create their outfits. This was especially helpful when I banned myself from buying new clothing in July.

Here are a few stylish ladies I've stumbled upon in my web surfing that are great at wardrobe 'remixing' and inspire me all the time:

And if you like taking pics of your outfits (like me) to show how you 'remix', here are a few style/fashion communities:

Here's to looking stylish on a budget!

Unexpected windfalls are fantastic!

My week was brightened unexpectedly by notice from my organization that we would be receiving bonus checks in thanks for the entire office's hard work! I know how easy it would be for me to go out and spend this money, but I've already decided that I'm going to save the whole thing. Half of my bonus will go to my emergency fund and the other half will go to my travel fund which is basically non-existent at the moment.

This lovely windfall makes the goal of paying for airfare for my international birthday trip (in March 2010) in the early fall more attainable. It would be great if I could start a tradition of going on one nice trip annually to some place I've never been. I think with proper planning (or saving to be specific), it's possible.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Living in the moment

Do any other twenty-somethings have a difficult time living in the moment and instead of focusing on the next big goal? I do! Always at the edge of my mind are:
  • The day when I can afford buy my own house (more specifically, condo)
  • The day when I complete my graduate degree
  • The day when I pay off ALL of my student loans
  • The day when I have one year of living expenses saved up
  • The day when I meet less important savings goals like saving up for my first car (yes, I've been out of college three years now and still haven't yet gotten a car-it's a want, not a need for my current lifestyle)
  • The day when I can afford to take an international trip on a whim
  • The day when I get married
  • The day when I start my own family
  • The day when I can afford to retire
  • The day when I publish a novel
  • I could go on and and on....
But the journey is sometimes just as important as the destination, and I am trying to remember that instead of focusing on the "next big thing." There are some great things about the point I am in my life right now and it's time for me to take a breath and just...enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Random (Mostly Financial) Thoughts

  • Home Ownership - I’ve been doing research for the past several weeks on home ownership in my area. I’ve gone to some workshops for some first time homebuyers programs and actually qualified for an FHA loan where I’d only have to put 3.5% down which is reasonable for the amount of mortgage I qualified for. BUT, I most likely could not afford to live in DC and would probably have to live somewhere else in the DC Metro area (NOVA or MD). I am a city girl through and through and don’t want to live anywhere else except DC unless I’m moving to an entirely different area. I love the neighborhood I currently live but am a long way off from being able to afford a home there. Purchasing a home at this time would also wipe out all of my savings which probably is not the smartest idea anyway. So, at this time in my life, though I could stretch to make it happen, home ownership still looks to be a few years off for me. Oh well…
  • Short-term Travel – I’d like to take a day-trip to the beach (not sure which one yet) and a day-trip to NYC before the summer ends. Both should be relatively inexpensive outside of travel costs, but I’ll have to make a budget for both.
  • Long-term Travel – I mentioned this before, but I really want to go on an international trip for my next birthday, and want to pay for my airfare by the early fall because the prices are very low right now but will probably start creeping back up soon. I also still have to renew my passport which is a summer goal, so I need to do it ASAP or else I won’t be going anywhere outside of the U.S.
  • Professional Development- I know am still in grad school, but I’ve already eyed a certificate program that I’d like to do to expand my skills. It could also be a side-hustle skill to bring in more income. I won’t be doing this until I complete graduate school in 2010, but I want to start looking at the cost so I can save up and pay out of pocket.
  • Side-projects – I need to step up my work on various side projects (blogging for one, I’ve been a slacker lately) I’ve either started or have been thinking about, I’ve been too complacent lately about where I am. This lady inspires me to work harder to reach my potential and I told her so on Twitter yesterday ; )
  • Other - I know what my next big goal is and though it’s not necessarily cost-effective, I believe it will make me happy. It’s a while off, so I won’t go into detail yet. I started a vision board for this goal recently and need to start making actionable steps toward it instead of just thinking about it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Being petite can be a good thing when clothing shopping

I don't really like shopping, but I do love clothing and style. I always feel more confident when I like what I'm wearing. This does not always mean buying something new, but wearing a favorite clothing item that makes me feel good. I focus more on quality rather than quality because of budget contraints, but I do add a few things to my wardrobe every season. And I never invest too much in trends; I love floral prints as much of the next person, but how many floral printed dresses or skirts does one person need? I suspect less than fashion magazines would lead you to think.

Being short and on the petite side, I have a hard time buying certain items I like because of fit. Coats, jackets and pants are particularly difficult. It's why I wear pants that are three, four and five years old because it's such a pain to find pants that fit well without any alteration. I am a dress or skirt-wearing person unless it's cold outside for this same reason. I am a stickler for fit because I hate nothing more than looking like I'm drowning in my clothes because they are too large or fit incorrectly. Learning to sew which is a long-term goal will help me to spend less for tailoring, but until this happens I have one short cut. I shop in the kids section for coats, jackets and blazers to ensure they fit well.

This only works when clothing doesn't have juvenile embelishments like embroidery or anything too shiny; but it works for me most of the time. My latest aquisition that was a blazer from the boys section of Macy's which looks a bit like this one, but mine is navy. So there goes my shopping budget for the month, but a blazer will carry me through the frigid air conditioning that leaves me shivering in almost all public places this time of year to the fall and winter months. I've learned to make my size work for me and still maintain my own sense of personal style. I also spend a little less money on my clothes than people expect because children's clothing is usually cheaper!

Do you have any shopping tricks to use your size to your advantage?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Made it a month with no shopping

With only one more day of the month of July to go, it's safe to say that I made it the whole month with no clothing shopping! It may not seem like a big deal to some, but I found that my little impulse shopping excursions were adding up. The 'no shopping' was one of the six summer goals that I outlined earlier this month . I plan to do this exercise again in September (and perhaps extend it to October) after buying a few fall transition items and a black shoulder bag since my favorite one is showing its age. If I'm ever going to meet my financial goals, I'll have to pay attention closer attention to how I spend my money and really differentiate between needs and wants. How much stuff does one girl really need anyway?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lifelines in the Student Loan Sea

I guess I have student loans on the brain lately. Check out this recent article from the Washington Post:

Dundas, 23, is a new graduate entering a stricken job market with a master's degree, $30,000 in debt and far less earning potential than she expected when she borrowed the money. She works part time for the State Department.

"When I get paid, I think, 'All right, I have $500,' " she said.
"But then I remember I have huge loans, and it's really just, 'All right, I have negative $29,500.' And then I go eat ramen for dinner."

This summer brings a measure of relief. Starting July 1, student borrowers can cap their monthly payments at a modest sum determined by income and family size. A second initiative, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, will erase student debt entirely after 10 years for graduates who work for government or various nonprofit organizations.

Together, the programs amount to "the broadest and most expansive set of provisions we've ever had" to ease student debt, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, an association of college administrators based in the District.

"It's huge for students," said Carmen Berkley, president of the
United States Student Association, an advocacy group in the District. "You put somebody in a situation where they're not making too much money, and they're making $200 to $300 in monthly payments, and you're setting them up for failure."

It is daunting for recent grads to have such large amounts of debt when they are just starting their career along with a soft job market. I don't remember being warned of graduating into a tough job market and its implications when I signed my loan promissory notes...I doubt many others will either. Even in areas like DC, where the job market has not suffered as badly as in other areas, people are having a hard time with job hunting and fear of layoffs. For those who are already interested in public service jobs, this opportunity will probably want to take advantage of loan forgiveness programs like the ones mentioned in the article.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Student Loans - Paying While Still Receiving In-school Deferment

Since I am a part-time graduate student, my student loans have been in deferment. I had stopped my payments to divert the money I would normally allot to my student loans to other costs for the past few months. But I will resume making payments again in the fall though I am still a student. I have one more year to go in my program. The sooner I resume my student loan payments, the faster I can get rid of them! I plan to make a concrete goal for when I'd like to pay my student loans off at the end of this year, but in the mean time, just making payments regularly is my focus.

Window Shopping - Dresses

Dark Room Dress
Palm Beach Dress

Rajastan Maxi Dress
Mind’s Eye Dress

I haven't ordered anything from this website before, but I love looking at all of the lovely dresses they have. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reigning In My Spending Isn't So Bad After All

In an effort to curb my extraneous spending, I decided not to make any clothing purchases for the month of July. After looking at my bank statements for other leaky "holes" in my spending, I also decided that I would forgo random Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts visits and iTunes purchases (The Essential Michael Jackson was my final download for awhile to my iPod). I'm only about mid-way through the month, but I'm doing well so far.

I didn't cut my spending on:
  • Dining out and alcohol. I'm not a big alcohol consumer or a foodie so I usually order the most inexpensive appetizer item with water and no dessert when I eat out, so I didn't feel the need to cut those out for the month. Yes, I'm the girl that orders Shirley Temple's or Cokes sans the rum when I go to happy hour, but drinks are pricey! I get funny looks because I get mistaken for a teen on a regular basis anyway; and people assume I'm not old enough to drink, but it's less money leaving my pocket.
  • Clothing alteration. When you are petite, you just can't get aroung getting clothing altered. I took a skirt to get altered last week, because I wanted to get some wear out of it this summer.
  • Groceries. I baked my first cake earlier this month, a vegan red velvet cake. I'm not a vegan, but have never been a big fan of dairy, so after finding a recipe from this book, I decided to give vegan baking a try. While it was fun to make, I learned that vegan baking is expensive because of all of the specialty ingredients! I also had to go to two grocery stores to get items that the recipe called for such as agave nectar and coconut oil. Needless to say, I won't be baking again for a while.

Rethinking my needs and wants is good. It's been kind of a game to see how little money I can spend in a day. Everytime I go to buy something I could probably live without, I think about the fact that the money could be better used elsewhere. I'll check back in at the end of the month and evaluate whether to extend the no-shopping another month.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Finding Debt a Bigger Hurdle Than Bar Exam

I found this recent New York Times article interesting and wonder how many other people are having trouble fulfilling career goals because of student loan debt:


All his life, Robert Bowman wanted to be a lawyer. He overcame a troubled childhood, a tragic accident that nearly cost him a leg and a debilitating Jet Ski collision.

He put himself through community college, worked and borrowed heavily to help pay forcollege, graduate school and even law school. He took the New York bar examination not once, not twice, not three times, but four, passing it last year. Finally, he seemed to be on his way.

In January, the committee of New York lawyers that reviews applications for admission to the bar interviewed Mr. Bowman, studied his history and the debt he had amassed, and called his persistence remarkable. It recommended his approval.

But a group of five state appellate judges decided this spring that his student loans were too big and his efforts to repay them too meager for him to be a lawyer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Goals

Instead of doing monthly goals, I will instead do summer goals.  Some goals may take the next two months to complete, but I still want to be accountable for making progress on them for the remainder of the summer.

  1. Read two books on investing.  I've read several books on personal finance, but none that specifically talked about investing.   I am a big reader, but I'll take a break from my normal reading choices (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was the most recent) and read about something I want to learn more about.
  2. Apply for passport. I plan to travel international in 2010, so since my minor passport expired, I have to get a new one.  I'd rather go through this process well before I actually travel to avoid stress and having to pay a rush processing fee.
  3. Start contributing to my travel fund again.  I'd like to travel more in general and I have specific places I'd like to travel to next year, so I need to start consistently setting money aside.  For the past several months, the only savings fund I've been contributing to has been my emergency fund, and forgoing other saving goals, but I'll start setting aside money again for my vacation fund.    
  4. Go to the gym twice a week.  If I don't go to the gym more frequently, I'll be forced to cancel my membership because it makes no sense to pay a monthly fee when I go sporadically as I do now. 
  5. One month shopping moratorium for July.  I've been a little lax with monitoring my shopping purchases in June.  So, to get myself back on track, I won't be making clothing purchases for the month of July.  
  6. Talk to my graduate school advisor.  This fall, I will be about mid-way through the course work for my graduate program.  It's time to plot my classes for my remaining semesters so I can figure out when I can anticipate my graduation date.
For some reason, it's harder for me to stick to personal goals during the summer months.  I guess it's my minor rebellion for no longer getting long summer vacations.  But with a little more effort, I feel confident that I can make progress on my goals for this month.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Charitable Donations Fell in 2008, Report Finds



According to a recent Washington Post article:

Charitable giving in the United States fell by 2 percent last year, the largest year-over-year drop and only the second decline since the Giving USA Foundation began tracking American philanthropy 53 years ago, according to a report being released today. Individual donations dropped by about 2.7 percent from 2007 to last year, corporate giving fell by about 4.5 percent and foundation contributions grew by about 3 percent, according to the report. Nationwide, recipients collected about $307.7 billion last year, down from the record of about $314.1 billion in 2007, according to the report, which was done for the foundation by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The only other annual decrease since the report was first published in 1956 occurred during the 1987 recession, when giving declined by 1.3 percent.



Many families are feeling the financial pinch of the economy and may not have as much disposable income to donate to charitable causes, but don't forget that every little helps organizations, especially smaller, grassroots community organizations. If you don't have money to give, donate your time/skills. There is always someone out there that is less fortunate than you out there, so don't forget to give what you can.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Am I the Only One...

Am I the only one that looks forward to payday not because I'll have some money in my pocket to potentially spend; but because that means my monthly automatic transfer to my Roth IRA will take place. So this means my account balance has grown just a bit. It's more fun than looking at my current student loan or credit card balances because the progress is much slower on paying them down...

I promise I will have a substantive post very soon!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekend fun (in DC) on a budget

I love Fridays, and the anticipation of the weekend that stretches ahead of me. It will be even nicer if the weather decides to cooperate and we don't experience heavy rain fall which has been frequent in the Mid-Atlantic region lately. I want to do some fun things this weekend, but I want to spend minimal money. Here are a few ideas I have:
  • Go to Artomatic. Artomatic is a month-long art festival that starts this weekend in Washington, DC. It looks like it might be fun and there is no entrance fee.
  • Wander around one of my favorite Smithsonian museums. I love to visit the museums, and want to pop in to visit a few before the really hot, steamy weather sets in.
  • Head to the library and check out some free books, music or movies. My local library has a decent selection of movies and books, so I don't usually leave the library empty-handed when I visit.
  • Go out for appetizers instead of a full dinner. It would be fun to go out to eat, but a full dinner could be pricey, ordering just appetizer's would be cheaper.
  • Bake something. I have a taste for some cupcakes, so instead of buying them, I could try to make them myself. This won't be a free activity, but it shouldn't cost that much.
  • Head to the gym and take a class. Since I already have a membership, I should use it right? It also just dawned on me that swim suit weather is just about here...
What fun things do you like to do in your area that cost little?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Why I ignore trends when I go clothing shopping

I don't think you have to completely abando your style to meet financial goals, but I tend to ignore trends when I actually buy clothing for myself and here are the reasons why:

  • I don’t have the budget to keep up. I love fashion and style, but I’m a girl on a budget. I believe it’s possible to look stylish whatever your price-point, so my shopping excursions are normally relegated to stores like H&M, Zara, Target, and occasional trips to vintage stores for statement pieces. While I think certain trends looke fantastic on other people, I wouldn't necessarily purchase them myself. I mainly look at magazines for inspiration, and not with the idea that I will actually buy the triple strap ‘Iman’ Gucci sandals I’ve seen in several magazines this spring. Or the Prada clutch or Marc by Marc Jacobs skirt I admired on one of my favorite fashion blogs (I read an equal number of PF blogs and Fashion/Style blogs). Magazines in many ways give you an unattainable standard to live up to. Even celebrities wouldn’t actually buy all of the clothing they wear and promote; they get a lot of freebies. I’m learning to embrace quality over quantity though I have a long way to go to the classy minimalism that bloggers like Fabulously Broke in the City embrace.
  • Many trends don’t work on my body type and height. I am short, curvy and have a petite frame, therefore, MANY trends I see on fashion models that are several inches taller than me and have body proportions very different from my own simply won’t work. In fact, they’d probably look down right silly. You won’t catch me with any ‘harem pants’ on or leggings worn as pants (unless I’m around the house or running quick weekend errands). ‘Boyfriend’ jeans, and longish blazers are also items you can guarantee I won’t be purchasing. I am learning what works on my body and plan to stick to it when buying items. My favorite clothing items are dresses and skirts; mainly because they normally require very little alteration. This is a big factor for me because paying for clothing to be tailored can add up. For this reason learning how to sew is a definite goal for the near-future for me.
  • I don’t always want to look like everyone else. My growing love for vintage and thrift stores stems from being tired of looking like everyone else. There is definitely a place for “fast fashion” in my wardrobe (i.e. H&M) but if I take the time to hunt down a unique find in a thrift store or vintage store, I will be guaranteed that the girl sitting near me at a restaurant or bar won’t be wearing what I have on. My vintage items or ‘hand-me-downs’ often get me more complements than the latest item I bought from H&M anyway.

    Do you ignore trends or embrace them when you shop for yourself?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cut my cable? Maybe or maybe not...

For the record, I love television. I have somewhat quirky taste and enjoy everything from Project Runway to Star Trek, to almost every show on HGTV, to Gossip Girl. I also have a penchant for classic films. But for a few weeks I've been considering, if I could really live without cable. TV is a time-waster anyway and I normally do have other things I could be doing with my time. It's easy on a Sunday afternoon to sit down to watch one little episode of Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo (another fav) and end up watching a mini marathon. Let's not even get started on addictive dramas like Law & Order that are always seemingly on in all of their iterations.

But I really feel like I can force my self to readjust to life without cable. I did after all grown up in a household with no cable. The television station I grew up on was the Philadelphia Public Television affiliate, WHYY. For years, with the exception of The Cosby Show and later the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I had to ask permission to watch another channel other than WHYY. So life without cable isn't new to me.

But how much money could I possibly save if I cut the cable? I currently pay about $60 per month to my cable company. So my approximate yearly savings would be $720. Minus the fees that I will probably get charged to disconnect the cable, it's still not a bad amount of money. That money would be a nice addition to my Emergency savings or my Travel fund (I am determined to go on an International trip in 2010...). Or I could throw it at my debt.

Here are some reasons why I might go ahead and pull the plug:
  1. One less monthly bill and more money in my pocket.
  2. I miss many of the cable shows I enjoy anyway because I'm not home when they come on and refuse to pay for TiVo.
  3. My local library has a decent selection of films and TV shows though they are sometimes a year or two behind.
  4. I can fill the gap of shows I miss with Netflix (which is only about $10 with my subscription).
  5. I've already cut HBO (my only premium station) and so I already don't see series I like such as The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Here are some reasons why I might just let it be:

  1. People sometimes expect to be able to watch cable when they visit.
  2. I'd miss the news channels like CNN and MSNBC.
  3. The fee my cable company would charge me to disconnect my service.
  4. I'd miss special programming and series that aren't available on Netflix or some other source.
  5. I'd miss the Food Network and HGTV.
The reasons why I should just cut the cable seem to outweigh the reasons to leave it on. But I'll try a 2-week experiment starting June 1. If I can go a two-week period watching only what is available on network television (no cable stations), I will just pull the plug. Otherwise, I'll look at other items to save money in my monthly spending.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lessons learned recently

I have been quite neglectful of my blog with the exception of sporadic posting these days, but I haven’t forgotten about Small Budget ,Big Style. I finally feel like I can breath easier now that my spring semester has ended and my summer classes have not started yet. Here are some updates/recent lessons learned:

  • Some technology upgrades do make my life easier. I recently decided to bite the bullet and purchase an iPhone. My cell phone bill is not that much higher than it was with my previous cell phone and plan. I also cut my landline to allow for more room in my budget. I plan to start using Skype or iChat when necessary, but see since my cell phone service works better in my apartment with my new phone, I can do without the landline. I like Apple technology and wanted a PDA phone that could help me manage my schedule, email and also had other features that would interest me. After about two weeks, I love being able to manage my email (work and personal) and respond back immediately to people. I am also an innately curious person, so I love being able to Google any idea or person I’m curious about immediately. I also like the fact that since I have a Macbook, I can synch my cell phone calendar and the calendar on my computer. I see how you can become a little too dependent on technology, but if used in moderation, it can really make life easier.

  • I need to work on managing my time better. Some things on my things to-do list have gone by the wayside recently like staying on top of all of my email accounts, posting regularly on this blog and exercising regularly. I believe I do have time to do all of the things I’m interested in, I just need to manage my time better. I need to train myself to wake up earlier because I really am more productive in the mornings and either read/do homework, exercise, work on blog posts for an hour each morning before I get in my day because I normally don’t feel like doing any of those things at the end of the day.

  • You really do learn to live on what’s left over when you increase savings. I opened a Roth IRA and now have money automatically taken out each month as I also do with my Emergency savings fund and I realize I should have done it sooner, because I don’t miss the money and I really can manage on less if forced to. Next year I will set the goal of maxing out my IRA, but for now, I want to continue with other savings goals.

  • I thought Twitter was a little silly at first, but now I actually like it! I jumped on the bandwagon with Twitter and you are welcome to follow me/tweet: @SBChick. I actually Tweet much more now that I can access Twitter on my phone. It’s a great way to connect with people I love getting news updates, or chatting with people, seeing what interesting links people are ‘tweeting’ about.

  • I need to try baby steps for my next shopping moratorium. My shopping moratorium for the first six months of the year was a failure. I was good until my birthday month of March with no shopping and then just could not sustain no shopping after that. I do plan to try it again in the future, but not for such a long stretch. I plan to do a shopping moratorium again but for 30 day increments and eventually work my way up to six months. It’s a good check to do from time-to-time to test if you really need the items you want to purchase. I want to focus on quality not quantity for clothing and other non-essential purchases for the future. I am by no means anti-shopping, but I want to learn to shop smarter in general and not just buy things on a whim, which I have caught myself doing before. I am amazed by bloggers I read regularly that are so disciplined at cutting non-essential spending saving large amounts of their income and want to do so also.

Have you learned any lessons/insights about yourself recently?

Monday, May 4, 2009

May Goals

I won't be doing an April recap, because I didn't take the time to make goals for the month of April. I think my more productive months are when I set goals, and hold myself accountable for accomplishing them. So here are my May goals:
  1. Purchase textbooks for two summer courses. My classes start the week of May 26th, so I'll email my professors to verifiy what textbooks they want us to have because sometimes the bookstore at my school gets them confused. Then I'll try to find them as cheap as possible online.
  2. Start paying for summer graduate courses. I didn't factor in taking two summer courses when I applied for financial aid last year, so I have to pay off my balance. I originally planned to take one class at a time, but realize I need to step this up to ensure I graduate next year. I was contemplating taking three but just can't swing that financially and also don't want to be overwhelmed with school work on top of my full-time job, which will have several projects in progress over the summer also.
  3. Exercise 3 times a week (and visit the gym a minimum of three times this month). I have been embassassingly inactive over the past few weeks. I do walk everywhere I go since public transportation is my only means of getting around, but I need to do something aerobic.
  4. Complete/mail passport application. I should have done this ages ago. I don't plan on traveling internationally until 2010, but I need to get this out of the way before I really need it.
  5. Formally ask one person to be my mentor. This has been put on and taken off of my goal list before, but I am going to do this for real this time. I really want to grow in my professional skills this year, and having a mentor is one way I'd like to do this.
  6. Schedule vacation days for the summer. I know I have at least one family trip and I need to look at the calendar and plot all of the days I will need off this summer.

There aren't any monetary goals this month, but I hope to have some concrete monetary goals for the month of June.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Things that make me happy, but don't cost me money

  1. Having a good laugh with a friend over something silly (can't be serious all the time).
  2. Spending time with my family (my biological fam and people I've claimed as family over the years).
  3. Figuring out a new way to wear something I already had in my closet.
  4. Sunny days.
  5. Hot cups of green tea (all year-round, I'm weird like that).
  6. Seeing progress toward goals.
  7. Finding a DVD at the library that I wanted to see for a while.
  8. Unexpectedly seeing a friend in a random place or setting.
  9. Riding (I don't drive much) through Rock Creek Park (in DC) or Fairmount Park (in Philly) on a sunny Spring day with the windows down.
  10. Hearing my favorite song of the moment on the radio.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Life Balance, Maintaining Relationships and My Finances

I admit, it is a budget stretch when I do certain things like take an occasional trip out-of-town, or travel to my hometown on a regular basis to attend to family commitments and keep up with my friends that still live there. But though I’m not perfect, I do save money monthly, I do save for retirement, and though I have a fairly large amount of debt (largely student loans and some credit card debt), I have very good credit.

So I will be taking a few weekend trips between now and December. If a friend asks me to go to dinner or a happy hour while the weather is warm, if I’m free, I will go. I will be attending at least one family reunion this summer. I will be visiting my father in Florida in the near future (maybe in May?). I’ve learned that it sometimes costs money to maintain relationships with people. I don’t want to look back on my twenties and say, “I saved a bunch of money and got out of debt, but I didn’t make time/spend some money to maintain relationships with my family and friends.” I don’t want to miss family reunions, baby showers, weddings, cookouts, traveling with my aging grandparents and traveling with friends while I’m young. I'll do what I believe I can afford without incurring more debt. I will get my finances in shape, but I will do in on my own terms in a way that suits my life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I May Take A Weekend Trip In June


My friend asked me the other day of I'd like to take a long weekend trip to Las Vegas in June. I am seriously considering it (I'm 85% sure I'll go). I don't plan to take any major trips this year so this might be the second (My NYC birthday day trip was the first) of a few long weekend trips I'll take between now and the end of the year. My friend has taken charge of finding us the best deal (trip planning is not my forte...). Here is a tentative budget:


Airfare-$350

Hotel -$150

Food-$100 (I'm not a big eater or alcohol drinker)

Spending Money/Sightseeing-$200

Misc Transportation (Taxis, Airport Shuttle)-$100

TOTAL -$900


After more research is done, I'll see if this budget is realistic. The goal is to put the money together for this trip without touching my emergency fund, because a traveling jones is really not an emergency...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Opened Roth IRA

After going back and forth over whether I should hold off on this goal a while longer, I decided to open a Roth IRA. I will transfer $200 per month into my Roth IRA for the remainder of the year. Why do I have an extra $200 in my budget you may ask? It's not really extra, my private student loan from college recently went into deferment (nearly $300 per month) because of my in-school status as a part-time graduate student. So, I've decided to use this money I'm already accustomed to paying out each month into a Roth IRA and the remainder will most likely be diverted to my credit card balance. My student loans are not a financial focus for this year but I hope to be able to accelerate payments in 2010 and beyond. For now, I'll keep chipping away at my other financial goals, which I've discussed in detail before like adding to my emergency fund, paying off credit card debt and contributing to retirement funds. When I do start paying my student loans again in 2010, after my graduate program is over, I plan to increase my income and decrease unnecessary expenses in my budget.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My 1st Year of Blogging


I've been kind of swamped with school and work lately and realized a little belatedly that I've been blogging for a year now. April 4th of 2008 was my first post on Small Budget, Big Style. Blogging has made me think more seriously about my finances and I've gained a lot of inspiration from reading some of the excellent personal finance blogs out there (see my blog roll for my regualr reads). On the personal and financial front, since I started this blog:
  1. I continued to contribute to my 403b through my job.
  2. I recently met my short term emergency fund goal ($3,000).
  3. I've paid off credit card debt, but still have a ways to go before its eliminated completely.
  4. Started graduate school part time.
  5. Started to set aside money to open a Roth IRA.
Blogging has also been an effort to write on a regular basis. My focus has not been on my finances lately, but I plan to pay more attention to my financial goals so I can see real, measureable progress by the end of the year. I appreciate all of the nice comments I've received over the past year and appreciate those that have me on their blog rolls (If anyone wants to trade blog links, please leave a comment or email me). I look foward to bringing more frequent, thoughtful content and positive financial progress updates very soon.